Is there Really a Way to Reach All of My Students?
How can we meet the needs of all our students? Educators are tasked with the daunting job of meeting the needs of all students in the classroom. There could be upwards of 28-30 different needs that a teacher should be responsive to. In a 5th grade classroom for instance, you could have students reading at a Kindergarten grade level all the way up to high school level. How do you adapt what you are teaching to reach all your students in math, language arts, science, and social studies? Can it really be done?
The short answer is yes. One barrier to reaching all our students could be that we are bound to a certain textbook or curriculum pacing guide that is supposed to work for the average student. As you have probably figured out already, there is no average student. That is where Project-Based Learning (PBL) can cast a wider net to serve learners with a variety of gifts and talents in your classroom.
What is Project-Based Learning?
Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. PBL uses the project not just as a fun and engaging way to learn outside of worksheets and lectures, but as the foundation and vehicle for how knowledge and skills are taught in the curriculum. PBL requires students to dive deep into their learning. Students of all ability levels have a place to showcase their talents through collaboration, critical thinking, and various forms of communication and production of the final product.
What are the Benefits to My Classroom?
What the Research Says
There are many great articles in support of PBL. One that I find interesting is the study that Robert Geier and his team published in 2008. For the study, there were over 19,000 7th and 8th grade participants from Detroit, MI. The students participated in PBL through the LeTUS curricular units developed by the Center for Learning Technologies in Urban Schools (LeTUS) at the University of Michigan. The demographics of the student population included African American = 91%, Latino = 5%, diverse ethnic mix = 4%, Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRLP) = 69%. All 19,000 participated in PBL for a length of time covering multiple curricular units.
After students spend time in this project-based learning curriculum, the findings from this study concluded that students who participated in the LeTUS units significantly out-performed nonparticipants on the state standardized tests. Higher scores were achieved in all three science content areas (earth, physical, and life science) and both science process skill groups (constructing and reflecting) (Geier et al., 2008). It did not matter if these students were at-risk learners or had Individualized Education Plans. This curriculum model allows for students to learn and remember the content in a more engaging and meaningful way.
Students seem to enjoy being in classes where PBL being implemented regularly. Students of all ability levels are engaged because of the flexibility and the ability to match students up with their unique strengths and talents. Put more plainly: it’s just more fun! When we can get up, move, collaborate, and connect with a team toward a shared goal, our learning is deepened because of our active engagement. To hear more about what students have to say about PBL, check out this article about why students love PBL. For more about the differences between projects and PBL, watch this video from Edutopia:
PBL Provides Opportunities for Students of All Abilities
What PBL provides at its core is differentiated instruction to meet the needs of students using collaboration and authentic assessments to measure student growth. There is not one specific way to assess students on their learning, but multiple paths to show understanding. Working independently and with peers help students with self-determination as well as developing interpersonal relationship skills. These skills are not just for students that struggle—it is preparing students for life outside of the classroom.
Students with specialized learning plans can benefit from having their goals and objectives weaved into the project. Teachers can also collaborate with special education providers to combine services such as speech-language support and occupational therapy. This type of collaboration and planning will help to produce a rich, engaging, and fruitful experience for all students that you teach.
How Do I Get Started with Project-Based Learning?
Andrew Miller, an author for Edutopia.org, has come up with 6 ways in which to differentiate your classroom in line with PBL. A short summary of his points are below, but feel free to read the article in its entirety at Edutopia.org.
- Differentiate through teams
- Reflection and goal setting
- Mini-lessons, centers, and other resources
- Give students a voice and choice in final products
- Differentiate through formative assessments
- Balance teamwork and individual work
Resources for Implementation
If you are interested in starting up PBL in your classroom, take a look at these resources and their descriptions below for more information:
PBLworks.org: Many great resources and recommended readings to help teachers get started with their own classrooms.
Project-Based Learning (PBL) Starter Kit by John Larmer, et al.: “A practical guide to Project-Based Learning. Designed for middle and high school teachers, the PBL Starter Kit contains down-to-earth, classroom-tested advice, including six sample projects, step-by-step guidance, tips from experienced practitioners, planning tools and online resources, plus project-ready rubrics and handouts.”
Hacking Project-Based Learning: 10 Easy Steps to PBL and Inquiry in the Classroom by Ross Cooper: “As questions and mysteries around PBL and inquiry continue to swirl, experienced classroom teachers and school administrators Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy have written a book that will empower those intimidated by PBL to cry, ‘I can do this!’ while at the same time providing added value for those who are already familiar with the process.”
Project-Based Learning: Real Questions. Real Answers. How to Unpack PBL and Inquiry by Ross Cooper: “Since the release of their first book, Hacking Project-Based Learning, Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, PBL experts, have connected with thousands of PBL practitioners. This book is Cooper and Murphy’s response to the most common questions educators ask about PBL and inquiry.”
Project-Based Learning Made Simple: 100 Classroom-Ready Activities that Inspire Curiosity, Problem Solving and Self-Guided Discovery for Third, Fourth and Fifth Grade Students by April Smith: “Quickly and Easily Go from Idea to Activity to Discover with these Ready-to-Use Projects. Project-Based Learning Made Simple is the fun and engaging way to teach 21st-century competencies including problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. This straight-forward book makes it easier than ever to bring this innovative technique into your classroom with 100 ready-to-use projects in a range of topics.”