Typhani Harris | October 2015

Student Generated Projects

We’ve all heard of Project Based Learning (PBL), and some of us may have even dabbled in building PBL curriculum and classrooms, but with the time constraints of standards, testing, pacing guides, and mandated curriculum how can we possibly find the time?  Moreover, how can we ensure that students are learning the information needed to be successful on standardized assessments, which unfortunately still drive our educational system?  So often we revert back to the traditional method of teaching by implementing lectures, notes, quizzes, and essays.  What if there was a way we could infuse project based learning into traditional education?

At the heart of PBL is real-world problems that attract student interest.  Driven by a problem or essential question, students go beyond understanding content to a place where they can demonstrate the application of content.  But let’s face it…how do we do that when we still have to effectively “teach” traditional content such as Shakespeare in ELA, verb conjugation in foreign languages, the scientific method, or proofs in geometry?  Yes, the struggle is real, but not impossible.

Student Generated Projects: a Modified approach to Project Based Learning

There is a way for us to attract student interest and build culminating student generated projects, while still addressing the standards, following our pacing guides, and preparing for upcoming assessments through student generated projects.  The first time you introduce this approach make it a whole class process.  As students get familiar with the process they can complete it in small groups, pairs, and even individually.


Begin with the standards, or set of standards, you would like students to master with student generated projects.  Then solicit ideas, posing the question “how can you demonstrate this standard(s)?”  List all of the possible student-generated ways mastery can be demonstrated.  Then, take a vote.  Have students vote on the project they feel most connected to and inspired by.  Keep in mind, as the facilitator of this student-generated project you must help students to see the process and the product, so continuously ask probing questions to flush out the main ideas behind the project.

Evaluation Tool

Once the class has settled on a final product for the student generated projects, have the students help to design the evaluation tool.  How will this product be graded?  What would an exemplary product look like?  Then build the rubric.  You could do this in a whole class setting, or determine the sections as a whole class and then jigsaw the rubric into groups to build the language for each section.  Regardless of which approach you use, be sure to discuss how a rubric is designed and offer samples.  Revise the rubric until the class agrees that the evaluation tool is valid and credible.


Now that students have generated the project and solidified the rubric, build the timeline.  Similar to backwards planning, have students help to determine the milestones of the project and the time needed to complete each milestone.  As the class helps to build the projected time, keep in mind the skills, strategies, techniques, and lessons that must be taught along the way so that you can embed adequate time for instruction.

Additional Standards

With the bulk of the project planning complete, as a class take a look at other standards that may be addressed with this project.  Inevitably there are some smaller foundational standards that will be met in order to progress through the milestones.  These standards may be connected to the mini-lessons you teach along the way as represented in the timeline section above.  Add these standards to the student-generated milestones and the rubric.


Ideally, since the students generated this project and had a say in everything from the product outcome, to the grading process, to the time commitment, they should have a larger investment then if the teacher generated the project alone.  Help them to determine group size, and presentation methods.  Then stand back and facilitate.

I know what you are thinking…yeah right!  And I agree, this process cannot happen if you have not designed an effective structure in your classroom.  If you have invested in the relationships with your students and have built successful and effective policies and procedures in your classroom then this process is possible and can be very exciting!  The first time you try it, you will get resistance and it may not work at all.  The students will not be comfortable because it is a whole new way of thinking about education, and they may even retort with “you’re the teacher, you tell us!”  This is OK, invite their concerns, let them get it out, and then move on.

It will take time but eventually they will buy into the process and even enjoy it.  Remember, you will have to do ample prompting the first time you try it so be prepared with possible ideas to help them along the way.

If you build a student-generated project in your classroom, please share it with us! Email me at [email protected] or comment below!

Piquès & Pirouettès

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.