#diffimooc Week 8: PBL + DI

How does project-based-learning lend itself to differentiation in the classroom?

From what I have read and my experiences with differentiated instruction (DI) and project-based learning (PBL) theories the two go hand and hand. In a DI and PBL classroom the teacher needs to know the students background, educational needs, and interests. In a DI classroom having students work in groups can help students learn better. A major part of PBL is working in groups and collaborating with other students. According to Miller (2012), “We all know that heterogeneous grouping works, but sometimes homogenous grouping can be an effective way to differentiate in a project. Sometimes in a novel- or literature-based PBL project, it might be appropriate to differentiate by grouping into reading level.”

Many times in PBL there is student choice. In the online article Seven Essentials for Project-Based Learning follows a teacher Ms. McIntyre. Ms. McIntyre’s class project looked at water-borne bacterium and bacterium’s effects on humans, and disease prevention and treatment. During Ms. McIntyre’s project students choose to develop media kits, public service announcements, web pages, brochures, and letters to government and industry officials. As stated by Miller (2012), “Another essential component of PBL is student voice and choice, both in terms of what students produce and how they use their time. Specifically to products, you can utilize multiple intelligences to create summative assessments or products that allow students to show what they know in a variety of ways.”

Assessment is a key part of DI and PBL. As stated by McCarthy (2011), It’s important to track student progress before the summative assessment. Getting student feedback through formative assessment is important. It gives student voice for ownership. A quick way to check for understanding is the thumbs up, thumbs to the side, thumbs down method. Thumbs up means I get it and I am ready to move on. Thumb to the side means I’m doing pretty good, but I could move on. Thumbs down means I need help. By doing quick formative checks allows a teacher to differentiate for their students who are not ready to move on and who need more help.


Buck Institute for Education. (2011, November 18). Differentiated instruction and pbl. Retrieved March 6, 2015 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Grd_ozJQE_E

David, J.L. (2008). What research says about …/project-based learning. Retrieved March 6, 2015 from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/feb08/vol65/num05/Project-Based_Learning.aspx

Larmer, J and Mergendoller, J.R. (2010). Seven essentials for project-based learning. Retrieved March 6, 2015 from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/sept10/vol68/num01/Seven_Essentials_for_Project-Based_Learning.aspx

Miller, A. (2012, February 8). Differentiated instruction in project-based learning. Retrieved March 6, 2015 from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/differentiated-instruction-strategies-pbl-andrew-miller



One thought on “#diffimooc Week 8: PBL + DI

  1. One of things I like about PBL is the opportunity it presents for student choice. I do not get the opportunity to build projects into my curriculum as often as I’d like. When I do, I like to make sure there are portions where students have control over the way they proceed. When I allow creative freedom, it always amazes me at the things my students dream up. It makes for an interesting classroom dynamic and some creative assessments.

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