This blog originally appeared on P21
Driving Question: How do PBL presentations build students’ communication skills and college-and-career readiness?
In traditional schools, teachers are the main academic voices. In schools that value project-based learning (PBL), students’ voices are heard and honed throughout their academic careers and in all subjects. Written and oral communication get their full due even in science and math projects. Presentations are the essential tool inside PBL for getting our students ready for their futures.
At Manor New Technology High School, students learn all academic subjects by completing PBL projects that last three to six weeks. The culminating event of each project is a PBL presentation in which students present to audiences what content they have come to understand and apply during the project. Students attending our school conduct approximately fifty presentations per year; in their four years, they present approximately two hundred times even as the specific speaking skills become more rigorous.
Over the course of these many presentations, all our students develop a confident and polished speaking style that translates well into many practical applications, including college and job interviews, public speaking events, and academic presentations. Their readiness goes well beyond any standards for communication.
We value presentations at Manor New Tech because they allow us to teach and assess the students’ 21st century skills: critical thinking, written communication and oral communication. Presentations give students opportunities to showcase their hard work, to teach other students, and to develop their presentation skills.
The public nature of the presentations creates an extra level of accountability for students to really learn academic content and make it their own. Over the course of the year, teachers design projects that involve products and presentation styles that simulate the work of different types of professionals. While creating products and delivering varied presentation types, students practice different ways of thinking, writing and speaking that are important to each discipline. Examples of presentation formats include: formal presentations, gallery walks, academic poster presentations, theatrical monologues and skits, debates, and poetry slams.
The Teacher’s Role
To prepare students to communicate through strong presentations, I and my fellow teachers share the project expectations in detailed, organized rubrics at the start of projects. Students analyze the rubrics using knows and need-to-knows. Teachers design workshops that address student need-to-knows and prepare students to apply content towards developing products and presentations. Teachers and students use the rubric to generate feedback that is used to improve products throughout the project.
In addition to these activities, we help students hone their presentation skills prior to final presentations by giving mini presentations and practice presentations. Freshman teachers help younger students develop specific presentation skills by having students focus on 1 to 2 presentation skills during mini presentations such as: eliminating filler words, eye contact, voice projection, and body control. Throughout the year, different skills are practiced in the mini presentations in order to gradually build each student’s skill set.
To facilitate successful presentations, teachers design driving questions and project challenges that result in a variety of final presentations and products. This prevents presentation days from becoming too monotonous. They communicate expectations clearly and early in the project so that students have time to digest and meet expectations. Teachers listen to student feedback and use it to adjust instruction and product expectations to improve student learning. They create time for peer feedback, reflection and revisions. They recruit community members and related professionals to participate in presentation sessions. Over the course of the year, they use different presentation formats to keep students engaged.
During the final presentation time, teachers and students assess presentations using presentation rubrics. Most grade 9 and 10 teachers focus their assessments on oral communication skills and assess content either before or after the presentation from other written products. At the upper grades, teachers sometimes assess both content and oral communication in student presentations.
In these cases, teachers support students by providing them with topic and question checklists that students can use to prepare for content specific questions-and-answer sessions. Students also receive feedback from panelists that include community members, parents, and professionals; these panelists add more authenticity and prestige to the presentation sessions.
All Graduates PBL presentations empower Manor New Tech students to learn and teach content and to develop their unique voices. PBL presentations are one powerful tool Manor New Tech teachers use to prepare students for college and careers. By simulating the thinking and speaking of many different types of professionals, our students learn more about who they are and who they might one day be.