Project-Based Units Require Extra Planning and Preparation
To teach something well and ensure that students are engaged in learning, teachers need to plan and prepare effectively. If the goal is for students to achieve at high levels, then proper planning and preparation are expected no matter what type of teaching is going on. Project-based learning is no exception.
In order to be successful, projects need to be designed with the end in mind. Without closely focused learning goals, the purpose of the project can become unclear and expectations for student learning outcomes can be miscommunicated. When designing projects, it is important to ensure that the activities planned will help your students meet the intended learning objectives. By reviewing curriculum goals, objectives, and standards/syllabus outcomes, teachers make choices for establishing curricular priorities. At a very basic level, project planning involves the following steps:
- Determine specific learning goals by using standards and the desired higher-order thinking skills
- Develop Curriculum-Framing Questions
- Make an assessment plan
- Design activities
This simple four-step process is deceiving. Project planning is not linear; it always involves circling back to previous steps to ensure alignment. The use of Curriculum-Framing Questions and a project approach should all work together to support the learning goals and targeted standards of the unit. Throughout the unit, there should be multiple opportunities for assessment and monitoring to measure your students’ progress.
Misconceptions of Project Approaches
When people hear the phrase, “project-based learning”, different concepts and definitions may come to mind. These may include some of the common misconceptions below.
Project-based units are long and hard to keep focused.
Projects involve all kinds of ”hands-on” or “minds-on” tasks of varying complexity and length. Tasks can be as detailed and involved as a service-learning project on pollution or as simple as an in-class debate. A project will be focused as long as it is well-planned, aligned to important standards and learning targets, and clearly states student expectations.
Project-based learning means a complete change in instructional practices.
Project-based learning is an instructional method in a repertoire of methods. It is not appropriate for the teaching of all skills and knowledge. It incorporates and accounts for varied teaching strategies and learning styles and is a way to build on current instruction to enrich learning experiences and make more efficient use of time. The focus of an educator has not changed. The goal remains to teach students what they need to know and need to be able to do. Project-based learning simply provides a new approach to reaching this goal.
Project-based learning means a lot of work.
For some teachers the shift to project-based learning may not encompass many challenges, but for others the idea may be overwhelming. If you are new to projects, it is best to start small and build upon what works well. Starting small means incorporating one or two instructional methods at a time, while building up to the complete design and implementation of a project-based unit. Starting small can mean incorporating:
- Community experts
- A project scenario
- A student generated rubric
- Cooperative grouping strategies
Little by little the benefits of project-based learning will be uncovered and the shift to projects will develop over time and lead to bigger ideas and better designs.
Assessment Planning Resources
The Assessing Projects resource provides detailed information about the benefits of student-centered assessment as well as how to use these and other assessment strategies in your classroom. See examples of teacher-created assessment plans that embed assessments throughout several different projects.