This week I started learning about Project-Based Learning. As I researched what project-based learning is, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that I have actually used many aspects of PBL in the past. Project-based learning is an inquiry based learning method. Teachers function as managers who create a project for students to complete, or a question for students to answer. By completing the project, or answering the question, students learn the content area knowledge and skills.
In English Language Arts, research essays are an obvious choice for project-based learning, if done correctly. Two years ago, I asked my students to choose a topic that affected them personally and for which they wanted to see change. The end goal was to write a proposal to see if they could obtain the result they wanted. Some students wanted to be paid for chores, some wanted their parents to stop smoking. Other students wanted to be able to choose their bedtimes, or end deportation of illegal immigrants; each student was personally invested in the topic he or she chose. For the majority of their research, the students used the Internet and a school-wide survey that we had conducted. As students wrote their proposals, they chose the research that would be most convincing to their intended audience. I felt like my students learned a lot from this project, but I was dissatisfied with it, so I didn’t repeat it the past two years. As I read about the essential design elements for project-based learning, I realized that I hadn’t articulated what specific skills and knowledge the students should learn through the project. I also tried to control too much of the research for my students. Another aspect that I realized was missing was time to critique, revise, and reflect. Because I had tried using a project to teach skills already, I could see what I tend to ignore or gloss over in my preparations as a teacher. This information will be valuable to me as I plan my project this semester.