Teaching is a very demanding field of work. Teachers have an increasing amount of responsibility in an ever-changing world. Hence, professionals in the field must seek and select the best research-based practices in order to effectively reach and teach all students. For example, with a growing to-do list, some teachers may believe they do not need to provide for gifted students, as they will no doubt succeed academically. In addition, it is important to remember that at the moment, there is no legislation protecting gifted students in Quebec education. However, many educators know it is essential to nourish and challenge our gifted and talented students, yet lack the knowledge or time to find cost-efficient and easy-to-implement strategies to empower teachers with. Therefore, the real challenge is to find a way to meet the needs of gifted and talented students, spread this information to teachers, all without adding to a teacher’s workload.
With that in mind, I have taken on the task of searching for research-based teaching strategies that easily differentiate to learners of all-levels, and sharing this information with others in my field. As an elementary teacher in an IB school, inquiry-based learning quickly became my focus, as I seek to confirm Problem-based Learning (PBL) as an effective and adaptable teaching strategy.
PBL easily presents itself as one of the top teaching methods for teachers to differentiate for learners of all levels. By exploring the origins of PBL and its links to gifted education, the many benefits of PBL for both gifted and non-gifted learners will convince any teacher that PBL is the one of the most-effective strategies for teaching gifted students.
Origins of PBL
PBL originated in the early 1970s, in the field of medical education (Gallager, 1997). In order to best prepare medical students for their important work tending to human lives, educators began presenting their students with real-world scenarios, so that their learning environments mimicked their future work environment. Teachers took on the role of “metacognitive coach” (Gallager, 1997), as they guided students’ to reflect and learn from their thinking processes.
PBL is easily linked to Renzulli’s (1976) three-tiered Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM). While the SEM provides opportunities for all students to learn, it also has built-in strategies to provide for the development of complex, higher-order thinking skills of gifted students. The first two types of enrichment activities appeal to all audiences, as they aim to develop students’ development of thinking and feeling processes through the use of learning situations (Renzulli, 1976). Type III level activities are developed with the gifted student in mind, as the student will be able to work independently on an inquiry-based project, with the teacher acting as an assistant to student learning (Renzulli, 1976). By exploring the many research-based benefits of PBL, teachers will be able to understand that this type of instruction is valuable to all.
Benefits of PBL
It is common knowledge that student engagement is fundamental to learning. As teachers aspire to increase their students’ cognitive engagement with the curriculum, many may not know how. Since PBL is a student-centered practice, one that allows students to take control of their learning and learn at their own pace, in their own style, higher student engagement is a natural byproduct.
Rotgans & Schmidt (2011) explored to what extent PBL impacts cognitive engagement. 208 students at a polytechnic in Singapore participated in a 1-day PBL process where two measures were utilized: a self-report measure to identify engagement created by the authors was shown valid prior to the commencement of the study, as well as student grades. Students self-reported their engagement throughout each of the five phases of PBL (problem-definition, independent study, collaborative discussion, independent study, and presentation).
Student engagement increased progressively over the course of the PBL process (Rotgans & Schmidt, 2011). Findings also suggested that engagement is a function of the learning event itself; the more students’ developed their knowledge and worked on their solutions, the more engaged they became. This suggests that the more often students are active learners, and participate in discovering information, the more engaged they are. Similarly, teachers would no doubt be interested in research that could determine whether lecture style teaching discourages student engagement.
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