Struggling to think of ways you can apply project-based learning in your middle school language arts classroom? Check out how I, and the rest of the ELA team at my school, have implemented PBL.
First, Keep the PBL Basics in Mind
One of the great things about project-based learning is how varied it is. However, there are some criteria a project must meet in order to be considered authentic PBL; while all PBL centers around projects, not all projects are PBL. Below are the basic criteria a project must meet in order to be considered PBL.
- The project is where the learning happens, not just where it is demonstrated.
- The students have voice and choice in their project.
- The work is collaborative, in whole or in part.
- The project helps students to practice real-world, cross-curricular skills applicable beyond the walls of the classroom and throughout their lives.
- The instructor plays the role of a mindful facilitator.
With these criteria in mind, let’s take a look at three projects that have been used at my school to implement project-based learning, starting with my own.
A Persuasive Portfolio
My school is broken up into five terms, each term having a primary unit and then 1-2 story studies. The portfolio is the focus of the primary unit. Our first unit is focused on students getting to understand themselves better regarding their interests and abilities; I consider this unit PBL light as I am still getting to know the kids.
For this unit, students will create a progressive profile of themselves, adding to it as we go. By the end of the unit, this is refined into an author profile that they will use as their biography in their persuasive portfolio.
The second unit is focused on research. This is where I really get into PBL, allowing students to pick their own topic. All I require is that it is a change that they want to see made in the world, whether at school, at home, in their greater community, or in the world as a whole.
The students choose their format and audience and then work to create a project that implements the skills and strategies I teach as I teach them. For this unit, the project must be an unbiased presentation of reliable and relevant facts—everything else is up to them.
The third unit is focused on honest and effective argument; the students must create a project that uses the argument structure taught in class in order to convince their audience.
The fourth is about propaganda techniques, which gets into media and manipulation.
Finally, there is the fifth unit, which is about in-depth revision. For this unit, the students must take the projects they have done thus far and modify them in a way that requires in-depth revision (think changing format or changing audience). Then, this is assembled into the final portfolio, which they will then present to their target audience or sufficient stand-ins.
This project was a big hit with students and parents. The students were required to assemble into teams and design their own business, such as a restaurant, and then create in-depth business proposals convincing people to invest in their business. Students were responsible for everything from creating effective arguments to making a detailed budget to designing the advertisements.
This project lasted several terms and was eventually presented to business majors at the local university, getting feedback from community members with plenty of experience in the field.
Social Awareness Campaigns
This project is done every year as a collaborative project between the Language Arts Department and the Character Education Program. Students focus on types of discrimination they see at school or in the community at large and then create a campaign of posters, videos, speeches, and demonstrations to raise awareness.
Do You Use PBL?
Take some time to share the ways you or your colleagues have used PBL at your school. We are always looking for new ideas and inspiration.