Planning, Facilitating, and Closure

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The Briefing

Set the stage for problem-based learning activityMale teacher in front of a classroom teaches students at desks.  for your students. You paint a picture using the module scenario, the mission that teams will face, and the roles students will play. Since Pandem PBL/CBL modules are taken from real-world problems, you may want to stress that solutions are to be realistic as well. Perhaps students will come up with a solution that is original and warrants serious further research. Your ability to make the learning activity as meaningful as possible at this point cannot be overstated. The more the students are immersed in the problem, the more they will be engaged and invested in finding the “solution”.

Facilitator’s Role

The Teacher’s Role in the Pandem PBL/CBL Classroom
The amount of student learning and personal development that occurs in a classroom is directly proportional to the quality and quantity of student involvement in the educational program (Cooper and Prescott, 1989). Yet descriptive research indicates that teachers typically dominate classroom conversation, consuming nearly 70 percent of classroom time. A large portion of this teacher talk consists of lectures and directives. Such an educational environment results in learners assuming passive roles and relying mainly on auditory skills, a limited dimension of the intellect. Problem-based (PBL) and case-based (CBL) learning modules diminish teacher talk and increase student-directed learning. By teaming students with one another, students have frequent opportunities to talk as they construct knowledge in the course of solving an open-ended problem. Thus, when students use CBL or PBL modules, they may potentially use more of their intellect than they use during traditional instruction.

Activity goals and objectives should be clearly defined before students begin work. Students should know how they will be assessed. Rubrics, formative and summative assessments, reflections, progress reports throughout the PBL/CBL process, and the final presentation of the “solution” should be part of the PBL/CBL assessment.

(See Preparation Checklist for Implementing a Pandem PBL/CBL module.)

Facilitate Rather Than Teach
When you use problem-based or case-based learning in your classroom, your role will be that of facilitator. Rather than teach content, you will manage team member interactions so that teams stay focused and make progress. With your careful encouragement, each team’s problem, plan of action, and outcome will emerge on its own, the unique product of its members’ collective strengths and interests. In your role of facilitator, you will begin by briefing students on the modules they will be using. When team work begins, you will spend most of your time observing team members to determine what problems they are having working together and completing their assignments.

Using Restraint
You are reminded to help out only when necessary. If you must answer a question, you should be sure to ask first, “Is this a team question?”, meaning, could one of the team members answer this question instead of you. You may clarify instructions, review strategies for completing an assignment, answer “teacher” questions, and demonstrate task skills as necessary. You may also assist students in developing questions that help them focus their activities or that help them decide whether particular sources of information are appropriate to their research.

A thorough knowledge of the background information provided in each module will help you to direct the students in their work. Students will sometimes ask a question that is answered in the background material, but they have not bothered to read it.

In your role as facilitator, you will:

  • describe what you have observed or paraphrase the content or feeling of the team’s question.
  • ask what the team has done so far to solve its problem.
  • ask what the team will do next.
  • support teams that have reached an impasse as they brainstorm for a solution to a problem.
  • allow teams to choose a solution.

There may be times when you feel you have to intervene. For example, you may need to intervene so that students critique each other in a constructive manner or compromise for the welfare of the team.

Maintain Momentum 
Your efficient organization of students, hardware, and software will reduce interruptions and increase the amount of time on task. Below are tips for establishing and maintaining the momentum of Pandem PBL/CBL modules.

Organize Your Classroom and Materials

Arrange the Room Appropriately: Members of a team should sit close enough to communicate without disrupting the other teams. All students should be visible to the teacher. Leave plenty of room around student desks so that you can easily walk around and monitor students’ interactions. High traffic areas should be kept free of congestion.

Provide resources needed for student investigations: If you need to reserve a computer lab or arrange for a lab set of portable computers to be available for your classroom, remember to contact the appropriate school personnel well ahead of time to ensure the availability of the equipment.  If you want the students to work in the school library, notify the school media specialist or librarian that your class will be coming to use library resources and provide the class period and number of students.

Distribute Materials AppropriatelyMaterials should be distributed in such a way that students understand that the assignment requires a joint effort. (Student PBL packets should reinforce the individual assessment component of project evaluation along with project requirements and rubrics.) Materials useful to all should be readily accessible to all.

Specify a Time Frame for Each Task

When communicating expectations to students, include a detailed timeline with all due dates clearly listed.  While you have to consider that some groups work more slowly than others, encourage students who seem to finish more quickly to review their work to make sure it is detailed and that they have mastered the content sufficiently to answer the questions coming in the assessment phase. Balance the deadlines so that you give students reasonable time to complete project tasks, but don’t make the mistake of allowing too much time, because many students will then develop the habit of dawdling over their work (Harmin, 1994).

Have Students Write Progress Reports

Student teams work on tasks for an extended time to produce a tangible product. The hardest part for you will be giving up control and trusting your students to grow into the challenges. The best part will be seeing students become energetic and responsible as they work on the modules. Having students write progress reports is a good way to reassure you that progress is being made. Request a weekly report of what the students have accomplished and what specific plans they have for the following week. Each student could submit this information every Friday, or team members could rotate the job of reporting for the team. You can use this as part of their assessment.

Some PBL/CBL modules do not take multiple weeks to finish and you may not want to allow that much time for them anyway. Another way of assessing progress is to have your students leave their PBL packets in your classroom.  You can quickly look over their work and determine their progress. You can then speak to the team(s) that may not be producing adequate work.


Learners do not just receive information only at the time it is given; they absorb information in many different ways, often after the fact, through reflection. Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde (1993) believe that the most powerful learning happens when students self-monitor, or reflect.

Students may not always be aware of what they are learning and experiencing. Teachers must raise students’ consciousness about underlying concepts and about their own reactions to these concepts. The PBL modules offer times for reflection during and after the research process. Guided questions allow students to recognize gaps in knowledge, to gain the knowledge to fill the gaps and better understand the problem, and to become aware of the content they have mastered in the process.

There are many ways to reflect. Reflection may occur individually, in groups, in teacher-led discussion, or during student-to-student dialogues. Reflection may occur at any time during the learning process; it does not have to wait until the end. Herbert (1995) offers some excellent advice:

  • The teacher must be able to vary his or her approach in helping the students analyze what has taken place. The methods are dependent on the personalities and situations involved. At times, it might be necessary to be blunt and honest with feedback. At other times, questions, discussions, or a gentle approach help students discover for themselves what they have done and how they are perceived. Sometimes nothing needs to be said. It is difficult to know the approach to use with each individual in each situation. Experience is a good teacher.
  • Reflection is critical to both learning and transfer. Reflection ends the active learning experience and begins the assessment by providing evaluation opportunities as learners apply concepts and skills to new and different situations.

You may want students to answer specific reflection questions. Self-evaluation is a good way for students to become aware of their growth, not only in the specific content covered in the PBL topic, but also growth in communication and collaboration skills. Possible questions include:

How effective was I in working as a team member?
What did I contribute to the group? What was my role in the group?
What could I have done better to be an effective team member?
What will I do differently the next time?

Providing Closure

The final step is to review the task with the aim of advancing students’ understanding of the subject matter. Teachers summarize the major points of a lesson, ask students to recall ideas, and answer final questions. This may be accomplished by:

  • performing an initial assessment during a final presentation in which each team member is responsible for answering questions about the PBL activity.
  • asking students to post the results of their daily or project tasks, and then have everyone walk around and read over one another’s work, either during that class period or at some time soon after.
  • asking students to write outcome sentences about the subject matter, and then share those in a discussion.
  • providing thorough feedback on the assessment form returned to the student at the end of the project. Allow students to ask any questions they have about their assessment and provide positive feedback about what they did well and feedback about what they could have done better.



Adapted from the Center of Educational Technologies (Classroom of the Future) Exploring the Environment website