A How-to Guide for Student-Driven PBL

Authentic Project-Based Learning in Grades 9-12: Standards-Based Strategies and Scaffolding for Success
By Dayna Laur
(Routledge/Eye On Education, 2020 – Learn more)

Also see our review of Laur’s edition for Grades 4-8.

Reviewed by Susi Durand 

How can I design learning experiences which unleash my students’ engagement? How can I inspire my students to reach for deep content knowledge? How can I prepare my students for success in the world beyond the classroom walls and into the future? In just one hundred and fifty-five pages, Dayna Laur’s Authentic Project-Based Learning in Grades 9-12 outlines how to answer these questions in any subject area.

I am a middle school teacher who chose this book because I participated in a project-based learning workshop earlier this year, and I was totally sold on its potential to transform my teaching and energize my students’ learning.

However, the impact on students of the first project-based learning unit I created following that workshop was underwhelming. I needed to revisit the whole process and Dayna Laur’s extensive background in authentic PBL caught my eye.

Book Structure

Laur packs eight chapters with learning sciences-based practical examples that cover how you:

1. Create authentic challenge projects.
2. Connect content standards to students’ real-life situations.
3. Use technology to augment student-centered learning.
4. Generate authentic and relevant reading and writing experiences.
5. Build formative assessments to fine-tune authentic project-based learning.
6. Design complex (and not complicated) learning activities.
7. Develop key real-world competencies while covering content.

Chapter 8 answers frequently asked questions about authentic project-based learning. I would recommend that you start by reading this chapter if you are new to this approach. It will provide you with a conceptual framework.

Each chapter begins with an overarching challenge question modeling the complex questions which ignite student learning and ends with a ‘Time to Reflect’ organizer. This organization makes Laur’s book an excellent opportunity for a teacher PD book club read. The tables in each chapter provide clear and actionable information and resources, and the appendices are a treasure trove of tools and activities to help foster active engagement throughout the secondary grades.

Designing an authentic project-based learning unit

In the authentic project-based learning process, Laur identifies five assessment-based stages:

1. Challenge and Purpose
2. Inquiry and Ideas
3. Context and Perspective
4. Actions and Consequences
5. Options and Opportunities

The accompanying questions for each stage serve as a guide in the design process. The unlimited scope to personalize learning generated by this inquiry was both stunning and empowering.

The complex thinking that authentic project-based learning fosters in students mirrors the complex thinking Laur’s book generated in me. I was only able to read one chapter each day before spending hours while gardening, working out, or doing chores thinking about my own teaching practice and how to make it more student-centered.

I like that the book is written in the first person and sprinkled with numerous personal anecdotes. The resulting informality of the tone makes this multi-layered pedagogical approach feel more attainable.

The depth and breadth of the information definitely solicit more than one reading: I read it once to get an overall understanding, then went back and reread it chapter by chapter as I planned a seventh-grade English class unit using the book Refugee by Alan Gratz as a case study.

Dayna Laur’s Authentic Project-Based Learning in Grades 9-12 is an excellent choice if you are looking to either adopt project-based learning or explore ways to enhance a student-centered approach in your classroom.

Susi Durand has been teaching middle and high school students in the U.S. and abroad for over fifteen years. Previously, Susi developed curriculum for the Global Assessment Certificate – an ACT university preparation program for ESL students. A National Geographic certified teacher, she holds a Masters in Learning Sciences and Technology. She tweets from @susi4ed.

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