Interest in project work and its integration into ELT instruction is growing around the world. This approach lends itself to a focus on language at the discourse rather than the sentence level, authentic language use and learner centerdeness. According to Haines:" Project work involves multi-skill activities which focus on a theme of interest rather than specific language tasks."
In this article, I will outline the fundamental steps in a project work and illustrate how I translated them into practice through my project work experience with two mixed ability scientific classes.
A project work often involves three stages:
This step is the teacher's responsibility, the focus is on classroom planning, in other words, both students and teacher discuss the content and scope of the project as well as the project requirements.
As far as I am concerned , I relied on three basic elements to introduce the approach to my students for the first time.
Since the first project was about the environment, I printed a glossary of words that my students would meet when dealing with their projects at the data collection phase. As I prepared a list of different themes and the number of titles was more than the number of groups to give equal opportunities to students to agree on a particular theme.
I provided my students with the necessary material such as dictionaries, coloured markers, pencils, coloured sheets of different dimensions and reference guides such as magazines, newspapers,booklets and many other equipments so that they don't need to hunt around for things at the same time.
Before starting their project work, students are given the evaluation grid so that they know on what criteria they will be evaluated, in the mean time this raises their awareness on what makes a good project work.
Once Students start to carry out their project the teacher should not intervene, as John Dewey said:
" Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn, and the doing of such a nature as to demand thinking, learning naturally results."
While my students were working I witnessed their progress and noticed that their attitudes had changed towards eachother through the collaborative atmosphere.
Through my students' project work I also observed the development of some competencies that I classify as follows
The project work gave students the opportunity to use technologies effectively as tools in the planning and development of their project.
Students learned how to use a reference guide that enabled them identify essential elements that they needed to include in their projects, they also became familiar with monolingual dictionaries.
Real World Connection:
Real world connections might be made by communicating with the world outside the classroom, via the Internet or collaboration with community members and mentors. As the project work addressed real world issues that are relevant to students' lives or communities, some students visited places related to the themes they had chosen in order to raise their awareness.
Students' decision making and initiative increased throughout the course of the project from selection to design, production and presentation decisions.
Once back to classroom, students compared and contrasted their findings, they wrote reports, designed and labeled diagrams, produced graphs and finally realized their posters, powerpoint presentations and research papers.
While presenting their projects, my students used their knowledge of other fields and as they worked on environmental issues they brought useful information and illustrations; I still remember Farah, the pupils who was facing problems at using the passive voice correctly; she was so fond of trees and chemistry that she worked on a project related deforestation, though she didn't have enough help from the team members, she was confident enough to present almost alone. I was surprised to see her writing chemical equations on the black board and explaining them to her classmates using the passive voice. Other students presented their works on posters on the powerpoint.
Assessing a Project Work:
At the end of my first project I couldn't grade my students, I didn't want them to evaluate their works with good or bad marks especially when comparing them. Though they decided about the best, they were wise enough to vote for Farah's project because she made more efforts, she presented alone and used all the ways to transmit the message, most of the students appreciated their classmates who gave more explanations on the blackboard using graphs and charts, they didn't like the fact that others kept their eyes on papers.
There was no need to give a mark because the results appeared in the summative tests, I noticed the progress my students made, and yet I found a simple way to get them assess their own project works: I just asked them about the projects they had realized, the new things they discovered and learned as well as things they wanted to improve. I was moved when reading their impressions and here are some to share with any one who has been patient to read the article to this point:
"I am happy and proud because I did the project in English", Said sarah who could not even read a word properly at the beginning of the school year. She made great progress by working on articles using a dictionary and being fluent on the presentation day, now she is a 3rd year student and she insits on contributing any task in class as she comes confidently to the blackboard to write answers.
An other student had come to see before she started the project with her classmates and requested me to allow her to work alone because she felt rejected by her team , but at the end of the presentation she said: " We have learned many new words by using dictionaries; we have also been working in a team spirit like one BODY. When we finished the presentation I was very happy because I felt that we did a special work, and now I love my friends."
Many students shared the same learning awareness, each one said:"I learned how to use a dictionary very quickly and now I can speak English better than in the past."
At the end of that project, my students started to feel at ease talking to me, they improved their English as they developed their critical thinking. They recognized the benefit of prject work in a collaborative atmosphere with team spirit and critical mind. I was pleased to see them trying to excell in their studeies and moved to see a more tolerant and peaceful learning environment, I would conclude this amazing experience with this quote: " Education is above all an inner journey whose stages correspond to those of the continuous maturing of the personality." J.Dehors et al, Learning: The Treasure Within.
This project work was realized by Miss.K.Mezough with her two second year scientific classes "SNV1 +SNV 2" at Frères Meftahi Secondary School from October 2006 to January 2007
After such an experience students were engaged in a local science fair project and they realized the first exhibition by the end of the third term. To view pictures of the fair click here.....