Sunday, November 9, 2014

Week 5: Project-based Learning, WebQuests, and rubrics

Week 5

This week was quite interesting indeed. We had the opportunity to explore and discuss about Project-based learning (PBL), rubrics and Webquests. The first one, as a method to engage the students in their own learning process through active participation; the second and third ones, as alternative tools to assess and follow up our students' language learning progress.

Project-based learning
Project-based learning is well known as a teaching method focused on a class project. It is aimed at developing specific skills on the student,s during a specific time, and under specific conditions.  According to Allan and Stoller (2005):
The implementation of project work differs greatly from one instructional setting to another. In some settings, fairly non-elaborated tasks, confined to a single class session, are labeled as projects. In other settings, elaborate sets of tasks establish the process for completing the project and span an entire instructional unit; in settings like these, the benefits of project work are maximized because students are actively engaged in information gathering, processing, and reporting over a period of time, and the outcome is increased content knowledge and language mastery. In addition, students experience increased motivation, autonomy, engagement, and a more positive attitude toward English. (p. 1)

In their article "Maximizing the benefits of Project Work in Foreign Language Classrooms", Allan and Stoller (2005) stand that, in some settings, project work is simply a classroom task to break from the classroom routine, which leads the students to take care only to the visual attractiveness of their projects missing the importance of content or language learning. On the contrary, in other settings, projects are based on skills and competency development but teachers exert an excessive control of every step of the projects; consequently, the students do not take responsibility in their learning process and do not develop a sense of belonging.

In order to be effective and guarantee the students' engagement in project-based learning, the authors recommend to:

1. Focus tasks on real-world subject matters and significant content.
2. Give the students some degree of responsibility and allow them to make choices.
3. Design purposeful activities focused on form and other aspects on language in a detailed and well explained sequence.
4. Integrate skills in a process and product oriented  including final reflections.

To maximize the potential benefits of project work and structure the project process, Allan and Stoller (2005) suggest a 10-step sequence advocated by Stoller (1997), and Sheppard and Stoller (1995):
Step 1: Students and instructor agree on a project
Step 2: Students and instructor determine the final outcome of the project
Step 3: Students and instructor structure the project
Step 4: Instructor prepares students for information gathering
Step 5: Students gather information
Step 6: Instructor prepares students for compiling and analyzing data
Step 7: Students compile and analyze information
Step 8: Instructor prepares students for the final activity
Step 9: Students present final product
Step 10: Students evaluate the project
Based on these steps, students will have the opportunity to participate in their own language learning process. Both, teachers and students will focus on language, content, strategy, and skill used; the evaluation process will be more dynamic and interactive, and equally valuable. As a result, the project will gain authenticity, the students will improve language and content knowledge, critical thinking and decision-making abilities will be developed, and the students' motivation  will be increased.

In virtue of this, incorporating technology to my classes would mean developing a project that can meet the students' needs but also accomplish the course objectives. That has never been an issue, but there are three main limitations that make me think about its actual feasibility: a) Time, b) my students' digital skills, and c) Internet access. What worries me the most is time, since I teach distance courses that have a very tight schedule; however, I think I might reduce the number of tasks and concentrate in a small but effective language project. This term, for instance, we will have a mini-semester (10-12 weeks), that definitively limits our creativity.

In English II, for example,  students usually work on text-typology e-portfolios. I wonder how much technology I am going to use this term, since my students don't seem to have well developed digital skills and we won;t have the proper time for training.  Another limitation is Internet access. They are 20 students in my course and we only have a 10-working-station lab. Consequently, PBL seems to be an interesting method for our class, but we should plan something really feasible in terms of time and our setting limitations. ;)

Reference:  Allan, B. and Stoller, F. (2005). Maximizing the benefits of Project Work in Foreign Language Classrooms. English Teaching Forum, 43 (4). Available on:

Rubrics and Webquests
Regarding the rubrics and alternative assessment, I think they offer excellent opportunities for authentic and fair evaluation. They are excellent for my context, since they make my job easier. Once we have created one rubric it can be reused or adapted to other courses or projects. Rubrics for instance, allow us to provide the students with a well structured evaluation. Have a look at this one I created and make some comments if possible. 

My "Reading and Summarizing Written Academic Texts" rubric created with Rubistar

Webquests help us promote independent learning and make our students more autonomous. They are generally based on group work. The activities designed are based on web sites. According to Professor Bernie Dodge from San Diego State University a WebQuest is:

"as an inquiry-oriented activity that uses resources on the World Wide Web. WebQuests pull together the most effective instructional practices into one integrated student activity. These Web-based projects use World Wide Web sites to help students develop problem-solving and decision-making skills. WebQuests are interesting and motivating to teachers and students.An effective WebQuest develops critical thinking skills and often includes a cooperative learning component. Students learn as they search for information using the Web, following a prescribed format that focuses on problem solving and authentic assessment. A well-written WebQuest requires students to go beyond simple fact finding. It asks them to analyze a variety of resources and use their creativity and critical-thinking skills to solve a problem. WebQuests help students analyze, synthesize, and evaluate information. "
A webquest usually includes six elements:
  1. Introduction
  2. Task
  3. Process
  4. Evaluation
  5. Conclusion
  6. Teacher Page
Still working on a Webquest... :)

Reference: What is a webquest? Available on

Project Task 4

 As I had mentioned in previous posts, I had decided to work with my English III course. This course is mainly based on reading comprehension and summarizing written academic texts. I decided to include the use of blogs for the first time. However, there are three main issues I have to consider when planning the project:  a) Time, b) my students' digital skills, and c) Internet access. These issues certainly determine the feasibility of what I am thinking of.

Evelyn :)