What if?

This past week we were having discussions about research questions based on our classroom research project. I am researching if project-based learning increases students nonfiction comprehension. As we discussed the research that would take place, the surveys and questions I needed to ask my students, one question came up that stumped me.

What if a student does not like project-based learning?

My initial thoughts to the question:

  • children love project-based learning
  • children get to collaborate with peers
  • children are engaged in hands-on activities
  • children are in charge of their own learning

Those were some of the reasons that I wanted to use to defend the use of project-based learning and my desire to use the model in my classroom. I then really started to think about the question. What if one of my students does not like project-based learning? What would be some of the reasons?

Some reasons for not liking project based learning:

  • There is not a concrete product
  • It is not comfortable rote practice
  • You have to engage with peers
  • It is more than paper and pencil
  • There are several steps
  • There is a requirement of background knowledge

These are not all the reasons that students would not like project-based learning, but initial ideas I have for the question.

I then started to think about the project-based experience and the way my students engage in learning in the classroom. I want my students to independently make connections, use critical thinking skills and communicate with one another throughout the process. These are high expectations for second graders, but I believe are possible when structures are set in place.

John McCarthy wrote a blog Giving Students Charge of How They Learn. “When teachers trust students to lead their learning by giving more open-ended opportunities that challenge them to find their way, students will delve deeper into content and set their expectations higher than is required.”

McCarthy motivates the students to take responsibility for their learning. He recommends that students help in the process of developing the project, give the students 2 options and let them design a third choice (to be reviewed by the teacher). Have students engage in the design and creation of the rubric. When students are creating the quality of the assignment, they are more likely to follow the requirements compared to a teacher giving the assignment.

When students are given ownership of a project, they are (should be) excited about the process and the learning that will take place. This is not true of all students and takes me back to the question that started this blog post.

In my classroom, I need to have strategies to increase my student’s desire to complete a task. As educators we are models for our students, if I am not excited about an activity, then my students will feel the same way and I could project my feelings onto my students. I need to model what intrinsic motivation looks like for students and be a positive model.

Here is a resource with 27 ideas to encourage intrinsic motivation in your students.

How do you motivate your students?

What projects do your students enjoy?

What projects do your students dislike?

How much ownership do you give your students in the classroom?


3 thoughts on “What if?

  1. Thanks for sharing the awesome chart, Cara! It is definitely hard for me to give control to my students, but I have given them more freedom this year, especially in writing, and have seen some great results. My students are motivated by prizes and positive praise. I give out “Certificates of Excellence” that my students are SO proud of. I don’t have an answer for you as to why students might not like project based learning, but I definitely think working with peers can cause a stress. I have do to a lot of coaching on problem solving and working together when my students produce group work.


  2. Cara,

    Thank you so much for sharing this chart! It is a great way to focus on specific ways to help implement lessons, projects, and activities that build upon these ideas. I understand how important is to give your students choice but how to continue to motivate them. I have used more projects with my resource classes this year and took away many reflections from them. For example, I gave my students more choice of what recipe what wanted to use for their cooking project. Then the students would complete the same task chart of adding and subtracting the fraction amounts. Although, I found as my students began the project that it would have helped if I would have given them more freedom in how to present what they had learned and researched. It limited them to complete the add and subtract fraction chart only. I could have had given them guidelines and examples of specific tasks to determine their recipe’s new serving size, include own re-written directions of the steps to complete their recipe, and found the costs of the ingredients and fraction amounts needed to buy at the store of each ingredient.

    I think Whitney makes an excellent point about coaching her students on problem solving and working together. That is so important for the students to be able to work together and have specific roles to complete in the projects. That could help students work together to build their content knowledge and confidence in certain skills areas than just working independently. Thank you for your ideas and questions!!! I hope the passion projects continue to go well!


  3. Cara, reading your blog reminded me of how important it is to check in with our students on their likes and dislikes. Taking polls and surveys are a great way of checking in on interests and I think even the younger students can do this! I think some students, like us, like choice and freedom and some like more structure. Seeing what motivates and asking questions to make sure everyone is comfortable is a great place to start.
    The chart you posted provides a good visual reminder of ways to motivate teachers and students alike.


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