L. Cherepanov, L. Donigian
Ein Kerem Agricultural School
Jerusalem, Israel email@example.com
THE EFFECTIVENESS OF TEACHING ENGLISH THROUGH PROJECT
PBL is claimed to be a highly effective teaching method that provides opportunities for students to learn deep content independently. This action research examines ESL teachers’ perceptions and attitudes towards PBL in an Israeli high school. The article deals with advantages and disadvantages of implementing PBL in the English classroom. The authors emphasize certain aspects how to improve using this method in their teaching environment.
Key words: Project Based Learning, teaching methods, curriculum, effectiveness, motivation.
Today, many educators are looking to Project Based Learning (PBL) as a way to help students acquire deeper knowledge and raise achievement in their classrooms. It has also been recognized and practiced for teaching different subjects in Israeli Schools. In various classes at Ein Kerem Agricultural School we have been teaching English through PBL for over 5 years.
In our research, we will be focusing on the effectiveness of PBL in our ESL classes. Data will be collected from interviewing our ESL teachers who are implementing PBL in their classroom in order to learn their opinions of the various aspects involved in the PBL approach. Another source of information will be a questionnaire for the teachers to determine their attitude towards PBL as a teaching method and its effectiveness.
PBL is defined by Howard Barrows [1, 3-12] as a learning method which involves student
centered learning in small groups lead by a tutor or “expert”. Defining PBL within a second language context relies on theoretical works of Beckett [2, 108-116] and Stoller [3, 19-40] among others.
The teachers applying the PBL method in Ein Kerem Agricultural School work under close supervision of a mentor throughout the project. The emphasis is put on bringing the “real” world into the classroom and taking the students out into the world for effective learning processes.
Each year our school brings together dedicated teachers and students from different schools of the country to participate in the PBL conference. A special exhibition of posters advertising their projects is arranged. The conference is a variety of an hour and a half sessions held by different presenters. During the hour break our school music band and dancing groups give a performance and many other activities take place.
PBL in our school is implemented in English classes of different levels. Games and songs is an example of a lower level 9-th grade group project. The students decided to choose a song in English, translate it into Hebrew, pick words they think are important to know and then create a game using these words. The final product is a collection of vocabulary board games to play and learn the new words through listening to their favourite English songs.
Another example is Book Trailer done by the 10th graders of advanced level in addition to the mandatory Bagrut one. The project is based on the extensive reading and the final product is the creation of a book trailer using different technologies and video editing resources.
The Origami project with the 12th grade four-pointers is dedicated to expanding the students’ background knowledge of the topic through studying specially chosen texts and learning vocabulary related to the project. The final product was a Senbazuru or one thousand paper cranes which are sent to Hiroshima, Japan. Involvement in PBL inspired the students to choose for the mandatory Bagrut Projects such socially oriented topics as nuclear weapons, leukemia, Chernobyl, etc.
II. Data collection and analysis
2.1 Questionnaire  (see appendix A, appendix B)
Questionnaire item number Strongly agree Agree
1. Teachers are reluctant to use PBL in their classes because it is more time consuming. 1 4 1
2. PBL can create disciplinary problems in our classroom contexts. 2 3 1
3. Students can be motivated for 5 1
learning through PBL.
4. Most of the
Teachers can apply PBL in English language classes with basic teachers’ training. 1 2 3
5. PBL can enhance students’ language skills more effectively. 1 2 2 1
6. School administration is more concerned with the PBL product than the students’ effective learning or proficiency in language skills 2 1 2 1
7. The curriculum can also be completed within the scheduled time using PBL in the classroom. 2 1 2 1
8. In PBL students mostly speak Hebrew, not English while discussing problems. 2 4
9. In PBL students work in groups but some often don’t fully participate. 2 3 1
From the data obtained we see that the majority of the teachers agreed that PBL motivates students to learn and forms a positive attitude towards learning (questionnaire item 3). On the other hand, almost unanimously teachers answered positively to questions 1, 8, 9 that are concerned with their reluctance to apply PBL in the ESL class because it is time consuming, students speak Hebrew rather than English and work in a group where not all members participate equally.
The data showed mixed opinion on the key question of the research (#5) – PBL effectiveness of enhancing students’ language skills: 3 teachers agreed with the statement, 2 were neutral and 1 disagreed. The same conflicting results were found on the questionnaire item 2: two teachers opined that the disciplinary problems in PBL class do exist whereas the rest (1 disagrees and 3 are neutral) did not relate the classroom management issues to PBL.
Additionally, a significant difference was revealed on questionnaire item 4 concerning special teachers’ training for application of PBL in ESL class: 3 agreed that with some training it is possible while the other 3 disagreed implying it can be done without any training.
Two more questions regarding problematic issues such as the administration attitude (#6) and meeting the syllabus requirements (#7) provided diverse answers. Half the asked teachers agreed that school administration is more concerned with the final product rather than with effective learning or students’ proficiency in language skills, one disagreed and two were neutral. The majority agreed that PBL interferes with covering the learning material of the year, 2 disagreed and one was neutral.
The second data source was the English teachers’ and the English PBL mentor’s interviews. The interview posed the following questions (see Appendix C, Appendix D):
1. How effective do you think your project has been for the students?
2. What was the project about? For which class? How well did the students participate?
3. What would you change for your future PBL? Why?
4. Tell us about a highlight that resulted in doing your project.
5. Name one disadvantage you observed during your PBL.
6. Additional comments
Among favourable aspects of PBL the teachers mentioned their students’ engagement in the learning process, working in groups and being creative. While telling about the highlights that resulted in doing their projects, the teachers used such words and phrases as «inspiring and empowering», «amazing ideas», «doing greater good for somebody else». They also noted that the project was more successful if it had an element of competition and the target audience reaction at the Annual PBL Conference.
However, the interview results showed that there are contradictory opinions regarding the effectiveness of PBL as a teaching method. 2 teachers noted that PBL was «insufficiently effective because some students in the groups didn’t take part» as opposed to 3 teachers that emphasized its high «motivation-wise» effectiveness.
We find it interesting to note that the evidence of the PBL effectiveness for weaker and stronger students varies. Stronger students achieved more than weaker students, the teachers pointed out. Advanced groups succeeded in completing their projects whereas in low-level groups PBL was either aborted (8-th grade Songbook project didn’t work) or only few managed to produce something (The
9-th grade students were to make instructional grammar videos. In the end only one student did it.)
On the other hand, weaker students benefit from teamwork in mixed ability groups because it teaches life skills which are taken into the real world, like in Books for Bialik project where «kids were involved in doing greater GOOD for somebody else.»
As for question 5 of the interview, difficulty meeting the syllabus requirements was mentioned among the main disadvantages of PBL. Some teachers claimed that «working on the project took more time than it was planned» so they couldn’t teach the required material and «the gap became clear later in the students’ written assignments». Making sure that what they had planned as a PBL activity follows the goals and guidelines of the school curriculum, teachers had to do a lot of extra work which took much time. Besides, some students had the feeling that while doing PBL they were not learning English at all.
One of the major problems a teacher working with PBL faces is the manner of assessing the students’ work and progress. It was mentioned that to accomplish this teachers had to think up of different methods rather than simply give students traditional exams which test their knowledge. So «improving the assessment and adding a few more milestones» were suggested.
Another interviewee opined that working in groups was difficult to monitor, since weaker students tend to «hitch a ride» at the expense of stronger students. Hence, she prefers individual work for her next project.
Furthermore, one of our colleagues was so stressed out doing PBL that she refuses to take it up again saying, «It’s a nightmare and doesn’t really teach a thing». Yet, she suggests doing mini projects as a complement to other teaching methods.
The most significant conclusions drawn by the teachers and the PBL mentor include: • choosing the subject matter of PBL relevant to the students
• careful planning and scheduling stages of the project
• more structured assessment
• relying more on the students’ feedback throughout the process • empowering students with a sense of ownership.
• comprehensive training for the teachers is required to implement PBL in ESL classroom and the mentor supervision is advisable.
We think that future research should investigate the impact of PBL on each language skill. For instance, it is interesting to identify how and to what extent PBL can improve speaking, writing, listening and reading skills of ESL learners. The findings of the research would help to measure the effectiveness of PBL in improving students’ language skills.
1. Barrows, H. (1996). Problem Based Learning in Higher Education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, #68 (Winter), pp. 3-12.
2. Beckett, G.H. (2005). The project framework: A tool for language, content and skills integration. English Language Teaching Journal, 59 (2), 108-116.
3. Stoller, F.L. (2006). Establishing a theoretical foundation for project-based learning in second and foreign language contexts. In Beckett, G.H. & Miller, P.C. , Eds., Project-based second and foreign language education: Past, present, and future, pp.19-40. Greenwich, Ct.: Information Age Publishing.
4. The questionnaire was adapted from the study by Ghulam Dastgeer et al. Problem-based learning in English language classes at secondary level. International Journal of Academic Research, Vol. 3. No.1. January, 2011, Part III, pp.934-936.
The article deals with the application of PBL in the English classes. The action research focuses on benefits and problematic aspects arising from teaching through PBL. It is important to acknowledge that the findings are limited to the small number of participants. Even for successful teachers PBL is a challenge to develop and implement. Yet, it is a great method when put into practice with guidance and clear objectives. An implication for further research is to examine how teaching ESl at high school through PBL can improve basic language skills.
Настоящая статья посвящена обучению английскому языку в средней школе с помощью проэктного метода, основанного на решении проблем (PBL), на примере Израильской школы в Эйн Керем. В ходе проведенного экспериментального исследования были выявлены как положительные аспекты, так и трудности, возникающие при использовании данного метода.