Support Student Reflection, Critique, and Revision in Project-Based Learning

Let’s go deeper into the key elements of project-based learning and explore strategies to support student reflection, critique, and revision.

Grades K-12 15 min Resource by:
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Have you ever spent hours of time reflecting on student work? Have you critiqued an assignment or assessment and provided feedback that some students perhaps ultimately never looked at, internalized, or used to make revisions to their work? When students only reflect and receive feedback at the end of a project, this is exactly what happens. Why would students go back and revise anything when the grade is already in and the changes don’t seem to matter? Why reflect on something if the reflection doesn’t result in some type of change?

Project-based learning (PBL) provides an authentic reason for students to actively reflect on what they are doing, seek and provide critique and feedback, and then use that information to revise and change their project in order to improve it. In PBL, reflections, critique, and revisions are not just between a single student and the teacher at the end of the project; students are working together in groups and creating a public product, not just something for themselves. Reflection, critique, and revision are key components of PBL that should be utilized throughout the process, not just at the end.

Reflection

In PBL, reflection is not just done at the end of a project. We should reflect on where we started, where we ended, and everything in between. In other words, reflection should be ongoing and done throughout the entirety of the project. There are many reasons why reflection is so important in PBL. Below are just a few of the ways in which reflection allows for deeper understanding for students.

  • Reflection in PBL allows for deeper understanding. Reflection can happen authentically and multiple times in project-based learning because students have the opportunity to work on answering a driving question over a long period of time. Students are allowed multiple opportunities to reflect, critique, and revise their thinking and work. This allows for much deeper reflection because all of the smaller components relate to the bigger picture or driving question.
  • Reflection provides students an authentic opportunity to analyze information, problem-solve, and make decisions. In other words, the reflection matters and will be used to critique and then make revisions. This skill helps prepare students for their careers and future.
  • Students are able to identify and explain why they are doing what they are doing and how it is supporting their final project, how they need to change their path so that they are able to achieve their final product, or how they may need to modify their final project. Once again, the reflection leads to critique and revision.
  • Students are able to make personal connections to the work they are engaged in, making it more authentic and increasing student ownership and engagement. When students are reflecting on their own work and the work of their group around a public project they are creating, they develop a personal connection to the work and will almost always be more engaged in the project.
  • When students reflect on how they were able to persevere and solve a problem that at first seemed so large and complex, they develop perseverance and skills, strategies, and confidence to tackle large (and small) problems. Students have to figure out how to break apart problems into more manageable pieces, ask the right questions to solve the problem, and then design and execute a plan to gather credible information to answer the questions or solve the problem. For more ideas on how to support students searching and seeking information, consider reading the AVID Open Access article, Search and Seek Credible Information: Step 3 of the Searching for ANSWERS Inquiry Process.

When planning out PBL, you should always allow and encourage reflection after any significant learning or creation of work. You can try and preplan these opportunities as much as possible, but remember to also be flexible in creating and encouraging reflection opportunities when appropriate. You and your students might use a project assessment map to identify points of reflection. Consider creating and allowing students to practice specific reflection processes. Below are several ideas that you might consider using with your students.

  • Reflect with a blog
    • Have students create a blog or website and engage in blogging throughout the project. Many blogging sites allow people to “follow” a blog. This allows followers to get notified whenever a new post is published. Blogs are a popular way for writers to share their ideas with a wide audience at minimal to no cost. Blogs also allow readers to respond to posted ideas, making it more authentic for students and allowing even more opportunities for reflection, critique, and revision. Below are some possible blogging tools:
  • “I used to think, but now I think” reflection
    • Give students an opportunity to reflect on what they used to think as well as how their thinking has changed as a result of inquiry. They can capture this thinking in their learning journal or blog, or they can share their thinking with a partner or small group.
  • Provide students with reflection (exit) tickets
  • Whip-Around
    • The teacher presents a topic or question, and each student in turn shares something that they have learned about that topic or question.
  • Student teach back
    • In pairs or groups, one student pretends that the others have no idea about a topic and shares or explains what they have learned.
  • Think, Ink, and Pair–Share
    • The teacher asks a reflection question and gives 1 minute for students to think of a response. Then, students are given time to write down what they are thinking. Lastly, students share their thinking in partner pairs or small groups.

Critique and Revision

Reflection becomes more meaningful when it leads to action, and critique and revision are the action portions of the reflection process. However, students need to be taught how to critique work and how to receive feedback, before then using that feedback to revise their work. Teachers need to provide multiple opportunities for students to engage in this work in a safe environment, so they are able to engage in the process effectively on their own once they are in college and working in their careers. Teachers might think about providing an opportunity for students to engage in a low-stakes critique before having them critique each other’s work. For example, ask students to create the classroom layout, and then model how you might use the critique that students provide to revise the classroom layout.

Provide students with a clear understanding of what feedback looks like and sounds like. Feedback should be specific, helpful, and thoughtful. If students make a claim, they need to provide evidence to support their claim. For example, if a student provides feedback saying that something is not very appealing, require them to explain why and offer suggestions to help improve it. Below are several strategies and tools to support critique and revision in PBL.

  • Two Stars and a Wish
    • When giving feedback, students provide the recipient of the feedback with two stars (positive feedback) and a wish (something they wish would be different or changed). You can share this Two Stars and a Wish poster, which includes sentence stems, when engaged in this protocol:

  • Pluses and Wishes
    • Students can either share work or present work to a peer or group of students. The students providing feedback can use the Pluses and Wishes template and are given 1–3 minutes to fill in the Pluses column of the worksheet with positive comments and feedback. Students are then given 1–3 minutes to fill in the Wishes column of the worksheet with things that they think there should be more of or less of, or things they think should be changed.
  • Gallery Tours
    • Analog and digital Gallery Tours allow students to be both givers and receivers of feedback. Consider using this article from PBLWorks to guide you through using Gallery Tours or variations with your students.
  • Tools to Support Critique and Revision
    • There are many tools that can support students with critique and revision. Shared documents in Google Workspace (Google Docs, Google Slides, Google Sheets, etc.) and Microsoft 365 (Microsoft Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Excel, etc.) allow multiple people to access, edit, and/or comment on the same document and even at the same time.
    • Discussion tools can help manage the sharing of ideas and feedback in virtual conversation threads. Most learning management systems (Canvas, Schoology, Google Classroom, etc.) offer discussion tools with text, audio, and video response options. Some platforms, like Flipgrid (Tips), are specifically designed to be video-based. Another example is VoiceThread, where ideas are presented in a slideshow-style format, and participants can respond with audio, text, or video comments.
    • Digital bulletin boards allow students to post text, images, and video, and then provide feedback on what is posted. Some examples of digital bulletin boards include:

Throughout the reflection, critique, and revision process in PBL, create opportunities to celebrate students who intentionally reflect on their work, provide good feedback to themselves and others, and use feedback to revise their thinking and make changes to their project. As teachers, we also need to reflect, critique, and revise. We can model reflection, critique, and revision in our work for students and model how we never stop learning and growing. Make sure and provide opportunities for students to provide feedback on different aspects of the PBL process. Ask for feedback on what is going well and what needs to be changed and why. Once you receive feedback, use it to revise your project and future projects. We can continually make PBL better for ourselves and our students if we practice what we teach. For more ideas on how to support students with reflection, critique, and revision, consider reading the AVID Open Access articles or listening to the podcast episodes below:

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