Project Based Learning Challenge

I have taken a few risks with my Year 9 class because I have taught them since Year 7 and can confidently say that I know all 38 students and their learning capabilities. Other members in my team have changed during those years. I have worked with all the students whether they are at the top of the class or have been learning English for less than 2 years. We have had wonderful aides come in to support my EAL students and they help me tailor the work for students with learning difficulties.

In Term 3 I’m going to try another Project Based Unit with the entire class. In History we will be learning about the Australian explorers, Gold Rush as well Australia’s road to Federation. The students will become the teachers in this unit of work. Last year this group created resources on the Black Death for teachers at my school to use. This worked well with the class and all students were able to create resources that were shared with other teachers. This year I want them to not only create the resources but also to implement them in our classroom. The project is still in planning stages and will be completed by the start of the term.

Rationale: 

My year 9 mainstream students are quite used to work independently in class. Whilst at times, they understand that we need to explain certain concepts to them, they enjoy working together in groups or on their own to complete tasks. They ask for help from each other as well as the teachers when they are unsure of what to do. This allows my teaching team and myself to give struggling students more of a helping hand and individual support. If we identify a concept that they are all struggling, we regroup and explain it to them ensuring that they all understand. On the other hand my transition EAL group comprising of about 12 students rely heavily on teacher support and teacher guided lessons. This means they are often separated from the rest of the class because they need a quieter workspace. However this can mean that they are isolated and their only way of learning is from the teacher. Whilst they do needed more teacher support, I’m hoping that this unit encourages them to learn from their peers as well. I would like my more advanced students to work with my transition group so the barrier between the two can start being removed. The 2 groups sit separately in the class and I’m not happy with that. Whilst I’ve been aware of the situation, I haven’t done much to address it and I feel that it needs to happen now.

How this will work:

Students will be divided into 3 groups, each will be supported by 1 teacher of the team. The students will be in mixed ability groups A topic will be allocated to each group. My aim is that the students will look at a KWL chart ( I might even try the new KWHLAQ chart) to identify what they know about the topic and what they want to know. I’ve also identified key skills according to the curriculum that they need to cover and this will be included in their rubric for assessment of their learning. Students will work together to create a 75 minutes lesson for the rest of the class to teach them about the topic allocated to the group. Students will choose how they present the information to their peers. 

How will this be assessed: 

  1. Self-assessment: students will write a self-reflection as well as complete a rubric indicating how well they feel that they contributed to the task. They will also then identity what skills they need to work on in the following units of work.
  2. Peer assessment: Each group will create a feedback sheet for ‘their class’ to review the information they present
  3. Teacher assessment: Teachers will review student participation, contribution, delivery, presentation skills, group work and content presented.

This unit will run for 5 weeks. It will be a big challenge not only for the students but also for my team members and myself. We will be working closely with our groups and ensuring that all students are able to contribute. It will be more challenging for my EAL students but I’m hoping that they too will be able to help with planning the lesson as well as running it. I would like them to become more confident in trying to complete simple tasks on their own and I’m hoping that this unit of work will give them the opportunity to do so. This is the last year I will probably teach this class and my aim is to help each student develop skills that will allow them to become independent learners.

#YourEduStory: “Describe a time where you as an educator took a risk in your classroom, and it totally paid off. Or, completely backfired.”

Teaching in a Multicultural School

What is Diversity?

To me diversity means understanding that everyone is unique and is an individual. It can refer to race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, physical abilities – anything that defines us as an individual and creates our identity. Each individual is allowed to determine the categories that shape them as a person and they should be accepted for that. No one should be excluded because they are different.

Becoming an EAL teacher

Before starting my teaching course, I volunteered to teach migrant women English at the local church. The program was run by a teacher from Chisholm TAFE with the purpose of empowering migrant mothers – helping them learn the language so that they would be confident in going to the shops and supermarket. The classes were run by volunteers of different ages and they made me realise that I wanted to be an EAL teacher (English as an Additional Language or ESL as it used to be known). I was lucky that English was my first language when I migrated to Australia and I didn’t have the difficulties in adapting to life here, as I spoke the language. So when I enrolled in my Graduate Diploma of Education, I chose EAL as one of my methods. 

Diversity at my school 

I love teaching at my school because it is so multicultural. There are 77 nationalities represented with students speaking over 83 different languages. Even the staff at the school come from different cultures. Being a migrant in Australia, this makes it easier for me to relate to my students and for them to find someone who connects with them. On first meeting new students, the most important conversation is determining where everyone is from. Students will ask teachers where they are from in order to create those initial connections. I happily tell my students my background because they are eager to learn more about you. At least half the students I teach have come through my country in order to reach Australia. When we talk about our culture and past, this helps them feel more comfortable and makes them realise that I do have an understanding of their culture and upbringing.

Catering for EAL students

Since most of  the students at my school come from a non-English speaking background, our school has several programs that provide support to these students. At least 1 member of each teaching team is an EAL trained teacher. We also have a Transition program for students who have been in the country for less than 2 years in addition to the EAL program. The Transition program provides a more focused language support to these students who may not have had access to schools in their own countries. As an EAL teacher, I always ensure that my lessons provide support and scaffolding for students who are still learning to speak English. If a student in unable to understand a particular word or concept, I often ask another student who speaks the same language to help me with explaining the idea. Our wonderful Multicultural teacher aides often support us with these students and work with teachers to ensure that EAL students don’t miss out on the curriculum. 

Celebrating Diversity at School

Since our student body is so diverse, students learn to accept each other no matter which ethnic background they belong to. They work with each other in class, in team sports and other extracurricular activities. Whilst problems do arise, staff always remind students that judging others based on their ethnic background is not acceptable. At our school, the last week of Term 3 is International Week. This is where students from different nationalities come together to celebrate their culture through dance. Throughout Term 3 they form small groups and decide on their dances. This culminates in International Day which is the last day of term. Students perform traditional dances to the entire school. Watching the students dressed up in traditional costumes and the way they interact with each other is amazing. Whilst they have adopted Australia as their new home, their ties to their traditional backgrounds are very strong and this is evident in the pride they take when performing traditional dances.

This is the 2nd post written for #Blogsync October special:  “Connected Educator Month” (http://blogsync.edutronic.net/)

Black Death PBL Unit

The Task:

The Task

 

Breaking it down and planning:

My team and I worked together with the students to break down the task. They looked at key words of the task. They brainstormed ideas and tasks that they could work on. They had the opportunity to choose how they worked: they could work as a group or individually. Two students worked by themselves with the rest of them arranging themselves into friendship groups. My EAL transition group were also involved in the project- they were given set tasks to create and teachers helped them create the tasks. With them, we had to teach them about the Black Death before they could create the resources. The rest of the students learnt about the Black Death through their own research whilst creating the tasks. They had to look at the information and decide what was relevant to their activities. We ran lessons on reading the Australian Curriculum, how to create teacher resources and we even had a lesson on how to put information into their own words. We went through how to create a bibliography and how to find resources that were creative commons. As teachers we did our own planning  and were constantly aware of what skills we needed to help the students with.

Planning

Students Planning on Padlet

 

Professional Standards:

When I was planning this unit I was aware of the standards set by AITSL. My aim was to use some of the standards within this PBL unit as it would allow  me to focus on the skills I wanted my students to develop and strengthen. As a proficient teacher I targeted the following key points:

1.3 Design and implement teaching strategies that are responsive to the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

3.3 Select and use relevant teaching strategies to develop knowledge, skills, problem solving and critical and creative thinking.

3.6 Evaluate personal teaching and learning programs using evidence, including feedback from students and student assessment data, to inform planning.

4.5 Incorporate strategies to promote the safe, responsible and ethical use of ICT in learning and teaching.

5.1 Assess student learning

I had to ensure that this unit catered for my EAL and low literacy students as well as challenge my high achievers. By getting students to think about who they were creating the tasks for, it allowed them to understand that not everyone is at the same level of achievement and they were able to use their strengths to cater for differences in learning ability. For example my EAL transition students created word puzzles, true and false questions and sequencing events on the Black Death- activities they are familiar with. On the other hand other students created at source analysis and mapping tasks that catered for mainstream students. This reflected the work that they complete in class.

Challenges:

Since this task was different to how a unit is taught in our class, my team and I had to constantly ensure that students were being supported. Given that this class has students with a wide range of abilities, we had to support and guide them in their learning. Some groups had trouble dealing with members who didn’t contribute on a regular basis or took too long to complete set tasks. I was often asked to mediate sessions between groups who were struggling to communicate with each other. Students had to learn to set time frames in order to get tasks completed on time. They also had to format teacher tasks so that it looked presentable. Students used a variety of ICT tools from Publisher, Word, Wix (website creator), Google sites, interactive maps and Blendspace. They either chose Microsoft tools that they were comfortable with or extended their capabilities by creating websites and using Blendspace. My team and I had to constantly reinforce that they made sure that they used websites correctly and acknowledged their sources.

Reflections:

My students’ presentations were fantastic. The effort and the level of engagement was clearly evident in the teaching resources they created. They had created a variety of teaching resources – from crosswords and word searches, to games, mapping tasks and websites with activities. Students even created Blendspace units of work where they collated resources made by others and created activities around them. I decided to have a new audience for their work and so I invited curriculum leaders and house leaders. We had our House Leader (who is also an assistant principal), our assistant house leader and the Technology for Learning Leader come in to our class to see the presentations. By giving my students a variety of people in the audience instead of just their regular teachers and peers, they were excited and worked more consciously to complete their tasks to a high standard.

The students use of references increased during this unit of work. They are becoming more conscious of acknowledging their sources. They also ensured that what they wrote was in their own words, thanks to a strategy put in by the other teacher. My main focus during this unit was to constantly reinforce that they needed to reference their work. This PBL task helped them realise that they couldn’t just take any work from the internet without checking to see if they could legally re-use the material.

Feedback:

To provide authentic feedback, the resources created by my students will be used in the Technology for Learning teacher’s Year 8 Humanities class. They will evaluate the resources made and give feedback on the tasks. By doing this, my students will see that their work is being utilised and I will also get to see what other teachers and students think of this unit of work.

My students also completed a survey that evaluated the Black Death unit and teacher support during the term. I asked them whether they liked the unit and if it allowed them to work independently and the way they wanted to learn. Most students responded positively. The key reason they wrote was that it allowed them to choose their own groups and create their own tasks. We had 3 rubrics to evaluate the project. The first allowed the students to evaluate themselves and the second allowed them to evaluate their group. The third was the teacher evaluation of the students, which we completed in consultation with the students. This gave us the opportunity to talk to them about the work 1:1 and give them immediate feedback on the unit.

Resources Created:

One of my students used  Blendspace, where she collated a variety of resources to provide a comprehensive unit of work on the Black Death. She included videos, websites and even games about the Plague. She carefully highlighted the key points from the History Australian curriculum on the Black Death. She created activities around the resources that she collected. Her unit was quite detailed and showed me how she likes to learn. She also made a statement during her presentation that she now understood how much work teachers put into creating learning tasks for students. I have made a copy of the unit  (to avoid her name being used )and embedded it below.