Assessing Individual and Group Learning in Projects

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student teamworkStudents, teachers, and parents commonly question how individual students will be assessed during project based teaching. In her book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss shares the following suggestions related to assessing individuals and groups throughout the project period (pp. 116-118):

  1. Clarify which components are assessed at the individual level and which components are assessed at the group level. Make these determinations as you plan your projects, and communicate with students. Give individual assignments greater weight that group tasks.
  2. Reinforce peer accountability. Use team contracts to identify roles and responsibilities, and use those contracts to empower student-to-student accountability. Provide opportunities for students to assess everyone’s contributions to the team. Make sure students know from the very beginning of the project that they will be asked to assess the work of every team member.
  3. Encourage reflection about teamwork. Throughout the project, ask students to journal or share about how things are going. This will allow you to “see” inside the team and make adjustments as needed.

As you prepare for upcoming projects, plan for assessment of individual student learning and group work. Share your thoughts with students even as you plan and ask them for feedback. Your overall assessment system will be richer, and your students will benefit greatly!

Project Management Tips

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project management toolsProject based teaching requires a considerable amount of planning in order to keep students on task and moving forward in productive ways. In her book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss shares the following suggestions to help manage time and maximize learning (pp. 98-101):

  1. Remove bottlenecks. Create many avenues for students to find answers during the project, so that work doesn’t halt because there are questions to be answered.
  2. Differentiate.  Some students will be able to manage their own time and tasks; others may require greater structure and chunking of tasks. Provide for all types of learners in your room.
  3. Go with the flow. Develop a system whereby students visibly note what they are working on during a given class period. Then you, the teacher, can walk around the room and see that students are engaging in during the class without interrupting their workflow.
  4. Use group work time strategically. Meet with students, observe, facilitate conversations, and/or offer mini-lessons to help students move forward in their projects. Plan how you will use your time while they are using their time.
  5. Build in reflection: Make reflection a natural part of the work taking place. Students can pause at regular intervals to think about what is going well, what is not going well, and question their next steps.
  6. Build in breaks. Mental breaks throughout a project period are important. They decrease stress and provide opportunities for additional creative thought.
  7. Flip your classroom. Provide instruction via video clips to be viewed as homework, and use the classroom time to provide feedback and help during student work time.
  8. Develop a “workshop” model. Have students present snippets of their project at regular intervals (once a week or once every two weeks) throughout the process. Give them the opportunity to gather feedback from others.

As you plan for next week, think about incorporating some of these tips into your classroom practice. Your students will benefit greatly!


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child singingCollaboration is an integral part of project based teaching and learning. At times it is difficult for students to find their place within the project team. In her book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss shares a simple assessment – SING – students can use (with the help of a teacher as needed) to determine an appropriate fit within the team (pp. 86-87):

  1. Strengths – What are your strengths? What can you do really well that could help the team?
  2. Interests – What are your interests? What things do you really like to do, read, research, and talk about?
  3. Needs – What are your needs? What do you help doing within the team environment or project environment?
  4. Goals – What are your goals? What do you hope to learn from this project? What will you do with what you have learned? Do you have a bigger vision of how this project fits within your learning path?

Teachers can use the information from the SING self-assessment to assign students into teams. Students can use the information from the SING self-assessment to help each other and assign necessary roles within the team.

As you prepare for end-of-the term projects, consider using the SING self-assessment with your students. It may be awkward at first, but you will learn much about their perceptions of their own skills and abilities, and you can use the information to build learning teams that will be successful. Your students will greatly benefit from your efforts!


Getting Started with Project Based Teaching

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StartingLine-1Some teachers struggle with project based teaching, because they are unsure of where to begin or how to generate ideas for projects. In her book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss suggests the following as potential project starters:

  1. Headlines.  The items that are making the news often interest students and provide opportunities to create projects. Scan your favorite news site for stories that might pique an interest.
  2. Popular culture. Listen to your students talking before and after the bell. What are they talking about? What movies are they seeing? Who are their favorite musicians and performers? These items provide great opportunities for projects.
  3. Real requests. Many students have connections with local employers via after school jobs or family relationships. These employers have needs that could be addressed through project based teaching. For example, a community reorganization committee may need to website to share information with stakeholders. Students could become involved in that type of project.
  4. Your own passions. Sometimes you as a teacher have interests that would engage students and become great projects. Share yourself with the students and see what kind of response you get.
  5. Collaboration.  Schools are filled with opportunities for collaboration and offer opportunities to address problems that impact students and staff alike. Be attentive to these moments. A few years ago, students at a nearby college became concerned about how much water was being used and how much waste was being generated from the dining hall. The students and faculty joined forces to examine the issue, gather real data, and make recommendations for improvement. The college accepted the student recommendations and reduced water use and waste in their dining halls.
  6. Existing projects. Many ongoing projects exist and are readily accessible via the internet. Enabling the Future, the International Education and Resource Network, the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education, and Out of Eden Walk offer ongoing project collaborations for students.

As you plan for next week, explore the opportunities you have for projects. Work with your students to select a project that will engage in new and exciting ways. You and your students will benefit greatly!



Take a Walk through the Gallery

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student gallery walkTwo summers ago my family and I had the pleasure of visiting the MIT Museum in Boston ( The museum displays technology developed by students and faculty, machines, and artwork. As we moved throughout the displays, we talked about the things we saw, pointing out items of interest and questioning things that didn’t quite make sense. We learned much from our exploration and dialogue.

In the book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss shares a “gallery walk” protocol for reviewing student works in progress, so that students receive quality formative feedback from a number of peer perspectives. Boss shares the following guidelines for a gallery walk (pp. 28-29):

  1. Post work to be reviewed on classroom walls or in digital stations. Make sure the artifacts are clearly visible.
  2. Provide students with sticky notes or a feedback guide to be used during the gallery walk.
  3. Explain the criteria for providing feedback. Use the project rubric as a checklist, and provide sentence starters for completion.
  4. Instruct students to move around the room silently to give feedback.
  5. After the gallery walk, have each student who received feedback share it with the class. Have the student reflect on the feedback and plan steps for improving the project.

Students may need to briefly present their project to reviewers during the gallery walk. Allow it. Students may want to provide specific prompts for feedback regarding their project. Allow it. The goal is for students to get their projects reviewed while in progress, so they can make adjustments along the way.

As you plan for next week, think about the things your students are working on. Do any of your classes have projects that would benefit from a gallery walk? If so, plan for about 20 to 30 minutes for such a session. Your students and their projects will benefit greatly.

Checking the Weather

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weather imageSeveral years ago I had the privilege of working with a veteran of the United States Air Force. When I asked about his role in the service, he informed me that he was an Airborne Climatologist who was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. He went on to explain that his job was to go up in the plane with the 101st while they were on a mission and monitor the weather to ensure that the climate was conducive to a safe deployment. He further explained the measurements and checklists he followed to ensure that the team would be able to safely and successfully execute their mission.

In the classroom, you are the climatologist. You can assess the environment to ensure that it is conducive to student learning. In the book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, author Suzie Boss shares the following checklist to help you audit your classroom to ensure a positive climate for learning (pp. 26-27):

  1. What students see: Do photos, posters, and artwork reflect students’ cultures and backgounds? Do students have choice regarding what is displayed? Is student work prominent?
  2. What students think and say: Are students’ thoughts captured and displayed on the boards or in classroom norms? Are works in progress displayed or only finished work? Are student supports (i.e. word walls, sentence frames, etc.) visible in the room?
  3. Seating arrangements: Is seating flexible, allowing for individual work, pairs, or other small groups? Does the classroom setup accommodate for students with special needs?
  4. Who owns the stuff: Are tools, books, and resources for learning readily accessible for students, or does the teacher control them?
  5. Learning in process: Is it evident what types of projects the learners are working on? Is the work of high quality? Are models available? Are rubrics visible?

Conduct a quick classroom audit as you prepare for next week. Make adjustments as you see fit. Ultimately, your classroom will become more conducive to learning, and your students will benefit greatly.

Essential Elements of Project Design

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student projectThe challenges of our rapidly changing world have caused educators, employers, and policy makers to think carefully about what it is that students should know and be able to do. There is significant agreement among these groups that students need content specific knowledge and skills such as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and problem solving (also known to us at the 21st learning skills).

What can teachers do to provide learning experiences to address these needs in ways that are student-centered, inquiry driven, personalized, performance-based, rigorous and engaging? Author Suzie Boss proposes an answer: Project Based Teaching. In her book Project Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences, Boss shares seven elements essential to project design:

  1. Challenging problem or question – Projects begin by identifying a question or problem significant to the student.
  2. Sustained inquiry – Projects will require a period of study and research to find answers to the question.
  3. Authenticity – Projects have meaning and relevance to students.
  4. Student voice and choice – Projects are student driven, and students have a variety of ways to gather and disseminate information.
  5. Reflection – Students have the opportunity to think about their learning and share their thoughts.
  6. Critique and revision – Students receive feedback from the teacher or others regarding the project. Students have the opportunity to update their projects based upon the feedback received.
  7. Public Product – Students need the opportunity to share their project with the class, school, and community as appropriate.

Think about the topics you need to cover in the next quarter. Do any topics lend themselves to project based teaching? If so, start thinking of ways that you offer students the opportunity to engage in such a learning experience. You and your students will be glad you did!