21 October 2016

#TFLA16 Presentation: PBL Building Blocks

What a treat to get to join some of my favorite language educators in Texas! I was called in to talk PBL with TFLA teachers last weekend in both workshop and session format.

In the workshop, we worked on actually getting started on that first PBL unit using resources I collected on a Wix site (I finally caved, @carmenscoggins!)

Note to self: collaborating on Google Slides is tricky from mobile devices. Still, we got some good ideas started, and I'm excited about the pet care and social media topics we discussed! I hope my new Texas amigos will add more to the sites as they get more ideas!

To tell the truth, I think the session went a little smoother than my first-ever workshop, in part because I got to riff with my roomie, the inimitable Amy Lenord of the Language Coaching blog, to prep for the second day.

Both presentations, though, centered on preparing a unit with four steps that can be spiraled, recycled, scrambled, and resorted as needed:

Of course having more structured interaction with Nearpod never hurts either.


One thing my guru Amy advised was to take time to take the temperature of the room. I really liked how the (trick) Nearpod quiz worked for that, but also the responses I got on why PBL is and is perhaps not the best choice for those there.

Here are some of the best responses, with my reactions, in case they help you make more informed decisions about whether PBL is for YOU.

What makes you think PBL might be a good choice for you?

  • It would allow more student choice.
    True--but not the only way to do that.

  • I want students to be engaged during the whole process.
    True, too--but something that must be carefully scaffolded and nurtured as in any context.

  • I think this will help put learning into the hands of my students, or at least feel like they are the ones who are discovering.
    Inquiry-based learning is more lasting, and even with carefully structured input, students can still find their own answers with PBL.

  • I want my students to love the language, I want them to use it on a daily basis and feel comfortable with it.
    This can certainly be accomplished in other ways, but PBL is a pretty solid way to hit all of those if done carefully.

  • Creating a product fosters engagement
    Absolutely--having something tangible to show for your learning make the whole thing seem worthwhile.

  • I am looking to have more meaningful assessments / have more purpose/ meaningful direction in my lessons
    I think this is the biggest advantage to PBL--Real World purpose right now.

What makes you think PBL might not be for you?

  • Not sure were tests grades fit in.
    Ah, the eternal struggle. The truth is tests can still fit in much as they did before--only with PBL, they're stops along the way, not the destination.

  • I am not sure how to use it for teaching grammar.
    The OTHER eternal struggle. As with any communication-based program, PBLL means that grammar fits where it is needed to communicate. It just happens that with PBL, the communication goals are generally aimed at completing and presenting a product.

  • Not knowing how to align with curriculum.
    If you're stuck with a textbook or pacing guide, find the good stuff and really focus on finding a meaningful purpose for that. The rest goes to the chuck-it bucket--because honestly, that's where it ended up for 80% of students anyway, right? PBL lets you be more intentional about what they still remember and can use next year.

  • Can take a lot of planning and time
    Well, amigo, you ain't wrong. That's why I advise starting slow--with ONE unit in ONE class. Make it worthwhile and then make it work. It might not work the first time. Don't sweat it. Reflect, revise (or reject), and try again a different way.

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