Project-Based Learning and Teaching Writing

All, Education, Teaching, Top, Writing

It might seem odd to talk about project-based learning in the context of teaching writing, but I believe very strongly that these are not separate ideas. If the best way to improve writing, as I believe, is to experience a lot of different types of writing and practice a lot of different types of writing then PBL is a great way to teach writing. Plus, there is a lot of writing in PBL classrooms. There is reflective writing and purposeful writing during the work of the project as well as polished writing for the final project. But what makes PBL writing so great is that it is all writing for a reason – there are no weird, made-up, school-based genres — and that writing is create for a specific audience and intended for a specific rhetorical purpose (inform, argue, etc.).

I make an argument for “Why Project-Based Learning?” on my blog, but ultimately it comes down to intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation for me. I want my students to want to write, to work, to learn because they care about the topic not because I assigned it – I want passion projects not assignments. Those of us working in PBL classrooms are fighting the system and the systematic conditioning of our students (see Paulo Freire’s The Banking Concept of Education) to see learning as something we “deliver” to them. I never want my students to see learning as a passive experience.

I am not alone. Dave Cormier writes (and talks and teaches) about rhizomatic learning as have many others. I do not want to be the expert in the room or the sage on the stage. I want to learn and grow with each class I “teach” and the best way to do that is to have my students become the teachers and collaborators. In this way, they own the material in ways they never will if their learning was a passive experience and we learn so much more than I can teach them all by myself.

One of the things I hate so much about our current national obsession with test scores is that these tests can only scratch the surface of what our students know and put far too much focus on surface knowledge as a result. What kind of thinkers and doers to you want your students to be? Think about Bloom’s taxonomy. Where do you want your students to fall? PBL gives us so many more ways to evaluate our students and their knowledge. We can evaluate their process and what they learn as well as the final result and, best of all, we choose how much weight we give each of these things. We make it about the learning – can a worksheet or multiple-choice test do that? Ultimately, I want to make my students life-long learners and to teach them that learning is about the journey and not the destination.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of teaching writing using project-based learning?

2 comments

  • Good on ya, Deanna. I came to this post via Brad Miller and #CLMOOC (which you should join in on this summer).

    I teach freshman composition to mostly at-risk students. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that we do not read enough different kinds of texts (including audio and video) and that we do not write nearly enough different kinds of text. Nor do we appreciate the kinds of ‘text’ that students already do a lot of.

    My problem is that I believe that if we unleash PBL (and we should) that we have to unleash the structures that now control us. No one becomes a good writer by being locked into someone else’s straitjacket. Discipline is a mostly an intrinsic attribute. What we do by making it almost entirely extrinsic is create a bunch of teacher pleasing, strategic students. I see them at my teaching level all the time.

    Of course, in most classrooms we steal this time to become better readers and writers. And the students sense it, I think. Yet…I think we must keep on. Thanks for the post and you keep on!

  • Hi Deanna, just stumbled across this in my quest to find materials for a “make” in the Write Now! MOOC. We have encountered one another in other spaces… As one PBL advocate to another, keep up the good fight!

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