As I am writing this posting, I am picturing my own classes I had back in Russia, all the way from the elementary school through college - nothing but boring lectures. Any projects or discussions?....cannot think of even one. All that comes to memory are those endless lessons with the teachers reciting the textbooks by heart, hour after hour, class after class, year after year. The most vivid picture is of one professor marching across the room, from the window to the door and back, a "speaking textbook", with no eye contact...Do I remember what he was teaching then? You know the answer.
Yet, the teacher's role is critical. Even though it might seem that the project is all students', there is a lot of preparation on the teacher's part prior to the project even starts! Here are some the steps (learned during this semester):
1. Develop the Driving Question and ensure it is open-ended and has potential for students inquiry; i.e., they will be given an opportunity to get to the answer walking their own path.
2. Align the expected outcome(s) with the core national, state, or district standards as well as ensure development of essential skills and knowledge the project aims to achieve.
3. Consider the 21st century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and technology use.
4. Plan for major culminating products and performances: what and in what form will be presented as the project outcome. Who will be the audience?
5. Plan for both formative and summative assessments: how and how often will the students' progress be assessed? The formative assessment will allow to monitor students' learning and adjust instruction as needed. The summative assessment should assess student mastery of skills and content, and be performed for both individual and group created products.
As can be seen, the teacher's role in PBL is quite definite. However, how much "teaching" (i.e., spoon-feeding, lecturing, etc.) will be performed? Obviously, there is not much space for that particular type of teaching; rather, it will mostly be facilitating. That is, providing guidance and support, timely feedback, assessment, and assisting in time, technology, and classroom management (when needed.)
Finally, an important part of facilitating project-based learning is scaffolding, an instructional strategy that provides support necessary for students to complete the task before they develop independence. The type of scaffolding will depend on the nature of the project, yet, there will be one commonality - it will serve the role of that helping hand to prevent any failure.
Speaking of the MLK Project which I developed during the course, the following will be examples of facilitating scaffolding:
1. Provide necessary vocabulary for each upcoming part of the project to ensure understanding.
2. Provide handouts - from KWL to specific questions in order to "guide" the flow and directions of the project.
3. Provide adequate opportunity for practice to ensure mastering of content and skills before presenting to the "real" audience.