Post of the Month

I am starting the new year with a plan  to post a monthly thought about any aspect of teaching / learning that comes to mind. I have recently been doing some work on projects and teenagers and want to share my thoughts with you...do let me know what you think.

January .....Projects and Teenagers
I meet many primary teachers who do projects with younger learners – up to 12 years old but far fewer who do projects with teenagers. I can understand the reasons behind this
·         There doesn’t seem to be any spare time for anything but the book
·         There is a strong focus on exam preparation
·         There is a sense that projects are ‘light’ and not serious enough for teenagers
Teachers of teenagers may be missing out on an effective tool for motivating students as well as getting them to practise English meaningfully. Too much time spent on grammar exercises and exam practice tasks may not be the best way to go. Getting students to actually use their English is crucial for effective learning.
Most organised language learning takes place in the classroom. What is taught in the classroom may in theory be useful, but the usefulness does not always extend to practice. Often, there is a gap between the language the students are taught and the language they in fact require. It is this gap that project work can help to bridge.
Diana Fried-Booth, Project Work, Resource Books for Teachers, OUP
The Common European Framework of References states that is not just knowing about language that is necessary today but also knowing how to use it.

What advantages are there to doing projects with teenagers?
They are authentic:
In that the language used is for communication. They are using English to get a job done – to explain a hobby, entertain through a drama production or persuade in a presentation. While researching information they are most likely to be reading English on websites – with their own questions and needs in mind. They are also hopefully using English while planning and preparing their projects with their classmates.
In that project work is by nature collaborative. Students are encouraged to work together, taking different roles and sometimes having to encourage and support other students in their group. Learning when to step up and take responsibility and when to step back and allow others to take control is a major lesson in life.
They promote autonomy:
Students get to choose the topic of their projects, its final outcome, how the work within the group will be allocated. (The teacher has to take a background role as facilitator, supporter and interested party.) Not only do projects allow teens to develop these important mature interpersonal skills, they also remove typical classroom restrictions against which teens may rebel e.g. you must do the exercise on page 72.
They are motivating:
Because they have made their own choices, set their own challenges, are allowed to be creative and are able to produce end results which they can be proud of. Plus they can put away their course books for a while.
They help students develop important examination skills:
Topic-based projects allow for lots of vocabulary revision and even learning new vocabulary as well as grammar. Students get lots of skills practice – reading and note-taking (as part of their research), writing and proof-reading (as they don’t want their projects full of mistakes), speaking (together and when doing presentations or role-plays/sketches etc), listening (to each other’s presentations and to each other, and maybe also to news items, interviews which relate to their projects online.

Projects do not need to take a lot of time and can be planned at times like the end of the school year after exams have been taken to add some life into English lessons. Some possible project outcomes are:
Poster displays
Power Point presentations
Videos of interviews, documentaries, adverts, short drama productions
Presentations of songs, speeches
A show – e.g. play, musical, sketch
Presentations using e-tools like voicethread, audacity, zimmertwins, www.glogster.com, www.photopeach.com, www.prezi.com, www.fakebook.com, www.goanimate.com, www.digiteen.org

Remember to encourage your students to make projects SMART
e.g. not a project about music they like
SPECIFIC –but a video documentary about their own personal musical tastes
MEASURABLE – the video will last 5-10 minutes
ACHIEVABLE – they have the technology, tools, resources, time to complete it
REALISTIC – they won’t be able to interview their favourite stars like The Rolling Stones
TIME-BOUND – not only have a completion date, but have a series of dates by which certain tasks will be completed.

Project Steps
1.    Brainstorm/Plan
At this stage you can make suggestions, reign in unrealistic ideas, link topics to language covered already. Allow students to share ideas, think creatively
2.    Proposals
Students map out what they plan to do, considering what resources they need
3.    Time
Decide how much time they have and how many lesson will be dedicated to this and therefore how much time outside class they need to spend
4.    Presenting the projects
This needs to be considered so that every group gets their opportunity to present. You may also want to create the chance for parents and other students in school to have access to the projects
5.    Assessment
The class and teacher need to decide together on how the projects will be assessed. Why not have everyone in the class giving feedback on all projects including their own.
Teenagers response to projects will depend on many factors, but crucially they have to be well planned and SMART and teachers have to trust teenagers to make their own decisions

What’s stopping you from doing projects with your teens?

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