Saturday, February 11, 2012

Concerns about the project-based approach

What I always found peculiar about the traditional, conventional, teacher-centered teaching and learning was the fact that teachers ask and the students answer. How reasonable can that be when, by definition, the one who doesn’t know asks the one who knows? This reversal of the natural flow of discovering and learning has in a way tortured many generations of learners. And what was the result? Once an individual left school, there was nobody out there to check whether the accumulated knowledge could be fully retrieved. So what’s the point in spending so many hours to develop a skill which is hardly needed? What matters is what a person can do with the knowledge gained and how one can continue learning out of the school environment.
Coming to the issue under discussion, the PBM is alleged to be the key to the problem. And it can really be if applied appropriately. For classes where both teachers and students are not familiar with this approach, to my mind, small steps are required before one embarks on realizing a long term project. Webquests seem to be the scaffolding to the full implementation of projects as they familiarize students with the new approach. The pattern is clear and the product is specified.
But then another issue rises. Teachers are required to be computer literate themselves as projects imply research and research goes hand in hand with having access to resources. A webquest can be designed as a paper and pencil one but even then computer literacy is presupposed on both sides, the teacher’s and the student’s, plus the need for the right facilities, either at school or at home.
"One of the major advantages of project work is that it makes school more like real life” says  Sylvia Chard when asked about the importance of project work.   And she adds: “ we open up areas during the school day when children can speak about what they already know, when they can ask questions, they can express interests that are different from [those of] other children”. And I couldn’t agree more. However, what if most of the children come of educationally poor backgrounds and what they bring to class as interests or experiences are minimum?
No matter what my concerns are, I am convinced though that the project method is far better than other approaches. I agree that after being engaged into conducting research for several times, students become more motivated for and enthusiastic about learning. They develop little by little a sense of learning for themselves and not for others. Learning changes from an obligation to a personal goal. What can ensure that this is achieved, is the gradual introduction of the method starting from the first stages, that is, primary education.


  1. It is true that all the different backgrounds and personal stories that students bring into class can affect or determine the way they respond to our suggestions and demands and the way work flows. It's great to work with kids that have a lot of support at home, not only from their parents but also in terms of technology. However, I know from my experience that sometimes it is exactly the student from a poor, more illiterate background that involves himself deeply in new projects taking advantages of all the opportunities of learning he is offered.
    Well off kids sometimes think they know too much, they have everything easy and always start off bored. Eventually they enjoy it and work really hard, but they can be quite irritating. More humble students consider these activities a feast and often surprise us.
    It is true that there are still those students who are at school because they are forced to, who seem to have no other interest than destroy school property and teachers' little remaining motivation. It's hard to work with them. I had a class like that not long ago and I still remember it could be terrible. Still, we did something nice on graffiti and tattoos.

  2. Hi Marina,

    Woow, your reflections make me think about the real role of teachers today. I am thinking if I am still a traditional teacher even when using tech tools. So, using web 2.0 tools does not mean being innovative or stop being traditional.

    Thus, we have to be self reflective and evaluate ourselves…are we really promoting a student-centered learning? Are they learning what they actually need…? Are they prepared for the real world after leaving school?

    Questions difficult to answer on our own…we need our students´help!

    Great post Marina,