Students will learn the content they need to learn throughout a project if there are appropriate scaffolds to guide students to each benchmark within the project and then eventually to the final product. Because of the amount of collaboration that often happens in a project and that the nature of a project is to solve or work through a problem, teachers will sometimes give students a project and then “let them go” completely to figure it out on their own. This often leads to disaster. The more complex the work you’re asking students to do, the more guidance and support students will need in their skills to be able to tackle the project.
I know that students will learn the content when…
Make sure there is a working project calendar before you launch a project. In designing projects, it is too easy to miscalculate how much “project work time” students will need to complete a benchmark. A quick way to check yourself to see if you’re on track with content with a project is to track your own progression via a project calendar.
Connect each lesson or learning experience to a particular standard students need to master or a particular skill students need to work toward for their final product.
Use scaffolding activities to assess throughout the project to check for individual mastery of content. Some teachers wait until students turn in the first benchmark of a project to have any idea of where students are with the content. This is problematic for two reasons: One, a benchmark within a project is likely to represent the work of a group. You won’t have any real idea of how students are doing individually by assessing a benchmark. Two, if student work turned in during a benchmark is completely wrong, students are now behind on the project as a whole. Scaffolding activities* that lead to students completing a benchmark are effective for teachers to assess that students are individually mastering the content and prevents students getting to a major benchmark with misconceptions and incorrect work.
*see Learner-Centered Practices Card Set for ideas on scaffolding
Opportunities for formative assessments = scaffolding activities
Opportunities for formative feedback = benchmarks
Monitor the way in which groups divide up work. No matter what role students take on in a project, part of their contribution to the final product should be directly related to showing mastery of the content. If you’re not careful, a student might get caught up with completing the graphics for a presentation but contributes little else to the final product, the group or his own content mastery.
Other tips to keep in mind when planning a project:
- Benchmarks should not be the only assessment students receive throughout the project.
- Scaffold Learning Outcomes--Be intentional about teaching the skills. Don’t assume that students are skilled presenters or great collaborators or cannot grow in Agency.
- Design a project as a means for students to learn the content rather than as something “extra” that we do when we have time.