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Bringing Parents and Guardians into Your PBL Projects

Andrew Miller

Instructional Coach at Shanghai American School
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Providing your students with a public audience is not only a critical part of the project-based learning process, but it's also a great strategy for building authenticity into assignments to create work that matters. We often leverage our students' parents and guardians in this process because 1) they are easily accessible, and 2) they are our partners in their children's learning plans. Why not then continue and build this partnership in PBL? John Larmer wrote a great blog about how to build parent support for PBL, and one of the best ways he mentions is to keep them involved in the PBL project you launch in your classroom. Here are some strategies to consider as you leverage parents for your next PBL project.

Use Technology

I know many teachers use technology tools like Edmodo in their PBL projects, and Edmodo has a way to set up parent accounts. Use Twitter as a backchannel chat with a classroom hashtag to communicate. Use Skype to bring in parents who are experts on content and skills as well as for entry events.

Parents as Experts

Our parents and guardians are experts not only in a wide range of job-specific content areas and skills, but also in hobbies and other outside interests. To explore this resource, send home a survey to ask parents about their interests and areas of expertise. As you discover what is just phone call away, start building a huge database of experts who can support your PBL activites before, during and after the project.

Parents as Assessors

If you plan to have parents or guardians as part of the assessment process, make sure to orient them to the rubrics they will be using. Don't think that they need to look at the entire rubric. If you have a team of parents and guardians assessing a presentation, for example, jigsaw it! Or perhaps just have them use a checklist along the way as well. The other key piece here is to have parents and guardians give growth-producing feedback. Give them stems such as "I like . . ." and "A good next step would be . . ." This will help focus the feedback and keep it balanced.

Parents as Planners

One very powerful way to make parents or guardians a critical part of the PBL project is to involve them in the planning process. Having a content expert with you in the planning stages can help ensure that all gaps are filled and that you'll have more eyes to ensure a quality project. In addition, seek out parents who are familiar with the Critical Friends Group critique protocol, because they can provide excellent feedback before you launch the PBL project. (Don't forget to involve the students in your planning process as well).

Thank You!

It's easy to forget this part. Please say thank you to your parents. Record a class video. Have students write thank you notes. Send a letter home signed by the class. This seemingly little piece can go a long way toward a continued partnership with your parents and guardians.

As you partner with parents in your PBL projects, remember this one piece of advice: just ask! You aren't going to get anything if you don't -- and the worst-case scenario is still the same. But keep asking! Before you know it, you will have many parents and guardians who are more than willing to help in whatever way they can. This will lead to a better school community and buy-in for authentic PBL.

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Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educator, Blogger, Southern California

Excellent! Not only using expert resources to validate your projects but reinforcing the students' belief in the teamwork of parents and school.

Martin Richards's picture
Martin Richards
I train educators to use a coaching approach in their teaching practice

Model for Excellence

An example of Parents as Experts... 'Transfer' - a non-profit organisation in Sweden - has a powerful model for bringing adults into the classroom. Simply put, Transfer co-ordinates speakers and teachers. The speakers sign up to represent their profession / life choices, and the teachers send their requests to Transfer who then matches the request with a potential speaker... for free!

Here's an example of a request (in Swedish) "Hur motiverar du dig redan i ak 1 pa gymnasiet for ditt kommande yrkesliv?", which in English is "How can you motivate yourself in your first colleage year towards your professional life?"

Transfer make the connection between speaker and teacher, who then develops the question and response with the speaker into some kind of talk, presentation or workshop.

After the talk, Transfer does an evaluation and gives the speaker written feedback (and a score!) from the teacher and students. Personally, the feedback is better than wages!

The website is

It shows that they currently have 472 schools and 3401 speakers. Transfer has been running for ten years now.

Vlada Lotkina's picture
Vlada Lotkina
Live & Breathe All things Parent Engagement. Blessed to be working alongside amazing educators and helping them make a difference for the children

Through my own research, I've also found that parents can play roles as experts, assessors, and planners with continuous guidance from teachers. Involving and inviting them to participate in easy, actionable steps is just the beginning of building a parent engagement culture in the classroom.

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