A Learning Diary by Gordana Sutej

Introducing Project-Based Learning in your Classroom

6th June to 10th July 2016.

My name is Gordana and I work as a teacher librarian in a primary school in Duga Resa, small town in Croatia. My task in school is to promote reading and information literacy. I am looking forward to learning in this course.
"Ivan Goran Kovacic" Primary School
Students can´t be the only learners in the classroom. Teachers have to learn in our classrooms, too. (N. Atwell)
This is my library. It is small, but everything in it is collected with great care and love. I am proud to say that students like to learn in our school library.

Being a teacher librarian, I have to collaborate with my colleagues to fulfill library and information literacy curriculum. I have groups of children who attend activities which I lead independently (various reading groups, young librarians, school magazine editors). However, my responsibility is to reach all the students in school. So, first of all, I have to develop collaboration with the colleague teachers and it is not always easy. Many of them are not interested and do not understand why they should collaborate with me. I am carefully developing connections, trying to raise awareness among colleagues why information literacy is important and the fact that it is best learned in authentic context through project learning.

Last few years I was working hard to introduce Guided Inquiry as a model of learning in our school. Guided Inquiry was developed by Carol C. Kuhlthau, Leslie Maniotes and Ann K. Caspary and it corresponds a lot to PBL.

1. What is PBL and why use it

1.1 What is PBL

Questions I have about PBL:

How to motivate students? How to motivate colleagues for collaboration?How to find right measure of what to expect from project-based learning? How to guide students? How to choose resources? What about time management?...

1.2 Why use PBL

What type of skills & competences are developed in students as a result of PBL?

  • critical thinking
  • problem solving
  • creativity
  • collaboration
  • information literacy
  • ICT literacy
  • flexibility and adaptation
  • initiative and self direction
  • social and cross-cultural skills
  • productivity and accountability
  • lidership
Why is PBL not used more widely in our education systems?

Many teachers are not educated to implement PBL in their classes. They have not experienced such learning as students, either. It is difficult to expect that teachers can change the way they teach just like that. They need help and support. Of course, there will always be enthusiasts, who will be motivated to change and learn themselves, bit it is not enough. What about children who are not lucky to have such teachers?

1.3 P2P - Reflections on our current teaching practice

Well, since I am teacher librarian I find myself in all sorts of situations and interactions with students and teachers, from working with individual students, to small groups, whole classes to leading school projects. I have to be flexible for all kinds of teaching situations and levels of collaborations with my colleagues.

During this school year, I was leading two reading groups, one for students and one for teachers. I had four groups of so-called “young librarians” who came one hour a week to learn about and in the library. These were children aged 8-10. There were two groups of school newspaper editors (age 12-14). I also worked with one group of children with reading difficulties. I lead these groups independently, so I choose teaching and learning strategies that ensure a lot of fun for students and relaxed working atmosphere. I guess that is the reason why those activities are so popular among students. There are lots of games, creative workshops, quizzes, dramatizations, web tools etc. Sometimes I insert some mini lectures.

The other part of my work is library and information literacy curriculum that should be integrated in the curriculum of all school subjects. This is something that I can do only in the collaboration with other teachers. Here I have difficulties because some of them are not willing to cooperate. Some of the teachers in my school prefer traditional lecturing and are not aware of the importance of information literacy. Officially, the collaboration is recommended, but nobody supervises it. However, I somehow succeed to squeeze my curriculum whenever there is opportunity. Some colleagues are willing to do new things, some are willing to let me do whatever I want, just if they do not have to do anything, some allow small interventions on my side but want to be in charge. I am very enthusiastic about my job and my task in school, I try to be positive and not intrusive, so I must say that each year there are more opportunities to integrate information literacy in other subjects.

I am optimistic for curriculum reform that is going on in Croatia. Although political situation is not in favor of the reform now, I am sure that changes will come, one way or the other.

I think I will have many opportunities to implement PBL in my work. For the purpose of this course, I will choose my group of school journalist.

  • Class: group of school journalists
  • Number of students: 15
  • Age: 11-14
  • Subject topic: Media literacy

1.4 Components of Good PBL

  • Real world connection
  • Core to learning
  • Structured collaboration
  • Student driven
  • Multifaceted assessment
Which of the 5 components (or keys as they are called in the video) you feel will be the most challenging for you to realize and why.

Each component seems challenging

Students in my school in general are not used to PBL. They do not know how to collaborate, they are not used to express their opinion, most of them are passive in class. But, since I will be experimenting with the group of school journalists, they allready have some skills needed for PBL.

1.5 The Driving Question

The question should be open-ended, engage and inspire students by creating curiosity, and be aligned to the learning goals you would like to achieve.

1.6 P2P - Your PBL Design: Formulating your driving question

When you have come up with a good driving question post it in the peer review activity text box below, together with a bit of context about where you plan to implement it, such as the student age-range, subject, etc. and the learning goals you would like to achieve with the class (what skills, knowledge, etc. students should acquire.

My driving question:

How do commercials influence our life and should we do anything about it?

How do commercials influence our life and should we do anything about it?

  • Class: School magazine editors
  • Number: 15
  • Age: 11-14
  • Subject topic: Media Literacy: Advertising, Persuasion and Propaganda

Students will investigate the topic and present their findings in digital school magazine. They will analyze commercials (different formats) ; identifying the author, genre, purpose and point of view; analyze persuading techniques; difference between fact and opinion; what does the law say about comercials; create commercials about something they believe deserves it.

My first Learning Designer

Useful resources:

2. Developing effective collaboration for PBL


A key goal of PBL is not the project but rather the process of building the project

2.3 Effective Collaboration for PBL inside the Classroom

Nature of collaboration happening in my class:

2.4 Finding collaboration partners outside the classroom

Think about if you have contacts to or knowledge of networks of local professionals? Which organisations or people engage with the school on a regular basis? Are there any businesses working with the school such as caterers, IT companies, or sports organisations? Who are your school's neighbours? Could they be approached? What about school alumni? And who could you or your students ask for support in identifying the right people?

Examples of collaboration in our school: Teachers invite parents to school to talk about their professions; parents participate in workshops; we collaborate with town council, the youth council, town library; city museum; local radio station; local experts; our school participated in experimental implementation of education for democratic citizenship and human rights curiculum and we collaborated with non goverment organizations; our school magazine invited local cinema club to help us with instruction how to make video;

Who could we ask for support in our current project? We could find some professional journalist/marketing expert/law expert willing to disscuss the topic; We could visit national public TV (HRT) and ask for explanation the difference between public and commercial media;

2.5 Collaboration Tools

2.6 P2P - Building your PBL Learning Design

3. Developing student-driven activities for PBL


Another key part of PBL is for students to take ownership of tasks, initiative at solving problems, and most importantly to stick with these tasks and problems until they have come to a satisfactory conclusion.

Getting students' to develop grit and resilience to stay with a problem or project even though they have failed previously is one the most difficult parts of PBL

Describe a situation in your professional or personal life where you were first unsuccessful but because you stuck with it you succeeded in the end. Finish by identifying why you stuck with the problem/task and did not give up .

There were many situations like this. As the editor of school magazine I ventured to make layout of the magazine for printing. It was to be made in a program for layout design which I have never used before. I had to find free program because my school did not have money to buy one. I found Scrybus, which is open-source program. It was difficult to learn how to use it. I spent days and nights watching tutorials and practisnig. When I was first doing it it was during Christmas vacation, I did not have time to bake any cakes for my family as I was busy making the layout. Nevertheless, I was really proud of the magazine when it was published. Why did I stuck with the task and did not give up? I do not know. Perhaps because I am stuborn and responsible. Or I wanted to prove to myself that I can do it. It was interesting after all. I have to think about it to find the answer.

3.1 Scaffolding for Student Ownership and Independence

Students should jump into the deep end and learn through their failures. Providing them too much support makes them dependent.

This is true, but we have to guide students in the process. We have to sparkle interest for the topic, we have to arrange learning scenarios, provide resources, guide through learning, provide modells of thinking and making decisions, find possibilites for sharing work.

3.2 Developing Student Resilience

Resiliance is a combination of skills and attributes that help to solve problems, cope with challenges, adapt and bounce back when things don´t go as planned. Resilient people learn from their mistakes, they look at their failures and mistakes as lessons to be learned from, and as opportunities for growth

Combination of setting out the right environment, building positive relationships, and offering space for independent decisions.

Reverse Brainstorming" exercise! In Reverse Brainstorming we will answer the opposite question of what we actually want to achieve.
Identify how we as teachers can weaken our student's confidence and independence. Use your own and others' reflections to help you create a classroom environment that supports students to become confident and independent learners.

3.3 An Entrepreneurial Mindset

3.4 Webinar 22nd June, 18:30h: Developing Entrepreneurial Skills

3.5 P2P - Building your PBL Learning Design

4. Assessing PBL


Assessment should not only be about giving a grade at the end but it should be an on-going process, where teachers and students alike assess their learning as they work on the projects.

4.2 Embedding Assessment into PBL

4.3 Peer Assessment for PBL

4.4 Creating & Using Rubrics for PBL Assessment

4.6 Extra Webinar 5th July - Flip Your Students' Role in PBL


Photographs: Biserka Belavic


Created with images by Meditations - "algebra analyse architect" • J Wynia - "einstein_glasstoobig"

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