This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


I have a commitment to high-quality PBL experiences for all students. I want to make sure that the projects teachers and students are creating and implementing together meet some minimum quality indicators. The Buck Institute for Education has an excellent rubric to assess a PBL project, as does the New Tech Network. This can help to make sure that your projects are in fact PBL and not a “dessert project.” To that end, some of the terms and ideas that come up from time to time get on my nerves. Why? Because they run the risk of undermining high-quality PBL. Here are just some of the terms and ideas that I have issue with.

“PBL Lesson”
PBL is not a “lesson.” Lessons are short-term instructional plans that take anywhere from a part of a day to multiple days of instruction. They focus on limited learning objectives. In addition, a lesson has a limited amount of assessments. PBL, on the other hand, has many lessons built into it. In fact, teachers plan PBL projects to meet multiple learning objectives, and use the lessons within it to scaffold the learning for students. Summative assessments take the form of products, and many formative assessments are planned to ensure that students master multiple learning outcomes in a PBL project. When people use the term “PBL lesson,” it incorrectly oversimplifies the learning objectives and scope of a PBL project.

Unrelated Public Audience
Yes, one of the essential components of PBL is indeed a public audience. But PBL doesn’t simply call for the work to be made public. The public audience component needs to make sense in terms of your project. It must be connected to the challenge, scenario, or problem of the project. If you have students creating and proposing new bridge designs, it would make sense to get an architect or engineer to review the designs. Simply posting it on a website isn’t enough, and may not create the relevance and buy-in you want for students. It is critical that when teachers consider the public audience for a PBL project, the audience must connect in authentic and relevant ways. Ask yourself these two key reflection questions as you pick the right public audience:

Who needs to see our work?
Who would find our work helpful and important?

Inquiry Equals Research
Research by itself is not inquiry. The Buck Institute of Education describes inquiry in PBL this way: “Students are engaged in an extended, rigorous process of asking questions, using resources, and developing answers.” Yes, research is one part of inquiry, but again, only one part of it. Inquiry is a cycle. When teachers launch the project, they should create a Need to Know list that includes students’ questions, and they should use that list to guide the project. As students learn more, they develop new questions. These questions might be answered through teacher-designed activities and scaffolding, through research, or even through fieldwork. This process of questioning and developing answers takes more that just one cycle. If we want deeper learning in a PBL, there needs to be more that just research — there needs to be inquiry. Consider this graphic posted on TeachThought.

Voice and Choice in Products Only
One major oversimplification is that voice and choice in PBL projects has to do only with the products that students create. Yes, this is one aspect of voice and choice, but another key component is how students conduct and spend their time in the project. Teachers need to consider not only what their students create, but also how they give students space to make decisions around teamwork, tasks, and the inquiry process. Now, this level of voice and choice depends not only on the age group, but also the level of the PBL learners. At the beginning stages of PBL, there may not be as much voice and choice, but there needs to be some. Many elementary teachers, for example, lead discussions and brainstorming sessions with students to help them figure out the next steps in the project, whether that takes the form of some instruction from the teacher or more inquiry. In PBL, all students can have some level of control in the inquiry process.

These are some of the terms and ideas around PBL that get on my nerves. If we want to make sure that we are in fact doing great PBL in our schools and community, we need to avoid these misunderstandings and incorrect ideas. While PBL has a variety of implementation methods, structures, and lengths, there are some minimum criteria that a project must meet for it to be PBL.

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This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

I’m really excited to be part of the FIT TeachingTM Cadre. It’s a group of amazing practitioners that build a culture of achievement, design purposeful lessons, and implement effective formative assessment practices. These are three components of the upcoming ASCD Summer Academy on FIT Teaching (The Framework for Intentional and Targeted TeachingTM). This is one amazing way to make sure you are “FIT” when you return to the classroom in the late summer and fall. However, if you missed out on your opportunity to reserve a seat at the ASCD Summer Academy on FIT Teaching, there are many other ways you can get “FIT” this summer.

Start Reading: The summer is one of my favorite times to catch up not only on light reading, but also on some educational reads I’ve neglected during the year. We have some time during the summer to focus our learning. Perhaps you’d like to learn a bit more on one or more aspects of FIT Teaching. You could start with the Formative Assessment Action Plan or Checking for Understanding if formative assessment is your area of learning. Or, you could read How To Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom, if you’d like to work on build the best culture you can in your classroom or school. These books are great for a book study or even a primer before related professional development, as they have very practical strategies. Or, consider some ASCD AriasTM publications—short books that can be read in one sitting with strategies that can be put into practice right away.

Watch a Webinar: Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher presented a webinar on June 4. They will be going over the framework and explaining what it looks like in the classroom, as well as sharing resources. In addition, they will align FIT Teaching to existing teacher evaluation frameworks, a concern for both classroom teachers and education leaders. Watch the webinar to get not only the basics, but also the rationale.

Take Time to Reflect: Take some time this summer to reflect intentionally on your use of formative assessments in the classroom. How have you used formative assessments to meet the needs of all students? How have they changed the way you teach? What steps did you take to build a classroom culture of achievement? How will you make sure your lessons are targeted to not only content goals, but also language and social goals? These are just some of the reflection questions to ponder that connect to FIT Teaching. Great teachers reflect on their practice, and you can use FIT Teaching to focus this reflection.

FIT Teaching may seem like a lot, but I’ve found it really ties all the great practices I’ve done as a teacher, as well as great practices I’ve seen, up in a nice little package, where everything connects and makes sense for not only instruction, but our students as well. If it feels like a lot, focus your learning on just one of the areas. It will surely ensure that you become a more “FIT” teacher.

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