Having introduced us to, and examined the benefits of, project work in the classroom, Project author, Tom Hutchinson, now considers the primary concerns held by teachers about its use and offers his suggestions for overcoming such concerns.
In previous blog posts, we looked at the benefits of project work, including motivation, relevance and educational values. You are probably wondering by now: what’s the catch? For every benefit there is a price to be paid, and in this section I’ll take a look at some of the main worries that teachers have about project work.
Teachers are often afraid that the project classroom will be noisier than the traditional classroom and that this will disturb other classes in the school. But project work does not have to be noisy. Students should be spending a lot of the time working quietly on their projects: reading, drawing, writing, and cutting and pasting. In these tasks, students will be working on their own or in groups, but this is not an excuse to make a lot of noise.
The problem is not really one of noise, it is a concern about control. In project work students are working independently – they must, therefore, take on some of the responsibility for managing their learning environment. Part of this responsibility is learning what kind of, and what level of, noise is acceptable. When you introduce project work you also need to encourage and guide the learners towards working quietly and sensibly. Remember that they will enjoy project work and will not want to stop doing it on the basis of it causing too much noise. So it should not be too difficult to get your students to behave sensibly.
Project work is time-consuming. It takes much longer to prepare, make, and present a project than it does to do more traditional activities. When you are already struggling to get through the syllabus or finish the textbook, you will probably feel that you don’t have time to devote to project work, however good an activity it may be. There are two responses to this situation:
a) Outside the class
Firstly, not all project work needs to be done in class time. Obviously, if the project is a group task, most of it must be done in class, but a lot of projects are individual tasks. Projects about My Family, My House, etc. can be done at home. You will be surprised how much of their own time students will gladly devote to doing projects.
b) Rich learning experiences
Secondly, when choosing to do project work you are making a choice in favour of the quality of the learning experience over the quantity. It is unfortunate that language teaching has tended to put most emphasis on quantity, i.e. as much practice as possible of each language item. What really matters in learning is the quality of the learning experience. Project work provides rich learning experiences: rich in colour, movement, interaction and, most of all, involvement. The positive motivation that projects generate affects the students’ attitude to all the other aspects of the language programme. Learning grammar and vocabulary will appear more relevant because the students know they will need these things for their project work. Think back to your own learning, or for that matter to your life in general. It is the rich experiences that you remember. Looked at in this way, project work is actually a very cost-effective use of time. There is no substitute for quality.
Some teachers are concerned that without the teacher’s firm control the weaker students will be lost and will not be able to cope. Again, the answer to this worry is to see the positive side of it. Not all students want or need the teacher’s constant supervision. By encouraging the more able students to work independently you are free to devote your time to those students who need it most.
Project work requires a change of attitude about what is really valuable in language teaching, and you also need to work with your students to develop a responsible working environment. But, in practice, most teachers find that their worst fears about project work do not materialize. The work is so motivating for the students that it produces its own momentum. The noise of the well-managed project classroom is the sound of creativity. And that’s what we want to encourage, not suppress.