Most teachers are eager to meet the needs of all learners in their classrooms. They seek to provide meaningful and challenging learning experiences every day. However, the reality is that meeting the needs of learners who may span up to five or more grade levels in a single classroom is difficult, if not impossible. Research from institute for Education Policy, Johns Hopkins School of Education, authors Matthew C, Makel, Michael S. Matthews, Scott J. Peters, Karen Rambo-Hernandez, and Jonathan A. Plucker (Data from NWEA and NAEP in CA, FL, WI) gives some insight into this “state of the classroom” with this data, which highlights the importance of recognizing the existence of advanced learners in our schools:
In an even more recent study, NWEA found that in a typical 5th grade classroom, the spread of readiness could be even wider, up to 9 levels, with 32.7%of students at the 3rd grade level, 32.9% at the 4th grade level, 23.9% at the 5th grade level, 1.2% at the 6th grade level, 4.4% at the 7th grade level, 3.1% at the 8th grade level, and 1.8% at the high school level.
Knowing this information, it is no wonder that meeting the needs of all learners is difficult. So what is a teacher to do? Though there are many tools that can be used with advanced learners, one of the most promising is problem-based learning, or PBL. PBL has been around for many, many years in many forms. Over my teaching career, I have seen it labeled problem-based learning, project-based learning, personalized learning, challenge-based learning, genius hour, etc. Each iteration has provided new ideas and insights into how students learn, how to craft the ideal learning situation, and how to help students master skills necessary to be successful - skills such as creative thinking, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, product creation, presentation, research and methodology, giving and receiving feedback, and self-critique. Problem-based learning allows students to identify a real-world problem, and to solve it using information or data that they research. In PBL, the teacher acts more as a “guide on the side” than a “sage on the stage”. Students are actively involved, sometimes alone, or sometimes in collaborative groups, in solving their problem.
In a recent article in Forbes magazine entitled
New, Strong Evidence for Problem-Based Learning,
author Michael T. Nietzel, Professor of Education, shared this study. Economists
Rosangela Bando, Emma Naslund-Hadley and Paul Gertler conducted ten field experiments in four countries (Argentina, Belize, Paraguay, and Peru) covering more than 17,000 students, and used randomized experimental trials, which are the gold standard in this type of research. Students in preschool, 3rd and 4th grade were randomly assigned to receive either PBL or traditional instructional methods in math and science. Researchers randomly assigned preschool, 3rd, and 4th grade classes to receive either problem-based instruction or traditional instructional methods in these areas, and seven months later compared the standardized test scores of the students in both groups. The results were amazing: “The researchers found that after seven months of receiving problem-based instruction, students improved by .18 standard deviation (SD) in math and .14 standard deviations in science relative to the standard-instruction students. Those gains increased to .39 and .23 SDs, respectively, after four years. Boys benefitted in particular, improving by .22 SD in math (girls improved .15 SD) and .18 SD in science (girls improved .10 SD). Standard deviation is a quantity calculated to indicate the extent of deviation for a group as a whole.
More evidence for the efficacy of PBL was gathered by Gallup Poll in this study, Creativity in Learning. A complete PDF of the results of this poll is available in 16 different languages. It makes for very interesting reading. Some of the most important findings were these:
What if students could show proficiency in their required coursework, and then move on to a PBL topic of their choice? What if teachers were trained to facilitate this kind of learning? What if all students could reap the benefits of PBL? What if PBL (in conjunction with teaching traditional skills) provided a new love of learning in our students? The possibilities are endless, and the potential payoff is great. If you are an educator, please consider incorporating PBL into your toolkit if you haven’t already done so. If you are a parent or caregiver, consider posing PBL activities to your children. For more information on PBL, check out information here and here and here. Articles and ideas abound on the internet. Good luck on your journey toward exciting learning! As always I welcome your comments and suggestions. Together we grow!
Jackie Drummer, Past President, WATG
(WATG would like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Martha Aracely Lopez of Milwaukee Public Schools for translating this article into Spanish for our Spanish-speaking families and educators. The translation can also be found in our website blogs.)
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.