Monday, February 3, 2014

Project-Based Education Demands a Different Type of Student....And Some Will Resist

      As we know, education has traditionally been teacher-driven vs. student driven.  Whether it was the factory model that we had for decades, or even the high stakes bubble test environment, both students and teachers understood the game.  Teachers drove the instruction and learning, while students learned to play the game. 
     For students, the game was compliance.  The more students essentially kept their mouths shut, did the work, completed tasks on time and followed instructions, the better they did.  In the end, it was not about critical thinking, creativity, divergent ideas, or anything else related to what we inherently know was “actual learning.” 
      The problem is that students learned to accept and even perfect this game.  Students did not have to invest themselves into their learning.  It wasn’t about their ideas, their voice, their choice or their engagement.  And as ultimately counter-productive or now out-of-step as this seems, this is how we trained our students.  Some never bought in or performed in that environment either, but everyone understood the game and knew what it would take to succeed if that was a goal.
     Flash forward to our second decade in the 21st century.  The game is dramatically changing.  Whether its is because of new standards, the advent of technology, or the changing nature of jobs and the global economy, the learning world is now asking students to do something very different.  Indeed, they are requiring them and demanding them to do more. 
     Education is now asking students to generate ideas and share them.  We are asking them to collaborate with teams in their classes and even beyond.  We are asking them to be public (present, publish, etc.).  This represents a very different type of learning expectation and ultimately a very different type of student.
      No longer is it just about compliance, completed homework, high grades and scores.  Students will have to invest themselves.  In the end, they will have to do more and not less and the rules will be different.  Some students may not like that. 
    Don’t get me wrong.  Many students have been waiting for years to unleash their creativity and were not bought into what it took to be successful in the previous model or models.  But while there have been many who were dying to produce and share relevant, real world work, there are maybe just as many who were glad that they didn’t have to. 
      For example, what is ultimately easier?  Completing a worksheet and turning in for points towards a grade or having to come with an idea an see it through? Well, obviously, the first one is much easier.  In the end, it demands very little from the student.  Even it is a long or complicated worksheet assignment, a student does not have to be creative, collaborative or communicative.  And they certainly did not have to critically think. 
        But when you ask a student to come with an idea for a project and then pursue it all the way to fruition, they inherently know that it will require a great deal more from them.  Not only will it be ultimately more work, but it will also be more personal, more reflective, and more public.  And they may not like that.
     There could be many other challenges as we evolve this new type of student.  Previously, it was always easy to determine who was academic and who wasn’t, who was successful and who wasn’t, who was getting it and who wasn’t.  But now, it will less uniform and more individualized.  There will now be more than one way to be academic, be successful or even get it.  And again, some students may not like the new, more level playing field.
        When we get into real project-based education, there will be standards, expectations and rubrics, but there will be lots of diversity.  Instead of a system based on compliance, it will now be based on what level students are willing to invest personally.  As educators and the system continue to evolve, students will too.  But it will take time.  For some, years of training will have to be undone.  For others, the redefining of success and learning will be challenging. 
(photos courtesy of Minarets High School)

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