Hat Metaphor (NLB 2014)

Most of us have a favorite piece of clothing—one that we wear again and again. Perhaps it is a beloved hat or a pair of shoes. When you wear your favorite hat—well—it feels like home. After repeated wearings, the hat fits comfortably. Although a new article of clothing looks beautiful, it doesn’t feel quite right. It needs to be broken in. New shoes are like that too. Sometimes you have to earn that first blister or two before the shoes begin to fit.

Teaching is like clothing, both old and new. Teachers have their tried and true methods. Their go-to strategies if you will. Although the go-to strategies work for the teacher, in certain situations they may not work for the student. Sometimes teachers have to test drive new strategies or adopt new roles. Fortunately, PBL encourages teachers to wear a new hat (or two). First, we must “relinquish the role of the dispenser of information” (Park, n.d.). According to Jackson (2012), the PBL teacher becomes both the facilitator and manager instead. “In facilitator mode, the teacher works with students to frame relevant and meaningful questions and to present logical arguments, guides students in seeking answers and researching, structures knowledge-building tasks, coaches necessary social skills, and assesses student progress.  As manager, the teacher directs small groups and independent work experiences.” (Jackson, 2012). In addition, Park (n.d.) recommends that teachers become metacognitive coaches, who think aloud with their students and practice behaviours they want their students to use.  As facilitators and managers, teachers still provide sufficient structure and support by helping students plan, monitor progress and assess results (Rice, 2010).

For the most part, PBL suits my teaching style. Being a facilitator and manager are natural roles for English-Language Arts teachers; we like being metacognitive coaches.  We want our students to ask meaningful questions and present logical arguments, and seek answers and research; therefore, we often model these techniques. However, there are still areas that need attention. For me, it is the self-assessment component. With PBL, students are expected to monitor their own progress and assess their own results. Fostering peer reviews and providing teacher feedback during the writing process (usually after the first draft is done) is routine in my classroom. However, I know I don’t encourage my students to assess their own work enough. This is something I must rectify. The fact that PBL places a lot of emphasis on formative assessment definitely helps teachers like me. With this kind of assessment, students can use checklists and their reflective journals to evaluate their own work. Focusing on self-assessment will also help students further develop their critical thinking skills because they will have to determine what needs improvement and why.

Another area that requires attention is knowing when to tutor or mentor individual students and small groups. I certainly do not want to interrupt work progress or work flow. Stevenson (2014) recommends holding team meetings on a regular basis to monitor progress and learn what the group (and the individuals within) needs. This way the teacher can adapt instruction, materials, and activities as needed. Likewise, Stevenson (2014) also encourages teachers to meet with a team representative in order to disseminate expectations. Because the team representative shares the teacher’s expectations with the group, trust is established and the group progress is not interrupted. Recommendations like these are practical and easy to adopt that’s for sure.

By addressing these two areas I will be able to monitor student competencies and skills while encouraging students to be more critical of their own work through self-assessment.  This is particularly helpful for those of us who tend to place more emphasis on the end product instead of the process. Because these approaches are user-friendly and beneficial to my students, I definitely feel more confident about implementing PBL in my classroom.

This hat might be new but at least I am learning how to wear it!


Jackson, S. (2012, April). The teacher’s role during project-based learning. Scholastic Canada Education. Retrieved from http://www.scholastic.ca/education/teaching_tip/april2012.html

Park, J. (n.d.). The Role of the Instructor. LDT Stanford University. Retrieved from http://ldt.stanford.edu/~jeepark/jeepark+portfolio/PBL/instructor.htm

Rice, T. (2010, September 16). The teacher’s role in PBL (PBL Series Part 4). Wisdom Begins with Wonder [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://trice25.edublogs.org/2010/09/16/the-teachers-role-in-pbl/

Stevenson, I. (2014, March 25). Project management: The devil is in the differentiation! BIE.org [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://bie.org/blog/project_management_the_devil_is_in_the_differentiation