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Role of teacher in PBL

Monday 27 August 2018, by JMC

The role of the teacher - instruction or guidance ?

PBL is primarily a learner-focussed activity. Teachers, workplace mentors, community members, and other adults, however, play an essential role in supporting learner success. All learners need guidance, instruction, and feedback to deepen their knowledge and develop their skills. This is especially important for novice learners completely unfamiliar with the content, skills, and behaviors needed for successful project completion.

PBL does not downplay the role of the teacher or of traditional instruction. Instead, PBL is a teaching strategy that organises learning to emphasise self-management within a collaborative learning environment, while providing integrated instruction and intellectual scaffolding. Such cognitive support occurs within the context of project activities, rather than being provided as separated instructional episodes. PBL learning environments also provide ample opportunities for learner self-instruction and peer-instruction.

PBL does not mean the end of classroom teaching
PBL teachers know that lectures and class discussions are sometimes the best way to clarify a problematic concept or convey an important skill, and they constantly monitor learning and the difficulties that arise during project work. This allows them to address confusion and learning hurdles in real time. In addition, before launching a project, PBL teachers assess the skills and knowledge necessary for project success, and determine how to prepare learners before the project begins and/or provide lessons and other scaffolds once the project starts. The role of the PBL teacher is like that of a coach, building skills and confidence through example and instruction.

Research-based best practice
PBL teachers prioritize research-supported instructional practices. For example, a high quality project that involves writing (as most do) will include proven writing instruction methods appropriate to the project topic, activities, and the academic level of the writers. A PBL teacher, for example, might conduct a writing lesson to solidify the literacy skills learners need to compose effective letters. Similarly, in projects where learners are learning about science concepts, PBL teachers will be familiar with the learner misconceptions accompanying the science concept, and have research-based instructional strategies ready to counteract these misconceptions. In projects that require survey data analysis, PBL teachers will make sure learners have the necessary maths skills to make sense of the survey responses.

High-quality work
Importantly, instruction doesn’t occur for its own sake or (only) because it is dictated by standards or the syllabus; it occurs because learners need it to accomplish project tasks and/or solve problems. Just as PBL teachers strive to provide the highest quality project experiences coupled with research-supported instructional practices, learners strive to complete the high quality work that demonstrates deep learning.
The components of PBL coupled with high academic expectations create learning opportunities that support all learners. It’s easier for learners to complete high quality work, if they understand and can visualize what quality work looks like.

Integrated assessment
Creating assessment rubrics with learners is one way that both teachers and learners can agree on what goes into excellent work. Sharing examples of high quality project work completed previously also provides a way to communicate high standards of accomplishment. Encouraging critique and revision – an essential PBL principle – also demonstrates that learners can improve their work, sometimes far more than they ever imagined was possible.

Teachers and learners are both committed to excellence, in teaching and learning, and classroom achievement norms focus on learner self-improvement toward reasonable, achievable goals.