Project work in our English class

 

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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”!

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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 !

Arts and craft, play an important role in all our projects!

Arts and craft, play an important role in all our projects!

Few thoughts

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!

I love it when my students become creative through project work! Their talents and interests, are revealed! Creativity is enhanced, too!

I love it when my students become creative through project work! Their talents and interests, are revealed! Creativity is enhanced, too!

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.

Some projects come in the form of a magazine or a booklet

Some projects come in the form of a magazine or a booklet

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.

A flock of doves! Getting to know other children, by means of English!!

A flock of doves! Getting to know other children, by means of English!!

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.

Another english notice board in class.Here, we pin our class projects! Students are proud to show their parents and friends their work!

Another English notice board, in our classroom.We pin our class projects, on it ! Students are proud to show their work, to their parents and friends!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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BUT

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!

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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….

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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.

 

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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!

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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!

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Our ETwinning “Puppets” project: promoting peace and understanding!

 

I’ve always loved working with puppets, in our  English class!

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I strongly believe that, puppets play an important part in various aspects of a child’s development. The puppet provides the child with a kind of cover or disguise to hide behind: a timid child finds the courage to speak, to express his/her own emotions and to open his/her secrets to the puppet and through it to the audience. Thus the puppet helps the child to communicate much more spontaneously, avoiding stressed relations, especially with adults. The puppet is an authority selected by the child himself.

Through my experience in working with puppets, I believe in the magical power of the puppet in all kinds of communication with children, enlightening their talents and different forms of their creativity.

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In our ETwinning project,this year, we decided to work with FLAT puppets, because, they were easy and cheap to travel in an envelope!

I also thought  that, flat puppets would be important in improving visual sensitivity and orientation in space , especially for my younger students (a translation of a drawing into movement in relation to another animated form).

The use of our ETwinning puppets, actually  resulted in a considerable contribution to a more humane and less stressed teaching environment and the socialization process, with our European peers. Moreover, puppets aroused my students’ imagination and creativity – the best dowry to a child for further development.

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Promoting Peace and understanding among kids living in different countries and experiencing different cultural backgrounds ,was also one of my main targets, this year!

Actually, promoting peace was a large part of Dr. Montessori’s career – one of her most famous quotes is “Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of education.” She thought it was extremely important in her day; today it may be more important than ever…in both Europe and the World!

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To me, Peace doesn’t mean the absence of conflict. That would be an idealized world in which none of us live. Rather, it’s learning how to deal with conflict in a way that doesn’t put the rights, wants, or needs of one person over the other. It’s learning conflict resolution skills that stress respect for the individual and the group, in our class  and in today’s World.

Let me share some facts…:The European continent is culturally, economically and linguistically very varied and a survey carried out by the Council of Europe revealed an important diversity in the provision for the arts in schools throughout Europe.

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In the same study, it was found that arts education provision in these countries, in many cases, also shows an inconsistency with national policy statements. They strongly emphasize the importance of a cultural dimension in education and encourage artistic and aesthetic development in young people, while in reality the status of and provision for arts education appear less prominent. Moreover,  the emphasis on academic and technical education has a tendency to place the arts in the periphery of the curricula encouraging polarities between the arts and the sciences .

It was after I had read those facts when I thought..:Puppetry, is one such form of Art. I should use it to achieve my teaching goals in a fun and meaningful way.

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Peace education can vary by age; older Primary School children will naturally be able to get into the history of peace, understanding others  and conflict by studying different countries and cultures. In our project case, they could participate at a higher level by researching and writing about their lives, different cultures,sharing and comparing with their their European friends with the help of  their Puppets.

During our Puppets project, we emphasized respect for the diversity of traditions and customs found around the world and in our European house!

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Through the creation of several stories for the puppets theatre in class, students developed their artistic potential as a tool to explore the idea of tolerance and understanding of others.

After all, puppetry has been found to be an excellent tool for the teaching of multiculturalism to children.

First, I had to teach my young students, basic techniques used in creating live puppet theatre to be later able to  use puppetry to incorporate multiculturalism into practice.

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A few months later, as my little ones grew in understanding the feelings and needs of themselves and their European peers, their compassionate nature blossomed,too.

More, about this project:

The main goals of the project were  :
• to promote group activities  for tolerance and cultural understanding;
• to strengthen my students’ intercultural competences in order to be ready for responsible understanding of Europe’s identity and common values;
• to develop the European dimension through arts education (puppets) and creativity with the aim to promote multiculturalism and tolerance between students;
• To develop “Out-of-the-box” activities that would encourage mutual support, team building and group cohesion ;
• Encourage personalized learning approaches by acquiring new artistic and pedagogical skills with the aim of developing new ideas and creativity of the students involved in the project.

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This old time classic pen pals project, gave a real purpose and meaning to learning a foreign language and helped the students experience education in a different country through European citizenship ,using a new tool: twinspace! The project lasted for about a school year and we had to complete many individual items . We had to create common projects about: ourselves, our school, our country , our town ,our favourite sports and hobbies, our customs and special traditions, our most favourite place in our countries , our daily routine and habits and also ,exchange OURSELVES as… PUPPETS ! We “traveled” to another country as our school and country ambassadors, and experienced life in another class, far away from home, for one school year! Puppet-students, wrote on their twinspace diaries about their adventures. Our projects and letters were both sent to our friends by snail mail and uploaded on twinspace, to share and compare in a different class.

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This was a new and innovative partnership for my  school; It was the first time that we had participated in such an innovative an ETwinning project.Both group work and independent research was used  by pupils.

The innovation and creativity of the project is based on the following factors:

  • All partner  schools being inclusive of each other, working as one unit on each common project
  • That the children felt able to be creative with their audience in the partner school in mind and dare to share and compare
  • That the learning from the project was so significant that it will not be lost from children’s minds
  • The Puppet-Ambassadors, created by and for the students ,served as a  meaningful pathway towards understanding and learning more about our partners.

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Before we started, the concept of Europe was not understood by most of the children, but now they are fully aware of the other  European  partner countries and their ways of life. Citizenship has become a practical rather than theoretical part of the curriculum.

 The pupils were inspired and motivated. They had a great deal of fun working collaboratively .

Students had an opportunity to develop a sense of pride and respect toward other traditions. Our Puppet-Ambassadors, made Europe a more real concept, especially for those students who have never traveled abroad.

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The organisation and commitment of the students has been very impressive.

The children showed a great interest in exploring another country and its way of life, as well as demonstrating increased motivation in learning a foreign language. They were always eager to participate, found information themselves, drew pictures, made posters, presented the project to other classes.

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As far as my school is concerned, I made sure that almost all our project activities were 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 Etwinning project theme! Also, they are based on both creative  project work and group  collaboration which  was  highly helpful in our ETwinning project!

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I teach English to  ALL classes in my school! I therefore  made sure that, ALL my 135 students, in all ages and  language levels, took part in our  ETwinning project, something that  proved to be a real challenge!

All in all, a  puppet can be their friend or their classmate, their ETwinning  friend in our case… but at the same time is the child who moves the puppet. This is going to be the key thing while practicing another language and, if we use them correctly, they are one of the best resources that teachers can find and use in their foreign language classes.Not only to teach English but most importantly, LIFE AND SOCIAL SKILLS!

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