Project-based learning encourages students to demonstrate their learning in ways that are deeper and more enduring than tests or standard essays. Here are few specific strategies to help students excel when it comes time to share their skills and knowledge.
Use a presentation checklist
Unless your project is specifically focused on presentation or communication skills, you probably don’t need a rubric for this stage of the project; a straightforward presentation checklist will do the trick. A checklist offers a simple, yet highly impactful tool that reminds students of the elements that constitute a high-quality presentation. I’m talking about items such as introductions, problem statements, allowing time for audience questions, proofreading, citations, etc. I’ve seen many students get nervous and forget to introduce themselves or their topic before jumping straight into their ideas and creations; a checklist can serve as a great reminder of the little things that make a big difference.
Take time for practice
As your students progress through their project work, check your calendar and intentionally set aside at least one day for student presentation practice, and ideally, another day for project revisions and adjustments. Just doing one run-through prior to the formal event can make a huge impact on student preparedness, confidence, and coherence. If you’re looking for help, this is an opportune time to invite other teachers to participate and provide feedback to students.
Offer multiple means of demonstration
When we say the word, ‘presentation,’ the first thing that probably comes to mind is ‘PowerPoint.’ While slide decks may be the most economical choice, students’ demonstrations of learning can come in a variety of formats. As educators, we all have our biases toward particular media, but take a moment while designing your project and ask yourself, “Can my students show their learning in more than one way?” The likely answer is, “Definitely!” Remember, the focus should be on learning outcomes, not format, so why not provide students’ with the space to embrace their strengths and talents to demonstrate their understanding of the project content. Sure, many students may fall back on making a slide presentation, but some students may prefer to share a video, provide a demo, or explain through animation or recorded discussion. For more on this concept, check out CAST’s Universal Design for Learning guidelines.
Provide alternatives for students
Some of your students may face specific challenges to presenting their work, whether due to exceptionalities, language, or anxiety. It is compassionate and empathetic to provide alternatives to presenting live in front of an audience. Perhaps the simplest option is to let students record their presentation ahead of time; in doing so, they can practice, re-record, or edit their presentation as much as desired, without the pressure of public speaking. I’m sure someone will see this as lowering expectations or dialing back the rigor of the project; but this is about recognizing that students (just like adults) have unique needs, and providing them with the same voice and choice that we, as professional adults, desire in our own work performance assessments. There are thousands of occupations that never require folks to speak publicly in front of an audience, so why mandate such presentations for children?