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Projects Approach

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Projects approach: an alternative for reading comprehension courses

Introduction

Applied to the teaching of English as a foreign language where classes are held in the native tongue and the readings in the target language, the Projects Approach facilitates language learning by setting tasks which require learners to make decisions and work on their own. Learners collect data from a variety of readings in the second language, and by collecting and analysing their data they produce a research report in L1.

The purpose of this approach is to help a group of advanced reading comprehension learners work with the teacher in formulating objectives and using previously acquired reading comprehension strategies and techniques consciously to perform independent work in the medium of English. Indirect teaching is employed and evaluation focuses upon both the process as well as the product of the students' work. We have been using this type of approach in the Language Center of Orizaba since February of 1994 and several questions have arisen since then: Does this approach help learners to read faster and more accurately? Does a topic-based report help learners to become more analytical readers than global readers? Does this approach make learners reflect on their own learning? Do learners become independent and autonomous?. These questions are the basis of our research.

Methodology of the project

In general, the project consists of six stages which are: (1) preparation, (2) planning, (3) research, (4) conclusions and results, (5) presentation and (6) evaluation.

In the preparation stage the teacher presents the goals of the project and motivates students to participate actively by making decisions on selecting the topic and searching for written information in the target language. Once the information has been collected, students analyse it superficially and plan a possible content on which to work .

During the research stage, students assign different tasks to each individual in the group. There is constant feedback among students since they are involved in the same topic. They analyse the information and reach their own conclusions. These four stages culminate in a product which is a book.

After this, students prepare their presentation, which is a way of showing their work and sharing the ideas that arose through it. Reading comprehension students from lower levels and people in general are invited to participate by asking questions or adding comments about the topic. During the presentation learners show that after reading English texts, they have expanded their knowledge or maybe they have a new criteria about the topic. The book is kept in the school library for future consultation.

Evaluation is, perhaps, the most important stage. It is here where students reflect and analyse their goals. They also realise if their expectations have been achieved. This self-conscious evaluation makes learners look at the process of learning, not necessarily the product.

The role of the teacher

If we are to train students, it is the teacher's responsibility to reflect on how and why to train them. Effective use of the Projects Approach for teaching English depends on the teacher. From the beginning, the teacher motivates learners to work collaboratively to accomplish a common task. Teacher and students must present a detailed plan of action, so students know how to start.

In general, the teacher's role during the project varies, but the roles follow these parameters:

1. The teacher helps the students to narrow the topic of their project.

2. The teacher is a source of information.

3. The teacher is supportive of the students.

4. The teacher coordinates the process .

5. The teacher provides feedback to help students get through the process.

The role of the students and the teacher in the Project Approach varies according to the stages. This can be seen in the following figure:

STUDENTS TEACHER

TOPIC select the topic describes and suggests the parameters that

topic should fulfill.

OBJECTIVES reflect on the objectives of sets final objectives

the course

PREPARATION direct advises

PLANNING direct contributes with ideas

RESEARCH coordinate and implement observes and facilitates

RESULTS analyses observes and gives opinions

PRESENTATION perform listens as a member of the audience

EVALUATION participates in self-evaluation provides feedback

figure 1. Teacher's and students' roles

Group work

Small groups of students working together produce worthwhile projects. This type of collaborative learning contributes not only to cognitive learning outcomes such as being able to summarise a text individually, but also provides the opportunity for students to learn together by sharing views and problems, respecting each other's feelings and developing group and social skills. All this contributes to a better understanding of the topic.

In a group effort, all participants need to contribute something. They may work together on a single activity or they may decide to subdivide the project into learning tasks, one of which is assigned to each member of the group.

Possible effects of projects approach on reading comprehension

The Projects Approach may help learners to overcome vocabulary deficiencies. Students read about the chosen topic and have the opportunity to recycle vocabulary and get familiarised with the most frequent words and jargon. Since the learners' background and vocabulary knowledge is activated the reading process seem to go faster and their reading performance seems to improve.

At this stage, we believe, students are able to apply the reading strategies in a more conscious and accurate way since they analyse, compare and contrast information

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