My Learning Diary On PBL By Anna Laghigna

Project-based Learning in the classroom

School education gateway MOOC — June 6/July 10 2016

Hi! My name is Anna Laghigna.

I am a secondary teacher of English as a Foreign Language. My students are 14-19 year-olds and specialise on Humanities and Psychology.

I am based in Udine, a small town to the north-east of Venice (Italy) but I also partly live in Austria, on the Carinthian mountains, where I spend most of my weekends and holidays with family and friends. I love hiking, golfing and... skiing of course!

I need a vision! Yup, a big idea for my PBL... lol!

About me

I teach English, and sometimes German. My students are Italian-speaking teenagers ranging from 14 to 18-19 years of age. I have recently had also some experience as a teacher trainer. I'm passionate about integrating technology in class "not because of the tool, but because of the competences" that it can enhance.

I love teaching! Before being a teacher, I worked for a long time as an interpreter/translator and a tour guide. This double-oriented approach has often helped me also in my teaching: it is important not to forget about the world outside that will await students after graduation. They will need a variety of skills - far beyond rote academic knowledge - to become functioning adults in a very complex world. They will need creativity to solve new problems that require innovative solutions.

I love discovering new ways of doing things and like to think of myself as a lifelong learner.

I have long been fascinated by Project-Based Learning because of its potential in creating modern learning environments, and have already experimented a bit. I believe it can take students on an engaging journey of creativity, exploration, and real-world relevance.

I think a key point to PBL is that it is cross-curricular in nature, and can be adapted to many subject areas. Moreover, PBL can foster the development of 21st century skills, such as communication, critical thinking, problem–posing and solving as well as interpersonal skills, like leadership, personal responsibility and entrepreneurship, etc.

It encourages students to pose questions and find solutions. As teachers, we are all aware that our students' questions are magnets to their learning.

It’s a way for students to learn problem solving skills and to become successful with any challenge.

PBL requires however accurate planning and a vision - the socalled Big Idea. Often it is said that to trigger students' curiosity and initiate constructive learning, a driving non-Googleable open question is required. This is what I have found most difficult to think of, i.e. to design a project behind the scenes, which should lead my students to reach a goal through open tasks. Teacher's role needs to change radically and this is no doubt a big challenge for most teachers who engage in PBL.

Obviously, it can be fascinating! However, projects on the whole require a long span of time and students need to work intensively on one project at a time — this is what would happen in the real world!

I wonder whether students do not get bored after a while... Mine, for example, often say that what they appreciate about our way of working in class is the dynamic rythm and fast-paced diverse activities. I suppose "a bit of everything" makes a perfect blend!

So, let's find out more... I am eager to learn!

Module 1

Learning objectives:

  • Understand what PBL is and isn't
  • Reflect on our own teaching practice and how this corresponds to a PBL approach
  • Identify different components of effective PBL and which of these will be the most challenging in our context
  • Develop a first idea for implementing a PBL approach in our context and formulate a driving question.

Doing projects in class does not equal Project Based Learning

Chart by Amy Mayer

Students need to actively learn how to solve problems that are true to life!

Project-based Learning is a student-directed, hands-on activity at the end of which students will have to create something - a video, a website, a play - which demonstrates what they have learnt.

It involves indepth investigation of subject matter and the contribution of outside experts that supplement teachers' knowledge. Students study content when they need it and can learn from their experience, just as we often do in the real world.

PBL has proved more effective than traditional instruction in achieving academic success, because it helps students apply and retain info. It also helps building skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and communication. Students who engage in PBL show increased motivation in their studies.

Why is PBL not used more widely in our education systems?

PBL requires a radical change of mindset in teachers, parents and other stakeholders. It is a challenge for teachers because it requires a completely new approach to teaching. The teacher's role in class changes from instructor to facilitator and above all designer. Very few teachers are currently willing to revolutionize their teaching methods to such an extent.

PBL requires flexible learning scenarios, spacious rooms where students can move around and work in groups but also equipment and aids that need to be purchased to carry out a project. Depending on the type of project, also different types of special materials - some of which are usually unavailable at school, could be necessary. ICT equipment is often insufficient or inadequate in our schools.

In PBL it is pretty natural that students will at a certain point stumble and fail, because they are experimenting new ways. PBL is the natural completion of a problem solving process, since it starts with identifying a problem and working through it in order to come up with a solution. It could happen that students fail to find a solution and that the teacher is unable to help. This can be pretty frustrating and demotivating for the students, because they often lack persistence. Having said this, it is however true that in PBL the process matters more than the result and that kids are learning to use their creativity and to collaborate. Resilience is another key word to PBL.

Another possible issue is due to lack of time and work overload in systems which have central state exams on core standards. In my school, for example, it would be difficult to implement PBL with last-year students who need to focus on the Final State Exam. PBL can be time-consuming because it requires a lot of preparation. What's more, PBL is not suitable to traditional school timetables and could be an issue when teachers have lots of classes. It can be demanding to design really engaging projects, especially when more than one teacher is involved. In my country, teachers are definitely not used to working in teams. Assessment of PBL can be as well an issue: demonstration of performances as expected result of learning cannot be measured through traditional tests or exams. Moreover, if the final performance is the result of a group, it could be difficult to assess each individual's contribution. Less active students could avail of quality work of the ones who have worked very hard.

I'm pinpointing here a selected playlist of utube videos dealing with PBL from Eduproject for my future reference.

1.3 Reflections on my current teaching practice

For people like me who teach a foreign language,­ our primary objective is to help pupils reach communicative autonomy. This demands time and dedication! Nonetheless, I try not to forget that Languages are first of all keys to freedom and communication, so that learning scenarios which expose students to native speakers in a variety of contexts are essential to learning a language.

Moreover, through language teaching we can develop other important 21st century skills.

I have been experimenting new ways of creative teaching and learning that focus on developing students’ language skills through creativity, critical thinking and collaboration among peers. I think my current approach could be occasionally complemented with PBL, though not on a regular basis. I believe that a Blended method is more appropriate considering my current teaching context.

I try to teach with an integrated and transversal approach and blend many teaching strategies according to my students' exigencies. I have frequently used Inquiry-based Learning and webquests, as well as Flipped Classroom, which encourage active learning. My top priority is to design activities that are engaging and motivating for my students. I want them to be active and creative. I think Learning by Doing and Groupwork are the best ways to learn.

I like to integrate technology in the classroom. However, adding some digital support to our lessons is not enough to make our students become owners of their own learning process. It also takes creativity! My main field of interest is Digital Storytelling.

I try to encourage students to discover and investigate contents independently, before providing standardised answers for all. As a guide and facilitator, I try not to give ready answers but hints to their questions and encourage peer-learning in groups.

I have already experimented some PBL, although not yet with a clearly structured plan aimed at solving a real life problem. Being a language teacher, my focus is primarily on communication rather than content.

I try to create diversity in class and design various types of activities, at times also teacher-led: for example when Grammar insight is needed or when we read a poem or parts of a novel together.

My students love to hear stories and poems being read aloud and discussed with me as a guide. The deeply felt emotions that a poem or a monologue in a tragedy can trigger in teenagers when read and analysed in plenum with the help of an adult cannot be replaced by any project or groupwork.

Please do not get me wrong: I love doing projects but I also believe that we should ourselves apply critical thinking to our way of teaching. Modern trends in education are obviously important and we need to innovate, but on the other hand we should not completely abandon the old ways.

Our kids are at times too heavily absorbed in visual forms of communication and games. For many of them school can be the only place where they are invited to dig below the surface. Apart from being functioning adults in their future work sphere, I believe they should be also free, independent human beings. They need also cultural and emotional growth.

Obviously, it can happen that students do not remember what they learned the day before. I think this is absolutely normal!

It is said that no teacher can ever know exactly when a student is really learning! It's a mystery! However, there are strategies that can help in this case.

As language is communication and human beings tend to communicate more when they are emotionally involved, I try first of all to plan activities that can be relevant to my students' lives. I usually ask myself whether I would like to do such an activity, were I one of my students!

In my classes I encourage interaction through speculation, brainstorming, debate, etc. I make use of vocabulary infographics, brainy quotes and aphorisms or images and videos to trigger discussion and curiosity.

If something is unclear, students are free to ask not only in class but also on our eLearning platform, where I also post quizzes and games. If we need to do extra practice, I ask them to work in groups and to exchange ideas and notions to help each other.

Inquiry-based and webquests were key for example in this project about Theatres at the Time of Shakespeare:

I like my students to create digital artefacts to express their creativity and develop their language competence. We usually prefer working in teams and learn collaboratively. While my students are working in groups, I move around to help if they need explanation and check whether they are proceeding in the right direction. At the end of a project my students often produce a digital object - a webpage, a video, a multimedia presentation, etc - to show what they have learnt. They have also their own blogs which they use as digital portfolios for their projects.

I guess PBL can have tremendous impact when projects are crosscurricular and involve more than one subject. Unfortunately, very few of my colleagues would be at present willing to embark on PBL. I have also done some CLIL projects in Science and Arts, but my role was limited to language advisor, whereby I was not involved in content selection and lesson designing.

When we do projects, my students enjoy the challenge and love the idea of being free to create. Most of them can get things organised pretty quickly, but there are also kids with special needs in my classes who need more guidance and support.

My driving questions

For the purposes of experimenting with PBL, I will be focusing on the age group 17-18, intermediate level, and the topic 'The pursuit of happiness"

What challenges does a human being have to overcome in order to be happy in life?'
How can we show the parallel between modern life and the lives of characters in famous plays by shakespeare such as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, othello or the tempest?


The works of William Shakespeare present many examples of tragical heroes whose struggles and triumphs parallel the modern life. Do you think these stories could be re-interpreted to the modern day? Can you relate one or more of them to a contemporary celebrity, a public personality of our present time or a case reported by the press? Identify a Shakespearean play or character that can give evidence to your ideas.

Final task

Adapt a scene from one of his plays for modern times. Translate the language into modern English while keeping the original meaning intact. Record it, film it, or act it out as a live performance.


Organize a Talk Show in which your contemporary character and the original Shakespearean one confront and answer questions from the audience.

1.4 The five key components of good PBL

Source: Edutopia Video and Eduproject to PBL

  1. Real-world connection. It entails having an authentic problem that drives the curriculum. The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer. The students must find their own ways to tackle the problem and explore the big question they are assigned. They will need deep thinking on it and to formulate further questions. It is important for students to be able to connect what they are learning on to the real world, as this better motivates and engages them.
  2. Core to learning. PBL can provide academic reading at very complex level in progress, instead of at the end of a traditional unit. Properly implemented PBL should be the core and content of their learning in class. Contents are thus incorporated in the project, not simply taught ahead of the project.
  3. Structured collaboration. Students are allowed to work together but they are provided with a very accurately scaffolded structure. They must be aware that in their collaborative work, everyone in each group will be given a different role, such as team leader, thinkers, creative designers, final decider, etc.
  4. Student driven. PBL implies a radical shift, so that a PBL unit should be led by the students, rather than the teacher. The project features real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact – or speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests, and issues in their lives. The teacher becomes more of a facilitator and the students take up more responsibility. Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information. They become directly involved in the learning process, make decisions also about what they will need to learn, and will therefore retain more of their learning. The teacher needs to ask good questions and give hints instead of simply ready-made answers. No rote learning!
  5. Multifaceted assessment. Assessment should be integrated throughout the entire PBL unit. Formative assessment should be carried out not only at the end of a unit or period. It should be done in a number of different ways, also through small checks to see that students are growing along — or self-assessment and peer reviews, so that students become part of the assessment process and are invited to reflect on the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.

Another essential feature of PBL is that students will have to present their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

I came across this challeging Webquest designed by some Professors from Wake Forest University which aims at teaching Highschool teachers the basics of PBL. Wow! A lesson within a lesson... Brilliant!

Challenges to realize the above components in my teaching context

Honestly, I see plenty of challenges to PBL implementation in my school.

  • Stuctured collaboration and accurate scaffolding are essential to effective PBL, but they require collaboration among teachers. This is an issue in Italian schools!
  • Teachers rotate classrooms and often have six or more classes. Heavy workload, especially at the end of each semester, can impede PBL. Sometimes we do not even have time for a little chitchat!
  • Classroom space does not lend itself well to groupwork. Students usually sit in rows also because of rigid safety rules that are imposed by local authorities.
  • Multifaceted Assessment can be an issue as well. Informal Assessment is very useful, but it might lead to misunderstandings and troubles also with parents, since our system demands summative assessment on a set number of written and oral tests.
  • Italian teachers are not familiar with multidisciplinary teaching that requires teamwork both in planning and implementation. Many of my colleagues prefer traditional lecture-style teaching and have not enough digital competence.
  • Real world connection might require to take the students outside of the school building and let them work on their projects in public spaces and/or laboratories. This requires extra permissions by parents and safety compliance certifications from the hosting structures. It won't be just like an ordinary field trip.
  • Finally, how can we assess students who do not actively participate or even piggy-back from others who have worked hard? I guess PBL could work well in primary schools or vocational schools, especially in areas of our country where drop-outs are a big problem and students need to find new motivation for learning. On the other hand, there might be families - also of my present students - who would object to this methodology if it were extensively implemented. Some would even move their students to more traditional or private schools that focus on good academic preparation for college.

1.5 The Driving question

The driving question in PBL should be complex and provoke deep reflection and critical thinking. The question should be non-Googleable.

The term 'question' can arouse confusion. The driving question can have several different forms, including:

  1. Solving a problem or task,
  2. Educating others,
  3. Creating a product,
  4. Convincing others,
  5. A broad theme,
  6. Forming an opinion,
  7. Philosophical issues,
  8. Thinking divergently,
  9. Real-world or fictional scenarios.

Guidelines to write effective driving questions

  1. "Look for big ideas or concepts.
  2. Brainstorm a list of possible open-ended questions that link two of these big ideas or concepts. For example, if you would like students to understand the impact of discrimination on their lives and you would like them to understand the Civil Rights Movement in this country, you can connect these two big ideas by creating a driving question such as, "How does the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s impact my life today?"
  3. Review your questions. Can you make the question more succinct? Can you make the question less leading and more exciting for students? Does your question get at the key understandings and standards of your project?
  4. Identify your best questions. Which questions do you think would motivate your students the most? Which questions are more closely tied to your key understandings? Are there questions that subsume other questions?
  5. Give a list of questions to students to see which questions they find motivating and exciting."
A few starters to create an effective driving question
  • What makes a good ___ ?
  • What are the ingredients for a successful ___?
  • What is the best way to ___?
  • Is there a relationship between ___ and ___?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of ___?
  • What will happen if ____?
  • How are ____ and ____ different?
  • How many different ____ are there?
  • Did ___ influence ____?
  • Is _____ really important?
  • In what ways did ____ influence _____?
  • What would ___ be without ___?

Well, it must be a commonly shared preoccupation of teachers in PBL to create a challenging driving question, if these guys have created a special tool for it. Useful, isn't it?

I found the following checklist in a post by LearningHand contributed by Michela Pellizzari. Really helpful!

Checklist to help you refine your question.

  • The question is appealing to students.
  • The question taps into students’ interests and passions.
  • The question does not sound like a test question.
  • The question leads to more questions.
  • There is more than one answer to the question.
  • The topic is personal or local.
  • Students can relate to the question in their daily lives.
  • The question is concise. Students will have choices for end products.
  • There is an authentic audience for the project.
  • The question requires serious investigation.
  • Students will learn important skills and content.
  • The question has no easy answer.
  • The project will somehow make a difference in the world.

And finally...

As for the last item on the above list, our MOOC community on FB is a great professional learning place to get imput and advice.

I feel grateful. Thank you!

Module 2

Developing effective collaboration for PBL

Learning objectives:

  • Understand how different types of collaboration can be used in the context of PBL
  • Develop a series of strategies and activities to promote effective collaboration between students
  • Develop a series of strategies and activities to promote effective collaboration with actors outside of the classroom
Collaboration is not at all easy... So true!

It requires practice and should be taught and learnt also at school. I see it as essential for establishing a functional society based on equality and welfare, in which people exchange knowledge and talents in order to build something of greater value and quality — something that one single individual would never be able to achieve alone given the same amount of time.

This is my personal collage of images to define collaboration:
Alone we are just single drops of water — Together we can make an ocean — Different colours mixing up to create something beautiful and original — A symphony of various voices that find balance and create harmony out of chaos — A shared path that helps us overcome many challenges easier and faster through mutual problem-solving and innovative solutions towards a common goal!

In the US they have a school subject which they call Socializing — I often asked myself and when I had a chance friends and colleagues there: "What is it exactly?" — "Well - they said - it's a bit of everything. It's when children learn to collaborate. It starts in kindergarden when they play outside and goes on with projects. We have so many disruptive kids, you know! And disruptive families, too!".

What a shame that we - especially highschool teachers - tend to forget that education should aim at making life better in society more than ensuring academic achievements.

Collaboration helps kids develop interpersonal skills such as teamwork, personal responsibility and leadership, aim-oriented discussion and task-based work, time management and organisation. Key words to collaboration in my view are: Added Value, Respect for others and Negotiation.

2.2 Developing effective collaboration for PBL

I still remember Deirdre Butler's video on European Schoolnet Academy's MOOC dedicated to Developing 21st Century Skills last Fall. Her problem-posing about real collaboration has had tremendous impact on my way of getting my students work in groups in class! Thank you, Deirdre.

Are students required to share responsibility and make substantive decisions with other people? Is their work interdependent?
  • Traditional schooling based on individual work and grades does not prepare well for the workplace
  • Ss will have to work on teams with others to accomplish tasks that are too complex for individuals to do on their own.
  • A real project work often requires collaboration across companies or with people in a different part of the world.
  • Strong collaboration skills are required to work productively on a team and to integrate individual expertise and ideas into a coherent solution.
Useful rubric provided by FLS to check quality of students' collaboration.

Key words to students' authentic collaboration:

  • Shared responsibility for their work,
  • Substantive decisions made by students together.

"These features help students learn the important collaboration skills of negotiation, conflict resolution, agreement on what must be done, distribution of tasks, listening to the ideas of others, and integration of ideas into a coherent whole. The strongest learning activities are designed so that student work is interdependent, requiring all students to contribute in order for the team to succeed".

Students work together when the activity requires them to work in pairs or groups to:

  • discuss an issue
  • solve a problem
  • create a product

Reflections about the nature of collaboration happening in my classroom.

Is it authentic collaboration? Well, just 50:50!

It depends on the type of the activity!

Probably, what I am currently doing is not entirely PBL... But there are reasons for it!

Acquisition is an important step in language learning. My students still need to acquire knowledge about the basics of English as a Foreign Language and lots of practice and reflection to become fluent and independent speakers. They need to do also some teacher-led activities or listening and writing activities to develop independent skills and become fluent in the foreign language. This cannot be done within the framework of a project.

What's more, when they work in groups, they tend to use their mother tongue more than English, which sounds more natural to them. If the focus is primarily on collaboration, it can be difficult to get them to work using a foreign language unless they were really collaborating with foreign peers, like on an eTwinning or Erasmus Plus project.

Some EFL activities can be done in pairs and groups. Speaking and debating can be better organised and become more challeging for students if they do it in groups.

I often ask students to come up with their own considerations or solutions/suggestions at the end of a working session and report to the class. I must admit that I have often encountered a number of difficulties in doing this kind of activity, because it requires prior collaboration skills that students need to have developed also in other subjects, e.g. Italian — but they haven't most of the times! Plus a pretty high level of fluency and oracy in the foreign language.

I often get students to work in groups for a variety of tasks, such as Grammar/Vocabulary practice and translation tasks. They keep on telling me that they definitely prefer doing such activities in groups, because they can help each other and don't get stuck as it often happens at home.

As a result, I have almost given up assigning homework on Grammar textbooks! Let's be honest... we are aware that students constantly exchange homework on What'sApp, aren't we?

When we read excerpts from a novel, a poem or a theatre play I ask them to work on the interpretation of it in groups. They must come up with a negotiated interpretation and report it to the class in the form of a digital presentation, a video, a poster or others.

That's the best of it! They love it!

They also like working together and help each other! Those who are more competent interact with the weaker ones in a way that the latter do not resent. Sense of failure because of mistakes decreases and also top students admit that they can learn more. Socialization is absolute priority for students of that age and groupwork is an excellent "borekiller"!

So we are doing much of the work in class and they watch videos or create digital objects for homework — to the double advantage that it's something they cannot totally plagiarize and love to do!

2.3 Effective Collaboration for PBL inside the Classroom

Peggy Ertmer suggests that in order to organize things so that they best work out, a teacher has to facilitate collaboration ==> Choreographic rather than front instruction.

Tips for structuring collaboration:

  1. Scaffold activities
  2. Show Students what they need to do first and next
  3. Teach kids how they can collaborate
  4. Set anchors or expectations about what kind of language they need to use
  5. Define individual reponsibilities and roles within a group
  6. Offer tools to help students manage time and tasks
  7. How to raise questions and look for clarification
  8. Teach students how to talk to each other (e.g. use chatrooms)
  9. Teach how to respect each other and keep the project moving even if they disagree
  10. Use tabletop directions to keep students focussed on the project or checklists and agendas to fill in by the end of the day
  11. Facilitate learning by moving among groups
  12. Make sure that all groups are working towards achievement of their goal

How to form groups: interesting tips in the following file

5 Strategies for Fostering a Collaborative Culture in a PBL Classroom — According to James Fester:

  • Make sure team members know what is expected of them
  • Create norms and roles where appropriate
  • Monitor progress constantly
  • Celebrate even little successes
  • Give students ways to informally develop cohesion (example: Chopsticks game to build up team spirit)

2.4 Finding collaboration partners outside the classroom

How to establish a link to the "real-world":

  • By involving audiences or partners from outside of the classroom or even better outside of the school.
  • By organising projects together with another class, where students collaborate not only with their immediate peers but with students at another school. Example: eTwinning network of more than 400,000 teachers in Europe and beyond
  • By inviting professionals, experts and people from the "real-world" to come and work with the students.

Projects in my school

In our school we have invited experts to school such as writers and journalists, historians, psychologists, social workers, volunteer blood doners and others. They gave a talk on crosscurricular topics or current issues, but it was seldom linked to school projects.

Junior Achievement Entrepreneurship Projects

This year the Italian Ministry of Education has for the first time introduced real-world work experience (Alternanza Scuola Lavoro) for students attending 11th grade as integrated in the curriculum. It is compulsory and must be done to a total of 200 hours in three years.

As a result, all our 11th-year classes participated in Junior Achievement Enterpreneurship projects. They had to set up their own start-up businesses and see to them from all points of view.

Thanks to the local Chamber of Commerce and the University of Udine, we were able to invite professionals who could provide students with tips and guidance about the many chores relating to their field of operation.

It was very demanding and time-consuming for our students to set up their micro businesses, also because they had to come to school in the afternoon once a week, but for sure they learnt a lot.

Learning Design

For our project on Shakespearean heroes and happiness in life, I am thinking of involving maybe an actor or a director from the local acting studio who my students could interview. If unavailable to come to school, he/she might consent to be interviewed via Skype or Hangouts, Facebook Messenger or Twitter.

We could possibly ask also parents or cultural associations for support in identifying the right people.

2.5 Collaboration Tools

TeamUp — useful for forming teams but also for ongoing assessment of students' PBL work. No account required. In-built 60-sec recording option to answer questions: What we did - What we will do - Problems

Collaborative tools that I generally use: Google Apps, Edmodo, TitanPad, Tricider, Prezi. As check-list and To-do activity planner we have used Trello but also Scrumy, which my students find easier to use even from their mobiles.

This was our working plan for a project on Elisabethan Theatres

And this was the final result!

Learning Design....

This is the link to my PBL Learning Design: The Pursuit of Happiness

Module 3


Learning objectives:

  • Understanding the importance of scaffolding the PBL process so that students increasingly develop independence and ownership over the tasks
  • Understanding the importance of a positive environment and mindset for building student confidence and resilience
  • Developing a range of activities, strategies and tools that facilitate an entrepreneurial mindset and entrepreneurial skills

Making mistakes

"A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new" — I was not fully aware of the meaning of these words until I grew out an adult woman. I did not even know who had said that originally... These words are part of my education and of my family heritage. My father used to repeat to us children that mistakes are useful! He wanted us to realize that human life is such a wonderful journey whose challenges and tricks can make us suffer but are going to make us stronger and more experienced. Mistakes, challenges and resilience are intertwined. It's all about learning, isn't it? — yes, learning to live!

Resilience? Ehm... Let me think. I can't remember one situation that could best explain what it means to me. There are many. My whole life probably...

While I am writing these notes, there is one image that sticks in my mind: it is my father telling me that I am stubborn but not enough resilient! He does not live anymore unfortunately. I remember him often saying that I was sort of a copy of his own mother: "Same passion for learning, same curiosity, same determination" — "Yes, but not enough resilience yet" — he would add.

"What does resilience mean, dad?" - I asked him one day. "It's difficult to explain. It's when someone puts so much love and passion in what he does, that he can even accept setbacks as part of the game but will never give up dreaming! You might stop for a while and re-imagine your horizon, then step in the game again and work hard until you make it! No matter how many times you fail, stand up and try again! Don't let the others put you down so easily!

Your grandma used to take a long journey every morning on a donkey to go to school, come sun or rain! Those were hard times but she made it! She wanted to study and she managed to do it. So she could teach us by her example that things can change in life and we might even end up being deprived of anything BUT what we have learnt!"

Resilience has to do with courage, perseverance and love — towards ourselves and others. But it's not merely determination! To me it's bound to the pursuit of an idea, a dream or a project that makes us stand up again and again, no matter how many times we have fallen, and makes us richer and stronger. Yes, resilience! What a nice word my father taught me...

3.1 Scaffolding for Student Ownership and Independence

PBL should include activities aimed at developing students' independence and responsibility in their learning. Scaffolding in the classroom means giving support to the construction of new learning by designing tasks that students cannot yet carry out independently, but can accomplish with assistance. Scaffolding should be temporary, limited and personalised, so that students can grow and develop to a level that is just above their current one.

It starts with knowing well students' strengths and needs. Scaffolding works better if it is personalised. It should provide guiding feedback so that students know when they are doing well and once they have progressed, it should be gradually removed.

  • First question: how big is the learning gap between what students already know and what they will have to know?
  • Second question: What challenges will they have to overcome?
Scaffolding = Building a shared understanding for supporting every student
  • Targeting background knowledge
  • Modelling and guided practice: "I do - you do!"
  • Prompts like visual support or step-by-step directions
  • Strategy instruction using graphic organizers
  • Technology can provide unobstrusive, flexible scaffolding (text-to-speech) and can be used more intensively with children with special needs

How to facilitate learning in a student-driven environment

  • Scaffold every single activity, but only to the limited amount needed to make students be independent in their learning
  • Provide feedback to students instead of ready answers
  • Give students voice and choice along the process
  • Introduce a topic in a way that it creates curiosity
  • Provide opportunities for the students to work together in order to find their own answers to the questions that are posed or generate more questions
  • Make time for reflection and revision about the things that have been learnt
  • Engage students in discussions about their thinking or their partners'
  • Define learning targets for every day - either student- or teacher-driven
  • Have students track their own progress with the aim of making them aware that they are actually learning and improving

3.2 Developing Student Resilience

How to teach resilience when one does not have it of his/her own? — Ehm... No clue!

Resilience = Being able to "bounce back” and to return to good mental health after challenging and difficult situations... — Well, that is something, isn't it?

Resilience = 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. — Are we teachers resilient? I think we are often too isolated, at least in my country.

How to develop resilience in our students?

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


  • Give students the opportunity to study first what they like and then what they don't like
  • Ensure that they can make their own contribution to the activities
  • Encourage them to search and construct their knowledge
  • Trust students and expect high-level performance from them
  • Show them that you care and encourage them to know each other better
  • Support cooperative learning projects
  • Do not focus on failure but on progress - Praise in public but criticise in private!
  • Encourage students to support each other, collaborate and behave with mutual respect and courtesy.
  • Teach by example - enjoy spending time with your students
  • Help them to become self-confident and develop a growth-mindset.
  • They should learn to believe in themselves, because they are valuable, worthwhile and capable. Build up their self-esteem by showing them that every challenge is an opportunity to grow and improve.
  • Practice failure so that they become aware that making mistakes is natural. Everyone does! Those who have become successful, simply have never given up trying and setting goals in a constructive way until they have found their own way to succeed.
  • Encourage them to accept failure and setbacks. They must learn to be kind to themselves if they fail, think about other types of strategies, ask for advice and persevere.

How do I create a positive classroom atmosphere?

I try to implement most of the above tips with my students, and - at least to some extent - I can say that they work. It is essential to me that they feel comfortable in class and realize that I care about them because they matter! Relationships come first!

I try to teach by example that loving support, respect, compassion and mutual courtesy can improve the quality of our lives with very little effort. We have had some cyberbullying issues in class this year, as in the years before! I have noticed that students often do not know each other enough: there is little opportunity for socializing in our schools and competition among them can trigger very annoying situations. By getting them to work in groups and asking the better ones to help the others while working together on a common project, has contributed to improving their way of interacting with one another — up to the point that the bully had to give it in: not enough followers! - at least during my classes.

Showing understanding and at times a good laugh with them does not however diminuish my expectations from their work. I am not a friend or a counsellor to my students and expect a lot of them, simply because I know that they can do it.

Sometimes I would like them to be less emotionally dependent on my feedback: they do awesome things and expect a comment from me as if it were sort of a psychological reward! They show such happy faces when I say that they did a great job! This is probably a downsize of personalised teaching. After a while, they resent it if you do not praise their work enough. Moreover, marking is aweful! It's tough at times to persuade kids that they "are" not "the mark": that may gauge the level of an individual performance, for sure not a human being as a whole! I positively hate marking and have often felt miserable when I must assess my students' job, especially when they have put a bit of themselves in their work and still it is insufficient! I think that once you start working as a guide and a facilitator, you soon come to realise that our current system is not suitable for that: you cannot be coach and referee at the same time. If you are a coach, you are part of a team!

I need to create new badges: this one has grown obsolete!

This is why I have introduced more and more peer reviews: students can give mutual support and feedback, and I sometimes participate to the same activity anonymously. I would be interested in learning more about other forms of discreet guidance without coercion.

Peer reviews on Google Forms and on Padlet: at least one positive and one negative remark is required! Listening and watching in the Lab to other classmates' horror stories and film reviews: a generally highly-appreciated activity.

I have also tried to design more strengths-focussed activities. Digital Storytelling and group presentations are among my students' favs! I try to give them the floor whenever I can, because this helps them improve their oracy and fluency in the foreign language, builds up self-esteem and it is generally very well received by the others. Moreover, I try to offer my students as many opportunities for participation and contribution as a way to express themselves and their creativity, also in tests. They run their own blogs and have recently contributed articles and reports about their activity in class on our school website. This in order to empower them and let them reflect on the progress they have accomplished.

Presenting, communicating and reflecting as members of a community.

3.4 Developing an entrepreneurial mindset

According to the European Framework for key competences for lifelong learning, entrepreneurship is: "... the ability to turn ideas into action. It involves creativity, innovation and risk-taking, as well as the ability to plan and to manage projects in order to achieve objectives."

Entrepreneurship education aims at enabling young people to develop the skills they will need for life and work. These skills are teachable and should be integrated into every school syllabus.

Entrepreneurship education is about a range of skills and capabilities, among which:

  • Leadership,
  • goal-setting,
  • problem-solving,
  • decision-making,
  • planning and organising,
  • team-working,
  • effective communication,
  • negotiating and influencing, taking responsibility,
  • taking initiative,
  • financial capability,
  • how to be successful in running a small project,
  • learning through pupil/student centered and task-based activities, cooperation and involvement from local community/business.

For the first time, this year we carried out entrepreneurship projects with JA Junior Achievement and eleven classes in our school. I tutored my 11th-grade students in starting up their own JA company. Their idea was to develop a special pillow to make their school chairs a bit more comfortable. Our first brainstorming was probably the hardest: very chaotic as they could not find sense in what they were doing. They changed their mind so many times! And had to draft and redraft their project hundreds of times!

On the other hand, negotiating tasks and roles in their business, designing their product and creating a website to advertise it was easy and fun. Students had to work really hard to keep all documents updated, write minutes of all their meetings, talk to experts and accept their advice, and above all raise funds. All in all, it was a positive experience: the students had the opportunity to work together and learn new skills.

This is their product and slogan: "SoftChair gives new comfort and personalises your daily life at school!" — Ahaha, these kids are awesome!

The weakest part, however, was... Guess? Us, teachers! We definitely lacked experience and were at times unable to coordinate the project efficiently. Kids were so frustrated, because anybody entering their classroom would criticise more than praise their job. Hopefully, next year it will be easier!

Module 4

Assessing For or assessing of learning? This is the question?

Learning objectives:

  • Understanding the difference between formative and summative assessment
  • Understanding how assessment can be embedded into PBL activities
  • Understanding what a rubric is and why it can help us assess PBL
  • Develop a finalised and rigorous PBL implementation Learning Design

Marking and assessment of learning is what I really don't like about teaching. Not only is it boring, time-consuming and demanding of me as a teacher, but it is the moment when my students are somehow doubleproofing the authenticity of my teaching approach to them. I hate when they compare their performance just on the basis of the mark they get!

Many colleagues of mine believe that if not tested, students won't study. It is true, but on the other hand we should not then complain if students study only for the goal of getting a decent grade! It's called Behaviourism, isn't it? School grades used as bananas! The point is that only top marks generally work beautifully as a powerful leverage for school success.

When I think of the huge amount of time and energy that we devote in class for summative testing because of a school system based on pass-or-fail results, well... Especially by the end of a school term, students are crammed up with things to study for written and especially oral tests in all subjects - sometimes it's three or four chapters of their history, literature or philosophy textbook just for one test. It's all rote learning that stresses them out and which they are not very likely to retain in the long run. What's more it is no fun and deprives kids of their natural curiosity and joy for learning. No wonder 60% of Italian high-school students declare they hate school! No wonder we have a high rate of drop-outs in our country!

In Italian schools the academic year is split into two schoolterms: for each there must be at least three written and two oral assessments. Each school establishes guidelines regulating the number of oral and/or written tests. Teachers are free to decide when and how to test students but they must give them at least two formal marks in oral and two/three in written. Content and formats of oral assessments can be decided by teachers: individually, online, during pair or groupwork activities, but written tests must be only on paper and accessible to parents upon request. We can also decide when to test provided we respect set deadlines for recording marks on school online register. For summative assessment, besides the student's performance I usually take into account several criteria, such as participation, collaboration among peers, individual on-going process of learning. This year we also administered common exit tests to all same grade students to check minimal standards of linguistic competence.

I understand formative assessment as a special assignment which my students can carry out not for grading purposes but for building up their skills and to challenge themselves into tasks that can be self-evaluated and peer-reviewed. Measuring understanding and their level of progress can be done along the way through self-reflection.

I have been trying to integrate more and more formative types of assessment into my teaching practice. Instead of simple quizzes or quick-check questions, which we also do possibly online, I'd like them to work on more creative assignments which I sometimes use also for grading. We made an agreement in class that I would take into consideration and extra grade multimedia projects of extraordinary quality that they can prepare individually or in small groups. They have enthusiastically accepted my proposal as an extra kick to do well! I doubt whether this is entirely fair, but what I care the most is having them use their creativity to express their full potential and practise the language. Marking and assessing usually cause anxiety to students and fear as a rule impedes creativity and learning.

I try to assign authentic tasks and create special rubrics for self-evaluation and peer-reviews

These two slides are part of a presentation I made for a workshop with my colleagues at school (VA= authentic assessment; VT= Traditional assessment)

"What have I learnt from this activity?"

Ongoing peer-reviews during presentations: students use their smartphones to evaluate individual or group presenters. Google-sheets are then forwarded via Edmodo. Evaluations remain anonymous.

Kids should learn to accept also negative feedback!
Kahoot, Socrative or Quizalize are our favourite tools for quick-checks. In this project on Jane Austen, each group invented secret questions for classmates and played a round on Kahoot. Great fun!

I loved this video contributed by Arjana Blazic: it shows how kids can learn about the advantages of collaboration, critical thinking and cooperative learning.

A list of ideas for quick formative activities

4.2 Embedding Assessment into PBL

Since PBL usually covers many weeks, it requires various forms of formative assessment, from quick-checks to essay writing and others, in order to continually check if and what students have learnt.

Assessment should not come at the end but as a learning activity that is integrated in the PBL process.

While proceeding on their projects, students will need feedback from teacher, experts and classmates. But, to get the right feedback, one has to ask the right questions.

4.3 Peer Assessment for PBL

Peer reviews can be a powerful learning activity both for the reviewer and the reviewee. Self-assessment is a way to activate students as owners of their own learning. Peer assessment is a way to activate students to teach resources from one another. The latter should not be confused with Peer Summative Assessment. Formative means that students help each other improve their work. By thinking about what a piece of work represents and how it could be improved, students are forced to internalise success criteria. Doing so in the context of somebody else's work is for a student less emotionally-charged than in their own. When they give feedback to other people's work they will automatically attempt to improve also their own, because they will first have to make clear to themselves what a good work in that task looks like. Sometimes students give some very solid advice, even more than a teacher would give.

Ladder of Feedback can be a useful tool to structure peer assessment with students. This method provides a process of critique that guides students to generate kind, thoughtful and effective feedback. It asks students to formulate their assessment in the following way:

  1. Questions of clarification such as: "Am I reading this correctly?"
  2. Comments on value such as: "What I think works really well..."
  3. Comments of concern such as: "What I worry about is...."
  4. Suggestions for revision, such as:"Maybe this part would work better if you..."

Create a rubric with them for the assignment. Make sure that they apply it correctly and that each student is receiving useful feedback and that, once the process is completed, students have ample time to revise their work. Students are more willing to hear criticism from a peer, as well as the values and compliments.

I have used peer reviews with my students since last year EUN course on 21st century skills. I am sharing here the video that was admitted to the European eSkills for Jobs 2015 video competition and was awarded second prize. It was all focussed on collaboration and peer reviews.

4.4 Creating and Using Rubrics for PBL Assessment

I like rubrics as grading tools for formative and summative assessment. I often negotiate rubrics with my students prior to a project, starting from a model and adapting it to our class. I have often used Rubistar, because it is very userfriendly and can be readapted and translated in many languages. The aim of a rubric is not only to facilitate grading, but also to make students aware of the criteria that will lead them to success. They are objective and transparent to the student and facilitate self-evaluation, because each student can check his own progress against the rubric. This strengthens comprehension and can help them improve their grade.

4.5 My PBL Learning Design

This is the last — though probably not the final — version of my Learning Design: The Pursuit of Happiness. I'm still not completely satisfied with the various subtopic questions and am likely to redraft some parts, taking away some of the tasks or integrating some more formative assessment. Let me think...

As for the previous seven times with EUN, also this course has been superb. Great teachers and trainers, and a fantastic community of lifelong learners. I have tried to read as many LDs as time has allowed me, but there are really so many and they show such a high level of expertise and dedication to this wonderful profession.

As in my past Learning Diary on Creative Use of Tablets at School, I'd like to dedicate the video below to all course participants and to my Peer Reviewers with a big thank you for all the constructive feedback, the inspiring tips and hints that we have exchanged in these weeks. I wish you all big success on your PBLs and hope to meet you on some other courses. Who knows, maybe even on an eTwinning project. Ciao!

A million thanks to all the members of the Academy staff for this great course!

PS: do not believe them when they write that the expected workload on such a course should range from 4 to 5 hours! It's per day — Folks — not per week! 😉
Created with images by mrpetersononline - "Building Earthquake Life Safe buildings" • festland - "udine old town meeting point" • spettacolopuro - "sempre cara..." • Celestine Chua - "Level of consciousness" • mrsdkrebs - "Life Long Learning" • Lplatebigcheese - "The future // Будущее" • ChristopherA - "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. — Benjamin Franklin" • stokpic - "hands world map" • Iqbal Osman1 - "colored decor" • penelope waits - "creativity..." • mrsdkrebs - "Technology Use" • Mysticsartdesign - "library sky birds" • Mr Moss - "Q - 61/365" • Sophieja23 - "woman question mark person" • cdrummbks - "day checklist" • QuotesEverlasting - "Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. - Henry Ford" • Patrik2 - "Drop" • tara marie - "Rainbow over ocean" • danbuck57313 - "AI-Shone" • yunje5054 - "ensemble music played" • paul bica - "bridging knowledge to health" • stoneysteiner - "Collaboration" • fzofklenz - "language german learn" • <cleverCl@i®ê> - "errors in learning languages-Eng." • Kitt O'Malley - "Einstein Try New Quote Pinterest" • Ruth and Dave - "Resilience and determination" • pedrosimoes7 - "Tableau with Yellow, Black, Blue and Grey (1923) - Piet Mondrian (1872 - 1944)" • balanced.crafts - "growth" • geralt - "career road away" • YeriLee - "highlighter coloring fluorescent" • stefan.erschwendner - "Outcome of today" • sicamp - "Learning from outcomes" • William M Ferriter - "Slide_MoreWorkfortheRecipient" • Virginia L. - "thank you"

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