I listen to a table of 10th grade World Studies students take turns explaining how women are affected by the lack of access to education in underdeveloped countries. One girl, listening intently, speaks up and asks “Why aren’t they allowed to go to school when our research shows that education actually raises the incomes of families?” The rest of her group pauses and looks at me. I repeat her question and reply, “I wonder if that has a simple answer? Go add that to the project wall questions. The rest of you make a list of other questions that this initial research brings up.”
Moving from good to great Project Based Learning involves being aware of the specific, intentional “teachermoves” you make that drive student inquiry, engagement, and excitement for learning. One “move” I made that enhanced my PBL teaching was developing the classroom project wall into an active teaching tool,
rather than a bulletin board. The project wall is the visual space in the classroom that helps manage information, project questions, calendars, standards, assessments, and resources that guide student learning during the project.
Your project wall can support your use of each of the Gold Standard PBL Project Based Teaching Practices :
1. Design and Plan: One of the ironies of PBL done well is that the best projects arise not from spontaneous decision-making but from detailed planning. A powerful project wall will be the classroom hub that shows the results of your planning. The more that crucial elements of a good project - the driving question, list of student-generated “Need to Know” questions, resources, and the schedule of formative and summative assessments - are visible to students, the better they become at taking control of their learning. And the better you become at facilitating, rather than controlling, their learning. BIE’s Assessment Map and Student Learning Guide are simple, powerful, (and free) planning tools.
2. Align to Standards: The well-planned project must clearly align student learning to targeted content standards and skills. The project wall is a place to keep those standards and skills front and center. A PBL teacher I respect has a wall where students group their inquiry questions in categories under the standards. This is a powerful, visual learning strategy that helps her students become meta-cognitive about what they are learning - how their own curiosity and inquiry is linked to key content and skills. It also provides a conversation point for parents and administrators, showing how your PBL teaching is aligned to standards.
3. Build the Culture: Make sure the classroom norms, which have been co-crafted with your students, are front and center in the project wall. These norms and the student-generated questions reinforce the value of student voice and choice. Keeping the project calendar visible and updated allows students to know what needs to be done. The project wall becomes a resource that you can direct students towards in order to answer their own questions. Here are more great tips on building a culture of collaboration, critique, and questioning in your PBL teaching.
4. Manage Activities: The great PBL teacher is always dancing back and forth between individual and team work time, and whole group and small group instruction. The project wall helps to manage this dance with visual information needed for each of these aspects: schedules, assessment checkpoints, deadlines and class norms.
5. Scaffold Student Learning: Similar to managing activities the project wall can support the scaffolding of student learning. The visible list of questions, aligned standards and skills, and flexible calendar ensures that you are providing students with opportunities to practice, apply, and reflect on their learning. As your formative assessment shows that students need more or less scaffolding, you can adjust the project calendar and keep students aware through the public information on the project wall.
6. Assess Student Learning: High quality formative assessment is crucial to scaffold student learning towards the summative products of any good project. Along with the public flexible calendar of checkpoints and deadlines, your project wall should also make all assessment rubrics public and accessible. The project wall should make it clear what assessments are individual or team based. The assessments need to be linked to the list of student questions, and identify which of the 4 C’s (communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity) are being assessed.
7. Engage and Coach: A comprehensive project wall will boost your PBL teaching and support student engagement only as much as you include it as an intentional, frequent teaching tool. I always knew my students were more engaged with a project when I saw them, on their own, referring to the wall with their team mates. The more I asked them about which of the Need to Know questions they were learning, had them continuously update the list of questions, referred them to the calendar, rubrics, and class norms, the more students became self-reflective and supported each other in learning.
How will you boost the power of your teaching with a project wall?
See some great examples of project walls from Katherine Smith Elementary School .
previously posted on BIE.org
One of my last posts described Using a Project Wall to support Gold Standard Project Based Teaching. One part of a project wall is the Need to Know list. Since then I have coached many teachers on how the Need to Know (NTK) is a physical list in the classroom and an integral process that enhances student learning. It does this through making student inquiry visible and central in an authentic PBL unit, as well as provide evidence for developing your Gold Standard Project Based Teaching.
Design and Plan, Align to Standards: As you develop your PBL unit and the driving question or problem statement you will make a list of all the content standards and skills you want students to learn through the project. Turn that list into questions and keep them close as you implement the project. Use it to guide the class creation of the Need to Know list—if students don’t ask about a particular piece of content or skill, you can lead them to see that it’s important. Refer back to it throughout the project and reflect on how you have formatively assessed student learning. Have they had opportunities to learn and deepen those content standards and skills? If not, how could the project be revised for next year?
By keeping a record of standards alignment and formative assessment work, you’re collecting evidence of your own teaching practice—no matter what evaluation system your school or district uses, they all ask for evidence!
Build the Culture: Launch your project with specific protocols that get students creating the lists of what they will need to know and learn based on the driving question and problem statement. Here a couple of great ones: NTK Process and Question Formulation Technique. A crucial teacher move here is NOT providing answers! The answers come through the project. The teacher role is to ask more questions, follow up questions, and "What else?". You want to build the culture where questions and curiosity are the norm.
Teaching inquiry, creating and posing questions, and making conjectures about solutions are now part of speaking and listening standards, mathematical practice standards, science and engineering practice standards, and all decent College and Career Ready standards. Take pictures of the NTK lists in your room to build evidence for your teaching practice in terms of classroom routines that build a culture of student engagement.
Manage Activities, Scaffold Student Learning: For the NTK list to become central to student learning you must make it an active part of your teaching. Use it as an exit ticket - "How did what you learned today help answer one of the NTK questions?". Use it as a hook into the next learning activity, whether student work-time or more teacher led - "Your goal today is to answer the NTK question ___ ."
Crucial to the NTK process is having students physically handling the list itself. Have each student team consolidate all the different class sections’ lists into one summary list that all sections will start with. As a differentiation scaffold for ELL or students that need more practice, have them work to make a neatly printed poster of all the questions. Let them know that when the poster is done they will need to explain why they think the questions are important.
I have seen teachers cut NTK posters into strips and move each strip from the NEED to the KNOW side of a project wall when a formative assessment is done; or, put red, yellow, green dots next to items on the poster list. You can give teams envelopes with strips of the cut up questions and have them rearrange them in some sort of priority order; and of course with some sort of justification explanation! I have seen giant classroom “chalk talk” posters that grow and expand as the project progresses.
All of this is more evidence of your teaching practice that help students learn the content and skill of inquiry. Be sure to take pictures and keep samples of student work that shows mastery and growth.
Assess Student Learning: It should be pretty obvious now how the NTK list is integral to your formative and summative assessment. Be sure to create an Assessment Map in your planning, and try to return to it, making annotations as you go to the NTK list. This will make the project better next year. And again, provide evidence of your teaching and professional learning!
Engage and Coach: Active use of the physical list in the classroom is a powerful tool for facilitating student learning. Any good sports coach has tools of the trade (whistles, clipboards, stopwatches, play books, game film to watch, etc.). The NTK list is one of your tools.Gather teams around the list on your project wall for quick ‘huddles’ to focus their work time. Ask students questions related to the NTK questions in your
individual and group check-ins. Make early project teams based on which questions students choose to learn about as a way to leverage the power of student choice into engaged learning; of course, this has to result in some sort of jigsaw so that ALL students learn the basics all the content. Keep a copy of the list on your own clipboard with annotations of student learning.
Once more: all of this is evidence of your Project Based Teaching! You may need to point this out to the administrators as they do their evaluation observation cycles. Work on these strategies with your instructional coach and have them collect the evidence for you. The more you use the NTK list in your teaching, you will be amazed to see students start to refer to it, and what you hear them asking!
Previously posted on:
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!