In my work with teachers and project- based practitioners, I like to use a tool called the PBL Seesaw to help them reflect on the experience. Rather than ask teachers if a project ‘went well,’ the tool asks teachers to reflect on the project according to six criteria:

  1. Completely Guided vs. Open- Ended
  2. Strict Deadlines vs. No Deadlines
  3. Completely Structured vs. Unlimited Choice
  4. Content Based vs. Skills Based
  5. Short Blocks of Time vs. Unstructured Long Blocks of Time
  6. Product Based vs. Process Based

Insert word document here (see linked word document)

After rating themselves in the above areas, teachers are able to put together a plan for next projects moving forward. Below is the editable form for you to use with staff and students.

I hope you find it useful!

Learning to ‘Let Go’ as a Teacher Five ways to promote self- directed learning in projects

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After 12 years implementing project- based experiences worldwide, I still have a hard time letting go. Just last week, I was too scared to even let go of my hammer.

I’ll explain…

Upper Primary students were busy building the cage for a bearded dragon owned by the lower primary class a floor below. But every time a kid took too long to drive in a nail, I would take the hammer and insist, “Let me try.” The idea was to get the nail started and let the student finish. But I ended up finishing the nail each time.

Not surprisingly, students started losing interest in the project.

It was only after a member of my team gently patted in me on the shoulder and wisely said, “Let them do the project themselves,’ was I able to give up my hammer.

Here’s me learning to better trust them.

Learning to ‘Let Go’ as a Teacher: Five ways to promote self- directed learning in projects

Date: March 31st, 2019

Do you have a hard time letting go as well? Do you end up ‘taking over projects?’

You are in good company. It’s hard letting go. It means entrusting students to make mistakes- which they most certainly will.

But it also means watching a project unfold in a way in which you never would have imagined. It means empowering students to take the project to a whole new level.

It rests on a simple principal: If you have provided a solid floor, students will EXPLODE through the ceiling.

Here are five strategies that help control freaks like us began to let go.

Strategy #1: Provide a Beginning, Middle and End to Project Periods

Believe it or not, kids like a certain amount of structure. Don’t be afraid to give it to them. Divide project periods into three nice intervals; the beginning, middle and end. Just as the beginning will set the stage for learning in a well developed lesson, it will also help establish a foundation for productive project work. Work with teams to establish goals and divide tasks. Then back off.

Strategy #2: Allow Students to Pivot

There is no way you can predict everything that will happen in a project. If you could, it would no different from traditional schooling. Allow students to pivot if a particular idea doesn’t work. In the case of the pet habitat project, two groups elected to join forces in building the cage since they had similar ideas. The result was a highly functioning group with clear division of roles. Some worked on 3-d design, while others started prototyping the build. Finally, ensure there is time at the end of the project period for the group to reflect on why they pivoted and HOW it benefited the overall project

Strategy #3: Shorten intervals of time

I have found one of the biggest misconceptions people have about projects is that they are indefinite with no benchmarks, structures for feedback, or milestones. This could not be further from the truth. Work with students to divide projects into clear chunks and tasks. Create short, focused intervals of time for students to dive deep with scheduled ’share outs’ at the end of each project cycle. This will help them stay on task, and keep you from losing your hair.

Strategy #4: Reflect, reflect, reflect

Learning only takes place when students reflect on experiences. Make sure to structure scheduled reflection time at the end of each project cycle. Circle students and have them use fingers to represent productivity of the day, and then share with a partner. Use journals to help them document their progress/ process. This will accomplish two things: One, it will help develop reflective practitioners and a culture of high expectations; and two, it will provide you a chance to breathe and re-direct.

Strategy #5: Don’t Bring Your Work Home

This is a universal principal within and outside projects- and it refers to more than just physical work. You may have project periods that go horribly awry and all you want to do is ruminate on missed opportunities. Paradoxically, this will make successive project periods even worse. Work or talk it over with a mentor or trusted teacher friend; develop some thinking routines or scaffolds for students to ensure it doesn’t happen again, and then move on. I guarantee your kids already have.

Got Ideas of Your Own?? Would love to Hear Them!

Would love to hear strategies that help you let go. Share them with me at and I will be sure to share them with my tribe.

Remember to breathe deep, kick ass, and let go.