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Project-based instruction in a Canadian secondary school's ESL classes : goals and evaluations Beckett, Gulbahar Huxur

Abstract

Research on project-based instruction is common in mainstream education. It conceives the activity broadly, but omits language. It is rare in English as a Second Language (ESL) education, and Second Language Acquisition (SLA) theory conceives it narrowly, omitting a functional view of language. The present study examines the implementation of project-based instruction in ESL classes in a Canadian secondary school through interviews with Canadian ESL teachers and Chinese ESL students, observations of two projects in action, and examination of students' written work, and school, school board and Ministry of Education documents. Results indicate that the teachers held and implemented a broad, integrated conception of project-based instruction that includes a functional view of language. They have many more goals than those stressed for project-based instruction in the SLA literature, and have goals that are not included even in the mainstream literature. The teachers evaluated project-based instruction positively, and the researcher's observations support the teachers' evaluations. However, despite teacher's and students' successes, a number of students evaluated project-based instruction negatively. This discrepancy is discussed using three explanatory models (philosophical, cultural, and linguistic) that the participants may have been using when interpreting project-based instruction. The study points to the need to develop a rationale which adequately addresses project-based instruction as a functional language learning activity in the context of academic subject matter learning. It identifies problems of cross-cultural interpretation of and communication about projects, and notes difficulties of resolving them. It points out the necessity for an examination of the processes of project-based instruction, noting places of difficulty and success, and considering promising strategies.

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