15 Common PBL Mistakes | mistake 2: mixed-ability grouping only

4 11 2014

I have the best job in the world. On a regular basis, I’m given the extraordinary fortune to talk with teachers who are embarking on a PBL journey with their students. To dig into the smaller, everyday details of how to make this type of learning environment work. To answer the tough questions about sustainability, rigor, behavior management and then take the questioner further…that’s like chocolate to me! I can’t get enough.

Over the years of starting my own PBL school and learning in a baptismal fire, I’ve been able to find a way to talk with new or reluctant teachers about their concerns. Additionally, there are things that excited, energetic teachers might want to consider as they take their first steps into the PBL fire as well.

In the next month or so, I’ll be publishing a regular series to include 15 common mistakes that educators make and some solutions they might consider. Here’s the next one in the series:

Mistake #2:
Grouping kids in high-medium-low groups only.


Problem:
We think we’re creating a fair environment of learning when we cross-group high, medium and low-ability students in one group, when actually, we’re creating a very unfair situation. Students deserve to be challenged at the levels that are appropriate for their own skills and talents. How we handle these situations can either create or break a learning community.

Solution: Students must be grouped by ability on a regular basis. This allows teachers to laser-pinpoint focus the work to best challenge each individual in a group to his or her fullest potential. After all, not all football players are ready for varsity-level action and to put a varsity-level player on a novice team would seriously limit his growth potential. However, if ability-grouping is the only way we’re grouping students, this too is inadequate. Students of all ability levels in a group are best served when they have a common interest. This interest-grouping allows all students to legitimately contribute to the process. The bottom line is that while we do want to regularly group students by ability level, all students be able to find themselves in a variety of groups on a regular basis. Not sure you agree? Read more about grouping here.

Want to learn more about Project/Problem Based Learning?


In 2006 with 12 years of traditional classroom experience and 2 days of formal PBL training in her pocket, Ginger Lewman started a middle school, grades 5-8, that was a 1:1 laptop and Project Based Learning environment. Five years later, the middle school had doubled in population twice and had expanded to include PBL in grades K-8. They were also in the process of opening a PBL high school the next fall. Ginger now works with school leaders in helping them learn how to support the PBL shift, and inspires their teachers to take the leap. Meanwhile, she also continues to co-teach with K-12 teachers in the training process, keeping her own teaching chops sharp and ready.  

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