Is Project-Based Learning Right for Your Classroom?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

Every teacher uses projects as an educational tool. Not only are they a valued form of assessment, but they’re also a way for the students to demonstrate a wider range of skills.

However, do your projects reflect a task your students would be asked to perform in the real world?

That’s the goal of project-based learning, where students learn through the process of completing real-world tasks rather than through the traditional lecture, practice, and assessment.

This sounds like a great idea and one that would prepare your kids for the world of career and college, as the Common Core people say. But is your classroom ready to make the project-based learning jump?

Is your subject matter appropriate for PBL?

Proponents of the method say that every subject can be taught using PBL because they all have real-world tasks associated with them. This might be true, but do yourself a favor and start brainstorming tasks that a professional in your field of study would be asked to perform in their workplace. If you have enough to fill a school year, you can proceed. If you don’t, perhaps PBL isn’t right for you.

Do your students have the background knowledge needed for PBL?

This depends on your teaching approach. Some PBL teachers drop their students right into the fire, only giving them the directions for the project without entertaining any questions about background skills. Others take more of a gradual release method. If you are the former, be honest about whether your students come into your room with the skills necessary to be successful in their task.

How much freedom?

True project-based learning gives the reins to the students. They set their own schedules, hold their own meetings, and meet their own benchmarks. This obviously requires a certain level of maturity, one in which your students might not yet possess. Be honest with yourself. How much do you really trust your students to work toward the objective? And how much do you trust yourself to let them work in the way they see fit?

How do you assess?

Chances are that your school would still like grades submitted for the students, or at least some sort of accurate progress report. Their completion of the task is obviously the major possible grade, but the project might take anywhere from weeks to months. How do you assess during that time? Periodic reports from the students? Some sort of online task management system? This needs to be sorted out before your parents and superiors start getting anxious about your lack of grades.

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