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Project-Based Learning Can Accelerate Literacy Development

Reading is the cornerstone of education. Developing literacy at an early age is key to ensuring students’ success in school, so teachers are finding innovative ways to reach their students at all grade levels. Project-based learning is a somewhat new tool available to teachers, and now there is a growing movement to integrate it in the literacy classroom. Even though project-based learning is not common in literacy development, using it for literacy development gives teachers new ways to engage their students in reading instruction.

Getting Creative

When many students think of projects, they think of boring book reports or uninteresting assignments. However, with some creativity, projects can not only help students learn but also help them apply what they learn, including skills like reading, listening and critical thinking. Unlike the standard approach to reading instruction, which asks students to read a section of a story then answer a number of comprehension questions — and then move on to the next section and repeat the process over and over — project-based learning helps students take learning into their own hands. For example, the teacher might ask a “driving question” or assign a theme to the day’s class. Students then research an aspect of that question, which includes collaborating with their peers, and then bring their findings back to the rest of the class for reflection. Alternatively, students might pick from a list of stories or books that fit a unifying theme. The students spend their time with their selections and then exchange what they have learned in literary circles or Socratic seminars. This gives students the responsibility of analyzing their stories and determining how they connect to the teacher’s theme, which helps not only literacy development but also critical listening skills. Moreover, letting students pick their own stories gives them a sense of control of their own learning. They pick stories that interest them, which increases engagement with the lesson.

Other Project-Based Learning Ideas

If days or weeks of project-based learning do not fit the lesson plan, there are quicker ways to incorporate project-based learning. Reader’s Theater, for example, gives students the chance to immerse themselves in a story while also getting them thinking about characterization. Further, when teachers give writing assignments, one way to help with student literacy development is through peer editing. This requires some modeling and a few guidelines, especially if students have never attempted this before, but peer editing gives students the chance to teach what they know to others and learn to take constructive criticism. The exercise can teach students to recognize their own writing mistakes in others’ work, thus developing those writing skills themselves.

Dialectical journals are another easy way for students to think about what they are reading in a critical context. The teacher determines which literacy aspects he or she wants the students to find, and students then discover them on their own. The variety of examples the students will find, as a group, makes for engaging classroom discussions, and it helps all students see what they may have missed as well as validating what they found.

Project-based learning can take up as little or as much time as the teacher wants. Depending on the class and grade, some aspects of the projects may need some modeling, guidelines, or practice to adequately develop, but over time, students will become accustomed to the teacher’s expectations. The flexibility of project-based learning means it is beneficial in all subjects, including literacy development.

Learn more about the UT Arlington online M.Ed. in literacy studies.


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