Well, I have been teaching through projects , since the beginning of my career as an English teacher, in Greece! Even when I had to work in a different school ,every single year or I had to work in 3 different schools on the same day, either by walking long distances carrying my heavy bag, or some years later, by driving to a different village school, during each break!!
When I started working on pen pals projects- via snail mail , nobody thought I was doing anything exceptional: only my students! Most headmasters used to refer to my extra working hours on those projects as ” useless, worthless and a waste of time”!
A few years later, we were able to start working on collaborative projects , with our ETwinning partners! A precious experience , for all of us! An opportunity, I am really thankful for! What an adventure for my students!
It has been HARD work all these years, but highly rewarding, at the same time-for both me and my students !
I have come to the conclusion that, one way to get children doing what they like while still learning is through projects. Children enjoy using their imagination – making up characters, stories; being creative – making things, drawing, colouring, cutting and gluing, using multimedia; finding out about interesting stuff; sharing, chatting, working together; talking about themselves, their friends and family, their interests; making choices, deciding for themselves, trying new things out; showing off!
What is a project?
In the primary school classroom, a project is usually the work leading to the production of a poster, letter, birthday card, booklet, magazine, play, sketch, puppet show, radio recording, video etc. It may be the work of one pupil, but more frequently is the collaborative work of a number of pupils working together in class.
One key element of all projects is the ‘theme’ – the basic idea. Whether the pupils are working individually or in groups they are all concerned with the same basic theme. This theme should be open enough to encourage creativity and provide a focus, but not so open as to confuse your pupils.
The characteristic of a project is that the learning comes from the ‘process’ – the work which leads to the result rather than the results itself. Most frequently the pupils will use a wide range of language, a variety of language skills and often knowledge which may have come from different parts of the curriculum.
Because the pupils are combining so many different skills and areas of knowledge, it is sometimes difficult to say exactly what the pupils are learning.
In any project they may be learning many different things at any one time:
• How to work with other people. • How to share work. • How to delegate work. • How to appreciate the work of others. • How to work alone. • How to take responsibility for a task.
Project-based learning prepares students for the real world.
These are all social skills, but they may also be learning practical skills such as how to use scissors, to design a neat page, to speak clearly or how to operate a piece of simple machinery.
I do not ‘control’ every stage of the process in a project. I suggest the original idea, assist in the planning process, and may provide advice or guidance in the actual work, but the project is essentially the work of the children – encouraging children to interact and develop independently of the teachers direct interference.
Why I personally believe in project work…
It is all said in this article on EDUTOPIA:
“The old-school model of passively learning facts and reciting them out of context is no longer sufficient to prepare students to survive in today’s world. Solving highly complex problems requires that students have both fundamental skills (reading, writing, and math) and 21st century skills (teamwork, problem solving, research gathering, time management, information synthesizing, utilizing high tech tools). With this combination of skills, students become directors and managers of their learning process, guided and mentored by a skilled teacher.
These 21st century skills include
- personal and social responsibility
- planning, critical thinking, reasoning, and creativity
- strong communication skills, both for interpersonal and presentation needs
- cross-cultural understanding
- visualizing and decision making
- knowing how and when to use technology and choosing the most appropriate tool for the task.
PBL is not just a way of learning; it’s a way of working together. If students learn to take responsibility for their own learning, they will form the basis for the way they will work with others in their adult lives.”
“One of the major advantages of project work is that it makes school more like real life. It’s an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of children’s attention and effort.”-EDUCATION RESEARCHER SYLVIA CHARD
What kind of end products can the children produce?
There are lots of ideas. Here are just a few I have used in my class.
a wall display e.g. posters or collages. Children all contribute a part to making a whole class end product.
a report or presentation e.g. on a survey conducted by the children, or research conducted via the Internet.
an invention (depending on the target vocabulary)
a booklet or guide e.g. to their town or to an imaginary place
a model e.g. of an imaginary island
a photo story or video e.g. of a story made up by the children, or about a subject researched by them
a magazine or newspaper
an event e.g. a show/pantomime, a fashion show, a party, an art exhibition –
the possibilities are endless.
According to Scholastic, one of the biggest barriers to broad implementation of project-based learning, is fear. Some teachers and administrators are reluctant to scrap a teaching style they know to start over, especially when it means stepping into a new role as a facilitator rather than an expert in the classroom.
As Jane Krauss, coauthor of Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, put it, “It’s hard to teach in a way we were never taught.”
Unfortunately, it’s the same with some parents, too: hard to accept as effective teaching ,a way of teaching they were never taught!
In my school, I always make sure that, almost all our project activities are connected to each of our English coursebook units. Luckily, our coursebooks , are based on both cross curricular and cross cultural topics quite relevant to our project themes ! Also, they are based on both creative project work and group collaboration which was highly helpful in my teaching with projects!
Some project ideas, for you to get started, can be found here….
In good projects children benefit from the ‘process’ of preparing them, and they become a stimulus for better speaking and writing. They are also a record of individual work for display in class or at home. Children have a strong emotional investment in the best projects. They are personally interested in the topic and proud of what they have achieved.
Apart from all the obstacles , there is nothing more rewarding for a teacher than see how happy , engaged and enthusiastic her students become when they work on something that makes sense and connects the class with the world! It’s priceless! Believe me! It’s worth any effort! It brings the class together, it helps the teacher connect with the students more and the students connect with their peers all over the globe ,by means of an international code of communication: English!
All in all, PBL taps ones imagination, conception, subject knowledge, application of subject and generalized knowledge, creativity, dexterity, planning, doing, and completing, and when the project is completed, one will have learned much one will never forget!