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TBL and PBL: Two learner-centred approaches

Many newly qualified or inexperienced teachers tend to base their lesson planning on the traditional PPP approach (Presentation, Practice, Production) because it is reliable and it is a valid framework around which to base a series of classroom activities.

project task based learning

It is also usually the best way of covering all the lexical areas and grammar points in the course book or syllabus. All good and well. The problem is that PPP serves the teacher’s needs but it is debatable whether or not it fulfils the needs of the learner. 

The language presented and practiced does not take into account the particular needs of each learner; the language content is almost always dictated by the coursebook and/or syllabus. For this reason, many teachers, having experimented with the PPP approach turn to more learner-centred approaches where the needs of the learner are central to the lesson content. Two such approaches are TBL (Task-Based Learning) and PBL (Project-Based Learning). What is TBL? In task-based learning, the central focus of the lesson is the task itself, not a grammar point or a lexical area, and the objective is not to ‘learn the structure’ but to ‘complete the task’. Of course, to complete the task successfully students have to use the right language and communicate their ideas. The language, therefore becomes an instrument of communication, whose purpose is to help complete the task successfully. The students can use any language they need to reach their objective. Usually there is no ‘correct answer’ for a task outcome. Students decide on their own way of completing it, using the language they see fit. Different teachers use TBL in different ways. Some integrate it into the existing syllabus, some use it to replace the syllabus altogether, some use it as an ‘extra’ to their traditional classroom activities. But generally, teachers using a TBL approach divide their task-based classes into three stages: Stage 1: The pre-task. The teacher introduces the topic and familiarizes students with situations/lexical areas/texts (reading and listening)). This draws the students into the topic and brings up language that may be useful. The teacher then explains what the task is and sets up the activity. Stage 2: Students perform the task in pairs or groups. They may then present their findings/conclusions to the rest of the class. In this stage, mistakes are not important; the teacher provides support and monitors. The learners focus on communication, perhaps at the expense of accuracy, but this will be dealt with in the next stage. Stage 3: The teacher works on specific language points which come up in stage 2. (During the monitoring stage, most teachers make notes of common errors and students’ particular learning needs). Students reflect on the language needed to complete the task and how well they did. This is their opportunity to concentrate on accuracy and make sure they resolve any doubts or problems they had. Tasks can be as simple as putting a list of animals in order from fastest to slowest and then trying to agree with a partner on the correct order. Or it could be something more complicated like a survey to find out which parts of town your classmates live in and how they get to school, ending in visual information presented in the form of pie charts and maps. Or it could be something really complicated like a role-play involving a meeting in the Town Hall of the different people affected by a new shopping centre development and the consequent demolition of a youth centre and old people’s home. Whatever the task, it should always have some kind of completion; and this completion should be central to the class - the language resulting naturally from the task and not the other way round. The advantage of TBL over more traditional methods is that it allows students to focus on real communication before doing any serious language analysis. It focuses on students’ needs by putting them into authentic communicative situations and allowing them to use all their language resources to deal with them. This draws the learners’ attention to what they know how to do, what they don’t know how to do, and what they only half know. It makes learners aware of their needs and encourages them to take (some of the) responsibility for their own learning. TBL is good for mixed ability classes; a task can be completed successfully by a weaker or stronger student with more or less accuracy in language production. The important thing is that both learners have had the same communicative experience and are now aware of their own individual learning needs. Another advantage of this approach is that learners are exposed to a wide variety of language and not just grammar. Collocations, lexical phrases and expressions, chunks of language, things that often escape the constraints of the traditional syllabus come up naturally in task-based lessons. But this can also be a disadvantage. One of the criticisms of TBL is this randomness. It doesn’t often fit in with the course book/syllabus, which tends to present language in neat packages. Some teachers (and learners) also find the move away from an explicit language focus difficult and anarchistic. Many teachers  also agree that it is not the best method to use with beginners, since they have very few language resources to draw on to be able to complete meaningful tasks successfully. What is Project-Based Learning (PBL) The PBL approach takes learner-centredness to a higher level. It shares many aspects with TBL, but if anything, it is even more ambitious. Whereas TBL makes a task the central focus of a lesson, PBL often makes a task the focus of a whole term or academic year. Again, as with TBL, different teachers approach project work in different ways. Some use it as the basis for a whole year’s work; others dedicate a certain amount of time alongside the syllabus. Some use projects only on short courses or ‘intensives’. Others try to get their schools to base their whole curriculums on it. But there are generally considered to be four elements which are common to all project-based activities/classes/courses: 1. A central topic from which all the activities derive and which drives the project towards a final objective. 2. Access to means of investigation (the Internet has made this part of project work much easier) to collect, analyse and use information. 3. Plenty of opportunities for sharing ideas, collaborating and communicating. Interaction with other learners is fundamental to PBL. 4. A final product (often produced using new technologies available to us) in the form of posters, presentations, reports, videos, webpages, blogs and so on. The role of the teacher and the learner in the PBL approach is very similar to the TBL approach. Learners are given freedom to go about solving problems or sharing information in the way they see fit. The teacher’s role is monitor and facilitator, setting up frameworks for communication, providing access to information and helping with language where necessary, and giving students opportunities to produce a final product or presentation. As with TBL, the teacher monitors interaction but doesn’t interrupt, dealing with language problems at another moment. The advantages and disadvantages of PBL are similar to those of TBL, but the obvious attraction of project-based learning is the motivating element, especially for younger learners. Projects bring real life into the classroom; instead of learning about how plants grow (and all the language that goes with it), you actually grow the plant and see for yourself. It brings facts to life. The American educational theorist John Dewey wrote “education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself”.  Project work allows ‘life itself’ to form part of the classroom and provides hundreds of opportunities for learning. Apart from the fun element, project work involves real life communicative situations, (analyzing, deciding, editing, rejecting, organizing, delegating …) and often involves multi- disciplinary skills which can be brought from other subjects. All in all, it promotes a higher level of thinking than just learning vocabulary and structures. Conclusion Both TBL and PBL focus primarily on the achievement of realistic objectives, and then on the language that is needed to achieve those objectives.  They both treat language as an instrument to complete a given objective rather than an isolated grammar point or lexical set to learn and practise. They give plenty of opportunity for communication in authentic contexts and give the learner freedom to use the linguistic resources he/she has, and then reflect on what they learned or need to learn. Finally, as EFL teachers are eclectic by nature, teachers often use a combination of TBL, PBL and traditional techniques such as PPP. Some teachers use TBL and PBL as a small part of a more conventional approach and many teachers on 100% TBL/PBL courses resort to PP type activities when dealing with grammar or vocabulary problems. As always, the important thing is to use what works best for you and your learners. Katherine Bilsborough

Great idea! Thank you!

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I practice it with one of my students and it's working.

It's making me to plan for larger class when we resume for the mid term break.


It's useful to revise the difference between TBL and PBL. Thanks for the links to Vicky Samuel and Cristina Cabal's work. Many times theoretical proposals become live when looking at their implementation.

Thanks a lot! I will try …

Thanks a lot! I will try to use these approaches in my teaching! Good luck!

I like both approaches, but my main concern is for students whose language proficiency and knowledge are basic. They often become frustrated and give up within the first 10 minutes.



This article has answered me questions I´ve been asking myself for years. Thank you.

Great ideas. Thank you

My ideas on TBL and PBL

Tbl (task-based learning) and pbl (project-based learning), ppp tbl pbl pwp esa, defining of task and project.

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New Tech Network

The Comprehensive Guide to Project-Based Learning: Empowering Student Choice through an Effective Teaching Method

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Resources and Tools

In K-12 education, project-based learning (PBL) has gained momentum as an effective inquiry-based, teaching strategy that encourages students to take ownership of their learning journey. 

By integrating authentic projects into the curriculum, project-based learning fosters active engagement, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. This comprehensive guide explores the principles, benefits, implementation strategies, and evaluation techniques associated with project-based instruction, highlighting its emphasis on student choice and its potential to revolutionize education.

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning (PBL) is a inquiry-based and learner-centered instructional approach that immerses students in real-world projects that foster deep learning and critical thinking skills. Project-based learning can be implemented in a classroom as single or multiple units or it can be implemented across various subject areas and school-wide. 

New Tech Network Elementary School Students

In contrast to teacher led instruction, project-based learning encourages student engagement, collaboration, and problem-solving, empowering students to become active participants in their own learning. Students collaborate to solve a real world problem that requires content knowledge, critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills.

Students aren’t only assessed on their understanding of academic content but on their ability to successfully apply that content when solving authentic problems. Through this process, project-based learning gives students the opportunity to develop the real-life skills required for success in today’s world. 

Positive Impacts of Project-Based Learning

By integrating project-based learning into the classroom, educators can unlock a multitude of benefits for students. The research evidence overwhelmingly supports the positive impact of PBL on students, teachers, and school communities. According to numerous studies (see  Deutscher et al, 2021 ;  Duke et al, 2020 ;  Krajick et al, 2022 ;  Harris et al, 2015 ) students in PBL classrooms not only outperform non-PBL classrooms academically, such as on state tests and AP exams, but also the benefits of PBL extend beyond academic achievement, as students develop essential skills, including creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking. Additional studies documenting the impact of PBL on K-12 learning are available in the  PBL research annotated bibliography  on the New Tech Network website.

New Tech Network Project-Based Learning Impacts

Established in 1996, New Tech Network NTN is a leading nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming teaching and learning through innovative instructional practices, with project-based learning at its core.

NTN has an extensive network of schools across the United States that have embraced the power of PBL to engage students in meaningful, relevant, and challenging projects, with professional development to support teachers in deepening understanding of “What is project-based learning?” and “How can we deliver high quality project-based learning to all students?”

With over 20 years of experience in project-based learning, NTN schools have achieved impactful results. Several research studies documented that students in New Tech Network schools outperform their peers in non-NTN schools on SAT/ACT tests and state exams in both math and reading (see  Hinnant-Crawford & Virtue, 2019 ;  Lynch et al, 2018 ;  Stocks et al, 2019 ).  Additionally, students in NTN schools are more engaged and more likely to develop skills in collaboration, agency, critical thinking, and communication—skills highly valued in today’s workforce (see  Ancess & Kafka, 2020 ;  Muller & Hiller, 2020 ;  Zeiser, Taylor, et al, 2019 ). 

Research conducted at an NTN school within a school documented the positive impact of interdisciplinary courses on the learning environment and academic outcomes. NTN students consistently out-performed their main campus peers on high school graduation rates.

NTN provides comprehensive support to educators, including training, resources, and ongoing coaching, to ensure the effective implementation of problem-based learning and project-based learning. Through their collaborative network, NTN continuously shares best practices, fosters innovation, enables replication across districts, and empowers educators to create transformative learning experiences for their students (see  Barnett et al, 2020 ;  Hernández et al, 2019 ).

Key Concepts of Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is rooted in several key principles that distinguish it from other teaching methods. The pedagogical theories that underpin project-based learning and problem-based learning draw from constructivism and socio-cultural learning. Constructivism posits that learners construct knowledge through active learning and real world applications. Project-based learning aligns with this theory by providing students with opportunities to actively construct knowledge through inquiry, hands-on projects, real-world contexts, and collaboration.

Students as active participants

Project-based learning is characterized by learner-centered, inquiry-based, real world learning, which encourages students to take an active role in their own learning. Instead of rote memorization of information, students engage in meaningful learning opportunities, exercise voice and choice, and develop student agency skills. This empowers students to explore their interests, make choices, and take ownership of their learning process, with teachers acting as facilitators rather than the center of instruction.

Real-world and authentic contexts

Project-based learning emphasizes real-world problems that encourage students to connect academic content to meaningful contexts, enabling students to see the practical application of what they are learning. By tackling personally meaningful projects and engaging in hands-on tasks, students develop a deeper understanding of the subject matter and its relevance in their lives.

New Tech Odessa students

Collaboration and teamwork

Another essential element of project-based learning is collaborative work. Students collaborating with their peers towards the culmination of a project, mirrors real-world scenarios where teamwork and effective communication are crucial. Through collaboration, students develop essential social and emotional skills, learn from diverse perspectives, and engage in constructive dialogue.

Project-based learning embodies student-centered learning, real-world relevance, and collaborative work. These principles, rooted in pedagogical theories like constructivism, socio-cultural learning, and experiential learning, create a powerful learning environment, across multiple academic domains, that foster active engagement, thinking critically, and the development of essential skills for success in college or career or life beyond school.

A Unique Approach to Project-Based Learning: New Tech Network

New Tech Network schools are committed to these key focus areas: college and career ready outcomes, supportive and inclusive culture, meaningful and equitable instruction, and purposeful assessment.

NTN Focus Areas Graphic

In the New Tech Network Model, rigorous project-based learning allows students to engage with material in creative, culturally relevant ways, experience it in context, and share their learning with peers.

Why Undertake this Work?

Teachers, administrators, and district leaders undertake this work because it produces critical thinkers, problem-solvers, and collaborators who are vital to the long-term health and wellbeing of our communities.

Reynoldsburg City Schools (RCS) Superintendent Dr. Melvin J. Brown observed that “Prior to (our partnership with New Tech Network) we were just doing the things we’ve always done, while at the same time, our local industry was evolving and changing— and we were not changing with it. We recognized we had to do better to prepare kids for the reality they were going to walk into after high school and beyond.

Students embrace the Model because they feel a sense of belonging. They are challenged to learn in relevant, meaningful ways that shape the way they interact with the world, like  these students from Owensboro Innovation Academy in Owensboro, Kentucky . 

When change is collectively held and supported rather than siloed, and all stakeholders are engaged rather than alienated, schools and districts build their own capacity to sustain innovation and continuously improve. New Tech Network’s approach to change provides teachers, administrators, and district leaders with clear roles in adopting and adapting student-centered learning. 

Owensboro Academy students

Part of NTN’s process for equipping schools with the data they need to serve their students involves conducting research surveys about their student’s experiences. 

“The information we received back from our NTN surveys about our kids’ experiences was so powerful,” said Amanda Ziaer, Managing Director of Strategic Initiatives for Frisco ISD. “It’s so helpful to be reminded about these types of tactics when you’re trying to develop an authentic student-centered learning experience. It’s just simple things you might skip because we live in such a traditional adult-centered world.” 

NTN’s experienced staff lead professional development activities that enable educators to adapt to student needs and strengths, and amplify those strengths while adjusting what is needed to address challenges.

Meaningful and Equitable Instruction

The New Tech Network model is centered on a PBL instructional core. PBL as an instructional method overlaps with key features of equitable pedagogical approaches including student voice, student choice, and authentic contexts. The New Tech Network model extends the power of PBL as a tool for creating more equitable learning by building asset-based equity pedagogical practices into the the design using key practices drawn from the literature on culturally sustaining teaching methods so that PBL instruction leverages the assets of diverse students, supports teachers as warm demanders, and develops critically conscious students in PBL classrooms (see  Good teaching, warm and demanding classrooms, and critically conscious students: Measuring student perceptions of asset-based equity pedagogy in the classroom ).

Examples of Project-Based Learning

New Tech Network schools across the country create relevant projects and interdisciplinary learning that bring a learner-centered approach to their school.  Examples of NTN Model PBL Projects  are available in the NTN Help and Learning Center and enable educators to preview projects and gather project ideas from various grade levels and content areas.

The NTN Project Planning Toolkit is used as a guide in the planning and design of PBL. The Project-based learning examples linked above include a third grade Social Studies/ELA project, a seventh grade Science project, and a high school American Studies project (11th grade English Language Arts/American History).

The Role of Technology in Project-Based Learning

A tool for creativity

Technology plays a vital role in enhancing PBL in schools, facilitating student  engagement, collaboration, and access to information. At the forefront, technology provides students with tools and resources to research, analyze data, and create multimedia content for their projects.

Students using technology

A tool for collaboration

Technology tools enable students to express their understanding creatively through digital media, such as videos, presentations, vlogs, blogs and interactive websites, enhancing their communication and presentation skills.

A tool for feedback

Technology offers opportunities for authentic audiences and feedback. Students can showcase their projects to a global audience through online platforms, blogs, or social media, receiving feedback and perspectives from beyond the classroom. This authentic audience keeps students engaged and striving for high-quality work and encourages them to take pride in their accomplishments.

By integrating technology into project-based learning, educators can enhance student engagement, deepen learning, and prepare students for a digitally interconnected world.

Interactive PBL Resources

New Tech Network offers a wealth of resources to support educators in gaining a deeper understanding of project-based learning. One valuable tool is the NTN Help Center, which provides comprehensive articles and resources on the principles and practices of implementing project-based learning.

Educators can explore project examples in the NTN Help Center to gain inspiration and practical insights into designing and implementing PBL projects that align with their curriculum and student needs.

Educators can start with the article “ What are the basic principles and practices of Project-Based Learning? Doing Projects vs. PBL . ” The image within the article clarifies the difference between the traditional education approach of “doing projects” and true project-based learning.

project task based learning

Project Launch

Students are introduced to a project by an Entry Event in the Project Launch (designated in purple on the image) this project component typically requires students to take on a role beyond that of ‘student’ or ‘learner’. This occurs either by placing students in a scenario that has real world applications, in which they simulate tasks performed by adults and/or by requiring learners to address a challenge or problem facing a particular community group.

The Entry Event not only introduces students to a project but also serves as the “hook” that purposefully engages students in the launch of a project. The Entry Event is followed by the Need to Know process in which students name what they already know about a topic and the project ask and what they “need to know” in order to solve the problem named in the project. Next steps are created which support students as they complete the Project Launch phase of a project.


Shown in the image in red, facilitators ensure students gain content knowledge and skills through ‘scaffolding’. Scaffolding is defined as temporary supports for students to build the skills and knowledge needed to create the final product. Similar to scaffolding in building construction, it is removed when these supports are no longer needed by students.

Scaffolding can take the form of a teacher providing support by hosting small group workshops, students engaging in independent research or groups completing learner-centered activities, lab investigations, formative assessments and more.

Project Phases

Benchmarks (seen in orange in the image) can be checks for understanding that allow educators to give feedback on student work and/or checks to ensure students are progressing in the project as a team. After each benchmark, students should be given time to reflect on their individual goals as well as their team goals. Benchmarks are designed to build on each other to support project teams towards the culminating product at the end of the project.

NTN’s Help Center also provides resources on what effective teaching and learning look like within the context of project-based learning. The article “ What does effective teaching and learning look like? ” outlines the key elements of a successful project-based learning classroom, emphasizing learner-centered learning, collaborative work, and authentic assessments. 

Educators can refer to this resource to gain insights into best practices, instructional strategies, and classroom management techniques that foster an engaging and effective project-based learning environment.

From understanding the principles and practices of PBL to accessing examples of a particular project, evaluating project quality, and exploring effective teaching and learning strategies, educators can leverage these resources to enhance their PBL instruction and create meaningful learning experiences for their students.

Preparing Students for the Future with PBL

The power of PBL is the way in which it encourages students to think critically, collaborate, and sharpen communication skills, which are all highly sought-after in today’s rapidly evolving workforce. By engaging in authentic, real-world projects, and collaborating with business and community leaders and community members, students develop the ability to tackle complex problems, think creatively, and adapt to changing circumstances.

New Tech Network graduate with a teacher

These skills are essential in preparing students for the dynamic and unpredictable nature of the future job market, where flexibility, innovation, and adaptability are paramount. 

“Joining New Tech Network provides us an opportunity to reframe many things about the school, not just PBL,” said Bay City Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Patrick Malley. “Eliminating the deficit mindset about kids is the first step to establishing a culture that makes sure everyone in that school is focused on next-level readiness for these kids.”

The New Tech Network Learning Outcomes align with the qualities companies are looking for in new hires: Knowledge and Thinking, Oral Communication, Written Communication, Collaboration and Agency.

NTN schools prioritize equipping students with the necessary skills and knowledge to pursue postsecondary education or training successfully. By integrating college readiness and career readiness into the fabric of PBL, NTN ensures that students develop the academic, technical, and professional skills needed for future success. 

Through authentic projects, students learn to engage in research, analysis, and presentation of their work, mirroring the expectations and demands of postsecondary education and the workplace. NTN’s commitment to college and career readiness ensures that students are well-prepared to transition seamlessly into higher education or enter the workforce with the skills and confidence to excel in their chosen paths.

The Impact of PBL on College and Career Readiness

PBL has a profound impact on college and career readiness. Numerous studies document the academic benefits for students, including performance in AP courses, SAT/ACT tests, and state exams (see  Deutscher et al, 2021 ;  Duke et al, 2020 ;  Krajick et al, 2022 ;  Harris et al, 2015 ). New Tech Network schools demonstrate higher graduation rates and college persistence rates than the national average as outlined in the  New Tech Network 2022 Impact Report . Over 95% of NTN graduates reported feeling prepared for the expectations and demands of college. 

Practices that Support Equitable College Access and Readiness

According to  a literature review conducted by New York University’s Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools  ( Perez et al, 2021 ) classroom level, school level, and district level practices can be implemented to create more equitable college access and readiness and these recommendations align with many of the practices built into the the NTN model, including culturally sustaining instructional approaches, foundational literacy, positive student-teacher relationships, and developing shared asset-based mindsets.

About New Tech Network

New Tech Network is committed to meeting schools and districts where they are and helping them achieve their vision of student success. For a full list of our additional paths to impact or to speak with someone about how the NTN Model can make an impact in your district, please send an email to  [email protected] .

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project task based learning

What Is Task-Based Learning? A Guide to the Popular Teaching Method

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  • April 6, 2021

task-based learning

As global language teachers who want to stay up to date with recent developments in education (and also stay competitive when it comes to getting that dream job), we have to constantly evolve as educators and include modern ways of teaching in our lesson planning and our teaching methods. One such method that all ESL teachers should know about is task-based learning (TBL), also referred to as task-based language teaching. What is task-based learning? Read on if you’re interested in learning about this rewarding and fun teaching method!

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate . You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

Why is task-based learning important?

  • During task-based learning, students solve tasks that are relevant and interesting to them. In order to solve the task, they need to use the target language they’re learning to communicate with their peers. They use authentic language instead of answering grammar or vocabulary questions about the language. Students — especially younger learners — don’t actually feel that they’re studying a language at that moment because they’re engrossed in the task they’re working on.
  • Task-based learning is especially conducive to group learning. Learning a language as a group is also a very important contributor to effective retention. Collaborating with others and becoming confident with the language within a group is a key step in acquiring that language. Also, receiving positive feedback from peers and teachers increases confidence and motivation to learn and to communicate with others.
  • Students’ understanding of the language also deepens because the realistic context in which they’re learning the language is relevant to their personal lives. It’s a good idea to ask your students about their hobbies and preferences at the beginning of a course so that you can include their interests in the tasks you set.
  • In addition to the benefits for students, solid knowledge of this method will also increase your job prospects as a teacher. Some job ads specifically ask for task-based language teaching experience!

A Bridge grad teaching English to young learners in Turkey

What is the task-based method?

The task-based teaching approach is one of many modern ESL teaching methods and focuses on setting a goal for students — this could be a report, a video, or a presentation — and then following three main steps to achieve that goal.

1. The pre-task

During this stage, which can take up a whole lesson if needed, the teacher introduces the task to the students and gets them motivated to solve it. Once everyone is engaged, the teacher should explain what is expected for the task.

Verbal explanations can be supported by an example from the teacher or by showing a previous student’s work. The teacher can then give further instructions if needed and offer advice on how to approach the task.

2. The task

This is the main stage of task-based learning, where students start working on the task, usually in groups or pairs. This stage is done in the target language so that students feel the need to use the language they want to learn in order to solve the task.

The teacher doesn’t usually join in the work process. Instead, he or she will monitor the students and offer hints if students really need support.

Find out about teaching English online to groups.

3. The review (or post-task)

Once the students have completed the task and have something to present, the review stage, also known as the post-task, starts.

It’s a good idea to let students evaluate each other’s work and only offer a teacher review of frequently-made errors during the task. Peer correction could be carried out in the form of comments, feedback discussions, or a checklist with additional room for free commentary.

The review stage offers students the opportunity to reflect on their work and analyze it in order to improve their skills for the future.

BFITS Thailand teacher with a class of students

What is a task (vs. an activity)?

Task-based learning uses a lesson structure that incorporates different activities to solve a task. The task can span the length of an entire lesson or, if it’s project-based learning, it can take up several lessons to complete.

Essentially, the task is the big-picture assignment that students are trying to complete or solve, and the activities are the individual steps or exercises they take to achieve the task.

Examples of tasks include:

  • Creating a presentation
  • Making a video or short movie
  • Writing a piece of text, such as a newsletter article
  • Acting out a skit
  • Creating an original game that includes writing down the game rules, playing the game, and evaluating the game
  • Working out the solution to a practical problem, such as planning an upcoming trip or gathering missing information, like working out who started a rumor at school
  • Participating in a group debate or discussion, like arguing for a favorite competitor in a TV show

You can develop some great tasks using these fun ESL games and activities for young learners and teens.

What is a task-based activity?

A task-based activity is a procedure in which students have to use the target language in order to achieve a specific outcome. The best TBL activities reflect real-life situations, so the students can see that the lesson is relevant to their own lives.

One of the main task-based learning advantages is that the activities allow students to use the language they know freely and exploratively as long as they are able to complete the overall task. Error correction can be done at the end of the lesson if necessary but not during the activity, so you encourage fluency and motivate students to use the language.

Learn more about correcting students’ mistakes with the Micro-credential Course in Error Correction in the EFL Classroom.

An example of a task-based activity could be to have each student draw a comic picture and explain the content and the inspiration behind it to the group. They then have to collaborate to put together a comic strip that includes each student’s picture, which is the main task (to create an original comic strip).

  • You can also use task-based language teaching and task-based activities in the online classroom. You can have students submit their work and you can share the results with the group. Then, everyone can work together on the main task that you previously set.

Learn more about creating materials for the EFL classroom!

Jhonny teaching origami online through a video camera

How can you apply a task-based approach to your teaching?

As an English teacher, you will not get around the “boring stuff,” such as grammar drills and vocabulary work. You also have to keep in mind that your students need to practice all four skills: writing, reading, speaking, and listening.

However, keeping the drills and language exercises to a necessary minimum and including more task-based learning in your curriculum can help students use the target language immediately and retain words and grammar points more effectively.

Here are two examples of task-based lesson plans:

In the physical classroom (with a group of 10-15 teenagers)

  • Greeting and warm-up: While the students are settling in, you can play a song that’s popular among your students. You can let them sing along if they know the song well!
  • Assign the task and give instructions: “Create your own music video in groups of 4-5 students using a song of your choice. Everybody has to have a role, from managing the camera to coming up with choreography to performing in the video. You have this lesson for planning and the next lesson for filming. We will watch all of the videos in the third lesson and give feedback to each other.”
  • Do the task: Let students gather in groups and start planning their video. Monitor their language and teamwork, and take notes. Make sure that everybody is engaged and involved and that there are no students who are just standing by.
  • Review: Before the lesson ends, give brief and motivating feedback to the students, and praise them for their efforts and their use of the language. Remind the students to be ready to start filming during the next lesson.

In the online classroom (with around 5 young learners)

  • Greeting and warm-up: Call out each student’s name and show each of them a card with a different word on it. It could be “dog,” “play,” “boy,” “girl,” “sunny,” etc. Have each student read their word out loud.
  • Assign the task and give instructions: “Create a short story that includes all of the words I gave you just now. You can decide the order of the words and how you use them in your story. You can add as many words and plot twists as you like. Each student has to contribute at least one sentence. Please start.”
  • Do the task: Watch the students on camera and take notes. If communication between them comes to a standstill, you can provide some support by asking questions, such as “What do you think could happen next?” or “Who can come up with the next idea?” or “Who wants to include their word next?” Your support should encourage the students to participate without giving them an idea straight away. Finally, have the students write down the story that they created. They can then take turns reading it out loud, one sentence at a time.
  • Review: Praise your students for their effort and teamwork, and applaud their story. Let the students have time for self-reflection and respond to questions such as “What did you do especially well today?” or “What would you like to improve for next time?”

If you’re not comfortable with task-based language teaching just yet, don’t let that discourage you. You can envision using this teaching method as your personal task. Set yourself a goal, try TBL out in your next lesson, and review your class afterward to reflect on what to improve and what went well!

In a teaching pinch? Try one of these last-minute ESL lesson plans that can be adapted to any class!

project task based learning

After backpacking Australia on a Working Holiday visa, Bridge graduate Johanna traveled to Japan for a year to teach English. She then moved to New Zealand for another two years before returning to her chosen home country, Japan, where she currently lives. Now, with more than eight years of professional English teaching experience, Johanna enjoys her expat life in Japan teaching teenagers at a private junior and senior high school, where she recently received tenure after only two years. When she’s not teaching, Johanna continues to travel regionally and explore new places.

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Getting Started with Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning (PBL) actively involves students in their learning and prepares them for the world beyond the classroom. It is a dynamic approach to teaching in which instructors play an important role in structuring the learning experience, guiding students as they work to find solutions to complex interdisciplinary problems in collaboration with diverse peers, and developing skills and acquiring knowledge throughout the process.

This resource offers an introductory overview of PBL, including the key features and questions for reflection as instructors develop their project-based teaching practices.

On this page:

What is pbl.

  • Developing Your Project-Based Teaching Approach
  • References and Resources

The CTL is here to help! 

Want to implement project-based learning in your course or curriculum? Looking for more information about what makes for effective project-based learning? The CTL is here to help! Email [email protected] to schedule a 1-1 consultation!

Cite this resource: Columbia Center for Teaching and Learning (2022). Getting Started with Project-Based Learning. Columbia University. Retrieved [today’s date] from https://ctl.columbia.edu/resources-and-technology/resources/project-based-learning/

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge” ( PBLWorks ). PBL is often thought of as a valuable framework for capstone courses, in which students demonstrate the knowledge and skills they developed through their coursework; however, PBL can also be effective in courses throughout students’ academic careers, including as early as the first year (Wobbe and Stoddard, 2019). 

PBL is distinct from assigning a project in a course: Assigned projects tend to be short-term, occurring after an instructor has covered the content of a unit of study, are focused on the product that students deliver (often individually), and are a summative assessment . In contrast, for PBL, the project serves as the “vehicle for teaching the important knowledge and skills students need to learn”; the project frames curriculum and instruction ( What is Project-Based Learning ). PBL is driven by student inquiry, and involves collaboration with peers and in-class guidance from the instructor. There is emphasis placed on the project process , not just a final deliverable; this emphasis helps provide students with a formative assessment experience, where the learning and feedback happen throughout the project. For more, see the Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning , which includes six elements of effective PBL as identified by High Quality PBL ( HQPBL ), an organization of international educational experts. 

PBL connects theory to practice and engages students in direct action: With PBL, students are asked to think deeply and critically about a complex problem, question, or issue that does not have a single answer. Over the course of the project, students engage with and learn more about important content, concepts, and skills. As students work through these real-world problems that are meaningful and relevant to their lives and futures, and develop possible solutions, PBL helps them take more ownership and responsibility of their own learning. Students develop transferable skills such as critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, project management, communication, and problem-solving. They build their confidence in their abilities and “the personal agency needed to tackle life’s and the world’s challenges” ( HQPBL Framework , 2). Research has also shown that PBL can result in “greater student learning gains,” particularly for students from underrepresented groups ( PBL in Higher Education ).

PBL is learner-centered and guided by instructors: PBL requires rethinking more traditional classroom approaches as students become more active and participatory learners. In PBL, students drive the inquiry and discovery while instructors serve as guides or mentors. By designing, planning, and implementing a PBL curriculum, instructors engage students and coach them through the PBL process. Instructors help students identify their needs and access resources to address potential gaps. Instructors also play an important role in helping students develop collaboration and project management skills, which are critical to students’ success in PBL. 

Developing Your Project-Based Teaching Practices

You, the instructor, play a critical role in ensuring effective PBL. This section is structured around the Gold Standard Project Based Teaching Practices from PBLWorks, and includes questions for you to reflect on as you develop your approach.

Design for authenticity and agency: With consideration of your course context, the course learning objectives, and the needs of your students, what project could you have students work on throughout the course? What room will there be for student voice, choice, and input in the project? Who is the audience for the final deliverable? How will you communicate this to your students?

Build the culture for collaboration: For many students, a PBL approach could be new and their past experiences working in groups may be fraught. The expectation of PBL is that each individual student will contribute to all aspects of the project and will respect and learn from each other’s contributions. How might you work with your students to establish expectations and build class community? How will you support student collaborations?

Scaffold student learning: Instructors scaffold project elements and subtasks to help students build upon the work they’re doing. How will you guide students toward the culminating project? How might students take on greater responsibility over the course of the project?

Manage teams and project activities: While students are expected to take ownership of their projects and their work, and learn to use the processes, tools, and strategies of project management, instructors help students as they work collaboratively and define and set project deadlines and subtasks. How will you help your students develop collaboration and project management skills?

Provide feedback : Instructors provide students with feedback on their progress throughout the course of a project. What opportunities will there be for ongoing formative feedback (e.g., written feedback, check-in meetings, facilitating peer- or self-assessment activities)? How might students and external stakeholders be part of this feedback process?

Create opportunities for reflection: Students engage in ongoing reflection on their learning and progress throughout the project. How might students be encouraged to think about what they are doing, assess the quality of their work, and identify ways to improve? 

Showcase student work: An important feature of PBL is students having an opportunity to showcase their work. How might you create opportunities for the showcase of student work? Are there campus-wide initiatives you might encourage students to participate in? What kinds of in-class activities or opportunities might you offer for students?

Collect feedback: Just as it’s important for instructors to provide students with feedback throughout the process, it’s equally important to collect feedback from students. How might you invite feedback from students throughout the process? What opportunities will you create for responding to and implementing feedback in the moment? How might you consider this feedback in future course iterations? 

Whether you are trying to determine if PBL makes sense for your course, looking for feedback on your PBL practices, or beginning the process of implementation, the CTL is here to help! Email [email protected] to schedule a 1-1 consultation. 

References and Resources 

PBL in Action Resources 

Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s (WPI) Center for Project Based Learning , launched in 2016, published a series of research briefs around PBL in specific contexts. These briefs offer an introduction, overview of related research, and specific case studies of PBL within the particular discipline or context. The case studies offered in each brief can serve as springboards for instructors to think about their own courses, and will require adaptation to be most effective.

  • PBL in the Social Sciences  
  • PBL in the Arts and Humanities  
  • PBL in Graduate Education  

Additional References 

Albert, T.C. (2019, May 22). Successful project-based learning . Harvard Business Publishing Education .  

Albert, T.C. & Rennella M. (2021, November 11). Readying students for their careers through project-based learning . Harvard Business Publishing Education . 

Boss, S. & Larmer, J. (2018). Project based teaching: How to create rigorous and engaging learning experiences . ASCD. 

Center for Project-Based Learning. (2016). Center for project-based learning homepage .  Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 

Heick, T. (n.d.). What are the greatest myths about project-based learning? . TeachThought.

High Quality Project Based Learning. (2018). A framework for high quality project based  learning . HQPBL. 

PBLWorks. (n.d.). Gold standard PBL: Project based teaching practices . PBLWorks. 

PBLWorks (n.d.). What is project based learning? . PBLWorks. 

TeachThought Staff. (n.d.). What is the difference between projects and PBL? . TeachThought. 

Wobbe, K. K., & Stoddard, E. A. (2018). Project-Based Learning in the First Year : Beyond All Expectations . ​​Stylus Publishing. 

WPI Institute on Project-Based Learning. (n.d.). PBL in higher education . Worcester Polytechnic Institute. 

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Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements

Student learning goals for projects include standards-based content as well as skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, self management, project management, and collaboration.

What is Gold Standard PBL?  To help teachers do PBL well, we created a comprehensive, research-informed model for PBL to help teachers, schools, and organizations improve, calibrate, and assess their practice. In Gold Standard PBL, projects are focused on students' acquiring key knowledge, understanding, and success skills.

Gold Standard PBL. Seven Essential Project Design Elements. Wheel illustration has icons for each of the elements, as outlined below. At center of wheel is Learning Goals – Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills.

Gold Standard Project Based Learning by PBLWorks is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 .

Seven Essential Project Design Elements

Question mark illustration

A Challenging Problem or Question

The project is framed by a meaningful problem to be solved or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge

Clock illustration

Sustained Inquiry

Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of posing questions, finding resources, and applying information.

Fingerprint illustration


The project involves real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact, or the project speaks to personal concerns, interests, and issues in the students’ lives.

Speech bubble illustration

Student Voice & Choice

Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create, and express their own ideas in their own voice.

Brain illustration

Students and teachers reflect on the learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, and obstacles that arise and strategies for overcoming them.

Circle arrow illustration

Critique & Revision

Students give, receive, and apply feedback to improve their process and products.

Public presentation illustration

Public Product

Students make their project work public by sharing it with and explaining or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

Watch Gold Standard Project Based Learning in Action

Group of young students on floor of classroom listening to teacher

VIDEO: The Tiny House Project

Teacher explaining PBL project

VIDEO: The Water Quality Project

project task based learning

VIDEO: March Through Nashville

See all gold standard pbl design videos, for more great gold standard pbl resources....

  • See our book Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning for more on the what, why and how of Project Based Learning.
  • Check out the Project Design Rubric to get a detailed description of what each of the Seven Essential Project Design Elements looks like.
  • Read the white paper about  Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements .
Useful articles for each Gold Standard Design Element

Challenging Problem or Question

  • A Tricky Part of PBL: Writing a Driving Question
  • Lowering the Driving (Question) Age
  • PBL in Music: Driving Questions Invoke Deeper Musical Learning
  • How to Improve (or Abandon) Some "Classic" Initial Ideas for Projects
  • Resource List: Sustained Inquiry
  • How We Use "Need to Know" Questions to Guide Sustained Inquiry
  • Sustained Inquiry in PBL as a Tool for Social Justice
  • The Importance of Student-Generated Questions in PBL
  • What does it take for a project to be "Authentic"?
  • Authenticity: How to Move Projects from Engaging to Empowering
  • Yes, You Really Can Do Authentic Projects With Limited Resources
  • Creating Authentic Kindergarten PBL
  • Level Up Your PBL With Authentic Adult Learning
  • An Authentic Writing Project for English Language Learners
  • Gold Standard PBL: Student Voice & Choice
  • Student Voice and Choice in the Elementary Grades
  • Student Voice and Choice: How I Learned to Let Go of the Reins
  • Voice and Vision: Engaging Students in School Design
  • Learners Ask Four Deep Questions, PBL Provides Opportunities to Answer Them
  • Designing Projects with Students, Not for Them
  • The Power of Reflection in PBL
  • PBL in the Mirror: Planning for Student Reflection
  • Making Time for Reflection in Our Projects
  • Using Gallery Walks for Revision and Reflection
  • Gold Standard PBL: Public Product
  • The Power of Professional Presentations
  • How to Prepare Students for Explaining Their Work in Public
  • How to Engage Reluctant (and Even Refusing) Presenters in PBL
  • How to Get Higher-Quality Student Work in PBL
Yes, we provide PBL training for educators! PBLWorks offers a variety of workshops, courses and services for teachers, school and district leaders, and instructional coaches to get started and advance their practice with Project Based Learning. Learn more

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Core practices for project-based learning, you are here, what is project-based learning, project-based learning (or pbl) is an approach to teaching and learning that has students take on real-world problems in authentic ways. it engages students in authentic roles like that of a scientist, historian, or mathematician to work on authentic problems, whether it be in their classrooms, communities, or societies, and to produce real solutions that have real impacts on real audiences., in doing so, students learn not only rich academic skills but also social-emotional skills, leadership, collaboration, and how to problem-solve with others to take on pressing challenges or opportunities..

While significant efforts have focused on building and researching curriculum materials for PBL, very little work has focused on how to prepare teachers to enact these curricula. This is where PennPBL comes in—the PennPBL program focuses on the important work of cultivating teachers’ capacity to enact the core practices of project-based teaching.


The PennPBL Framework

PBL is a remarkably powerful approach to teaching and learning, but it is also remarkably challenging to do it well. Teachers must draw on extensive knowledge and many skills in order to facilitate PBL effectively. And so at Penn GSE, we’ve studied the teaching practices that support the ambitious learning objectives of PBL and identified four driving goals of PBL that focus on what students learn, as well as ten core teaching practices that focus on what teachers do to support it.

The four driving goals of PBL include Disciplinary Learning , Authentic Work, Collaboration, and Iteration . These goals are what teachers hope students will achieve  through project-based instruction.

In order to support teachers’ pursuit of these four goals in their daily instruction, we have identified core practices associated with each of these goals that can be enacted across disciplines and contexts .

Read on to learn more about each of these four core practices, as well as view guiding questions, example instructional moves and strategies, and resources for implementing these practices into your own context.


Disciplinary Learning

A core goal of PBL is that students explore and deepen their understanding of the core content, questions, and practices within the disciplines. In other words, what are the big ideas and the tools and strategies of history or mathematics or science? In PBL, rather than asking students to learn about history, we actually engage them in doing historical inquiry. Students are not learning about science, they are actually creating and engaging in scientific inquiry to construct knowledge on their own.

Consider the following questions as you plan a project and as you reflect on your own teaching, and consider the changes and modifications you can make to create more opportunities and provide more support for students to engage in rich disciplinary learning.

Engage Students in Disciplinary Practices

Teachers  support students to do the kinds of work that practitioners actually do.

Ask Yourself...

  • How am I encouraging all students to think, talk, and act like historians, scientists, mathematicians, civically-minded individuals, etc.?
  • Is what all students are doing right now a thing that a scientist, historian, mathematician, legislator, or other professional would actually do in the course of their work?

Try This...

  • Engage students in tasks that are open-ended, require different approaches and skills in order to be completed successfully, and which require students to engage in several different disciplinary practices.
  • Disrupt common perceptions of “intelligence” or “competence” by conducting a “Multiple Abilities Status Treatment” at the onset of the project.
  • Name the different skills and abilities that will be necessary to complete the activity by referring to the disciplinary practices that will be required.
  • Convince students that the task relies on multiple abilities, and that every student will bring value and different abilities to their team —no one will have all of the abilities but everyone will have some.

Elicit Higher-Order Thinking

To elicit higher-order thinking, teachers support students to evaluate, analyze, test, or critique information.

  • How will I hold all students to high expectations, and support each student to reach them?
  • What question, prompt, or problem can I share with each student to push their thinking?
  • How can I encourage all students to synthesize, evaluate, justify, or defend?
  • Engage students in projects, tasks, and activities that are inherently open-ended and uncertain, such that there is no one right answer and their process and choices decide the direction of their group product.
  • Engage students in multiple-ability projects, tasks, and activities that require students to engage several different abilities in order to be successful.
  • Encourage students to justify their arguments, explore alternative solutions, and examine issues from different perspectives.

Orient Students to Subject-Area Content

Teachers continually center core disciplinary understandings, key concepts, or big ideas of their academic subject or discipline. Content and learning goals remain the focus, while students pursue answers to authentic questions of an academic discipline. 

  • How can I help all students connect their work on the project with core ideas, skills, or content of the subject area?
  • Is what we’re doing right now intimately connected to core ideas, skills, or content in my subject area? Is what we are grappling with important and meaningful ?
  • Engage students in projects, tasks, and activities that deal with a central concept or big idea of the discipline.
  • Provide specific evaluation criteria for the group product with clear connections between the activity and the central concept.

Authentic Learning

PBL engages students in exploring questions and problems that are relevant to themselves as individuals, their communities, and the world. This means that students have opportunities to draw on their own insights, interests, experiences, knowledge, perspectives, and skills to explore and make sense of what they’re learning about. They also have opportunities to draw connections between what they’re learning about in school and problems that exist in the broader community.

Consider the following questions as you plan a project and as you reflect on your own teaching, and consider the changes and modifications you can make to create more opportunities and provide more support for students to engage in rich authentic learning.

Support Students to Build Personal Connections to the Work

To support students to build personal connections to their work, we can ask students to share their personal opinions about the work in which they’re engaged. And students are asked to consider: what does the work mean to me?

Ask Yourself…

  • Why is this work important or meaningful to my students?
  • How can I support all students to build deeper connections between themselves and their work?
  • Which of my students appear most engaged? Which of my students should I learn more about? How will I be curious about my students?
  • Spend time getting to know your students through one-on-one conversations and empathy interviews.
  • Consider if and how your students’ identities are represented in the topics and content that you’re covering.
  • Create opportunities for students to consider what they're learning in light of their own experiences, beliefs, values, or interests.

Support Students to Make a Contribution to the World

Create opportunities for students to take on real-world roles as they work on authentic problems and create products that have a meaningful impact on themselves or their communities.

  • Is this work addressing a real question, problem, or need?
  • Are all of my students taking on real-world roles as they engage in this work?
  • Are my students working with materials, data, or text that are also used outside of school?
  • Will the product of my students’ work contribute to someone or some community?
  • Consider how all of these authentic elements come together in your project.
  • Hook students with an intriguing artifact or experience , such as a newspaper article, field trip, demonstration, or data set, and have them generate questions based on their own curiosities.


Most authentic problems require people to work together to solve them. PBL creates opportunities for students to practice and develop their skills at working with others on meaningful and complex questions and challenges.

Consider the following questions as you plan a project and as you reflect on your own teaching, and consider the changes and modifications you can make to create more opportunities and provide more support that enhance collaboration for students.

Support Students to Make Choices

Resist making all of the choices yourself throughout the project. Instead, offer students support for making big and small decisions that will affect their processes and their products.  

  • Where am I giving all students opportunities to make real and consequential choices ?
  • What support am I providing so that all students develop as thoughtful decision-makers ?
  • Ask students to choose between a set of predetermined options, and provide a justification for their decision.
  • Create predictable routines that allow students to lower their level of stress and “collect themselves."
  • Consider asking a question rather than making a correction.

Support Students to Collaborate

Actively support student collaboration by defining student roles and responsibilities, designing and managing group processes, and supporting students to reflect on, and refine, their collaborative efforts. Scaffold collaboration and closely monitor participation, communication, and teamwork throughout collaboration. Intervene when necessary to support students’ capacity to work effectively together.

  • What opportunities am I providing for all students to work together on meaningful and interdependent work?
  • How am I monitoring student participation within groups, and what supports am I providing to encourage equitable participation ?
  • What status issues am I seeing within groups? How will I disrupt harmful or unproductive patterns of talk and participation?  Read more about equity in cooperative classrooms here .

Design a task, project, or activity that is appropriate for collaboration.

  • Require both a group and individual product.
  • Design a task, project, or activity that requires positive interdependence, where students must depend on each other to be successful.

Support students to collaborate effectively.

  • Support students with collaboration protocols.
  • Determine which roles will best support student collaboration and learning , and support students to play those roles effectively.
  • Establish clear behavior expectations, including the supportive behaviors you expect to see.
  • Create space for students to reflect on their groups’ process and effectiveness; for example, by conducting an after-action review.

Monitor groups and intervene when necessary.

  • Reinforce productive decisions by acknowledging when students attempt to make healthy connections with others or regulate their behavior.
  • Observe groups for several minutes and take notes on interactions. Afterwards, discuss the quality of the group interactions using the observed evidence.

In many classrooms, one of the goals of PBL is to position students as active and iterative designers and creators. Whether it’s ideas, arguments, or proposals, they’re constantly  iterating and improving their work.

Consider the following questions as you plan a project and as you reflect on your own teaching, and consider the changes and modifications you can make to create more opportunities and provide more support to make learning iterative for students.

Track Student Progress and Provide Feedback

Provide feedback on student work throughout a given unit or project, rather than solely at its completion. Keep in mind that student feedback is not rationale for a grade; instead, it’s useful suggestions that students are expected to use to improve their thinking and work.

  • What intentional opportunities am I giving all students to review each other’s work and provide feedback?
  • What supports do all students need to give and receive high-quality feedback?
  • Provide clear evaluation criteria that reflects multiple abilities
  • Co-create rubrics with students and support them as they track their growth

Support Students to Give and Receive Feedback

Give students the opportunity to see and critique each other’s in-progress work. Support students to learn the skills of giving and receiving feedback.

  • How am I assessing or tracking the progress of each student ? What data am I gathering about where each student is?
  • How am I using that data to support each student ?
  • How can I support all students to engage in self-assessment or self-tracking?
  • Determine and communicate a specific feedback protocol. This may include modeling respectful communication and establishing clear behavior expectations, including the supportive behaviors you expect to see.
  • Ask students to select a specific target area and ask their peers for feedback.
  • Create several cycles of feedback.

Support Students to Reflect and Revise

Teachers dedicate time and provide ample support for students to reflect on their progress and to revise their plans, thinking, and work. 

  • What intentional opportunities am I creating for all students to reflect on their work?
  • How am I supporting all students as they use their reflections to revise and improve their work?
  • Provide clear evaluation criteria that incorporate a broad set of learning goals.
  • Ensure that students have several opportunities to receive feedback, and that those opportunities are timely and ongoing.
  • Give students opportunities and support to revise their work after receiving feedback.

Black and white photo of people high-fiving around a table of stacked cups

Justice Imperative

PBL can be a powerful tool to disrupt inequitable patterns in who has access to a meaningful and fulfilling education. When done thoughtfully, PBL has the capacity to create learning environments that are rich in (inter)disciplinary learning, authentic to students and their communities, collaborative, and iterative. However, like many approaches to teaching and learning, when done without high levels of intention and skill, PBL can serve to reinforce inequitable, unjust, and problematic realities.

The PennPBL program is committed to helping teachers build their capacity to pursue the four driving goals of PBL through the high-quality and equitable enactment of the ten core teaching practices of PBL in ways that support all students to grow, develop, and flourish.

About the PennPBL Team

A lot of work has been done around curriculum design of projects, but we know that curriculum doesn’t teach itself. While PBL requires a strong project idea, it also requires thoughtful and skilled teaching in order for students to fully realize the potential of the project. The PennPBL project at Penn GSE has focused on the knowledge, skills, and mindsets that teachers need to enact PBL and how teachers develop as PBL educators.

Christopher P. Dean Headshot

Christopher P. Dean Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

Sarah S. Kavanagh Headshot

Sarah Schneider Kavanagh Ph.D., University of Washington

Pam Grossman Headshot

Pam Grossman Ph.D., Stanford University

Zachary Herrmann Headshot

Zachary Herrmann Ed.L.D., Harvard University

Research by the Team

You can read more about project-based learning and teaching here:

Core Practices for Project-Based Learning, A Guide for Teachers and Leaders

Preparing Teachers for Project-Based Teaching

Exploring Relationships between Professional Development and Teachers’ Enactments of Project-Based Learning

Professional Learning Opportunities

Several people build a structure out of sticks and marshmallows top of a table

Project-Based Learning

The Project-Based Learning certificate program is designed for current educators who strive to create rich, meaningful, and rigorous learning experiences through student-centered approaches to teaching and learning. Developed in collaboration with the Science Leadership Academy, the Workshop School, Inquiry Schools, and EL Education, the program leverages the educational expertise of Penn GSE's faculty and some of the most skilled and experienced student-centered learning practitioners from across the country.

Several people shovel dirt

Project-Based Learning for Global Climate Justice

The Project-Based Learning for Global Climate Justice program equips educators with the knowledge and skills they need to design projects that engage students in this important environmental justice work. Learn about PBL for Global Climate Justice and how to engage your students in authentic, action-oriented, and meaningful learning experiences. The time to take action on global climate change is now.

Project-Based Learning

This teaching guide explores the different types of project-based learning (PBL), its benefits, and tips for implementation in your classes.


Project-based learning (PBL) involves students designing, developing, and constructing hands-on solutions to a problem. The educational value of PBL is that it aims to build students’ creative capacity to work through difficult or ill-structured problems, commonly in small teams. Typically, PBL takes students through the following phases or steps:

  • Identifying a problem
  • Agreeing on or devising a solution and potential solution path to the problem (i.e., how to achieve the solution)
  • Designing and developing a prototype of the solution
  • Refining the solution based on feedback from experts, instructors, and/or peers

Depending on the goals of the instructor, the size and scope of the project can vary greatly. Students may complete the four phases listed above over the course of many weeks, or even several times within a single class period.

Because of its focus on creativity and collaboration, PBL is enhanced when students experience opportunities to work across disciplines, employ technologies to make communication and product realization more efficient, or to design solutions to real-world problems posed by outside organizations or corporations. Projects do not need to be highly complex for students to benefit from PBL techniques. Often times, quick and simple projects are enough to provide students with valuable opportunities to make connections across content and practice.

Implementing project-based learning

As a pedagogical approach, PBL entails several key processes:

  • Defining problems in terms of given constraints or challenges
  • Generating multiple ideas to solve a  given problem
  • Prototyping — often in rapid iteration — potential solutions to a problem
  • Testing the developed solution products or services in a “live” or authentic setting.

Defining the problem

PBL projects should start with students asking questions about a problem. What is the nature of problem they are trying to solve? What assumptions can they make about why the problem exists? Asking such questions will help students frame the problem in an appropriate context. If students are working on a real-world problem, it is important to consider how an end user will benefit from a solution.

Generating ideas

Next, students should be given the opportunity to brainstorm and discuss their ideas for solving the problem. The emphasis here is not to generate necessarily good ideas, but to generate many ideas. As such, brainstorming should encourage students to think wildly, but to stay focused on the problem. Setting guidelines for brainstorming sessions, such as giving everyone a chance to voice an idea, suspending judgement of others’ ideas, and building on the ideas of others will help make brainstorming a productive and generative exercise.

Prototyping solutions

Designing and prototyping a solution are typically the next phase of the PBL process. A prototype might take many forms: a mock-up, a storyboard, a role-play, or even an object made out of readily available materials such as pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, and rubber bands. The purpose of prototyping is to expand upon the ideas generated during the brainstorming phase, and to quickly convey a how a solution to the problem might look and feel. Prototypes can often expose learners’ assumptions, as well as uncover unforeseen challenges that an end user of the solution might encounter. The focus on creating simple prototypes also means that students can iterate on their designs quickly and easily, incorporate feedback into their designs, and continually hone their problem solutions.

Students may then go about taking their prototypes to the next level of design: testing. Ideally, testing takes place in a “live” setting. Testing allows students to glean how well their products or services work in a real setting. The results of testing can provide students with important feedback on the their solutions, and generate new questions to consider. Did the solution work as planned? If not, what needs to be tweaked? In this way, testing engages students in critical thinking and reflection processes.

Unstructured versus structured projects

Research suggests that students learn more from working on unstructured or ill-structured projects than they do on highly structured ones. Unstructured projects are sometimes referred to as “open ended,” because they have no predictable or prescribed solution. In this way, open ended projects require students to consider assumptions and constraints, as well as to frame the problem they are trying to solve. Unstructured projects thus require students to do their own “structuring” of the problem at hand – a process that has been shown to enhance students’ abilities to transfer learning to other problem solving contexts.

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  • Project-Based Learning: An In-Depth Look

Learn all about project-based learning, from its definition and history to its key benefits and how to use it in the classroom.

Project-Based Learning: An In-Depth Look

In recent years, project-based learning (PBL) has become an increasingly popular teaching approach at Saint Peters University Online and in classrooms around the world. This project-based teaching strategy is based on the belief that students learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process and when they can apply their knowledge to solve real-world problems, such as GCSE Biology tutoring or project-based A level chemistry help . Additionally, our online physics tutors also utilize this approach to provide project-based learning opportunities for students. While there have been numerous studies examining the efficacy of project-based learning, there is still much to learn about this teaching method, especially in terms of its implications for sociology at Saint Peter's University Online.

University tutors at Saint Peter's University Online can play a key role in this process, providing invaluable guidance and support to students as they engage in project-based learning, helping them to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, including those related to a level maths solutions. Additionally, private online tutors can be a great resource for those looking to study coding with a private online tutor .For those looking for the best online tutoring site to help with their project-based learning, university tutors can provide the best support and guidance. For those looking for the best online tutoring site to get help with project-based learning, university tutors can be a great resource. For those seeking the best online tutoring site for project-based learning, university tutors can provide invaluable assistance and support. For those looking for the best online tutoring site to help them with their project-based learning, university tutors can be an excellent resource. For those looking for more specialized tutoring, private online GCSE Physics tutoring can be a great resource for students who need extra help in their studies. Additionally, for those looking to prepare for Oxbridge college tests, a comprehensive Oxbridge college test preparation guide can be a great resource. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at project-based learning and discuss the benefits it has to offer both students and educators from a sociological perspective. Additionally, this approach can be particularly beneficial for those preparing for entrance tests such as the Guide to Oxbridge entrance tests or for those enrolled in Saint Peter's University Online. It also encourages collaboration among students, fostering a sense of community and responsibility. Additionally, PBL can be adapted to fit different learning styles and needs, allowing for a more personalized approach to instruction. We will explore the history of project-based learning, the benefits it offers, and the strategies teachers can use to implement it in their classrooms.

Project-Based Learning (PBL):

Key benefits:, challenges:, strategies for overcoming challenges:, creating a successful project-based learning lesson plan:, types of projects:, using technology:, challenges of project-based learning, lack of resources, student motivation, using technology for project-based learning.

Online collaboration tools can be used to help students work together on projects from different locations. This can help to foster collaboration and promote teamwork among students, allowing them to share ideas and get feedback from each other. Tools such as Google Docs, Trello, and Slack are all popular tools for collaborating on projects. Virtual reality can be used to create immersive experiences in the classroom.

Students can explore virtual environments, observe and interact with objects, and learn about topics in a more engaging way. For example, virtual field trips can be used to teach students about history, culture, or geography in an interactive way. Technology can also be used to facilitate research. Students can use the Internet to access a wealth of information, making it easier for them to find reliable sources and conduct research on any given topic.

Search engines like Google are great tools for finding information quickly and efficiently. In addition, technology can be used to provide feedback on student work. For example, teachers can use video or audio recordings of student presentations as a teaching tool, allowing them to see how students are performing and identify areas of improvement. By using technology in the classroom, teachers can create an engaging learning environment that is tailored to their students’ individual needs.

Benefits of Project-Based Learning

Improved critical thinking skills, collaboration skills, self-direction, what is project-based learning.

In PBL, students are motivated to build knowledge and skills by working on meaningful tasks that draw on multiple subject areas, and they learn by doing. PBL has been used in classrooms for centuries, but its modern form began to emerge in the late 20th century as educators sought to develop more active learning strategies. Some of the earliest examples of PBL involved students being asked to build structures such as bridges or houses, or to design experiments or simulations in the sciences. At the heart of PBL are three key components: the challenge, the process, and the product.

The challenge is the problem or question that the students must answer or solve. The process involves the steps that students take to work through the challenge. This can include research, planning, designing, and creating. Finally, the product is the outcome of their work, which can range from a presentation or paper to a prototype or model.

Creating a Successful Project-Based Learning Lesson Plan

An engaging topic that is relevant to their lives can help students become more invested in the project. It is also important to ensure that the topic is age-appropriate and will not present any safety risks. Once a topic is selected, it is important to set clear goals for the lesson. Goals should be specific and measurable, such as “Students will be able to explain the process of photosynthesis by the end of the project.” This will help keep students on track as they work on their projects. After setting goals, teachers should create tasks that will help students reach those goals.

Tasks should be broken down into manageable steps and can include activities like research, writing, or creating presentations. Teachers should also provide resources and materials that students may need to complete the tasks. In addition to tasks, teachers should assign roles to each student. Roles could include things like research coordinator or group leader. Assigning roles helps foster teamwork and allows each student to contribute in different ways. Finally, it is important to provide feedback throughout the project.

Types of Projects for Project-Based Learning

Research projects:, problem-solving projects:, artistic projects:, simulations:.

Through simulations, students can role-play different characters or scenarios related to the subject they are studying. For example, a student studying the French Revolution could role-play as a member of the court during the Reign of Terror. Simulations help students gain a better understanding of how certain events unfolded and why they happened. Project-based learning is a teaching method that encourages students to explore and understand a subject in depth. It offers a variety of benefits, including enhanced engagement and critical thinking, as well as increased collaboration and problem solving .

Additionally, it enables teachers to design creative, engaging projects that can be tailored to the needs and interests of their students. However, it is important to consider the challenges of project-based learning, such as lack of structure and organization, and plan accordingly. By creating a successful project-based learning lesson plan, incorporating technology when appropriate, and selecting the right type of project for the lesson, teachers can help ensure that their students have a successful experience. For more information on project-based learning, there are many online resources available.

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Shahid Lakha

Shahid Lakha

Shahid Lakha is a seasoned educational consultant with a rich history in the independent education sector and EdTech. With a solid background in Physics, Shahid has cultivated a career that spans tutoring, consulting, and entrepreneurship. As an Educational Consultant at Spires Online Tutoring since October 2016, he has been instrumental in fostering educational excellence in the online tutoring space. Shahid is also the founder and director of Specialist Science Tutors, a tutoring agency based in West London, where he has successfully managed various facets of the business, including marketing, web design, and client relationships. His dedication to education is further evidenced by his role as a self-employed tutor, where he has been teaching Maths, Physics, and Engineering to students up to university level since September 2011. Shahid holds a Master of Science in Photon Science from the University of Manchester and a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Bath.

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Task-Based Learning (TBL) and Project-Based Learning (PBL) Differences

Task-Based Learning (TBL) or Project-Based Learning (PBL)?

These two methods focus on letting students take charge of their own learning, but they have some important differences in how they work .

In this blog article, we’ll explore the details of TBL and PBL , including how they’re done, what students are expected to learn, how long they usually take, how they’re structured, and the roles of teachers and students.

Written by Roberta Begliomini

Roberta Begliomini

Teacher Trainer in Florence


Task-Based Learning (TBL) and Project-Based Learning (PBL) are two learning strategies that focus on the development, execution, and delivery of tasks and projects respectively.

Although both strategies have the students at the center of their learning, some differences must be highlighted as well as the use of each approach according to the lesson target.

Task-Based Learning (TBL) and Project-Based Learning (PBL) are two distinct approaches that offer valuable learning experiences to students. While TBL focuses on language acquisition through the completion of specific tasks, PBL emphasizes interdisciplinary project work that fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration skills. Each approach has its own unique characteristics, benefits, and considerations for implementation.

Task-Based Learning (TBL)

Task-Based Learning focuses on the completion of specific tasks as a means to achieve language learning goals . Students are presented with authentic and meaningful tasks that mirror real-world contexts , enabling them to develop their language skills through practical application. TBL places a strong emphasis on communicative competence, encouraging learners to actively engage in language production and interaction. By immersing students in relevant tasks, TBL promotes linguistic fluency, accuracy, and pragmatic competence.

Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Project-Based Learning, on the other hand, revolves around the implementation of extended, multifaceted projects that integrate various subject areas and skills. Students are presented with complex, real-world problems or challenges, and they work collaboratively to design and execute projects that address these issues. PBL nurtures inquiry, research, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. It fosters the development of essential 21st-century skills such as collaboration, communication, and self-directed learning.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the distinct characteristics of Task-Based Learning and Project-Based Learning, examining their approach, learning objectives, timeframe, structure, and roles of teachers and students. By analyzing these aspects, we can gain a comprehensive understanding of how these two approaches differ and the unique benefits they offer to learners. So, let’s explore the fascinating world of Task-Based Learning and Project-Based Learning and unravel the nuances that set them apart.

TBL and PBL: Characteristics and Approaches

project task based learning

TBL is an approach that centers around the completion of specific tasks . The tasks are designed to reflect real-world situations and provide learners with opportunities to use the target language in authentic contexts. The focus is on language skills development through task completion. TBL encourages learners to actively engage in language production, interaction, and negotiation of meaning. It promotes the development of linguistic fluency, accuracy, and pragmatic competence.

In Task-Based Learning, students are presented with tasks that require them to use the target language to achieve a specific goal. These tasks can be simulations of real-life situations or authentic activities that learners may encounter outside the classroom. For example, a task could involve planning a trip, conducting an interview, or solving a problem collaboratively. TBL emphasizes the use of the target language for meaningful communication rather than focusing solely on grammatical structures or vocabulary.

PBL involves the implementation of extended projects that address real-world problems or challenges. The projects are typically interdisciplinary in nature, integrating various subject areas and skills. The focus is on inquiry, research, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity . PBL encourages students to work collaboratively, analyze complex issues, and develop innovative solutions. It nurtures the development of 21st-century skills such as collaboration, communication, and self-directed learning.

In Project-Based Learning, students engage in an in-depth investigation of a complex topic or problem . They work together to identify a question or issue to explore, conduct research, and design a project that addresses the challenge. The project may involve creating a prototype, conducting experiments, presenting findings, or developing a solution. PBL encourages students to take ownership of their learning, make connections across disciplines, and apply knowledge in authentic contexts.

Both TBL and PBL promote active student engagement . In TBL, learners actively engage in language production, interaction, and negotiation of meaning while completing tasks. Similarly, PBL encourages students to work collaboratively, analyze complex issues, and develop innovative solutions. Both approaches value the active participation of students in their learning process.

Learning Objectives Comparison

The primary learning objective of TBL is to develop communicative competence and language proficiency. By engaging in meaningful tasks, learners practice using the target language in authentic contexts. They develop their ability to express themselves fluently, accurately, and appropriately . TBL promotes the acquisition of vocabulary, grammar structures, and language functions needed for effective communication. Additionally, TBL helps learners develop pragmatic competence by understanding and using language in social and cultural contexts.

Through Task-Based Learning, students not only improve their language skills but also develop important strategies for communication . They learn to negotiate meaning, clarify information, and express their opinions. TBL encourages learners to become active participants in conversations and interactions, building their confidence and ability to use the language fluently.

The learning objectives of PBL go beyond language acquisition. PBL aims to foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and 21st-century skills . Through project work, students learn to analyze complex problems, conduct research, and apply knowledge from various disciplines. PBL encourages creativity, innovation, and the development of effective communication and collaboration skills.

In Project-Based Learning, students engage in authentic, real-world scenarios where they need to think critically and find solutions. They learn to ask probing questions, gather information, evaluate sources, and make informed decisions. PBL promotes the development of problem-solving skills and the ability to work collaboratively as students tackle complex issues. It also encourages students to reflect on their learning processes, assess their progress, and present their findings effectively.

Both TBL and PBL prioritize the development of communication skills . TBL focuses on developing communicative competence and language proficiency by engaging learners in meaningful tasks that reflect authentic language use. Similarly, PBL goes beyond language acquisition to foster effective communication and collaboration skills necessary for real-world problem-solving. Both approaches emphasize the practical application of language skills in authentic contexts.

Timeframe and Scope Differences

project task based learning

Task-Based Learning typically involves shorter, focused tasks with specific language learning goals. These tasks are designed to be completed within a relatively short timeframe , such as a single class session or a few sessions. TBL allows for targeted language practice and skill development in specific areas, providing students with immediate feedback and opportunities for improvement.

Project-Based Learning involves longer-term projects with broader learning objectives. These projects require more time to plan, execute, and complete. Depending on the complexity and scope of the project, PBL can span several weeks or even months . PBL provides students with the opportunity to engage in a more in-depth exploration of a topic or problem, allowing for a deeper understanding of the subject matter and the development of a comprehensive solution.

Both TBL and PBL provide opportunities for meaningful and authentic learning experiences . TBL focuses on shorter, focused tasks that allow students to practice specific language skills and receive immediate feedback. Similarly, PBL involves longer-term projects that enable students to engage in a more in-depth exploration of a topic, fostering a deeper understanding and application of knowledge and skills.

Structure and Organization Contrasts

TBL typically follows a clear task sequence to facilitate language acquisition and progression. Tasks are scaffolded in a way that allows learners to build upon their existing knowledge and skills. TBL often includes pre-task activities to activate prior knowledge, task performance activities where students complete the main task, and post-task activities for reflection and feedback. This structured approach helps learners develop language proficiency gradually and ensures a systematic progression in their language learning journey.

PBL is characterized by its open-ended and flexible structure . Students are given the freedom to explore and make decisions about how to approach the project, allowing for creativity and student autonomy. PBL often involves multiple phases , including project planning, research, design, implementation, and presentation. Students collaborate, take on specific roles, and engage in regular reflection and evaluation of their progress. The flexible nature of PBL allows for adaptation and adjustment as students encounter challenges or new information during the project.

Both TBL and PBL prioritize active student engagement. In TBL, students actively participate in the task sequence, which includes pre-task activities, task performance, and post-task reflection. Similarly, in PBL, students are actively involved in project planning, research, implementation, and evaluation. The active involvement of students in both approaches fosters a sense of ownership, motivation, and responsibility for their learning.

Teacher and Student Roles in TBL vs. PBL

project task based learning

In TBL, the teacher acts as a facilitator , providing guidance and support to students as they engage in tasks. The teacher’s role is to create an engaging and stimulating learning environment , select appropriate tasks, and provide clear instructions. They also monitor students’ progress, offer feedback on language use, and encourage reflection on the learning process.

During TBL, students take on an active role in their own learning. They work collaboratively with their peers, engaging in discussions, negotiations, and problem-solving activities. Students are responsible for managing their tasks, making decisions, and applying language skills in authentic contexts. TBL encourages learner autonomy, as students take ownership of their learning by setting goals, monitoring their progress, and reflecting on their language development.

In PBL, the teacher assumes the role of a facilitator and a guide . They provide initial guidance by introducing the project’s theme, establishing learning objectives, and setting clear expectations. The teacher supports students in defining the project scope, identifying resources, and developing a plan. They offer feedback and guidance throughout the project, ensuring students stay on track and meet the desired learning outcomes.

Students play a central and active role in Project-Based Learning. They collaborate with their peers, sharing responsibilities, and leveraging each other’s strengths. Students engage in research, data collection, analysis, and problem-solving activities, applying their knowledge and skills to develop innovative solutions. PBL encourages students to think critically, make informed decisions, and communicate their ideas effectively.

In both TBL and PBL, the role of the teacher shifts from being the sole provider of knowledge to a facilitator of learning. The teacher creates a supportive and inclusive learning environment, fosters student engagement, and promotes the development of essential skills. They encourage inquiry, critical thinking, and effective communication among students.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways: When to use TBL or PBL

Which approach is more applicable to your class depends on the main goal of your lesson plan.

TBL is shorter in duration so it is useful to refresh topics or to introduce new ones.

PBL takes more time and demands much more planning . So it is important to be assertive in the choice of the subject and topic for your project. A brainstorming session with your students might be helpful before developing a lesson plan. Students may choose a topic in which they understand the need to intervene to solve a real problem.

Time is your ally and not your enemy. If you lack time , use TBL rather than PBL. The most important thing is to provide the environment for your students to learn and develop the activities and tasks in a good and pleasant manner.

In TBL, students engage in meaningful tasks that mirror real-life situations, promoting communicative competence and language fluency. On the other hand, PBL provides students with opportunities to tackle complex problems, engage in inquiry, and develop 21st-century skills necessary for success in the modern world.

By understanding the differences between TBL and PBL, educators can make informed decisions about which approach best aligns with their learning objectives and the needs of their students. Both approaches offer valuable opportunities for active learning, student engagement, and the development of essential skills. Whether it’s through task completion or project implementation , educators can create dynamic and enriching learning experiences that empower students to become lifelong learners and problem solvers.

If you would like to see more practical examples of these teaching methodologies , consider joining my latest free online course Teach the EU through Collaborative and Student-Centered Learning , it was funded by the Erasmus+ Programme!

3 thoughts on “ Task-Based Learning (TBL) and Project-Based Learning (PBL) Differences ”

in meaningful tasks that mirror real-life situations, promoting communicative competence and language fluency. On the other hand, PBL provides students with opportunities to tackle complex problems, engage in inquiry, and develop 21st-century skills necessary for success in the modern world.

I think both TBL and PBL is the same because it produces outcomes like an Object or project. You can’t make a project with out doing a task. a project is composed of procedures and procedures are task to be performed.

Task Based learning deals with students do the explaining of such task like explaining the process of making such task e.g Automotive tune -up. Project based learning is accomplishing problem in the engine to make it function well.

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Project-Based Learning (PBL) Benefits, Examples & 10 Ideas for Classroom Implementation

Two students work together on a project-based learning assignment.

Written by Marcus Guido

Reviewed by Meredith Melvin, B.Ed.

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Why is project-based learning important?

Key characteristics of project-based learning.

  • What are some project-based learning examples
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  • Notable and effective project-based learning examples
  • Pros and cons of project-based learning in the 21st century

For some teachers, project-based learning (PBL)  is classroom bliss.

Students work together to investigate an authentic and nuanced real-world problem. They build curriculum-aligned skills in the process. They’re rewarded with enhanced communication and problem-solving skills .

But organizing and running suitable PBL activities isn’t always easy, as the pedagogy is surrounded by debate and takes form in a range of exercises.

Find and facilitate the most appropriate project-based learning examples for your students.

These sections will help you determine if the pedagogy is worthwhile. If so, you’ll come away with a handful of effective ideas to implement easily.

What is project-based learning?

Three elementary students work in a project-based learning task.

Project-based learning (PBL) or project-based instruction is a student-centered teaching method that encourages learning through engaging, real-world, curriculum-related questions or challenges.

This, of course, goes deeper than doing any old project. The goal is to get students to engage with a question or challenge that requires concentration and nuanced problem-solving skills.

This question or challenge must:

  • Be open-ended
  • Encourage students to apply skills and knowledge they’ve developed in your classes
  • Allow students to take their own approaches to develop an answer and deliver a product

As you can see, project-based learning doesn’t conform to rote approaches or teacher-led instruction.

Driven by critical thinking, it’s often interdisciplinary and encourages students to take a rewarding-yet-challenging road to skill-building and knowledge acquisition through a nuanced learning process.

Two male students smile at the camera during project-based learning activities.

Project-based learning boosts classroom engagement and has a direct impact on how well students are prepared to enter the workforce once they graduate. 

A growing focus on 21st century skills and critical thinking means project-based learning is gaining steam in education. In addition, PBL can help educators:

  • Teach students personal responsibility and critical time management skills
  • Design assignments that hit higher-order stages in Bloom’s taxonomy like analysis, synthesis and evaluation
  • Provide multiple ways of assessing students at different stages of the project, whether through a portfolio, annotated bibliography, outline, draft product or finished project

When students leave school, they’ll need to understand that work isn’t as straightforward as lectures and homework. It’s more aligned with a project-based approach, where employees are expected to prioritize, manage their time and deliver work on a deadline. Project-based learning helps teach students:

  • Creative problem-solving skills
  • The importance of collaboration
  • How to find the right tools for the job
  • How to build independent learning and project management skills
  • How to use relevant technology to find resources, communicate and produce a final product

Project-based learning is important because it helps students approach meaningful learning opportunities with curiosity, while also giving them real-world skills they’ll use for the rest of their lives. 

Project-based learning isn’t just group work or a randomly assigned project. Let’s take a look at some of the key characteristics to help you build your own project-based learning assignment:

1. Project-based learning presents an open-ended, appropriately complex question.

Students should have to do deep research, draw on existing knowledge and come up with a solution in the form of a final project — whether that’s a presentation, proposal, essay or other product. 

Students should have a choice in what they explore, and the questions they answer should be genuinely challenging with real-world applications.

2. Project-based learning relates to knowledge acquired through classroom lessons.

Not only should project-based learning build on your classroom lessons, but it should give students the opportunity to put them to use in a real-world setting. Project-based learning encourages students to dive deeper into the subject matter and builds on content knowledge.

Ultimately, this content knowledge should have real-world applications that students can focus on during the project.

3. Project-based learning requires students to find their own solutions to a given problem or question.

Just because the inspiration for project-based learning assignments comes from your lectures, doesn’t mean it should stay there. Effective PBL comes from requiring students to find their own solutions to a given problem — not just plugging in a formula to find the answer. 

In practice, this looks like a real-world project with extended inquiry. It should be a multi-stage process with, if necessary, multiple deliverables at different stages to keep students on track.

4. Project-based learning gives students a choice in how they learn. 

Students learn best when they’re studying something that captures their imagination and interest. Regardless of the end product, students should have as much autonomy as possible in what they make and how. They should learn how to communicate ideas in a group and on their own, and really bring their passion for the project to the forefront.

5. Project-based learning follows a clear, well-defined set of assessment criteria.

The best way to keep project-based learning on track and effective is to let students know what’s expected of them.

At the beginning of the project, give students a rubric and handouts outlining:

  • How the project will be graded
  • All the products they’ll be required to hand in
  • How they should work independently or in a group

Some teachers may even choose to collaborate with students in the development of the rubric and project criteria so they may feel a deeper understanding of the project expectations.

When students know what’s expected of them, they’re more likely to succeed.

A simple example of project-based learning

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The PBL process is straightforward.

  • You present the  issue, methods of investigation and any supplementary materials.  It’s up to your students to  deliver a defined product .
  • Next, encourage students to  reflect  on their work and make revisions, ultimately  delivering a presentation  to their peers.

In social studies, for example, you could task students with conceptualizing and mapping out a smartphone app that addresses a problem within your country. To add a math element, they can budget the necessary resources to develop it.

Despite this clear-cut process, there’s a lot of space for diverse tasks and differentiation in general.

As a type of active learning and inquiry-based learning , examples of project-based learning depend on yourself and your students. As John Dewey famously wrote in My Pedagogic Creed :

The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding.

Following this philosophy, it’s probable – and ideal – that any project-based learning exercise you run looks different from those run by your colleagues.

What matters is prioritizing your students’ needs and learning styles above the curriculum.

10 Project-based learning ideas your class will love

As you can see, it’s not always easy to come up with a “project” that meets these requirements. Ideating a driving question into meaningful learning experiences that have real-world applications is no small task. 

But that’s what we’re here to help with. Below are 10 of our ideas to inspire your project-based learning exercises.

1. Play area

Give students an opportunity to apply their geometry skills by designing a new playground for the school.

Using a range of free web applications, or simply grid paper and a pencil, task them with mapping out the playground while meeting certain conditions. These conditions should be based on including a certain number of 2D or 3D shapes in the components of the playground, such as slides and monkey bars. For example, at least two isosceles triangles, three equilateral triangles, four squares and so on. Once complete, each student must calculate the area and perimeter of his or her playground, as well as each component.

2. Your very own math story

Elementary students gather around a laptop during class.

Fuse math with visual and language arts by asking students to write their own  math books .

Taking the form of an original short story, require students to cover a certain number of curriculum skills. They should explain and exemplify each skill within the context of the story, inherently allowing them to improve understanding. In exemplifying how to use a given skill, students should teach themselves its importance for a real-world scenario. You should notice improved retention as a result.

Is it hard to get your students excited about math? Try turning it into an engaging game-based learning adventure!

3. Favorite recipes

Take a mathematical approach to nutrition by having your class analyze their favorite foods and dishes for presentations about select recipes.

Each student should choose a main course, two sides and a dessert. They must then create and deliver presentations about how to make the dishes. But instead of standard cooking advice, the focus is nutritional values – calories, carbohydrates, daily vitamin intake and so on – based on the ingredients. You may need to provide a go-to resource for students to find this information, but the onus for creating a healthy meal is on them. Bon appetit !

4. What happened to the dinosaurs?

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Satiate your students’ curiosity and probable love of dinosaurs by having them research and argue what caused their extinction, crafting a visual display to illustrate findings.

As the dinosaurs’ extinction remains a debate that can draw students into a rabbit hole, consider providing questions to guide their research. How did the planet change from the Triassic to Cretaceous period? How prevalent were carnivores compared with omnivores and herbivores? Such guiding questions should allow students to reach informed opinions, writing reports to defend those opinions and allowing them to craft creative visualizations.

5. Ancient civilization of needs

Combine history, anthropology and psychology through this project, requiring learners to envision newly-discovered ancient civilizations.

The basic premise is to borrow elements from other ancient societies, creating a unique one. But there’s a catch – the society must satisfy each tier in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. If students are not familiar with the theory, present it along with guiding questions.

For example, “Which tier of the pyramid is most important for society to function?” These questions should encourage students to develop a collection of products, including: a written explanation of the society and how it meets Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ; an analysis of the elements borrowed from other ancient civilizations; a visual depiction of the society and more.

6. Where it comes from

no image

Launch this independent or paired study activity to explore how ancient machines are still present in modern-day science and engineering.

The exercise starts with each student or pair choosing a simple machine – a pulley, lever, wedge and so on – or another ancient tool. They must research the history of their tools, determining how and where scientists and engineers still use them today. Students can then envision how the same tools will work as part of inventions 100 years into the future. They can produce videos, presentations or mock interviews with inventors to showcase their research and ideas.

7. The Oscar goes to …

Have students script a part of a significant historical event to exercise their drama, history, and creative writing skills.

Whether a battle, court proceeding or formation of a powerful organization, have students choose from a list of events. Each learner’s goal is to thoroughly research an event, forming a cohesive string of scenes they’d watch in a movie or television show. This will allow them to write scripts, highlighting each figure’s motives and background. They must also pay particular attention to historical accuracy in terms of dialogue and settings. After you’ve approved each student’s script, they can form small groups and choose their favorite, acting it out in front of the class.

8. Fashionista

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Encourage students to take the roles of fashion designers and marketers with a scenario that combines business with visual and language arts.

This scenario entails a client – played by you – asking fashion agencies – played by small student groups – to manage the creation and launch of a specific clothing item, such as a dress or jacket. Although your idea is crystal clear, you’re having a hard time communicating it. So, the agencies must start the project by developing a questionnaire to draw answers from you. As you respond to each agency, they can begin the next steps. These can include designing mock-ups, writing advertisements and calculating an appropriate sale price. After this work is done, each agency will pitch their version of the item to you. You determine who best captured the client’s ideas.

9. A career with math

Give students a chance to look towards the future, investigating a career path that heavily relies on math.

You can present a list of relevant careers or have students suggest their own. Either way, choosing a career will launch the investigation process. Each student must research the career, writing a brief report about how professionals use math in daily duties. From there, students should be able to choose a skill used in their selected procession, linking it to a skill in the curriculum. The final task is to write a textbook chapter that explains the skill while offering specific examples of how and when it is used in the given career.  

10. The economics of pizza

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Analyze, from a mathematical perspective , many students’ favorite meal: pizza.

This project-based learning assessment starts by choosing a pizza chain, researching its prices and applying linear algebra concepts to find the base cost of a pizza. These same concepts will allow students to determine how much each additional topping costs.

But the task isn’t done there. Students should research – individually or in small groups – how much it costs to source each topping. They can then determine which type of pizza yields the greatest and smallest profit margins. Doing so acts as an introduction to basic economic concepts, encouraging students to critically think about business.

Notable examples of project-based learning

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Your inspiration doesn’t have to be limited to isolated activities like the ones above! There are many notable examples of project-based learning initiatives.

You’ll likely be able to freely borrow ideas from these institutions:

1. THINK Global School

Calling itself the “world’s first traveling high school,” THINK Global School  has its students live in four countries per year while developing curriculum knowledge entirely through project-based learning.

The projects are rooted in the cultures and environments surrounding the students.

2. Muscatine High School

An oft-referenced example of commitment to project-based learning, Muscatine High School  in Iowa worked with a third-party organization to implement project-based learning opportunities across classes and subjects.

The projects are diverse, ranging from developing personal financial plans to exploring local history through interviews with community members.

3. EdVisions

A non-profit organization,  EdVisions ’ mission is “to help create and sustain great schools … using the most student-centered teaching and learning.” This largely involves partnering with schools to implement project-based learning opportunities.

The organization does so by working with a given school to identify students’ learning needs and preferences, tailoring projects to them. This serves as an important reminder: project-based learning starts and ends with students in mind.

However, educators are still asking some important questions...

With such complex demands in today’s educational system, educators worldwide are asking if elementary students can effectively complete research projects?

Will they still meet required learning objectives with the teacher serving as a guide instead of teaching the curriculum in a direct, traditional manner?

The project-based learning ideas above can be incredibly useful in the right setting and with the right students. However, there are some perceived benefits and disadvantages worth outlining.

Benefits and disadvantages of project-based learning

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Debate permeates discussions about project-based learning.

It’s up to you to understand the pros and cons, applying them to your classroom situation to make a decision about a given activity.

Key benefits of project-based learning:

  • Increased engagement –  Project-based learning empowers students to play an active role in learning, as the complex tasks they take on demand novel approaches and are relevant to real-world contexts. This creates a classroom environment in which students overwhelmingly report feeling engaged, according to a  meta analysis of 82 studies .
  • Better knowledge retention –  Compared with traditional instruction,  extensive research  indicates that students who complete project-based learning exercises and assessments often show superior knowledge retention in a range of subjects from math to second-language learning. This can translate to higher performance on tests, according to a  2011 study .
  • Improved critical thinking abilities –  The process of completing and delivering a project-generated product inherently builds problem-solving abilities, according to  research from as recent as 2010 . This is because students must heavily exercise those abilities, applying them in tangible contexts. For these reasons, the research indicates that students in project-based learning environments can better use problem-solving skills out of school than those in traditional learning settings.
  • More opportunities to explore EdTech –  Project-based learning, by nature, enables students to use EdTech and explore Internet resources and technology tools. For example, independent research is likely rooted in online searches. EdTech, on the other hand, can lend itself to creating and delivering artifacts.

Disadvantages of project-based learning

  • Subjectivity in assessments –  When grading a project-based learning product, many critics will say you’re closing the door on objectivity. This is because, as opposed to using standardized forms of measurement, you’ll rely on subjectively assessing a range of products. For these reasons, there’s an argument that you shouldn’t use project-based learning for a large part of students’ marks.
  • Hyper-focus on product creation –  It’s possible for the day-to-day focus of project-based learning to transition from developing and applying essential skills to merely working on a product. When this happens, you can debate that students won’t reap benefits such as improved problem solving and knowledge retention.
  • Questionable application in mathematics –  Largely skill-based for elementary learners, dedicating time to project-based learning may not be the best use of time. Consider this: Would students better understand multiplication by applying it in a project-based learning context, or by running through drills and  word problems ?

Armed with this knowledge, it’s ultimately your decision to bring project-based learning into your classroom.

A quality project will both engage students’ interests and align with what’s being taught, so keep that in mind for the most successful outcome. 

Final thoughts on building PBL exercises

After going through this, you should have a better understanding of project-based learning as a pedagogy, as well as how to create a project design and launch it.

Just remember that the teaching method must be student-centered. What works for some teachers may not work for you, and what works for you may not work for others.

But you’ll never know until you try.

👉 Create or log in to your teacher on Prodigy – a game-based learning platform for math that’s curriculum-aligned and used by over 100 million teachers, students and parents worldwide.

Task-Based Teaching and Learning: Pedagogical Implications

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  • Martin East 4  

Part of the book series: Encyclopedia of Language and Education ((ELE))

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Task-based language teaching (TBLT) has been developing since the 1980s as a learner-centered and experiential means of fostering real language use in second and foreign language (L2) classrooms through learners’ engagement in tasks. TBLT has aimed to address some of the limitations of more established procedures aligned with so-called communicative language teaching (CLT), most particularly by challenging top-down teacher-centered grammatical emphases (weak CLT) and addressing the limitations of a pure focus on meaning (strong CLT) through the phenomenon of focus on form. TBLT has gained considerable support through empirical studies that have demonstrated the efficacy of tasks to promote second language acquisition. Nevertheless, TBLT has not been without its critics. Also, more recent research among teachers has revealed teacher uncertainty about what TBLT is, with eclecticism often more highly favored by teachers than a task-based framework. In turn, the claim that TBLT is a more effective pedagogical approach than more traditional CLT models is arguably more ideological than evidential. If TBLT is to become a more established approach to L2 teaching and learning than it currently is, more work is needed to develop greater understanding of how a task-based framework can be utilized more successfully in real classrooms. The agenda for the future must include investigating and encouraging the implementation of TBLT in ways that will increase teacher certainty about the effectiveness of what they do in their classrooms.

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East, M. (2015). Task-Based Teaching and Learning: Pedagogical Implications. In: Van Deusen-Scholl, N., May, S. (eds) Second and Foreign Language Education. Encyclopedia of Language and Education. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02323-6_8-1

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Tips for Teaching Professors

project task based learning

Tip: Project-Based & Task-Based Learning

Engage students in authentic assessment through creative projects..

project task based learning

Often we when talk about authentic assessment , the conversation focuses on alternatives to final exams or major course projects. Trying to envision how to change these high-stakes tasks can feel overwhelming, especially when connected to concerns about academic integrity . I think it’s more manageable to think first about how to incorporate offering students choices when possible, such as designing courses with more low(er) stakes assignments , or offering students options of “ buckets” of assessments , and building up to incorporating alternatives to traditional high-stakes assignments like research paper alternatives . I like focusing on smaller-stakes assignments to start, not only because they are generally simpler to re-work but also because an average course includes many more of these assignments to play around with.

I focus on these three questions when I am thinking about designing an assessment of student learning - whether that’s a high-stakes, end-of-course assessment, or a low-stakes practice activity:

Is it realistic? Does it replicate or simulate real-life contexts in which students might be asked to apply their knowledge and skills? Can students connect their performance on the assessment to real-life performance in a work- or life-related task?

Is it active? Are students expected to “do” something or create something? Do they have an opportunity to use a repertoire of knowledge and skills to negotiate a complex task?

Does it rely on critical thinking? Does it require judgment and innovation? Do students have opportunities to rehearse, practice, consult resources, and get feedback on and refine performances and products?

I’m going to share two examples from my own teaching - and I hope it goes without saying, but I offer these not as models of perfect practice but rather as always-under-construction examples.

Example #1: High-Stakes Summative Assessment

One of the major assignments I do with my pre-college composition students is a problem and solution writing assignment. Students brainstorm about problems facing college students, select a problem that really inspires them, and then propose a solution to the problem.

project task based learning

I think this project works well for my students for two reasons: first, it asks them to engage in a creative, real-work task of identifying & solving a problem they face; second, completing the assignment relies upon students’ prior knowledge & experiences .

Example #2: Low-Stakes Formative Assessment

In my English courses for multilingual learners, a major goal students have is to improve their written communication skills. One skill we work on is self-editing. Identifying areas in their writing that lack clarity, and then figuring out what needs to change, is a complex skill. We practice as a class and then in small groups identifying points of confusion in real examples of student writing, and then students apply the skills to their own writing. Rather than focusing on specific grammar points in isolation, they are practicing being more aware readers of their own writing and applying their pre-existing knowledge to the real-world task of self-editing.

My approach with both of these examples is inspired by task-based language teaching (TBLT) methodology, which focuses on presenting students with real-world communicative tasks, eliciting authentic language and providing a high degree of intrinsic motivation. Similarly, project-based learning (PBL) engages students in authentic tasks, encourages students to transfer skills and knowledge to other tasks and contexts, and is intrinsically motivating.

Project-based learning (PBL) has been demonstrated to be equally effective and, in some studies, more effective at increasing student learning with underrepresented minority students as it is with white and Asian students. For minority-serving institutions with open admissions policies, PBL has been demonstrated to improve students’ motivation to succeed and boost students’ self-efficacy, which translates into learning gains. (from Project-Based Learning in Minority-Serving Institutions )

What do you think?

How are you using projects in your courses? What types of real-life application tasks do you ask students to do? If you’re moving in the direction of implementing more of these types of assignments, are you seeing any difference in student performance? If you haven’t added many project-based assignments in your course, what are your hesitations?

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project task based learning

For more reading…

A review of project-based learning in higher education: Student outcomes and measures (open access from the International Journal of Educational Research , 2020)

5 Best Practices to Enhance Student Outcomes in Experiential Courses (Harvard Business Publishing)

Using Design Thinking in Higher Education (Educause)

Project-Based Learning through a Maker’s Lens (Edutopia)

PBL in Higher Education (Worchester Polytechnic Institute)

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  • Published: 08 December 2020

Project-based learning: an analysis of cooperation and evaluation as the axes of its dynamic

  • Berta de la Torre-Neches   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0001-7305-362X 1 ,
  • Mariano Rubia-Avi 1 ,
  • Jose Luis Aparicio-Herguedas 2 &
  • Jairo Rodríguez-Medina   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-6466-5525 3  

Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume  7 , Article number:  167 ( 2020 ) Cite this article

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  • Development studies

Project-based learning is an active method that develops the maximum involvement and participation of students in the learning process. It requires the teacher to energize the learning scenario by promoting the cooperation of students to investigate, make decisions and respond to the challenges of the project. It also requires activating an evaluation system that promotes awareness, reflexivity and a critical spirit, facilitating deeper learning. This case study aims to understand the functioning of cooperative work established during the application of the method, as well as to know how the evaluation process progresses in the perspective of a group of teachers of secondary education that set up this methodology in their classes. The data obtained from interviews with the teachers involved in the study, teachers’ notebooks, and open-question questionnaire applied to high-school students are analyzed. Although the students were organized in small groups in order to develop their collaborative skills, intragroup frictions and conflicts were not sufficiently addressed or supervised in time by the teachers, thus resulting in an incomplete development of the synergies and collaboration necessaries to the project. From the point of view of the evaluation, the importance of the implementation of training and shared evaluation systems is well recognized, although a more traditional evaluation model, which does not sufficiently address the project development process prevails, and the value of the qualification on the final product achieved still weights.

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As a result of the crisis scenario that began in Spain in 2007, the need to incorporate to the Secondary Education stage some subjects with economic contents, was posed in order to introduce and make students understand the socio-economic circumstances in the world. Simultaneously, teaching methods have been incorporating some learning methodologies that aim to make students able to solve, with involvement, the problems presented to them (Martín and Rodríguez, 2015 ). Some of these methods orient learning towards a competitive character such as cooperative methodologies, gamification or project-based learning (PBL) (Hernández March, 2006 ).

The PBL method is a methodological alternative that involves direct contact with the object of study and ends with the realization of a work project by the students initially proposed by the teacher (Bell, 2010 ), applying knowledge and skills and developing an attitude of commitment (Sánchez, 2018 ). In order to do this, students analyze the topic raised, think about it, organize themselves, search for information, work as a team and make decisions. It is, therefore, intended to promote knowledge of the contents as well as the management of skills and attitudes, learning to mobilize those resources said in situation and to solve problems (Perrenoud, 2008 ).

The experience carried out requires students to face real-life problem statements through activities that suit their interests (Krajcik and Blumenfeld, 2006 ), find and use tools to address them and act collaboratively to propose solutions through an action plan (Barret, 2005 ; Bender, 2012 ; Blumenfeld et al., 1991 ). Traditional training models are based in the premise that students have to know the content in order to apply it in solving a problem. The PBL reverses this order and considers that students obtain the knowledge while solving a problem (Jonassen, 2011 ), an aspect that results in a higher quality of the information they handle to solve it, since it is shared, discussed and applied in a concrete situation (Thomas, 2000 ).

Thus, through PBL, students plan, discuss, and implement projects that have real-world impact and are significant to them (Blank, 1997 ; Dickinson et al., 1998 ). They implement skills for the management of interpersonal and team relationships, the teacher acting as a guide and counselor during the learning process (Kolmos, 2012 ; Thomas, 2000 ). This allows students to think about their proposals, develop them and become aware of the process itself and everything that it implies beyond the results achieved (Brundiers and Wiek, 2013 ; García et al., 2010 ).

In this way, the acquisition of social skills, empathetic behavior, dialog and listening (Belland et al., 2006 ), the development of critical and reflective thinking (Mergendoller et al., 2006 ) is favored by activating competencies such as collaboration, decision-making, organization and group responsibility (Blank, 1997 ; Dickinson et al., 1998 ), contributing to the development of a more motivating and participatory learning climate (Lima et al., 2007 ).

This methodological aspect requires, in parallel, the review of the evaluation systems; it appears as necessary to leave behind the traditional cumulative models to introduce a new model of more formative, shared and authentic evaluation that is able to guarantee a greater involvement of the students in the development of their and their peer’s learning process (Brown and Race, 2013 ). An authentic evaluation offers the students opportunities to learn through the evaluation process planned and directed by the teacher. When the evaluation system is carefully designed to articulate with the learning results that are expected to be achieved, it is possible to obtain benefits in terms of greater participation and helps students to advance in the development of their knowledge, skills and attitudes (Brown, 2015 ).

Cooperation as the basis of project-based learning

One of the essential aspects of developing the PBL is the management of cooperation between the group participants, an aspect that must be guaranteed and supervised by offering sufficient feedback (Thomas, 2000 ). For Orlick ( 1986 ) cooperation is directly related to communication, cohesion, trust and skills development for positive social interaction.

However, Díaz-Barriga and Hernández ( 2002 ) consider that group work, which teachers frequently launch in project initiatives, does not necessarily implies true cooperation and there are many interpersonal problems that students face (Prince and Felder, 2006 ). This aspect prevents a real learning of collaboration and its application in action to address the shared phase of project management.

Burdett ( 2007 ) considers that, sometimes within the group, interpersonal relationships are strained since participation in group work involves much more than each member’s knowledge on a given subject: It involves listening, negotiating, giving in; ultimately, skills that favor the dynamics of group work. Such situations of tension and intragroup crises jeopardize the assignment to be developed and the effectiveness of group synergy, as established by Del Canto et al. ( 2009 ), Jhen and Mannix ( 2001 ), Kerr and Bruun ( 1983 ), Putnam ( 1997 ), and Velázquez ( 2013 ) and those are grouped around five critical dimensions: Differences in individual capacities to complete assignments, resulting in the stowaway effect ; imbalance in the functions to be performed; early abandonment in completing assignments due to unresolved discrepancies; struggle to make one’s own ideas prevail and lack of communicative skills.

Also for Kerr and Bruun ( 1983 ) and Slavin ( 2014 ) tensions arise from the lack of a follow-up by the teacher in the group work process entrusted to their students, not monitoring the performance and contribution of each member by thriving the aforementioned stowaway effect, imbalances in workloads borne by each member and unresolved crises in interpersonal relationships, not benefiting the task management, the project development and its fair evaluation.

Intragroup conflicts often cause widespread student complaints, lack of motivation, frustration, and occasionally, a preference for individual work that does seem to guarantee the fair evaluation of the assignment (Gámez and Torres, 2012 ; McConnell, 2005 ).

That is why establishing initial cooperative learning dynamics to learn how to collaborate, assume new responsibilities, communicate and assertively express ideas (Velázquez, 2013 ), is essential to get started in the PBL methodology. Johnson et al. ( 1999a ) define cooperative learning as a work-based methodology in small, usually heterogeneous groups in which students work together to improve their own and other member’s learning.

Several authors understand cooperative learning as an active methodology that favors the reflection of students while completing the assignment; not only des it allow to achieve academic goals, but also social objectives, it stimulates interaction through the proposal of small groups and guides the realization of a type of group work, structured and monitored, to favor the learning of all the members of the group without exception (Dyson, 2002 ; Johnson et al., 1999b ; Kagan, 2000 ; Pujolàs, 2009 ).

According to Johnson and Johnson ( 1999 ) the management of cooperative learning by teachers requires, for its effectiveness, guarantees in the management of positive interdependence, making the students understand that work benefits colleagues by prioritizing “us” over “I”, proactive interaction, individual responsibility, interpersonal skills, and group processing at the end of the work sessions performed.

The teacher establishes a structured process of true cooperation easing the development of academic objectives, but also other competitive objectives: cooperation, communication, social skills (Walberg and Paik, 2002 ).

It is important to note in this regard the role of the evaluation on the projects implemented, developed and presented. Pérez-Pueyo and López-Pastor ( 2017 ) propose a model of formative evaluation through the use of cooperative projects, in which a further step is taken in the autonomy of the students by fully involving them in the teaching process through shared tutoring, especially when the realization of projects that require a lot of involvement or levels of complexity in their realization is encouraged. In addition, the use of tools such as auto evaluations and group co-evaluations (Hamodi et al., 2015 ), allow the teacher to give more effective feedback during the process, based on the information provided by the students.

Based on the contributions of the various authors cited above, who understand cooperative learning as an active methodology that allows students to achieve not only academic goals but also social objectives, thus promoting the learning for all the students without exceptions, the present study aims to achieve the following objectives: Understanding the functioning of cooperative work present in the development of the operational dynamics of the PBL launched.

Knowing how the formative evaluation process develops in the operational dynamics of the PBL.

Participants and context

The study included 16 students on their fourth year of Secondary Education (with an average of 15 years old, 8 females and 8 males) attending Cristo Rey Polytechnic Institute in the city of Valladolid, and taking the elective subject of Economics. Also three male teachers and two female teachers (ages [35–57]) who teach at the same center and stage, in which they apply PBL as an active methodology. All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

During the development of the research, the ability of students to work through PBL was tested, applying the academic project entitled My Business Plan , throughout the subject of Economics in the compulsory secondary education stage. The students were arranged in groups of 4 to 5 members with different capacities and potentialities.

These heterogeneous groups allowed the development of various skills by the students, with the intention of improving them together with intragroup interpersonal relationships.

Data collection and information analysis tools

An in-depth interview was designed for teachers who were to some extent incorporating PBL as an active methodology in the development of their subjects. They thus form a representation of the faculty imparting subjects such as Economics, Geography and History, Biology and Geology, Physics and Chemistry and Philosophy. At the same time, an open-question questionnaire was designed for students. Finally, a reflexive diary was drafted in which observations were recorded from the experiences carried out in class.

In relation to the analysis of the information obtained, the ATLAS.ti software has been used, confectioning a work of textual analysis of the transcripts of teachers’ interviews, the answers on the open questions of the questionnaire answered by the students, alongside with the teacher’s own reflexive diary.

On the three primary documents, a coding process is carried out inductively and deductively through two cycles (Miles et al., 2014 ). Thus, during the process, a constant circular relationship between the codes already obtained and the new ones I created, refining the concepts, grouping them, to infer in higher-level constructs as groups of explanatory codes (Kalpokaite and Radivojevic, 2019 ).

The codes obtained during the first coding cycle were analyzed critically and independently by the four researchers participating in the study establishing a thoughtful debate. Continuous feedback between researchers and their ongoing participation in the regeneration and refinement of codes and groups of codes supported the credibility, reliability and transparency of the research (Neal et al., 2015 ).

It was considered that saturation had been reached at the time where comparisons between the data ceased to show new relationships and properties between them, depleting that representative wealth of a circular analytical process (Flick, 2007 ).

In order to address the credibility aspects of the research in relation to the interpretative difficulties of the phenomenon studied (Lincoln and Guba, 1985 ), a structure of prolonged over time experimentation was developed, with the presence of the researcher at the location, maintaining the same methodological order, establishing her figure as an observer teacher during the time of research; in the analysis of the data, a process of triangulation was developed from the three aforementioned sources of documentary data, this allowing the contrast of the discoveries.

Forty-one explanatory codes of the phenomenon under investigation were established and grouped around four categories: Learning, interaction-collaboration, motivation, organization.

The use of the ATLAS.ti software as a code co-coordinate tool was convenient, allowing to observe how four codes of the categories Learning and Interaction-Collaboration related to each other: cooperation, conflicts, evaluation and project. Their relational study allows to reflect critically on the several handicaps found and whose consideration is essential for the applicability of the practice.

Thus, to address the first objective of the study—knowing the functioning of cooperative work in the development of the operational dynamics of the PBL launched—taking as a starting point the perceptions of the teachers interviewed and the relationships they establish between PBL and cooperation, they show a formula of practical application using cooperative structures in the form of small groups, which they consider makes it easier for students to encourage communication, to develop skills for interpersonal relationships, as well as individual and group responsibility in the fulfillment of the assignments proposed.

(…) I mix it at first with cooperative work, with small groups, with cooperative structures because being such dense subjects (…) and at the end of the school year, the last quarter, we already work on the project (Male Teaching Interview. 4:69).
In the groups, the smaller the better they work, (I would recommend) four tops, like last year (…) this allows everyone to work, if they are too many, the tasks get diluted and if there are very few, and it also happens sometimes, if one is sick or misses class for some reason for too many days, the groups gets resented… then it rally allows to work on relationships and influences the quality of learning very clearly by what I say… one is good at one thing, the other is good at some other thing, and they end up learning from each other (Male Teaching Interview. 4:358).

The same teacher considers, in the application of the methodology, the creation of small working groups, defending this formula as very valuable to develop the communicative and negotiation abilities to reach agreements and coordinate with others, the students winning from an experiential point of view, in socialization and interaction resources.

I divided the class into 4 groups of 4 students each (…), they had ten minutes to explain in front of the rest of the classmates what their business model was by answering various questions. (…) the idea of the project is that they are the ones who work on this concept throughout the course and thus gradually become familiar with that environment and its vocabulary (Reflexive Diary. 3:394).
Through the PBL they work together, they talk more, they must agree on different aspects, and it requires coordination, that is, an effort of all of them, not depending so much on their individual abilities; this approach is very different from the master class, and I do believe that, from a social point of view, socialization develops more and better this way (Reflexive Diary. 4:412).

However, the same teachers interviewed acknowledge that, during the development of the methodology, applying group work strategies for cooperation, numerous frictions and interpersonal conflicts are often triggered within the working groups. A closer attention is put on those students who does not follow the intended pattern of behavior and unleash conflict because they do not assume or carry out their workload.

The most negative aspect are those students who do not want to participate, or find it difficult to participate, or do not get involved and seriously harm the group, and sometimes problems such as friction and conflicts can appear among them for this reason; working individually, logically, there is no such problem (Female Teacher Interview. 4:150).
That student who is a little lazier, they can take advantage of the group work situation so that others work a little for them (Male teacher interview. 4:343).

This aspect is also observed and recorded by the teacher in her reflexive diary, acknowledging incidents that are likely to occur in the groups, generating some interpersonal conflict and influence on group performance to carry out the tasks of the project.

There is a group of four boys who you have to tell off and who I do not intend to bring together in the future for the groups of the project (Reflexive Diary. 3:296).
Z (…) during group work he plays with the table, gets distracted by what other teammates do (…). I think he’s a boy who is too easily distracted and annoys his peers (Reflexive Diary. 3:160).

The students themselves consider that the project suffers when situations in which not all members of the group work in tune occur, creating imbalances in the effort made and in the management of the workloads and involvement assumed, which have an impact not only on the realization of the tasks and assignments and their final evaluation, but also on the intragroup climate.

I don’t like it when there’s someone in my group who doesn’t work and gets the same grade as me or we fail the project all because of him, because we don’t all work equally; sometimes I felt that if I didn’t tell them to do something, they wouldn’t do it (Student Questionnaire. 5:242)
There are groups where only one or two people work and it’s not fair. The rest of them get too comfortable and their work is minimal. I would try watching those who do not work, or not giving them the same grade (Student Questionnaire. 5:123)
When the members of the group do not work, the project can be a disaster; and if a person does not want to do their job then discussions arise; for me the experience is negative because I did work and I did it all by myself (Student Questionnaire. 6:134)

With regard to the second objective of the study, knowing how the formative evaluation process develops in the operational dynamics of the PBL, taking into account the teachers involved in the inclusion of PBL in their teaching practice, it seems to show a difficult development, recognizing the constant presence of tests and evaluations as a generalized tool of measurement of the acquired knowledge. However, it recognizes the value of other competence aspects that must necessarily be considered by applying tools that make it easier for students to raise awareness of the developed learnings, as well as the value of the teacher as a guide who oversees the learning process and controls and leads it.

Evaluation is a complex topic because if you base your work on projects and in the end you give them an exam you are giving more value to the contents and not so much to everything else; that is why for the final evaluation we are already working on taking into consideration the valuable opinions of each one, that of the classmates, the ones shared among students and teachers through auto evaluation practices, co-evaluation and heteroevaluation. In this way they develop their critical ability, their capability to value themselves and others (Male Teacher Interview. 4:323).
I like as a teacher to supervise how they perform the practice of PBL, if everyone works and contributes; then I believe that this work is done in front of them (Male teacher interview. 4:442).
When one works in a group within the classroom the relationship between the students and the teacher is reinforced because they are no longer seen as a figure of authority or a superior, but as a guide who knows, who helps, who collaborates with them and listens to them (Female Teacher Interview. 4:388).

The same teacher in her reflexive diary mentions the use of evaluation practices such as co-evaluation allowing the students to express themselves in order to participate and getting them involved through paper presentations and consequent evaluation between classmates; she also references the heteroevaluation allowing the time for student-teacher dialog based on the assignments and a proposal to solve the project addressed.

What I want is for them to work a little bit and, to make sure of that, as they develop the eight sections on their project, they must make a presentation in front of the rest of their classmates that will be evaluated by themselves and commented by the rest of us (Reflexive Diary. 3:701).
Once the presentations were completed, I gave each group a questionnaire to conduct a co-evaluation on the project addressed; for this evaluation, each group would evaluate the work presented by the other groups, grading representatively each of the sections of the project, so that we could have several grades to be used for the final evaluation of the project (Reflexive Diary. 3:335).

To conclude, the students recognize certain limitations in the evaluation of their work, mainly in a key of a non-follow-up of the process established in the classroom to address the project and the assignments required. They propose solutions to develop a greater control on those people in the group who do not contribute in the realization of the aforementioned assignments, as well as a better management of the final grade that, being the same for the whole group, is detrimental, in their perception, to the formation of a fair value in relation to the unequal effort made. Sometimes the proposed solutions are oriented in an opposite direction to the cooperative spirit that the PBL promotes.

The way I would solve the problem of those colleagues who take advantage of the work of others when working as a group is to set them alone to work; to do their own project; that way, at least they would control those who do not work (Student Questionnaire. 5:168).
As a positive experience, I find working with projects more enjoyable and entertaining; the most negative thing is that it is almost never worked equally, and approximately the same grade is received. It is better to grade individually instead of having a final group grade (Student Questionnaire. 3:356).
The problem with those classmates who take advantage of other’s work when working in a group I would solve by telling the teacher, and giving an individual grade on each assignment done by each group member, specifying who did what (Student Questionnaire. 5:206).

When teaching methods such as PBL are used, in which the teacher poses a question, a challenge or a specific problem connected with the reality that students have to solve (Bell, 2010 ), the degree of involvement of these students seems to increase. In the teaching-learning process, they become the protagonists when they are invited to seek, assess, interpret and share information with the rest of the group members, and they apply a more critical way of thinking, since they are constantly and mutually questioned about why and what are they studying for.

In this sense, the students participate collaboratively in all the proposed assignments: understanding and interpretation of data, collection of information, preparation of partial deliveries, writing of the final report, and oral presentation before others, assessing the problem or challenge proposed with the intention of being able to draw their own conclusions.

In the implementation of these formative dynamics as an alternative to more traditional methodological models, a new way of generating and developing learning is consequently activated, applying a cooperative work model, being the management of group activity to face the project a vital aspect.

In relation to the cooperative dynamics of operation of the PBL experiences developed, the implementation of a methodological model is observed; this model is based, as a starting point, on cooperative structures by which the students are intended to address the project. Such structures materialize in the form of small and heterogeneous groups that seek to guarantee communication between their members (Johnson et al., 1999a ), unleashing a strongly competency learning model (Perrenoud, 2008 ) in which students have to combine the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they learn, in a shared way with their classmates, to face the assignments and carry out the project proposed and presented by the teacher (Bell, 2010 ; Thomas, 2000 ).

In the same way, intentionally, the dynamics proposed by teachers through this methodology intend to trigger learning situations in which negotiation, compromise, listening, agreement-reaching and coordination to make decisions and solve problems are aspects of interaction and socialization necessarily to be encouraged, as established by Belland et al. ( 2006 ) and Bender ( 2012 ).

However, there is a general concern about the management in the classroom of the cooperative structures placed in order to develop the project. Friction, conflicts inherent in group life and the consequence of the cooperation dynamics applied to establish in a shared way the action plan to address the entrusted project are recognized. They identify in certain students a lack of willingness for cooperation and commitment, aspects that generate intragroup tension that for Slavin ( 2014 ) is necessary to keep track of by the teacher during the learning process, for example, paying special attention to those situations in which the stowaway effect occurs (Kerr and Bruun, 1983 ; Slavin, 2014 ).

In this matter, the students themselves describe occasional imbalances in the efforts made to carry out the assignments, the weight of the workloads assumed and, ultimately, a certain lack of harmony when relating to each other when it comes to getting involved in the project. For Del Canto et al. ( 2009 ), Jhen and Mannix ( 2001 ), Putnam ( 1997 ), and Velázquez ( 2013 ) cooperation requires attention on these critical aspects during its development, benefiting the group climate itself and thus, the performance on the assignments. For Gámez and Torres ( 2012 ) and McConnell ( 2005 ), intragroup conflict provokes generalized complaints, loss of enthusiasm and motivation for group members, a source of arguments and frustration, an aspect present in the study in the voice of the students involved.

At the same time, the teaching staff, in relation to the evaluation of the formative dynamics based on the PBL put in place, recognize the importance of paying attention to various competency aspects inherent to the cooperative learning process obtained.

This aspect, in line with what is suggested by Blank ( 1997 ), Dickinson et al. ( 1998 ), Mergendoller et al. ( 2006 ) and Belland et al. ( 2006 ), materializes in the attention to capacities such as empathy, listening, critical thinking, collaboration, decision-making, group responsibility, the teacher assuming a role of leader and guide of all these during the process of learning, as considered by Thomas ( 2000 ), Walberg and Paik ( 2002 ) and Kokotsaki et al. ( 2016 ), supporting the maintenance of a more motivating, participatory and facilitating group work climate (Lima et al., 2007 ).

Despite the use of traditional evaluation dynamics presenting a more finalist nature, such as the test or exam, the teaching staff recognize the value of formative and shared evaluation tools, such as self-evaluation, co-evaluation and heteroevaluation. In this sense, it is observed in the group, not without difficulties (Ertmer and Simons, 2005 ) a certain appreciation for the involvement of the students in the evaluation process, giving them a voice to express their own perception through dynamics such as the presentation of resulting works and shared evaluation in this regard. Paradoxically, the students involved consider a certain lack of follow-up by the teachers on the assignments they carry out and that are a part of the project, in correlation with a conflictive management of the grade in this regard. For Pérez-Pueyo and López-Pastor ( 2017 ) it is necessary to take further steps in the autonomy and personal initiative of the students and their involvement in the evaluation process, the teacher being able to apply techniques such as auto-evaluation, peer evaluation, shared evaluation, self-grading and dialogued grading. The same authors, for example, advocate for intervening in a Secondary Education classroom by applying cooperative projects and final presentations of group papers or events preparation, tutoring in a shared way with their students and involving them in their—and other’s—learning process; The teacher can also complete the methodological initiative by developing group auto-evaluations and co-evaluations, the students evaluating the process of effecting the group assignments or the actual completion of the final presentations. Some recommended instruments to lead the aforementioned evaluation techniques are the group class diary, the auto-evaluation reports and the evaluation scales (Hamodi et al., 2015 ; Hernando et al., 2017 ).

In short, the PBL experience carried out contains all the technical elements to facilitate a learning model of the competence type, which addresses both knowledge and skills to carry out the assignments and to offer solutions to the problems inherent to the given project, as well as the abilities to do so jointly and cooperatively. However, it shows that the methodological practice proposed still suffers from a real follow-up on the group process set, establishing feedback means in the action itself, neglecting the potential conflicts that arise and the smooth completion of the assignments.

In relation to evaluation, the importance of a more formative evaluation model is recognized among the teachers involved, appreciating practices that activate the participation and involvement of students, although the weight of the final products continues to be relevant to the process itself.

Data availability

All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article.

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We gratefully acknowledge the support of the teachers, school managers and the children that participated for their collaboration.

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Department of Pedagogy, Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Valladolid, Paseo de Belén, 1, 47011, Valladolid, Spain

Berta de la Torre-Neches & Mariano Rubia-Avi

Deparment of Physical Education, Faculty of Education, University of Valladolid, Plaza de la Universidad, 1, 40005, Segovia, Spain

Jose Luis Aparicio-Herguedas

Department of Methods of Research and Diagnosis in Education I, National Distance Education University, Juan del Rosal, 14, 28040, Madrid, Spain

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de la Torre-Neches, B., Rubia-Avi, M., Aparicio-Herguedas, J.L. et al. Project-based learning: an analysis of cooperation and evaluation as the axes of its dynamic. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 7 , 167 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-020-00663-z

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Connecting Across Disciplines in PBL

Here are three ways to set up project-based learning that involves more than one subject area, which is highly engaging for students.

Photo of high school students working as a group

When seventh-grade students in Alexandria, Virginia, noticed mushrooms growing from under the baseboard in their classroom, their curiosity launched them and teacher Mary Breslin on an investigation into the causes and health effects of mold and fungus in school buildings.

After presenting their findings at a science fair, students wanted to keep working on policy solutions. That meant shifting their focus to learn in depth about how government works and, eventually, lobby their state legislature to pass a bill . Without a deep understanding of both science and social studies, and the ability to connect them, students could not have achieved the same results.

Their experience, one of many examples that education leader Ken Kay and I share in Redefining Student Success , shows what students can accomplish when they tackle real-world problems. It also underscores a challenge that teachers may face when projects don’t fit neatly into content silos.

Interdisciplinary learning can seem like a barrier for teachers who feel constrained by time, a prescribed curriculum, or a lack of opportunities to work with teachers from other disciplines. But the benefits can be profound , from increased engagement to academic gains. 

When students confront real-world problems, in school now or later in life, they may need more than one set of disciplinary lenses to see a complex issue or design a solution. Experts from Harvard Project Zero argue that addressing today’s most pressing issues—from environmental to social to economic—will require synthesizing knowledge from disparate sources.

A Continuum for Connecting

To help teachers think outside content silos when designing projects, I encourage them to start with problems that matter to students. A good prompt to encourage student brainstorming is “What’s a problem you care about that adults haven’t solved yet?” Thinking about the knowledge and skills essential to tackle a problem will lead to content goals, an important step in aligning projects to standards.

What if key learning goals are outside a teacher’s comfort zone or don’t fit into their planned curriculum? Instead of scaling back the project to fit a single content area, teachers can connect across disciplines with this continuum of connections: All-In , Just in Time , or the Handoff .

All-In: In this approach, significant learning goals for two or more content areas are incorporated in the same project. Elementary teachers can connect across content areas by bringing existing structures, such as literacy stations or math rotations, into project design in meaningful ways. ( This video from PBLWorks offers a good example.)

The All-In approach is routine in schools designed for teaming (as in these examples from High Tech High) or in interdisciplinary courses like Humanities or Environmental Economics.

Some teachers create opportunities to connect across content areas even without formal structures for teaming or dedicated time for planning with colleagues. Here’s an example of an engaging project with clear learning goals for English language arts and history that grew out of two teachers’ shared interest in podcasting. Regular check-ins, common deadlines, and shared strategies for assessment will keep the project on track.

Just in Time: Some projects focus primarily on one content area but bring in strategies from another discipline “just in time” for students to reach a solution or create a final product that would have been impossible otherwise. For instance, in a chemistry project, students designed and conducted lab experiments about water quality. To analyze their data for a journal article, they needed to apply statistical methods. That was when the teacher brought in guest statisticians as expert consultants.

In another example, students had a choice of final products to demonstrate historical thinking for a National History Day project. When one team proposed writing a one-act play, however, the teacher hesitated. He knew from formative assessments that the students’ research and interpretation of history was of high quality, but he had no experience in theater. Just in time, the school drama teacher agreed to step in as a consultant.

The Handoff: Less often, a project might start in one content area (or grade level) and then get handed off to another class for a new cycle of inquiry. For example, seventh-grade students at a K–12 school designed a community garden that reflected local culture and heritage, meeting learning goals in science and social studies. High school computer science students then took up the challenge of programming an irrigation system for the new garden. Students were able to see how different ways of thinking and problem-solving had improved the final product.

In another case, science students presented their research projects to an art class, inviting students to create visual interpretations of the findings. The artwork was displayed at a public exhibition alongside abstracts from the science projects.

All along the continuum, encouraging students to reflect on the disciplines that shaped their thinking helps to cement interdisciplinary learning.  

Support that Matters

To take advantage of opportunities for connecting across content areas, teachers need to know what’s happening outside their own classrooms. Leaders can support teachers by giving them time to meet outside their content areas for project brainstorming. A schoolwide project calendar is another useful tool to alert teachers to upcoming opportunities for collaboration.

Students aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from interdisciplinary projects. Working with a teacher who has expertise in a content area different from yours “is a chance to be a learner again. That’s enlivening,” says Eitan Fire, a social studies teacher in Boulder, Colorado. His school encourages learning across disciplines , as in the History of Disease class he co-taught with a science teacher. “We both learned from each other.” 

Both Fire and Mary Breslin, the teacher whose students tackled classroom mold, have taken part in training from Earth Force , a nonprofit that supports teachers with tools and resources for environmental action civics. 

Having students more engaged in learning is another boost for teachers. “Students can burn out on lessons and worksheets about something like how a bill becomes a law,” Fire admits. “But if they’re learning in the context of civic engagement, focusing on local issues, it’s different.” 

His students recently began investigating the causes of pollution in a creek near their school. Fire invited a stormwater engineer to help students understand contributing factors, including the environmental impact of homeless encampments along the creek. That discussion led them to investigate causes of housing insecurity and income inequality as they considered sustainable solutions. As Fire acknowledges, these issues are complex and interconnected—but so is the learning. 

Dietschi Educational Services

Author: Victoria Boobyer

Whilst teachers and students often feel comfortable with the familiar PPP (Presentation, Practice, Production) approach, both may find the more realistic, flexible, and, often, more memorable approaches of Task or Project-Based Learning more beneficial in the long term. Both TBL and PBL require a change of role for both the learner and teacher. The role of the teacher becomes more of a management one, guiding and facilitating the achievement of an end goal.  Learners work more independently of their teacher and co-operate and communicate more with their peers. These changes of role can be quite difficult at first, so why move towards some TBL or PBL in your classrooms?

Task-Based Learning (TBL)

Jane Willis in her 1996 book, ‘A Framework for Task-Based Learning’, outlines a different approach to teaching and learning which places the completion of a task at the centre of a lesson or series of lessons.  As with all approaches, others have adapted and amended the original approach, but there are some basic common tenets. To be a valid task for the purposes of this approach, for example, it must be realistic and have a clear objective. The task must be written in such a way that language is necessary for it to be achieved. For this reason, there must be an information gap. The language learners need to communicate to fill this gap.

However, this approach is not simply based on the creation of a task. There are also a number of stages that should be followed. These stages include:

  • A pre-task activity which introduces the topic and task
  • Task completion
  • Planning of task feedback from learners in pairs or small groups
  • Leaners report back on their task
  • The teachers and students focus and feedback on task language

Initially, the focus is on the fluency of language and completion of the task, whereas in the later stages and the final feedback stage the teacher may focus more on its accuracy.

Example TBL Task

One typical type of task is problem solving/ decision making but there are many ways to add to the problem/decision to ensure that as much language is created as possible.

For example, An unused room in your school is going to be refurbished and redecorated. In small teams, offer two or more alternative uses for the room. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of both. Which would be cheapest, the most environmentally friendly, the most likely to encourage more students to the school? Present your findings (including a sketch design) to the class. The best one will be shown to the school DOS/Director.

Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Project-based learning has been described as “an extended learning process that uses inquiry and challenge to stimulate the growth and mastery of skills .”   Perhaps the most important word in this description is ‘extended’.  PBL is based around a central topic or theme and can last a week, a semester, or can run through a school year. PBL might not mean focussing on one single task for an entire week or semester but it may involve a number or smaller projects related to the theme. These may eventually converge in the answering of a driving question which focuses the inquiry and motivates the learners.

Other essential elements of PBL are: “Access to means of investigation (the Internet has made this part of project work much easier) to collect, analyse and use information [and] Plenty of opportunities for sharing ideas, collaborating and communicating. Interaction with other learners is fundamental to PBL.”

Finally, PBL must have an end product. There may also be a series of products along the way but there must be something tangible responding to the initial inquiry.  This may be, for example, a presentation, report, magazine, or an entire online blog containing a number of

So, how is PBL different from simply ‘doing projects?’

Article Task and Project Based Learning Image 1

Example of PBL

It is possible to have a stream of PBL running alongside more traditional PPP lessons. For example, a graded reader could be used as a springboard for PBL. Learners could read, for example, the graded version of the Canterbury Tales, in their groups or as a class and then work in groups to address the following.

Canterbury Tales

Article Task and Project Based Learning Image 2

How could you create a board game based on The Canterbury Tales’ 

Characters, Events and Themes?

By the end of the semester, you must:

  • Create a sheet of instructions which show how to play the game.
  • You will also need to create a document/presentation to share with a games manufacturer which makes clear:

i) the connection between the game and the book

ii)why you think the game would be successful

This would necessitate a great deal of creative higher thinking and communication as well as the use of all four skills. It could help bring the literature to life and ensure that learners have to know, understand, and discuss the important aspects of the book.

There are a great many further sources for teachers interested in both of these approaches, including sample TBL lessons, for example, on YouTube.

Further reading:





Ellis, R. Task-based Language Learning and Teaching. 2013 (Oxford Applied Linguistics)

Wiilis, D and J. Doing Task-Based Teaching: A practical guide to task-based teaching for ELT training courses and practising teachers. 2007 (Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers)


Markham, T 2012, Project Based Learning. Design and Coaching Guide p.x

Bilsborough, K. ‘TBL and PBL: Two learner-centred approaches’ http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/tbl-pbl-two-learner-centred-approaches (Retrieved 11/7/2017)

Based on an original idea by http://mrsabercrombie.wikispaces.com/file/view/Canterbury+Tales+Project.pdf

Author:  Victoria Boobyer

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