Project Based Learning [A Definitive Checklist]

Teachers who want their students to develop confidence in the real world, integrate Project Based Learning ideas in their teaching routine. Because Project Based Learning takes the classroom out into the world involving students in an authentic learning experience. Why is it authentic?

First of all, because it is student-centered. Students are working on a topic of interest to them, defining the project and its various stages. In other words, learners take responsibility for their own learning.

Second, because projects provide an excellent opportunity for informal learning. Outside the sterilized classroom environment what has already been learnt can now be put to use, and what is needed can be learnt when it is needed without the usual lesson structure.

Finally, the learning outcome is not an abstract concept but a tangible end-product. It is something to display, take home or share with your friends and be proud of.

Project based learning
Even the most reluctant learner is not immune to peer group enthusiasm and benefits from taking part in a project.

Project Based Learning requires a lot of preparation behind the scenes from the teacher. So, before you embark head on towards project work, consider the Project Based Learning checklist below to make sure you are on the right track:

1. Aims

It is important to have a clear picture of what the project is trying to accomplish. In other words, what are the learning aims and how do they fit in your syllabus? What will be the end-product? A poster, film, report, recording, article, construction, printout, display?

2. Age

What is the targeted age group? How can the project appeal to their specific interests?

Craftstash

3. Learner types

What kind of learners will benefit from the project? Visual, auditory or kinesthetic? (hopefully all)

4. Difficulty

What is the level of difficulty of the project? Does it cater for all students of a mixed ability class?

5. Time

Will this be a short-term or long-term project? Is it just for one month or it requires a year-long time commitment? The challenge here is to see whether you can organize your project to fit not only into yours but into your students’ timetable as well.

6. Location

Will the project be done in-class or outside? For in-class, consider factors such as noise to neighbouring classes. For outdoors, you may need to check the weather forecast.

7. Number of students involved

Will the activities involve the entire class or parts of it? Will they require students cooperating with each other or working independently?

8. Other teachers involved

Will this be a single-class project or will it run across the board, which means that other teachers will need to be involved?

9. Project Based Learning Resources

The key word here is ‘costs’. Fancy equipment is nice, but staying within the school budget is nicer. Having said that, note that in-class projects will probably run high on stationery; on the other hand, when going out, think about travel and subsistence costs as well.

Project Based Learning
Will the activities involve the entire class or parts of it?

10. Preparation

Careful and detailed planning ahead trumps waiting for inspiration. Because the success of the project depends on how well-organized you are. Remember to allow some room for flexibility, as students’ responses will vary during the course of the whole project.

11. Safety

If most of the project work is to be done outside the classroom, there may be some safety issues involved. Depending on the type of project, parental consent may be necessary.

12. Process

Each project has three stages: Planning (where the students figure out the logistics), Implementation (students carry out the planned tasks), and Delivery (the creation of a tangible end-product).

13. Variations

The same project can be adapted to be used with different groups of students. Think of different levels, ages, cultures, etc.

14. Feedback

Oral or written, feedback is one of the most important stages of a projects, as students reflect on the whole process and assess their own work. It can have the form of a report, an informal discussion, a display or even a workshop (a project within a project).

15. Sharing

Finally, let’s not forget that students have worked really hard and are proud of their achievement. It is only natural to want to share it with the world. Choose the right channel from all available options: a classroom display, a school newspaper, the school’s website, social media, a newsletter?

Common Problems with Project Based Learning

When a PBL group doesn’t achieve the expected outcomes, you may find that their difficulty arises in one or more of those three common areas:

Poor Student Engagement

This happens when you treat a project based learning project like a traditional project, with no purpose or meaning. Hanging the finished project up the classroom wall is not enough. Students get a sense of purpose if they know that they are working to find a solution for a specific person or group or organization who will value their finished work.

To address this issue, you must put a face to the audience. If possible, ask the person who will receive the project to come to class (or video call) and tell students how much their search for solutions or ideas will be important for him or his organization. Meeting face-to-face or virtually has the powerful effect of giving students’ work a larger purpose.  

Both of these can be solved by assigning individual grades to students. When the students know that they will be graded individually, they focus on the work without concern that peers’ efforts might affect their grades.  

Project Based Learning
A great video by Cindy Farr outlining the gold standards of Project Based Learning.

Uneven Collaboration

When it is done well, guides team members to help each other understand the content and handle complex tasks. Problems start when some students do most of the work. Some students may refuse to do the work or may not want others involved, especially if they perceive them as having lesser skills.

Lack of Student Initiative

Many students feel like passive participants in their education. If you want to create powerful PBL experiences, you first need to guide students to take initiative in their learning.

So, to do any project, students first need to own it. Do everything possible to include them in the decision making process. Give them choices and leave the product format open-ended: you may had expected a written piece, but your students may prefer doing a video.

In conclusion, probably the biggest gain from Project Based Learning is student engagement. Not only because of real world tasks and the feeling of achievement that comes with them. It is more due to enthusiasm being contagious. Even the most reluctant learner is not immune to peer group enthusiasm and benefits from taking part in a project.

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Savas Savides
Education born and bred. I have worked as a teacher for many private language schools, as a test centre administrator, as a teacher trainer, as an educational consultant, and as a publisher. I am an advocate for literacy and a huge proponent of using technology in the classroom. I have a BA in English and an MBA in Marketing. I mostly write about English Language Teaching. I live in sunny Athens.

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