The students still mention it to me when I see them. They are in college now.
Project based learning is learning in its truest form.
I’ve been working with PBL in my ESL Primary classes for many years and I’ve done different projects at different levels and with different depths and purposes.
In order “to dress” my PBL teaching philosophy with a rationale, I did a little research on the net and some expert sources readings about project working methodology.
Eventually I’ve found these principles that offer me a frame with which I feel confident enough to pull together projects with the time and resources I have (*).
Action Tip 1: Develop a compelling topic that a) covers standards, b) connects to the local community, c) engages students in a complex thinking c) provides opportunities for every student to do meaningful and in depth research.
Action Tip 2: Design an all-inclusive final product that a) each student will have a specific role in order to cope with differentiation, b) includes quality writing and the use of ICT and Web 2.0 tools to report his or her findings, and c) requires representation models of the targeted content knowledge and language skills.
Action Tip 3: Involve experts or professionals from the community (parents, town organisations...) and then a) let students assume those professional roles during the project, and b) connect the project with the real world by being investigators, researchers, artists, or whatever job the project is involved on.
Action Tip 4: Identify and organize the learning resources beforehand and make sure they're available: a) think in shopping or designing the resources for all the students, b) map out the project from the beginning to the end imagining what sort of things we will need. If it is a very open project try to make sure things won’t run through our fingers and c) develop a complete plan to scaffold the required language for the project.
Action Tip 5: Coordinate calendars (this is probably the most difficult tip!): a) If the project is interdisciplinary, it requires a lot of planning among teachers involved, b) ensure students to get enough time, c) talk to experts to come in at the appropriate moment of the project, and d) think about the “publishing” final product date.
Action Tip 6: Plan a final experience or culminating event. Showcase student work to the public or outside of school (a show room or a general speech, publishing in the school blog or magazine, inviting local press or the participant experts ...)
Action Tip 7: Think very hard on how to judge “success” in a project with many learning objectives by determining a) how to assess what students have learned b) what to assess c) to what degree, and d) what assessment tools are we going to use.
Some final advices about assessment.
Assessment is paramount in the process and Bloom’s Taxonomy is what it's all about. While in a traditional school students are taught to be experts in knowledge, comprehension and application, students in project-based learning models go beyond that by analyzing, synthesising and evaluating their learning.
To me, reflection is such an important form of assessment. It not only gives students ownership over their learning and effort but also helps them to process what they have learned. Observation of engagement is another of my favourite assessment forms as it gives me specific clues on effort, involvement and interest.
Sometimes I have found it helpful to have my elementary students participate in the creation of a rubric to be used for assessing the project. They feel validated in having a voice in the assessment criteria and there is no question about the levels of performance expected of them.
Once I heard someone saying that...
"As far as the teacher is concerned, it was certainly hard work to organize the students' writing and everything, but it was very rewarding to go into the classroom and hear "Oh, good. Today is our project lesson. I love English!"
So, try it yourself. You'll wonder how you ever managed without it!
(*) Adapted from “Expeditionary Learning at Helen King Middle School” by David Grant and King’s six-step rubric.