Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Letting Go of Control #PBL

I've been watching my student projects roll in this week and I have been above impressed. I love to see kids have the opportunity to be creative and share their talents with the rest of class. Here are a couple of things my students have created with this project.


Gatsby Graffiti with QR Codes - Video

Gatsby Grille - Evernote Pics

I have even more Prezis and videos coming in later this week. I'm really happy with the way that this project is turning out.

I've been so proud of my students and they work they have done this year and I wonder why more teachers are not embracing projects as a way to assess learning. Based on conversations I have had with other teachers on this topic, it seems like control is a big issue. With open ended projects, teachers have less control and some have a hard time with that.

There is an idea out there that students need to be told what to do and how to do it when it coes to projects. For some students, they have no idea what to do when told they can be creative because they have never been given the freedom to do what they want. It's terrible when I have to help a student find their creative passions again. Sadly, I feel like some students never recover.

What is the reason behind the control issues? Why is it so important for some teachers to be "The Teacher"? I've known some teachers who really enjoy the power trip that being a teacher can be at times, but they do not tend to last very long in the classroom. There needs to be a reason and I think it might be failure. It seems that the fear of failing is what leads most teachers to avoid change. It ironic that by fearing failure, those teachers are failing their students.

I used to believe that the best project was the one I created and the student that followed all of the directions was the student who did it the best. I also used to think that giving weekly multiple choice tests was the best way to "make" kids do the reading. When I moved to projects, I thought they had to be very structured so the students would "learn" what they were supposed to and I could assess their learning easily following the rubric I constructed. Silly me. The projects were ok, but they lacked creativity and passion. I started to give options and started to get better projects. The last step was to give them just a couple of requirements (Explain 2 themes and 2 symbols) and let them create the project and the rubric with some guidance on my part when asked.

By giving up control, I didn't lose control of the class, I empowered the students to take control of their learning. It's a lesson I wish I had learned years ago and I hope to share with as many people as possible.


  1. Nicholas, you've pinpointed what's at the core of this issue: the teacher's perception of control. There is such a difference between "authentic" control and how others perceive control! Nice!

  2. I am enjoying reading these updates and watching the project progress. I absolutely love the creativity of the menu for the Grille and the cupcake/fries sample. The descriptions on the menu capture the themes and sybolism so well; even the eyes of TJ Eckelburg.
    Eggsellent! I bet that by allowing your students to be creative in this way has made them feel both more empowered and engaged in their learning and reading of The Great Gatsby.

  3. Really interesting post - thank you! I agree that the project based approach is really empowering for pupils and teacher alike. It does take a bit of a leap of faith at first to 'let go' because not completely sure where you'll end up but what I've found is that, whatever the 'destination', the skills learned, the creativity and passion along the way are what make the learning journey so worthwhile!


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