Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Pedagogy, not tools

I have not blogged in some time - what have I been doing?

Now that I am wading through the NECC posts, the ones that catch my attention more are those that are focusing on curriculum and design.

Ewan's post about Chris Lehmann and Marcie is the perfect summary of what I have been mulling over and working with. Last year, I "did project based learning". Actually, what it was was a few projects and at the end I was pleased but it still was not the best. There is a better way to do this and I have already started to take these steps with another teacher in my department. We are focusing on overarching goals but I still need to look at backwards design and UbD.

Here are a few summaries from Ewan's post:

But tools don't teach
We need strong pedagogical frameworks to see the whole learning experience, onto which we can slot the right tool for the right job. It's categorically the wrong approach to come up with an idea for a "blog project", "a podcasting project", "a social networking project", in the same way as it's wrong to approach pedagogy from a starting point of "what pedagogical proof is there that social networking improves attainment". You start with the pedagogy and use an appropriate tool to fit the pedagogical bill.

In Chris' school, every member of staff and every bone of curriculum is hung on Understanding By Design, with all the teachers using and all the students understanding the same metalanguage of the oeuvre. By doing this, students are able to reverse engineer the work they have done within the pedagogical framework the teachers have used, in the same way as assessment for learning strategies aim to promote. They are able to learn about learning.

So, planning is undertaken along these five structures:

Desired results: where do you want to go
Learning objectives
Understandings: the big ideas - why are we teaching or learning this?
Essential Questions: The throughline - what do we keep coming back to throughout the inquiry?
Skills and Content: What is the stuff that we have to know to get to those big ideas?

If, after a period of learning, you assess by giving out a test, you are not doing project-based learning. Tests and quizzes are but a dipstick, a quick snapshot of where everyone is at. The projects themselves, the projects that are the creation of the students themselves, are the main assessment tool. They are constant, they are ongoing.
I am blessed that one of my colleagues is attempting this with me. This is a different way of thinking and sure we will get the hang of it. I have quite the reading list this summer including the book Understanding by Design.

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