How PBL Presentations Build Students' Communication Skills and Tips for Teachers

  • Project-Based Learning
Todd Bearson, PBL Department Head

Welcome to the Project Based Learning (PBL) Round Up, where the fleek PBL chic seek to tweak their project-based streak, so to speak.

This week’s driving question: How do PBL presentations build students' communication skills and college and, more importantly, career readiness?

When executing projects we (the royal we) spend a majority of the time thinking about the beginning and the process. This is all well and good, but it sometimes gives a back seat to the part that should be right up front - the presentation.

Not only can the presentation be an all-encompassing demonstration of a student’s learning during the project, it can help shape the project and process right from the beginning. Furthermore, valuable skills are employed heavily in preparing for, delivering a presentation and evaluating a presentation. Thus, I attest that every project should have some sort of public presentation.

Hierarchy of Audience Matrix by Ron BergerIn traditional schools, teachers are the main academic voices. In schools that value project-based learning (PBL), students' voices are heard and honed throughout their academic careers and in all subjects. Written and oral communication get their full due even in science and math projects. Presentations become the essential PBL tool for getting students prepared for their futures.
The goal, of course, is for all students to develop a confident and polished speaking style that translates well into many practical applications, including college and job interviews, public speaking events, and academic presentations. Their readiness goes well beyond any standards for communication.

Valuing presentations at Carroll allows us to teach and assess the students' 21st century skills: critical thinking, written communication, and oral communication. Presentations give students opportunities to showcase their hard work, to teach other students, and to develop their presentation skills.

The public nature of the presentations creates an extra level of accountability for students to really learn academic content and make it their own. While creating and delivering varied presentation types, students practice different ways of thinking, writing, and speaking that are important to each discipline. Examples of presentation formats include: formal presentations, gallery walks, academic poster presentations, portfolio presentation, theatrical monologues and skits, debates, and poetry slams.

The Teacher's Role in PBL Presentations

To prepare students to communicate through strong presentations, teachers share the project expectations in detailed, organized rubrics at the start of projects. Students analyze the rubrics using knows and need-to-knows. Teachers design workshops that address student need-to-knows and prepare students to apply content towards developing products and presentations. Teachers and students use the rubric to generate feedback that is used to improve products throughout the project.

In addition to these activities, teachers help students hone their presentation skills prior to final presentations by giving mini presentations and practice presentations. Positive feedback is given, such as: eliminating filler words, making eye contact, voice projection, and body control. Throughout the year, different skills are practiced in the mini presentations in order to gradually build each student's skill set.

To facilitate successful presentations, teachers design driving questions and project challenges that result in a variety of final presentations and products. This prevents presentation days from becoming too monotonous. They communicate expectations clearly and early in the project so that students have time to digest and meet expectations. Listening to student feedback and using it to adjust instruction and product expectations improves student learning, as does creating time for peer feedback, reflection, and revisions. Recruiting community members and related professionals to participate in presentation sessions also goes a long way and we’ve seen some good examples of that here at Carroll. 

Shared Assessment Is Key

During the final presentation time, teachers and students assess presentations using presentation rubrics. You can choose to focus assessments on oral communication skills and assess content either before or after the presentation from other written products - it’s up to the teacher!

In these cases, teachers support students by providing them with topic and question checklists that students can use to prepare for content specific questions-and-answer sessions. Students also receive feedback from panelists that include community members, parents, and professionals; these panelists add more authenticity and prestige to the presentation sessions.

At Carroll, we are currently piloting two portfolio systems to help students both present and record their work. Seesaw, a portfolio app and Google Sites are being employed to give the viewer a picture of a student’s work with greater continuity over time. It also give students an opportunity to take stock of their own progress - something that is often difficult for them to visualize and understand.  More information on this will be available towards the end of the year when we access the pros and cons of the systems we are currently evaluating.

Below is an example of a History Portfolio: 

Student Portfolio of History Project

The content for this article was adapted from Janice Trinidad's article - PBL & Presentation.


  • Project-Based Learning

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