The challenges of project work

IMG_20170626_114755For a couple of years now, I’ve been involved in a 4-cycle environment-related project called The Danube in a Suitcase. Each September, issues such as alternative sources of energy or sustainability are discussed. As implied, there are four cycles, each of which is devoted to a different environmental topic. My take on this is a 30-minute workshop held in English. Considering it’s a very short time for a ‘lesson’, it may look like a piece of cake. However, as there are seven mixed-age teams of about 18 pupils, I ‘teach’ the same thing seven times in one day. I deliberately put teach and lesson in inverted commas as it’s not really teaching or lessons what we’re talking about here. I do this project with 6 other colleagues – subject teachers – who look at the same topic from a different perspective (unlike me, they do so in Czech). The different perspectives interweave and eventually create a bigger picture, so to speak.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a similar situation, i.e. teaching the same thing several times on the very same day, but it’s something that scares me a bit each year before the workshop starts. The other thing that worries me, especially during the prep stage, is the little time allotted to each workshop. Also, there are only 5-minute breaks between the workshops plus one longer break after the second team finishes, which means it’s all really quick and pretty intense. Needless to say, it requires perfect organization, which, luckily, my colleague – a biology/chemistry teacher – always takes good care of.

When preparing the workshop, I try to keep several things in mind. First of all,  I don’t want to lose my voice (and mind). Despite the fact that each team is different and brings in a different type of energy, it may feel like working on a manufacturing assembly line. Thus I design the activities so that it’s the students who do most of the work, especially the talking. I should add that I have three assistants at my disposal – older students who went through all the 4 cycles of the project in the past and now they are in charge of the organization. This is great because they know what it’s all about so they can be very helpful and they can finally see the whole thing from the other side of the barricade. This, I believe is rewarding as well as educational for them.

Secondly, I must plan the activities so that there is enough to do but not too much within the 30 minutes’ time. This is not easy because I normally have a tendency to overdo things when planning my usual lessons. However, this year, things panned out just fine; we had a nice warm-up and the main activity, plus we had plenty of time for the final feedback and evaluation, which was really valuable and felt very satisfying. I think I’m getting better at lesson planning after all!

Thirdly, since each student within one team has a different level of L2 proficiency and a different amount of knowledge, the content of the workshop has to be challenging and motivating enough for the oldest students but at the same time, it needs to be comprehensible enough for the youngest ones.

One of the great things about this project is that it’s mainly about teamwork and we stress it right from the beginning that teamwork is our priority. As mentioned above, a group of 18 students made up from 4 different classes has to work towards a common goal. They are highly motivated to cooperate as the best three teams get a prize. One of the challenges is that the older students should help the younger ones but at the same, they need to give them enough space. In other words, even though an older student knows all the answers, he or she should wait and let the others do their job or at least formulate their thoughts in their mind. This is not easy for some of the competitive ones.

I love this project despite all the challenges I have to face. It means more work for me as a teacher but in the end, it’s really rewarding.

About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for almost 25 years and I still love my job. You can find out more about my passion here on my blog.
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5 Responses to The challenges of project work

  1. Kamila says:

    Hi Hana, this is fascinating. I can’t even imagine planning for a lesson as short as 30 mins. I also get easily bored with the same materials, so I inderstand this is a challenge. Sounds like a great project. Good luck with it! K.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ven_vve says:

    Hi there, it would be really interesting to hear about an example of an activity you guys do in this workshop. The main activity, say. Also, what happens if the lesson does overrun (or has that never happened)?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hana Tichá says:

      Hi, Vedrana. First of all, the activity mustn’t overrun and that’s that. The schedule is obligatory and you must stick to it at all costs. If not, you would deprive yourself and the team of the few minutes of break and the timing may all go wrong for the other teachers too. My workshop was called The Sun is Our Energy. The theme of the project day was the Sun in general. As a warm-up, I had prepared a quiz (a Letter Hunt) – if the team got all the answers right, they got all the letters of the expression: SOLAR ENERGY (the letters were scrambled). This always went very well. The questions were really simple and I was worried about it but I think it was why all students liked it (they were aged 11-14). Some examples of the questions: Where does the sun rise? Which is bigger: the Sun or the Earth? How many planets are there in the Solar System? Then the students were asked to work in mixed-age pairs. This is very important – if you let two friends from the same class sit together, the lesson will not go very well (I know based on my previous experience). I gave them some questions about the Solar System. Their task was to match the answers with the questions based on what they knew from other workshops or from their regular lessons. The answers mainly contained numbers, i.e. the speed of light, the distance of the Sun from the Earth, etc. Then I played an educational video in English (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzkJkEKV8Yk&ab_channel=HappyLearningEnglish). They checked the answers as they listened. Then I played the video again, but this time the students could only hear the sound (not to be disrupted by the visual). Their task was to do a gap-fill exercise I had prepared at home. They worked in pairs again. Then I showed them the key. Finally, my assistants gave them some feedback and they assessed their performance and their team work. This all lasted for exactly 30 minutes! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. ven_vve says:

    Thanks for the detailed response! Sounds like a great (and very well-timed 🙂 ) workshop.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hana Tichá says:

    This is a comment by Zhenya, who, for some reason couldn’t post it herself.
    “Hi Hana
    The project looks very exciting! I understand your challenge (in this context, the hard part for me would have been the variety of level within each group, and what tasks I need to choose for each student to be engaged) I took part in collaborative ‘station-format’ lessons where several sessions in a school are run concurrently and students move from room to room and stay there for 20-30 minutes, then rotate (but we teachers stay and repeat the lesson) I don’t think there is a ‘boredom’ element as the new people in the room make the whole ‘lesson’ feel new. In my experience you get very fluent/comfortable with the material after ‘running’ it for 2-3 times and can experiment a lot with the extra tasks you have (true for me, as I also tend to over-plan!)
    Looking forward to reading how it goes!
    Zhenya”

    Liked by 1 person

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