In the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about Project-Based Learning (PBL). If you follow my blog or read my posts much, you know that I have been working with a group of teachers at our school to help pilot some PBL units. Over the course of time, we met to talk about the planning process, to think about assessment, and then to kick off the project. Most classes are currently in the action portion of the pilot where they are hard at work on the projects they have planned. It’s exciting to see the learning that’s happening. But as we continue to move forward, we need to think about the end of our projects. It has me thinking about this quote from a TED Talk:
If you want to see the TED Talk by Alan November, you can click on the image above, but in this TED Talk, November tells the story of a girl who has decided that she isn’t going to be as invested in the writing assignments that her teacher gives her because she’d rather spend her time writing Harry Potter fan fiction on a website for people all over the world. It’s an interesting thing to think about – even as children, our students recognize who their audience is going to be, and the level of effort that goes into their work will change depending on the audience.
So, for our teachers who are beginning to wrap up their projects with their students, we have encouraged them to find a way to make sure that the work that has been done is for more of an audience than just their teacher. In fact, recently I received an invitation from one of our first-grade classes to come “Learn with us.” These students wanted to share what they have learned with an audience beyond their own classroom, so two afternoons a couple weeks ago they opened their classroom to others to see what they have accomplished. I was able to visit the classroom on one of the days, and the energy from the students for the audience of teachers, staff members, and peers, was so strong you could feel it.
Ultimately, when we think about sharing something we have learned with the world, we are reflecting on the things we have learned, and deciding what it is that we think others need to know about our topic. I have shared before, and I’ll share again, that I write this blog more for myself than for the audience who reads it. These posts are an opportunity for me to gather my thinking on a topic, and share what I know with a broader audience. It forces me to reflect, analyze, process, and then share with the world. Think about how much more meaningful the reflection process would be for our students if they were able to share what they knew with a broader audience. Not to mention, when we think about the learning process, reflection and feedback are the two most important parts! When our students share their learning, we are causing them to reflect on their learning.
There are several ways we can create a more authentic audience for our students.
- For some of our students, an audience made up of their classmates might be authentic and exciting enough.
- You could expand that audience by inviting members of your school community – think of other classes, other grade levels, and other adults in your school building.
- Things could be a little bigger by inviting parents, members of your school district administration office, or maybe even community members.
- If you really want to broaden your audience, you might consider having your students write their own blog posts, create a video for TikTok or YouTube, or share out their learning on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.
- Maybe your students could create an infographic, a digital portfolio, a website, or even an eBook!
All of these are going to generate more excitement for your students than creating something that they are only going to turn in to you, their teacher (not that you aren’t cool, but being TikTok famous is even better!).
Another advantage of sharing with a wider audience is that the family members of our students can learn so much more about what’s happening in the classroom. What better way could there be than to share your own learning journey throughout a project! I know that when I am at home talking with my own kids, I don’t always get a ton of details about what happened each day. For those of you who are parents, you know how this goes – ask a question about school, get a one-word answer. Ask a follow-up, get another word. Luckily, there have been a couple of teachers that my children have had who are great at sharing things on social media and through their newsletters that allow me to know the story of the classroom. When I know what’s going on already, I can ask better questions about what is happening in the classroom and have a fuller understanding of the learning that is taking place.
Now, I know that the idea of having students share their learning through a blog, video, or social media might seem overwhelming to some. Here’s where knowing your students comes into play. If you know your students, you might better understand what it is that will motivate them. For some students, simply being able to share their work with their classmates is plenty of an audience to bring about some serious work. If you have students who have not done a lot of project work or are in an early elementary classroom, then sharing within the class might be enough. But if you teach students who have already had several PBL experiences, and they have shared their work more broadly, they are going to think bigger than their classmates.
Recently I heard of a teacher in our school district who wanted to have a poetry event in the evening in her classroom. After talking with students though, just having something small in the classroom wasn’t enough. The students wanted to make it bigger. Planning was turned over to the students. They contacted a local coffee shop and set up a poetry reading evening at the coffee shop. Students and families were there of course, but members of the district administration team also attended. Friends and their families were invited. Other teachers from the school attended. Members of the community who just happened to be at the coffee shop were entertained. The power of the audience made the experience so much more powerful!
Ultimately, as the leader of a PBL project, you must work with your students to see if the authentic audience you had in mind fits with their ideas. If not, then it’s time to reflect. How could we have a better audience? How might you encourage students to lead the process and planning for their event? I don’t know too many people that open an invitation written by our students and don’t smile to see that they have been invited to an event by a classroom full of excited learners. I encourage you to consider how you might allow your students to share their learning with a wider section of their world!