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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Which Came First PBL or Small Group Instruction?


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Ye Olde Chicken-Egg story. Why am I wrestling with this? Because many consider me pretty smart about Project Based Learning(PBL). And, our school which calls itself a PBL school, is pushing small group instruction.

So, is PBL just a version of small group instruction? Not sure. And when you infuse a very structured form of small group instruction will teachers feel that they can't do PBL any more? Yes, unfortunately.

True confession. The title doesn't really align with what you are about to read but, hey, it got you to click on the link and start reading this, didn't it?

Right now our school is in its third year of using PBL as its primary mode of instruction. Now, primary is a funny word. Two years ago we started with our 6th grade teachers and many of them struggled to understand how to do a project. Many, however, excelled and became known for their expertise.

Last year we pushed PBL out in all three grades and also insisted upon having small group instruction. The same 6th grade teachers, who had success in the first year, continued to do well and incorporated a rotation to a teacher table into their daily process. A few additional 6th grade teachers took on "a project" during each semester. And, many teachers created projects during each semester. Almost all of the ELA teachers and most of the Social Studies teachers created classrooms with good to great small group rotations.

So, at the end of year two we had a large group of teachers doing good small group instruction. And, we had a large group of teachers who had run at least two projects during the year with varying levels of success. The best news was that we had teachers in both sets: a win-win situation! We decided to minimize change for year three and the word we used was "enhance." As in we will enhance our instruction.

Then we discovered Glenna Tabor and her Tabor Rotations process for small group instruction. If you get nothing else out of this post, go look at Glenna Tabor's stuff and, better yet, figure out how to get ALL of your math teachers to one of her trainings (or get her to come to your district). A day with her was one of the best PD's I have ever attended (if not the best ever).

Tabor Rotations is a VERY structured plan for small group instruction. And, that is its biggest strength. I held a half day training with math and math-inclusion teachers yesterday for our school district. We will be sending nearly 40 people to a Tabor Rotation training day in Dallas next month and I wanted to pre-teach some of the concepts and give them an overall view of the process. Our inclusion teachers summed it up best - "With Tabor Rotations you get all of the best practices for SPED and ELL students rolled into one package."

So, here's the dilemma - Tabor Rotations is very structured and many of our best PBL teachers are in the math department. Why is that a problem? Several felt that the structure doesn't work with what they do. With Tabor Rotations we have 4 heterogeneous groups for part of the week and 4 homogeneous groups the remainder of the week and these teachers are used to project groups of 3 to 4 students in each group. When you have a class of 30 students that means 7 to 10 groups for projects. Do we have 8 groups of students who are working on a project; a different set of 8 students working in their Tabor Rotation groups for a couple of days; and, a third set of 8 students working in their Tabor Rotation groups for the other days of the week?

And how do we do Tabor Rotations with research days and presentation days?

All of these questions are now fully engulfing my brain. Our teachers will be going to the training in two weeks and then I'll have other brains to help me figure this out. Because we will figure this out. PBL will work in every environment. PBL will help your students go deeper with their learning. Tabor Rotations will help your students go deeper with their learning too. The marriage of the two will be a truly magnificent thing. Just give us time to perfect it - because our teachers can, and will, figure this out.

Things That Piqued My Interest This Week (weekly)

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