PSL and PBL: A Review of Autumnal Acronyms

PSL and PBL: A Review of Autumnal Acronyms

It's that time of year again when Halloween decorations hit store shelves way too soon, and Starbucks is re-releasing pumpkin spice lattes tomorrow even though actual pumpkins would never grow in this heat. And also, right around now children either excitedly or reluctantly go back to school.

On that note, I'm reviewing a helpful little book that I picked up during my early years as a teacher: Project-Based Learning for Gifted Students by Todd Stanley.

Though I started out as a high school English teacher, I relied on Stanley's book during my first year teaching 7th grade—which was also my first year intentionally implementing project-based learning (PBL) in my classroom.

Understand the philosophy behind the pedagogy

Stanley reflects on his experience as a teacher of gifted students, as well as recent education research, to share best practices in PBL strategies. He begins with an introduction to the philosophy behind PBL pedagogy, then goes into specific methods so that educators can adopt this teaching style in their classrooms. Stanley gives examples of projects his former students had worked on, including successes and pitfalls of the PBL method.

The book focuses on different aspects of PBL, such as:

  • Benefits of using PBL

  • How to create ownership with your students

  • How to use learning standards and Bloom’s taxonomy

  • How to structure your classroom

  • How to structure projects

  • How to collaborate with parents and administration--especially those unfamiliar with PBL

  • How to create and use rubrics

  • How to incorporate technology

  • How to shift from being "just" a teacher to being a coach to your students

The appendices offer several awesome resources, including sample lessons and projects—some of which are content specific and some that are adaptable to any content. There are also reproducibles of the learning contracts, calendars, and rubrics that Stanley references throughout the book.

I enjoyed reading and using Project-Based Learning. Even though I didn't teach gifted students in a sheltered environment, I found the methods described in this book equally useful for students in heterogeneous classroom settings or for students in other sheltered instruction groups, such as:

  • Co-taught

  • Inclusion/mainstreamed classrooms

  • English language learners

Empower students through actual differentiation

Stanley ends the book with some thoughts on empowering students. What really stood out to me is the emphasis on intentionally creating a true 21st century learning environment to prepare students to succeed in later grades, in college or post-secondary school, and in the workforce.

The traditional factory/sweatshop set-up of classrooms and old-school competitive isolationist pedagogy are no longer relevant in a global economy that revolves around collaboration and connectivity. Stanley encourages teachers to structure their classes to facilitate a true project-based learning environment. This means tables and large work spaces, access to technology tools such as computers and printers, along with arts and crafts supplies.

The PBL structure enables teachers to run a truly differentiated classroom in which students take ownership for mastery of standards and objectives while the teacher takes on the role of a coach/facilitator. Students will learn valuable skills such as time management, organization, responsibility, self-monitoring, and collaboration.

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