William J. Lee
Keywords: 9th, Gifted, ELA, PBL
Introduction and Context
I graduated UGA with my B.A. English and MAT English Education and am currently getting my Ed.S at Piedmont while teaching at a Title 1 School. The school is majority African American and Hispanic students and has very few on-level classrooms with many students either being gifted or in need of collaborative services. This particular experience took place with a group of students in my third-period advanced class. I earned my gifted endorsement through UGA as well and found it important to take the students to new heights and challenges in their academic careers. There were roughly 32 students in this class with many others from outside classes coming to help in the process. This lesson was a two-week, student-lead, project-based learning summative assessment.
Events, Actions, and Outcomes
Early in my educational career, I was given an opportunity to take project-based learning to a new level through an experimental pedagogical process. My classes were working through their unit involving the Odyssey and the hero’s journey. I paired their reading of Homer with Tolkien's The Hobbit. Students loved the reading so much that they eagerly wanted more from it. As we approached the summative portion of the unit, I devised a way in which each student could participate in a project that would suit some of their individual strengths. We had a sign-up sheet for roles students could take for our very own production of a film that would highlight pivotal scenes in Tolkien's work. They could sign up for Assistant Director, Makeup Artist, Actor/Actress, Sound, Cameraperson, Props Designer, Costume Designer, Screenplay Artist, Storyboard Design, and essentially any other position that they found applicable to the filmmaking process. A student that had experience making films already were allowed to be the director and manage the overall project while electing group leaders to each subgroup. Students were put in charge of costumes, props, makeup, filming, music and every aspect of the movie. This involved a collaborative effort working with our media center and the drama department in order to get resources and filming locations. I have never seen students more truly engaged than when being able to have a hands-on learning experience in an area they excel in while having to utilize their reading for accuracy. Without even realizing it, students would be citing the text to each other trying to create a more accurate adaptation for the work. This process lasted for exactly two weeks in which we got to work for an hour and ten minutes every day together. Other teachers from various subjects in the Freshman Academy would consistently send their students to my classroom to join in this project and be in our film. It was truly an incredible experience as an educator.
Seeing how well students will utilize resources and ascertain knowledge when it involves something they care about is astounding. Many would otherwise drudge through reading if it did not immediately appeal to them. However, when they needed to know the story in order to accomplish their individual goals in their specific roles, they eagerly read and reread analyzing the text. This experience shaped me as an educator in molding my pedagogy in a way that must infuse learning and assessment in a means that focuses on individual student need and ability. John Dewey is one such who has famously advocated for the importance of individualized instruction. He noted that education entailed the living process rather than a systematic preparedness for the student's future (Dewey, 2010). Students thus must care and feel they have a choice in their means of showing what they know.
They also must have a medium of representing what they know in a way that is not simply a multiple choice or essay based format. This is what is truly tragic about the drive for data in education. Creativity seems impossible to measure in a way that would satisfy federal and state funding, much fewer college admissions. It doesn’t feel real or applicable to students. Sylvia Chard (2007) wrote, "One of the major advantages of project work is that it makes school more like real life. It's an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of children's attention and effort" (n.p.). Learners can feel like they are doing something that they can immediately see results and care about. It is something they can take home and show to loved ones and be proud of. Even though my teaching style has been highly based on this style of learning, my students still had the highest EOC scores in the school that year. There is a connection between using project-based learning and measurable performance, and I will continue to stand behind it no matter how standardized education becomes.
Dewey, J. (2010). Selected writings of John Dewey. In A. J. Milson, C. H. Bohan, P. L. Glanzer, & J. W. Null (Eds.), Readings in educational thought: American educational thought: Essays from 1640–1940 (2nd ed., pp. 361–399). Charlotte, NC: IAP Information Age Publishing.
Chard, S. (2007). Why is project-based learning important?: The many merits of using project-based learning in the classroom. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-guide-importance