One of the marks of a 21st Century Classroom is project-based learning (PBL). One of the oft-overlooked requirements of PBL is student-driven selection of their guiding question and/or how they’ll solve the problem.
Make no mistake: it is absolutely easier to manage all students working on the exact same project. It’s easier to pace the work, easier to address misconceptions and questions, and ultimately, easier to assess. But if our goal is to give our students the opportunity to do meaningful work, we have to give some space for student choice.
The result? At any given time, you could be required to support 15-30 different projects at once.
Overwhelming, to say the least.
Enter the Help Ticket System. It’s so simple that you’ll be able to immediately implement it into your classroom. It’s so powerful that you’ll wonder how you got through projects before.
Here’s how it works:
On a white board, set up the following chart. The white board should be easily visible to you, the educator, and all students.
Next, explain to students how the Help Ticket System works:
- Whenever they need support on part of their project, they must first ask three of their peers for help.
- If they’re still stuck, they’ll get up and write their name and their challenge on the Help Ticket board. They must be specific in their challenge (For a research paper, for example, they’d write “I need help finding resources about [specific topic]” rather than “Research”).
- If their challenge is preventing them from moving forward, they’ll draw a star next to it.
- Finally, they’ll get back to work. They should not interrupt you while you work with other students so that you can support as many students as possible.
As the educator, you’ll use this system to help you prioritize which students you help and when. Because it’s visible from anywhere in the room, you can quickly decide whom to move to next. Typically, I work from top to bottom with a few exceptions:
- If a student is starred, they become a priority.
- If I see that multiple students have the same challenge, I pull a small group and work with all students at once.
- If I notice that I have already helped a student with a similar challenge to one that is listed, I’ll ask the student I previously helped to serve as a coach. This allows them to extend their learning through teaching, and also maximizes the number of students receiving timely support.
- Because the Help Ticket board is public, students are able to help their peers – this is a great way to give kids a working brain break or to engage a student who might be ahead of the group.
A few benefits of using this system:
- Students are able to work on a multitude of different projects, while still allowing you to meet their needs.
- Students are empowered to coach each other, enabling you to spend quality time with as many students as possible, while ensuring timely feedback and support for all.
- Student coaching = student leadership. You are able to build capacity and challenge students who might be further ahead, while also amplifying strengths.
- When students are required to be specific in stating their challenge, they have to clarify exactly what the problem is. This gives them the opportunity to really think through their issue, which not only helps you to better support them but also ensures they’re doing some of the mental work, too.
- Standing up and walking over to write their challenge on the board is a built in mini-brain break. We’re forcing them to walk away from the challenge and literally take a breath. Not to mention, standing up increases oxygen to the brain.
- The quick visualization makes it easy for you to pull small groups with similar challenges, allowing you to quickly deliver mini-lessons or meet the needs of many students all at once.
Because of the benefits of standing and walking, I tend to lean towards using a physical white board. However, you could easily do this on a Google Sheet as well. I’ve created a template for you to use if you prefer this format. It’s read-only, so you’ll need to “Make a Copy” for your own use, and then share it with your students so they have access.
Let me know if you’ve tried and love the Help Ticket System! Any other ideas for easy project management? Share them in the comments!