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The Nine Components of Project Based Learning


What follows are, in my experience, the nine most critical component parts of PBL.


1. Alignment to both skills and content


All PBL should start first with a standard and the specific skills that must be learned to master that standard. Take care to include not just academic skills but also SEL and career-ready skills, which often overlap. Thanks to both the multi-faceted work process necessary for and collaborative nature of PBL, it’s naturally rich in opportunities to leverage career-relevant and SEL skill development, so long as they are built into the process with intention.


I frequently refer educators to the World Economic Forum, which routinely updates and publishes a list of the top 10 in-demand, future-ready career skills. Their current list of most in-demand career skills by 2022 includes: 1) analytical thinking and innovation, 2) active learning and learning strategies, 3) creativity, originality and initiative, 4) technology design and programming, 5) critical thinking and analysis, 6) complex problem-solving, 7) leadership and social influence, 8) emotional intelligence, 9) reasoning, problem-solving and ideation, 10) systems analysis and evaluation.


I also refer educators to the Technical Assistance Center of New York’s Life/Career Competencies Framework. It’s an excellent tool designed to help teachers identify life/career competencies and assess students' growth in each.


2. Authenticity


Authentic PBL has real-world application and provides students opportunities to link their learning in school to various career paths. When the crux of the project centers upon a problem with real-world relevance, students have the opportunity to use authentic resources—tools, technologies, and sources for research—as professionals would. Wherever possible, PBL should aim to leave room for students to bring in their personal interests and passions. 


3. Thought-provoking problem or question


The project centers around an essential and real-world question or problem whose answer or solution is neither binary nor black and white. Rather, the solution requires creative and original thinking, planning, and doing.


4. Student voice


As students complete the project, they are not only given the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions, but they are also expected to do so. Importantly, every student must have a voice, and groups of students should aim to give every team member equal time and opportunities to use their voices, to participate in decision-making and to share responsibility for the outcomes related to the task.


5. Student choice


Throughout the project, students can make decisions about their learning. For example, they can choose what type of project to complete, how they want to publish their project, how 


6. Rubric


The Buck Institute’s Project Based Teaching Rubric includes, at the most proficient level, the “Gold Standard PBL Teacher” column, which is a detail rich resource for educators working towards proficiency. But, many teachers express they are overwhelmed when they read this rubric. For those still practicing and experimenting with PBL, I encourage them to select a handful of the points from the Gold Standard column to work towards, rather than feeling like they must hit them all every time.


7. Time for reflection of learning


Teachers must take care to set aside time throughout the project to reflect with students on their learning. Reflection can happen in group or class discussion, through journaling, or through check-ins with individuals. As students reflect, teachers assess their progress so far, look for students/groups in need of additional support, and intervene as needed to guide groups through obstacles they may have confronted.


8. Feedback & revision


Prior to students submitting the final deliverable, students should receive formal critique of their work so far. Feedback can come from the teacher or from other students. From there, time is allotted for students to apply feedback in order to improve upon their project before completion.

9. Public audience


Upon project completion, students present in front of an audience of professionals or community members with expertise and/or employment in the industry/field pertinent to the project. Where an industry audience isn’t feasible, alternatives can include audiences comprised of students in other classes/grades, family members, or school staff.


Examples Premises of PBL


The following are premises I often share with teachers that can easily incorporate all nine components of PBL.


  1. Analyze a product developed by a company. Design a marketing campaign to encourage consumers to buy the product. Share campaigns with a company and ask their thoughts on its potential effectiveness.


  1. Analyze the building plans of a certain building. Collaboratively decide how to improve the design for efficiency or cost. Present plans to a builder for feedback.


  1. Collaboratively design a plan for school literacy night.


  1. Fourth grade, literacy project: Develop a business brochure. Students select a business in the community for which they will develop a brochure. Students learn about the business (its products, its customers, its prices, and so on) and then create a brochure for them. They share it with an employee of the business who gives them feedback. Students apply feedback and send the updated version back for approval. Once it’s approved, students print the brochure and present it to the business.


What are some of your favorite PBL premises? Or how can I help you come up with some for your class? I’d love to connect.


Website: Reflective Learning, LLC

Twitter: @Sherrystclair

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