When you start working with project-based learning in school, there are often curious questions about how all students can be included in the project. Many teachers and educators are challenged by the concern that it might become too unstructured and that some students may not fit into the projects.
Through collaboration with various special schools experimenting with PBL, we have gained a wealth of valuable insights and ideas on how both students and staff can perceive PBL as an empowering platform that supports and challenges all students regardless of their interests and abilities.
Here is a selection of the experiences that schools have had:
Ranks at the top of the school's priorities. Students need to feel safe in order to have the desire and courage to participate and contribute. Students feel safe at different times and in different ways, and it's a process that cannot and should not be rushed. Each student determines their own pace.
Many students need frequent breaks and have difficulty finding the focus to concentrate. During the project, however, many were surprised by how many students increased their level of concentration. One reason for this was that students felt the project was meaningful to them. It opened up a natural sense of joy and curiosity among the students, and they were driven by the desire to continue.
Project and Schedule
A school day built around a project opens up the possibility of more flexible days and doesn't necessarily need to be divided into subjects. This provides students with the opportunity to check in and out of class during the day, while still keeping up with the content. A variety of tasks in the project can be organized via a scrum board, where students have the opportunity to work at their own pace and with the tasks needed to be completed in the project. This gives students a sense of belonging to the community while meeting their individual needs.
Working with Experts
Inviting external "experts" into the school can seem disruptive and intimidating for students. Schools had therefore made significant preparatory efforts to prepare all "experts" so they were familiar with the students' needs and clear expectations were set. This preparatory work laid the foundation for successful collaboration. The external "experts" were very skilled at meeting all the students at their individual levels and had an appreciative and inclusive approach to the students. This increased the students' enthusiasm and participation in almost all activities. Students saw the experts as role models and helped them believe in their own abilities.
Student Competencies and Participation
Creating an environment where students are asked insightful investigative questions helps them take ownership and actively participate in learning. It is a natural part of interaction with students to be curious to hear their questions, answers, and solutions. Having a deep insight into students' individual competencies opens up for their input and knowledge to become relevant for the project's success.