We as teachers are often left with more questions than answers when students with disabilities are not able to produce what is expected during project work time. In an ideal world, high school students should be able to use all available resources, tools, and accommodations provided by their teachers to persist through project work time independently with little direction from instructors. After all, students should be able to apply the skills we have drilled into them for several weeks prior to their culminating projects, right? We all should know that this scenario is often not the case.

What might have seemed like a productive week of independent project work time in our ICT Microbiology class has left us grading half-completed lab reports and inaccurate experimental conclusions. These projects most commonly come from students with disabilities. This left my co-teacher and us thinking – at what point during the unit did the wheels fall off the wagon? Despite the plethora of resources we (sentence starters, reading guides, graphic organizers, etc.) provided these students, how did they still fall through the cracks and produce such little work?

A lack of independence during project work time can take many different shapes in an ICT setting. A glaring need across our ICT section is the ability for our students to set goals, self-assess, and reflect on their project work.

Many students in our sections struggle to maintain sustained focus on their project work. With one-on-one interventions with either my co-teacher or me, many of them are able to complete small portions of their Microbiology projects in sporadic spurts of production. There’s nothing quite like witnessing these students’ wheels turning, albeit even for a brief amount of time, as I help them make sense of their understandings. But, when leave a student to have them continue a task on their own, I later to find them with their heads down, disengaged from project work time.

Over the past several weeks, I have come up with a more concrete plan to build the independence of students during project work time. First, at the beginning of class, before any project work begins, all students write an authentic project goal for the 1-hour period. Project goals include: finishing writing background research, interpreting a data set and write about how it connects to their hypothesis, and revising written reports.  

Project goals must be individualized based on the student’s needs. With the addition of chunking tasks with timers and allowing short breaks, the students (and I) will use these written project goals to track students’ progress. My ultimate goal for my ICT sections is for the students to come up with attainable goals entirely on their own, work the class hour to reach said goals, and finally spend a few minutes at the end of class to reflect on their production. I hope that this process adds a sense of metacognition and ultimately leads to a more authentic and complete project.