PBL as Turnaround Strategy

One elementary school in Lexington is using Project-Based Learning to turnaround its performance. An article detailing the approach also notes it is a multi-year commitment focused on success, not immediate results.

I previously wrote about Danville’s use of PBL as a hopeful experiment and an interesting reconnection to Kentucky’s KERA reforms of the 1990s.

Now, it seems Mary Todd Elementary in Lexington is embracing the approach as a way to improve results for the school. Interestingly, the emphasis on hands-on learning means field trips and technology are needed — that is, more investment in the school.

From the story:

The school in north Lexington is trying to transform student achievement with a concept called project-based learning. It is a system in which students learn classroom subjects by doing meaningful projects that relate to real situations in the community. The concept prepares students for college and careers, Kirchner said.
It is a three-to five-year process, “not a quick fix,” she said.

First- and third-graders are trying the method first, and Kirchner hopes to implement it schoolwide by 2017.
 
The transformation is needed in part because Mary Todd is considered a low-performing school. It had a score of 52.9 out of 100 in Kentucky’s testing and accountability program in 2013-14. Mary Todd is classified by the state as “needs improvement/progressing” as opposed to “proficient” or “distinguished.”
The story is an interesting one because of the approach — using more field trips, hands-on experiences, and projects to promote the learning students need to excel.
Rather than attempting to improve test scores by endless drilling, this approach focuses on providing education that illuminates concepts through experience.
And the school’s principal notes the effort doesn’t come without a cost:
The achievement gap between poor, disabled and minority students and other students is not going to close immediately, Kirchner said.

 
“Nor is it going to close based on the budget and staffing that we are given by the school district,” she said.
To do PBL well, it takes a commitment of time and an investment of resources.
For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport

 

 

The Danger of Achievement

Drew Perkins of Perkins Ed Consulting writes about the Culture of Achievement and how it can be harmful to students.

Perkins specializes in professional development related to Project-based learning, a topic I’ve written about before.

This column originally appeared on his blog, and is republished here with the author’s permission.

Achievement sounds great doesn’t it? What parent doesn’t want their child to achieve? What teacher doesn’t hope their students achieve at a high level? Of course achievement in general is a good thing but the Culture of Achievement created by high stakes accountability measures is having a dangerous effect on education.

A culture of achievement places it’s focus on the most easily quantifiable and measurable results, test scores. As superintendents and building administrators work to keep their jobs and show they are successful it’s somewhat understandable (if not short-sighted) that this would be a focus. Test scores are the currency in which the general public uses to judge schools. Want to know which schools are the best just ask Google and the top results show rankings like US News & World Report and SchoolDigger.com who state very clearly that test scores are a major factor in their ratings system. For example, US News & World Report explain they begin their rating of schools by “…using performance on state proficiency tests as the benchmarks.” The unfortunate truth is that these tests are not measuring things important to creating the type of graduates society needs and is longing for. Most standardized tests attempt to measure content knowledge and understanding and not skills or thinking you would find on the upper parts of Bloom’s taxonomy. What this often creates then is an approach by administrators that demands a focus on identifying exactly what parts of the test students are not performing well (disaggregating the data) and pulling those students for intentional work on shoring up those specific shortcomings. Sometimes these are called RTI classes and other times teachers are just asked to analyze student data in their PLC’s and reteach or somehow get these students to “achieve” so they can compete with other students and schools.
This detachment from the purpose of school and learning creates a level of frustration, anxiety and burnout that I experienced first-hand as a teacher and from students who have little to no interest in playing school. The misplaced focus of a Culture of Achievement manifests itself in ways that include test prep, students working on and celebrating closing of achievement score gaps, emphasis on coverage of content and almost always an unacceptable level of anxiety & burnout. Perhaps the most saddening part of a Culture of Achievement is it’s low ceiling. While it may be politically and strategically smart to pursue the quick hits of raising test scores it’s a fool’s bargain that limits the potential of our students in a myriad of ways.
What if we pursued a Culture of Teaching and Learning? One that placed an emphasis on things like deep, rich inquiry and craftsmanship? What if the learning had no ceiling and students were authentically assessed and did real-world work where they uncovered and discovered content? What if instead of disaggregating data our teachers engaged in quality professional discourse about their work in ways that excited them and their students? A Culture of Teaching and Learning often produces great (test scores) achievement but a Culture of Achievement rarely results in great teaching and learning. A Culture of Teaching and Learning rewards and professionalizes teaching and helps create students who are empowered by their possibilities and less than concerned with test performance.
If your school is looking to create great thinkers and learners and not just students stuffed full of content take a look at your culture. If your school is wishing your students were excited to be there instead of feeling the tension of just trying to attend and endure take a look at your culture. Is your focus on test scores and “achievement” or do your teachers and students engage in ways that allow them to grow and make meaning out of their learning in ways that tests don’t measure and quantify? Is the purpose of your school to produce great test scores or students capable of thinking creatively and critically about things that matter?
Are you interested in improving your Culture of Teaching and Learning?
For more on moving toward a Culture of Teaching and Learning, visit Drew’s site.
For more on education politics and policy in Kentucky, follow @KYEdReport