Now that much of the design process for this PBL is completed, consideration of my own behaviors during the project is the focus. In PBL, the role of the teacher and students shifts: student-centered learning takes center stage, so to speak, and the teacher becomes a facilitator rather than the sole deliverer of information. This shift can make many teachers uncomfortable especially when their performance is tied to student performance on standardized assessments. That kind of pressure drives us to control the process which often has the opposite effect on students.
For most of my education career (though not all of it) I have acted as a facilitator rather than a deliverer of content. Teaching online forced me to reconsider my pedagogical practice as it is much, much harder to find ways to lecture in an eLearning format. So there is not a huge shift to make in the face to face realm for me. That is not to say that I don’t have more to learn about skillful facilitation.
As indicated in the definition above, a facilitator makes things easier. That means that as I observe students work, I need to look for problem areas. Where are students deficient skill-wise? What content is harder to learn or understand? What do students need to be successful? Identification of student problems or challenges is the first critical component of effective facilitation.
Determining how to solve problems or support students struggling with an issue becomes the next step for a facilitating teacher. This may involve teacher research, inviting a professional to class, locating support documents, creating support processes or activities, or sharing student examples. Sometimes an act as simple as providing the right feedback to students can help students out of a problem.
As I mentioned previously, though I am used to facilitating, I can stand to learn more about effective practices. The best way I know to do this is twofold: first, to research other’s facilitation methods and\or read books on the topic can often help me reflect on my own practices and improve. Secondly, observing other teachers facilitate student work is immensely helpful. This can be done with colleagues or by watching instructional videos.
I believe that giving students independence through semi-structured learning activities in a supportive environment ensures that they learn – not only content information but skills as well. There have been too many instances where I have watched students wither under continued teacher-centered instruction to lead me to believe that student-centered classrooms are the best way to ensure student growth.