A. Grace Martin

Author, Student Teacher, Optimist and Promoter of Self-Empowerment


Solving student disinterest with a combined approach

Posted by agracemartin on August 12, 2015 at 9:30 PM

My Problem Solving with Communications Technology instructor asked us to describe an instance in which we witnessed another teacher employ problem solving. My response was on solving student disinterest with a combined approach.


I witnessed my PSI teacher associate incorporate a mixture of note-taking lectures with project-based-learning in a grade 6 Social Studies classroom. This teacher had noticed that stand-and-deliver instruction followed by assignments was a huge problem for student engagement, deeper understanding, and long-term retention of meaningful skills and knowledge. This teacher had also noted the issue with only using a project-based learning approach that had complete student independence in their research process, because students did not know where to start or how to find what they were supposed to. My PSI teacher associate mostly referred to online resources for PBL (project-based learning) and spoke with other teachers interested in PBL. The solution to this problem was a mixed approach of direct instruction on alternating days to work periods for student projects. This system worked very well right away.



In the first unit of the grade 6 Social Studies class, students learned about the governmental processes of Alberta. The teacher gave students the information that they needed and then encouraged them to come up with a proposal for a new building or center that would benefit the community. The proposal was presented in a PowerPoint format to the class and to guests from the town council. This gave the students an authentic audience and allowed room for a lot of creative exploration of centers that they were interested in. While I was completing my PSI practicum, I taught Social Studies and English Language Arts with this teacher associate. I would teach lessons about democracy in “Ancient Athens” and then the following day my teacher associate would guide them through their group project about a day in the life of an ancient Greek person. The students took on their roles of citizens, metics, and slaves with excitement. They became engaged with the subject matter and creatively expressed their new-found knowledge. The culmination of this project was on my last day of practicum, in which the students modeled an agora marketplace by bringing in a food item and exchanging the coins they had made in art class for snacks and treats. It was a lot of fun for teachers and students alike.



In summary, my PSI teacher associate engaged in the problem solving process by identifying the issue of disinterested students under direct instructional methods and confused students under PBL strategies. This teacher was successful in solving this issue by taking a balanced approach that informed students and engaged them in meaningful activities. The wonderful result of this approach, too, was that students began to learn the problem solving process by identifying the requirements of the project and being guided through the steps to create a finalized and polished presentation.

When I posted this resposne to our online forum, another student teacher asked me to elaborate on the evidence of student learning, to which I replied:

My TA had been grappling with this idea in the previous year, so I came in after he was already implementing the combined PBL/instruction approach. It was new that fall when I arrived. The benefits were evident even without seeing how my students were "before." The "after" that I witnessed showed how excited they were about their Social Studies projects. The main thing that I could notice were that students actually CARED about their projects. They seemed fairly disinterested in most things but their projects were meaningful to them and they enjoyed telling me about what they were working on.


I think the key to transitioning was routine. The grade 6 Social Studies class got the laptop cart on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when they had group time to work. Mondays and Wednesdays were instructionally-based classes. Fridays were a mix of instruction and current events. The grade 6s got accustomed to this routine in September, so the combined approach was very well balanced.


PS2 might have been a more difficult buy-in because you did not get to establish routines from day 1 in September. I also had difficulty with my Science 14s buying in because I did not get them from the start of the semester.


In PS2 I ended up "tricking" my Science 9s into hands-on learning. I came in with collaborative and explorative strategies and there was an instant outcry for "can't we just take notes!?" because they were concerned that they would not do well on their upcoming tests unless they took notes from the board. Instead I balanced note-taking from direct instruction and PowerPoints with experiment days. Suddenly saying it was a "lab" and giving them a "lab report worksheet" for marks made inquiry-based learning acceptable to them. Sometimes we just need to change our terminology to something familiar to make the "fear of the unknown" lessened.

Categories: Teaching Blog

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