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by John Larmer
Editor in Chief

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Topic tags: Gold Standard, engagement, coach


April 18, 2016
Gold Standard PBL: Engage & Coach

by John Larmer
Editor in Chief

Of all the Project Based Teaching Practices in our model for Gold Standard PBL, “Engage & Coach” feels like the hardest to pin down. It’s not as concrete as, say, “Scaffold Student Learning” or “Align to Standards.” In BIE’s Project Based Teaching Rubric we describe some of the indicators for best practices for “Engage & Coach” in terms of:

  • Setting goals for the project
  • Motivating students
  • Working closely enough with students to be able to identify when they need support, redirection, encouragement, and celebration

Think of coaching in PBL as the kinds of things the coach of a sports team does. The rubric reflects two senses of “engage” – one is to engage with students, the other is to engage students in their learning.

I discussed what it means to engage and coach in a PBL context in a recent hangout with three of BIE’s National Faculty: Erin Starkey, Jean Kugler, and Ian Stevenson.

Here are some best practices we discussed:

  • Start the year with “PBL prep” – a series of PBL skill and culture-building lessons.
  • Erin shared a document that outlines her elementary school’s “20 Days to PBL” lesson plans; what they do at the start of the school year to prepare students for PBL. (She also shared a middle school version.)
  • Ian does the same thing with his 9th graders. He goes through a series of activities and discussions to ground students in what “21st century learning” means. This way, students will “know what I’m doing” later in the yea when he, say, doesn’t answer their questions directly but suggests how they might find out.
  • Plan explicitly for how you will engage and coach students during the project; use the Project Overview: Student Learning Guide.
  • Use rubrics throughout the project to refer to when coaching students.

We also discussed some challenges with engaging and coaching:

  • It can be frustrating if students do not get engaged by a project – so make explicit plans for how to engage them.
  • If teachers do not have clear expectations for what students should learn in a project, they can’t focus their coaching.
  • Sometimes teachers can rely too much on technology to engage students in a project. Jean suggests to think instead, “does technology enhance the rigor?” and be sure you’ve planned how to engage students in other aspects of the project.
  • If technology fails – which it can at schools, when the Internet might not be accessible or a tech tool proves too hard to use – have a backup plan for how to keep students engaged.


Do you have questions, tips, or stories to tell about coaching and engaging students? Please enter them in the comments below.


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