Before taking a trip each of us considers what we want to experience. If only subconsciously, we also filter our choices based on the kinds of travelers we are. What kind are you? Do you prefer the certainty of a detailed itinerary and guided tour? Or, are you an experienced through-the-back-door wanderer? Let’s think about professional learning as a journey and see how getting oriented can affect the success of anyone’s “trip.”
I do quite a bit of professional development around project-based learning (PBL) and technology. Whether learning groups are focused on PBL, technology integration or any other change effort, most are comprised of folks with a range of abilities, from novice to expert. Over the past few years I’ve found it helpful to start workshops by asking folks what kind of traveler they are in relation to the learning journey ahead. My colleague and coauthor Suzie Boss came up with the traveler metaphor and a range of descriptors. Think about a topic of your current professional learning. What kind of traveler are you?
Armchair tourist: Curious from afar, need to know more
Tenderfoot: Setting out on that first journey, ready to try new things
Explorer: Used to stepping out, ready for new frontiers
Scout: A seasoned traveler who can show others the way
These identifiers, in contrast to “novice” or “expert” imply movement, or growth. A tenderfoot traveling even a short distance may be taking a more profound journey than a seasoned explorer or scout.
Once I ask folks to self-identify and we establish the composition of the group, I can begin to differentiate instruction for the learning ahead. Participants benefit from knowing the composition of the group, too. It’s comforting for any learner to know he is one of an acknowledged group whose needs will be addressed.
During a workshop, just as you do in your classroom every day, I form small groups, assign peer teachers, and customize activities based on individual needs or strengths of the group.
At the end of our time together we revisit the “traveler” types and I recommend differentiated steps to take beyond the workshop. I’ll leave you with an example from a recent project-based learning workshop in San Francisco.
Keep reading and observing
– Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, authors Jane Krauss, Suzie Boss
– PBL Handbook, Buck Institute for Education
– Edutopia Project-based Learning site: www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning
– Understanding by Design, authors Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
Join a well-designed project
– Cornell Labs Citizen Science www.birds.cornell.edu/citsci
– Pennies for Peace, an international service-learning project www.penniesforpeace.org
– iEARN global network of projects www.iearn.org
– The My Hero Project – http://www.myhero.com
Expand beyond your classroom, find partners
– Classroom 2.0 www.classroom20.com
– Edutopia PBL Group www.edutopia.org/groups/project-based-learning
– ePals www.epals.com
– Global Education Collaborative http://globaleducation.ning.com
– Global SchoolNet www.globalschoolnet.org
Build buzz and go to scale
– Buzz-builders: Twitter, blogs, Facebook
– Alert the media!
– Invite others to join your projects
– Share your wisdom through webinars, conferences, formal or ad hoc PLCs
You and your colleagues might not be studying PBL, but try the “traveler” metaphor on for size with any learning initiative of which you are part. How might you use it to look for differentiated learning opportunities?