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What are the qualities of a teacher who enjoys project-based learning?

Another snippet from my "survival guide" book draft. Your comments are welcome.

If you as a teacher want to enjoy and get the most benefit from project-based learning activities, you will need to:

  1. Be comfortable with a loss of control over time, the final product, and “correct” answers. If some parts of the curriculum don’t get “covered,” if conflicting evidence causes confusion, or a controversial solution to a problem is suggested, these teachers roll with the punches. They have the intellectual confidence to handle ambiguity.
  2. Accept active students rather than passive students. They have developed new rules of behavior that stress student responsibility, and have trained their principals to differentiate between active learning and a classroom out of control.
  3. Believe that given enough time, resources, and motivation, all students are capable of high performance. It’s not just the talented and gifted student who can make choices, solve problems creatively, and complete complex tasks. These teachers know that most students rise to the level of performance expected of them, and that great ideas can come from anyone in the class.
  4. Recognize that your expertise must be in the learning and research process not just in a subject area. No longer are these teachers just information dispensers, but guides for information building students. The happiest teachers are co-learners in the classroom, especially when learning new technology tools. Students get the satisfaction that comes from teaching as well.
  5. Understand your personal enthusiasm is more important than ever. The best projects I have seen have always designed by teachers who are enthusiastic about what they are doing and how they are doing it. The downside to this is that it is very difficult to create recipes for or give examples of specific projects that can be easily adopted by other teachers. A project, no matter how well designed, is going to work for every teacher and every group of students.
  6. Know that any project may not  always work the first time. But these teachers keep trying.

What would you add?

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Reader Comments (9)

Great list. I am working with a teacher right now who shows every one of these characteristics.

I would change # 2 to read "Expect active students rather than passive students."

I would add:

Collaborate with your librarian from beginning to end. It is easier to be fearless when there are two of you.

December 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJacquie Henry

This is a great list that gives us, as teachers something to work towards.

December 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJim McGuire

This is a great list. I am all about the PBL and what it can do for student motivation. One of the toughest things is to give up that control in the classroom and yet it is a crucial step for the success of this type of learning.

One item that I would add to your list is choice.
Kids who are given choice with their work are ultimately more engaged and therefore the learning will be greater. I plan on sharing this list though as it is great!

December 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJosh Stumpenhorst

As a project-based ONLY teacher, this list is terrific!

Two small but significant typo in #5:

"A project, no matter how well designed, is going to work for every teacher and every group of students." Change "A" to "No"... insert NOT into "is going to work for" so
No project ... is going to work for...

December 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAl Doyle

Would add:

Don't be surprised when students don't get it right away - and keep asking "what's the right answer?" type questions. If most of their other classes and/or experiences are with a different approach, they will have to be brought along and educated about the benefits and elements of PBL.

Remember that students are not experts (yet) so when we put them in situations involving them trying to find answers they will come against their own lack of previous expertise and may be frustrated along the way.

Thanks for a thoughtful post!

December 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPamela Livingston

Hey Doug,
The thing I don't get about project based learning programs is that they seem to be oblivious to librarians. I would add that these teachers should be in contact with a school librarian. We have a learning alternatives school attached to our high school. I would love to meet with those teachers once in a while to help teach their students how to use our databases and maybe show them different ways to build projects and presentations. What happens is the teacher sends a student to the library and that student will ask me for a book on say hydroponics. I have nothing on the shelves on this topic. If I am not involved with a class at the time, I will hopefully have a computer open where I can show this student how to search for information Online. Otherwise, I tell the student to come back after school or before school the next day so that I can work with them on this topic. The student never comes back for this topic :( HELP! I want to help this school so much, but they are not utilizing me. I have visited a charter school that is totally project based. They have no librarian. They don't know about MNKnows or any of the databases that the state has for them. This is a pet peeve of mine. I have to stop now, I am getting all worked up and my husband can't take it any more ;)

December 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTori Jensen

Does not make assumptions about either the passive or overactive child but instead takes time to observe and make sure they are having a successful experience.

Does not assume children should "already know better" when it comes to how to handle materials such as glue or paint or should "already know how" to do something when it comes to skills such as cutting, gluing, an so forth. Will instead see each project as an opportunity for teaching and learning.

December 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

Great list - I would add to # 6 - "Know that both teachers and students learn more from projects that fail than from ones that succeed." -

December 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim Staal

Thank you for all the insightful comments and suggestions. Don't be surprised if some of them wind up in the book!


December 21, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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