A classroom filled with gifted children can bring a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) unit to heights that we as teachers at times cannot believe. Teaching a unit in my school requires a few adjustments here and there based on the learning pace of the students within the classroom. The tweaking becomes natural and the unit comes alive. What happens when you take a PBL unit halfway around the world? It becomes an experience in patience, flexibility, and creativity.
My experience took place in a small suburb in Beijing, China where I spent six weeks teaching two PBL units to students from grades one to eight. During the first four weeks I taught a Shakespeare unit called Extra, Extra! The Globe Theatre is Being Torn Down! And during the last two, I taught a unit called The Case of the Misplaced Penguins. English was a challenge for some students and therefore a lot of visuals and non-verbal experiences were needed.
The Shakespeare unit took on a different look where students did a fair bit of acting and where activities did not require heavy reading or writing. We did everything from watching clips of Hamlet, to MadLibs, to performing dramatic monologues, to even writing a sonnet.
I found that the key was reassuring the students that there wasn’t always a right answer. For example, when writing a sonnet, they had a formula for the rhyming scheme and the syllable count, but when I gave them the freedom to write on a topic of their choice I heard sighs of relief. They wrote journal entries as Hamlet and Claudius in which they could express their feelings with no restrictions. When learning that the words and expressions of Shakespeare live on today, students were able to connect to Confucius and how his phrases are embedded into their culture. Students found Shakespeare intriguing and enjoyed grappling with the challenge of understanding ideas such as, “To be or not to be, that is the question?”
During my final two weeks, I taught the penguin unit to the younger group. This unit needed tweaking in a different way because the younger students required more hands-on activities. I used songs, dances, and pictures, and I had them draw to help them understand. The I Wonder Questions were really interesting because although they had a tough time starting, once they got the idea, the students couldn’t stop.
Another young man by the name of Gregory enjoyed reading Hamlet and asked great questions. The most exciting part was the fact that students could answer and defend their decisions about their solutions based on what they had learned. For example, when deciding whether the Globe Theatre should be torn down, students justified their solutions with statements such as, “it was a precious part of the theatre culture,” or that “Shakespeare should be celebrated and remembered.”
What began as the unknown has now transformed into a journey beyond words. Imagine coming to an unfamiliar country, expecting someone you have never met to pick you up from the airport and then start a job you assumed you were prepared for. Six weeks later…the country and city became home, the people became family, and the job became a learning adventure! The experience has made me a more patient teacher and person. It has made me realize that flexibility is the key to working in a place where things and language are different. Thank you Diligence and Delight School for the opportunity to make a difference and share my passions doing something I love and believe in.