A major component of PBL is that students learn how to take responsibility for their own learning. Shifting that responsibility away from the teacher to the student is one of the most challenging aspects of PBL. Our jobs are to help students learn and it is so easy to step in and give information, answers, and explanations. We do this out of care and concern. However it also does our students a disservice. They learn to rely on us for the answer, next steps, and information.
Project management is a dance between teacher guidance and student ownership. Sometimes it is well choreographed, sometimes we are make it up on the spot, and sometimes our feet get tangled and we fall to the floor. A powerful tool to help choreograph your project management is a well developed Project Wall. See excellent examples from K. Smith Elementary School in San Jose, that helped inspire this blog post!
You probably already have some sort of project wall - hooray! But a little Reflection and Revision goes a long way. Smooth project management relies on the smooth flow of information. Providing as much information as possible gives students the opportunity to get the information themselves, what I like to call the “Self-Service classroom”. Is your wall supporting the flow of information as much as possible? Use the 8 Elements of PBL and the Project Wall Rubric as your guide.
1. Signficant Content: Does your wall clearly indicate what content the students will learn? It should. The list of significant content should flow naturally from the Need to Know conversation at the launch of the project. This is also a flexible list, you can add to it as you review your Need to Knows throughout the project. Students indicating that they are learning MORE than you thought - how awesome is that!? This is also the place to translate the teacher-talk of standards into manageable student-talk. If it is a high school class go ahead and use the standards language, it is excellent practice of academic vocabulary.
2. 21st Century Skills: Does your wall clearly indicate what skills the students will be learning and practicing? It should. Students need reminders of what the heck they are doing and why. This is especially true for students new to the PBL process. Include pictures, examples, conversation/question stems, and rubrics that remind the student of what the skill is, help them learn the skill, and know if they are doing it well.
3. The Driving Question: This is a no-brainer! It is driving the whole project so it must be large and in-charge! There are countless times when I point to the DQ, or run over to the wall and ask students “how does what you just did help you answer the DQ?”. This helps keep the student inquiry and work time flowing in appropriate directions, which is the main goal of project management. If you refer to the DQ and make reference to its physical presence in the room, your students WILL start referring to it themselves. I love it when during a Socratic Seminar or 3-Way Debate I see students glancing to the project wall and the DQ! I know I have done my job well.
4. Need to Know (NTK): Is the student voice of what they need to learn visible? The NTK goes hand-in-hand with the DQ. It not a static, unchanging list to be forgotten during the heart of the project. The NTK list needs to be constantly revisited, revised, and growing. The list should be reviewed for each scaffold activity that the class moves into and out of. This checkpoint reinforces the purpose of their time and helps keep the teenage brain more focused. Use it for powerful formative assessment - students need to explain how their learning aligns with the NTK’s and helped answer the DQ.
5. Voice and Choice: Mmm. This element is not so obvious to have on a project wall. Here are some suggestions. On the NTK list you could indicate what student added that element to the list. List the teams and the specific project focus, topic, and product that each team is taking on. Have a ‘parking-lot’ where students can write questions on sticky notes (you can use these as discussion starters, or respond to the student/team appropriately). Seeing themselves on the board in a public way helps to build the relationship of trust. And it indicates that you value what they have to say. The more that students feel their voice is valued the more they are willing to take ownership of their own learning.
6.In-depth Inquiry: Does your wall show the progression of inquiry and learning in the project? To support the cycle of inquiry valuable information applicable to the project needs to be visible. Calendars and rubrics support the independent thinking and planning inherent in effective student project management. Have a pre-made poster with directions for various student-centered learning strategies and hang the appropriate one with any accompanying sentence starters and question stems (see facinghistory.org/teaching-strategies for a list of excellent learning strategies). Also make sure you post as many resources - paper and digital - as possible, be sure to include sources that students find as well.
7. Revision and Reflection: Where does your wall show evidence of revision? This element can be supported through your continual referral to the Driving Question and NTK list. The NTK list should be a living document with items getting crossed out as students learn answers to specific questions, and items getting added as their answers lead to more questions. In the “Spotlight on Awesomeness” section in my Project Walls I post student work that clearly shows heavy revision marks, and the student’s reflection of how the revision made their work better. It tends to get messy, but that is ok, have you seen a teenager’s room? They can live with messy!
8. Authentic public audience: Can a visitor to your room get an in-depth understanding of the project without even talking to you, or students? They should be able to know what the project products will be, when and how they are being presented. Progression of student learning should be visible. And best of all, they should be able to ask any student in the room to explain something on the wall, and get clear accurate answers. The wall puts YOUR hard work on display so use it for your own teacher assessment process - it contains evidence of a supportive learning environment, differentiated learning opportunities, and your ability to plan rigorous “units” for student learning of content and skills.
Wow! Don’t get overwhelmed if your wall does not have all of this. Just like with your students, you want to see improvement in your own work as time goes by. Pick one item that you will add to your wall in your next project. As your students get more experienced in project work, much of your work changes, and keeping the project wall current is one part of that.
Start using your project wall as a powerful management tool that is dynamic, raises student ownership of learning, and helps the flow of information which is at the heart of smooth project management. How has the project wall helped your students and project management? Please share below or on twitter at @istevenson75
BIG thanks to The K.Smith School for sharing their hard work, and Patrick Shaw at OCM BOCES for the awesome Project Wall Rubric!
Envision this - student teams finish a brief discussion on the project Need to Knows and share out their next steps. The class notetaker adds them to the digital list displayed on the whiteboard. Teams have another 10 minutes to discuss and decide which items on the new Need to Know they will investigate. During team meetings (see previous blog) the teacher reviews plans for the rest of the week. Some teams split up new research topics, while others research the same topics and then compare research notes. One team decides to split the phone calling for interviews and writing possible interview questions. Another team still needs to finish their initial research and decide to stay for after school tutorial. All teams have different due dates during the week and know that additional research and interview planning must be done by Friday, so that interviews can be scheduled, finished, and written up by the end of the following week. The class period ends with the teacher’s class roster full of notes indicating when each student will have their next part done, excitement about interviews getting scheduled, and awareness of the content research quiz on Friday.
“In your dreams!” you might say. I say “In your reality!”
Consistent and carefully scaffolded use of task lists make this engaged inquiry process come true. The best teachers have strong systems to keep track of the many different tasks and deadlines necessary in a smooth running classroom. But those systems were not born fully formed in their first few years of teaching. They required constant reflection, revision, courage to throw out what doesn’t work, and celebration of what does.
Good project management is essentially good information management. All schools have some sort of “daily planner use” expectation for students. But the powerful use of task lists is different than just writing in an assignment due date in a square on a calendar. Task lists are powerful project management tools when they are used for collaborative decision making, critical thinking of process steps, personal accountability with deadlines.
Today I want to look at collaborative decision making. Whether you use a task list form that has tasks already identified or is blank and waiting for student decisions (more on these in the next blog) the power in its use comes from the conversation that students must have to make it meaningful. It is too easy for students to just say “you do this, you do this, I’ll do this, done!”. The conversation must include reasons why the decisions are made. Students new to PBL need question stems such as:
The teen brain lives in the moment so the ability to look “down the road” a few days is not natural for them. Providing the language of what to think about and how to ask is teaching the 21st Century Skill of Critical Thinking. The consistent use of task lists gives students multiple opportunities to practice the skill. These types of questions also force the practice of collaborative decision making. This is where they have to weigh the pros and cons of different possibilities and decide together what will be best so that the goal is obtained. Older students who are more experienced with the PBL process may not need such explicit scaffolding. Or maybe you provide some groups with the structured task lists and some without depending on their need for differentiation.
Whatever the skill levels present in your class you must keep the ever present high expectations of students being able to answer these questions in the Team Meetings. To do that, you must be consistent with your expectations, follow through and turn the meeting into something valuable - formative or even summative assessment.
Have copies of “Collaborative task list rubrics” ready to mark and return in the team meetings. I also make a notes of the rubric “score” on my class roster lists. If the 21st C. Skill learning focus in the project is “Collaborative Decision Making” I try to get in two task list checks during a project. The two formative scores may be combined into a minimally weighted summative assessment score in the 21st Century Skills column in the grade book.
Your use of Task Lists to deepen critical thinking and collaborative decision making through including question stems is a simple and powerful way to enhance your PBL teaching and project management. You provide guided examples of the skill, allow time for independent team practice, give timely formative assessment feedback for improvement, and the summative assessment of the skill can be seen in deeper and more focused student products.
You are also gathering important evidence to show your own mastery of the teaching profession. You actually know the engagement of all students with their learning, you are creating a learning environment that supports deep student learning, and you are able to provide differentiated instruction.
Future posts will explore how Task lists are powerful project management tools when they reinforce critical thinking of process steps, and personal accountability with deadlines. How have you used task lists to support your project management? I would love to hear!