In my early years of teaching, I struggled to find the lesson that would engage the entire class. I envisioned this scenario where I created the ultimate lesson and every students was engaged in what I created. I have often referred to this magical lesson as my "white whale". It wasn't until I had many years under my belt that I realized that the type of lesson I was searching for did not exist and I should just accept doing the best I can to get the majority engaged. It was discovering what Project Based Learning truly was that made me come back around to my "white whale" hunt and get so much closer than I have ever gotten before.
With project based learning, students were able to explore the content in ways that were meaningful to them. They were able to create artifacts that explained what they learned using skills they had. It was removing all outlined activities from my assignment that led to higher student engagement. My job was to support students with the content. Help point them in the right direction and steer conversations n class if it was needed. Dictating every aspect of the assignment was what was leading students to disengage with the material before the assignment even started. They knew they would just have to jump through hoops at the end and they did not want to jump. By allowing them to create their own hoops, not only were they willing to jump through them, some would do backflips and twists through them because they were so excited to do them.
The minute you start to give students ownership of their learning through project based learning, student engagement increases. It is not an easy process to convert all of your lessons to embrace project based learning. That is why you do it one at a time slowly rebuilding your assignments to allow for students agency. It took me a few years to get the all of the lessons I wanted replaced with strong PBL assignments. Once I felt comfortable with what I had, I have been able to add new assignments and change things around as needed.
Students who would be considered struggling learners or students with learning challenges excelled in class because they were able to learn and create at their pace using their unique skill set. When we can remove barriers to learning, we can increase student engagement. By allowing students to take control of how they learn and how they demonstrate what they have learned, they can fully engage in the learning process.
I would love to hear about the different ways that you have implemented PBL into your classroom. Shoot me a tweet or an email (OneNerdyTeacher@gmail.com) to share.
Project Based Learning really changed everything about my classroom. It is one of the best approaches to instruction that I have ever used in the classroom. If you want to learn more about Project Based Learning and implementing it in your school or classroom, feel free to reach out to me or you can check out my book, Beyond the Poster Board.