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Teaching and Assessing General Capabilities Through Project-based Learning (Part 1)

The incorporation of General Capabilities into the Australian Curriculum raised a number of issues for schools, most of which are yet to be effectively resolved. These questions include:


  • How would some of the more abstract General Capabilities be taught? Whilst an established roadmap exists for teaching General Capabilities such as literacy and numeracy, the way forward for teaching others such as Personal and Social Capability and Critical and Creative Thinking is much less clear. This, as Paul Shanahan and Melissa Galea point out, has led to schools taking an ad-hoc approach to the teaching of these skills.

  • How do you assess students’ progress and efficacy in building General Capabilities? Whilst the approach for assessment in areas such as literacy, numeracy, and ICT capability are clear, how does one quantitatively evaluate a skill like a student’s creativity? For that matter, how does one even define creativity in order to assess it? Is creativity gauged by the ability to develop a large volume of ideas? Or is the ability to develop unique ideas? Or is it something else entirely? Similarly, how does one evaluate a student’s self-awareness and, once it is evaluated, what proactive measures can a teacher take to help a student build or improve their self-awareness?

Not only have these questions not yet been answered, but we now enter a situation whereby the tension is only likely to be exacerbated. As schools are increasingly required to report on the teaching of General Capabilities and student progress in demonstrating them, the risk is that the uncertainty around how to teach or measure these skills will translate into ineffectual learning outcomes for students.


The good news is that there is a way forward for schools. As schools such as Chisholm Catholic College have found, PBL provides schools with a way not only to teach General Capabilities in a structured and robust manner, but to do so in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the teaching of key knowledge; avoiding the much discussed and feared trade-off between knowledge and general capabilities. Similarly, companies such as eduSTEM have increasingly used PBL as a way to generate data points that make valid assessment of General Capabilities meaningful and accurate.


PBL is the perfect way to teach and assess General Capabilities

How PBL can provide the backbone for teaching general capabilities


The beauty of PBL is that it has the capacity to wrap up all the general capabilities in one fell swoop. However, given the prevalence of approaches for teaching numeracy, literacy, and ICT capability, this article will focus on the remaining four capabilities:


  • Personal and Social Capability: PBL is intrinsically social in nature whilst also providing multiple social and emotional challenges for students. A project therefore provides multiple relevant and appropriate moments to teach students a range of socio-emotional skills and frameworks. For example:

  • Critical and Creative Thinking: Each project has two key components: a problem which students must critically and analytically decompose, and a prototyped, real-world solution they must create. Both components provide relevant opportunities to teach a range of critical and creative thinking frameworks which can be immediately applied. For example:

  • Intercultural Understanding: PBL provides the perfect setting to explore intercultural understanding in a number of ways:

  • Ethical Understanding: When solving any problem in PBL, the questions of “Should a problem be solved?” and “Should a problem be solved this way?” are key parts of the innovation process. Opportunities to teach and explore issues of ethics, rights, and responsibilities abound:

The list above is by no means comprehensive, and in many ways represents just the tip of the iceberg. Further, it only discusses the opportunities to teach the framework or concept. The other clear advantage of PBL is that it then provides students with an immediate opportunity to apply the framework in a meaningful and tangible way, so that students do not only develop an understanding of the capability; they actually develop the capability itself.


Next month: How to assess General Capabilities through PBL. If you haven’t – sign-up to make sure you sign-up to eduSTEM’s newsletter to get Part 2 delivered straight to your inbox next month. Sign-up here.


To understand more about how you can bring the teaching and practice of General Capabilities to the fore in your school’s projects, or to get our catalogue of ready to go projects built around these General Capabilities contact eduSTEM here

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