Project-Based Learning has always had a significant place in the English Language classroom. Teachers soon realise that the topic of language and grammar is not the most engaging, especially for younger learners and teenagers. Even for adults, there is rarely an occasion to discuss the use of the present perfect or passive forms in natural conversation. Projects, therefore, help provide a topic and situation to consolidate language and provide further practice of specific tenses and/or lexis.
Personally, I have always enjoyed seeing students’ reactions when they realise that the piece of artwork and/or writing they have been working on is part of a larger picture, to create a display for a wider audience. They develop a sense of pride and achievement knowing that their work is being viewed by parents, carers, teachers, students, and other interested parties. Some of the most ambitious projects I coordinated as the Director of Studies at International House Porto were whole school projects where each student, from every class regardless of age or level, was given the same rubric or task.
This inter-generational, cross-level endeavour meant that differentiation in what was produced was by outcome, allowing each individual to work according to their own abilities. This is preferable (and easier to coordinate) to setting a different task for each age group and level. The underlying principle of Project-Based learning is that learners can work to their own strengths, and at the same time the spectacular displays can create a wonderful sense of community within the school, often with families coming to visit the school to see the final exhibition. The project, though, is driven by the teacher or institute and the work produce is ultimately for display purposes.
Project-Based Learning (PBL), however, is much more than producing wall displays and completing projects set by the teacher. The teacher’s role should be to instigate the project, but then to let the learners navigate and steer it. The driving force should come from the students, as they find a way to tackle a real-life problem, or conduct some inquiry research into areas that have an impact on their lives. PBL is about the process rather than the final product (which could still be a wall display, if appropriate), and developing the skill-sets such as critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity which are needed for life and work in the modern world (click here for more information on 21st century skills).
PBL is more akin to Content-Based Learning (CBL) and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) in that the pedagogic principles focus on encouraging learners to expand their cross-curriculum knowledge through challenging experiences, developing technological skills, contextualising communication skills, all by engaging with authentic and meaningful projects.
Here are 7 points to consider when creating an effective PBL program:
- Identify a challenging problem or a question which must be researched (not just Googled!) in order to expand knowledge and understanding of the area
- Feature real-world contexts which are both stimulating and interesting, and which will ultimately have an impact on the lives of the learners
- Engage the learner in associated cognitive processing as they sustain a level of inquiry
- Collaborating and communicating within the classroom community and beyond in order to set themselves tasks, delegate, and carry out research.
- Develop appropriate language awareness and language skills
- Self-reflection and evaluation, questioning what has been achieved and how it could move forward
- Produce a public product to present, display or exhibit to interested parties beyond the classroom.
Project-Based Learning is well-suited to mainstream schools and education systems, and there has been a lot of research to prove that it is the way forward. But how well does it fit into the English language classroom? In my upcoming webinar I will explore further what is involved in Project-Based Learning and how you could use it in the English Language classroom. I will set out a basic framework which should be adaptable depending on individual teaching situations. We shall also have an opportunity to share ideas, make suggestions and inspire each other to try out different kinds of PBL.
Buck institute for Education. (2018). What is PBL? In project based learning, teachers make learning come alive for students. [online] Available at: https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl. Accessed 10/5/18.
Jane-Maria Harding da Rosa worked as a Director of Studies at International House Porto where she specialised in teaching younger learners. She gained her Master’s in TEYL, and now works for IH Newcastle as a senior teacher and CELTA and DELTA tutor. She also presents workshops and training sessions. She contributed significantly to the writing and re-structuring of the IH Certificate of teaching Young learners and Teenagers, which is now assessed by Cambridge Language Assessment unit.