The answer is complex, and I don’t say that as a cop-out. The reality is project-based learning helps develop a very different student than your more traditional classroom model. I was being interviewed by a colleague of mine yesterday and the line of questioning eventually came to the crossroads of evaluating the ability for a student to analyze in a PBL classroom versus a traditional classroom. When answering, I came to my own epiphany that it will always be hard to make honest comparisons to traditional classroom students versus PBL classroom students effectively without being caught up in what just simple numbers tell us. They are just two different beasts–apples and oranges really.
In the PBL classroom, analysis is required daily to make a decision on a project, but this type of analysis does not always translate into high test scores on a reading comprehension assessment. Where I suspect I’ll see my students thrive with their analysis skills is in real-life scenarios that require the student to make decisions that matter to the end result of a project or even situations of greater gravity that may pertain to life changing events. On the flip side, a student who in a traditional classroom can take a reading comprehension assessment and thrive may not be able to handle the pressure of making a time sensitive, make-or-break decisions like a PBL student could.
So from what I can gather, that is the rub. Or the compromise, rather. A traditional classroom student can be drilled and drilled and drilled with practice and strategies, but may have a much harder time transitioning to situations in college and beyond that require critical thinking and project management. A PBL classroom student will at times stumble on an important reading comprehension assessment because his or her analytic skills are not defined by answering multiple choice questions, but by seeing a bigger picture and the real consequences of a decision. All that being said, I do believe that a PBL student can be molded into a solid test taker, but is that the goal? To make solid test takers? Is that what will drive innovation and bring new ideas to our workforce? I’m not convinced that is the point at all.
Apples and oranges. Making a comparison between these students will most likely disappoint us, so maybe, just maybe, we need to change our point of view.