Project-Based LearningI teach high school students in English 9, 10, and 11.  Several of my classes are co-taught with a special ed teacher.  To say I teach a wide range of students in each class...

Project-Based Learning

I teach high school students in English 9, 10, and 11.  Several of my classes are co-taught with a special ed teacher.  To say I teach a wide range of students in each class would be an understatement.  I use projects to help accommodate as many learning styles and strengths/weaknesses of as many students as possible.  There has been a lot of research conducted on this topic.  It is a scientifically based practice. 

I would like to know if any other teachers have encountered the "traditionalists" who scoff at this practice.  My principal is happy as long as I teach the CSOs (Content Standards and Objectives) but it has gotten uncomfortable at times in the English Dept lunch room.  Any suggestions on how to handle this?  Any suggestions for project ideas that focus on language arts?   


18 Answers

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Show your nay-sayers research and resources from the web site of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.  It also has suppport groups for you.  Project-based learning can be hard, because you feel like you are always defending your practices.  You don't have to!  They are the ones who are wrong.  Some of the videos from GLEF have made my students (college, education students) cry.  If anything can change hearts and minds, it's Edutopia!

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Don't let other teachers put you off from something that you know is working! I guess one thing you could do would be to invite your superior to observe you teaching one of these classes so that he can see for himself how project based learning allows you to reach a vast range of ability levels and special needs. In my experience, project based learning is great for differentiation and, if used correctly, can be great to enthuse and spark interest in students that are turned off by traditional teaching approaches. So keep on with the good work and as others have said, if it remains a problematic issue, don't mention it!

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Here's my best advice based on more years of experience than I care to count! Stay away from other teachers who, for whatever reason, consistently put you down or make you question your own methods that obviously are succeeding. This is one of those times when other people should "tend to their own knittin" and focus on their own results. Nobody has found the holy grail in teaching methods. Teaching is an art as well as a science. Consider everything, use what works in your own class, and avoid "discussions" that aren't discussions, but merely opportunities for some to pontificate.

As for teaching through project-based units, of course! All the research I've read says the same thing: The one who does the talking (and the doing) does the learning. The "sage on the stage" is the least effective way to teach after a while. Also, anytime we can "disguise" teaching and make it seem like something else (a project), learning increases. A room full of kids busily engaged in a project that tricks them into learning is a joy to behold! Good luck, follow your own lights, and enjoy your students' success.

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engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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I know the feeling of getting glares and scornful glances from the monoliths of education -- Typically each year, I have my students make "sidewalk murals" depicting a scene from one of the short stories we usually read at the year's outset. This is a colorful, creative, and tangible way for students to connect with previously learned material, and to show off a new skill.

Some traditionalist teachers have seen the work there on the sidewalk outside my classroom, and some have even complained that the chalk used in the project won't come off, if such a thing is believable. A quick pass of the hose proves otherwise, of course, and my administration has fully supported the practice as a great project for our kids. These objecting teachers, however, are the same ones who complain when I hold class outside in our courtyard, even if it's for a sensory assignment. Some people have had their head buried in the sand of their four classroom walls for so long that they fear anyone or anything that might do otherwise. Don't worry; they'll retire soon enough. 

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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I work in a place that has been literally divided apart into traditionalists and modernists. It is indeed uncomfortable and highly unneccesary as we are not here for us,but for the children. I suggest you continue doing what you are doing, and ALWAYS label eac of your projects with a specific mention of the standard that you are covering. In fact, if your studentds get a habit of citing the standard each time they do a project then you definitely will be a hot (good) topic in the lunchroom and you will set a great example.

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kittydrama68 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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I teach 11th grade English in a large school district and this year our administration is having us teach Marzano Vocabulary in addition to our regular curriculum.  At first I thought, "I don't have time for this," but after I read the material and started to employ the strategies, I realized kids were actually remembering what they were supposed to be learning.  I used a lot of the strategies in small groups with my students drawing pictures, writing in pairs, drilling each other on usage, and playing high interest games that gave the vocabulary relevance.  Working in groups is fun for students and not only helps lower-skill level students, but also teaches the higher-skill level students valuable life skills.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I liked the suggestion of differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all students.  Something else that you might want to throw down if you are questioned that when you are assigning students project based instruction, you are doing so in the spirit of RTI, or Response to Intervention.  As each school district is having to account for their RTI initiatives as well as the steps taken in the spirit of RTI to help all students, project based learning could be one such steps.  The reality is that any teacher who is unwilling to embrace different approaches to teaching students is mired in a paradigm that is outdated.  With NCLB and its extensions going after so many teachers and schools, we should not be pointing fingers at one another and criticizing one another.  I would propose that our new paradigm should be helping one another to "outrun the bear" as opposed to being under it.

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

As English teachers, we can be extremely critical of each other, but as other posts have said if you are seeing good results from your project-based assignments and diversifying your methods by using them, then who cares what others think?

Obviously, everyone else who is not a traditionalist views project-based assignments as effective and a best practice.  For example, if you have gone through or come in contact with the National Board Certification process, much of its focus is on alternative assessments and project-based learning.

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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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My first suggestion is to stop hanging out in the teacher’s lunchroomJ. Project based learning is effective if there are specific goals and objectives for the unit that the projects are meant to assess or reinforce. Students must have a choice in their projects, however, or you run the risk of still forcing learning on them contrary to their learning style. Something I’ve used with success is a tic-tac-toe grid of activities that address multiple learning styles, and then I let students choose three of the activities in order to make a tic-tac-toe. The grid can also be laid out so that a learner must choose at least one activity outside of his or her comfort zone.

Frank Smith wrote a wonderful enlightening book entitled, The Book of Learning and Forgetting, and this will give you some more insight into the traditionalist philosophy of learning.

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archteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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If anyone asks you to justify your teaching practices, just say that project based learning allows you to "differentiate instruction".  The ones who know what differentiated instruction is will understand the benefits of your teaching method.  The ones who don't will be too embarrassed to ask for a definition. My favorite project is a student-created dramatization of the jury's deliberation from "To Kill a Mockingbird".  Since no one knows exactly what is said behind closed doors, the students have to fill in the blanks.  I have the struggling students look at Atticus's closing statements and pull out evidence and arguments.  The intermediate students look for pertinent information from the rest of the trial and find information about the kinds of people who would/would not be on the jury.  The advanced students "read between the lines" in the rest of the text (for example, they examine the veiled conversation at Aunt Alexandra's missionary society tea) to find other useful information about things that might have influenced the jurors.  Then, the students get together in groups of three to six and put all the information together before creating their scripts.  The advanced students wind up doing most of the analysis and synthesis, but the struggling students can participate when it comes to determining setting, creating characters, etc.

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lrwilliams | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

Project based learning is an excellent way to incorporate all learning styles. As some one with a special education background I have seen the benefits that special education students get from this type of learning. I also think that all students benefit from project based learning, not just lower level students.
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lynn30k | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

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It is good to read about your success. I'm a special educator who co-teaches at the high school level, and I know exactly what type of tradionalists you mean. The problem with their viewpoint, as I see it, is that they are coming from a time when the teaching was done for one style of learning--if kids did not learn the material and show their learning in a printed manner, too bad. I am far more interested in whether the kids are learning, than whether they can show me that they are in one set style. I think it is very sad that we lost a lot of no doubt very useful thought and work in the past, because not everyone was able to learn in the same way. You know you are doing the right thing. Maybe you can think of somewhere else you need to be when you sense the conversation heading down that street.

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drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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One of the things I discovered as an English teacher who used project-based learning and focused on standards and outcomes was that traditionalists definitely scoff at this! You are completely correct that PBL is a research-based best practice. You do not need the approval of those who don’t bother to keep current on best practice. You state that your principal is happy with your teaching and I imagine that is because your students’ outcomes are commensurate with the principal’s expectations. What I recommend is that you refrain from discussing your methods with colleagues UNLESS they indicate an interest. The public schools are rife with traditionalists, especially on the high school level, and they are like crabs in a barrel. When one crab starts to climb out, the rest will band together to pull it back down. This is an unfortunate but true fact and is one of the reasons why true, substantive education reform will never take root in the United States.

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tlb | High School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

I have a project for english Teachers (in any country)

It is based upon the writings of William Shakespeare - but does not use any one particular play - rather a summary of many lines of a variety of Plays - ordered to convey a contemporary idea - looking at the world today - and suggesting the implementation of a world standard for Business - the ISO 26000 Standard - such standard to be released in October of 2010.

this is a great opportunity to invest in our students the ideas of the past - identifying where we are - and where we might go as a civilization.

If you are interested I will forward to you the Three At Play entitled:

Shakespeares Arguements for the ISO 26000 Standard.

Our process is to ask Students to make presentation /interpretations - both writte  - and verbal in radio format or U-Tube.  We ask you to share this idea with other English Teachers as well.  there will be a rewards program established as we expand our process.



Mitch Gold


I would love to receive more information on this project.


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