Posted by: darcymullin | April 15, 2011

Project Based Learning? Clear Targets Please.

As educators the movement toward project based learning is intriguing.  Having students construct their own learning is so powerful.  I have been moving to a student centered classroom and it  has been incredibly positive, however it has not been all smooth sailing.

In the last unit we did there was a stretch of three classes where kids were getting increasingly off task.  It started small, but inevitably it snowballed to the point where I was ready to scrap the whole project.  Rather than reacting, I reflected.  I wondered why the  kids had got off track, when they had been so into the project and were telling me that they were excited about it.  We needed to talk, so I thought it would be a great time to have a community circle and figure out where they were at. 

It was a crystallizing moment.  The first question I asked them was:  What is the purpose of our project?  Only 3 out of 26 could answer the question.  The didn’t have the purpose.  They were working on this project, but couldn’t articulate what they were doing and didn’t know why.  Without a clear target, they had no purpose.  Without purpose, how could I (or their peers) give them meaningful feedback?  Without meaningful feedback how could they move onto the next step of their learning?

Within minutes we clarified the purpose and they were back on task.  The class wasn’t off task because they were naughty, they were off task because they were lost.  They were off task because they were unable to access the learning.  Sometimes all it takes is sharpening their aim to get them back on track.  Even in open-ended assignments clear targets are essential.



  1. Great post Darcy! I really beleive strongly that in order to maximize the effectiveness of you assessments – be they formative or summative – there needs to be a clear picture of the leanring targets. Not all assessment methods are a good match for all targets; the art of assessment is to know how to match your methods to your targets.

    I think your post is a great example of how “open-ended” doesn’t mean “hands-off.” As the teacher you have to stay conencte dto the learning process and know when to intervene. Without clear targets you might send kids on a “road to nowhere” that loses it’s focus and results in limited – or no – progress.

  2. […] targets and Learning Goals are essential.  See this post for more clarification.  When students are navigating the information super-highway they can […]

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