Monday, February 27, 2006

Problem based learning

A lesson plan that includes elements of problem based learning


Part 1 – 90 minute lesson plan for a class of students, consisting of six males and six females, between the ages of 18 and 24, from five different L1 backgrounds, intending to go on to study a variety of Arts and Science subjects at postgraduate level, and of mixed proficiency in English, ranging from IELTS 5 and 6 in all skills.

Using the following text:
Shine, A.J. (1983) Loch Ness and Morar Project.  Report.  Drumnadrochit: Loch Ness 2000, at
http://www.lochnessproject.org/lochnessporject/archiveroom/papershtml/nmprep83.htm

  1. Mini project title: The Loch Ness Project Poster

  1. Brief explanation of the lesson
Students would be instructed that a poster is needed to advertise the Project.    The Project would take the form of ‘text boxes’ pasted onto a cardboard backing.
Task 1.   Brainstorm the type of information people need to know about the project.                                                                            
                                                              Time for this: 5 mins

  1. Activities of each group
Task 2. Each group decides upon which particular types of information should be given prominence on the poster.
                                                                                   Time for this: 2 mins

  1. Responsibility of each group member
Task 3. Group members agree on /negotiate each other’s area of responsibility, based upon interest shown.
                                                                                   Time for this:2 mins
  1. Research
Task 4. Each student scans the document for the particular type of information they are dealing with.
                                                                                   Time for this: 10 mins

  1. Report back to group
Task 5. Each student reports back to the group – says whether they have found what they were looking for, or not.  If they didn’t find anything, they should go back to (3) above and start again.
                                                                                  Time for this: 10 mins (29)

  1. Brief write up of each member’s contribution
Task 6. Paraphrase/summarise the text selected – sts should think about word count/size of text box – write up around these limits.  OR re-negotiate more space on the poster.
                                                                                   Time for this: 20 mins (49)

  1. Organization into a single piece of writing (done by each students, with assistance by other members – use of board to coordinate details
Task 7. Basically, a redrafting based upon what other students have written – each piece could be blue tacked to the board inside a drawn border to see how it looks, whether there is room, and if there are any gaps in the information supplied by the group.
                                                                                   Time for this:  20 mins (69)

  1. Editing individually, each student working from the work of the group, placed on charts/on the board.
Task 8. More final drafting to modify each piece so that the whole thing fits.
                                                                                   Time for this: 10 mins (79)

  1. Comments – rereading – peer group editing for form and content.
Task 9. A close scrutiny of the poster, with invitations from other groups to do the same – be critical, and praise where necessary.  Students would benefit from comparing their own group’s treatment of the Project with those of other groups.
                                                                                  Time for this: 11 mins (90)
NB. All the times given are only approximate guides and should not be regarded as absolute in any way.  A Project like this one could well stretch into several periods of 90 minutes, depending upon the depth students went into their research, and whether they were allowed or encouraged to go beyond the initial material provided in class.  The order of difficulty of each task would have implications for this timing, but it is envisaged that stronger students finishing early would be able to assist weaker ones with their work.

A lesson of this kind enables students of different abilities to work within the group and yet produce something of value by higher level students – synergy being the watchword – the group success depends upon cooperation, assistance and  coordination.

In terms of the language skills, it is envisaged that those listening work harder to speakers at lower levels of proficiency.  This works, primarily because students are usually disposed to assist each other – the difficulty imposed by the task ensures relationships within the group are strengthened, and learning is enhanced at all levels; those at higher levels probably have to work just as hard as those at lower levels because they act as editors within the group, and compensate for those with fewer language skills.

With classes of students at IELTS 5 (Modest user) and IELTS 6 (Competent user) stronger students with a greater command of the language, could assist weaker students who are liable to make many more mistakes, particularly in the written component of the mini-project, as well as acting as monitors for the group’s overall contribution and success.  With students at IELTS 5 and 6 in the class, the disparities between abilities are not glaring, and weaker students always benefit with association with stronger ones, particularly in team approaches to a mini- project like this one.

The results speak for themselves; the group produce four or five written pieces of work, all at a similar standard, having used the other language skills to arrive at the final product.  

Robert L. Fielding

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