Here’s a fantastic resource by John Spencer (I linked to his project-based learning toolkit some time ago) that can be used to encourage collaboration in an online or offline classroom: writing prompts for group projects. The project ideas look very appealing (invent a ninja school, create an eco-friendly kitchen) and some are perfect for our current lockdown reality, e.g. invent a sport that can be played with social distance. The videos look great too: very simple but fun doodles. Looks like my next online class has been planned for me 🙂
P.S. If you are looking for more ideas for writing prompts, check out my earlier posts about picture resources here: Pobble in the sky; Imagine a perfect writing prompt; PicLit: in for a picture; Worth a thousand words.
Phew, this was the longest series ever! I’m not exactly George Martin, but there was a whole new world to explore – and I feel I’ve lost a few impatient readers on the way 😉
Why am I so concerned about projects? As I said before, projects in the English teaching classroom are an amazing tool: they can motivate the learners, they give them an opportunity to use real-world language, they encourage collaboration and teamwork and other wonderful thinks. However, we often focus on the outcomes of the project (poster, presentation, school play) and don’t give as much attention to the process of working on a project, or principles of project management. And so at best, we’re missing out on a great opportunity to develop the learners’ soft skills. At worst, our project can flop – disappointment and demotivation for both the teacher and the students.
This is why this year I’ve been researching how to make projects real for teenagers, and here are my conclusions so far:
- It is possible to draw the learners attention to product management if you plan it well.
- Real-life project objectives are inherently more motivating than empty ‘entertaining’ ones.
- It helps if learners can learn proper project terminology.
- …and a bit of theory.
- They can be encouraged to apply their project management skills at home and in other contexts – you don’t have to wait till you enter the workforce!
- The success of a project depends to a large extent on how you can help your learners work as a team.
- Before assigning a project, you need to answer a lot of practical questions: e.g. who sets the deadlines, who distributes the roles, how long is your project going to be, how it is going to be graded.
- There is a lot we can learn from STEM subjects:acquiring knowledge and experience is inherently pleasurable and motivating. (But you don’t need to build a toy car or a Rube Goldberg’s machine. Have the students plan their own course or research language phenomena.)
- It’s important to choose the right words and metaphors: translate PM into younger people’s language.
- …. or even have them read a book about project management.
- There are loads of ready-made toolkits for teachers that can save us time.
- There are assessment templates, too.
- The traditional, or ‘waterfall’ project management is not the only way to organise project-based learning. Agile is simpler than it sounds.
- It has been done before, and it seems to work!
So, the first step has been made: I have a very clear idea of what I’m going to experiment with – once I have a bit more time with my students. Watch this space 🙂
Here you can download and read a very interesting article written by researchers from Swtzerland and Italy. It is a metastudy of Agile methodologies in education and comprises a chapter from a book called Agile and Lean Concepts for Teaching and Learning – now this is something I want to get my hands on!
The article is much more than a meta-review: it describes the values , tools and different frameworks within Agile, so if you’d like to know more about Kanban, Scrum, XP and other cool techie terms, it’s a great start. There are also useful charts comparing Agile in software development and in education, and I’ve realised that there’s a lot more to experiment with.
My favourite idea from the article so far is using Scrum for organising the learning process: the teacher becomes the product owner, the student team(s) have their scrum master and they use the methodology to organise and improve their own learning process. There’s a lot more there, so do check it out.
Most of the project management resources I’ve been linking to are about traditional project management, or the so-called ‘waterfall’ approach. What about Agile, Scrum, Kanban and all the other jazzy words from contemporary PM practice? Without going into too much detail for now, here is something to be used as an introduction: a post by Natalia Babaeva about explaining Agile to her grandfather. And if this doesn’t help, here are fun quotes from project managers who talking about Agile to kids: really interesting! “Son, you know when dad arrives from work, very hungry? Agile is like when we keep bringing him tapas rather than keeping him waiting for an elaborate main dish.”
To continue the topic of ready-made toolkits, here is another PBL toolbox, made by John Spencer: scroll down through the introduction and subscribe to get your free copy. The introduction and other articles it links to are also worth reading, as well as the podcast episode by the author. He stresses the need for self-directed learning and metacognition skills – just what we need to prepare the kids for future work, isn’t it? And the toolbox contains more help for this: you get a beginner’s guide (which looks like a cool presentation you could make to teachers as an INSETT session), a description of the project management process and a lot of worksheets and guidelines for students in the Microsoft Word format, i.e. easily adaptable. There is a special folder for self-, peer and standards assessment, too. An amazing resource that can save you a lot of time if you decide to make your next project a project ‘for real’ 😉
Now this resource is gold. The Educational Foundation of the Project Management Instituate actually has a toolkit for teachers – even better, two toolkits! They note the differences in traditional project management terminology and project-based learning for schools and have different sections for this. The materials you can download for free include all the phases of a typical project, from Initiating to Closing, and focus on the process (just the way I like it!). Every document pack has a teacher’s guide, sometimes with a powerpoint slide deck that can be adapted for the classroom, and documents that can be printed for students to complete. This is something I’m definitely going to take into my classroom!
Last time I wrote about non-ELT materials that can be used to speak to younger learners about project management. The topic is far from exhausted, and here is a fantastic free pdf-book I’ve found: How to put a man on the Moon if you’re a kid by Fergus O’Connell. First, it’s very clear and digestible for younger teens if they are at least A2; second, it highlights all the basic elements of the process of project management – just what I’ve been looking for. And, as a bonus, there are lots of interesting quotes and literary allusions that will keep even an adult satisfied. Great lesson material!
The more I’m reading about the topic, the more I realise that the best materials are not in the ELT domain. It’s probably to be expected: like ‘core skills’ and ’21st century skills’, project management skills are interdisciplinary. And yet it would be nice to see something adapted for English language learners! Well, you’ve got to start somewhere. Here is a good simple article from a Kids Encyclopedia that would work for secondaries. It only covers traditional waterfall structures, but can be used as a source text for an activity or two, or for homework reference. If this seems a bit too serious, here’s an extract from a book I’ve stumbled upon: about a father (who is a PM of course) explaining project management to his daughter who wants to build a really good treehouse. Even though it’s way too long for classroom use, now I really want to buy the whole book: I love how simple and practical the text is.
Don’t you sometimes wish you were a science teacher, not a language teacher? When I see all those cool CLIL handouts, I certainly do. We can borrow a lot from the way science is taught, especially because STEM subjects lend themselves really well to project-based learning. I was walking in the park today listening to this podcast with Janet Kolodner, where she spoke about her ‘project-based inquiry Science curriculum’, and trying to see how these projects can be adapted to the ELT classroom. And then it dawned on me: when we ask the learners to ‘be linguists’, ‘research the language’, it’s just as practical as making car wheels or a volcano, or perhaps even more so! And answering difficult questions can bring the joy that Professor Kolodner speaks about here, in this short video(if you are not a big fan of podcasts): “Why do scientists continue to do the things they do when it’s such hard work? Why do we continue learning, trying to learn?.. It requires experiencing the joy that goes with the parts of that that are fun and experiencing the meaning of all of it.”
Another thing I’ve read recently is this old ELTChat summary. Even though the focus is mostly on the product, it was interesting to see so many views from different participants coming together and sometimes contradicting each other. As a note to self, here are a few tension points to explore:
- Should classroom projects always be collaborative, or they can also be individual?
- Should projects be only done during class time, or the classroom can become ‘porous’?
- How practical is it to have an ongoing project for several years and/or groups?
- Should the teacher be assigning roles and setting timelines for the learners, or should it be them?
- Do we grade projects, and if yes, how?
I’m now halfway through the series: there’s still time to find answers for each point!