Every year, thousands of teachers visit San Diego to understand project-based learning and find inspiration in the work done by students at High Tech High. Their multimedia presentations have been installed in public art galleries, and state and local ecologists have relied on their field guides for years. These high school students spend their time doing the complex work of professionals in countless fields. But what are the benefits of teaching this way? How do teachers create their own curricula? What structures do they use in their classrooms? In Work That Matters: The Teacher’s Guide to Project-Based Learning (Paul Hamlyn Foundation, 2012), Alec Patton outlines the rationale and foundations for project-based learning, while succinctly addressing the practical questions posed by curious teachers.
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I have been interested in critique since I read an excerpt from Ron Berger's Ethic of Excellence during my student teaching. I want to normalize the process of going through a series of drafts and submitting them to colleagues for critique prior to publishing a final product. I think this not only prepares students to produce high-quality work as adult professionals but also allows them to make meaningful contributions to the world right away. I introduce Berger's kind, specific, helpful critique model at the beginning of every year by having students draw an apple. Everyone -- adults included -- needs lots of practice monitoring their words so that they are kind and helpful, and it is easier for everyone to be specific when they are describing images -- the presence of a leaf, the curve of a stem, the number of specks, the placement of the shadow, etc. In the following weeks, we develop vocabulary to describe the ways people read, write, speak, listen, and show their thinking and arrange them into success criteria and rubrics so that students can critique increasingly abstract work. I want students to be able to transfer the lessons learned by others' successes and failures to their own work and articulate what is going well and what might be improved in any situation in which they find themselves. In time, this allows me to receive informed feedback on my teaching from the people with whom I spend the most time -- my students.
In my first year of teaching, I asked students to complete a handwritten "teacher report card" at the end of every week in which they rated me on an area of focus as well as general aspects of my teaching -- telling me the things they wished I would continue to do the same and begin to do differently. I gained valuable, unique insights that were never offered during my formal and informal observations from my administrator, teaching staff, or district personnel. Still, I wondered how I could get students to be more honest with me about what was working and what was not without losing any of the kindness that informed how they crafted their messages. I also wondered how I could use this as an opportunity to help students refine their feedback skills.
At the end of last year, I began asking students to complete a Google Form every Friday so that they can now share their critique anonymously, and to show them that I am listening to all their feedback and teach them what kind of comments are kind, specific, and helpful, I share a strong example of both warm and cool feedback during our class meeting the following Monday. These were some of the best examples from last spring…
I think that repeating both of these exercises every week will eventually allow students to give me feedback as valuable as comments made by the adults who visit my classroom. If you would like to use my Google Form as a starting place to create your own feedback survey for students, you can make a copy of this file.
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