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PBL World last week in Napa

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT Co-Director East Bay WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Last week in my home town of Napa, California, we had the privilege of hosting the first ever PBL World Conference at New Tech High School. There were nearly 500 people in attendance, from all over the US and 8 countries, including Canada, the Dominican Republic and Mexico, among others. If you were there also, please post some of your impressions and reflections about the things you learned in reply to this post. I would enjoy learning from you what your take aways are from the conference!

As for me, I was thrilled to meet many of my special friends and colleagues at Edutopia, including Cindy Johanson, Elana Leoni and Suzie Boss. Suzie blogged each day for us, and you can read her posts here @Edutopia. Suzie captured many of the big ideas, so I don't wish to be redundant here. My special thanks to Suzie for all her hard work blogging so we can keep a record of our hard work at the conference. It was a joy to meet you, Suzie, and to discuss the exciting things we were challenged to explore at PBL World!

I really enjoyed our keynote speakers, but especially Yong Zhao. How about you? I have ordered his new book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students(link here). I appreciate his advocacy for what really works in schools, and his insights into global education. He asks us to think about the media stream which constantly tells us that our system is failing here in the US. He encourages us to move beyond the question of failure to ask questions about what we need to do in schools to meet kids where they are and to engage them meaningfully. American culture and business have been known for embracing the drive toward creativity and innovation by seeking solutions to complex problems. We must not succumb to the simplistic reactionary approach instilled by the testing movement. I am not opposed to accountability, even by testing if we must, but I do not believe we can meet the objective of supporting all students to success through "death by testing!" Rather, I prefer to pursue deep inquiry, significant content, 21st century skills, reflection, and meaningful assessments which help students pursue their own education. This is why I am an enthusiastic supporter of PBL!

Practically speaking, one of the highlights of the conference was the opportunity to work closely with my colleague and friend Lauren Scheller at BIE (@laurenbie on Twitter). Lauren, like me, is a French teacher, sold out on PBL. We have been collaborating on thinking deeply about what PBL looks like in the World Languages classroom. We began mapping a document to help in the planning of a linguistically and and culturally rich project in the PBL model. What we need to remember as language teachers is that our significant content is found in culturally authentic contexts infused with language acquisition objectives. We must also keep in mind that we have proficiency goals, and refer to our documents to make those choices, including our state or provincial WL standards, as well as to our national standards. Im the US, that would include the ACTFL 21st Century Skills Map for WL and the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. Other important documents to consider include the Common European Framework for Languages and your own country's documents. If you use something other than these which I have cited, please post the links to the documents you use in reply to this post! I would love to see what your state, province and/or country is using to formulate the significant content you seek to teach to your students. The point is this: an authentic WL PBL project will always have language and culture objectives in addition to the critical thinking, deep inquiry, collaboration, creativity and presentational skills objectives of the project. We need to plan for these just as much as we need to craft a strong driving question, rubrics and our know/needs to know lists.

Lastly, though certainly not least importantly, I enjoyed having the opportunity to meet other WL teachers from around the PBL world! We enjoyed getting to know one another, and comparing ideas and experiences on WL education from the various places from which we hail. Thanks for coming to PBL World and sharing your lunchtime with me. I will look forward to our on-going collaboration in the months ahead, and hopefully again next year here in Napa.

Until next time, best wishes to all for a fun and relaxing summer,

Don

Comments (13)

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Journalist and PBL advocate

Great to Meet

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Hi Don,
I so enjoyed getting acquainted with you (in person, at last!) at PBL World. What a week, huh? Such a great place to connect with colleagues, share ideas, and also be inspired by the keynoters and their truly big ideas.
Thanks for sharing your reflections.
Cheers,
Suzie

High school Spanish and social studies teacher in Ripon, WI

Don, it was great getting to

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Don, it was great getting to know you and having a chance to ask my basic questions about PBL in WL. I did not go the PBL World with the intention of "PBLing" my Spanish classes, but while there I realized that I had actually done some of my better PBL work in Spanish 5, and that I wanted to do a lot more of it. One of my main realizations is that I have allowed my most advanced students to retreat into their comfort zone of grammar instead of insisting that they dive into more authentic, whole language activities that challenge all their faculties. You would think that good students would embrace PBL, but actually, quite a few of them are way too concerned with getting their weighted A in an AP class to want to risk the unpredictability of PBL and its demands. I'm glad for the new insights both from you and the BIE event, and hope to stay in touch.

Really great to meet you!

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Really great to meet you! Thanks for all you do to share your ideas and thoughts about language learning.

Co-Director East Bay WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

@Kat

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Thanks so much for your comments Kat! I enjoyed meeting you as well, and our on-going conversations each at at the conference. Keep at it! My kids were initially resistant to PBL until they realized how much voice and choice they had, and thereby became more empowering to them. I look forward to your reports about your further adventures with PBL! Keep in touch - this forum is a great place for us to do just that.

Best,

Don

Co-Director East Bay WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

@Lisa

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Same to you Lisa! I thoroughly enjoyed our time together, comparing notes and thinking about how PBL works in WL. See you at ACTFL in November.

amistades,
Don

Co-Director East Bay WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

@Suzie

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The pleasure was all mine! I am thankful for your insights, mentoring and inspiring support. Until next time,

Don

Professional Services Coordinator at the Buck Institute for Education

Pleasure was all mine!

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Thanks Don for such a detailed summary on all of our hard work. I am so happy that we found each other and our other new collaborative WL pals and look forward to working together in the future. You are a true asset to the field of education and WL teachers, more specifically. Your commitment and enthusiasm is commendable. Let's keep the rich discussion going on our Edmodo group!! See you soon!

Lauren

High school Spanish and social studies teacher in Ripon, WI

Hi Don, Me again. I just had

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Hi Don,
Me again. I just had a meeting with a colleague in preparation for teaching Spanish 1 for the first time this coming year. All I've taught so far is 5th year. I'm struggling with contradictory impulses, and wondering what input you might have. On one hand, there will be three of us teaching 4 sections of Spanish 1, and we agree in principle that we need to cover largely the same content and mostly use the same assessments and provide reasonably comparable experiences for our students. On the other hand, the class has been taught for many years using a textbook that I don't care much for -- and I've never taught relying on a textbook before because I don't like them much. I can see myself getting sort of drawn in to the textbook approach -- it has some obvious advantages, including consistency across classes and ease of preparation in a year when I'll be teaching three new preps. But it also feels inauthentic to me and often canned and unnecessarily boring. I would like to be able to present a compelling alternative generated by someone more experienced than I am. My colleagues are willing to experiment some, but I feel a bit uncertain about how to lead the way. Do you have any projects you would recommend that are described in some detail somewhere that could provide us with a taste of what "PBLing" Spanish 1 could look like? We will each have 30-35 kids in our classes, almost all eighth graders. They do not have one-to-one computer access so we'd prefer not to go computer-based at this point. I think if we had one successful project we all did, we'd be better positioned to branch out and deviate more from the text (as I am accustomed to doing.) Thanks for any suggestions you can give me.

Co-Director East Bay WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

@Lauren

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Hi Lauren, thanks so much for your encouraging comments. I feel the same about you! I look forward to our on-going collaboration to figure out how to do PBL in WL more effectively and excellently! Hope to connect with you again soon,
Don

Co-Director East Bay WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

@Kat

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Hi Kat! Glad to offer some ideas!

When my colleague in Spanish and I started working together on PBL in WL, we started with level one classes, and develeoped simple, theme-based projects that could work in either language with some L2 cultural modifications, of course. We wanted to keep it simple and manageable at first as well, knowing that we had a learning curve ahead of us. We did have the advantage of both being on the same page, willing to work on it with an open mind and enthusiasm.

We began by taking a survey of the level one textbooks our department uses. In French and Spanish we happen to have the same series, so they are very similar. We thought we could do about eight projects over the year, four per semester. We chose our themes: who am I?; food and shopping; sports and leisure; family and holidays... For example. Then we decided on what product we could expect students to produce, knowing that not all kids have access to technology, but wanting to incorporate tech options in every project - we did a lot of storytelling - comic strips, books, poster boards of a movie (we have a printout that looks like a film strip), but we also made menus, brochures, and group videos. With those sturdy tires in mind, we worked on driving questions, decided on essential cultural and linguistic objectives, and tried our best to include all eight aspects of PBL. In some cases, we did not quite get all eight aspects covered, but we learned a lot and counted it as a journey! As we re-do our projects, we change our rubrics, update details, build entry docs... We keep refining and reflecting, engaging in our own PBL inquiry about PBL in WL.

As for some specific examples... By the end of July, I hope to have a few projects for each level - novice, intermediate, advanced - posted on my PBL-WL wiki. Here is that link:

http://pbl-wl.wikispaces.com

I know that you are looking more for example projects than for process, but I thought that sharing the process would get a quick answer to you now, in anticipation of having more specific examples in a few weeks time. Right now, actually, I am enjoying a couple weeks away in Maui! Then home to prep for the workshops I am doing at UCSB July 23-27. During that week, I will have a bunch more "stuff" to share on the wiki and in our Edmodo group we started at PBL World. Stay tuned for more.

Aloha!

Don

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