Project, a word that can mean nearly anything: when does an activity surpass its own limits to become a project? Furthermore, what is the difference between a project and Project Based Learning (PBL)?
A project is a set of activities that involves many competences, not only cognitive, but also non-cognitive ones, as well as soft skills. Those activities are developed with a common objective related to a specific theme. Apart from that, they involve different intelligences and learning styles, that is, they are varied in their approach, in order to respond to diversity.
A project puts the emphasis on the student, who becomes the main protagonist and the builder of his or her own learning.
A project includes organising, deciding, listening, explaining, convincing, cooperating, collaborating, making, researching, writing, discussing, debating, reading, talking, communicating, among other –ings. All of them with the aim of achieving a final product, whether it is physical or abstract.
From a linguistic point of view, the four skills are always present, as well as grammar and vocabulary, of course, in a more natural way than in a typical language lesson.
A project can be carried out within the four walls of our English classroom and it can be developed in just in one session or over several, but a PBL approach is something more complex.
The Project Based Learning methodology implies the use of projects on a regular basis, normally in a cross-curricular way, coordinated with other teachers. For instance, a typical one would deal with English Speaking Countries: you could talk about geography, history, literature, music or arts. This could be done across different subjects, from different points of view, of course the language used throughout the project should be English. Each cooperative group of students could focus on a different country or region: Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales, the United States, Canada or Australia, among others.
How can you organise and coordinate all that? It requires time and experience.
My suggestion would be to start with a small project in your own subject, before trying to involve other teachers. Some schools even work completely on a PBL basis, that could be a final goal, but don´t run before you can walk.
Try to find out what your students are interested in. Then try to incorporate that theme into your annual planning. Think about the resources you have, about possible final products (a blog, a theatre play, a video, a poster...), and give it a go:
- Decide on the theme – taking into consideration your students´ interests. Fit your idea into the official curriculum.
- Explain the idea to your students and motivate them towards it – carry out some icebreaker activities.
- Create the groups – there are many factors that should be considered when organising groups. Reflect on them before making a decision.
- Develop the project – although not indispensable, ICT is normally a part of any project, developing the students´ digital competence.
- Present the final product – either in a physical or a digital way.
- Share the results. Spread them – through local newspapers, through your school´s media or, most of all, using the internet and social media. However, always bare in mind that your students are minors.
The teacher´s main role is that of supervising, observing and helping when necessary. Assessment will include continuous and summative assessment, as well as individual and group assessment, not just from the teacher´s point of view, but also from the students´ one, in the form of self-evaluation and co-evaluation (rubrics needed).
It will always be a challenge the first time, but I really recommend it.
I believe that Project Based Learning should be the future of our education, aiming for an interdisciplinary curriculum, where subjects complement each other and interact with each other.
When talking about PBL, we have to mention its most important branch: Service Learning. Its relevance comes from the main role awarded to the community as well as its emphasis on values. However, that would require a whole new article.
Just begin with a project. A small one. You´ll see.
Ingrid Mosquera, PhD.