Experiential Learning: Teaching Language and Content through Projects

Overview | Workshop Format | Sessions | Resource Guide | Outcomes

Session 1
Introduction to the Workshop Series and Defining Good Projects (1.5 hours)

  • Overview of workshop series (goals, concept of supporting students to learn in the “challenge zone” and the “cone of learning” showing that students learn most by doing, connection to the Common Core State Standards).
  • Gallery Walk—Participants move in groups to four different stations (Types of Projects, Samples of Student Work, Project Overviews, and Project-based Curriculum Maps) taking notes on what they notice and questions they have.
  • Freyer Model—In order to arrive at an operational definition of a project, participants complete a Freyer Model graphic organizer in small groups (sorting cards that have been given to them) and then debrief as a large group.
  • What makes a good project?—Participants are asked to think about and discuss a memorable project they were part of at some point during school.  They then look at our “Guidelines for Projects” documents to see how the projects they remember align with those guidelines.

Session 2
Article Reading and Developing Ideas for Projects (1 hour)

  • Article Reading and Discussion Protocol. Participants Read the article: “7 Essentials of Project Based Learning” and do a Block Party Protocol for discussion.
  • Developing Ideas for Projects: After a discussion of the fact that standards lie at the foundation for all good projects, in discipline-based groups, participants look at three different sources for inspiration for projects (what is of interest to teenagers, what is happening in the community? And ways that a particular discipline is applied in the real world).

Session 3
Project Analysis (1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes)

  • Project Analysis Activity—Participants begin by looking at student work samples (3 different election campaign videos produced by students at The Flushing International High School).  In groups, they discuss the skills, language and content that a student would have needed to learn in order to produce these videos.  Then participants look at the actual project using a project analysis guide. Each group is responsible for presenting one part of the project analysis guide (e.g. what are the content and language objectives? In what ways does this project provide access to heterogeneous groups of students?  What formative assessments are used along the way?).
  • If there is time, each discipline can then sit together and use the same Project Analysis Guide to look at a project from their own discipline.

Session 4
Addressing the Pitfalls of Project-Based Learning (1.5 hours)

  • In this workshop, participants look at four different scenarios that describe common pitfalls of project based learning (lack of knowledge of collaborative skills among students, weak project organization, weak project conclusion, and lack of differentiation).  At each station, participants read a scenario describing a teacher who is experiencing a particular pitfall.  Participants then are asked to divide up the 6-8 resources at their station, read them, and share with one another what they learned from the documents they reviewed in order to collaboratively craft a recommendation to that teacher.
  • When each group has rotated through all of the stations, each group is asked to present the station where they are currently sitting.  Other groups add to that presentation with ideas they discussed.

Session 5
Higher Order Thinking and Driving Questions (1 hour and 45 minutes)

  • This session deepens participants’ knowledge of what higher order thinking is and how it differs from lower order thinking.  Through a series of hands-on activities, we review the difference between difficulty and complexity and show participants examples of how complex work that is well scaffolded can be done with students who know little English or may be new to schooling.  Participants engage in activities that get at the definition of higher order thinking and convert activities from lower order to higher order.  They also look at a project in their discipline to identify ways in which lower order thinking activities can support students towards being able to engage in higher order thinking ones.
  • In following up to the activities on higher order thinking, participants look at what a driving question is and the importance it plays in providing cohesion and motivation to a project.  We review types of driving questions, examples of general questions changed to driving questions, and have participants work on changing general questions in their discipline to driving questions.  Finally, participants, working in discipline groups, choose to work on a project together and develop a driving question for it.  Work on this collaborative project continues in subsequent workshops.
  • For homework, participants develop a driving question for their own project they are planning to teach.

Session 6
Content Objectives (1 hour and 10  minutes)

During this workshop, we review the importance of establishing clear objectives for any project and criteria to establish those objectives.  Drawing on the work of Doug Lemov, we review the “4 Ms” (objectives must be measurable, made first, most important, and manageable) and have participants work to change weak objectives into strong ones on the basis of those criteria.  Participants then develop content objectives for the project they are working on collaboratively.  For homework, they are assigned to develop content objectives for their own project.

Session 7
Discipline-based Language (1 hour and 10 minutes)

Prior to supporting participants in developing effective language objectives that reinforce and align with content objectives, this session has participants look closely at the language demands of their own discipline and how they might differ from other disciplines.  Participants read an excerpt from Jeff Zwiers’ book Building Academic Language: Essential Practices for Content Classrooms about the particular use of academic language in their own discipline in conjunction with a table of school related genres developed by Pauline Gibbons.  From these two sources, and a table of common language functions and structures, participants start thinking about not just their discipline as a whole,  but also about the project they are collaboratively designing and what the language demands of that project are.  During this session, participants also have an opportunity to review and discuss examples of International High School curriculum excerpts from their discipline that effectively teaches a language function that students will need to do the project.

Session 8
Developing Effective Language Objectives (1 hour and 30 minutes)

In this session, participants build on the designing effective objectives activities they did during session 6 and learn how to design language objectives that go beyond looking at vocabulary and grammar.  Knowledge and ability to use academic language have been shown to be crucial to students’ ability to achieve a high level of work and to master the Common Core State Standards.  This session provides participants with the tools to analyze the language demands and opportunities within a project and to establish clear objectives that align with and reinforce content objectives.  Participants are provided with examples of language and content objectives for projects in their discipline and are supported in developing language objectives that align with the content objectives they developed during session 6.  For homework, participants are asked to design language objectives for their own project.

Session 9
Motivating Activities and Presentations of Project Plans (1 hour and 45 minutes)

  • This session provides participants with an understanding of the importance of introducing a project with a motivating activity that not only hooks students and captures their interest, but also provides them with accessible language and concepts that provide a foundation from which they can learn the more complex academic language and concepts needed to fully engage in the project-based unit.  After reviewing multiple examples of different types of motivating activities that can work across content areas, participants design a motivating activity for the project they are working on collaboratively.  For homework, they design a motivating activity for their own project.
  • During the second part of this session, discipline groups present the project they have been working on collaboratively to other groups for feedback.  Presentations consist of: objectives and alignment to Common Core State Standards, Driving Question, Motivating Activity, and Sample Daily Objectives and daily activity that gets at those objectives.

Session 10
Formative Assessment (1 hr and 50 minutes)

This workshop begins with a scenario in which a teacher is surprised during final presentations to learn that his students did not understand some of the most important and central concepts of the unit.  After reviewing some guidelines for formative assessments, participants look at a resource that provides many different examples of formative assessments that can be used across content areas.  Each discipline group is given a week’s worth of daily content and language objectives and activities for a project and are asked to design a formative assessment that can provide information to the teacher about how well students at all levels are achieving the objectives.  After participating in this exercise for a sample project, participants then break down one week of the project they are working on collaboratively, designing language and content objectives for each day, a sample activity, and a sample formative assessment that provides information about students’ growth towards the daily objectives.  For homework, students do this same activity for their own project.

Session 11
Using the Internationals Project Planning Template (1 hour and 30 minutes)

This workshop brings together many different activities and information that participants have been learning over the past few weeks.  We begin by closely reviewing the Internationals Project Planning Template that supports teachers in backwards planning of a project from the Common Core State Standards.  Participants then spend time in their disciplines reviewing a sample of a completed project planning template for a project in their discipline.  Finally, they complete a blank template for the project they are working on in their discipline.

Session 12
Creating a Detailed Project Plan (1 hour and 35 minutes)

This workshop builds on the last session by supporting participants in delving more deeply into the day to day planning of a project.  After sharing their project planning templates for their own project (homework assignment from Session 12), participants review a sample detailed project planning outline for a project in their discipline.  This plan breaks down the unit content and language objectives by weekly language and content objectives and further breaks the weekly content and language objectives into daily ones with activities and assessments that move students towards those daily objectives.  After reviewing the sample detailed plan for a project in their discipline, participants break the unit objectives into weekly objectives and break down a week of the project into daily language and content objectives, daily activities, and daily formative assessments.   For homework, students complete a similar template for the project they are working on individually.

Session 13
Sharing and Feedback on Individual Daily Project Plans (1 hour and 15 Minutes)

  • During this session, participants each get a chance to share their detailed project plans for one week of their project and to get feedback from a small group of colleagues.  Each person also has the chance to hear at least three other presentations and provide feedback on them.
  • The session ends with an evaluation of the whole workshop series.