Project-based learning through the eyes of teachers and students: Investigating opinions of PBL in adult ESL




Petersen, Cristina Suzann

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This thesis examines research done to explore teachers‘ and students‘ perspectives and use of Project-based Learning (PBL). The research was conducted at two ESL schools with distinct student populations in Victoria, BC and had 118 total participants. There were 30 teachers from three schools and 88 students from two schools. The teachers and students completed parallel questionnaires asking about their opinions of the various aspects involved in a PBL approach, their use or teachers‘ use of it, their opinions about examples of projects, and also completed open-ended questions about their opinions and experience with projects. The questionnaires were analyzed using Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS), non-parametric, 2 independent samples and is the primary quantitative data. The means and statistical significance between teachers and students were examined to find any main differences in opinion about PBL. Individual interviews were also conducted with teachers and students from two schools. Seven teachers also provided some artifacts from their classes which were examined to see if they corresponded with their perspectives. The latter two forms of data collection form the qualitative data in this study. Perspectives on PBL were found to be generally positive, with some mixed results within certain areas. Teachers‘ and students‘ perspectives were not that different, which is encouraging for those interested in using projects. Although teachers scored slightly higher in most cases, there were no stark contrasts between negative and positive attitudes. There were distinct differences between schools, as School A used project work more often due to different student backgrounds and needs. Teachers and students were the most favorable to more common practices in ESL classes, but still exhibited positive perspectives towards aspects of PBL as well. And lastly, the most common type of project being used in adult ESL is the presentation of some kind, falling under the production or performance project type (Stoller, 1997). Beckett‘s (1999) study found that students carried out projects successfully, but that their evaluations ―expressed dilemmas, frustrations, and tensions‖ (Beckett, 2002, p.60). No such comments were found when interviewing students about their project work presentations at School A, as most students felt that they were interesting, motivating, dynamic, and fun,‘among other comments. These results, along with means in the quantitative section exhibiting positive results reveals more support for the use of projects in adult ESL. The most significant discovery from this research was that teachers need to consider their students‘ backgrounds and needs when trying to implement a project. The initial assumption that School B, which had all immigrant students, would have more projects was completely wrong. I was surprised that they did not do more projects, and was faced with the reality that teachers need to take into consideration hectic lives outside of school and family obligations of immigrant students before using a PBL approach. The international students at School A were younger and seemingly more devoted to learning language through a variety of methods within their time in Canada.



Project-based learning, adult ESL, opinions