Debriefing and reflection

The debrief at the end of project-based learning (PBL) provides an opportunity for students to reflect on their learning, evaluate the processes they used and identify what they might do differently in future projects.

Why should I make time for students to debrief at the end of a project-based learning project?

This might relate to the specific content they were learning or it may be about the more general skills that they will apply to projects in different subjects and situations. Using the co-created success criteria and rubrics from the project will provide a reference point for the debrief process.

Students, particularly those new to PBL, may need support from the teacher in order to use the debrief session effectively. Providing them with open-ended questions is a good scaffold for discussing the learning process and helps them to explore particular aspects of the project in depth rather than just saying what they liked or did not like.

Questions might include:

  • What was the most interesting part of the project for you? Why?
  • How effectively did you collaborate with your group? How do you know? Would you do anything different next time?
  • What were the three most important or interesting things you learned?
  • What was the most effective way you learned during the project? How do you know?
  • How will you use what you have learned?
  • What was the most challenging part of the project? Why? What might you do differently next time?
  • What do you wish you had thought about at the start of the project?
  • How effectively did you present your product and information to your audience? What would you do differently if given the opportunity?
  • How well does your product demonstrate what you learned and the depth of your learning?
  • What is one thing you think you did really well?
  • What did you enjoy about this PBL? Why?

Using models and explicitly demonstrating successful pieces of work (or learning behaviours) also provides students with a point of comparison. For example, modelling a group collaborating effectively and explicitly identifying what that looks like will enable students to evaluate their own level of collaboration and identify specific aspects that they do well and/or need to improve upon.

It is crucial that students provide evidence for their judgements; students can utilise their process journals, drafts and prototypes, final products, audience feedback, and all other evidence of learning. Students should make reasonable judgements about their level of achievement while giving reasons as to why they believe they performed or achieved at that level. Further, the use of artefacts and feedback provides a foundation for powerful discussions between students and teachers as they justify their reflections.

There are a number of ways in which you can organise this session. You may choose to provide students with some sort of recording strategy and questions to answer in drawings or writing, depending on their age and ability. Providing students with some individual reflection time and then time to discuss their thoughts with their peers is another strategy for engaging students in a rich reflection session.

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