Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to watch multi-grade project based learning (PBL) in action at Astoria Lutheran School in Queens, NY. It was a wonderful day of affirming their school model and helping identify next steps with the faculty of the school. As I observed PBL in action in preparation for afternoon conversations with the faculty, it occurred to me that that this school was being intentional not just about connecting PBL to standards but also in building specific learning strategies with their students across the grades.
Through this observation I noted four aptitudes that may be intentionally built over time with PBL. These skills include:
- Questioning: In A More Beautiful Question, Warren Burger cites research that shares that the average early childhood student asks eighty questions a day at school, but by the time a student reaches middle school that number drops to a mere nine. Strategies across the grades that intentionally support ongoing student questioning and research need to be identified for greater PBL success.
- Research: The teachers of Astoria Lutheran clearly established research strategies for various grade levels, building expectations for greater depth and independence over time. In order for this task to be successful, time must be identified for teachers to collaborate on the research building process throughout the grades.
- Reflection: This might be the one element that is most often left out of PBL skill building. How are students learning to reflect on their work across the grades, and what are they doing with their reflections? How are the teachers reflecting on the PBL process and results? Are they being intentional about modeling this for their students? Strong PBL practice necessitates deep reflection and application of this learning.
- Audience: As students progress with PBL, are the audiences for their work become more intentionally expansive? How are new audiences for work identified? What new connections with the school community and the community at-large can be built?
Clearly we want our students to grow in their own deep learning through PBL. But don’t forget about the long-term skills that can also be developed through the year. Being intentional about building these skills will better prepare students for the challenges they will face beyond your school as adults. It was wonderful to spend the day with the staff at Astoria Lutheran, to learn from them, and to celebrate their growth with PBL.