Students in Action:
Finding and Learning, Doing and Learning
Heide Spruck Wrigley defines project-based learning as "a group of learners taking on an issue close to their hearts, developing a response, and presenting the results to a wider audience" (p. 13). I was introduced to this method of teaching in November 1998 when I was invited to participate in Project IDEA, an adult education capacity building and teacher action research initiative funded by the Texas Education Agency. At the beginning, I thought I knew what they were talking about since I always recreate everyday situations with my students that result in a final product. But later, I realized that what I was doing was only using a participatory approach.
Wrigley proposes a number of phases commonly developed in most projects: "identification of a problem or issue, preliminary investigations, planning and assigning tasks, researching the topic, implementing the project, drafting and developing a final product, dissemination, and evaluating what worked" (p. 13). Using this as a guide, we began working on a project that we named A Training Program That Will Get Us A Job.
Identification of a Problem or Issue
First, the students brainstormed about problems they faced as individuals, at home, and in the community. Questions like the following served as stimuli in this phase. What is something you would like to change? What is it that you don't like in your community?
The students were facing many problems as a result of being laid off from work caused by NAFTA. While brainstorming, we made a list on the board of all the things they wanted to change. Many important issues were brought up, followed by a very positive discussion that helped them realize the origin of most of their problems and frustrations was lack of a job. The students concluded that lack of education had caused their failure to succeed in the modern workforce. From that conclusion, they decided to do extensive research on the types of jobs available in their area and the training required to perform these jobs.
The students decided to invite representatives from the PREP (Pre- Employment Program) who would be knowledgeable about all the training programs available in El Paso. The PREP representatives met with our class, provided information on training programs, and gave us their recommendations.
Planning and Assigning Tasks
Students were divided into groups of three. Each group was composed of one very outspoken student, one computer oriented student, and a low English level student. Group arrangement was at my discretion to ensure everyone participated. Each group had the responsibility to decide which school to invite and to find the school's telephone number and address in the telephone directory. Next, I made the initial call to talk to the contact person, explained the project, and asked if he/she would help the students when they called.
Implementing the Project
In this phase, the students called the contact person, extended an invitation and negotiated the date and time when the presentation would take place. Students then produced a model of the best questions to ask the school representative.
Drafting and Developing a Final Product, and Dissemination
We decided to put all the information together and make it accessible to as many displaced workers and PREP participants as possible. The format was very simple. Students produced a question and answer sheet about each school or agency. These sheets were stapled together, made into a booklet, and distributed at the PREP facilities to be made available to NAFTA displaced workers. Students also sent thank you letters to the representatives from the schools after they gave their presentation.
Evaluating the Learning Involved
During the process of getting to the final product of this project, the students learned skills that would be useful in their job search and future workplace. The students acquired or improved their planning skills. After participating in the project, they are more willing to work and learn as a team. They learned how to delegate tasks and become responsible for their own work. Their telephone skills improved tremendously in both English and their native language. As a group, they said that their level of comfort in talking on the phone had increased.
About the Author
Laura Molina has a Bachelor's degree in Spanish and Psychology and is currently working on a Master's degree in Spanish Critical Writing. She has taught adults for about four years. During the last three years, she has worked for the Socorro Community Learning Center as an ESL/ Spanish GED teacher for NAFTA dislocated workers. Laura is presently participating in the Institute for the Development of Educators of Adults (Project IDEA). You may e-mail Laura at email@example.com
Wrigley, Heide Spruck. (December 1998). Knowledge in Action: The Promise of Project-Based Learning. Focus on Basics, 2 D, 13-18.