Envision this - student teams finish a brief discussion on the project Need to Knows and share out their next steps. The class notetaker adds them to the digital list displayed on the whiteboard. Teams have another 10 minutes to discuss and decide which items on the new Need to Know they will investigate. During team meetings (see previous blog) the teacher reviews plans for the rest of the week. Some teams split up new research topics, while others research the same topics and then compare research notes. One team decides to split the phone calling for interviews and writing possible interview questions. Another team still needs to finish their initial research and decide to stay for after school tutorial. All teams have different due dates during the week and know that additional research and interview planning must be done by Friday, so that interviews can be scheduled, finished, and written up by the end of the following week. The class period ends with the teacher’s class roster full of notes indicating when each student will have their next part done, excitement about interviews getting scheduled, and awareness of the content research quiz on Friday.
“In your dreams!” you might say. I say “In your reality!”
Consistent and carefully scaffolded use of task lists make this engaged inquiry process come true. The best teachers have strong systems to keep track of the many different tasks and deadlines necessary in a smooth running classroom. But those systems were not born fully formed in their first few years of teaching. They required constant reflection, revision, courage to throw out what doesn’t work, and celebration of what does.
Good project management is essentially good information management. All schools have some sort of “daily planner use” expectation for students. But the powerful use of task lists is different than just writing in an assignment due date in a square on a calendar. Task lists are powerful project management tools when they are used for collaborative decision making, critical thinking of process steps, personal accountability with deadlines.
Today I want to look at collaborative decision making. Whether you use a task list form that has tasks already identified or is blank and waiting for student decisions (more on these in the next blog) the power in its use comes from the conversation that students must have to make it meaningful. It is too easy for students to just say “you do this, you do this, I’ll do this, done!”. The conversation must include reasons why the decisions are made. Students new to PBL need question stems such as:
The teen brain lives in the moment so the ability to look “down the road” a few days is not natural for them. Providing the language of what to think about and how to ask is teaching the 21st Century Skill of Critical Thinking. The consistent use of task lists gives students multiple opportunities to practice the skill. These types of questions also force the practice of collaborative decision making. This is where they have to weigh the pros and cons of different possibilities and decide together what will be best so that the goal is obtained. Older students who are more experienced with the PBL process may not need such explicit scaffolding. Or maybe you provide some groups with the structured task lists and some without depending on their need for differentiation.
Whatever the skill levels present in your class you must keep the ever present high expectations of students being able to answer these questions in the Team Meetings. To do that, you must be consistent with your expectations, follow through and turn the meeting into something valuable - formative or even summative assessment.
Have copies of “Collaborative task list rubrics” ready to mark and return in the team meetings. I also make a notes of the rubric “score” on my class roster lists. If the 21st C. Skill learning focus in the project is “Collaborative Decision Making” I try to get in two task list checks during a project. The two formative scores may be combined into a minimally weighted summative assessment score in the 21st Century Skills column in the grade book.
Your use of Task Lists to deepen critical thinking and collaborative decision making through including question stems is a simple and powerful way to enhance your PBL teaching and project management. You provide guided examples of the skill, allow time for independent team practice, give timely formative assessment feedback for improvement, and the summative assessment of the skill can be seen in deeper and more focused student products.
You are also gathering important evidence to show your own mastery of the teaching profession. You actually know the engagement of all students with their learning, you are creating a learning environment that supports deep student learning, and you are able to provide differentiated instruction.
Future posts will explore how Task lists are powerful project management tools when they reinforce critical thinking of process steps, and personal accountability with deadlines. How have you used task lists to support your project management? I would love to hear!