Renew Your Year with Project Based Teaching
Reviewed by Jeny Randall
When I picked up Project Based Teaching, I was mired in end-of-trimester work. I didn’t have time to read. But Suzie Boss and John Larmer’s book not only drew me in, it provided the antidote for end-of-trimester fatigue.
Project Based Teaching offers strategies and protocols I can put in place immediately, but more than that it reminds me why I love teaching. I finished the book inspired to return to the work with renewed vigor and humor.
Boss and Larmer present a well-written and thoughtfully structured book. As much as the print format allows, they model excellent teaching for the reader by using diverse features. The result is a resource invaluable not only for those implementing Project Based Learning in their classrooms, but for any teacher intent on providing a “rigorous and engaging learning experience.”
The Seven Essential Project Design Elements
Project Based Teaching is structured around Seven Essential Project Design Elements. Each chapter focuses on one element, beginning with Building the Culture and progressing through other aspects including, design, assessment, scaffolding and coaching.
Boss and Larmer showcase the work of experienced PBL teachers and weave their class projects throughout the book. The featured projects range from kindergarten through high school and explore different content areas. More than a peek into the classrooms, these extended examples let readers come in, pull up a chair and watch the projects unfold.
Features to benefit teachers new to PBL as well as veterans
In addition to these case studies, other features enrich the reader’s learning experience. “Try this” sidebars offer activities to support PBL in the classroom. For example, “Map your formative assessment strategy” (p. 139) gives the process for outlining how standards and skills will be assessed throughout the project (with a blank template available online). The “On Your PBL Bookshelf” section at the end of each chapter provides additional resources targeted to each of the teaching practices.
Both those new to PBL and experienced educators will benefit from the “Coach’s Notebook” section in each chapter, which relays advice from veteran coaches to school leaders working to support teachers in implementing PBL. Photographs and tables throughout the book provide examples of projects in action from project boards to sample team contracts. Additional resources are available online.
Use now, revisit often
Aspects of Project Based Teaching are immediately applicable, including activities and protocols such as a “fist to five” (p.146) protocol for supporting students in reaching consensus. However, this is also a resource to keep on hand when designing a new project or reflecting at the end of a project just completed. Project Based Teaching has insight to offer those new to the practice of PBL as well as giving experienced PBL teachers opportunities to refine and deepen their practice.
The book touches on the integration of technology into PBL including some suggestions for digital tools that can be helpful in organizing and implementing a project.
As the authors explore scaffolding, they note how PBL can meet the needs of all learners. In addition to providing strategies for supporting diverse learners, the authors quote inclusion specialist and instructional coach Kristin Uliasz who notes that Project Based Teaching practices create “The kind of engaging and dynamic learning environment that is also known to best serve students with a wide range of disabilities.” (p.139)
Whether you are an experienced educator with several projects under your belt, or someone interested in starting small by applying aspects of project based teaching practices, or a school leader working to provide resources, this book will offer insight, tools, and resources to guide you on your way. I’ll be exploring right along with you.
Jeny Randall teaches 6th grade Language Arts and science at Saratoga Independent School in New York State. As Middle School Coordinator, she is overseeing the curriculum and program development for the new middle school. Outside of school she teaches yoga, reads whatever students send her way, and spends time with her family, outside if possible.