As I was writing my personal blog post here about my experiences with trauma, both as a student and a teacher, I was simultaneously taking (this is my second) course on Problem-Based Learning. This course is Higher Ed focused, but I have a lot of thoughts, wonderings, and quite frankly, more questions than actual well-thought out and researched ideas, around how Problem-Based Learning could be a vehicle for students who are dealing with trauma.
From my understanding, Problem-Based Learning, or PBL, students, or the learner, would be deciding on what the problem they were trying to solve was. This, to me is an excellent example of using an authentic experience. In my experience, those who are experiencing trauma are problem-solving/decision making constantly, especially in instances of ‘fight or flight’ in their current state.
Having students tap into their already present survival skills, but seeing them used widely, could assist in the slow healing process. For example, if a student is experiencing neglect and poverty, they might become interested in looking at poverty as a social condition on a wider scale. They could empathize directly with poverty and neglect, and therefore, bring personal perspective and experience to their research. If students were given the opportunity to outreach into their community organizations around poverty, perhaps this would help them macro lens their experiences with poverty, and help them see the complexities and systems that are in place to hold people in poverty, rather than ‘blaming’ those in their care. My hope is a wider understanding will be developed about their specific trauma experiences, and, the student can then begin to see the various perspectives in their own trauma, as, in PBL, would be the goal if researching the problem.
In my experience, my memory of my personal traumatic experiences has gaps, incompleteness, and is discontinuous. Students who have experienced trauma may feel as though they only have ‘parts’ of their experience at their disposal. Being able to look at the ‘big idea’ of their trauma may help them zoom out of their experiences to start to make connections, and begin healing.
This is also to say that a student would identify one of their traumas as a community/global problem to being researching and learning about. They may, and in fact, might avoid anything to do with their trauma experiences. However, giving the student the power to choose an area of curiosity to look into, and begin to see multiple perspectives, and start to dig into understanding.
Reasons Why I think PBL Would Work for Trauma-Effected Students:
- Students will be able to explore their own ideas/interests with guidance from an educator who will ask questions, help them navigate, and provide feedback for them as a learner, not just a ‘student in trauma’;
- I believe (and I realize this needs more research) that students who are/have experiencing/experienced trauma use problem solving skills daily, they just not might be fully aware of the types/styles of problem solving they are doing, and not all of it healthy (example: I used anxiety and putting undue pressure on myself for all tasks, since I had no external guidance with how to prioritize issues – everything was equally weighted in my mind as urgent, as if I weren’t ‘on top’ of even the small things, negative events would occur. A general idea that I could control my choices whereas most aspects of my life were chaotic). I feel students using these problem solving strategies to work through an issue of interest may help with navigating and making better problem-solving choices for them;
- The ability for the trauma-affected persons to engage in learning, questioning in feeedback with both other learners and a teacher may help them gain strengths and skills, and to be able to accomplish something ‘beyond their trauma’.
I feel that healing includes understanding and approaching trauma from different perspectives, creative outlets, and time. As an educator, giving the student feedback needed to encourage their curiosity, explore who they are with and without their trauma will help them take a more global approach their learning, and defining who they are.
In general, most PBL research is done in the Higher Ed community, with less on in the K-12 realm. This leads to the following questions:
- How would an educator set up PBL effectively in the classroom? What resources would they need?
- Would the entire school-community need to become PBL, or PBL focused, so that teachers can co-plan and share resources, etc.?
- Avoidance might be a strategy for trauma persons, and therefore, a lack of problem-solving skills. How could researching a topic, delving into building their knowledge, help parallel their experiences as students, and their experience in trauma?
- What would assessment look like? I personally imagine consistent conferences and student to educator check-ins, discussions, and immediate feedback of their learning. Students would be able to find a creative way to visually show their research.
The idea here is that strong teaching, building students’ experiences through their interests, and guiding them through their learning experiences, could provide self-insight into trauma.
What Do You Think?
Educators, do you have students who you think would benefit from PBL? Would working through them identifying a problem, researching perspectives, identify possible solutions perhaps lead to students examining themselves as learners, and therefore, tap into their experiences with trauma?
References — places I have started looking:
Demirbas, H. (n.d.).EXAMINATION OF PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS AMONG UNIVERSITY… Retrieved January 19, 2020, from https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/download/article-file/614948
Ertmer, P. A., & Simons, K. D. (2006). Jumping the PBL Implementation Hurdle: Supporting the Efforts of K–12 Teachers. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 1(1). doi: 10.7771/1541-5015.1005