ERIC Identifier: ED427556
Publication Date: 1998-12-00
Author: Moss, Donna - Van Duzer, Carol
Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC., Adjunct ERIC
Clearinghouse for ESL Literacy Education Washington DC.
Project-Based Learning for Adult English Language Learners.
Project-based learning is an instructional approach that contextualizes
learning by presenting learners with problems to solve or products to develop.
For example, learners may research adult education resources in their community
and create a handbook to share with other language learners in their program, or
they might interview local employers and then create a bar graph mapping the
employers' responses to questions about qualities they look for in employees.
This digest provides a rationale for using project-based learning with adult
English language learners, describes the process, and gives examples of how the
staff of an adult English as a second language (ESL) program have used
project-based learning with their adult learners at varying levels of English
RATIONALE FOR PROJECT-BASED LEARNING
functions as a bridge between using English in class and using English in real
life situations outside of class (Fried-Booth, 1997). It does this by placing
learners in situations that require authentic use of language in order to
communicate (e.g., being part of a team or interviewing others). When learners
work in pairs or in teams, they find they need skills to plan, organize,
negotiate, make their points, and arrive at a consensus about issues such as
what tasks to perform, who will be responsible for each task, and how
information will be researched and presented. These skills have been identified
by learners as important for living successful lives (Stein, 1995) and by
employers as necessary in a high-performance workplace (U.S. Department of
Labor, 1991). Because of the collaborative nature of project work, development
of these skills occurs even among learners at low levels of language
proficiency. Within the group work integral to projects, individuals' strengths
and preferred ways of learning (e.g., by reading, writing, listening, or
speaking) strengthen the work of the team as a whole (Lawrence, 1997).
THE PROCESS OF PROJECT-BASED WORK
The basic phases found in
most projects include selecting a topic, making plans, researching, developing
products, and sharing results with others (Wrigley, 1998). However, because
project-based learning hinges on group effort, establishing a trusting,
cooperative relationship before embarking on a full-fledged project is also
necessary. Activities that engage learners in communication tasks and in peer-
and self- evaluation help create the proper classroom environment. Information
gap activities (where the assignment can only be completed through sharing of
the different information given each learner), learner-to-learner interviews,
role plays, simulations, field trips, contact assignments outside of class, and
process writing with peers prepare learners for project work.
A project should reflect the interests and concerns of the learners. Teachers
can begin determining project topics at the start of an instructional cycle by
conducting a class needs assessment to identify topic areas and skills to be
developed. As the teacher and learners talk about projects and get to know each
other, new topics and issues may come to light that are appropriate for project
learning. A project may focus on the objectives of one instructional unit, such
as a unit on health, or it may span several units. It may take place during a
unit or be a culminating final event. Whatever the project, learners need to be
in on the decision making from the beginning (Moss, 1998).
"Making Plans and Doing Research"
Once a topic is selected, learners work together to plan the project, conduct
research, and develop their products. Learners with low language proficiency or
little experience working as part of a team may require structure and support
throughout the project. Pre-project activities that introduce problem-solving
strategies, language for negotiation, and methods for developing plans are
useful. Learners may also need practice in specific language skills to complete
project tasks. For example, learners using interviews as an information
gathering technique may need instruction and practice in constructing and asking
questions as well as in taking notes.
"Sharing Results with Others"
Project results can be shared in a number of ways. Oral presentations can
accompany written products within the classroom or in other classes within the
program. Project products can also be disseminated in the larger community, as
in the case of English language learners from an adult program in New York City,
whose project culminated in the creation and management of a cafe and catering
business (Lawrence, 1997; Wrigley, 1998).
ASSESSING PROJECT-BASED WORK
Project-based work lends
itself well to evaluation of both employability skills and language skills.
Introducing learners to self-evaluation and peer evaluation prior to embarking
on a large project is advisable. Learners can evaluate themselves and each other
through role plays, learner-to-learner interviews, and writing activities. They
can become familiar with completing evaluation forms related to general class
activities, and they can write about their learning in weekly journals where
they reflect on what they learned, how they felt about their learning, and what
they need to continue to work on in the future. They can even identify what
should be evaluated and suggest how to do it.
Assessment can be done by teachers, peers, or oneself. Teachers can observe
the skills and knowledge that learners use and the ways they use language during
the project. Learners can reflect on their own work and that of their peers, how
well the team works, how they feel about their work and progress, and what
skills and knowledge they are gaining. Reflecting on work, checking progress,
and identifying areas of strength and weakness are part of the learning process.
Assessment can also be done through small-group discussion with guided
questions. What did your classmates do very well in the project? Was there
anything that needed improvement? What? Why? The ability to identify or label
the learning that is taking place builds life-long learning skills.
Questionnaires, checklists, or essays can help learners do this by inviting them
to reflect critically on the skills and knowledge they are gaining. In a New
York City initiative using project-based learning with adult English language
learners called Expanding Capacity in ESOL programs (EXCAP), assessment occurred
daily in dialogue journals, checklists, and portfolios (Lawrence, 1997).
EXAMPLES FROM THE FIELD
At the Arlington Education and
Employment Program (REEP) in Virginia, a team of teachers designed and
implemented several projects for their students, ranging from literacy level to
advanced pre-TOEFL. They developed a framework for projects including learning
strategies and affective behaviors that have a positive effect on progress and
language learning. These behaviors include risk taking; using technological,
human, and material resources; and organizing materials (Van Duzer, 1994). The
project followed the four purposes for literacy identified by the Equipped for
the Future initiative of the National Institute for Literacy--to access
information, voice ideas and opinions, act independently, and continue learning
throughout life (Stein, 1995). The two projects described below, developed by
REEP staff, illustrate the range and complexity of project work.
In one project, parents in a family literacy program and their elementary
school children created a coloring and activity book of community information
for families living in their neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia. All of the
parents and children took part in brainstorming sessions. They selected
information, text, and graphics topics for each page of the book and contributed
to the creation of the pages. Parents in the intermediate level class managed
the production of the book and researched the topics selected (e.g.,
immunization, school). The adult literacy class located addresses and phone
numbers of local agencies that provide needed services and illustrated a
shopping guide of local stores they liked. They also designed a page of
emergency telephone numbers. The children worked on drawings and activity pages
for children. When the book was completed, the families presented it to the
principal of the local elementary school. Some of the families participated in a
"Meet the Authors" day at the local library.
Parents and children alike kept their work in portfolios and completed
assessment questionnaires. They shared their evaluations with each other and
explained why they evaluated themselves the way they did. The teachers evaluated
the parents on language skills, team participation, and successful completion of
In another project, learners in an advanced intensive ESL class worked in
pairs to present a thirty-minute lesson to other classes in the program. They
worked collaboratively to determine the needs of their audience, interview
teachers, choose topics, conduct research, prepare lessons, practice, offer
evaluations to other teams during the rehearsal phase, present their lessons,
and evaluate the effort. Topics ranged from ways to get rid of cockroaches to
how the local government works.
Before the lesson planning began, learners identified lesson objectives and
evaluation criteria. They shared ideas on what makes a presentation successful,
considering both language and presentation skills. The evaluation criteria used
for feedback on rehearsals as well as for final evaluations include the
* Introduces self and the topic clearly, respectfully, and completely.
* Includes interactive activities in the lesson.
* Speaks in a way that is easy to understand.
* Is responsive to the audience.
* Shows evidence of preparation and practice.
* Shows knowledge of the topic.
In addition, the teachers and learners in the classes receiving the
presentations wrote evaluations of the lessons. The presenters also wrote an
evaluation essay reflecting on their own work and the value of the project
Project-based work involves careful planning and
flexibility on the part of the teacher. Because of the dynamic nature of this
type of learning, not all problems can be anticipated. Moreover, sometimes a
project will move forward in a different direction than originally planned.
Project work is organic and unique to each class. This makes it exciting,
challenging, and meaningful to adult learners.
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document] URL: http://www.cybercorp.net/~tammy/lo/oned2.html.
Fried-Booth, D. L. (1997). "Project work." (8th Ed.) Oxford: Oxford
Lawrence, A. (1997.) Expanding capacity in ESOL programs (EXCAP): Using
projects to enhance instruction. "Literacy Harvest: The Journal of the Literacy
Assistance Center," 6 (1), 1-9.
Moss, D. (1998). "Project-based learning and assessment: A resource manual
for teachers." Arlington, VA: The Arlington Education and Employment Program
Stein, S. (1995). "Equipped for the future: A customer-driven vision for
adult literacy and lifelong learning." Washington, DC: National Institute for
Literacy. (ED 384 792)
U.S. Department of Labor, The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary
Skills. (1991). "What work requires of schools: A SCANS report for America
2000." Washington, DC: Author. (ED 332 054).
Van Duzer, C. (1994). "Report to the adult education network." Arlington, VA:
Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP).
Wrigley, H.S. (1998). "Knowledge in action: The promise of project-based
learning." Focus on Basics, 2 (D), 13-18.
PRINCIPLES OF PROJECT-BASED LEARNING
Project-based learning is characterized by the following principles:
* Builds on previous work;
* Integrates speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills;
* Incorporates collaborative team work, problem solving, negotiating and
other interpersonal skills;
* Requires learners to engage in independent work;
* Challenges learners to use English in new and different contexts outside
* Involves learners in choosing the focus of the project and in the planning
* Engages learners in acquiring new information that is important to them;
* Leads to clear outcomes; and
* Incorporates self-evaluation, peer evaluation, and teacher evaluation.