Project-based learning (PBL) is an educational method that allows students to learn new things by exploring the topics on their own (well, almost), by doing their research, and by co-creating their personal learning journey. Of course, students need guidance from their teachers and help along the way, but PBL allows them to be more creative and to unleash that inner explorer.
Not to mention that PBL is more empowering than the traditional teaching method, in which knowledge transfer from the teacher to the students is the main objective and in which students don’t have a say in the educational process.
If we want to raise our children to be independent, creative, and self-sufficient, PBL might help a lot. Moreover, PBL can boost social and soft-skills, as working on a project implies collaboration and communication with colleagues.
10 DOs and DON’Ts in Project-Based Learning
However, to be more effective in the learning process, keep in mind that there are do’s and don’ts in PBL as in anything else. Let’s see a few!
1. Plan ahead. Creativity and exploration are indeed the name of the game, but we should not disregard that a good PBL approach needs careful planning. Try to create a step-by-step plan, to set the milestones and let the students reach them on their own.
2. Adapt and readapt. Adapt the content to the context and try to find the pulse of the classroom before starting a PBL phase. If the method is completely new for the students, try to implement it when they don’t have too much on their plate (ex. tests and exams, a lot of extracurricular activities, etc.).
3. Involve students. Do a brainstorming session with your class at the beginning of the term and try to identify their technology preferences. If possible, let them choose their platform of choice at don’t be afraid to implement new things.
4. Monitor along the way. Set intermediate milestones and monitor the results. If necessary, address any issues at different stages, give feedback, and help students that experience difficulties of any kind. Be prepared to find alternatives, if intermediate results are not those that you have hoped for.
5. Assign roles. Or let students chose them if you feel that they might benefit from the experience. Any project needs a project manager and a team leader. Explain the objectives of both roles and monitor the performance. Give feedback and ask feedback from the team members (other students). Create a safe space and make sure that students understand how to give and receive feedback.
1. Put content first. It’s important to keep track of content, but make sure that students enjoy the ride. Project-based learning is also about the freedom to choose different paths towards the same objective, about teamwork, etc.
2. Too competitive. Don’t turn it into a competition, as not all students can cope with the pressure. Especially at young ages, perhaps it’s more useful to use PBL to cultivate cooperation and the ability to work in teams. These skills will come in handy later on in life.
3. Unclear objectives. If students can choose how they can reach those milestones, make sure that they don’t forget about the main objectives. It’s important not to lose focus, as in independent learning it’s quite easy to get distracted. If the objective is not very well defined, distractions tend to accumulate.
4. Too loose. Keep an eye on your classroom and give constant feedback when you see that students get sidetracked or demotivated. Especially team leaders and project managers might need additional guidance. The key is not to be a control freak and allow students to explore different options.
5. No feedback. Students have different needs and you should take that into account when you give feedback. Offer structured feedback and implement a system of peer feedback among students as well. Give recognition and encourage all students to do the best they can, especially if it’s their first Project-Bases Learning experience.
All in all
The famous saying: ‘Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’ grasps the essence of PBL. You educate autonomous individuals, that will use their creativity and all their skills to learn more, while at the same time, they don’t lose track of the main objectives. Quite an ambitious endeavor! Make sure that you create the right conditions for the right results.
Veronica is a University lecturer with years of experience in language learning, a translator and interpreter, and a life-long learner.