November 3, 2011

Staying the course in the ROLE

This is another installment from guest blogger and ROLE teacher, Justin Vail, a junior high social studies teacher in Indiana.

Easy Doesn’t Mean Best
Photo credit: NitroJam.com
I think it is important for people to understand the frustrations that come with a ROLE classroom.   I know a ROLE classroom is better than a traditional classroom, but better doesn’t mean easier.  And ROLE or PBL (project-based learning) is not a magic spell that turns an apathetic student into an intrinsic learner.  Here are my main frustrations in my ROLE classroom:
  • Most students choose not to "dig in” to research--they are satisfied with the information in the first few sentences, which meets the requirements, but begins to resemble the traditional transfer from textbook to worksheet
  • As with most education settings, so many of my students are not motivated to learn anything related to content.  My district is about 70% free and reduced (lunch), and with poverty comes different priorities and survival methods.
  • Students will spend more time adjusting their font style, text color, slide animations, and a number of other things that don’t matter—and spend a relatively small amount of time reading and evaluating content. 
I am finding and experimenting with ways to address my frustrations.  I accept that some things I can’t completely change, but most things can be adjusted.  Can I change my students’ culture in a 50-minute class?  No.  But, I can change my procedures, expectations, norms, and the structure of my class to challenge and motivate my kids.  

Full disclosure—some days I want to get out the textbooks, slap a worksheet on their desks, and order them to be quiet and get to work.  It is OK to have these feelings, it comes with the territory, but most of us have learned that what is easy is rarely what is best.