Peculiarities of project-based learning as a form of independent students’ learning
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014
Author: Yezhitskaya Svetlana, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
The person who gives
us new knowledge
Grants us new eyes.
Heinrich Heine’s words
delineate contemporary education system. Modern standards can be called “new
eyes” of education. We live in one and indivisible world, in which borders are
less clear, boundaries are more blurred. In this unified world stream of people
and cash flow easily move in different directions, partners from different
countries collaborate on finding solutions in business. Having developed the
main competencies, students gain additional opportunities in mastering their
prospective trade, tapping to rich social and cultural experience and the sound
guarantees of the future professional employability in their country and
Our society creates a
demand for qualified, pragmatic, and sociable people who are able to get and
impart information, effectively express their opinions, come up with
constructive ideas and find solutions to different problems. A great emphasis
in different spheres of life is placed on the importance of communication.
Therefore, contemporary education should meet the societal requirements and aim
at raising a well-rounded, communicative generation. Having a good command of
English becomes one of the most important key competencies of a modern person
and future specialist.
According to the
Ministry of Education of Kazakhstan, the main goal of teaching a foreign
language nowadays is to develop students' communicative competence, that is,
the ability to express thoughts and reasonably prove their opinions in a
variety of everyday situations. Today in the center of attention is a student,
his/ her personality and inner world. However, teachers and methodologists encounter
some challenges to choose methods and forms of learning process organization in
the framework of credit system of education which puts a great emphasis on both
students’ independent work and creative skills.
The method that enables
students to develop their communicative competence through independent work is
project work. The aim of project work is developing students’ independent
thinking, making them use acquired knowledge in practice. It enables teachers
to involve students into real communication, which is based on research and
collaborative work, and see the results of their cooperative labour. Real-world
problems capture students’ interest and provoke analytic and critical thinking
as students apply new knowledge in a problem-solving context.
Project work is
characterized as one of the most effective methods of teaching and learning a
language through research and communication.
The researches in the
given field were carried out by a lot of methodologists and educators such as
H. Thomas, M. Legutke, S. Heines, T. Hutchinson, Brumfit and others.
In the book “Process
and Experience in the Language Classroom”, Legutke and Thomas describe three
types of projects: encounter projects, which allow students to contact and
communicate with native speakers; text projects which enforce students to use
English language texts; class correspondence projects which involve letters,
photographs, audio or video performances or other exchanges between learners in
different countries (1).
The book called
“Project Work” by Fried-Booth suggests examples of teacher directed projects
focused on junior learners at elementary level, in which they are asked to
collect food labels or wrappings from tins, cartoons, packets, etc. for some
period of time. As a result, they display their product in the form of map of
the world illustrated with the labels, which are attached to the relevant
countries of origin. The map is then used for oral presentation or written work
T. Hutchinson in his
book “Introduction to Project work” gives examples of topics focused on the use
of interdisciplinary aspects in the form of students’ prospects, posters, or
other research outcomes (3).
In the book “Communicative
Methodology in Language Teaching”, Brumfit provides an analysis of projects
focused on advanced adult learners who work in groups and fulfill a project in
the form of creating a radio programme about any of the suggested topics for
Haines, in “Projects for the EFL Classroom” describes such types of project
- Information and
research projects which result in writing and presenting reports, displays;
- Survey projects which
comprise interviews, summaries, findings;
- Production projects
which require the work with radio, television, video, wall papers;
- Performance and
organizational projects are connected with performances such as plays, parties,
concerts, drama, etc. (5, p. 65).
We can see that all
types of projects have much in common: they are learner-oriented; they put a
great emphasis on student’s involvement, collaboration, responsibility and
personal commitment to the mutually-prepared work. Different types of this
method allow teachers to use it in various spheres of educational process.
involves multiskill activities which focus on a theme of interest rather than
of specific language tasks and helps the students to develop their imagination,
creativity, and independence.
Project work is work
which focuses on completing a task. It provides many opportunities to meet a
variety of learning aims but it requires strong classroom management skills.
Learners need independence in planning and realizing the work but they also
need the teacher to act as a driver in ensuring it is carried out in a way that
meets learning aims.
However, teachers may
face some difficulties when using project work at the lessons. It normally
involves a lot of resources - time, people and materials - and learners
practise a range of skills and language systems.
Project work emphasizes
learning activities as long-term, interdisciplinary, situation – and – student –
centered. Unlike conventional teacher-guided activities, students must organize
their own work and manage their time in project-based learning. Project-based
instruction differs from traditional teaching by its emphasis on students’
collaborative or individual work to represent what is being learned (6).
Project work gives
students an opportunity to solve problems, face challenges, and explore new
perspectives that have real-world applications, increasing the possibility of
long-term retention of concepts, skills and competences.
characteristics of Project-based learning are the following:
- It demands students
essential needs and expectations;
- It is based on
open-ended and challenging questions;
- It requires inquiry
to learn and explore something new;
- It allows some degree
of student voice and choice;
- It requires critical
thinking skills, problem solving, interaction, collaborative work;
- It involves feedback
- It results in
presentation or performance.
is based on teaching students through research activities and stimulating
students’ personal interest and autonomy when completing tasks.
The teacher’s role is
of great importance in project-based learning. He/ she defines objectives of
the lesson, provides students with interesting topics for research, develops
materials, directs the student's learning toward content-based materials, and
facilitates students’ work and performance. Moreover, the teacher works with
students to frame worthwhile questions, structures meaningful tasks, coaches
both knowledge development and social skills, and carefully assesses what
students have learned from the experience.
The teacher’s role in
Project Based Learning is of an instructor and facilitator. They create
conditions for learning, develop an atmosphere of shared responsibility, and
take control of the classroom. He also expects ongoing feedback and gives
assessments. The ongoing assessment and feedback are essential to ensure the student
stays within the required standards and scope of the question.
Student’s role is to
inquiry, ask questions, explore new things, build knowledge, and determine a
real-world solution to the question given. Students must cooperate and engage
other students in reasonable focused communication, allowing each other to
think rationally on how to solve problems. Project-Bases Learning makes students
take responsibility and ownership of their success.
When preparing the
project, each student should be engaged in accomplishing the task, understand,
he/she should know his share of work. Group success depends on each student
commitment. It’s very important for the teacher to divide students into mixed
groups with good and backward students taking into account their psychological
Learning students learn skills that are essential in higher education. The
students learn more than just finding answers. Project work allows them to
expand their minds and think beyond what they normally would. Students have to
find answers to questions and combine those using critically thinking skills to
come up with answers.
The use of project work
is significant to the study of conceptions and misconceptions. It encourages
students to find out unknown truths, resolve their understandings of phenomena
with their own knowledge building, and even make them replace their assumptions
with newly discovered ideas and facts.
Project work differs
from traditional teaching methods and, therefore, requires a different form of
control. When teachers introduce project work they should encourage and guide
the learners towards working quietly and sensibly.
There are not any
commonly used criteria for what project should look like and what constitutes
an acceptable presentation because projects vary greatly in the depth of the
questions explored, the clarity of the learning goals, the content and
structure of the activity, and guidance from the teacher. They might be interdisciplinary
or single-subject. Some projects involve the whole class, while others are done
in small groups or individually.
Students are usually
assessed in two ways:
1. Individual assessments
for each student. They may include research notes, teaching preparation notes
and teacher observation.
2. Group assessments.
In such type of assessment each group creates and presents their product,
preferably to an audience other than the teacher or their class (7).
Performances can be
carried out in different ways such as sketches, dioramas, parodies, plays,
debates, a student-organized conferences, exhibitions, web sites, forums,
student-produced documentaries, games, presentations to focus audience,
student-produced radio or television programs, fairy-tales, film festivals and
other ways of activities. The student is constantly making choices on how to obtain,
display, or manipulate information. Technology makes it possible for students
to think actively about the choices they make and execute. Every student has
the opportunity to get involved either individually or as a group.
Technology allows them
to search in more useful ways, along with getting more rapid results. When
students use technology as a tool to communicate with others, they take on an
active role vs. a passive role of transmitting the information by a teacher, a
book, or broadcast.
Having worked at KAFU
for 9 years, it can be noted that some students are demotivated in learning
languages due to some reasons, such as poor command of language, gap in
knowledge, lack of communication skills, or other psychological and linguistic
factors. Moreover, they find it difficult to work autonomously on the task. To
solve this problem, a special incentive for learning is required. I’ve tried to
use project work and come to conclusion that it can create conditions for independent
and creative work, in which the students are able to express their ideas in
ingenious ways to cope with the task. Learners decide by themselves the content
of their project, and the way it will be presented.
I can give different
examples of the way project work was used in the classroom. Once the students
were given a project “Cultural peculiarities of American and Kazakhstani
people”. To accomplish the task, each group chose a topic (e.g. family
traditions, national holidays, idioms and colloquialisms, cultural values, national
houses, etc.), and was holding a correspondence with native speakers to inquire
about the topic of their choice. Then after two weeks of communication, they
gathered enough information for their project, made analysis of the given
information and came up with great contrastive analysis which was presented to
other groups. Moreover, the students often create presentations on various
topics, produce brochures (travel brochure, a cookery book, book leaflets for
fair, etc.), and perform plays and dramas. When designing their projects, they
take into account the intended audience, decide on an appropriate length of
presentation, review for comparable ideas, and try to meet the requirements for
the projects. Student groups determine their projects by themselves. They take
full responsibility for their individual work and also count on other learners’
voices, and encourage them to accomplish specific goals.
It should be noted that
each project is the result of a lot of hard work. Students don’t just receive
or produce words they collect information, choose appropriate pictures,
diagrams, maps or other visual aids, arrange texts and visuals, carry out
interviews, surveys, make recordings to present good evidence to support their
topic and it is usually creative in terms of both content and language.
Project work gives a
clear sense of achievement and enables students to produce a worthwhile
characteristic of project work is vital in the learning process. Students do
not feel that English is a chore, but it is a means of communication and
enjoyment. They can experiment with the language as a means of communication
and enjoyment. They can experiment with the language as something real.
Therefore, project work
can give considerable benefits to our classes, like:
motivation: learners become personally involved in the project.
- Integration of all
four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking.
- Promotion of
autonomous learning: students become more responsible and self-reliant for
- Better learning
- The use of authentic
tasks and, therefore, the language input are more authentic;
- Development of
- The use of
- Involvement of other
people (parents, teachers, peers, authorities or other respondents) to present
accurate and relevant information in the project.
- Replacing traditional
classes by creative Project-based learning (5, p. 40).
It would be wrong to
say that project work has not got any disadvantages.
time-and-energy-consuming. Moreover, teachers are often afraid that the project
classroom will be more difficult to organize, control, and assess. They should
rely on students’ consciousness. Another problem that teachers may encounter is
discipline. While working on the project, students may have arguments, dwell on
discussing the issues, they may be moving around in the classroom to get some
materials or interview each other on some questions, and thereby disturb other
classes. However, it can be considered to be a good excuse for making a lot of
noise as such kind of noise is a natural part of any productive activity. The
noise of the well-managed project classroom activity is the sound of
It is important for the
teachers to take into account the peculiarities of Project-based learning
described in this article, and follow specific strategies and assessments, they
will overcome difficulties and get succeeded as effective instructors and good
facilitators of project work activities.
M., Thomas H. Process and Experience in the Language Classroom. – Harlow: Longman, 1991. – 200 p.
D. Project Work.- Oxford University Press, 1990 – 89 p.
3. Hutchinson T. Introduction to Project Work. - Oxford University Press, 1996
C. Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching. The roles of Fluency and
Accuracy. – Cambridge University Press, 1991.-500 p.
S. Projects for the EFL Classroom: Resource Materials for Teachers. – Walton-on-Thames:
wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Project Work
21st century schools.com Methodology articles.
D., Burwood S., Dunfold H. Projects with Young Learners.-Oxford University Press, 1999. – 160 p.
H.D. Principles of Language Learning and Teaching (4th edition). – Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000 - 320-355 p.
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014