This research proposal will employ a longitudinal experimental design to investigate student learning using Project-based learning for middle school literature classrooms within the same school. The results will be measured by IOWA testing every term over a 3 year time period and compared to the results of the students from traditional classroom setting. Assessment scores will be the dependent variables. The literature review of six peer-reviewed articles is included. The purpose of the study, hypotheses, methodology, participants, procedure, instruments and data analysis will be described.
Schools have the responsibility to prepare students for the future by exploring and discovering the best conditions for student learning. Students must be able to apply their learned skills to real world applications. Schools must find new and innovating approaches to classroom learning in order to fulfill students’ needs.
Research has shown that real life issues capture students’ interest and in return increase student success (Boaler, 2002, p.249). Teachers can present lessons within real world problems using Project-Based Learning, since this teaching method requires investigations, critical thinking and resolution to complex problems. According to Boaler three times more students in a Project-Based Learning school passed the national exam and significantly outperformed students from a traditional classroom setting. (Boaler, 2002, p.246). A Project-Based Learning school can help students understand how their learned mathematical equations relate to architecture and engineering, therefore, it shows how their learned skills will apply to real world situations. All the projects in context of such teaching method are conducted in realistic, non-school like context. This raises student’s motivation and empowerment, since there is little direct teacher guidance or participation and collaborations among students is required. (Krajcik and Blumenfeld, 2006, p.331)
Project-based learning is not widespread in public schooling nowadays and there is no common criteria for the suitable projects. They vary dramatically in their goals, structure, questions, phenomenon and problems to be explored. They may be designed for the whole class, particular groups and even one individual and cover the whole curriculum or one subject only.
However, for Project-Based Learning to be effective, teachers must first fully understand Project-Based Learning and how to model problem-solving strategies affectively (Blumenfeld et al., 1991, p. 375). According to Thomas, Project-Based Learning is defined within six criteria: projects are central to the curriculum, projects are focused on questions, projects involve student investigation, projects are student-driven, projects are realistic, and collaboration is vital. Without fully embedding these concepts into their projects, teachers are simply creating an activity with no clear purpose or outcome. (Thomas, 2000, p.3)
The purpose of this study will be to explore student learning using Project-based Learning for three middle school literature classrooms within the same school. This research operates on the hypotheses that students learning in Project-based Learning classrooms will score higher on assessments than students learning in a traditional classroom setting. One more concern is that increased retention will take place. Conversely, the null hypothesis is expected to be disproved: there is no difference in scores between students from Project-based learning and traditional classrooms.
Project-based learning is a rather new teaching method, but it is already gaining popularity. If done well, it may yield great results, however some difficulties still occur. Teachers have little experience with this method and often find it hard to work with such classes. Lack of understanding can result in wasted time and frustration. It might be challenging to indirectly guide students, who are already used to direct instructions and feel lost or create rebellious atmosphere without them. Additionally, not all assessments labeled as project actually belong to project-based learning. That is why research-based model for PBL was created. It contains three parts: Student Learning Goals (Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills), Essential Project Design Elements (Challenging Problem/Question, Sustained Inquiry – Authenticity, Student Voice & Choice, Reflection, Critique & Revision, Public Product ) and Project Based Teaching Practices. (Larmer et al., 2015)
Thomas in his report about project-based learning talked about the underpinning of this teaching method, its effectiveness, challenges, the role of teachers and students and directions for the future research. Generally speaking, the research of the project-based learning has little to do with practice. (Thomas, 2000, p.2) Teachers have limited experience with this method since it is relatively new. Evidently most teachers find planning and management of this method challenging. Both teachers and students find that project-based learning is a more popular method of instruction than traditional methods.
Some studies report unintended beneficial consequences associated with this type of learning experiences. In comparison to other instructional methods, it is valued for enhancing the quality of students' learning in subject matter areas, which leads to applying the learnings in novel, problem-solving contexts and developing lower-level cognitive skills in traditional subject matter areas. Project-based learning seems to be equivalent or slightly better than other models of instruction, since it enhanced students’ professionalism, collaboration, self-reliance, and general academic achievement.
It is also obvious that some students find it complicated to benefit from this type of learning. These difficulties occur mostly in complex projects and are associated with managing time, using technology effectively, initiating inquiries and work without any directions or guidance.
Boaler investigated the difference in mathematics achievement between students from two equal secondary schools in England: Amber Hill, the one that followed traditional instructions method and Park Phoenix, the one that was implementing project-based learning. (Boaler, 2002, p.245) There were no differences in mathematical attainment in both schools at the beginning of the study. Furthermore, gender, race and social status matched. In three years, the performance of students from the project-based learning Park Phoenix school was dramatically better than in the traditional Amber Hill school students both in general math skills and conceptual applied knowledge. These students scored significantly higher grades for the majority of assessment including the national exams. Their results were higher than national average, moreover, there were no gender disparities in achievement. Despite this Park Phoenix belonged to one of the poorest regions of the country, no inequality in academic achievement according to social class was represented.
However Boaler emphasizes that the Amber Hill approach should not be taken as evidence that traditional approach is wrong or less efficient. It only shows sources for equitable learning lie in particular practices, teachers and students are engaged in. For some students, particularly boys, work in open-ended projects was very disconcerting. They needed more detailed instructions typical for traditional reports. These students usually belonged to the working class or regions of severe poverty. At this point Anyon suggested that opportunities for higher level thinking are inequitably distributed in schools. This serves to maintain the social class inequalities that exist in nearly every society, which means that working class students are being prepared for working class jobs. (Anyon, 1980) Such a approach discourages personal assertiveness and according to Boaler these practices are misguided and inequitable (Boaler, 2002, p.352).
The Vanderbilt University Cognition and Technology Group developed the program of problem solving series designed to motivate students to combine forces in order to investigate and solve real-life problems apply mathematical skills. The system involves students in microworld exploration, allows to construct, evaluate, and reason about solutions to complex trip planning problems. Students construct a multi-step plan and determine whether it represents optimal solution to the problem. Students, who were used to be engaged in Vanderbilt series attained higher results in problem-solving and planning, since they gained much more experience in goal-setting, evaluation, and self-assessment comparing to the control group. However, results for tests on basic concepts and general mathematics knowledge remained the same.
Blumenfeld and colleagues discuss the benefits of project-based learning and the potential of long-term projects as a part of class activities. Close attention is paid to teachers’ and students’ factors as well as the challenges that teachers face when implementing this method and usage of technology as a support system. Project-based learning is focused on engaging students in investigation. Giving freedom to students allows them to try their own problem-solving approaches, unlike traditional methods, when all the guidance is generated by a teacher. Students are involved in building real solutions to the problems, which arise in the real life. This adds value to the acquired knowledge, enhances interest to the subject and expands view on the subject matter. Being involved in a realistic problem-solving environment serves as a bridge between classroom and real life experience and helps student to understand key concepts and principles. (Blumenfeld et al., 1991, p.372)
Projects are adaptable to different types of students, however they greatly depend on students’ and teacher’s level of knowledge and the complexity of classroom setting. For the project to be a successful experience it is essential for students to have enough time, enough understanding of the problem and choice in creating artifacts and to understand teacher’s method of evaluation. (Blumenfeld, 1991, p.375)
At this point technology can help both teachers and students. Networks give opportunity to access the needed sources and communicate with each other. It helps to illustrate, plan, collect and store all the work, carry out new ideas and concepts and design new activities. This way technology can attract much more students to get involved in learning and support their belief in success.
Marx and colleges in their study show that despite the positive benefits project-based learning is challenging for the teachers. One of the most prominent hurdles to successful incorporation of the mentioned learning method is that these projects are time-consuming. Having more freedom than usual, classrooms felt unruly and it was not easy for teachers to balance giving independence to students and providing them support. Students in such classrooms were also empowered and teachers could not keep an eye on the flow of information properly. Having little experience in using this teaching method, it was difficult to integrate technology as a cognitive tool, and to design the authentic assessments. (Marx, et al., 1997).
In addition, it was found that teachers generally focused on addressing one or two of the above mentioned challenges at the same time and tended to move backward and forward between old practice and new ideas, applying the new information with uncertain success (Marx, et al., 1997).
Krajcik and colleges highlight the importance of selecting the driving question since it affect the way students will see the value of the explored issue and meet their learning goals. The importance of technology integration throughout the curriculum is emphasized as well as teacher’s support in complex instructions represented in providing the explicit strategies and developing highly specified materials. (Krajcik and Blumenfeld, 2006, p331) Teachers can engage students in scientific investigations and promote collaboration by using the materials focused on the questions, which students find meaningful and important. This approach helps to teach students deeper understanding and at this point is much more effective than the traditional method of instruction.
This research was based on the core learning principles. Although being focused on project-based learning, the results can be applied to any area like arts, social sciences and literature studies.
Participants for this study will be selected by convenience sampling, since this is the most commonly used procedure in psychology research. School students differ from the population at large in a number of ways including socioeconomic status, race, intelligence. Nevertheless, they are fairly representative of young people in general. In this research the characteristics of the students are not essential since they do not have much influence on the dependant variables. This way the research will still be valid and useful information for proposing hypotheses will still be obtained.
This experimental design will involve three classes of 9th grade students and their teachers within one school. Two project-based learning classes will form an experimental group and one will be a control group, which means it will be a traditional classroom setting. Overall, the students are racially homogeneous; most of them are white Native Americans. Most of them belong to the lower to moderate socioeconomic status range.
The dependent variables in this research will be assessment scores. In order to measure it Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, also known as ITBS testing will be used. This test is written in levels, each one of which is designed to measure specific skills like Vocabulary, Word Analysis, Reading Comprehension, Listening, Math Problem Solving and Data Interpretation, Social Studies, Science, Sources of Information etc. For the 9th grade students Iowa Assessments Test of 15th level, which includes Reading, Written Expression, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies and Vocabulary Computation tests, will be used.
Before the beginning of the research, permission from the University will be obtained. Although no risk will be involved, parents of the participants will be informed about the study and asked for permission.
Project-based Learning quantitative experimental design will measure students’ assessment scores over a 3 year time period. At first students which have scored approximately similar results I ITBS tests will be randomly appointed to experimental and control group.
The experimental group will attend project-based learning Literature classes. The atmosphere in these classes should remain free-flowing, where creativity and imagination is stimulated and collaboration encouraged. During theses interactions, students will take multiple roles according to their level of skills and knowledge in order to help each other. With no direct instructions from the teacher students will be empowered enough to create their own learning environment.
The main course project will feature real-world context and quality standards and will be organized around an open-ended driving question, which will require critical thinking, problem solving and give opportunity to create something new. It will be necessary to get involved in various forms of communication and be a part of a learning process. Both public presentations and individual work will be included, so the need to acquire essential skills and knowledge, as well as need of self-reflection will be created. The main idea will be not to focus on how students comprehend literature, but to examine how they demonstrate it and encourage their personal interest to the subject.
Theresa Rogers’ has pointed out the importance of over-reading, which refers to the situations when student’s interpretations interject with the information outside the given content and include references to a number of other texts. For example, the reader, who can focus on few points like characters reactions, comparison and their personal attitudes simultaneously, will produce a much less limited interpretation than the reader, which can focus on the story structure only. (Rogers,1991, p.393) Basically, any literature product is a constructed artifact and can be used efficiently in project-based learning.
The traditional setting classroom will follow the standard literature curriculum. Every student from the project-based learning class will have to choose a literature work outside the class, which should help him/her to grasp the central problem of the course each term. During the final exam students will have to answer the course question, talk about the real-life problem and apply the information from the independent reading assignment. This also means, that each student will carry personal responsibility for choosing the subject matter of the exam.
The research will focus its analysis on non-participant classroom observations, interviews with students and teachers, final term exam results and ITBS testing results at the end of each term. The longitudinal study will last for three years and results of the tests will be measured at the end of each term. Since it is possible that each time the results will be affected by the previous testing, the control group will be formed. Students from the control group will not be acquainted with project-based learning, which is why their results for ITBS tests are expected to be different.
No data have been collected. However, the researcher presupposes that students from the project-based learning will score better results for the final exam, as well as show better results for the ITBS testing. Furthermore, the diversity in test results between the classrooms with different teaching methods will increase within each term.
No data have been collected.
No data have been collected; however, the existing research conducted by Boaler has shown that students from project-based learning classrooms score significantly higher than students from traditional setting classrooms. Unlike Mathematics class, which is a well-structured and believed to provide concrete substantial instructions, Literature class gives more opportunities to develop creativity, imagination and come up with non-standard ideas. That is why it is less likely that students will feel lost without direct guidance and teacher’s advice.
Anyon, J. (1980). Social class and the hidden curriculum of work. Journal of Education, 162, (1), 67-92.
Blumenfeld, P., Soloway, E., Marx, R., Krajcik, J., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist, 26(3,4), 396-398.
Boaler, J. (2002). Learning from teaching: Exploring the relationship between reform curriculum and equity. Journal for Research on Mathmatics Education, 33(4), 239-258.
Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1992). The Jasper Series as an example of anchored instruction: Theory, program description, and assessment data. Educational Psychologist, 27(3), 291–315.
Krajcik JS, Blumenfeld P (2006) Project-based learning. In: Keith Sawyer R (ed) The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 317– 334
Larmer J., Mergendoller J., Boss S., (2015) Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements. Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning: A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction. Retrived from http://bie.org/blog/gold_standard_pbl_essential_project_design_elements
Marx, R. W., Blumenfeld, P. C., Krajcik, J. S., & Soloway, E. (1997). Enacting project- based science: Challenges for practice and policy. Elementary School Journal, 97(4) 341–358.
Rogers , T. (1991). Students as literary critics: the interpretive experiences, beliefs, and processes of ninth-grade students. Journal of Reading Behavior. 23 (4), 391-423.
Thomas, J. W. (2000). A review of research on project-based learning. Report prepared for The Autodesk Foundation.
"Iowa Assessments". University of Iowa. College of Education. Retrieved from http://itp.education.uiowa.edu/ia/default.aspx