Sunday, August 7, 2011


I had a nice meeting recently with a young English teacher who drove up to visit with me about Challenge Based Learning.  He'd been to one of my presentations and thought he would like to try this design in a new prep-- Business English. He had a strong understanding of the CBL model and terrific determination to innovate with the course. 

When discussing "rubber meets the road" issues like group dynamics, timelines, audience, and assessment;  I quickly introduced an MHS term-- "CBLish".  As I did so it occurred to me how undogmatic I have become about the CBL model.  Occasionally, I have run into adherents (usually higher ed) who have been startled, even disgusted by my heresy.   

After ten times around the block with CBL and a year of professional development teaching the process, I have found differences in time constraints, curriculum demands, and teaching styles call for modification and flexibility.  I am only interested in promoting projects which are organic to a school's curriculum. If someone wishes to promote community service or simply get students motivated to learn, one can follow this design in an all-out student-directed that allows them to even select the "big idea" that they will explore. 

On the other hand, "CBL" has been batted around so much in our school this year (a good thing) it's meaning has been severely stretched.  I assigned a video project for students which they completed in pairs.  The assignment was entirely prescribed.  I was very pleased with it.  It was not in any respect a CBL, but some of my students referred to it as such.   

So here is where I take my stand.  I am satisfied to call something CBL, if the activity. . . .

* Begins with an actionable challenge which affects the "community"

* A team of students determine its path toward a solution.

* The solution reaches beyond the classroom for an authentic audience

* At the end of the process the students reflects on the entire process.

And, hey, if a project has a couple of these elements, I am likely to deem it CBLish.  If this sounds wrong, I welcome the criticism, so long as its based on your experience using CBL.

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