Learning theories in practice/Project-Based Language Learning
Project-Based Language Learning[edit | edit source]
Introduction[edit | edit source]
In the first section, a literature review on project-based learning (PjBL) is presented, including a definition, theoretical foundations, features, implementing steps, and a list of benefits as well as disadvantages, to provide a basic foundation for understanding how PjBL is used in language learning. In this section of the chapter, I refer to project-based language learning (PjBLL). Not only is the basic concept of PjBLL discussed and elaborated upon, but also its implementation and effectiveness.
- In Ms. Lee’s EFL class, several students question the usefulness of learning English. For example, Jonathon, a diligent, average student, believes that he can live a good life without English. He is reluctant to memorize vocabularies and do homework, and, therefore, scores low on his English subject. Jonathon’s mother worries a lot and asks Jonathon to attend English tutor classes twice a week after school, which makes the situation even worse. He begins by making up all kinds of excuses in order to skip the English tutor class and puts his head on the desk, refuses to play games, and pays little attention in Ms. Lee’s class.
- In the middle of the semester, Ms. Lee is told that five primary school principals from UK are visiting the school and she is responsible for receiving the guests. She thinks it is a great opportunity for students to apply what they have learned in English. Instead of just asking proficient English students to join her, she invites the whole class in completing the project that she calls, “Diplomats of the Day.” After class discussion, the students divide themselves into groups according to their interests and are ready to embark on their task. Jonathon, who is good at performance and art, engages himself in front of a computer with his best friends in searching for information for their English presentation on introducing Taiwan’s cultural and artistic activities.
What makes Jonathon change his attitude toward learning English?
I. PBL[edit | edit source]
1.A Definition of PjBL[edit | edit source]
Project-based learning and problem-based learning are two similar terms. In order to avoid confusion with problem-based learning (PBL), this chapter uses PjBL as an acronym for project-based learning. Moursund’s (n.d.) easy-to-understand distinction between PjBL and PBL allows us to grasp a preliminary idea of PjBL:
- In Project-Based Learning, students have a great deal of control of the project they will work on and what they will do in the project. The project may or may not address a specific problem. In Problem-Based Learning, a specific problem is specified by the course instructor. Students work individually or in teams over a period of time to develop solutions to this problem (para. 1).
There are numerous definitions of PjBL. Some selective definitions include:
- PjBL is “a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks” (BIE, Section 2, para. 1).
- PjBL is “a comprehensive instructional approach to engage students in sustained, cooperative investigation” (Bransford & Stein, 1993, as cited in Mifflin,n.d.).
- PjBL is “an individual or group activity that goes on over a period of time, resulting in a product, presentation, or performance. It typically has a time line and milestones, and other aspects of formative evaluation as the project proceeds” (Moursund, n.d. Section 1, para 1).
Overall, PjBL is an instructional method that engages learners in learning through inquiry activities in which they work autonomously and collaboratively over a period of time around complex tasks, resulting in realistic products.
2.Theoretical Foundations of PjBL[edit | edit source]
"Doing projects" is a long-standing tradition in American education (BIE, 2007). In the 1900’s, educator John Dewey (1916, pp.212-227) advocated learning by doing and experiential, hands-on, student-directed learning, and thought that school should reflect the actual social environment.
Recently, PjBL is gaining its popularity because of two important developments over the last 25 years. The first is a need for education to adapt to the changing world where people need to learn not only civic responsibility but also being able to plan, collaborate, and communicate in the workplace (BIE, 2007).
The second is the revolution in learning theory. Constructivist theory assumes that knowledge is constructed by learners as they attempt to make sense of their experiences based on their current and previous knowledge (Driscoll, 1994). Learners do not learn with blank slates that passively wait to be filled. Instead, it is through the process of exploring, scaffolding, interpreting, negotiating, and creating that learners are active in interacting with environment and in seeking meaning. PjBL mainly evolves from the work of three influential psychologists: (1) Jean Piaget, (2) Lev Vygotsky, and (3) Jerome Bruner.
- Jean Piaget
A state of disequilibrium, introduced by Piaget, is created when learners encounter new knowledge that does not fit within their preexisting framework. Therefore, learners have to adopt “a more adaptive, more sophisticated mode of thought” (Driscoll, 1994, pp.179-180) to expand and reorganize their preexisting schema (Sidman-Taveau, & Milner-Bolotin, 2001). In order to resolve disequilibrium, learners are encouraged to test new ideas since errors and uncertainties are natural and important in the process of learning new knowledge (Reagan, 1999, as cited in Sidman-Taveau, & Milner-Bolotin, 2001).
- Lev Vygotsky
Vygotsky’s notion of mediation is reflected on PjBL design that learners ponder on and articulate new concepts when they use different mediational tools or signs (Sidman-Taveau, & Milner-Bolotin, 2001). For example, learners use a jacket, not as a jacket, but as a gauge measure the length of the hallway.
Another notion contributed by Vygotsky is the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is the gap between a child’s “actual or current developmental level as determined by independent problem solving” and the higher level of “potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, as cited in Driscoll, 1994, p.232). In other words, ZPD is the distance between individual achievement and guided acvievement, and it is an area where development occures. This implies that when learners deal with a more complex task than the one that they can handle on their own, they experience cognitive demands and teachers need to coach accordingly. Furthermore, Vygotsky believes it is through negotiation which is carried out initially between ourselves and our parents, but later between ourselves and other humans that learners construct meaning about the world (Driscoll, 1994).
- Jerome Bruner
PjBL is also related to scholar work of the area of exploratory and discovery learning. Formost in this field, Jerome Bruner contended that discovery learning is not a random act, but a way that allows learners to use information effectively when depending on prior knowledge for finding the regulations and relationship in the environment (Smith, 2005). Also, there is a need for reflection and contrast to constitute a condition for successful discovery learning (Driscoll, 1994). That is, the learner should be asked not only to reflect back on the task and figure out why they succeed, but also to provide or give non-examples or contrasting events so that they can better understand the concept.
3.Features of PjBL[edit | edit source]
There are five criteria offered to consider what kind of project can be considered an instance of PjBL (Thomas, 2000):
- PjBL is central to the curriculum, rather than serving to provide illustrations, examples, additional practices, or practical applications for material taught initially by other means.
- 2)Driving questions
- These are questions or “ill-defined problems” (Stepien & Gallagher, 1993, as cited in Thomas, 2000) that enable learners to make a connection between activities and the target knowledge or skills.
- 3)Constructive investigation
- Projects must involve the transformation and construction of knowledge on the learner’s part. In addition, the activities must present some difficulty to the learners so that they cannot be carried out with the application of already-learned information or skills; otherwise, the project becomes a simpler and somewhat traditional type of exercise.
- projects are learner-driven. Learner’s autonomy, choice, unsupervised work time, and responsibility are incorporated into the project. Furthermore, neither questions nor outcomes are teacher-led or predetermined.
- Projects are realistic, not school-like. Authenticity should be found in task, topic, roles, collaborators, contexts, audience, and products.
In addition to the five criteria, there are other defining features in PjBL, including
- Encourage collaboration in some form, either through small groups, student-led presentations, or whole-class evaluations of project results so that knowledge can be shared and distributed between the members of the "learning community" (BIE, 2007; Mifflin, n.d.).
- In a PjBL learning environment, the teacher is no longer an authoritative figure who corrects and commands students but a facilitator who encourages and guides learners (Sidman-Taveau & Milner-Bolotin, 2001). In addition to the support from instructors, learners gain guidance from more experienced or skillful group members, experts in the field, and people involved in the project contexts.
- Opportunities for reflection and transfer
- Activities such as classroom debriefing sessions, journal entries, and extension activities provide an opportunity for reflective thinking, feedback, and student self-assessment (Grant, n.d.; Railsback, 2002).
In scenario 1, although not explicitly demonstrated, the project “Diplomats of the Day” can be central to the course when students not only use already-learned knowledge but also are urged to construct new central concepts that conform to the learning objectives, such as understand vocabularies about cultural activities through collaboration. Moreover, in the process of completing the task which is above the students’ ability, students are involved in a constructivist investigation; however, it is not shown in the scenario if Ms. Lee scaffolds in time. Also, because Ms. Lee does not illustrate the project well, which in accordance with the second criteria of driving questions, her students need to devise possible activities to accomplish the goal of receiving foreign guests. Therefore, students are motivated to take the lead and need to exert responsibility to a certain degree. Finally, it is needless to say that the key contributor to Jonathon’s activity and motivation is authenticity which allows him to realize the usefulness of learning English.
In addition to all the above concepts, principles, and practices, PjBL satisfies the five recommendations that embody instructional principles derived from constructivism; namely, (1) establish complex learning environments that incorporate authentic activity, (2) provide for social negotiation as an integral part of learning, (3) juxtapose instructional content and include access to multiple modes of representation, (4) nurture reflexivity, and (5) emphasize student-centered instruction (Driscoll, 1994, pp.365-366).
4.Steps of Implementing[edit | edit source]
There is no one fixed way to conduct PjBL. Synthesizing the studies (Sidman-Taveau, & Milner-Bolotin, 2001; Moss, 1998; Grant, n.d; Railsback, 2002) in this area, however, the following steps or elements can be useful for teachers when designing effective project-based instruction.
- 1)Establish a trusting, cooperative relationship (Moss, 1998)
- It is important to begin slowly (Grant, n.d.). In this way, teachers can design the curriculum that not only reflects mandated standards but also meets learners’ needs. Therefore, before embarking on the projects, learners need to acquire basic skills in how to interact with others and manage conflicts as well as various skills related to resources, research, and technology. Moreover, a learning environment where learners feel comfortable, less anxious, and are willing to share their ideas is indispensible.
- 2)Set clear learning objectives
- Selected objectives should be based on the target learning outcomes and need to be negotiated and discussed among learners.
- 3)Select a real life problem/question
- The topic should be broad enough for learners to choose from according to their interests. In addition, it should be one that has potential in engaging learners in adopting concepts being studied.
- 4)Describe the real world context where the problem/question usually occurs
- Since contextualization makes transfer of knowledge more easily, it is critical to allow learners see the connection between classroom work and its future application.
- 5)Complete authentic material and resources
- Teachers and learners alike should gather whatever sources used in real-world contexts by professionals. Authentic material and resources may include dictionaries, hammer, compass, computers, software, etc.
- 6)Consciously employ the facilitator role
- Instead of playing the traditional role of providing the right answer and correctness, teachers need to be sensitive to the students’ needs, aptitudes, learning styles, and abilities. While delegating the responsibilities to learners, the teacher shoulders a more important role that requires interpersonal and communication skills, as well as the ability to animate and supervise adequately to ensure a successful conclusion (BIE, 2007).
- 7)Decide how to assess the learner
- Standardized tests are inappropriate. On the other hand, formative assessments and reflection assignments are better options.
- Portfolios. Learners are allowed to decide what will be included in the portfolios to present their effort and multiple forms of learning outcomes. (Levstik & Barton, 2001, as cited in Grant, n.d.).
- Rubrics. Rubrics should be communicated prior to the project with learners, so that they are more aware of how they will be evaluated (Pickett & Dodge, 2001, as cited in Grant, n.d.).
- Reflection assignments. They should be scheduled toward the end of the lesson so that learners can reflect on the processes. This is also the opportunity for learners to figure out the reason why their project is successful or not, think critically, and make improvement.
- 8)Outline the appropriate artifact choices
- The final tangible product can be represented in diverse way (e.g., presentation, travel plan, video, website, and artifacts) to a real audience.
5.Exemplification of Classroom Project[edit | edit source]
PjBL has been supported by a growing body of large-scale academic research to be beneficial in engaging students, boosting collaboration, and raising test scores (Edutopia, n.d.). These research include: Union City, New Jersey School District, British Math Study, Challenge 2000, Cognition and Technology Group, Co-nect, Does It Compute?, Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound, Laptops and Successful School Restructuring. (for details, see: http://www.edutopia.org/node/887) Other classroom project ideas (Mifflin, n.d.): click to follow the link http://college.hmco.com/education/pbl/project/project.html.
- Investigating Social Change: Students choose one of the three problems, and then divide themselves into expertise subgroups, such as geographer, meteorologist, sociologist, and ecologist. After gathering information and analyzing the data, students come up with solutions which are made public and hence create a sense of community that foster mutual understanding and learning.
- Hiking the Appalachian Trail: The project is suitable for middle school to college age students. Learners have to plan for the difficult trip to the Appalachians, considering budget, supplies, lodging, weather conditions, etc. And the final product can be reviewed by the expert in the field or a person who has hiked the trail.
- The Egg-Drop Experiment: In this effective laboratory and investigative activities, as opposed to cookbook exercise, students design a container that keeps a raw egg from cracking when dropped from ever-increasing elevations using knowledge of the interrelationships between free-fall, force, and gravity. They also learn to evaluate the product and communicate when modification is needed.
- Mission to Mars: The feasibility study is suitable for students from fourth grader to graduate. Students have to present how possible the trip to distant planet could be and how it could be accomplished.
- Literacy Skills & Reciprocal Teaching: Students use cognitive strategies including four sessions: prediction, questioning, clarification, and summarization to comprehend an authentic text. Each session has to be videotaped and be reflected upon before moving to the next. The creation of a manual or instructional video can be beneficial to the peers and teachers alike.
The following link and grant project provides an analysis (http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/win2002/514/2.html) on the project called ‘Remembering the holocaust’ (http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/win2002/514/holocaust).
6.Benefits[edit | edit source]
The effectiveness of PjBL can be evaluated from the following benefits:
- Respond to diverse needs of students.
- Because learners can choose topics according to their experiences and interests as well as cultural or individual learning styles (Katz & Chard, 1989, as cited in Railsback), PjBL can be tailored to accommodate students’ diverse needs. Therefore, Rosenfeld and Rosenfeld (1999) believed that PjBL is beneficial to both those who fail in traditional classrooms as well as those with high academic achievements. Teachers in Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project also report that PjBL is appropriate for low-achieving students, academically gifted and talented students, special education students and language learners (Simkins, n.d.).
- Increase motivation
- Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project (1999) and Katz (1994) reported that students find projects fun, motivating, and challenging because they play an active role in choosing the project and in the entire planning process. Teachers often note improvement in attendance, more class participation, and greater willingness to do homework (Railsback, 2002).
- Prepare children for the workplace
- When learners collaborate with group members, they practice social and communication skill, time management, decision making (Blank, 1997; Dickinson et al, 1998, as cited in Railsback, 2002), problem-solving skills (Moursund, n.d.), which are necessary in workplace and habits of lifelong learning (Simkins, n.d.).
- Improve academic performance
- Research has shown that engagement and motivation lead to high academic achievement (Railsback, 2002). In addition, Simikins (n.d.) stated that students from Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project classrooms outperformed comparison classrooms in all three areas scored by researchers and teachers who analyzed the student products for content, attention to audience, and design. PjBL has been proved to have value for enhancing the quality of learning in subject matter areas (Railsback, 2002; Thomas, 2000) and is an effective method for teaching complex process and procedures (Thomas, 2000).
7.Challenges and Solution[edit | edit source]
Like all other learning theories, PjBL has its disadvantages. However, if it is beneficial for learners, it is worth implementing. The advocacy of PjBL does not exclude other instructional methods; rather, it is an alternative way for teachers to choose from in order to meet the diverse learning needs of their students.
- The first question raised in teachers is, “Do I have time for PjBL?” To answer the question, it is helpful not to think of PBL as taking time away from the regular curriculum (BIE, 2007). Unlike conventional instruction, PjBL allows teachers more time to work with students, instead of working with texts. Also, since PjBL is core to the curriculum, learners are active in learning effectively and meaningfully, while at the same time acquiring the basic knowledge and skills establish by institutions. Setting up timeline and deadline can be helpful in time management too (Railsback, 2002).
- Another concern is that there are myriad topics to cover in a year and PjBL may not be comprehensive enough to address them all. Railsback (2002) suggest teachers cover the basics before embarking on projects. Then, teachers need to consider: “What parts of your curriculum can be easily and successfully handled through lectures or textbook assignments? What parts require more depth? Identify those topics that reflect the most important ideas and concepts in your curriculum and incorporate those topics into projects” (BIE, 2007).
- Teachers can delegate or empower the students progressively according to their ages, experiences, and skills if learner’s capability is a concern (BIE, 2007). Prepare learners for the investigation is necessary before the project is initiated.
- Teacher’s ability in interpersonal, communication, and management skills as well as their general teaching styles and beliefs are critical in operating PjBL (BIE, 2007). In an open-ended process, teacher needs to let learners struggle with problem, moving around the classroom and tolerate ambiguity. No matter how comprehensive an activity or strategy is, if a teacher does not feel comfortable and confident in employing it, then it is not the optimal option. Therefore, it is a good time for teachers to examine their teaching styles. Also, teachers can attend professional development workshops to acquire the information about how to implementing PjBL into thier curricula.
8.Summary[edit | edit source]
PjBL, in debt to John Dewey, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, and Jerome Bruner, is an instructional method that engages learners in learning through inquiry activities in which they work autonomously and collaboratively over a period of time around complex tasks, resulting in realistic products. Because it embraces the features of centrality, driving questions, constructivist investigation, autonomy and realism, it makes learning more meaningful and meets the students’ diverse needs. Teachers should recognizing its limitation and then making modifications when implementing to ensure the success of the project.
II. PBLL[edit | edit source]
1.Origin of PjBLL[edit | edit source]
It was first discussed as an educational approach to K-12 education in an article entitled "The Project Method" by William Heard Kilpatrick (1918) who believed that using literacy in meaningful contexts provided a means for building background knowledge and for achieving personal growth (Wrigley, 1998). Beckett (2006) also pointed out that PjBL provides opportunities for language learners to receive comprehensible input and produce comprehensible output. Through the project, learners can not only use their inquiry skills but also apply their already-learned language knowledge and skills in real-world situation. However, it has to be acknowledged that there is yet a comprehensive definition for project-based language learning.
2.Underpinnings for PjBLL[edit | edit source]
PjBLL are basically derived from the theoretical foundations of PjBL. “social constructivism is playing an increasing important role in second language acquisition (Lantolf & Appel, 1996; Reagan, 1999) and social constructivist elements of project-base learning are highly relevant to foreign language learning” (Sidman-Taveau & Milner-Bolotin, 2001, p.6). While Vygotsky’s did not address specifically how his theory can be used in language learning, his ideas have been reinterpreted and the theory and practice of PjBLL has been most influenced by him (Smith, 2000). For example, Driscoll (1994) stated that “researchers suggest that joint problem solving, with opportunities to shape and reshape knowledge through talk, promotes the cognitive development that Vygotsky saw as crucial” (Driscoll, 1994, p.239).
Smith (2005) pointed out how Vygotsky’s ideas have been reinterpreted as well as the significant shifts in the practice of PjBLL:
1)Negotiation has become more a negotiation of task, rather than the meaning of semiotic signs which learners are knowledgeable about in L1;
2)Learning is situated in the culture of the local classroom, rather than the L2 culture of the target language;
3)Interaction with ‘more competent peers’ has been replaced to a significant extent by ‘interaction with peers’, who are not, in relation to the target language, likely to be more competent if at all;
4)In the writings of PjBLL theorists, ZPD no longer refers to mental development, but rather to the next stage in the acquisition of language content and fluency.
Halliday the applied linguistic adopts Vygotsky’s concept of negotiation and social interaction into methodologies of first and second language learning. It is when learner, learning task and teacher interact with one another using the tool of language that language is learned (Williams & Burden, 1997, as cited in Smith, 2005). Also, social interaction is such a critical part in language learning that both Halliday and Vygotsky consider that the role language plays in daily life has to be investigated in order to understand how language functions (Wells, 1997, as cited in Smith, 2005).
3.Examples[edit | edit source]
See table 1.1 and table 1.2 An EFL lesson plan.
4.Reasons to Employ PjBL in Language Learning and Teaching[edit | edit source]
Implementing PjBL in language can be beneficial because of the following reasons.
- Enable learners to transfer
- This ability to transfer is especially important in language learning. When concepts are taught in settings that are similar to real-world contexts, learners are better able to apply those particular concepts in future settings and situations (Sidman-Taveau & Milner-Bolotin, 2001), that is, learners' learning has been transferred. Additionally, learners think that language learning is related to thier everyday lives. Functional competence in language is enhanced through practical social acts, such as negotiation and decision making (Smith, 2005; Wrigley, 1998). Students also realize that language learning is not just to acquire a score on test, but is a pragmatic tool that they can use to broaden horizons.
- Use motivation to foster language learning
- While researchers in second language acquisition (SLA) believe that motivation is a necessary precursor for strategy use (Ellis, 1994), PjBL satisfy this requirement by engaging language learners in improving their language competence.
- Learn through meaningful input
- In PjBLL, students no longer learn decontextualized knowledge. Rather, learners acquire meaningful input and expression from the peers and the materials that is one step beyond their existing linguistic competence, that is, i＋1. (Ellis, 1994). And because learners come in the classroom with different level of linguistic competence at the same time, natural communicative input, which can be realized through PjBLL, is suggested by Krashen as a key to designing a syllabus (Schütz, n.d.).
- Meet language learners’ diverse needs
- For different levels of language proficiency students, individuals' strengths and preferred ways of learning (e.g., reading, writing, listening, or speaking) are strengthened because of the collaborative nature of project work (Lawrence, 1997, as cited in Moss, 1998).
5.Limitations and Suggestion[edit | edit source]
Smith (2005) analyzed reasons why in his study there were far less L2 language development than what is anticipated. One key factor was the tension between the need to gain course grades and the desire to improve L2 skills. Therefore, he suggested that only when the issue of assessment in formal, institutional context is addressed can learner-centered approach become fully effective.
It is argued that PjBLL is a means of using language to learn, rather than learning language. However, when learners listen, speak, read, and write with the target language in finding information, discussing, consulting experts or reference and presenting findings, they learn language in a real-world context. “Consequently, they develop vocabulary, learn rules of grammar and conventions of social language use, and integrate the use of different sign systems” (Abdullah, n.d., Section 2). While PjBLL is not appropriate in learning basic language skills, it is a meaningful method that engages learners in relating what they learn to the real-world and in becoming more motivated and competent in language using in daily life.
6.Summary[edit | edit source]
Because language is used as a means to achieve social purposes in daily life, language learning should therefore take place in a real-world context to make transfer more easily. PjBLL, therefore, is a method that invites and motivates learners of diverse proficiency levels to use and learn language through comprehensible input in the process of investigation, interaction, collaboration, and negotiation among other people, text and context.
III. Conclusion[edit | edit source]
The project-based learning movement is growing rapidly and has many strong supporters. PjBL is not appropriate as a method for teaching certain basic skills such as vocabulary or computation; however, it does provide an environment for the application of those skills. Most important of all, PjBL provides an alternative instructional method that teachers can employ as one way to engage learners, allowing learners to take initiative for their own learning. Just as Ellis (1994) questioned the assumption that there are “good” learning strategies. The best learning method is adaptive to the learning mode, including individual’s cognitive style and personalities, learning conditions, learning goals, etc. Therefore, teachers should be flexible in adjusting their pedagogy according to the context. When that happens, PjBL is more effective, motivational, and long lasting. Hopefully, this chapter provides some guidelines and ideas for how educators can implement it in myriad educational settings and situations.
References[edit | edit source]
Abdullah, M. H. (n.d.). Problem-based learning in language instruction: A constructivist method. ERIC Digest #132.
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Simkins, M. (n.d.). Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project. Retrieved October 5, 2007, from http://www.ed.gov/pubs/edtechprograms/multimediaproject.html.
Smith, M. A. (2005) Autonomy and project-based language learning: Factors mediating autonomy in project-based CALL. PhD thesis, Faculty of Education: Language Literature and Arts Education, The University of Melburne. Retrieved October 5, 2007, from http://eprints.unimelb.edu.au/archive/00001476/01/MASmith_PhD_2005.pdf.
Thomas, J. W. (2000). A review of research on project-based learning. Retrieved November 5, 2007, from http://www.bie.org/files/researchreviewPBL_1.pdf.
Wrigley, H. S. (1998). Knowledge in action: The promise of project-based learning. Retrieved November 5, 2007, from http://www.ncsall.net/?id=384