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.

H. Heine

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 worldwide.

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 (2).

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 research (4).

Another scientist, Haines, in “Projects for the EFL Classroom” describes such types of project work as:

- 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.

Project-based learning 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.

The main 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 and revision.

- It results in presentation or performance.

Project-based learning 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 compatibility.

With Project-Based 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 product.

Student-centered 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:

- Increasing 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 their learning;

- Better learning outcomes;

- The use of authentic tasks and, therefore, the language input are more authentic;

- Development of interpersonal relations;

- The use of learner-centered methods;

- 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.

It is 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 creativity.

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.


1. Legutke M., Thomas H. Process and Experience in the Language Classroom. – Harlow: Longman, 1991. – 200 p.

2. Fried-Booth D. Project Work.- Oxford University Press, 1990 – 89 p.

3. Hutchinson T. Introduction to Project Work. - Oxford University Press, 1996

4. Brumfit C. Communicative Methodology in Language Teaching. The roles of Fluency and Accuracy. – Cambridge University Press, 1991.-500 p.

5. Haines S. Projects for the EFL Classroom: Resource Materials for Teachers. – Walton-on-Thames: Nelson, 1991.

6. www. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Project Work

7. www. 21st century Methodology articles.

8. Phillips D., Burwood S., Dunfold H. Projects with Young Learners.-Oxford University Press, 1999. – 160 p.

9. Brown 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

About journal
About KAFU

   © 2022 - KAFU Academic Journal