George Lucas Educational Foundation

PBL and Culture

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I was digging around and wanted to resurface some key elements to what constitutes a fully developed, 21st century project. There are 7 components to this model, developed through the work at the Buck Institue for PBL. There is a good article here: .

According to this model, a fully developped, rigorous project, includes aech of the following elements:

1. A driving question - these questions need to be carefully crafted to be open ended, and yet give direction for inquiry. Cultural questions, not merely surface level ones, but deeper cultural viewpoints and values, are excellent starters for such questions.

For example: what do "target culture" individuals/people groups believe is important about ____? You would insert the topic into the frame, and change "target culture" to your own focus for students in your language class. For example, in my level 3 French classes, we do an in-depth study of Francophone Canada in the Spring, and some of of our driving questions are: "What do French-speaking Canadians believe about their own distinct cultural identity within Canada? How are their values expressed in their literature, their institutions, and the ways they express their identity to each other and to the rest of Canada? What means do they use to express these distinctives?"

I know this may seem like a daunting set of questions, but believe me, beyond the questions lie some amazing opportunities for inquiry which in turn have led to some amazing student projects! The students have really risen to the challenges presented with such questions!

2. A need to know - this naturally flows out of the driving question if it is crafted correctly. Given the driving question, students should have some sense of where they are going with their inquiry. They will need coaching to think it through, to look for good sources, and to manage their time and work. This is the teacher's role - coach, guide, reflective questioner... I have found this to be a fun way to teach, especially when I see so much evidence of higher level thinking and learning. It is a challenge to remain in the target language, but I do stick to French, and use many tools to support my students.

I use the Promethean board extensively to demonstrate good search techniques, where to go, what vocabulary to use. I also keep favourite links on a class wiki where students can find them readily, including on-line dictionaries (for both standard French and for Canadian French in this case), on-line language tools (like CAVILAM in Vichy), and videos any of us have found and want to share. The wikispace supports our collaboration, another 21st Century skill!

3. Student voice and choice - I like to give students the opportunity to choose the platforms they want to use to demonstrate their learning. They may choose to do a video, a slide show, or create a wiki... no matter what, I want them to demonstrate both written and spoken French in response to what they have read and heard in their research. They have choice within a framework.

4. 21st-century skills - since we live in the 21st Century, this makes sense, doesn't it? I want students to use technology to do their research, and I give them opportunities to use technology to demonstrate what they have learned. There is a caveat here, however. I am not keen on using technology simply to use technology! Tech is a great support to learning, and can be great fun to show acquired learning and skills, but the tech is not the end point in itself. It is a tool, and insofar as it supports what we seek to accomplish, I am keen to use it.

I let the kids be as creative as they want, but the standards for my course are based on linguistic proficiencies and cross-cultural competencies, not technological prowess !

5. Inquiry and innovation - this is one of the most important outcomes of this model - students, as they work together, will need to learn how to solve problems, where to look for good information, how to distinguish good information from bad, how to confirm their hypothesis before coming to conclusions, how to test those conclusions, and more. It is a big help to pair a class with another one in the target language culture. This adds another dimension to learning which is of inestimable value!

6. Feedback and revision - students need help to develop critical thinking and the ability to offer constructive criticism for improvement of their group's project. They will need a protocol for scaffolding their discussions. It is important to teach students how to offer critique, and to provide sentence starters in the target language to help them stay in L2 as much as possible.

7. A publicly presented product - for the model to be complete, students must actually produce something that can be viewed and understood by another group, an audience, a community member, and in my case, who is Francophone, since the product will be in French.

Luckily, we have access to a fairly large French-speaking community here in Napa Valley! In addition, I like to include parents when possible as well, and when they do not speak French, I ask the students to provide an outline in their parents' language (usually English and/or Spanish in our area), so they can follow the presentation in some manner. They also have opportunity to offer feedback and comments on the outline which they return to the students. This approach has been well received by both parents and students.

I have found the PBL model allows much room for the incorporation of culture. In fact, the culture actually lies at the heart of the project, so it is naturally embedded! The language outcomes are then shaped by the need to know. Students learn the language of study in connection with the cultures of the people who speak the language they are studying. Both vocabulary and linguistic structures are more authentically acquired as students listen and read in the other language whilst doing their research and inquiry. They practice speaking and writing as they interact with their group, the teacher and others as needed. I know it seems challenging, and I am sure, if you are reading this, you must have a billion and one questions, so why not respond by listing the questions in the reply box below.

If you would like to see more on this toipic, let me recommend the summary of our discussion at this link, on my team mate Erica's blogsite: I would also like to recommend to you our #langchat wiki at:

One more! I have started a WL PBL wiki for teachers who would like to share project ideas. The site is new, and there are not yet many things posted, but you may enjoy collaborating with me and several others who have already joined, in creating PBL model projects for WL students using this approach! Here is the link:

Until next time,


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John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

In my interactions with students (as a faculty member, in outreach to K-12, and with any one or group that I can), always share my theses that EVERY situation faced will provide a better outcome faster IF ADDRESSED AS A PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED. Then proceed with my notion of effective problem solving, namely that it include frequent self-assessment of how things are going (and what to do about that) as well as embracing ambiguity (such a meaningful phrase acknowledging the importance of stretching one knowledge and experience) and frequent "non-linear" looping back to repeat steps.

I then share my problem-solving procedure, OSCAR: O for the objective, S for speed bumps or hurdles requiring learning, C for considerations including of course brainstorming, A for answers, and finally R for reflections.

I always try to read anything associated with PBL and enjoyed this piece very much. I certainly found my notion of effective problem solving consistent with the piece and am thrilled to see this in conjunction with culture and world languages - supporting my thesis. All the best to you, your collaborators, and the chat participants.

Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Thanks very much John! I appreciate you taking the time to check out our forum and for affirming what you found consistent in this article with your model! We're all on a journey to understand more and do better by our students. Thanks too for "OSCAR" - this will be a big help to keep kids on track. The best part about PBL is the greater level of engagement in inquiry, but what's more, it's fun! Thanks again.

Wishing you all the best,

Allen Berg's picture
Allen Berg
curriculum and projects learning centers

Mes Amis,

The website Portail des Arts de la Marionnette (PAM) opened last
> 18th September. It's available at this address :
> The PAM (Arts Puppetry Portal) offers free Internet consultation
> almost 30.000 documents (photographs, posters, videos, engravings,
> drawings, notes of stage direction, publications, thematic files,?)
> which permit an exploration of the heritage and the contemporary
> creation of the arts of puppetry. The Internet user will discover
> this art under various aspects : ritual origins and symbolic power,
> presence on all the continents at all the periods, conception of
> the shows, construction of puppets, manipulation, role in the
> society, influences on the theatrical renovation or still
> interbreedings with the other arts.
> This project is coordinated by International Institute of Puppetry
> (France, Charleville-M?zi?res). It includes about 20 french
> partners (museums, companies?) and is supported by the French
> ?Minist?re de la Culture et de la Communication?, with the national
> digitalization plan of heritage and creation, and public local
> authorities.
> In 2012, it would be opened to Europeans partners and become
> bilingual French-English.
> Tell us your feedback and have a nice trip.
> Projet port? par l?Institut International de la Marionnette / Ecole
> Nationale Sup?rieure des Arts de la Marionnette (Charleville-
> M?zi?res),
> En partenariat avec le Bouffou Th??tre ? la Coque, le Centre des
> monuments nationaux, le Mus?e Comtois / Ville de Besan?on, le Mus?e
> des marionnettes du monde (Gadagne Mus?es) / Ville de Lyon,
> Odradek / Cie Pupella-Nogu?s, le Th??tre Jeune Public de
> Strasbourg / CDN d?Alsace ;
> P?le Champagne-Ardenne : le CRDP Champagne-Ardenne, le Festival
> Mondial des Th??tres de Marionnettes de Charleville-M?zi?res, le
> Mus?e de l?Ardenne / Ville de Charleville-M?zi?res, l?UNIMA
> internationale ;
> P?le Ile-de-France : le Th??tre de la Marionnette ? Paris, THEMAA ;
> P?le Picardie : Mus?es d?Amiens / Amiens-m?tropole, le Tas de
> Sable / Ches Panses Vertes ;
> P?le Provence-Alpes-C?te-d?Azur : le Mus?e des civilisations Europe-
> M?diterran?e (MuCEM), le Mus?e du Vieil-Aix / Ville d?Aix-en-
> Provence, le V?lo Th??tre,
> Avec l?aimable autorisation des Archives d?partementales de la
> Somme, de la Biblioth?que nationale de France et du Mus?e du Quai
> Branly pour l?acc?s ? leurs collections,
> Et le soutien du minist?re de la Culture et de la Communication, de
> la r?gion Champagne-Ardenne, du d?partement des Ardennes et de la
> r?gion Ile-de-France.
> Eve Plichart
> Responsable du Centre de documentation/Head librarian
> Institut International de la Marionnette
> Ecole Nationale Sup?rieure des Arts de la Marionnette (ESNAM)
> 7 place Winston Churchill
> 08000 Charleville-M?zi?res FRANCE
> T?l 00 33 (0)3 24 33 72 50
> Fax 00 33 (0)3 24 33 72 69

If any teacher of French wants to incorporate puppetry (creative culture and a culture of creativity) into their curriculum for reading, researching, and endless projects-based creative learning and doing and making... here you have it...

Avec plaisir,

Monsieur Alain

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