For the past few years I've been teaching GNVQ courses. They're an excellent vehicle for PBL. Set deadlines/milestones, give feedback to students to enable them to improve their products/submissions, evaluate, move on to the next deadline or project etc etc. It should work really well if you're an organised teacher. I'm not the world's most organised teacher, but I do try to stick to deadlines or milestones and I really make sure I give student feedback, following milestones, to enable them to progress, but . . . I fail miserably in keeping students to deadlines. Why? Because I feel pressurised to ensure I achieve the highest grades possible for my students. Not for altruistic reasons, but because our school like every other school in the country is under pressure to achieve high grades. We all know the anti league table arguments so I won't spend time on this, but suffice to say our students albeit unconsciously know that I'll extend deadlines.
Come on all you GNVQ teachers, tell me how useless a teacher I am. I know there will be a few out there who can keep to strict deadlines, but not many I guess and even less in inner city schools such as ours.
So why is it so hard to keep students to deadlines? I'd like to cover one possible reason in this post and another in the next.
The first reason concerns lack of practice. How many of us are good at meeting deadlines? How many of us rush out a piece of work in oder to make a deadline? The organisational and planning skills required to meet deadlines are high order dispositions, as is managing distractions. As I've mentioned before we have to begin to develop habits in students. By Year 10, when the pressure really begins to meet deadlines, students are suddenly required to switch these skills on. Most schools practice some form of action planning or target setting, but how many subjects or courses in schools really incorporate milestones and deadlines into their curriculum from an early age? How many address the meeting of these deadlines as part of the assessment criteria and discuss fully with students the reasons they didn't make the dead line? I may be wrong, but I expect when deadlines are Incorporated, students get little more than a nag or a row for not meeting it. Apply the same rationale to a difficult concept in a subject - say quadratic equations. If a student struggles with this at first and doesn't manage to complete the problem, does the teacher give them a row or nag? Probably not, because the teacher expects this and will sit down with the student to help them overcome the difficulty. Why can't we apply this to deadlines? Meeting deadlines is just another difficult concept/action to understand and fulfill It's another thing to be learned through practice until it becomes unconscious. Apply the same rationale to students who have been let out of class to go to the resource centre/library to do some independent study, but instead go off and muck about in the toilets. Again it's a difficult thing for young people to manage. Set free with friends? What's the priority, work or "having a laugh"? Invariably the students are reprimanded and told not to do it again (or worse, they are not given the opportunity to go out again) when they come back with little to show. The student has done wrong. It's a pity that we don't regard these misdemeanors more seriously as part of the learning process and give the students the opportunity to practice the skills of time management, responsibility, and managing distractions/procrastination. This is the main reason I want to begin the PBL programme at the Academy - I want it to address these dispositions and really explore with the students why (for example) they haven't met a deadline, rather than dishing out the detentions.
In the next post, I'll look at the second reason why students have difficulties with deadlines.