Project Work-More suitable than ever!!

(Reading time: 3 - 6 minutes)

In the two following articles project work will be the main focus. In the first part we will examine what project work is all about, its main characteristics and the teacher’s-learners’ roles.

A. What is ‘project work’?

In the context of language teaching and learning, projects are multi-skill activities focusing on specific themes or topics rather than on prescribed language aims. It is of huge importance that the learners themselves get actively involved in the selection of the project theme as well as the procedures which need to be followed concerning time, materials and eventually the ‘end product’.
It seems that project work gives the opportunity to the students to recycle language, skills and competencies already taught and this is so because the learners concentrate on reaching the agreed goal, the ‘end product’. Projects may be intensive activities over a short period of time or extended activities which require more time.

B. What are the main categories?

Projects may be divided into four main categories:

1. Information / research projects. For example, a project providing information about your home town.

2. Survey projects. For example, a project concerning the numbers of people speaking English.

3. Production projects. For example, a project aiming at producing a radio programme including news, advertisements etc.

4. Performance projects. For example, a project aiming at putting on a talent show.

C. What are the characteristics of project work?

1. Project work is primarily student-centred rather than syllabus-centred.
The learners need to discuss the project’s theme, the working methods and the nature of the ‘end product’. The learners’ motivation is absolutely vital and group work is a mainstream. The learners may discuss and find solutions to all problems which may arise during their work.

2. Project work promotes co-operation and not competitiveness.
Projects tend to be more successful when the learners co-operate as a team leaving the teacher to monitor and assist when necessary. The ‘end product’ replaces the marks and the team (learners and teacher) enjoy success.

3. Project work is skill-based not structure- based.
Although grammatical accuracy is of primary importance at a certain stage during project work, only rarely will a project lead the learners to use and practice predictable grammatical structures. Freer practice and skills involvement are the basic characteristics.

4. The ‘end product’.
A clearly defined and agreed ‘end product’ is an important feature of project work. Without an end product, project work would have no natural conclusion and its activities may become meaningless and boring practice. Some end products may include: a scrapbook collection of written work along with visuals, a formal written report, a classroom display, a newspaper, a radio or video programme.

D. What are the benefits for the learners?

1. The learners, through project work, are exposed to the real world and they need to apply already acquired knowledge.

2. The learners, while working on a project, need to actively participate and get involved in decision making processes which increase their motivation.

3. All students, weaker or stronger, may have something to offer to the team working towards an agreed and defined aim. The learners with less linguistic capacity may demonstrate other talents, such as selection of materials, decorating, organizing other people, handling equipment etc. In other words, project work involves all types of learners and this is a positive factor for developing and encouraging group dynamics.

4. While working on a project the learners need to apply their fluency and accuracy skills at different stages during their work. This offers the opportunity for practice and real life communication.

5. Finally, project work offers an ‘escape’ from routine lessons, especially when the theme / topic is selected by the learners. The learners enjoy their creative work when the teacher has the opportunity to note down linguistic areas which needs to be developed.

E. What is the teacher’s role during project work?

1. As mentioned earlier project work is, by definition, a student-centered procedure. However, this does not mean that the teacher plays no role in the whole process.

2. Probably the most important factor for a successful project in class is the teacher’s commitment to the idea of teaching through this specific procedure. Obviously, this implies that the teacher is willing to adopt a new teaching method.

3. The teacher should let the learners work by themselves, since the process is a student centered one. However, this depends on the maturity of the students and their previous learning experiences. It is important the students not to misuse their freedom while working on a project because this may lead to negative results. To avoid such incidents it is suggested to prepare all the stages thoroughly before the project procedures start.

4. During the project the learners’ confidence should be built up. The teacher needs to be careful as to what and when he / she corrects the learners. Over correction damages their motivation but no correction at all may lead to unpleasant results.

5. The teacher needs to decide in advance the length and how appropriate the specific project is. Usually, at the beginning of any project work there is a broad discussion over a topic which naturally leads to the desired project. Once the theme is decided elicit ideas concerning:

* the thematic orientation of the project,

* the methods and the group formation,

* the project’s timetable describing the sequence of the stages and the activities involved.
Obviously, this timetable may change according to the development of the project,

* the nature of the ‘end product’.

6. During the project you may assist the learners in:

* finding the sources and the ideas which may be needed,

* facilitating with possible arguments, disagreements etc.

* appointing a ‘chairperson’ for informing the rest of the class about the procedure of the project.

7. Towards the end of the project the teacher should:

* play the role of the organizer as far as the displays, the written reports etc. are concerned,

* evaluate and

* encourage the learners to evaluate their own work.

In our next article we will examine some very practical ideas and activities related to project work.

Biodata
Akis Davanellos has been a school owner and Practitioner Teacher for eighteen years and he holds an MA in ELT from the University of Warwick. He has written a number of articles in local and international journals and he has worked for international and local publishing companies presenting professional and commercial seminars and courses. He has also been involved in forthcoming book evaluations and piloting. He is the initiator and the main materials designer of the IGUANA PROJECT publishing house, the initiator of the Iguana Project Educational Support System for schools (I.P.E.S.S.) and the e-enilikes method for adult education.
 

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