Re-Engaging the Disengaged Learner

Photo Credit: Flickr User edsuom

Photo Credit: Flickr User edsuom

Jeff Delp, a junior high principal, has a great blog post over at the Molehills out of Mountains blog on five strategies that can be used to re-engage those learners who have checked out on us. Below is the quick list, but be sure to click the link and read the entire post where he gives some reasoning and ideas behind each.

(1) Make it Personal – take time to visit with students and learn about their personal interests.

(2) Search for Celebrations – be constantly vigilant for celebration moments.

(3) Give Every Student the Opportunity to Succeed – it is unfortunate, but some of our students have not tasted success for so long that they have lost hope–no longer possessing the self-confidence, or will, to invest in what they see as a wasted effort.

(4) Reflect on class assignments and homework – in spite of our best intentions, we frequently set our students up for failure by burying them in assignments that do not serve a clear purpose, or that students have little chance of completing.

(5) Try something different – if things don’t seem to be working, do something different.

He’s concludes with:

There is no easy answer to the issue of disengaged students. No magic bullet. No single program or strategy that will be a definitive “fix” for every student. As professionals, we must meet this challenge head on, maintain a positive attitude, and search for ways to instill confidence and hope in all of our students. Our kids deserve nothing less.

Presenting: the lost art

The one constant with every PBL unit you do with your kids is the final product presentation. Considering that many of us did not grow up in a time where presenting was a norm for us, it might be difficult to teach the finer details of what makes the connection between presenter and audience. I ran across this video that I thought might help: 5 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People

5 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People from Weinschenk on Vimeo.

Touch Them All

Photo Credit: Ant1_G via Compfight cc

While not specifically a PBL/inquiry project, I found this article on Edutopia’s site about middle school students to be very uplifting. It makes me wonder what other types of things our kids can do to uplift each other. When you consider a good number of our students never hear a positive thing from their peers, it seems like taking a little time out of test prep to enhance the lives of others is well worth it. Enjoy:

How Two Middle Schoolers Spread Holiday Cheer with 800 Sticky Notes

Decenter Yourself

Grant Wiggins (of UbD fame) recently blogged about how good teachers decenter themselves: the process of the teacher taking him/herself out of the center of the learning process. The article itself is a worthy read as he talks through the why and the how, but the list below reminded me of what we will see as we continue our shift to inquiry driven instruction (PBL).

7 Characteristics Of Group-Worthy Tasks

I should note that some of my thinking about this issue was prompted by reading an article by Rachel Lotan in Educational Leadership on “group worthy” learning tasks from 2003, via a fine book on group work in mathematics written by Ilana Horn. Here is my slightly-edited version of the Lotan-Horn criteria for group worthy work:

  1. Focus on central concepts or big ideas that require active meaning-making
  2. The challenge itself has ambiguity or limited scaffold and prompting so that student meaning-making and different inferences about the task and how to address it will emerge.
  3. Are best accomplished by ensuring that multiple perspectives are found tried out in addressing the task. This not only rewards creative and non-formulaic thought but undercuts the likelihood that one strong student can do all the key work.
  4. Provide multiple ways of being competent in the task work and the task process
  5. Can only be done well by a group, but are designed to foster both individual and group autonomy. (The teacher’s role as teacher and direction-giver should be minimized to near zero).
  6. Demand both individual and group accountability
  7. Have clear evaluation criteria


Using Rubrics to Assess Critical Thinking

Photo Credit: jenhegna1

It’s an on-going concern that we cannot adequately/accurately assess critical thinking in our students. Buck Institute has a new book out titled “PBL for 21st Century Success: Teaching Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Communication, Creativity” that spends part of its pages in this area. As the leaders in PBL training, I respect their content and what they have to offer educators.

Take a look at this blog post where John Larmer, BIE Director of Product Development, shares insight into using the rubrics listed below. Keep in mind, allowing voice and choice in the creation of the final rubric is the best answer to holding students accountable to the expected levels of proficiency. They know what the expectations are because they helped CREATE them. When you’re having to respond to a question about the subjective nature of PBL (and similar) assessment, this is your best defense.

PBL – On-Time Topics

Photo Credit: kjd

PBL units can be the most engaging to students when designed around current topics that learners can relate to. That can be difficult for newer PBL teachers who aren’t as comfortable going through the planning process.

Mike Gwaltney has a blog post sharing a unit he put together based on the current conflict in Syria and how it pertains to what the United States can do. He links to the actual documents that are used in the decision making process. These are documents that students probably never knew existed and are never discussed on the news channels.

What I think will benefit you the most from looking at Mike’s blog post is his process.  He lays it out starting with the Driving Question and works his way through documents to share and then some facilitating the group work. It is really well done. Look at its framework and try to put a workflow in place for you to do the same in your classroom on a moment’s notice.

Without further ado, Mike’s unit:

Who Chooses War in a Constitutional Democracy?

While you’re at it, go find Mike on Twitter and ask him some questions and tell him thanks for sharing a great blog post.