Power to Your Project
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Project Work (PW) is part and parcel of the junior college and pre-university curriculum, but often it marks the very first time many students encounter a formal subject in which they have to collaborate with their peers on a research project. Thus, PW may seem daunting to some at first.
However, my experience at Yishun Junior College has proven that it doesn’t have to be. With proper preparation and the right mindset, PW is in fact a great avenue to develop the personal values that will serve students well in the task of conducting thorough research and managing conflicts or differences in opinion with their peers.
Beginning with the JC1 students I taught in 2006, I introduced a three-lesson package at the start of the PW curriculum during the 2nd and 3rd weeks of Term 2. These lessons were planned to set clear expectations of how students should approach PW. They were also an invaluable opportunity to inculcate values in my students, since PW requires them to exhibit qualities such as loyalty, perseverance, responsibility and commitment.
During the first lesson, I started by asking my students to think about the qualities that make a good leader, such as competence, humility and commitment. The discussions were supplemented with thought-provoking quotations from personalities like Helen Keller and T.S. Eliot. Through the quotations and discussions, I conveyed my expectation that students should be responsible for their project and they should not run away from the problems they encountered in PW.
I also candidly reiterated the trust that I placed in the students to take PW seriously, and that I too was invested in the outcome. This no-holds-barred revelation on my part was substantiated with research evidence from Andy Hargreaves’ studies of teacher attitudes, so that I could also teach my students about the necessity of backing up one’s claims with primary and/or secondary data.
For the second lesson, the class was moved to the college grandstand so that they could have their discussions in a less structured environment and critique each other’s PW Preliminary Ideas more openly. As a means of scaffolding, I used one student’s Preliminary Idea to model how a discussion ought to be facilitated. Although the students were initially unsure about how they should get the discussion started, by the end of the lesson, they would have at least observed and experienced one round of constructive exchange and would be better prepared to do the same in future PW lessons.
For the third lesson, “Celebrating Diversity”, I used authentic examples from the second lesson to explain why it was important not to take criticisms of one’s ideas personally and to evaluate diverse opinions objectively. In closing the lesson, and the three-lesson package as a whole, I stressed that that they should focus on building synergy in each PW group, so that their ideas would represent the best collaborative efforts at creativity and critical thinking.
By infusing character development into PW, students have become more willing to cater to their teammates’ needs and put aside petty differences to work towards their collective goal of completing a good project and securing good grades. The lessons have also helped to improve their attitude and mindset. Now, they invest a lot of effort in PW, not because they feel obliged to, but because they want to.
Mr Heng Kai Le
Yishun Junior College