Skip to content
ascd logo

Join
February 20, 2015
ASCD Blog

Navigating the Intricacies of Project-Based Learning Through Flexible Grouping

    CurriculumInstructional Strategies
    Navigating the Intricacies of Project-Based Learning Through Flexible Grouping - thumbnail
      Like many other educators these days, you’ve probably been encouraged to consider project-based learning (PBL) as the core of your instructional framework. You believe PBL can be used to drive more meaningful academic experiences, increase student engagement, and foster deeper learning. But how do you manage to implement PBL and inquiry-based instruction while maintaining a differentiated approach to balanced literacy? Similarly, how do you utilize the data you’ve collected to tailor instruction and meet your students’ specific, individual needs without creating fixed-ability groups? Feeling overwhelmed and discouraged, you think to yourself, “Is this possibility realistic? Can all of this be managed for a class of 25 students each and every day?”
      Before we can integrate differentiated grouping within a PBL framework, we must understand what differentiated instruction implies. Effective differentiation requires that we work to meet each student based on their individual and specific needs and tailor our instruction accordingly. Differentiation requires that we know our students, know when to push and challenge them beyond the expectations of the standard, and know when to support and scaffold them to it. Differentiation is both an art and a science. As skilled craftsmen, we must be aware of our students’ interests, motivations, and preferences; as clinical practitioners, we must look to the evidence we have collected to inform our decision making.
      Often times, well-intended differentiation leads to fixed-ability groups. Unlike flexible grouping, fixed-ability groups are typically created with standardized assessments such as DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment), MAP (Measure of Academic Progress), or DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills). While data from these sources may be acceptable in the initial formation of student groups, maintaining the same groups throughout the year does not allow for the tailored, student-centered approach that will move students forward.
      When differentiated reading groups are integrated within a PBL framework, student engagement in and deeper learning of academic content are likely to increase. For example, one team of 3rd grade teachers utilized differentiated literacy workstations within a PBL unit called “From Turtles to Tigers.” During this unit, teachers integrate academic content regarding the positive and negative effect humans have on an animal’s habit into the various stations. For example, one station might have students reading leveled passages related to sea turtles and their habitat in order to build their vocabularies. As students work, the teacher observes that particular students struggle to use context clues to define predetermined words. The teacher then pulls this select group of students to work on this identified skill, thus creating flexible grouping to meet an individual, specific need.
      When considering to how to differentiate instruction, sometimes it can be as simple as varying the tasks. During a PBL unit on community helpers, teachers gave 1st grade students specific tasks based on their abilities and needs. For example, teachers asked some students to draw and label the community helper they selected to research and asked other students to write an expository text explaining why their chosen helper is an important member of the community. Additionally, teachers asked some students to write and provide a formal speech about their community helper and asked other students to create a Storyboard with a recorded voice-over. Assigning each student an appropriate task requires teachers to know their students’ strengths, weaknesses, and interests.
      Differentiated instruction can be based on task complexity as well as text complexity. In 4th grade, students focus on the responsibilities of pet ownership during a PBL unit called “A Walk on the Wild Side.” In this unit, teachers provide students with a choice of novels centered on a common theme of pet ownership. Flexible reading groups are based on students’ specific abilities to implement certain reading strategies. The teacher models specific strategies for interacting with a text and uses formative assessments to create small groups based on student needs. Throughout the unit, the teacher delivers and differentiates instruction to scaffold students at various different reading levels.
      PBL provides every learner with a student-centered opportunity to engage in meaningful, authentic work. Differentiated instruction seeks to tailor instruction to meet the specific needs of every student. Whether differentiated instruction is in response to formative assessments, a provision of varied tasks based on students’ identified abilities, or the leveling of texts to meet students’ specific needs, differentiation paired within an existing PBL framework provides an optimal environment for deeper learning for each child.

      Author bio coming soon

      Learn More

      ASCD is dedicated to professional growth and well-being.

      Let's put your vision into action.
      Related Blogs
      View all
      undefined
      Curriculum
      8 Barriers to Curriculum Design
      Steven Weber
      7 years ago

      undefined
      21 Questions To Ask About Curriculum Development
      Steven Weber
      6 years ago

      undefined
      The Instructional Leader Manifesto
      Steven Weber
      3 years ago

      undefined
      At the UN Climate Change Conference, A Focus on Education for Climate Action
      Noble Ingram
      10 months ago

      undefined
      Building Deep Learning into Curriculum
      Esteban Bachelet
      10 months ago
      Related Blogs
      8 Barriers to Curriculum Design
      Steven Weber
      7 years ago

      21 Questions To Ask About Curriculum Development
      Steven Weber
      6 years ago

      The Instructional Leader Manifesto
      Steven Weber
      3 years ago

      At the UN Climate Change Conference, A Focus on Education for Climate Action
      Noble Ingram
      10 months ago

      Building Deep Learning into Curriculum
      Esteban Bachelet
      10 months ago