We live in a world of projects.
From our homes to schools, we are knee deep. It’s the reality of our lives.
If the real world is filled of projects, shouldn’t a student’s classroom world be filled, too?
Are you a little nervous? Have I piqued your interest? Don’t worry, it will be a fun ride, and your students will absolutely amaze you. Here are my keys to make project-based learning fit all learners.
Change Your Mindset: PBL is for ALL Learners
Be Straightforward (Honest) with Students
At the beginning they are going to question everything and ask for permission to do each little thing. In a way they’re kind of like type-A teachers who need to have every detail and rule mapped out for them (side note: I am not a type-A teacher, which might explain why I like PBL so much). Also, the older the elementary students get, the more questions they ask–almost like their creativity is waning.
“Can we do this?” “What about that?” I let them know that any permission-type questions will be answered, “Yes.” I want them to recognize there are unlimited possibilities (as long as it’s within the realm of reality). We have a tendency to take creativity and imagination out of our kids; it’s not on purpose–but it happens.
If we’re going to fit all kids’ needs, they need to understand that PBL is a safe place to make mistakes. We already focus on creating communities and developing mindsets, so students already know they’re safe. BUT students still despise making mistakes! They’re afraid to take chances. Mistakes are encouraged.
Do this by asking students/groups to present ideas on the fly. Stop class and ask students to present what they’ve come up with. Ask another group for immediate feedback on it. This forces all students to be part of the conversation. I want my students to take chances.
Allow Students to Choose How They Want to Learn
In early PBL activities, I would give them a wide variety of options, such as the classic library research, using the internet, watching videos, and interviewing adults. I lay out options and let the students pick how they *think* they’d like to do it. Kind of like flexible seating, except with flexible learning. I have the asterisks because many times students realize certain ways don’t work for them.
You know how I said it could get messy? Well, this is one of those times, because it might take them a while to really figure out what works best. Using your professional judgment (that’s right, we are professionals) is warranted and you might feel free to gently direct students as needed because some students will need it.
Know that everyone is going to work at a different pace. That pace will look different for every student and group. We’ll have kids that fly and others that move like turtles, but that is perfectly acceptable. Talk to students about the power of continuing to move forward in their work and research.
When students are self-pacing, it means they’re learning at their own speed. There’s not a rush, and they’re allowed to immerse themselves in the work. In fitting the needs of all kids, I consider self-pacing to be of incredible importance. Do students do better when we’re breathing down their necks or when we give them space and time?
Also, be prepared for PBL sessions to take longer than you anticipated. If you’re not ready, it can be frustrating. Remember that project-based learning is not linear. Going from A to B to C to D is not always going to happen.
Collaborating OR Independence Are Both Okay
Obviously, project-based learning was built for groups. Still, I like to let my students work independently (if they choose). I don’t think that forcing collaboration is always necessary at every single junction of a PBL.
There’s always one or two kids that ask if they can do it themselves. I let them know they can, but eventually they’ll be asked to transition into a group with which they need to share and interact.
Read the Room
We know our classrooms, and we know our students. Read the classroom and give support when it’s needed. Much like reading groups or stations, I suggest moving around the room and checking in. Support the groups that need help; challenge the groups that don’t.
Third graders designed and built a gigantic city using geometry.
Take Time to Just Watch
Push the Arts