I. Quotations related to major features of PBL:
"Projects are multi-skill activities focusing on topics or themes rather than on specific language targets...Because specific language aims are not prescribed, and because students concentrate their efforts and attention on reaching and agreed goal, project work provides students with opportunities to recycle known language and skills in a relatively natural context" (Beckett and Miller, 2006, p.23)
"Project work is student-centered and driven by the need to create an end-product. However, it is the route to achieving this end-product that brings opportunities for students to develop their confidence and independence and to work together in a real-world environment by collaborating on a task". (Beckett and Miller, 2006, p.23)
In other words, PBL enables to teach ESL through thematic topics,while creating a student-centered environment where learners develop important skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening, communication, collaboration, and research) through completing real world, authentic tasks.
Personally, I greatly believe in and support constructivist approach to learning for the following reasons:
Fox (2001) describes constructivism as “a metaphor for learning, linking the acquisition of knowledge to a process of building or construction” and summarize constructivist views as follows: 1) learning is an active process; 2) knowledge is constructed, rather than innate, or passively absorbed; 3) knowledge is invented, not discovered; 4a) all knowledge is personal and idiosyncratic; 4b) all knowledge is socially constructed; 5) learning is essentially a process of making sense of the world; and 6) effective learning requires meaningful, open-ended, challenging problems for the learner to solve (Fox, 2001.)
Another author, Petraglia (1998) states that, according to constructivist theories, learning occurs within a social context (Petraglia, 1998). He claims:
“when students interpret an activity or an activity-situation as unrealistic and non-meaningful, encoding, representation, and learning are likely to become reductified and narrowly school-focused. Full contextualization combats such tendencies; students realize that complex, multidimensional problems are much more endemic to real world activity and that flatly unidimensional problem-situation exists only in school environment.” (Petraglia, 1998.)
Also, Beckett and Miller (2006) report numerous benefits of PBL particularly in language teaching. According to the authors, one of the main benefits is “enhanced language skills” (26.) Further, such skills as writing, speaking, listening, vocabulary and grammar abilities have been repeatedly reported as “improved” by second and foreign language practitioners, possibly due to “the fact that project work facilitates repeated opportunities for interaction (output), modified input, and negotiated meaning” (26.) In addition, they argue that projects involve integrated skills, and the authenticity of the tasks promotes that students “read to write, write to speak, listen to write…” allowing the students to construct their own meaning while “recycling” vocabulary and grammar forms (26.) Finally, PBL helps student improve their social, cooperative, and collaborative skills, along with decision-making abilities, analytical and critical thinking skills, and problem solving (26-27.)
Beckett, G. H., & Miller, P. C. (2006). Project-based second and foreign language education: Past, present, and future. Greenwich, Conn: Information Age Pub.
Fox, R. (2001). Constructivism Examined. Oxford Review of Education, 27(1), 23-35.
Petraglia, J. (January 01, 1998). The Real World on a Short Leash: The (Mis)Application of Constructivism to the Design of Educational Technology. Educational Technology Research and Development, 46, 3, 53-65.