In this article, Philip Drury underlines the numerous educational advantages of project work, and shows how negative points can be effectively circumvented

Rewarding educational project-work is something that many teachers feel should be done more often, but for one reason or another, it is not the right moment, there are too many things to be taught, exams are coming up… 

  • Appeals to students who have different learning styles.
  • Promotes the many types of intelligences that students possess and that need to be given space to develop in stimulating and non-threatening environments.
  • Allows genuine student-centered learning,freeing teachers to advise, observe, guide and …be amazed by what their students are capable of.
  • Develops students’ sense of teamwork.

Some teachers can see projects, as being difficult to organise or being too unpredictable. They may feel that there’s not enough assessment and that they are too time-consuming. ‘Let’s stick to the tried and tested. We’ll have much more control with standard classroom teaching.’

On your marks…

What better way to get to know your students than to observe them both socially and also objectively in a well planned learning environment? The use of well thought-out assessment grids can be useful in many ways, not least in providing documented evidence for student progress, and not only in products but processes.

Get organised and discipline yourself because clear aims, forward planning and time budgeting are the tools of the trade. The practical misgivings about project work can be reduced to a minimum with careful planning.

Get set…

Here are some important steps to ensure smooth and efficient projects:

  • introduce your rationale for using project work;
  • justify the use of small groups for project work methodology;
  • model the technique;
  • give explicit and detailed instructions see below;
  • give examples of the language, which might be necessary;
  • divide the class into groups with clear roles (leader, secretary);
  • check for understanding of task with concept questions;
  • allocate an agreed amount of time for the project;
  • set the task in motion;
  • monitor the task using a well thought-out observation grid;
  • debrief the class;
  • presentation of the final products.

Go!

Explain the idea of project work then get them to brainstorm what they want to include. What are the stages involved? Who is responsible and what will the final project look like? It is important to discuss with the students an idea of the time needed for each stage of the project and how you as a teacher intend to make evaluations. In order to give learners an idea of what they are aiming for, it is good to have some examples of past projects. Sit with each group for 5-10 minutes to discuss the proposal and get the group’s secretary to make notes, which can be used as a sort of contact to refer back to.

Don’t just talk about the importance of project work. Show them you value it by:

  • Not sitting at your desk doing your own work!
  • Not thinking that project work frees you to be able to leave the classroom.
  • Not being tempted to jump in and correct too much – unless your help is requested.

Remember to spend approximately equal time with each group and monitor objectively.

Display

It good to show students the space they have to display their project (wall space, a table etc.). This will help them to plan what type and how much material to produce and how to think about layout.

Debriefing

Group work can be rounded off positively with some form of class debriefing. Debriefing, or processing, has two basic aspects; reporting on project objectives and giving affective support. Debriefing helps to bring back the divided class into a whole learning community in which students can discuss how they feel about their work and the problems they encountered. This feedback produces very useful language and has the additional benefit of giving the teachers further elements for evaluation.

Presentation

One of the main joys of doing a project is to produce material that can be shown, read and admired by others – other students, parents or visitors to the class. At the end of the project the group could pre-pare an oral presentation of their work. They could create a quiz about their material for another group or even work on a TV-style presentation (like ‘Art Attack’) or convert some of the material into a PowerPoint presentation or webpage.

Evaluation

As with all work done in school, a project needs to be evaluated. During the project the teacher will have made notes about the process and so will have a good idea about personal contributions. In order to be objective about the final result you can use a grid or evaluation report, which could include aspects such as originality, content, design, teamwork and final presentation.

And Finally…

One of the most important aspects of project work is collaborative peer learning, resulting in a product that students can feel they were responsible for. Whilst students learn together, the teacher is free to observe, give individual help to those who need it and guide others towards excellence.

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise, September 2005.

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