PBL Season 1 – What did they Learn?

This is a 5-6 minute read.

This post focuses on some of the learning that took place during the project.

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It is all very well and nice to have a component such as PBL as part of the curriculum. However, if the learners do not learn as a result then there is little point in putting time and effort into implementing and developing PBL.

So the question we need to ask is what did PBL bring to the learners? The following comments are based on data from many sources including feedback from learners in the more formal tutorial meetings and less formal chats, feedback from colleagues who also delivered PBL, observations of the learners as they completed the component…etc

This page focuses on learning English with following pages being devoted to the development of hard & soft skills and attitudes.

In order to keep this as brief as possible I will not mention all the linguistic and skill areas developed but will exemplify a few to give  a general idea of the learning that took place.

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English

As learners on an English language preparation course, developing their English in an academic context the first question to ask is “Did the learners improve their English?”

Well, I think the answer overall is yes. As with other parts of our content based syllabus, the daily use of English for a communicative purpose led to an improvement in their overall levels of English. I would suggest that PBL brought an increased need and motivation to communicate whether it be within the team; with the teacher or with the wider audiences of peers (for practice presentations); with members of the university as a whole during the conference presentations; or through the creation of blogs and websites to record their progress and reflections.

But let’s be more specific….

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Speaking and Listening

Many learners reported increased confidence in speaking in public and presentations as well as in private conversations.

The practice presentations delivered to their peers in other classes proved challenging and led to a great sense of achievement. This provided a nice foundation for the poster presentations during which the learners not only presented their information but responded to questions from their audience.

The learner’s perception of increased confidence is nice because it was the realistic and motivating need to communicate that provided the learners with the opportunity to use the language and skills they possessed, demonstrating to themselves and others the extent of their knowledge.

One learner, during her end of course feedback, also reported how the experience had given her confidence in delivering presentations in Turkish Language and Literature classes.

Several learners perceived connection between the development of the speaking and listening skills through PBL and increased confidence (and score) in their oral exams.

Whilst much of the work was conducted in groups, and the conversations may have been conducted in Turkish, we did ask for a part teams to record one conversation in English. During which they discussed their research sources, synthesising their information to identify the best ideas to answer their research question.

This was an interesting feature of the project as the learners almost universally took this element very seriously. They approached i t in a variety of ways – some recorded a spontaneous discussion whilst others prepared in detail before the recording. Whilst we can argue that those who prepared and even semi-scripted the conversation were not speaking naturally or spontaneously what was clear is that they had spent a considerable time and effort in thinking about what they wished to say, how to express it and how to structure the conversation – a lot of time thinking about using English.

Several learners chose to interview experts at the university as primary sources to help answer their research question. Again, a challenging experience and one that when completed provided a great deal of confidence when speaking in English.

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Reading

The project required each learner to identify, summarise 3 or 4 articles on their specific topics and synthesize this information with that of their team members. There are many reading skills here that were developed that I won’t even get into, in order to keep this as brief as possible.

Many learners identified an improvement in their ability to skim and scan the texts in order to identify the information relevant to their topics. These are skills they are familiar with, and one reason they were able to identify it during reflection, but PBL gave them an opportunity to use and develop these skills in realistic and purposeful situation with longer, ungraded texts.

Interestingly, several learners reported that they chose specific articles after reading abstracts or skimming several texts before choosing the most appropriate ones to address their question. Another useful and important academic skill developed through linguistic skills.

The process of summarising the texts also required careful reading of specific passages and note-taking and paraphrasing, another genuine purpose with motivating outcome.

Additionally, the project was complex with many components and stages. The learners needed to read and follow the documentation on the PBL website to complete the project. By the end of the 14 weeks the website had over 10.000 web page visits which indicated that it was used fairly extensively.

 

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Writing

The culmination of the project was the communication of the answer to the research question with the poster. The process of arriving at this stage required a variety of writing skills from note-taking to academic reverencing.

Another skill which was developed, yet not explicitly recognised by the learners, came in the synthesising of information from the texts they had read and identifying the best ideas and information to answer their research question. This process of identifying main ideas supported with explanations and examples was appropriate to the selection of information for the presentation but also mirrors the planning stages of an academic essay.

We did not ask the learners to produce and essay or report based on their research (this could be a possible future development but would need to be presented as a meaningful outcome such as a conference proceedings) yet their work paralleled this process and the also the process they undertake as part of their Long Writing Assignment in which they answer a question based on information taken from a variety of texts.

This was the part of the project that we asked the teams to record. Listening to the recordings was fantastic – not just because it was nice to hear the learners speaking in English for an

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A Project Based Approach to Professional Teacher Development

In April 2015 I gave a presentation at the IATEFL in Manchester. I am very happy that my summary of the presentation has been published in the conference proceedings. I have included the report in this post.

This is a 4-6 minute read.

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Introduction

The primary focus of professional teacher development is, naturally, on becoming a better teacher. Mann suggests that “self-direction is as important in teacher development as it is in language learning” and that self-direction implies a “conscious orchestration of individual capacity, environment and available resources” (2005: 104). If this is the case, then we should also be paying equal attention to enhancing the skills, competencies and attitudes that enable us to seek, identify, undertake and evaluate the appropriate professional development opportunities facilitate self-directed practice.

 

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Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning (PBL) is an educational approach firmly based in experiential and enquiry based learning. The key feature that differentiates PBL from project work is the reflection that takes place upon completion of the main project. This reflection has a double focus, the first being on the subject knowledge gained from the enquiry and the second on hard and soft skills, competencies and attitudes developed or learned in order to obtain the knowledge (Markham 2012).

 

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Project Based Learning and Professional Teacher Development

This project based approach to professional development draws on this twin focus. In the context of professional teacher development the subject knowledge learned equates to the knowledge or skills obtained, through the professional development activity, to become a more effective teacher. The second focus enables reflection on the skills, competencies and attitudes developed through undertaking the developmental activity. These are the attributes which contribute to becoming a more effective and self-directed practitioner of professional development.

The approach is applicable to teachers at all levels of experience who wish to continue developing as teachers. Additionally, it is worth pointing out that although the focus is on building the capacity for self-direction this does not imply a solitary activity (Ryan 2013), and certainly the stages of setting the driving question and reflection may be most effectively undertaken with a constructive and trusted colleague.

 

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A Project Based Professional Teacher Development Cycle

The choice of focus for a teacher’s professional development may arise from a variety of contexts and motivations. Once an area is identified it can be placed within a project based cycle. This cycle contains three broad stages: the framing of developmental area as a driving question; the choice, undertaking of and reflection on the developmental activity; and finally reflection on the skills, competencies and attitudes learned or developed as a practitioner of professional development. I shall look at these areas, particularly stages one and three which focus on aspects specific to this approach, in more depth.

 

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Stage One

The driving question provides a focuses for the developmental activity and future reflection as “academic or professional reflection, as opposed to purely personal reflection, generally involves a conscious and stated purpose” (Ryan 2013: 4). Driving questions that ask “How..?” encourage the dual focus of growth as a teacher and also as a self-directed professional developer. Whereas, questions that ask “What…?” focus purely on becoming a better teacher.

A template for a focussed driving question may look like this:

  • “How can I/we ______ (develop, improve…etc + personal aim) to / for / in ______ (developmental purpose)?”

A question involving a developmental aim may look like this:

  • “How can I improve my ability to involve learners more in decision making in my lessons?”

 

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Stage Two

The teacher identifies a suitable developmental vehicle, undertakes the development activity and reflects on the skills and knowledge developed as a teacher in relation to their specific developmental need. The choice of development vehicle may come from a range of professional development cycles that focus on becoming a better teacher (Mann 2005).

 

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Stage Three

The final stage focuses, through reflection, on the recognition of skills, competencies and attitudes that have been learned or developed in stage two. Reflection is “a prerequisite of development” and “can happen individually or collaboratively” (Mann 2004: 108). Through reflection and recognition these attributes can be consciously added to the toolkit of the self-directed practitioner when undertaking future developmental activities.

This reflection may be facilitated through responding to two prompts:

  1. What hard and soft skills, competencies and attitudes did I develop or learn as practitioner of professional teacher development?
  2. How can I use these skills, competencies and attitudes to enhance my future self-directed professional development?

 

 

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Conclusion

This rationale for, and the description of, the project based professional teacher development cycle is necessarily brief. Yet, I hope it provides a potentially useful tool for practitioners at all stages of their careers, empowering teachers by placing them at the heart of their developmental process.

 

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References

Mann, S. 2005. ‘State-of-the-Art Article: The language teacher’s development’. Language Teaching 38: 103-118.

Markham, T. 2012. Project based learning: Design and coaching guide—expert tools for innovation and inquiry. California: Heart IQ Press.

Ryan, M. 2013. ‘The pedagogical balancing act: Teaching reflection in higher education’ Teaching in Higher Education. 18/2: 144-155.

 

 

Sabancı University Book. Learner Development.

 

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I am extremely proud to be involved in the latest book in the Sabancı University, School of Languages publication

Learner Development. A Practical Guide to English Language Learner Development in an Academic Context: Practices and Processes.

Amongst a host of wonderful chapters are two I have co-written:

  • Developing Language and Skills. Written with my colleague Sharon Çeltek.
  • Promoting Learner Development Through Project Based Learning. Written with my colleague Cameron Dean.

February a Month on the Page!

Just like the arrival of the proverbial London bus, not one but two books landed on my desk this month. Both of them containing my contributions, each with a PBL focus.

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The first to arrive was the Sabancı University School of Languages book:

Learner Development. A Practical Guide to English Language Learner Development in an Academic Context: Practices and Processes.

 

Amongst a host of wonderful chapters are:

  • Developing Language and Skills. Written with my colleague Sharon Çeltek.
  • Promoting Learner Development Through Project Based Learning. Written with my colleague Cameron Dean.

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Soon after the IATEfL Manchester 2015 Conference Selections also arrived. This contains my entry:

  • A Project Based Approach to Professional Development.

 

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PBL Season One – The Course Structure

This is a 3 to 4 minute read.

Introduction Poster. Spring 2015. V1

I have written quite a bit about our PBL experience without actually giving much information about the content and organisation of the course. In this post I will provide a brief overview of the cycle which took place over 14 weeks with one class day (Thursday for four 50 minute lessons) per week dedicated to the project.

The project consisted of four distinct phases with clear outcome. Each phase culminated in individual reflection, team reflection and tutorial meeting with the teacher. I will briefly describe the phases below. You can find more information at the SL PBL website which we used to scaffold the project.

*You will notice that there is overlap in the timing of the phases. This allowed teams to start the new phase whilst the team tutorials for the previous phase were taking place. This learner calendar should make it clearer.

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Phase 1 (Weeks 1 to 3)*

This phase consisted of:

– Team formation & team building

– Agreement, amending and signing of team contracts

– Introduction of the overriding Driving Question

– Teams identify areas of individual interest to create refined, team specific Driving Questions

– Identification of research sources to answer the DQ – 3 or 4 per team member. The sources could be written, audio/visual or interviews with experts.

– Individual reflection on the phase

– Team reflection on the phase

– Team tutorial meeting with the teacher

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Phase 2 (Weeks 3 to 6)*

This stage consisted of:

– Individually reading, listening to or interviewing research sources and making notes specific to the Driving Question.

– Group meeting to synthesize the information collated towards answering the Driving Question. At least 10 minutes of this discussion was to be recorded with the discussion being held in English.

– Individual reflection on the phase

– Team reflection on the phase

– Team tutorial meeting with the teacher

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Phase 3 (Weeks 6 to 12)*

This phase consisted of:

– Outlining information required to answer the Driving Question

– Planning and creating a poster to answer the Driving Question

– Planning and rehearsing a presentation to accompany the poster

– Delivering a dress rehearsal poster presentation to learners on the intermediate level course in SL

– Revising poster and presentation following the presentation

– Delivering the final poster presentation at the SL conference.

– Individual reflection on the phase

– Team reflection on the phase

– Team tutorial meeting with the teacher

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Phase 4 (Weeks 12 to 14)*

I consider this to be the most important phase. This phase consisted of:

– Providing team advice for future PBL participants / learners

– Providing team suggestions to improve the next PBL course

– Individual reflection on the whole project

– Team reflection on the whole project

-Team (or individual) tutorials with the teacher

 
Related Posts

PBL Season One – What they said….

Season One – PBL in the School of Languages Context

 

Season One – PBL in the School of Languages Context

This is a 5-6 minute read.

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The context

I teach in the School of Languages at Sabancı University where we prepare learners for their English language medium undergraduate studies. We teach English in an academic context through content based instruction.

As mentioned elsewhere this was a complex project which lasted for 14 weeks of an overall 16 week semester. One day a week (4 class lessons) was dedicated to PBL with learners also expected to complete additional work outside these class hours.

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Our purpose in implementing PBL

The PBL strand enabled us to kill several birds with one stone (although no animals were hurt during the project).

Our primary purpose was to provide another, personalised and interesting, context in which to improve the learners English language skills and knowledge as well as building their confidence as productive and meaningful users.

The project also promoted the learning, development and recognition of hard and soft skills (also know as 21st Century skills), competencies, critical thinking and attitudes that foster self-directed and life-long learning.

Additionally, we set a Driving Question (more below) that focused learners on gaining knowledge that they, and those they shared the knowledge with, could use in their university studies and professional careers.

Finally the project had to be motivating for our learners. In fact, this was a crucial element – we had to engage learners, over an extended period of time, in a form of learning they were unused to (our learners come to us after 12 years of exam based education.) If they were not motivated to learn in this way then the whole project would be pointless and the stated aims unachievable.

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Our Driving Question

Driving Questions (DQs) provide the focus for the project. A good PBL DQ provides a challenging, relevant, real-world scenario. In our context, preparing learners to use English in an academic context, we set our project as an academic research project with a driving question

How can we develop our skills, knowledge and attitudes to support our university studies and future professional careers?”

We spent time in class helping our learners to identify specific areas to study that may provide answers for the question. Areas the learners identified and chose for team study included: sports psychology, stress management, chess, travel, living away from home, social clubs….etc.

These led to team specific DQs such as

How can learning about stress management develop our skills, knowledge and attitudes to support our university studies and future professional careers?

Teams then worked to research and gain knowledge to answer the question. They ultimately presented their research as a poster presentation at the School of Languages Conference.

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Reflection

Reflection is a key element of PBL, without reflection it remains project work. The DQ focuses reflection in two directions. Firstly on the subject/content knowledge learned – in the case above this would be about stress management and its application to their university studies and their professional careers.

The DQ also focuses reflection on the skills, competencies and attitudes learned or developed through the project. Once learners had identified areas in which they had learned of developed they were also encouraged to consider how they could be used proactively in the future.

Additionally, as the development of English language skills and knowledge was the primary aim of the PBL strand we also asked learners to reflect on language development and their confidence in using English productively.

As reflection is such a key component of PBL we scaffolded* it carefully providing questions to guide individual and team reflection. Teachers also prompted and encouraged deeper reflection in the team tutorials.

We asked each group to make their work and reflections available on a digital platform that was available to their teacher and group members. Here are some examples that have been posted on our PBL website with the permission of the learners.

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The public product

The final product of PBL should be a shared, recognised and celebrated publicly with as wide, relevant and interested audience as possible. The learners are aware of this from the start of the project and thus it becomes an important driver of the project, through which the production of high-quality work is encouraged.

Our public product took the form of a School of Languages Conference during which each team displayed and presented their posters for attendees at the conference. The conference was held over two days in a prominent position, during lunch time to enable all members of the university community to attend.

The posters also now form a permanent part of the display on in the SL building.

As a rehearsal and to identify areas to change for the conference teams also gave presentations to their peers in other classes. It was very interesting to hear during their end of project reflections how much they also valued giving these presentations both in terms of practicing for the conference and as providers of knowledge.

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*Teamwork

One of the areas that many of the learners identified during their reflection was the value of teamwork, how much they had enjoyed working as a member of a team and the ways they had learned from their teammates.

I think this was also an element that the teachers who delivered PBL shared. The project was initially planned and designed by a small team. However, once it we started to deliver the strand all the PBL teachers took ownership and the shared ideas and experiences to make for a richer experience for learners and teachers.

A nice example is the way that as the course progressed teachers prepared and shared new and creative ways to encourage and capture learner’s reflections – more of which in a later post.

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Please remember, you can visit the blog created to scaffold the course for learners and teachers here.

Related Posts

PBL Season One – What they said….

The Structure of our course

PBL Season One – What they said…..

This is a 3 to 4 minute read.

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Our first Project Based Learning cycle is now complete, fourteen weeks of PBL integrated into our upper level syllabus (my last post here was when we had just begun). There’s obviously a lot to say about the project but for a starter here are some comments from those involved in the PBL experience – the learners, the PBL teachers and other teachers in the School of Languages (SL).

PBL Learners

So let’s start with the most important people, the learners who participated in the PBL project. Here are some of their comments:

“PBL is like a train because it is visiting everywhere its location. It is stopping every place and taking passenger to bring them right place. PBL were taken us where we were and it carried us somewhere that we can realise ourselves.”

“I think this project was a good practice for a lot of things we will face as a student and in the professional career: team work, responsibility, constructive ideas and opinions.”

“I read so much articles and we practice the presentation with my team mates so we speak English a lot so I think it’s improved.”

“It’s percentage should have been more because it includes every type of skill that we need.”

“I loved the presentation day! It was the best memory I got from PBL.”

“I feel good about the presentation because J (a teacher) asked deep questions and we can respond and this gives us confidence. I am proud in doing something practical”

“I wouldn’t change my teammates – because of them I learned so many things.”

“When I saw my poster on the wall [of the SL building] I was very happy”.

“Overall, PBL is a preparation for Proj 102 which is a lesson that we have to pass in next semester (hopefully). I find PBL is very useful. Of course we had face some problems as a group. For example we couldn’t communicate sometimes or we couldn’t reach one person and than we had to postpone our responsibilities. Because of that I felt nervous sometimes, I felt like our task wasn’t going to done until deadline. But we had to find ways to fix these problems and we did it actually. Overall we worked well as a group.I really enjoy the part that we create the poster, finding visuals and putting ideas together was a enjoyable task to do. Also this lesson teached us to how should we find sources or how should we put ideas together. To sum up PBL is a very useful lesson to prepare us to faculty, also now I can use computer more efficiency and I improved my social skills too.”

“Today, we did last lesson of PBL which during the about 10 week. I am happy as well as sad. Firstly, I am happy because PBL finished so, ı feel comfortable. Secondly, ı am sad because every thursday our group work together and we enjoyed it. Sometimes we discuss each other, sometimes we discuss with C*******. I am relaxed by PBL among a lot of stress, exams, PBL gained to me a lot of experiences. I think it is more important than most of lesson.”

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SL Teachers

Some of the learners’ comments refer to the conference. This was the culmination and public presentation of the project. It took place in a public location next to the canteen, at lunchtime, so that all members of the university could visit. During the conference the teams presented their research in the form of poster presentations. Here are some comments from teachers (both PBL teachers and non-PBL teachers) on their experience of the conference:

“The PBL Conference was like a beehive, with student bees working and buzzing together. It was great to see students so happy and excited. It was also great to see how they ‘owned’ their work and felt a sense of collective pride.”

“The PBL presentations were like a miracle because students were motivated to talk in English and the affective filter was very low, which hardly happens in traditional language learning.

“The PBL presentations were like a dream come true: just yesterday someone complained to me about the speaking skills of our students and I was able to say please go and see what they can do at the PBL presentations. And the students lived up to my expectations: they were articulate and enthusiastic. Well done to both instructors and students.”

“The PBL conference was like a festival in the east; full of aromatic scents and interesting ambiance.” “The PBL presentations were very inspiring because it was quite surprising to see how controversial ideas could be convincing when successfully presented visually and explained in a logical way. Well done to all.”

“I had some good authentic discussions. With a bit of encouragement, students were able to evaluate their research results in order to draw conclusions applicable to their own lives.”

“It was refreshing to talk to students about their projects and see how they take pride in their work.”

“I was surprised that almost all groups were very keen to talk and seemed very motivated. Only one or two students seemed to have memorised a sales-patter and only one group did not give the impression that they had gelled as a team. Oh the whole they seemed very proud of their work and Most were able to talk about what they had done and answer questions. When asked they all claimed to have learned a lot from the experience and though it was positive (only in one case did I feel I was being told what he thought I wanted to hear!) Even students I remember from last semester who were never very participative or hardworking seemed very animated and to enjoying showing off their work. I even left feeling quite positively affected by their energy and enthusiasm.. it was a pleasant change to be accosted by students wanting them to look at their work. :)”

“I loved how genuinely the students owned the posters and were able to answer all my questions, and encouraged me to ask more 🙂 Good job guys”

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PBL Teachers

Finally here are some comments from the teachers who delivered PBL. Interestingly, and pleasingly, there is some nice reflection on the Professional Teacher Development opportunities the course presented:

“PBL has been a wonderful strand to have in our curriculum, giving us and the students a highly useful and desirable process-based learning opportunity. It has promoted both learner and teacher autonomy and fostered creativity, critical thinking and reflection within a relatively flexible framework. It has contributed to personal development and team skills in addition to learners’ academic development and knowledge. I loved it! And I know my students did too. I very much hope it will continue to be a key strand in our curriculum.”

“I liked the energy within our PBL team – it was great to meet and share PBL thoughts and experiences in the break with colleagues in rooms close by”

‘’We really didn’t know how the course was going to unfold and exactly how we were going to present it to the students and manage them.  It necessitated a strong reliance on each other as a team and became a real source of motivation.’’

“As the PBL course progressed, the activities showed me just how much students did or didn’t know, and thus how much they needed the opportunity to gain & practice such knowledge. The poster design & presentations were really enjoyed by students, there was a great energy in these activities. This contrasted with the preparation & reflection activities, which often tested students’ organisation, motivation and teamwork to the max. The aim of the course was to promote soft skill development to support students in their lives beyond FDY, and student comments in their feedback reflected this aim. Personally I went on a massive learning curve, and am really happy I got an opportunity to experience this type of learning as it makes total sense to me”

“What was immediately obvious was the paradigm shift in the way we saw our role as teachers. After the first lesson teaching PBL, we met excitedly in the corridor, each discussing what had happened in our classes; this isn’t something that happens when you teach from a coursebook. Not only had it energized us, it had also had an immediate effect on our learners. Much of our talk about that first lesson focused on how the learners were reacting to this ‘new’ way of doing things, how motivated they were and how this would influence the way we would approach these classes.”

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Season One – PBL in the School of Languages Context