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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2007

Автор: Кандаурова Е. А.

Search of new pedagogic technologies is connected with the lack of pupils’ positive motivation in learning English, though in general the society realizes its importance. This fact nowadays could be easily explained, if we think over the social problems.

On the one hand, a pupil of the secondary school understands the importance of getting higher education (otherwise it’s difficult to be a success in life), but on the other hand, he realizes the inaccessibility of it for his family. As a rule, a public school is full of pupils from the usual families of the middle (or even low) income. Parents are not able to send their children to study abroad even if the child gets higher education free of charge. These pupils do not see prospects for themselves; they are not interested in learning a foreign language, as they do not think it could be useful for their career of a driver, a plumber or a dress-maker etc. Also some students could have no motivation, because they come across a lot of difficulties when learning a new language and therefore they can’t acquire it properly (because of their psychological peculiarities: memory, perception, thinking etc.).

Student-centered education, method of co-operation, method of projects – all these techniques help in a way to solve the problem of motivation, to inspire the students to learn a foreign language, to open their hidden potential abilities, for them to acquire a new language with enthusiasm.

The method of projects is widely used all over the world mainly because it allows to combine all the students’ knowledge from different fields to solve one problem, and it also gives the opportunity to put these knowledge into practice, producing new ideas at the same time.

Recently there is a tendency to call almost any event “a project”, it may not even be worked through in detail. It’s not necessary to dispute such interpretation of this term. I think, that is why some school events (such as the week of the English language, creation of the school newspaper, any sport competition) are often called “projects”; nowadays it’s really buzz word. Sometimes it’s true to life, but on the other hand, some “projects” in reality are just a type of works, devoted to a definite topic, or group works, or common events.

Every subject has its specific character, and consequently they need some special approaches and techniques, methods of teaching. Lately the method of projects is getting more and more supporters.

According to Polat E.S., a method is a didactic category, a unity of techniques, of operations, aiming to master some field of practical or theoretical knowledge, or some skill. It’s also a way of cognition, a way of organization of the process of cognition. That is why, when we speak about the method of projects, we mean the way of achieving the aim through the detailed elaboration of the problem.

The method of projects is based on the idea, which is the essence of the concept “project” and on its practical direction at the result, which can be got when solving any important problem. This result can be seen, realized and put into practice. In order to get this result, it’s necessary to teach the children to think by themselves; to find and solve problems, using knowledge from different fields; to foresee the results and possible consequences of different variants of solving these problems.

The method of projects appeared at the beginning of the century, when all the pedagogues and the philosophers tried to find ways of developing the active, independent child’s thinking, in order to teach him not only to memorize and reproduce the knowledge, given at school, but to be able to put them into practice.

The method of projects can be used when teaching English at any lesson, devoted to any topic, as the choice of topics in the curriculum was made taking into account its practical value for the students.

But let’s turn to the special character of the foreign language. Why should we use the method of projects in teaching a foreign language and in what way should it be done? What problems can be solved with the help of available linguistic means?

A foreign language teacher teaches the children to speak in different ways, that’s why we suppose the communicative competence to be one of the main aims of teaching a foreign language. But a communicative competence could be formed only on the base of a linguistic competence of appropriate level. However, N.D. Galskova says that the main aim of teaching a foreign language in all schools is not knowledge of a system of a language, but speaking as means of intercultural communication.

Sure, the language is an element of culture, which functions within its borders. Consequently, we should be acquainted with the peculiarities of this culture, and of the language functions it.

In order for the students to form the communicative competence without real language environment, it’s not enough to fill the lesson with relatively communicative activities, which allow solving communicative tasks. It’s important to let the students think, solve the problems, which results in appearance of a great number of thoughts; dwell on possible ways of solving these problems, in order for the students to be more attentive to the content of their speech, to make their attention thought-centered, to make them use the language in its main function – to form thoughts.

For the students to take the language as means of interaction between different cultures, it’s necessary not only to get them acquainted with the regional peculiarities of the country of a given language, but to involve them into an active dialogue between the cultures, for them to realize practical value of the language, its peculiarities of functioning in a close-to-life environment.

So, the main idea of this approach in teaching a foreign language is to move the accent from different exercises to real active process of thinking, which will demand students to acquire some linguistic skills. The method of projects will perfectly help to solve this didactic problem, to turn the foreign language lessons into a discussion club, where the students will think over real, interesting, practically valuable and accessible problems, taking into consideration the cultural peculiarities of the country and, if possible, working on the base of interaction between cultures.

Any project is based upon some problem. To solve it, the students need not only bare knowledge of the language, but a large amount of different subject knowledge, necessary for solving this problem.

Besides, the pupils should possess certain intellectual, creative and communicative skills. The first ones include work with information, with a text, digesting of information, generalizing, making conclusions, and work with various references. To form the majority of skills listed above is an objective of teaching speaking. As for the creative skills, the psychologists mention the following ones: producing ideas (this skill demands deep knowledge in different fields), ability to find a lot of variants of solving a problem, ability to foresee the sequences of their decisions. And finally, the communicative skills are: ability to hold a discussion, to listen to and to hear the partner, to stand for the own viewpoint (supported by proper arguments), to meet half-way, to express oneself precisely.

So, in order to use this method properly, the students must be got ready and this process should be carried out within the whole system of school education (not only foreign languages). And it’s not necessary to make it before working on a project. Such a preliminary activity should be regular, done systematically, simultaneously with the work on the project.

The method of projects is the essence of a developing student-centered approach. Of course, it’s more suitable in the gymnasiums, working according to the 2nd and 4th models of education. But to tell the truth it may be applied at any level (even in the primary school) in any model of education. The main point is the choice of a problem, which will demand certain linguistic knowledge and skills to be worked through and solved.

The main requirements when using the method of projects

- Presence of a problem in a research creative plan, which will demand a complex of knowledge to be solved (for example, examining the origin of different holidays in English-speaking countries: St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Halloween, Christmas, Mother’s Day etc; organization of different journeys and trips; a problem of family relations; a problem of the youth and their leisure etc.);

- Practical and theoretical value of the expected results (for example, a report about the factors, influencing the environment; a collective issue of a newspaper; a designer’s plan of a house, a park; lay-out of an apartment etc.);

- Independent activity of the students at the lessons and the extra-curricular activities (individual, pair, group);

- Putting the content of the project into a precise structure (pointing out the stages, the results and distribution of the roles);

- Use of research methods: to define a problem, and the objectives of a research following this problem; to put the results into shape; to analyse the data; to make conclusions; to correct the mistakes (for example, the use of such methods as “brainstorm”, “round table”, creative reports, defense of the projects etc.).

Taking into consideration this information, we may single out the following stages of elaborating and carrying out the projects:

1) To present situations, allowing revealing one or more problems according to the topic of the discussion.

2) To propose hypothesizes, variants of solving the taken problem (“brainstorm”, discussion).

3) Work in little groups: every group takes a hypothesis and discusses the ways of checking it; after this all the ideas are summed up.

4) The same groups look for the facts, arguments to prove or disprove their hypothesis.

5) Every group defends their project (their hypothesis of solving the problem); the rest of the audience plays the roles of opponents.

6) New problems are arisen.

The classification of the common didactic types of the projects.

First of all, we should clear out the main criteria, according to which the types of projects are differentiated:

- the activity or the method predominating in the project (research projects, creative, role play, informative, practice-oriented projects);

- the subject(s), involved into the project (monoprojects: within one subject, one field of knowledge; the project, made on the border of some subjects);

- the character of coordination (open, clear & vague, imitating the participants);

- the character of the contacts (among the schoolmates, classmates, the participants from one town, region, country, or different countries of the world; inner character, regional or international);

- the number of participants (personal, pair or group projects);

- duration of the project (short-term, middle-term or long-term projects).

1. According to the method dominating in a project we may distinguish the following types of projects:

Research projects. The projects of such kind demand a well-planned structure, clear aims, substantiated actuality of the subject of the research, precise list of the sources of information, considered methods and results. They are very close to a real research and have the similar structure (including argumentation of the topic’s actuality; determination of the problem of the research, its object and subject, and objectives; choice of the methods of the research and of the sources of information; proposition of the hypothesizes of solving the problem; finding the ways of solving it; discussion of the results; making conclusions; summing up and, finally, revealing new problems for the further research). Certainly, all these stages should be appropriate to the linguistic level of the students, according to their readiness to participate in such activities.

Creative projects. Such projects imply the appropriate design of the results. As a rule, the structure of the collective activity of the students, elaborating the project, is not worked through in detail. It’s just planned and develops according to the logic of the process, accepted by the participants. In this case the expected results and their design should be fixed beforehand (it may be a newspaper, a composition, a film, acting out, a role play etc.). The participants may discuss the problems, connected with the plot of any novel, article, film or with a real-life situation. It may even be a fiction. The design of the results of the project demands a distinct, precise structure. It may be a script of a film or a play; a program of a party; a plan of a composition or an article etc.

Role play projects. In the projects of such kind the structure is also only planned and stays open up to the end of the project. The participants take certain roles (chosen according to the content & the character of the project, to the peculiarity of the problem), which can be literary characters or fictional roles, imitating social or business relations. The participants may also invent some situations to make the role play more complicated. The results of such projects may be planned or may appear unexpectedly by the end. The degree of creativity is very high and the dominating activity is Role Play.

Informative projects. The aim of such projects is to collect information about some object or phenomenon; to introduce it to the participants of the project; to analyse it; to generalize the facts; to sum up. As well as the research projects they demand a well-planned structure; and it’s necessary to have a possibility to make some corrections during the work on the project. The structure of the project can be presented in the following way: the aim of the project, the subject of the informative search, the resources of information (the mass media, the database, the interview, the questionnaire, the brainstorm etc.); the ways of digesting information (analysis, generalization, comparison with the known facts, proved conclusions); the results of the informative search (an article, an annotation, a report, a film etc.); presentation; publication; discussion in a television conference etc. The projects of such kind are often integrated into research projects and can naturally become their integral part.

Practice-oriented projects. Their peculiarity is the clear, distinct result, fixed from the start, which must be directed to the social interests of the participants (a document based on the results of a research in ecology, biology, geography, history, literature etc; a program of actions; recommendation, directed at the abolition of disparities in the Nature, in the society; the project of the law; some reference; a dictionary etc.). Such a project demands a considered structure, there should be a script of activity for all the participants with definite functions of everyone, with precise results of their activity and everyone’s participation. Coordination is very important at the stages of discussion, correction, presentation of the project, putting it into practice and outer evaluation.

2. According to the number of the subjects involved into the project, there are several types of them:

Monoprojects. As a rule, they are carried out within the limits of one subject. But then the most difficult units, the most complicated problems are chosen (for example, in the course of a foreign language the topics connected with the regional geography, social studies, history can be taken). But the problem itself demands philological, linguistic competence, knowledge of culture. The project of such kind should be properly structured by the lessons; their aims and objectives should be clearly pointed; we also must not forget about those skills and knowledge, which are expected to be acquired as a result, they should also be fixed beforehand.

The work at the lessons should be carefully planned; the students should be divided into groups (within which the roles are distributed). Before they start students themselves choose the way in which they’ll present their work.

Rather often the students continue working on such projects during their extracurricular activity (individually or in groups).

The projects made on the border of several subjects. As a rule, they are made at the extracurricular time. They can be of a small size, dealing with 2-3 subjects, or great long ones, involving the whole school, aiming to solve any complicated problem, which is important for every participant (for example, “culture of communication”, at the border of the centuries” etc).

Such projects must be coordinated by the specialists; several creative groups are to work in a harmonious unity; they ought to have clear tasks for a research; their presentations (both intermediate and final) should be well-worked through.

3. According to the character of coordination we may distinguish the following types of projects:

The projects with clear, open coordination. Here the coordinator is the participant of the project, he directs the work unimportunately, organizes additional stages of the project if necessary, and plans the activity of every participant (for example, to arrange a meeting in any official institution, to organize a questionnaire or an interview with specialists, to collect data for the presentation etc).

Projects with vague coordination. In the projects of such kind the coordinator is the full member of the project. For example, a professional geographer, who plays a role of a foreigner. He asks the students to tell about the geographic peculiarities of different regions.

4. As for the character of the contacts, this criterion divides the projects into following groups:

Internal, regional projects. They are organized within one school (including one subject or several ones) or among different schools or grades in a region or in a country.

International projects. Their participants are the representatives of different countries. Such projects are of great importance, since to be realized they need some information technologies.

1. By the number of participants the projects can be also different: personal (between 2 partners from different schools, regions, countries), pair (between/among the couples of participants) or group projects (among the groups). And it’s very important to organize group work properly from the methodical viewpoint (both inside a group of participants, close to each other and in a group, uniting the members from different schools, countries etc). The role of a coordinator is especially important in this case.

2. According to the duration of the projects, they can be short-term (in order to solve one little problem or a part of a more important problem); middle-term (1 or 2 months) and long-term (up to a year).

As a rule, short-term projects are carried out at the lessons of one subject (sometimes with the help of knowledge from other subjects). As for the middle- and long-term projects, they are usually carried out on the border of several subjects (no matter if they are internal or international) and are to solve a great important problem or a complex of interconnected problems. So they may present a complex program. Such projects are usually made as the extracurricular activity, though their progress may be discussed at the lessons.

Naturally, in reality we usually deal with combined types of projects, which may unite the peculiarities of research and creative projects, or practice-oriented and research ones. Every type has his own way of coordination, deadlines, stages and number of participants. That’s why, working on a project we ought to bear in mind its peculiarities and characteristic features.

Coordination of the projects and organization of the external evaluation should be emphasized, as it’s well-known, that the best improvisation is that one, which had been well-prepared. That’s why, if a teacher decided to use the method of projects when teaching any question of the curriculum, he is to think everything over thoroughly, to work it out in detail.

If the students are supposed to formulate a problem when working on a concrete situation, the teacher is to foresee several possible variants of it. The students are likely to call some of them, and the teacher should lead his children to the others with the help of special questions, situations etc. The teacher must fix the objectives for the students (what they are to make during their activity), collect the necessary information (printed, sound, video etc) or give the recommendations, where the students are able to find it (Internet, CD etc). He must think over what kind of help he may offer the students without giving them ready answers. It’s desirable that the teacher plans the series of lessons, which he’ll devote to the work on the project. Besides, it’s important to watch every student’s activity during the entire process, at every stage. Self-control and mutual control will be helpful. At the final stage (the defense of the project) other foreign language teachers may be invited as the experts. The external evaluation will greatly depend on the type of the project, on its topic and content, on the conditions of the whole process. If it’s a research project, it has to include certain stages, and moreover the success of the whole deal depends on the proper work at every separate stage. Right sequence of activities is also very important. That’s why the teacher must follow the activity of his students stage by stage, evaluating and coordinating. But the marks are not necessary. He may use various forms of encouragement, including the simplest ones like: “That’s right. Go on.” or “Think it over”, “You are right”, “Not exactly. Try again” etc.

When working on the role play projects, implying the competitive character, score system may be used.

In creative projects it’s sometimes impossible to evaluate the intermediate results, but it’s necessary to control the work in order to help in time, if the students need it (but it should not be a ready answer or solving of the problem, but just an advice).

In other words, the outer evaluation (both intermediate and final) is necessary, but it can take different forms, depending on different factors.

The teaсher and trusted independent outer experts are constantly monitoring the students’ activity, not importunately, but tactfully, giving necessary advice and help.

I’ve found out that this method is very effective at the stages of generalization, consolidation and revising of the material, it’s especially important when realizing the knowledge in practice. The most attractive point is the influence of the method on the students’ motivation, since the method of projects let the teacher turn the English language lessons into a creative research laboratory, where every pupil is involved into an active creative cognitive process. The students master their speaking and writing skills, widen their outlook, develop their communicative abilities, ability to discuss in English. Every child learns to express his thoughts and to stand for his viewpoint, to prove it with proper arguments.


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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2007

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