By Destinee Hodge January 15th, 2014 10:30 AM
I don’t know a single teacher who wants learning to be boring. I also don’t know a single teacher who wants to do all the heavy lifting in their classroom. Yet these are two things that, from my experience, happen quite often as the school year trudges along. We begin printing worksheets without regard for our students’ perspective and without pushing them to be inventive, independent thinkers.
I remember taking one week toward the end of my first year of teaching to actually sit down and do the work I was assigning to my kids. This is boring, I thought to myself. All of a sudden, I could understand why my seventh grade class was not having it.
That experience got me thinking. I wanted to make learning interesting, and I wanted my students to take ownership over their work. I also wanted my students to actively use their minds and begin to think in different ways. What could I do to accomplish these ends?
Enter project-based learning. Of course we’ve all heard of classroom projects being hailed as generally awesome. But when you sit down to plan, what does including a project in your lesson look like? And sure, projects make learning interesting…but is that it? Since projects are a huge part of my teaching, I thought I’d address a few common questions about integrating them into the classroom.
Q: Sure, projects make learning more interesting, but is that it?
A: The biggest benefit of assigning projects is that it shifts the responsibility of learning from you to your students. For example, once I do the preliminary work of creating a rubric and a detailed outline of the project, it’s up to my students to do the work and me to monitor. That’s much more sustainable than constantly being the creative force behind everything in the classroom. Also, having your students create something is considered a higher order thinking skill on Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Q: Uh, you teach Spanish, do projects really apply to every subject?
A: They most certainly do! While the nature of my subject lends itself to projects more often, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be done in every subject area. For example, math teachers can have their students pretend to be interior designers and calculate the area of different spaces in a room. It requires you to really think, but the result is that your students will want to do the work.
Q: Thanks for the suggestion, but I don’t have time for a project.
A: Not true. A project can be anywhere from one day to one year in length. YOU determine how long a project should be. For example, I’ve had my students create a skit about ordering food in a restaurant in one day and then present it the next. I’ve also had students read information about Hispanic culture and then create a visual representation on chart paper (all in the same day). You just need to be intentional about planning appropriately.
Q: I have no idea how to plan a project. How do I start?
A: The most important factor is that projects cannot be random. You need projects to be integrated into your unit plan so that they will allow students to show mastery of specific standards.
- Decide on the content and skills you want them to learn. This is where you look at your unit plan and decide what information you want the project to help your students bring together.
- Develop rubrics, formats, and exemplar. This is SUPER important. If you don’t have clear guidelines, you will receive a number of completely different products.
- Develop a timeline and scope for your project. How long do you want students to be able to work on it? When do you want the final product to be due? If you don’t do this, you’ll find yourself spending much more time than necessary on the project because your students don’t have a sense of urgency.
Q: Is it better for students to work in groups or individually?
A: You know your students best, so you need to decide. Working in groups is obviously a life skill (life is in and of itself a group project), but at the same time, you may want each student’s individual expression to show through during the project.
Learning can be both rigorous and engaging. Hopefully you’ll consider using projects to make it both of these things.
Destinee Hodge is a Spanish teacher at Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7.