This is the fourth of four posts about project-based learning and the most commonly used frameworks for effective teaching. In my first post, I talked about how teachers can move from traditional teaching to project-based learning without totally reinventing their practice because PBL aligns with the frameworks for effective teaching already used by many schools, districts, and other organizations.
That’s my basic message for these posts: teachers, if you’re effective, you are already doing most of the things you’d need to do to implement PBL successfully. All of the aspects of effective instruction in these two frameworks apply in a PBL context. You just need to apply them in the context of managing a project rather than in a series of lessons in a traditional unit.
In my second post I focused on planning, which is found in both the Danielson and Marzano frameworks, and in my third post, I discussed the domain of instruction.
Danielson calls the domain we’re looking at in this post “The Classroom Environment” and Marzano calls it “Conditions for Learning.” Although the two frameworks have some differences, they both align with three of the Project Based Teaching Practices we discussed in the first of my posts on this topic: “Manage Activities,” “Engage and Coach,” and “Build the Culture.”
Let’s look at each framework, and I’ll note how they apply to PBL.
Alignment with the Danielson Framework for Teaching
The Danielson Group lists five components of “The Classroom Environment”:
2a. Creating an Environment of Respect and Rapport
In Project Based Teaching, teachers build a culture based on honoring all students’ voices, and students are encouraged to respectfully share ideas and engage in constructive conversations. Norms for the classroom are co-created with students, who hold each other mutually accountable for following them.
2b. Establishing a Culture for Learning
Here I can quote from the Project Based Teaching Rubric, which I co-created a few years ago. In the “Build the Culture” row, it says: “The values of critique and revision, persistence, rigorous thinking, and pride in doing high-quality work are shared, and students hold each other accountable to them.”
2c. Managing Classroom Procedures
Here are three indicators from the “Manage Activities” row of the Project Based Teaching Rubric:
- The classroom features a balanced mixture of individual and team work time, whole group and small group instruction.
- Classroom routines and norms are followed during project work time to maximize productivity.
- Realistic schedules, checkpoints, and deadlines are set but flexible.
2d. Managing Student Behavior
I’ll start by making a bold claim that I’ve seen to be true in classrooms: during an engaging project, student behavior is typically better than it is when they are bored and disengaged by traditional instruction. Here are two indicators from the “Build the Culture” row of the Project Based Teaching Rubric:
- Students work collaboratively in healthy, high-functioning teams, much like an authentic work environment; the teacher rarely needs to be involved in handling problems.
- Norms to guide the classroom are co-crafted with students, which they largely self-monitor.
2e. Organizing Physical Space
In a PBL classroom, students typically need tables for teams to work together, and one section of the room may be where small-group workshops or meetings with the teacher take place.
Alignment with the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model
The Marzano framework lists the following seven elements in the domain of “Conditions for Learning”:
1. Using Formative Assessment to Track Progress
2. Providing Feedback and Celebrating Progress
Both of these are essential in PBL. Check out these three indicators in the “Engage and Coach” row of the Project Based Teaching Rubric:
Formative assessment is used regularly and frequently, with a variety of tools and processes. Structured protocols for critique and revision are used regularly at checkpoints; students give and receive effective feedback to inform instructional decisions and students’ actions. Regular, structured opportunities are provided for students to self-assess their progress and, when appropriate, assess peers on their performance.
3. Organizing Students to Interact with Content
PBL teachers decide when students need to work individually or in teams. Temporary small groups may be formed to become “experts” on a topic, then return to their project team. Other groupings may occur during a project, such as when certain students need a workshop or skill-building lesson.
4. Establishing and Acknowledging Adherence to Rules and Procedures. (See 2d above.)
5. Using Engagement Strategies
This one’s basically a given in well-designed PBL. The project is based on an authentic and engaging problem, issue, or challenge. The class regularly revisits the project’s driving question and the corresponding list of student questions that guide their investigation, maintaining engagement.
6. Establishing and Maintaining Effective Relationships in a Student-Centered Classroom
Close teacher-student relationships are natural – and even essential – in PBL. They’re working side-by-side to answer an open-ended question or meet a challenge. The teacher sometimes acts in a coaching relationship.
7. Communicating High Expectations for Each Student to Close the Achievement Gap
The PBL teacher-as-coach is a “warm demander.” Students know the teacher is on their side and is there to support them, which allows the teacher to push them toward higher achievement.
I hope I’ve convinced you that there is a lot of overlap between PBL teaching and the commonly used frameworks for teacher professional development and evaluation. Of course, teachers usually need to learn new practices when they begin using PBL. They may need to reconsider their beliefs about what and how students should learn. But they can begin their journey with small steps on a path that may seem more familiar than they thought it was going to be. Remember, the path gets easier the further along you go, and the rewards for student learning are great!
About the Author: John Larmer is a project-based learning expert. In his 20 years at the Buck Institute for Education/PBLWorks, he co-developed the model for Gold Standard PBL, authored several books and many blog posts, and contributed to curriculum and professional development. John is now the Senior PBL Advisor at Defined Learning.