This week is slightly less dramatic than last week before we took off for a week long break. But with the rise of project based learning, we thought we’d look at what it takes to achieve project based learning with students who have a lot of academic needs.
To start with, Project Based Learning, often called simply PBL, is an exploration that is designed to be student driven. Teachers may assign a specific topic and driving questions, but ultimately, the output is a presentation of the students’ findings. Typically students are in groups. All students in the group get to experience in planning, communicating, cross-cultural awareness, and leadership.
There are benefits to PBL, especially for students who are at the extreme ends of the learning spectrum. But it really does help to have some guides in place especially for a student who may have communication differences. And if you need a few refreshers about group work, with or without PBL, check out our blog post from 2013.
Facilitating when a student cannot get a word in
Sometimes, even in the early stages of a project, a student can just watch the ping-pong effect of conversation. Some students learning to listen is a significant skill. For others, learning to be part of a group is a goal. But when you notice the confusion on a student’s face, this is the time to start taking data. As a paraeducator, it isn’t really your job to stop the group and redirect to mention that the student(s) you support have not contributed or are confused.
But it is clear that you will have to step in anyway. If it is the first meeting, wait until a break time. Watching the student struggle with confusion is important too. Pause and check in during the break time, ask, “What did you understand from the conversation?”, “How do you think you can contribute to the group? “[Focus here on ideas], “Do you want help learning how to state your opinion in the group?”, and more importantly, “Your opinion matters, I can’t advocate in your group for you if you do not let them know you would like to speak.”
Something else we have found, though you may not be formally a part of the group, just sit back and take notes. This will help a student who may have a processing delay so they can review in a quieter space or check back in with group members when they remember the thing that they would like to contribute.
Participating and Follow Through
Again, here this is where you may not be able to help reinforce follow through. This one is a peer natural consequence. If a student needs to bring in a material for the project and fails to do so, their peers will not trust them. It is crushing if a student who has little interest in school does not hold up their end of the bargain. But that is a lesson that is needed to learn for job skills as well as social skills.
Help, Avoid Hoover
For students with less needs, or one who really is interested, sitting around the student while they work and looking for chances for the student to make a mistake or offering suggestions when you were not asked is not a great way to facilitate for a student with a disability. Wait until you are asked to come over. Even if you need to monitor for behavior or health, get up and walk a few steps away and circle back often instead. Giving the group the freedom to make a mistake and say, “Hey let’s try it this way.” Is a great strategy for all students. After all, this is their project.
PBL is coming to a school near you. No matter how young or old the students are, PBL is more than the product. It is dependent on research and the desire of the teams leading the research.
Find out more about PBL check out these sites:
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Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to be a guest blogger? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online here, here, here, here, and on our website. Paraeducate is a company interested in providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published weekly during the academic school year on Thursdays, unless a holiday. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.