<strong>PBL: Making it Work For All Kids</strong>

PBL: Making it Work For All Kids

PBL is Not a PBJ

Project-based learning (PBL) is anything but your standard way of instructing students. Students work on a project that focuses on solving an authentic real-world problem or question. Projects are usually multi-disciplinary and they allow the student to demonstrate their knowledge and skills gained from the project by publicly sharing a presentation or product for a real audience that could be their classmates, their school, or even post it online to share with the entire world. As you can see, this is a pretty exciting concept for both students and adults alike, however some students may struggle with making PBL work for them. The benefits are apparent, but there are some things you should know about in order to make it successful for all students.

Scaffold PBL

The definition of the word scaffold as a verb is to provide support. Without the proper support students will flounder with many aspects of PBL like staying focused for an extended amount of time on one project, identifying a question that they want to answer, and deciding who they are going to share their project with. In order to combat these potential problems, teachers should gradually release control of PBL to their students. First, teachers can do a PBL project as an entire class. They can walk students through the entire process and complete it together. Conducting this first step can take a lot of fear and uncertainty about PBL out from the beginning, but without giving students control over their learning, it’s not quite PBL just yet. Next, the teacher might assign groups of students to work through a question that the teacher comes up with. The teacher can allow for variation in how the group chooses to present their findings, but again full control over the project is not given. After each student has a class-wide and small group PBL experience under their belt, they are ready to try a project independently. At this stage teachers should still limit some sort of control, so it may be wise to either choose the topic for the student or to choose how they must demonstrate their understanding. After the 3rd scaffolded PBL experience, students will hopefully be able to fully guide themselves and the teacher can sit back and watch the magic happen.

Provide Voice & Choice

Allowing students to choose their topic and decide how to demonstrate their understanding is a critical component of PBL. However, giving students voice and choice in their projects can be a hard thing for teachers to do. They will be tempted to assign topics or questions for students to study. They may also want to tell their students to demonstrate their understanding in a particular way, however this limits the knowledge and experience that makes this type of learning meaningful for students. Teachers should allow students to make choices and demonstrate their creativity whenever possible. Once students are comfortable with the PBL process, teachers should empower their students by giving them control over their own learning. This control will stimulate engagement with their projects and will help PBL reach all students

Provide Reflection Opportunities

Providing feedback to students on their PBL experience is a crucial part in keeping students coming back for more. Students should give, receive, and use feedback especially from their peers to improve they’re understanding of PBL and the quality of the projects/products that they create. Students and teachers should always reflect on their learning and how effective their project management skills were during the PBL project. They should also reflect on their overall question and if their presentation was effective for the intended audience. Because the types of feedback that students can receive are endless, making sure that students receive good feedback will ensure that PBL is never viewed as a completed process by students. This will help students understand that PBL is an effective way to learn about any topic they have interest in and that this process can be used in any setting, even outside of school.

PBL Benefits Students

PBL is a great tool to help students develop deep content knowledge as well as 21st Century learning skills like critical thinking, creativity, and communication. However, all these benefits won’t occur if it’s not implemented effectively. Teachers should scaffold their support, ensure that students can employ voice and choice with their projects, and they should structure in plenty of time for feedback to ensure PBL success in the classroom. If teachers can do these things, PBL can serve as a catalyst for creating a group of students who are anxious to continue their learning no matter who they’re with or where they are.

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