Tag Archives: reflection

Reflecting on Relationship Skills

Relationship Skills

Collaboration is a crucial skill that schools around the world are embracing as vital to teach. Every survey of “what employers want” includes it in their top ten list, and the divisive state of politics increases the necessity of students learning it. Collaboration (teamwork) along with communication, social engagement, and relationship -building make up the sub categories of Relationship Skills according to the CASEL Social and Emotional Learning competencies.

One reason why so many students’ Relationship Skills are underdeveloped is that in too many schools, students are still expected to spend the majority of their day listening to a teacher instead of interacting with each other. As I have argued before, PBL is the perfect pedagogy that gives kids the opportunity to practice and develop SEL skills such as Relationship Skills as they negotiate with each other the best path to complete their project.

 Reflection is one of the most effective ways to teach SEL competencies!

One of the best ways to teach Relationship Skills throughout a project is consistent student reflections. Reflection throughout the project on their group dynamics gives students opportunities to identify and solve relationship challenges. Students are going to disagree and have different opinions about how to approach their project difficulties. The teacher is the coach helping students to civilly navigate their conflicts in healthy ways. One of the most important ways to forge relationship skills is to have students reflect on how their group is functioning. Reflection helps both successful and struggling groups realize what is happening and how they might adjust if necessary.  

Reflection needs to be embedded throughout the project and not just at the end. It does not have to be time consuming. Effective reflections need only take a couple of minutes. At the beginning of class, assign a specific group behavior to focus on such as “Listening with my full attention, before responding.” or use one of the Norms of Collaboration. When class ends, have students individually reflect on the behavior with a Fist to Five or exit ticket or have students reflect with their group with a turn and talk. 

When groups are not clicking, refrain from rescuing your students. Instead, have them work through their difficulties. If students struggled the day before in a specific area, start today’s class by reviewing yesterday’s issues and having students reflect on what they need to change to be more successful today. Provide questions related to their struggles and ask them to journal about the experience.

For example, “What is preventing my group from being successful right now?” and “How can we fix this challenge?”

Then students can meet in their groups and discuss issues and potential solutions.

Epic Fail!

My co-teacher and I launched a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) video project on World War I and World War II in our integrated American history and English language arts class. The project married the concept of CYOA books with videos where viewers choose what to do next by clicking on one of two links. Rather than have small groups each make their own video, we decided to have our whole classes of fifty students divide up the tasks to create one giant adventure. Students were placed in different teams based on self-identified skills. The roles included writers, actors, directors, artists for props, lighting and camera operators, and video editors. 

Each class created a storyboard on a whiteboard wall, plotting all of the paths and choices like a sideways tree. Groups of students began writing scripts for each scene, including details of the setting and props. When it came time to film, we had students making props and shooting scenes all over campus, indoors and outside. The students did an excellent job of distributing roles and diagramming the big-picture storyboard, but they struggled with the rest of the project. 

The organization and management of a project of this complexity and scale were new to us. We underestimated the technology part of the project and did not devise a clear process for getting footage from the cameras to the video editors. Footage was lost and had to be re-shot. Main actors were absent. Costumes and props were forgotten at home. We had not provided students with tools like scrum boards to organize themselves. After several weeks, students still did not have a final product, and we realized that it would still take weeks to complete the videos. (Important side note is that students had learned the required content standards. They just didn’t have the “shiny” product finished). We made the hard choice to kill the project. 

Satisfying Success

Although we were disappointed that students never completed their CYOA videos, there was a silver lining. At the end of the year, the same students amazed us during the Water Project, by taking over in ways that teachers never dreamed of. This project involved the entire sophomore class working together as part of three self-selected groups. It was potentially a logistical nightmare, but turned into our best project ever!

During the final reflection of the Water Project, one of the student leaders told me, “Because we failed on the CYOA video earlier this year, we learned how to work together and succeed on the water project.” Using setbacks in projects as learning tools demonstrates for students how challenges can be turned into opportunities. It was a good reminder that students develop SEL skills gradually over the course of a class. Given time, opportunity, and the tools to manage themselves, students will forge Relationship Skills and become leaders who can work together to make meaningful changes.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL Consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.

Scaffolding Thinking in PBL

Most teachers are skilled at using scaffolds to help special education, English learners, or any student who needs extra support in breaking down and understanding concepts in core content areas.

One of the most common misconceptions about PBL is that because students have “choice” that they are allowed to do whatever they want, and teachers don’t do much to help them.

Not true! In high-quality PBL, Teachers still work alongside students to scaffold content. The difference is that it is usually happening in small group workshops.

In Project Based Learning, teachers also need to scaffold student thinking. The British Journal of Educational Technology recently published a study of high school students in a medical Problem Based Curriculum (paywall). It found six ways to move students from novice to expert thinking. Here’s how to scaffold thinking in the Project Based Learning framework.

1. Prompt students to include context

Context starts on day 1 of a project when we ask students “what do you know?” We launch with an entry event to not only get kids “hooked” into the project, but to activate prior knowledge. Constructivism tells us that students can only build on their previous knowledge base. Students often forget what they know or don’t realize that it applies in a new situation. Consistent use of protocols such as

  • Knows and Need to Knows lists
  • Notice and Wonder
  • Predict, Observe, Explain
  • I used to think…, but now I know…
  • Others might say…

build a culture where students start from a place of inquiry building on what they already know.

2. Ask open-ended questions

Traditional schooling has often focused on closed-ended questions with one right answer on multiple choice tests. PBL starts with a Driving Question that is open with many paths for students to consider. But we also want to teach students to ask their own open-ended questions.

The Question Formulation Technique (QFT) is an excellent protocol to teach students the difference between open and closed questions by sorting them. This leads to students generating more open-ended ones. Once students have learned the difference, it is easy for the teacher to have the class reword closed ended questions so that they are open.

3. Help students transfer knowledge and experience

One of the biases of Western education is the spliting of knowledge into content buckets or classes. Students often struggle to apply learning to new situations because they think it only applies to a certain class. Often core content is so separated from the real world that students don’t see the application of school to their lives.

In PBL students explore authentic questions in their community. Students learn how content applies to their lives in a meaningful way. Walls between content are broken down by integrated projects. Students have ample opportunity to apply various disciplines toward their project solution.

4. Leave room for student ownership

One of my favorite parts of PBL is student voice and choice. Students get excited when they participate in their learning in meaningful ways. Schools overemphasize compliance leading to complacency. If we want deeper thinking, students need permission to take the project where they think that it needs to go.

A practical way to do this is to let students plan parts of a project. When you design a PBL project, plan specific places where students will have choices whether it be groupings, content topics, or final products. As students become proficient, consider having students co-design the entire project with you. I have seen kindergarten classes who can do this with teacher support!

5. Invite and manage risk

My colleague Nate Langel applies the “You failed and it was awesome!” mantra to his science classroom. Students design their own experiments around the content topic and test their ideas. When things turn out “wrong” he gives high fives, celebrating that students learned something that doesn’t work and encouraging them to question why to redesign for another experiment.

Another way to invite risk is to model vulnerability. Be transparent with students about things that you are currently learning and how it feels. If you are trying PBL for the first time, tell your students that you trying a new way of learning because you think that it is better for them. Admit that you are nervous and acknowledge that you expect bumps along the way, but that will not be how you measure success.

6. Encourage reflection

We know that metacognition is vital for deeper learning. Hands-on learning doesn’t mean that students’ minds turn off like a factory worker on an assembly line. We need students to be hands-on and minds-on. John Dewey told us “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

End every lesson with a chance for students to reflect on the day. It doesn’t need to be a huge time suck. It could be 2 minutes for a journal entry, turn and talk, or exit ticket.

Students should be reflecting on content and the SEL skills that they are developing.

Mix it up so students don’t get bored. Reflection creates velcro moments where the learning sticks in long term memory.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL Consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.