As a teacher new to Project Based Learning (PBL) I first had to understand the difference between a project and PBL. In my previous teaching experiences, a project was a creative activity to do within a unit of study where the students would create something that ties into their learning. It would be assessed primarily on following the directions of the project, neatness, and possibly, presentation. The project would be a part of the unit, and in some cases, used as an ‘add-on’ to offer creative students an opportunity to pursue their learning style.
That may be a typical way a project is used in a standard unit, but it is not PBL.
In PBL the project is the unit.
The unit is the final deliverable the students are preparing for during the course of study. That being the case, it must be assessed on more than following the directions, neatness, and a possible presentation. Also important to note, the assessment of student learning is not only displayed in the final presentation of the project.
Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome. ~Arthur Ashe
As a middle school teacher, my overarching goal is to prepare my students for their next steps in learning. Whether they chose public high school, private school, home school, or some combination of opportunities, I desire for them to be fully capable and confident in their next steps.
At Hillside, we have a full understanding that our students will face a variety of assessment strategies in their education. In fine tuning my PBL skills, I continue to insert (more and more) assessment opportunities within the course of study.
These assessments can be classwork assignments, weekly check in quizzes, or end of course tests. These are traditional classroom assessments that meet a specific style of assessment and test taking strategies.
They are also helpful to keep a project moving along in a timely manner and give students, parents, and teachers immediate grade feedback. To include 21st century skills, other forms of assessment are used such as, self-assessment, group/peer assessments, blogs posts, and peer editing. Not only does this type of assessing demonstrate progress within a unit, it helps the individual student includes the skill of collaboration, utilizing constructive feedback, and incorporating others’ perspectives into a student’s personal perspectives on the materials. This involves higher level thinking skills and develops a well rounded students/project experience.
The most often, and I believe the most useful form of assessment during a PBL unit is the one on one conversation I have with a student on a daily basis. Asking questions as to progress in the project, struggles or questions encountered, solutions found, and asking questions to deepen the level of research the student is currently doing are not only assessing learning, these types of interactions and questions can aid a student in taking their learning places they had not realized was possible.
“Providing students with this kind of real-life context for their work helps them understand that their work has broader application and meaning. It also motivates them to be thorough and polished in their presentations.” -Joshua Black, 5 PBL Best Practices for Redefining the Teacher’s Role
This is why I love and am an advocate for PBL. I can use this educational strategy to prepare my students for whatever comes next in their learning career. I know they are ready to prepare and take standard assessments in any educational setting they encounter, study and prepare for tests like SATs, and are ready to be successful in 21st century life, all with skills they have learned utilizing the Project Based Learning strategies here at Hillside Academy.
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