PBL: Building community, Building skills

7 09 2011

How does a teacher build a real family, a really community inside a school system that doesn’t necessarily foster collaboration or even conversation?

It’s in every single action, every single word, every single email, every single interaction with students and between students. 

And the mid-point re-group for a project is absolutely constructed to continue to foster that community. 

a chance to wrestle with ideas, concepts, timelines, etc

During the hustle and bustle of students with heads down, furiously researching, measuring, building, writing, collaborating, thinking, problem-solving, and all the activity that goes with project based learning, there comes a time when the entire group needs to get back together. They need to come together to see where the work has taken them as individuals, as members of small groups, and as the group as a whole. Where each of us has gone in our learning individually and together with others.

Sometimes, once students dig into their research, they find that an original assumption they’d held may not be correct. All students need to be aware of that change of information. They may also find themselves spinning, spinning on an aspect that is taking up too much time; becoming a “time vampire” for the progress of the group.

One of the simplest ways to refocus and communicate needs is through instant messaging and emails, but at times, nothing beats the efficiency and clear communication of a face to face meeting.

That is precisely the point of the mid-point re-group.

During the mid-point re-group during a project in a Project Based Learning environment, students and staff have the chance to sit down and review some general questions to gauge the project’s progress so far, in both a small and large group setting. The can begin to determine what might need adjusted in order to meet the deadline and how they can do this with a high-quality, deeply informative product.

It also so happens that this re-group moment is a vital step that, if properly orchestrated, can bring cohesiveness to an entire group of learners, setting the stage for building an actual community from the staff and students together.

The mid-point regroup is essential in the success of any LifePractice PBL project in the now and with your future projects to come.

Getting started

A teacher may be the logical facilitator of this portion, or it may instead be led and facilitated by students who are the leaders of their individual groups/teams. Perhaps this leadership was selected by the students formally during the contract writing process. Maybe a natural leader or two emerged during the work. Maybe the teams simply appointed someone to represent them in this speaker’s role.

The teacher team with students’ input can decide how this will be facilitated. The more experience a student has had with LifePractice PBL, then the more leadership they should be expected to handle. It’s part of the responsibility and freedom balance that’s cultivated in this environment.

If at all possible, all students, not just the leaders, should be actively involved in the mid-point re-group, listening to the reports others’ work & struggles and making notes for their own team. There may be a desire to have only student team leaders participate in this process, but when all students listen, they each can begin to feel an innate part of the success of the project. They can directly connect their work and learning to the success of the team and to the project as a whole learning experience.

The project begins to be real for students in this moment. That maybe they can actually pull this thing off! Success begins to be a realistic, tangible, and maybe even fearful notion.

Depending on the size of the group, the time allowed, and the special needs of the group, various reflection questions can be considered, with one person sharing answers to the entire group at one time, or with a jigsaw pattern, where each member of a group is partnered with others from other groups and info is shared out in simultaneous grouping.

The recommended form for LifePractice is for one person at a time to share information to the entire group, since it’s easier to monitor the accuracy of the information shared and for teachers to correct and or plan for upcoming redirection workshops. Additionally, it’s also simply a welcome change to have a calmer environment for a bit, as compared with the furious and fast-paced group work of earlier.

Another important question for group reflection should be about when to set the soft deadline, taking into account the amount of work left, and the time they might need to polish their first creation.

It requires students to think about deadlines and take the first steps in learning how to manage their own work and time, which is an essential skill for any working adult, but which so few students actually get to practice in real life. This conversation about when to set the soft deadline is important to be had with students making the decision along side the teachers as role models. In addition to providing authentic LifePractice, it also allows the students to feel more control over their own stress and to have their own accountability to deadlines rather than simply blaming the stress on the teacher-created timeline. Students begin to more fully understand the need for deadlines, which leads to more respect of that important cutoff.

Learning through reflection

The mid-point re-group is not intended to be a deep reflection meeting, although reflection of the learning that is occurring should certainly be a major focus of the meeting. The re-group is meant for the teams to formally touch base and for individual students to see that the work they’re doing (or not doing) does impact us all. They can readily see that other students are working and to what quality they’re working and how they need to measure up for the success of the project. Therefore the amount of time you meet could be as long or short as needed, depending on the overall length of the project. A lunch meeting is sometimes a very successful venue, with each student eating and participating, keeping their hands busy as their minds continue to churn. It also allows students to experience the value of a working lunch.

During the mid-point re-group, teachers also are given a strong opportunity to reinforce particular learning pieces where all can see/hear the important information required for learning the standards and other traditional curriculum pieces. At all times, good teachers are looking for opportunities for students to stumble across those standards in each content areas that were identified by teachers collaborating in The prep portion of the project. Students can begin to internalize those facts, based on the learning being put into context. Teachers should ask students whom they know have encountered the particular bits of information to share that learning and how it affects the overall project.

Sustaining momentum with a mid-point re-group

Excitement, focus, growth, and reassurance are all keywords for the meeting. Staff should be helping to generate all of these feelings in each student with every move they make and each comment they speak. Students should be encouraged to share what successes their team has had and who has been responsible. Quality student leaders will find a way to share the glory of their team with each member, but good team leaders are not born; they’re nurtured.

Teachers need to prepare them to do this; to help the team look for ways to spotlight each others’ contributions and perhaps even go as far to recommend that student’s strengths to other teams. Through this genuine peer support, community is constantly being built and grown for the benefit of the entire school.

Cautions and Tips

During this time, a balance of the positive needs to be struck with the very real sense of urgency for a quality product to be created before the looming deadline. Inevitably, during the meeting, some students will get nervous, realizing that so much time has passed and they’re already at the mid-point to the final deadline. Reassure them that this meeting, although it takes away from some project time, will help refocus and re-energize the group. They will be surprised at how well the second half of the project moves forward after this regroup. However, that nervousness speaks to the recognition of a sense of urgency. This should be recognized and shared with the group. Then the group, either as a whole or in smaller teams, can spend a little time making sure their remaining to-do lists are lean and efficiently focused toward the end-goal.

Before the mid-point regroup, the teachers will want to share the types of questions that will be asked, and discussed. Students need to be prepared to brag about their learning and their progress with the rest of the group. They need to be prepared to hold each team member up for accolades if they’ve earned it.

Overall, the mid-point regroup is the perfect occasion to help students refocus on the big picture and reassess and prioritize their needs and adjust those to fit the timeline remaining. The tone of the meeting needs to balance positive reassurance with a strong sense of urgency, fueled by a need for a quality product at the end of the deadline, which will always, always be met.

And then the furious work pace continues.

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