Nov 1 | #EarlyLang

“Project-Based Learning in the Early Language Classroom”

from November 1, 2017

On November 1, language teachers from grades K-8, and beyond, met for the biweekly #EarlyLang chat, sweetened by leftover Halloween candy. Participants discussed classroom management challenges, tool and strategies to manage the class while utilizing the TL (Target Language).  The discussion also included ways to adapt management strategies for the #earlylang classroom, the role of rapport and how to develop it.

Q1: Let’s define project-based learning (PBL). What are the elements?

Participants had various definitions, and a few questions, regarding PBL. Some of these included the differences between projects, PBL, and inquiry based learning. @doriecp suggested that the problem to be solved is the difference between a simple project and PBL; for the difference between PBL and inquiry based, PBL is about exploring an answer while inquiry based is about finding the answer.  Other elements include: authentic audience, use of authentic language, the opportunity to explore outside the classroom walls, student choice, an essential question, and time for reflection. Rose posted a link to a graphic that explains different types of student inquiry:

Essentially PBL is an approach that encourages collaboration and self-directed learning aimed to solve a real-world problem.  Some online sources for PBL include:

Q2: What challenges does PBL face in the #earlylang classroom?

One of the main challenges is the use of the target language (TL), particularly for novice and/or very young learners. One participant asked at what can one start with PBL; another participant pointed out that many young students will not have the necessary language in the TL, but increasing English use would not be an option.  Time constraints are another challenge.  Many participants have short classes, 15 to 30 minutes on average.  Some of these classes meet weekly so a project could last months instead of days. Other challenges mentioned were availability of authentic resources and audience, the ability to communicate the objectives clearly in the TL, and shorter attention spans of younger learners.

Q3: What are good, real-world project ideas for #earlylang PBL?

As usual with this group, there were plenty of creative ideas to incorporate PBL elements into the #earlylang classroom.  @doriecp suggesting partnering with classroom teachers in which students explore a topic in the language class and complete the project with their homerooms.

Other suggestions and questions included:

  • @mundodepepita, “I think fundraising projects can fall under PBL but would love confirmation.”
  • @doriecp replied, “I certainly do fundraising. We’ve bought shoes for an entire school in Uganda, raised money for local homeless shelter, etc.”
  • @doriecp “right now we’re learning about the situation in PR and Ss are doing inquiry on how to help in their classrooms.”
  • @nathanlutz, “Our Spanish Ss wanted to do something nice for children in PR & Mex, so they decided to write letters of goodwill in Spanish.”
  • @whatdheckman, “I’ve considered posing the Can-Dos to Ss & asking them “what do you need from me to accomplish these?” Good start for #pbl?”
  • @mmgalea, “You hurt your friend, Apologize! oral and in writing.”

Q4: How do you provide early learners with enough comprehensible input (CI) to make them successful on the project?

As @windycitysenora said, enough input is the heart of the matter but it also has to be appropriate to their levels.  Some participants work with classroom teachers to balance what young learners can do in the TL with what is too difficult, those parts are delegated to the homeroom teachers.  As with other #earlylang instruction, CI can come through modeling, gestures, simplified language, and frontloading vocabulary and other types of input at the beginning of the lesson.  Finally, it is important that language become part of the process.  If not, students may be taken by surprise when they learn language, language, language, and oh, here’s your project!  CI can take away the surprise and prepare the students for PBL.

Q5: How do you empower learners to stay in the target language (TL) while working on their own project?

Staying in the TL can be difficult even for those at the highest levels of proficiency. Students need motivation and the confidence that they can express themselves.  Some participants do not have younger students, such as those in first and second grade, work independently or in groups as they have trouble functioning.  For such young learners, PBL may not be appropriate.  For older learners, however, there were many suggestions to maintain communication in the TL: explicitly teach language for a variety of tasks and projects, model the inquiry process in the TL with language students already know, provide resources at the appropriate proficiency level. Incentives can work, too, some participants award points for positive participation and give coupons for staying in the target language.

Reflaction (reflection + action)

The main theme of the reflaction is the need for further exploration of PBL and taking time to consider when and how to use PBL in instruction.  Some participants posed questions to reflect on, such as when do students acquire enough language for PBL and how often to focus on PBL.  @mmegalea pointed out that PBL is not appropriate for very young learners with limited vocabulary. Others stated their intentions to work with classroom teachers, use more TL during projects, and incorporate authentic resources and real-world tasks.  It is clear that PBL can be a useful instructional method but many participants need to read more and plan in order to make it work in their #earlylang classrooms.

Thank you to all who participated in this #EarlyLang! Thank you to our lead moderator, ‏Dorie, (@doriecp) for leading the chat and to our co-moderator, Nathan Lutz, (@nathanlutz) for helping guide the conversation. The next chat is November 15, 2017 at 8 pm EST.  Hope to see you there.

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This week’s chat is

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EMC School

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