How Can Project-Based Learning Motivate Students Even Further?


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 >

We all know that project-based learning (PBL) works, and there is research to support this. Districts leaders and individual teachers use PBL to deliver content, including content aligned to new, rigorous standards such as the Common Core State Standards or the Next Generation Science Standards. Projects integrating this learning strategy can come in all shapes and sizes; some projects are interdisciplinary while others focus on a single discipline, and each project can use varying levels of technology. Though each project can cover a wide variety of topics, there are common “essential elements,” as identified by the Buck Institute for Education, that must exist for true PBL to take place. While these elements provide a great foundation for building effective projects, educators can take project design even further to motivate all learners.

True Voice and Choice
To effectively implement PBL in the classroom, educators must first motivate and engage their students. Teachers can often accomplish this by allowing students to provide input on their learning experiences. When educators begin providing voice and choice to students, however, they often do so sparingly. Instead, teachers need to personalize each student’s level of voice and choice based on how they learn. On the ambitious end of offering voice and choice, an educator can serve as a conductor overseeing how students will shape their learning experiences, what path they will take, and how they will demonstrate that learning. Educators should continually aim for this student-centered learning style, and not adhere to a permanent practice of offering limited voice and choice.

Authentic Work
One necessary element of PBL is that students engage in authentic and meaningful activities. In order to reach this level of engagement, students must be able to envision an authentic audience that would benefit from their learning activities. Engaging students in authentic work can make it easier for them to see how their activities could influence an authentic audience by introducing them to real world challenges. Reflecting on questions such as “Who can provide us with relevant, expert feedback?” and “Who would find our work valuable and needed?” can help educators develop meaningful PBL activities. Students can make a difference, and educators should build projects around authentic purposes. When the work matters and is shared with an authentic audience, students are intrinsically motivated by the fact that what they are doing has value.

Challenge and Rigor
One major myth of student engagement is the idea that all learning should be fun. Yes, fun projects can engage some students, but only temporarily. In fact, challenging and rigorous assignments are often more motivating than fun and easy activities. We’ve all experienced times when we were appropriately challenged; we lost track of time, we thought more deeply, and we learned. Educators should seek to challenge students. When educators provide rigorous and authentic projects and give students voice and choice, students will accept that challenge. PBL doesn’t demand more work; it demands challenging work.

Educators who implement PBL using the following strategies will find that their students want to dig deeper and learn the material. Sometimes these projects “get out of control” in a good way and spawn new, authentic projects that teach important content skills. A skilled educator can see this deviation as an opportunity to harness student motivation and to further engage students in the learning process.

Rolling Out the Red Carpet Year Round


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 >


We all know that the beginning of the school year is a crucial moment for setting the tone and culture of achievement and inclusion for learning. Teachers spend a lot of time building culture in their own classrooms to make sure all students feel safe and supported. However, there is always more that can be done.

The classroom culture is just a microcosm of the school culture. The school itself must also take intentional steps toward fostering a culture of achievement. In addition, the beginning of the year is not the only time this needs to happen. Educators must invest time to continually build structures that support this culture all year round.

I had the privilege of attending the ASCD Summer Academy on FIT Teaching. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, authors of the book How to Create a Culture of Achievement in Your School and Classroom, facilitated this academy, and one of the days focused on this very subject. Here are some of my key takeaways from the ideas that Doug and Nancy illustrated for us.

Welcoming Structures and Cycles
Many schools spend the first days of the year building culture before moving toward teaching content. This focus on culture can seriously pay off in terms of student achievement. However, the structure of welcome shouldn’t stop there. Instead, there should be cycles and procedures so that students are continually welcomed. Many school populations include students who transfer in from elsewhere throughout the year. These students deserve to feel just as welcomed. Consider having newcomers observe other classrooms to learn about the culture. Have them write reflections about that. Also, give them tours led by other students. In addition, this structure of welcome should be used for parents and stakeholders alike. Schools should build these structures and cycles to foster a positive school culture year round.

“It’s Never Too Late to Learn”
How do you create a culture where it’s never to late to learn? What gets in the way of that? The Health Sciences High and Middle College in San Diego, California uses competency-based learning, where students continually work toward clear competencies and are given multiple chances to meet those competencies. Students should be rewarded for doing their best. Educators should reflect on their grading and assessment practices to see if in fact they’re creating a message that it’s never too late to learn. In addition, educators should look at errors and mistakes, not as pure failure, but as opportunities to improve their instruction and for students to improve their learning. Students should be getting praise not only for achievement, but also for grit.

Hallway TLC
Students sometimes need a time-out to deal with whatever might be bothering them or causing them stress. One way to continually support students is to have Hallway Tender Loving Care spaces. These are literally spaces, with tables and chairs in the hallways, where students can sit down at any moment in the school day to talk about something “getting in the way” of their learning. At the Health Sciences High and Middle College, all students and staff know this structure. When someone is sitting at one of those tables, any staff member or student knows that he or she can sit down to support that person. This structure builds a culture where all students and staff not only feel supported, but also understand that they’re expected to support one another.

The Power of the Front Office
I think we don’t give the front office enough credit. They are, whether or not we agree with it, the first experience that students, staff, parents, and other stakeholders have when they walk into the building. The front office can make or break the school culture. If you walk in and feel unwelcome, then that feeling can cloud the rest of your experience at the school, and staff may have to work twice as hard to undo the damage. On the other hand, if you walk in and feel welcome, not only are you more likely to engage in the culture of the school, but also to understand the culture. Front office staff need to continually exude that sense of welcome — and they need to be thanked every day for continually doing so.

These are some of the best practices implemented by Doug Fisher, Nancy Frey, and their amazing staff at the Health Sciences High and Middle College. It is crucial that school culture and climate be continually on our minds throughout the school year, and that we have structures and procedures to support this culture. Educators need to be “rolling out the red carpet” to all students, parents, and stakeholders every day of the year.

What are some of the ways that you “roll out the red carpet” every day at your school?

Engaged And Inspired: Learn To Motivate And Challenge Each Learner


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 >

ASCD is excited to offer a new Professional Development Institute (PDI) on student engagement. This PDI, which uses a new model of learning, will help to unpack what student engagement really is and provide practical tools that can be used immediately in the classroom to increase student participation and achievement. Through materials from a variety of highly acclaimed authors and guidance from an expert ASCD Faculty member, participants will learn how to decide when to implement certain strategies in order to successfully engage students and ultimately increase their own effectiveness.

A New PDI Model
As mentioned, this PDI will use a new, more engaging model—the blended learning model. With this model, participants will learn about student engagement through both digital and on-site activities. Initially, participants will read online materials, watch webinars, and collaborate digitally with other participants. Next, they will come on-site to reflect on what they have learned and dive deeper into specific strategies for student engagement. Together, participants will determine how to implement the strategies they learned in their classrooms to meet the specific needs of their students. Finally, participants will get the opportunity to implement their ideas in their classrooms. They will use digital tools to continue to collaborate and share how their implementation went. This blended learning model seeks to practice what it preaches—that is, to allow participants to experience first-hand the elements of and strategies for student engagement.

Intentional Practical Strategies
Through this PDI, participants will not only learn practical strategies to increase student engagement, but they will learn how to determine when to use which strategies. We all know that some strategies work better for different circumstances—some work better for text comprehension, while others work better for reflection or independent application. Participants will discover how to align specific strategies to cognitive objectives so that they are using the right engagement strategy, not just any engagement strategy. In addition, participants will use new rigorous standards as a guide for determining what cognitive objectives and strategies will be needed for a lesson, and then they will design that lesson for their class.

Educator Effectiveness
Student engagement is one of the topics educators talk about most when it comes to professional development needs. Educators everywhere constantly express concerns about student engagement, and they want specific advice and feedback to help them better engage their students. Because student engagement is such an important part of classroom instruction, it is also becoming an important part of new teacher evaluation frameworks. Essentially, student engagement is a quality indicator of teacher effectiveness.

We hope that this new PDI, using a unique blended learning approach, will encourage participants to not only learn about student engagement issues but also to collaborate with one another as they try to determine the best strategies to implement in their classrooms and ultimately become more effective educators.

Learn more about this ASCD institute.

Getting into the PBL Groove


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 >


My project-based learning colleague John Larmer wrote a great blog on whether or not to start the year with a PBL project. He astutely articulates the benefits and challenges of doing it, as well as other considerations for implementation. Regardless, PBL teachers want to start the year off on the right foot to make sure that PBL is part of the classroom culture. Here are some steps that you can take at the start of the year to get into the PBL groove

Set the Tone for Collaboration
It is crucial that, from the start, students know that collaboration is a norm in the classroom. While teachers often do team-building activities at the beginning of the year, they could also be doing more authentic collaboration on challenges and problems. These activities might be around content such as math, or even speaking and listening skills in a debate on a controversial topic. Teachers need to present students or co-construct with them a collaboration rubric that is utilized and refined throughout the year. From this rubric, teachers can design or select lessons that target specific aspects of collaboration, such as coming to consensus or group time management. Students should reflect and set goals for collaboration, and these should be goals that they’ll revisit. All of these strategies help to build the culture of collaboration necessary for successful PBL.

Critique and Revision Practice
We all know the challenges of having students give and receive a constructive critique. While you can teach these skills in the context of the project, you can also start building them with students from day one so that they’ll see critique and revision as normal parts of classroom practice, as well as essential parts of PBL. From protocols and gallery walks to anonymous peer reviews like the one you’ll find in Austin’s Butterfly, teachers can intentionally scaffold critique and revision to support it in a PBL project.

Educate About or Review PBL
You will have students that come into your classroom that either have no experience with PBL or need to be reminded about what it looks, sounds, and feels like. You can review essential components and steps of PBL through video examples, project examples, or reflecting on past projects. Students can compare and contrast PBL with other teaching methods to help build a common expectation and understanding for what project-based learning is all about.

Build Questioning Strategies
PBL requires the inquiry process. While the project’s driving question can help facilitate inquiry, students need skills to design and ask their own questions. Eventually they can design their own driving questions for a project, but earlier in their journey as PBL learners, you can start by teaching levels of questions (PDF, 99KB), crafting these questions for research, and how to search for relevant information. By intentionally scaffolding these questioning skills, it sends the message that we are all curious students in a curious classroom, life-long learners who continually question and investigate.

These are just some of the steps that you can take to build your classroom’s PBL culture, to create an environment where students not only know what PBL is, but are ready to jump in. Even if you choose not to do all of these, you can collaborate with colleagues to share the load, and create common expectations that we all support PBL across grade levels and content areas. Building PBL culture is intentional and must start as soon as students walk in the door on the first day of school

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