The 4 Stages of a Relationship with Project-Based Learning

How to Make PBL Your Lifelong Partner

by Brad Sever

As educators, we often talk about how our job is “all about relationships.” The same can be said of an educator’s relationship with their favorite strategies, methodologies, and overall pedagogy. My favorite instructional methodology is project-based learning.

In my book, Sustainable Project-Based Learning: 5 Steps to Designing Authentic Classroom Experiences in Grades 5-12, I have seen the benefit of project based learning in classrooms that have maintained a long-term commitment to PBL. But there are stages of developing a relationship with PBL, and each is important. Just like a relationship with a life-long partner, there are four stages in a relationship with PBL: flirting, dating, engaged, and married.

Let’s unpack this analogy as it pertains to project-based learning.

Stage 1: Flirting with Project-Based Learning Ideas

Sure, you use things like simulations and choice boards in your work already, but you never forget the first time you saw or heard about PBL. Perhaps it was in a college undergraduate class or through a colleague, or across the room at an education conference. There is a lot to be attracted to! Maybe you got project-based learning ideas by reading Wiggins and McTye’s brilliant book, Understanding by Design (ASCD, 2005). Backward planning a unit of study is something that resonated with you.

At first glance, PBL is very attractive. Consider its qualities and features:

  • Inquiry

  • Performance assessments

  • Utilizing outside professional experts

  • Student collaboration

  • Student choice

  • Revision

  • Reflection

  • Integration of key SEL or employability skills such as critical thinking, creativity, self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, etc.

  • Students transferring their learning to real-world contexts

What is not to love? These qualities intrigue you to want to learn more.


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Brad Sever

About Brad Sever

Brad Sever is a national presenter, speaking on project-based learning, instructional coaching, and leadership. He has provided professional development for charter schools, urban, rural, and suburban schools for the last 10 years. In addition, he is a National Faculty member for PBLWorks (formerly the Buck Institute for Education). His practical approach to professional development comes from the variety of experiences and perspectives he has gained.