The Teaching field of second and foreign languages has gone through contrasting phases over the past 40 years, as like everything else in the world. After in-depth investigation, research has shown that the communicative approach is the best way to get learners interacting with the teacher, peers and the language itself. However, in some institutions, the audio-lingual is still a chosen method where students repeat and learn chunks of language. Task based has also been one of the highlighted methods chosen by language teachers and course book authors.
How effective is our teaching and what tools do we use the measure the effectiveness?
Educators around the globe have been discussing teaching practices and ways to best interact and motivate students and promote their autonomy in the classroom. The 21st century skills are being debated exhaustively in every teaching conference you attend. Is there a best method? Along with Prabhu (1990, p.162) who stated, “We do not believe that there is a single best method” I tend to agree with him. I have been attempting to find this best method and am far from finding it.
Nevertheless, for the past four years, my main focus has been on Project Based Learning for Language teaching. Although I may say that we are still struggling a little to have students and teachers actually get on board to experience the language class as an active learning moment, where the main objective of learning is to be able make connections between what is happening inside the schools and real life, in the second language; we have noticed that through these connections, students are able to understand concepts that would otherwise mean nothing to them. We have noticed that students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge of not only the language itself but the topic they are exploring.
I would not say that it is easy task for teachers. Planning a class and a project that can carry on throughout the semester can be very demanding, however, the results and enthusiasm of some of the students show us the effectiveness of the chosen teaching practice. The fundamental dilemma teachers go through is related to their roles inside the classroom, which is a big paradigm shift. Our basic concepts of our role in the classroom must change. Learning is a process students need to go through and teachers are there to facilitate the process.
During a language class based on the PBL method, students engage in an extended process of inquiry, using higher order thinking skills (analysing, evaluating, creating), finding resources and finally applying information and presenting it to their peers and communities. When working with basic students, teachers and students go through the same process, however, we tend to use lower order thinking skills ( list, describe, apply) in order to increase their language input before going on to higher order thinking skills.
Larmer and Mergendoller (2010) compare short-term projects and PBL to dessert and main course: the former “is served” at the end of a unit, as “dessert”, in order to assess what students have learned; the latter, on the other hand, is how students are going to learn. It is the main course. It is a process.
Is there a best method? I do not believe so. I believe the best method is to be strong enough to go beyond our comfort zone, understand and learn from our students and apply the 21st century skills to our own practice.