I was reading this blog post by Greg Ashman and I had a bit of an epiphany.
Bear in mind I am a Primary teacher so my focus and expertise are somewhat different from my secondary colleagues. With that said I have always thought and believed that project-based learning (PBL) has a place in a teachers’ toolkit. When it’s done well there can be a lot of experiential learning going on that doesn’t happen with explicit instruction.
Lately, however, I’ve had this nagging feeling that I was missing something really obvious. Where I am teaching now we have more subject specialists that you ordinarily find in a UK Primary School. As a consequence, I have around 8 hours prep time a week. Which is amazing, it means most of my work is done during working hours and things like my reading and blogs get to be done at home. An unintended consequence of this is that I don’t have an as much contact time with my class as I would perhaps like or need. So when I read Greg’s article a lightbulb went off in my head.
The last project-based learning we did was based on Water, focussing on issues of water scarcity. It was a paired activity that involved some research, some design and a presentation to their classmates about what they discovered. My students were (mostly) engaged, enjoyed it and learned from it. It was a project that highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of PBL (not the subject of this blog post) and it took a lot of time.
So reading Greg’s post was an ‘ah-ha’ for me in that the nagging feeling I had was illuminated. Time is a valuable commodity at school, especially here. PBL is great for many things but it is not an efficient vehicle for learning. There is a lot of learning by trial and error, a lot of “have you thought about this or considered that?” Great questions but they take time to pose, clarify and answer.
I’m not suggesting that there is no place for PBL in Primary School or indeed Secondary School, far from it. But I am thinking that my use of it as a catalyst for learning will have to be more judicious going forward. Time is a valuable commodity and if ‘learning-focused education’ is more efficient in helping students develop their thinking and progress their learning, then this will have to be a consideration going forward.