How Can Project-Based Learning Accelerate Literacy Development?

Every classroom project incorporates literacy in a different way. When teachers use project-based learning activities to increase literacy development, they can ensure that students not only meet content standards but also stay engaged while learning. The best projects ask students to be creative with classroom material, ask questions and demonstrate what they have learned.

There are many ways to get students to write about what they are learning; these writing activities demonstrate the importance of written communication in daily life. Teaching literacy through projects helps connect students to the outside world, which models the value of school and literacy. This connection can be an important turning point in students’ lives because students work harder when they see they have the ability to create change.

Project-Based Learning Creates Active Learners

Literacy activities for project-based learning teams should offer students texts that contain answers to questions that interest them. In the process of finding these answers, students should also identify other new things they learn. Afterward, discussion groups allow students to compare their findings with their classmates’ and determine if they want more information. Edutopia recommends the following pair of resources for these activities:

  • “Newsela offers a menu of nonfiction articles from daily news sources, presented at five different reading levels. That means diverse readers, grades 3-12, can read about — and be better prepared to think critically about — timely issues such as climate change, Supreme Court decisions, or the public health response to Ebola.”
  • “CommonLit offers teachers a free collection of articles, short stories, poems, and historical documents, organized into cross-cutting themes such as ‘Justice, Freedom, and Equality.’ Intended for middle-school readers, materials are sorted into three reading levels. That means all students can engage with texts and contribute to discussions and other project activities.”

In addition to actively reading articles, there are many other literacy activities that engage students, including Reader’s Theater, literature circles and writers’ workshops. These workshops are particularly effective because students learn how real writers write, revise, discuss and edit their work. This experience puts students in control of their literacy education.

Using Writing in Project-Based Learning

Teaching literacy through project-based learning depends entirely on writing activities. Writing is about thinking; to engage students in critical and creative thinking, teachers must ask them to write often, for different reasons, in many forms and for many audiences. They must also share their writing, respond to others’ writing and learn to receive feedback.

Students should come to expect that they will think and respond in writing. Meaningful writing experiences involving real audiences lend authenticity to writing assignments, and true student engagement is based on respect for classroom activities.

Ensure Learning Value

Some projects may look academically sophisticated, but they are really only busywork in disguise. Project-based learning, on the other hand, is a genuine learning activity offering real student engagement rather than activities to fill class time. There are seven essential rules of good project-based learning for teaching literacy:

  1. Ensure students have the information they need to pursue a topic.
  2. Introduce a driving question that students can discover.
  3. Give students voice and choice in what or how they will investigate.
  4. Help students build collaboration and communication skills.
  5. Let students develop their own questions.
  6. Use a formal process for feedback and response so students know what to expect.
  7. Show students how to set goals and make plans for a public presentation of what they learn.

Project-based learning helps students develop communication and collaboration skills in technological, knowledge-based environments. When students learn in an interconnected manner like this, they learn to ask their own questions and find their own answers.

Learn more about the CSUSM online MA — General Option Degree with a Focus in Literacy program.


Edutopia: Make Literacy a Focus of PBL

Educational Leadership: Seven Essentials for Project-Based Learning

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