Three Tips for More Engaging PBL Projects

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 >


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Project-based learning (PBL) is a powerful tool to promote student engagement. It allows students to investigate real-world challenges and problems and create high-quality work for authentic audiences. It allows students to work collaboratively and individually to learn the content and skills they need to be “future ready.” Books by John Larmer and Suzie Boss are great tools to get started designing these high quality projects, and educators can reinvent projects of the past to make sure they are truly engaging. Here are three tips to consider as you design and redesign PBL projects for your students to make them even more engaging and focused on learning.

Allow for Failure
In my Arias Publication Freedom to Fail, I give many tips and advocate for the power of failure as a learning experience. Many PBL projects focus on real-world design challenges, and just like in the real world, designers fail. In fact, many intentionally fail quickly to learn. As educators, we, too, can allow for failure in our projects. We can tell students upfront that they will learn and design high-quality products, and it will be ok to “get it wrong.” Students will be more likely to take risks and innovate—and then engage to learn more material.

Set Up Flexible Classroom Spaces
The classroom environment should communicate a message of collaboration and innovation for PBL. We should experiment with different spaces so collaboration is natural and easy. PBL is a great way to individualize learning, and different seating arrangements like standing desks and bean bags can allow the space to be personalized based on what students are doing in the project. Students can move in a fluid fashion and receive feedback from their peers, revise their work, or get direct instruction from their teacher as necessary.

Provide Opportunities for Student Voice and Choice
This is crucial to any PBL project. There should always be an element of choice in what students produce, who they work with, and how they work. This will look different depending on age, time of year, experience with PBL, etc. We know our students, and, therefore, can make great decisions around voice and choice. However, we should also trust our students. We might be hesitant to give them choice, but we know there are many ways to do so (e.g., time, place, products, and people). We can jigsaw content and allow students to choose their team members, the products they want to produce, when they will share benchmarks and final products, where they want to work in and outside of the classroom, etc. The possibilities for voice and choice in PBL are endless, and we should embrace these choices to empower students and create better student engagement.

There are many ways to revise and improve PBL projects to make them more relevant and authentic. Educators should take part in this revision process to create engaging experiences that encourage student learning.

Assess More, Grade Less

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 >


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One of the best things we can do in our classes to not only increase student achievement but also improve school and classroom culture is to stop grading everything. We live in a world where much is driven by grades. College admission counselors want to see grades. Many district policies, in an effort to encourage formative assessment and reporting, demand a certain number of grades in a time period. Many of our students are grade driven and constantly ask, “What’s my grade?” There are several forces that drive teachers to grade. We must, however, push back on these forces and instead focus on assessment.

Do We Really Want to See Grades?
I would argue that when a parent, for example, wants to know his child’s grade, he really wants to know how his child in doing the class. A grade alone gives no clear feedback on what students know or where they are in their learning journey. Many schools realize this and no longer report grades; instead, they report on clear learning objectives. Work and assignments may be associated with these reports, but rather than grades coming first, learning comes first. Students and parents want the same thing—to know how they are doing. We should meet that need by providing assessments with clear feedback rather than simply reporting grades.

Grading Can Harm Learning
Yes, grading can harm student learning. Often, grades are used as an enforcer to make students perform; in reality, this approach doesn’t work. Grades are commonly used as the wrong consequence to address a problem. One prime example is how some teachers deal with late work. To try to prevent students from turning in late work, teachers threaten to take off points or negate a score. This is highly problematic because it muddies the true academic grade with a behavior issue, and it often doesn’t fix the root problem. We should stop using grades as punitive tools. In his book Grading Smarter, Not Harder, Myron Dueck provides some great grading strategies, such as marking incompletes instead of zeros on late work to encourage students to work to correct a behavioral problem.

Focus on Formative Assessment
When we focus on formative assessment, we are actually taking a huge workload away. We aren’t spending all our time grading everything and can instead start working smarter. We can give more timely feedback in the moment. We can look for patterns in student errors and adjust our instruction accordingly. We can assign smaller, low-stakes check-in activities that help students know where they are in their progress toward the learning goals. Eventually, we may need to assign a summative mark to a student, but even then it shouldn’t be a priority. I was talking with a colleague about formative and summative assessment, and he jokingly said, “We give summative assessments when we are done with teaching.” We both laughed, but I knew he had a point. Summative assessments are assigned arbitrarily for the purposes of reporting, scoring, and sorting students. I say we instead focus on formative assessment to show that learning is never truly complete. Maybe I’m crazy, but it’s a dream I have.

Many teachers, schools, and districts have or are moving to grading models where assessment is meaningful and focused on feedback. It will take time to transform a culture of grading into a culture of assessment. We have to work with all stakeholders to reframe the conversation around student achievement and focus on meaningful assessments rather than hollow grades.

Back To The Future To Improve The Present: Whole Child Reflections

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 >


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Although a new year of school brings new beginnings, it also allows us the opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about what we did to make it such a great year. The same can be said for the five tenets of the ASCD Whole Child approach (http://www.ascd.org/whole-child.aspx). By the end of the year, our classrooms are usually “well-oiled machines” where students are engaged and challenged in their learning, feel safe and supported, and are healthy in every sense of the word. I’ve had the privilege of visiting so many classrooms where this is happening. We can learn from our past experiences to better prepare ourselves for the upcoming school year and find ways to create a learning environment now that truly fosters the whole child. Why wait until the middle or end of the year to make sure students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged? Let’s go back to the future to improve the present (i.e., reflect on how we ended last year in order to change and improve our current actions). Here are just a few of my reflections on how we can do this.

Engaged With Technology
By the end of the year, I see some of the most purposeful uses of technology to support instruction and assessment. When we use technology carefully and intentionally to help our students learn, we can sustain engagement. Haphazard technology integration can create a short “buzz” in the classroom, but purposeful use of technology—to flip the classroom, allow students voice and choice in their assessments, and more—can create better, more sustainable engagement for our students. We can start this journey toward strategic technology integration now.

A Safe Growth Mindset
When students feel safe, they can grow. I’ve visited classrooms where students are always asking questions and trying new ideas without fear. They feel safe in not knowing the answer, and they feel safe in receiving feedback from their peers and teachers. How can we create a culture of critique and revision, where students continually seek feedback and ask deeper questions to grow in their learning? We can start by modeling a growth mindset as teachers and encouraging the process of peer critique and feedback. We can scaffold students to ask great questions. Let’s start creating a safe space now for our students.

Supported Through Relationships
By the end of the year, we’ve built strong relationships with our students. But we can start to build these relationships now by using formative assessment tools to get to know all parts of the child. We can use these assessments to look at data and academic achievement, but we can also use them to know how our students learn, their passions, and their family life. This balanced data can allow us to know our students better at the beginning of the year and establish relationships with them to ensure we target the right kind of support.

Challenged through Project-Based Learning (PBL)
Sometimes I hear people say, “I don’t think my students can handle PBL at the beginning of the year.” Although it’s true that we need to build a culture for PBL, I think, if appropriately designed, it can be successfully implemented at the beginning of the year to give students the right amount of challenge and rigor. PBL can create a place where students learn content with an authentic challenge. Our students deserve to be challenged all year round, so let’s start now.

Healthy Without Anxiety
Health is a big category in terms of supporting the whole child. While we may initially think of physical health, we can also think of mental health. When students enter our classrooms at the beginning of the year, they often have high anxiety levels, which is not healthy at all. By the end of the year, this anxiety in the classroom is usually gone. We can mitigate anxiety as soon as the year starts by standing at the door to welcome students, creating norms with them, and openly committing to supporting them in their times of stress. We can also tell students that failing is not the end but rather the beginning of learning. By acknowledging that anxiety exists and working actively to remove it from the classroom, we can create healthy students now.

The reflection process can also be replicated as a means of professional learning. This “Back to the Future” protocol (http://www.nsrfharmony.org/system/files/protocols/future.pdf) can be done in the early stages of a process (whether designing a unit of instruction or setting the classroom culture). It allows you to reflect on the past and think about specific steps you can take to make your vision for the future happen. How will you go back to the future to improve the present this school year?

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 >


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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.

The Missing Piece of Personalization: Passion and Engagement

 

This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >

 


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Personalization is quickly becoming a buzzword in education, especially in terms of blended learning and educational technology. I joined a team of educators on a panel on the same subject on the Whole Child Podcast. We unpacked what it is and what it might look like in the classroom. We talked about its challenges and benefits and collaborated to explain its implications for education. Most importantly, we talked about the critical role of relationships. When you break down personalization, most of us would agree that there are great aspects. Take a look at this chart.

I think one of the most overlooked pieces for personalization currently is that the learner “connects learning with interests, talents, passions, and aspirations.” Those who know personalization believe it is a critical component, but in the implementation it can be lost or “put on the back burner.” There are couple reasons for this.

First, the language is key. Here the learner is in complete control, and it almost seems as if a teacher is not part of the picture. In fact, a teacher is still integral to personalization, not only in helping provide scaffolding and instruction, but most importantly the engagement. A pitfall is to look at this language around personalization and engagement to a point where teachers have no role in it. In fact, student engagement—whether in a model of personalization, differentiation, or individualization—is arguably the most important factor. If you ask teachers what their biggest concerns are for the classroom and education, student engagement is at or near the top of the list. We need to remember that this is still true in personalization. Relationships and the creation of engagement still remain a critical component of personalization.

Secondly, there is a danger with regard to personalization and technology. Much of personalization is done through blended or online learning. I, myself, am a big advocate for online learning. However I have major caveats and critiques. I have seen digital courses where students still receive the “sit and get” instruction, where they is no choice in what they learn or how they show their learning. The digital curriculum may have amazing tools, such as videos, games and more; but the model of learning is still grounded in traditional instruction. Yes, students may have control over time, place, and pace, but often the engaged tenet is not truly manifested in this model of personalization.

As we move forward with personalization, we need to make sure not to forget student engagement and its implications for truly personalizing learning, where student passion and interest are not only allowed, but a critical component of the model.

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