Lifelong Learner & Reflective Practitioner

Lifelong Learner & Reflective Practitioner

Let's Transform Our Schools Into TRUE Professional Learning Communities

Let's Transform Our Schools Into TRUE Professional Learning Communities
In Your School- Do all stakeholders subscribe to the belief that EVERYONE has something to learn and EVERYONE has something to teach? This blog can help you gain insight on how to facilitate this transformative mindset with your faculty!

Apr 9, 2010

My Preferred Instructional Design Model

I subscribe to the beliefs and philosophies of the constructivist camp. Of these, I think that my teaching, as well as my own personal learning has been most greatly influenced by the theory of problem-based learning. During my teacher preparation, problem-based learning was a popular instructional design. In my methods courses, I was introduced to this design repeatedly. I think it is very interesting to consider whether or not that my passion for this design may be directly related to the fact that I was repeatedly exposed to problem-based learning during what I refer to as my “most moldable teaching years.” Although I cannot be certain of the origin of my preference of the problem-based approach, I am certain that it is the most meaningful to me as both a teacher and a student.

Even as a beginning teacher, I enjoyed presenting students with real-life problems that had meaning to them. I was able to see that this motivated even the most resistant learners to participate and contribute. When I reflect upon what I view as most important to real-life learning, I recognize that the two processes that always come to mind are inquiry and collaboration.

As a child, I was very inquisitive. This often got me into trouble and it was conveyed to me in no certain terms that inquisitive children are annoying. As an adult, I recognize that I still question everything. In working situations, I have found myself feeling just like I did as a child when it was conveyed to me that my inquisitiveness was not appreciated. I recently even had a group of colleagues say to me before a leadership meeting, “Please Jennifer, don’t analyze everything to death today. We don’t want this to take forever.” As a teacher, I really try to encourage my students to be inquisitive, especially when it comes to questioning the status quo. I tell them that it is okay to question everything and anything as long as 1) they are respectful and 2) they base there answers on principles. Because I am an urban schoolteacher and I have such strong feelings regarding social justice, I feel like I have an ethical responsibility to equip my students with the skills they will need to face social injustices head on. Through problem-based learning and Socratic Seminars, I regularly explore issues of inequity and inequality with my students and we collaborate on ways to address these issues. I do not proclaim to be an expert on problem-based learning, but I do think that I have developed some effective skills to facilitate this type of learning throughout my years as an educator. As a new teacher, I did a lot of presenting scenarios and having students discuss and write about how they might go about solving certain kinds of problems. What I have learned over the years is that this type of instructional design works best when the problems are real and the students’ actions really do matter.

I also like the collaborative component of problem-based learning. I am one of those folks who believes strongly that the most impacting learning is that which is socially constructed. When I present students with problems, I am very careful to just present the facts related to the problem because I really do want them to make their own connections, probe the issue, and explore it together rather than me offering any solution. The real-world is all about working with others, negotiating, and compromising. I want to provide my students with as much practice for doing this as I possibly can.

When I think about the units of study that I have taught where I feel like students learned the most, they typically have to do with a problem-based situation that was relevant to the students’ everyday lives. For example, when I taught in a very poor part of town, there was a creek that was considered by the people in the community to be polluted and almost all of my students had to walk along it to get to school each day. We conducted some chemical tests on samples from the creek, wrote letters to government representatives expressing our concerns and findings, and we organized a clean-up effort. Another problem that we addressed was the fact that none of the stories from our basal reader were from an African American perspective. My entire class was African American. We wrote letters to the publisher and we collaborated together to compile a list of suggested stories to be included in a future edition. Some of the things I address with my students have gotten me a stern warning from the administration not to “ruffle feathers”, but this has not changed my beliefs or my practices very much.

I do not think that all problem-based learning must always be from real-life situations. For example, I went to a workshop one time on this computer-generated problem-based learning/anchored instruction program that seemed like a very high-quality program to me. It was called The Adventures of Jasper Woodbury. It was great because all of the mathematical problems that students had to work on could be solved (in a variety of ways) using the data that was embedded in the stories presented in the software. I was not able to convince my principal to purchase that program for our school, but I did talk her into purchasing some Real-Life Mystery Detective science kits. One was a forensic investigation program where students got to be crime scene investigators. We conducted chemical tests on what we thought was blood, but determined through chemical make-up that it was red paint. We did fingerprint analysis of the items at the “crime scene”, we tested the “victim’s” soda can for traces of poison, etc. After researching the “victim’s” background, we determined that he faked his own death because he was in debt. The great thing about those particular kits was that there was no right answer.

When I was in college, I was exposed to this notion of teachers as facilitators. I view that as my role still. At the beginning of a unit, I typically provide students with some overall factual information, provide them with various forms of information in writing, and utilize a jigsaw-type approach for discussing and teaching it to one another. I am pretty much what I refer to as a “floater.” I like to “float” around and coach and confer with individual students to check for understanding and ask probing questions. I think that this is pretty much aligned with problem-based learning.

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