This infographic expounds the defining characteristics of project based learning, including learning through projects, collaboration, and real-world skills; the benefits it offers in language and literacy acquisition for English speakers, ELLs, SELLs, and students with disabilities; and illuminates its compatibility with universal design for learning instruction. According to the author, project based learning, or PBL, improves language and literacy by giving students extensive opportunities and motivation to use academic language and literacy in collaborative discussions, final reports and reflections, and while listening to others; consistent listening and speaking components have been shown to improve reading and writing. In its design, PBL utilizes much of the UDL framework, providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression by engaging students in challenging and intriguing projects. The author concludes with a reflection on the implications of PBL in the classroom, emphasizing that in order for instruction to be successful, it must be well-planned, scaffolded, and differentiated to meet each students’ individual learning style and needs.
Keywords: project based learning (PBL), universal design for learning (UDL), language and literacy
Project Based Learning
Learning through projects
Students learn content area material through hands-on projects that can last for a week or a semester (Buck Institute for Education). Projects are authentic, content based, and challenging, engaging students in inquiry learning motivated by a relevant and intriguing problem.
Students work collaboratively to problem-solve and create a final product that is thorough and of high quality. Projects may involve or be presented to members within the community, allowing students to connect with the larger society around them.
Project based learning teaches students skills beyond content area material, such as collaboration, time management, progress management, decision-making, communication, and reflection (Boss, 2011).
Buck Institute for Education
“Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge”
Project Based Learning
AID LITERACY AND LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
PBL can help students master the vocabulary in a content area so that they are better equipped to understand texts for that content area.
Knowing content area vocabulary can help students be more successful readers because "when students understand the terminology of a discipline or topic, they are more likely to understand a reading containing that vocabulary” (Hinchman & Sheridan-Thomas, 2014).
PBL provides rich opportunities for context-driven conversations. PBL motivates the use of academic language so students can communicate ideas accurately and efficiently. With this kind of motivation and immediate feedback, students can develop content area language and literacy much faster without feeling encumbered by vocabulary lists and sentence structures to be memorized.
Students communicate with each other, the teacher, and even community members allowing them to practice and use academic language and content area oracy.
Because PBL requires significant amounts of collaboration, students are regularly engaged in conversation about problem solving and content area information. This exposure helps students learn sounds of words, recognize new words and store them in their listening vocabulary, giving them more success when reading and writing (Lems, Miller, & Soro, 2017).
Project based learning gives students the opportunity to write reports and reflections on what they have learned. This allows students to practice and improve their writing and literacy.
The listening and speaking aspects of PBL can help students improve at writing and spelling since these heighten students' phonological awareness, resulting in improved literacy (Lems, Miller, & Soro, 2017).
Hinchman & Sheridan-Thomas
“Discussion is critical, as comprehension is strengthened in the company of the ideas of others”
Project Based Learning
FOR ENGLISH SPEAKERS, ELLs, SELLs, AND STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES
Universal Design for Learning &
Multiple means of engagement
PBL provides engagement through authentic and challenging questions and projects. These intriguing and inquiry based projects activate the affective networks in the brain and provide multiple means of engagement for students. Projects can be made relevant to students' cultures, backgrounds, and interests, making them applicable and interesting for all students.
According to Kathleen Hinchman and Heather Sheridan-Thomas (2017), universal design for learning can help students "connect their cultural backgrounds to new learning" (p. 335), including the learning of language and literacy. This is important for all students, particularly ELLs and SELLs as these students are most likely to have diverse backgrounds.
Multiple means of representation
PBL includes visual, auditory, and kinesthetic components within the representation of information and material. Students have access to information in multiple ways, activating the recognition networks in the brain. When provided diversified forms of representation, students do not need to rely on literacy and oracy alone to obtain information. Instead, concepts can be understood visually and kinesthetically, allowing students to connect the language with the actual thing, action, or idea. UDL and PBL give students who are learning language and literacy "the opportunity to draw the new word, say it, write it down, or even physically demonstrate it," increasing the likelihood that "students will understand, retain, and use the word" (Lems et al., 2017, p. 206). In short, UDL and PBL improve language and literacy for all students, particularly for ELLs, SELLs, and students with disabilities.
Multiple means of action and expression
PBL uses multiple means for action and expression, meaning that the strategic networks of the brain are actively engaged throughout the process. For their projects, students may need to write a report or reflection, build a structure, conduct an experiment, or give a presentation. Each of these forms of expression gives students a platform to practice their literacy and oracy. Collaboration allows students to have immediate feedback from peers or instructors on their literacy and oracy skills. In a mutually respectful environment, students will be able to correct or clarify the use of language to express ideas, immediately improving language use overall. Written reports and final reflections allow students to self-assess and receive formal feedback from the teacher on literacy skills. These formal and informal modes of feedback work together to improve language and literacy for all students.
Project Based Learning
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE CLASSROOM
Universal design for learning is an imperative and reasonably inseparable component of project based learning. The UDL framework for instruction is significant because “to learn we need to care about what we are learning and want to learn it; we need to take in and build knowledge; and we need to develop skill and fluency in our actions” (Gordon, 2014, p. 56). When students are engaged in meaningful, hands-on activities, they are absorbed in multiple forms of representation, including visuals such as diagrams, pictures, and videos; auditory information such as collaborative discussions and video representations; and kinesthetic activities such as building structures or experimenting with different materials. This is important because students learn in countless different ways and in order to instruct them effectively, teachers must accommodate these different learning styles. Project based learning, or PBL, is an excellent vehicle for UDL instruction as it provides rich opportunities for engagement, representation, and action and expression. It also reflects the way that people learn and work in the world, giving students the ability to “apply their natural tendencies to the learning process” (Boss, 2011). Still, if PBL is to be effective, teachers must prepare themselves and their students to be successful with this type of learning model.
Project based learning involves many different pieces of design and instruction, meaning that PBL must be planned for and implemented carefully and intentionally. John Mergendoller emphasizes that students “have to be prepped to do PBL successfully” (Boss, 2011) and that teachers should consider the requirements of the project and the abilities of their students when planning for project based learning. UDL can help to support students with the gathering and processing of information as they work towards mastering the thinking strategies involved in PBL. As a teacher, I will need to think critically about the projects that I lead my students through to ensure that they are achieving the intended learning goals and that they are equipped to successfully complete the project. This may require completing a few small projects to teach students higher order thinking skills and problem-solving strategies. When they are comfortable with this type of inquiry learning, I will be able to introduce more complex projects. In every case, I need to ensure that I am providing the correct scaffolds, differentiation, and UDL instruction to support successful learning experiences.
Boss, S. (2011, September 20). Project based learning: What experts say. Retrieved on September 5, 2018 from