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The Teacher's Role During Project-Based Learning

April 2012 • Sue Jackson

This month's tip addresses student and teacher responsibilities, continuing our discussion of project-based learning. The question explored is: What is the teacher's role during project-based learning?

No doubt about it—project-based learning is both challenging and rewarding for the teacher. Projects build vital 21st-century skills and lifelong habits of learning. Student enthusiasm, confidence, social interactions, and motivation are noticeably improved during project work.

The teacher's role in project-based learning is twofold—sometimes the teacher acts as facilitator and sometimes as manager. In facilitator mode, the teacher works with students to frame relevant and meaningful questions and to present logical arguments, guides students in seeking answers and researching, structures knowledge-building tasks, coaches necessary social skills, and assesses student progress. As manager, the teacher directs small groups and independent work experiences. Often, there are multiple activities in the classroom at one time. For example, students may be viewing online simulations, conducting research in small groups, or collaborating with others in remote locations. The success of diverse opportunities certainly takes managerial skills.

Prior to launching a project, there are several steps you can take to support effective time management and organization; making your job as facilitator and manager easier.

    Asset Map
  1. Available Resources
    Think about 'who' and 'what' students might need while completing the project and inventory these resources. A helpful planning tool is an asset map. On the 'map', record school staff and community members as well as pertinent equipment, technology tools, texts, and materials available in the school and community. If you are working with a team of colleagues, determine each person's strengths and interests and then divide the project responsibilities to make the most of your team's talents.
  2. Student Groupings
    When creating groups remember that a good team requires a mix of skills. Heterogeneous groups allow students to learn from one another and expand social connections across the classroom. Plan carefully to ensure all students get the most out of their collaborations. You may want students to sign a contract with team members to identify working goals. Over the duration of a project, teams may work in different ways; sometimes members may work with the whole team, with partners, or individually. By making teamwork a focus of assessment, you can highlight the importance of cooperation, collaboration, and communication.
  3. Calendar
    Once you and the students have decided on the 'plan of action' for the project, it is advantageous to create a class calendar to help students see deadlines of upcoming milestones within the project. Use your class website, blog, or weekly email to share this calendar with parents. You might also consider using project logs or journals so that students can track their own progress by either checking off tasks to be completed or reflecting on their experiences.
  4. Assessment
    Throughout the duration of the project, you will check research notes, review rough drafts and plans, and meet with teams to monitor their progress. Decide on a range of formative assessment practices to aid in improving students' performances. Students need to learn that most people's initial attempts don't result in high quality work—revision and editing is a frequent feature of real-world work. Therefore, determine a process to provide feedback (teacher, peer, and self-assessment) so that students are able to use the feedback to make revisions. It is a good idea to co-create criteria for learning performances with students and then coach them in using rubrics and exemplars to critique one another's work. If possible, arrange for students to receive feedback from experts or adult mentors. For many students, the 'expert advice' seems more meaningful and encourages them to act on the feedback.
  5. Presentation Opportunities
    Since students will present their products to a real audience, you will want to assist them in creating the opportunity for this authentic presentation. Think about ways students can reach audiences who will benefit from the work they have generated.

Sue Jackson, a classroom teacher for 20 years, is an enthusiastic and innovative author, speaker, consultant, and educator.

Scholastic Education
National Literacy Consultant

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Also available online, previous Teaching Tips for
Scholastic Education resources:

Literacy Place for the Early Years (K–3)

Moving Up with Literacy Place (4–6)

Stepping Up with Literacy Place (7–9)

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