Perhaps one of the most challenging things for me to overcome while implementing Project Based Learning (PBL) was becoming the facilitator or “guide-on-the-side.” I had developed a very traditional style of teaching with a touch of student collaborative group work. My 4th graders and I experienced PBL for the first time together. It was a new way of learning and a new way of teaching. It was my second year teaching 4th grade and I was looking for a meaningful way to tackle the New York State English Language Arts Modules while integrating Science and Social Studies. I jumped in with the support of my colleagues and hit the ground running, perhaps just a little too fast!
My first PBL experience was an in-depth study integrating ELA and Science through a project with our local zoo. While it was inquiry based, I still included a lot of direct instruction throughout the unit and guidance in the final product. While direct instruction is still necessary throughout the “messy middle” of PBL, I was still providing a little too much. Still under the mindset that products should look a certain way, I found myself stressed and anxious as the final product and exhibition night drew near. In reality, the work my students completed was rich, authentic, and looked great. I needed to step back and trust my students more in their ability to learn.
After spending some time reflecting on the unit we completed together, I realized that PBL was much different from what the students and I were used to. I took a step back from continuing the year with another PBL unit right away, and took a closer look at what I was already doing. I found ways to implement elements of PBL naturally. By allowing myself to scaffold PBL elements into my existing units, I became more comfortable with this style of teaching. As the year went on, students began to take on more responsibility for their learning and my role as facilitator became increasingly natural. It wasn’t until I had a couple of projects under my belt that I could see the power behind becoming a true facilitator of student driven inquiry.
So often we think of scaffolding to help our students. In this case, I was in need of the scaffolding in order to become a facilitator of PBL. I think it is important to recognize and celebrate where we are on our teaching journey while being open to new things that benefit our students, even if it is in small steps!
PBL Teacher Trainer & Instructional Coach