Is This for a Grade? – FLAVA Session Pitches PBL as a Motivator

Is This for a Grade? – FLAVA Session Pitches PBL as a Motivator

Educators, don’t tell me you’ve not heard this question.

Laur Warren

Laur Warren

And what if the teacher said, “No”? Teachers, what do you think the students’ reactions would be? “Then why should I do it?” some would say. Or the more belligerent, “I’m not doing it.”

Zach Neumann of Larkspur Middle School in Virginia Beach answers this for students and teachers

zach neumann1

Zach C. Neumann with a reading student in Ghana, West Africa

to the satisfaction of all. We hear enough about PBL these days (Project Based Learning). Its purpose is to engage the students in critical thinking ,which yields content mastery. Our ancestors, Aristotle and Confucius, did the real introduction of this modern buzz phrase simply by proving that learning comes from doing. Socrates modeled PBL through his use of questioning, inquiry and critical thinking. Very specifically, Zach Neumann sculpted this method of learning through “Un Conte Pour les Enfants.” The name translates as “a children’s story,” and it is crafted by the children he teaches. Last year, they fashioned a beautifully designed tale whose main character was a fox. It uses the simplest of French words and phrases ,and it was eventually sent on to Haiti.

Is there a reason that Mr. Neumann chose a children’s story for his students to write? Indeed, he explained in his October workshop at the 2013 FLAVA Conference: “Children’s books are easy to read and write. Reading is a life skill. Our kids connect because they already know stories from the past. It gives the project a purpose beyond a grade.”

Neumann teaches at a middle school where kids are accustomed to doing as they are told. He just walks them through the project he says that they are going to do. Keep it simple; reminisce upon stories you were told when you were little, give them your own flair, and write them in French. DO NOT TRANSLATE! You’ve got to think, breathe, taste, and have this language seep from your pores. Write it in kiddie language and illustrate it to the hilt.

Let them own it. As Ron Berger, author of An Ethic of Excellence, says, “I want a classroom full of craftsmen–students whose work is strong, accurate, and beautiful; students who are proud of what they do and respect themselves and others.”

Page from a student book

Page from a student book

I believe that Neumann does just that with his students. The little tale of the fox went to poor children who had so few books. How they treasured this product of excellence created by children not much older than themselves!

Neumann’s students brainstormed, story boarded, peer edited, and learned to laminate, as opposed to stapling and binding, to ensure the best delivery to Haiti.

Did they really want a grade? The children were over-ecstatic with what they created. In the end, perhaps the teacher thought they should get a grade. Or maybe the students were pleased enough that they distributed the very best and that was the final reward.

This workshop has inspired me to do the similarly in my classroom.

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