There are many misconceptions around project based education, and one of them is that you have to change your entire teaching style in order to implement it! This simply isn’t true! As I discussed in a previous article about types of project based learning activities, there are many different ways to implement project based learning principles in the classroom. Because of this, there are options for every style!
There are 3 main styles of teaching project based activities that I’ve identified. They are; the Freehand Artist, the Tour Guide, and the Movie Director. I’ve completely made up those titles, but they’re fun, and I think they accurately describe very real styles of approaching project based activities.
The Freehand Artist
The first style, Freehand Artist, describes the more stereotypical view of project based activities. Just like any artist, the Freehand Artist values an open-ended process, with freedom for thought, design, and production. This is the teacher who is comfortable sitting back and letting the students direct the pace and direction of learning. They approach project based activities as student discovery opportunities and keep a mostly hands off attitude to their role as the teacher. To give an idea of what kind of activities that would best suit this style, consider open-ended prompt activities and student directed extended projects. These types of project based activities are described in the blog post mentioned earlier about types of PBL activities.
The Tour Guide
The second style, Tour Guide, retains some elements of openness and flexibility, while also utilizing some structure to help guide the students to a preset goal. This style views their role as a teacher as more of an expert guide. They value student reflection and inquiry, but with some structure to ensure students all arrive at the same conclusions. The Tour Guide encourages student discovery with probing questions. This style prefers structured prompts, application tasks, and learning labs.
The Movie Director
The last style, Movie Director, is the most structured style and is probably where most traditional teachers would fall in the spectrum. They like to be in control of the details! They favor experience rich activities that have specific instructions and expected outcomes. Inquiry is important to the Movie Director, but in controlled settings that ensure students reach the desired outcomes. Think of a science lab instructor. This style prefers structured learning labs and application tasks.
Each of these styles of approaching project based activities is completely acceptable. It simply dictates what kind of activities they are most likely to use, and how they will be most comfortable implementing them.
It is worth noting that you may have more than one style, your project based activity style may be different from your usual classroom style, and any style may be learned. If you are a Movie Director, for instance, but you’d like to be more of a Tour Guide, you can learn how to be less structured simply by practicing it and becoming comfortable with the method.
Having more than one style may be due to how you teach different subjects, for instance you may prefer to be more open ended when teaching history, but more structured and precise when teaching math or science, or you may simply be comfortable with varying levels of structure in your classroom.
It is also not uncommon to have an activity teaching style different from your usual instructional style due to the nature of project based activities. They are different from traditional approaches, and require a different mindset to implement, as I discussed in a previous post on mindset. If your whole classroom set-up isn’t project based, and you typically have a more traditional style, then you may find it easier to approach the project based activities you do with a different style, rather than trying to make them fit into traditional methods. Also, being new to project based activities can also affect how you approach them. Some may tend to be more freehand as they learn how to implement them, and other’s may require more structure until they become familiar and comfortable with using them.
In either case, whether you neatly fall into one style, or find yourself to be a mixture of styles, there are project based learning activities to suit them all!
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