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5 Keys to Project-Based Learning

You’ve heard it for years now, “Your students should be involved in project-based learning for ultimate success.”  They keep telling you that without really showing you how!  I mean, what does project-based learning really mean?  What does a project-based learning classroom look like?  Does it mean that after every unit, you assign a project choice-board or a fun activity that gets your students out of their seat?  I mean, that sounds pretty good and students get results, soooo…?

Not exactly.  Then, what is a project-based classroom?  I’m going to rip the band-aid off and give you the honest truth...for most classrooms, it means rethinking our units from a teacher-centered approach to a student-centered approach.  In the middle school language arts classroom, you utilize a student-centered approach to reading units where students explore a topic through questioning and research throughout the entire unit. Students formulate authentic questions about their reading and explore real-life challenges and problems. They create real world projects throughout the entire unit with authentic audiences.

Are you still with me??  Don’t leave me just yet.  I know that is what you have heard over and over again.  So, let me help you understand this concept in your classroom better with these 5 keys to project-based learning.

    1. Focus on authentic problems and final products that are real-life and for an authentic audience. Think along the lines of answering essential questions through student research and creating a TedTalk (for example) to be shared with a sister-school rather than creating a board game with details from the book to play with classmates.
    2. Focus on not only including the core content students learned but also what they learned from their own research and inquiry.  You should design research opportunities throughout your unit for students to answer big questions that come while reading. This research should be reflected in their final product for the unit.
    3. Focus on student voice and student choice. Instead of allowing student choice with a Tic-Tac-Toe board of project choices, let them choose topics they want to research and questions related to the text that they want answered.
    4. Focus on sustained inquiry. Students' curiosity over questions related to the text should be fostered throughout the unit. They should have the freedom to research where their curiosity takes them, within the context of appropriateness for school and the unit.
    5. Focus on continued feedback and critique for student ideas.  Break the unit, research, and final product down into bite-sized chunks so that you can direct students in their research and product completion to ensure the most positive outcome. 

At this point, your head may be spinning.  You read those 5 keys and get what I am saying, but how do you implement it?  Let me help.

  1. Recognize that you don’t have to do all of these things at once!  Take your time and implement a few project-based learning principles at a time.
  2. Download this guide for more information on each of these principles. 
  3. Finally, come back for the rest of this blog series where I will share with you a more in-depth look at how to implement each of these keys.
    1. Key 1
    2. Key 2 and 4
    3. Key 3
    4. Key 5



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Project-based learning solves the dreaded-"Why do I have to learn this?" 

Develop life long readers and learners because they are always asking questions!

Make definite connections to reading!