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Enhance Project-Based Learning with EF Strategies

In a recent article from Harvard’s “Usable Knowledge,”(link opens in new tab/window), the authors point out that project-based learning is not worthwhile if students are only engaged but not taking away something meaningful.

In a recent article from Harvard’s “Usable Knowledge,”(link opens in new tab/window), the authors point out that project-based learning is not worthwhile if students are only engaged but not taking away something meaningful.

One way to boost the benefits of project-based learning is to embed executive function strategies. Executive function strategies can not only help students engage with subject-area content, but also engage in high-order metacognitive thinking processes.

Set Up a Plan

Helping students develop a plan can explicitly address executive function strategies in the areas of organizing/prioritizing time and information. Teachers and students can collaborate to determine the timeline for each project step and identify dedicated slots for “production time.” When students actively engage in the planning portion of a long-term project, they can learn to use the strategy and apply it to future assignments.

Support the Development of Research Skills

The research skills portion of long-term projects requires a high executive function demand. This could include taking notes, understanding multi-step directions, determining which resources are trustworthy, and shifting between many pieces of information. As “guides on the side,” teachers can provide students with support and resources to research their area of interest. These may include graphic organizers, project planners, calendars, and more.

Reflect and Assess Progress

As students complete their long-term projects, it is helpful to take a few minutes for self-reflection. Students can fill out surveys to reflect on the executive function strategies they learned and used. Ask them to think about what aspects of completing a long-term project were challenging or exciting and decide what they might do differently next time.

  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum: smarts-ef.org

Research Institute for Learning and Development: researchild.org

The Institute for Learning and Development: ildlex.org

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