Revision in the PBL Process...Part 1

After using project-based learning for a full school year, I have found that getting students to critique and revise their projects is a struggle.

We all know that it is an essential part of any process that involves a final product, but some of my students do not seem to see the benefit of revising their work before submitting it, which means that I end up with projects that seem more like a rough draft than a final draft. Of course this is not just a weird quirk about Minarets; I experience it at my old school site and my fellow teachers at a variety of levels and schools also experience this frustration.

At the start of the year, I knew that I needed to make revision part of the PBL process in my classroom. I decided to do this in two ways:
  1. Scaffold Process: Rather than assigning a giant project that was due in two weeks and saying 'Well, good luck!',  I have students complete their projects in steps. For example, they  turn in a topic proposal then a research organizer, a rough draft, etc. 
  2. Peer Review: Before students turn in their final product, I have them complete a peer review, commonly done on a Google Form. Typically, it is the project rubric with space for additional comments. 
Throughout the year, I have had mixed experiences with both of these strategies, but the biggest issue was that students were not valuing the process. They would go through the motions and submit all the necessary check-ins, but it wouldn't necessarily result in a change of their work. The structured assignments to encourage student to revise and improve their projects tended to be done quickly and thoughtlessly IF they completed it at all; many times they would complete the project and skip the other assignments, not realizing they lost easy points. I know that for some students it helped and they did value the process, but overall I was still getting final products that were really rough products

*Note: If projects are geared towards an authentic audience,  students are more likely to revise because they know that more than their teacher are seeing it. Even then, I'll still get some students who don't feel that they need to revise. 

So I started to improve my strategies over the last few months. At Minarets, we use Schoology as our main LMS and I discovered an interesting feature called Student Completion.

Without student completion, assignments can be completed in any order despite due dates. I tried to combat students skipping assignments by  making them available one at a time, but then I had students who were finished and wanted to keep working. I also felt like I was doing more work frantically managing assignments and I STILL had students skipping the assignments.

But with Student Completion, you are given a variety of options, shown to the right. I always choose to have students complete requirements in sequential order so that they follow the process. Then for each assignment, you can  determine what action will unlock the next assignment (viewing it, making a submission, scoring at least, and making a comment/reply).

I decided to try this feature out on my sophomores who were working on their Totalitarianism Essay. I let them know of the change and how it would require them to unlock 
each assignment in order to get to the final assignment. I expected to deal with groans and complaints, but the students actually liked the change. They were able to work at their own pace, know from day one what needed to be done, and could focus on the task at hand; since they can't access the details of locked, they don't get as overwhelmed. At one point, one student wanted to do a peer review with another student, but that other student had not unlocked the peer review assignment so the student shouted "GET ON MY LEVEL!!" They liked the sense of accomplishment when unlocking assignments, which they compared to video games. and they seemed to start to place a higher value on the process. Afterwards, my sophomores insisted that I continued to use this and I began to integrate it into my other classes.

Now this isn't a perfect system. You can't set due dates on each individual assignment, it disorganizes your grade book, and rarely students encounter an error that prevents them from going to the next assignment. BUT I believe the benefits of Student Completion outweigh the imperfections. Once I finish grading the final product, I go back and disable Student Completion so that my grade book is organized and the due dates are clear for parents. Since I still set project/assignment goals for each day (ex. today you should be finishing up your script), I update those dates onto those assignments. If students turn in late work after student completion is disabled I still hold students to the expectation that they will complete each assignment before I grade their final project. I have also started creating comprehensive project guides that details each assignment in case students encounter an error.

With all of this, Student Completion has had positive effects for both students and myself. For the students, they now value the PBL revision process more than before and they are completing higher quality products. For me, it has helped me become insanely organized since I have to have the entire project laid out before I make it live on Schoology.

Stay tuned for Part 2... 


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