The Biggest Challenge of Becoming a Progressive Teacher

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project based progressive teacher

After presenting student-centered, results-only learning to a group of 150 Christian school teachers in Ohio, one enthusiastic participant asked, “What was the biggest challenge in your transformation from traditional to progressive teacher?” I had discussed discarding all traditional teaching methods — lecture, worksheets, homework, testing and even grades.

This was a difficult question and much broader than the queries I’m used to fielding during these sessions. Most people ask about pushback in a no-grades classroom, how to use mobile learning devices if all students don’t have one, or how students react to the freedom that progressive teachers provide.

After some contemplation, I decided the most difficult part of moving from the daily grind of lecture-practice-homework-quiz to being a progressive teacher in a vibrant student-centered classroom was replacing direct instruction and worksheets with yearlong projects that encompass many learning outcomes.

I spent a lot of time, discarding the old worksheets, workbooks and homework assignments, I told the inquisitive session participant. Many hours heading into the school year and throughout suddenly were filled with planning detailed, step-by-step projects that would take an entire grading period or more to complete.

Along the way, I created brief, interactive lessons that helped students acquire the skills necessary to apply new knowledge to the projects. My evenings during the school year were spent reviewing websites or creating instructional videos that students could use throughout their project work and that might spark more inquiry on their part. I explained how a progressive teacher uses formative assessment without grades and is constantly looking for digital tools and social media that will help engage students in the assessment process.

Weaving standards or learning outcomes into lengthy projects that students love and that truly demonstrate learning is a challenging, yet amazing, part of being a progressive teacher in a results-only learning environment. The transformation, I explained, was difficult and sometimes exhausting, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me as an educator.

What challenges have you faced in your own transformation?

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books and other series that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 150,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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