The PBL/Skills Tension

At the elementary school there is a tension between our work to build and solidify skill and discrete knowledge, and our efforts to build engaging projects that embed skill, knowledge and concept.

The tension causes reflection and thought as we know a balance of the two approaches is necessary. Explicit, skill focus, similar to stroke coaching in swimming, is essential to build discrete skills for young children, and the synthesis, application, engagement and authenticity of project base learning endeavor is necessary too in order to build investment, student voice and 21st century skills of creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills.

The tension builds in the elementary school house because there is a host of professionals from those who mainly focus on discrete skills to those that focus mainly on project base learning endeavor. The landscape becomes complex as the many professionals collaborate to coordinate their work to best meet the interests and needs of all students.

I continue to lean towards structure changes at the elementary school.  These changes would simplify some of our coordination while targeting the learning for greater effect.  I outlined this vision in a past post.

From where I sit now, I plan the week with a number of discrete, skill based lessons that involve the work of many teachers including special educators, reading specialists, therapists,assistant teachers, interns and volunteers.  These discrete learning sessions include the following: math problem solving, math tech for fact practice and skill, reading groups targeted on fluency and comprehension, and our grade-level rotations where we present specific science and social studies activities through hands-on learning activities and investigation.

Our project base learning takes on a more fluid motion. New projects are introduced about once a week and students work on a continuous list of project endeavors.  During our open-ended "project/tech workshops" students work fluidly as they complete projects on their own and with the help of teachers and students.  There is a lot of room for student creativity and voice in these projects as well as the embedded activity of skill, concept and knowledge practice and use.

How are you managing the learning routine so that there's room for discrete skill development and project/problem base learning?  How has your classroom/school schedule changed to accommodate both areas of learning?  The challenge is to move towards positive change while maintaining reasonable expectations and schedules for students and teachers.  I would say that at this juncture in the change, "reasonable" is an important consideration because we tend to take on more without letting go--a process that can lead to stress and diluted effect.  Weeding and culling the learning schedule is essential so that this overload does not occur. Where does the skill/pbl tension exist in your work environment?  What ways have you moved towards advantageous coordination of both?

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