George Lucas Educational Foundation

Project Based Learning~Assessment & Students with Disabilities

Project Based Learning~Assessment & Students with Disabilities

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I would be very interested in having a discussion about how schools implement Project Based Learning with high school students with disabilities. The second part would include how to assess the student growth.

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Merry Ireland's picture
Merry Ireland
APS teacher, TUSD, Community Transition Program from Tucson, Arizona

We teach high school students with disabilities, and have attempted
project-based learning. With the excitement of the projects and working
in groups, we really need to focus on teaching individuals the intended
skills. We need to set clear objectives from the beginning and not just
assume they are learning the skills.

Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

I haven't had experience with High School but I did do many projects with my middle school students with learning disabilities (6th - 8th grades). I used projects as the culminating activity rather than trying to teach them the skill with it.

Instead of giving a traditional test, I would assess their knowledge with a project based on what they were learning. For example, after learning about perimeter and area, I had students design a park to demonstrate their knowledge. I used a simple 4-point rubric (4-Above Target, 3-On Target, 2-Below Target, 1-Off Target) with clear expectations and requirements. The rubric helped students know what they needed to do to be successful. It also helped me adjust expectations for students on different levels of learning. I did projects in reading, writing, and math. Often times, I'd ask the students what they would like to do to increase their interest level and buy-in.

I'm sure you could do this with high school aged students as well, adapting it to their needs and interests.

Judy Blair's picture
Judy Blair
School Psychologist

The middle school success projects were interesting. Our middle school resource room and basic classroom teachers have to follow Grade Level Expectations (GLC's), and sometimes don't allow themselves opportunity to use innovations as Erika suggested.
I fight all the time to get more assistive technology for teachers and classrooms. We have AphaSmarts, books on C.D., and modifications for writing, but still have a long way to go.

Deven Black's picture
Deven Black
Middle school teacher-librarian in the Bronx, NY

In order to assess by using projects it is necessary to have a clear set of expectations communicated to students before you begin. Of course, the project has to be appropriate to the goals of the unit and the abilities of the student.

When I've failed at attempts to use project-based assessments it was usually because I did not prepare enough, because my project was not structured to properly assess the skills I hoped the students were learning.

Also, it is a good idea, if the project is more than a very short-term one, to schedule times to check-in with students about the progress they are or, more importantly, aren't making. I've found that even with a deadline as little as a week away, some of my students need guidance mid-week.

Good luck with your efforts!

Juanita White's picture

I struggle with how to provide accurate, meaningful assessment for my students who have disabilities such as Down syndrome, CP, and limited vision and are only in 1st & 2nd grade. It's very hard to use project- based assessment because so much of what we do involves me modeling or doing hand-over-hand in some cases.

Deven Black's picture
Deven Black
Middle school teacher-librarian in the Bronx, NY

Assessment must be adapted to the abilities and needs of the student. Project-based assessment is not appropriate for all students or in all situations for any student.

Meaningful assessment for your students is determining whether or not they have learned so that they can demonstrate the specific skill you are teaching.

Nicole Andersen's picture

Our school is a magnet in project-based learning. Its actual title is Academic Research and Innovation. We implemented a class on the decision making process that focuses on how students make community-based decisions, creating solutions, implementing those solutions, and presentation of the entire project. We have seen some success in this endeavor with our special edcuation students. I agree with Mr. Black that assessment needs to fit the student and that they should show that they have learned the skill throught this assessment. We are on the 4x4 block and I have found that my students who have had the decision-making class before taking mine have greater success in completing the projects that we present to them. All-in-all, I think that we are onto something great and am excited to see what the future holds for our students.

SB's picture

I am also a special ed. teacher of students with mental retardation. I am about to meet with my special ed coordinator to discss ways in which projects based assesment can be implemented in our schools. I too want to find more meaningful ways of assessing our students, but i am not sure how to implement that. Any ideas?

Gregg Jones's picture
Gregg Jones
alternate high school teacher, horticulture, Biology

I teach Horticulture to special needs LD and EC high school students. One of the most important things I have learned is to keep things very simple and find out what level your students are operating. I teach kids how to pot a plant or plant a seed. Or how to water plants properly. I teach a few vocab words and then demonstrate how to do it correctly then. I let them practice and then assess how they are doing with the words and the skills. KISS is the key for most of my students

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