For a lesson to meet the 21st century literacy goals, it must be structured to meet certain criteria, some of which are:
Critical thinking must be paramount.
Collaboration between peers must occur.
Engaged, on-task, thoughtful discussion must take place.
In grade 6 one of the topics we addressed this year was child labour. Our text has a section with a series of captioned pictures presenting different points of view on Child Labour – everything from, “I pick garbage all day,” “I get beaten if I cry,” to “I like the skills that I’ve learned. I am helping to feed my family” to “Our factory was closed down, now I have no job” to “If I didn’t employ child labour, my factory could not survive”.
Typically, I would have read the text with the class and discussed the various points of view. Essentially, this approach addressed the lowest levels of thinking – summarize, make connections, make inferences. My primary goal was to have them understand the impact of child labour and various points of view around child labour.
This year, I took a different approach.
1. I did not worry about the content.
2. I designed the lesson so that it became a collaborative problem to be solved.
Part 1: As a class we identified who the stakeholders in child labour are and how they gain and lose from child labour. The students read the text with this in mind and were easily able to figure out stakeholders as well as how each benefited and lost from child labour. This required them to make inferences. They came up with: children, families, factory owners, governments, consumers.
Part 2: Assess the impact on each stakeholder if child labour was suddenly ended. Students were able to see that simply banning child labour was not an acceptable solution. Many children would suffer if this occurred.
Part 3: Solve a problem. Find a solution to child labour so that the interests of each stakeholder is addressed.
Students were placed in groups of 4, given chart paper and set to work. I was amazed by the level of engagement of my students.
1. Intense discussion took place.
2. All students were fully engaged at a much higher level than I had seen in the past.
3. The students understood that there are no easy solutions. Life is complex.
4. Content was learned through the process of solving the problem.
5. As different groups shared their ideas, other groups revised their own ideas.
4. A light bulb went off in my head. Problem-based learning allows deep thinking to occur.
My first considerations now when I plan lessons are:
1. How can I turn this into a problem to be solved?
2. How can I make this collaborative?
3. Are students engaged in high-level thinking in this activity?
The nice thing about this model is that it doesn’t require any technology. It is an approach – a way of viewing learning.
Assessment occurred through observation and anecdotal comments.
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