It is not always easy to introduce a new methodology, so we need to be sure that the effort is worthwhile. What benefits does project work bring to the language class? This teacher from Spain expresses it very well:
[With project work] pupils don’t feel that English is a chore, but it is a means of communication and enjoyment. They can experiment with the language as something real, not as something that only appears in books.
(Marisa Cuesta, Spain)
As this teacher indicates, project work captures better than any other activity the two principal elements of a communicative approach. These are:
a. A concern for motivation, that is, how the learners relate to the task.
b. A concern for relevance, that is, how the learners relate to the language.
We could add to these a third element:
c. A concern for educational values, that is, how the language curriculum relates to the general educational development of the learner.
Over the next month or so, I will examine each of these concerns in turn, starting with motivation:
If I could give only one piece of advice to teachers it would be this: Get your learners to enjoy learning English. Positive motivation is the key to successful language learning, and project work is particularly useful as a means of generating this. If you talk to teachers who do project work in their classes, you will find that this is the feature that is always mentioned: the students really enjoy it. But why is project work so motivating?
The first and most important reason is that project work is very personal. There is nothing simulated about a project. The students are writing about their own lives: their house, their family, their town, their dreams and fantasies, their own research into topics that interest them. And because it is such a personal experience, the meaning and the presentation of the project are important to the learners. They will thus put a lot of effort into getting it right.
Learning through doing
Secondly, project work is a very active medium. It is a kind of structured playing. Students aren’t just receiving and producing words, they are (among other things) collecting information, arranging texts and visuals, carrying out interviews and surveys. Project work is learning through doing.
Sense of achievement
Lastly, project work gives a clear sense of achievement. It enables all students to produce a worthwhile product, as another teacher from Spain comments:
There is feedback from the students as they realize what they can do with the English they have learned.
(Jesús-Angel Vallejo Carrasco, Spain)
This feature of project work makes it particularly well suited to the mixed ability class, because students can work at their own pace and level. The brighter students can show what they know, unconstrained by the syllabus, while at the same time the slower learners can achieve something that they can take pride in, perhaps compensating for their lower language level by using more photos and drawings.
Look out for my next blog post in which I will consider a concern for relevance and educational values in project work.