Incorporating Project Work in EFL Teacher Training

Natalia Orlova explains how she uses project work to foster active involvement and cooperation in language learning for the nonnative-English-speaking preservice EFL teachers in her class. See Fu-An Lin's review of Elaine K. Horwitz's Becoming a Language Teacher: A Practical Guide to Second Language Learning and Teaching, Essential Teacher, March 2008.

Project work is a term that has been cropping up in many publications on English language teaching. Unfortunately, quite a few preservice teachers do not get to experience this approach during their own learning. Writing journals as a group project during TEFL training is a method I have used to expose them to project work.

Teacher training in EFL contexts is quite challenging compared to the same process in the target language community, where preservice teachers' exposure to the language environment is not limited to the institutional setting. Project work is a good tool for creating a language and content learning continuum that requires active involvement and cooperation outside the classroom.

Characteristics of Project Work

Project work is a valuable addition to preservice teaching because it possesses the following characteristics, as described by Stoller (2002):

  • a focus on content learning, real-world subject matter, and topics of interest to learners
  • student-centeredness
  • an emphasis on cooperation, which leads to different modes of interaction adopted by students during the work
  • authentic integration of skills and processing of information from various sources
  • both a process and a product orientation, which allows teacher learners in the EFL context to develop their language proficiency while cooperating at different project stages
  • motivation and stimulation that lead to confidence, self-esteem, and autonomy

Collaborating on a Preservice Teacher–Created Magazine

In the project work I assign, learners work in groups of four or five to design an EFL magazine, which is then presented orally in class. The preservice teachers in my classes have come up with interesting titles for their publications, including University Journal for Educational Purposes (modeled after the name of our institution: University of J. E. Purkyne),Teacher to Teachers (playing on "teacher talking time"), Green Tea-chers (explaining that the journal, like green tea, would refresh the mind of those who read it), TEFLON (Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Our Nation), Teacher's Private Luxury, Freshers, and Gap-Filler.

Four academic objectives guide the project. First, it provides the prospective EFL teachers with hands-on experience in project work. Second, it encourages them to read professional TESL/TEFL publications. Third, it stimulates the preservice teachers to apply theory to practice, addressing concrete problems that they personally regard as interesting, typical, and crucial. Finally, it enhances the learners' language proficiency as they cooperate during different stages of the project.

At the beginning of the course, teacher learners (usually recent high school graduates) are reluctant to read numerous chapters from books on methodology assigned for their home reading. Articles, which explain the main idea explicitly in a limited space, are more appealing to them. As a result, I incorporate EFL periodicals into my course on a regular basis, and I use TESOL publications as a springboard to creativity. The learners read selections from TESOL Journal and Essential Teacher, and I direct them to pay attention to the dynamics of the publications' structure, content, and topics. I also have them read and summarize an article with a topic that interests them. Then they do a comparative review of two articles, published in different years, which address a similar issue.

The production of their own EFL magazine is based on a six-step model for orchestrating project work in an English for specific purposes classroom (see Stoller, 2002), with necessary adjustments made for the teacher-training context. The preservice teachers determine the target audience and then structure the project. This includes defining the problems they are going to address, assigning each other roles for the project development, and deciding on the genre of their contributions to the journal. They then begin to work on their individual contributions to the magazine by conducting interviews, writing book reviews, and creating a Letters to the Editor column. The preservice teachers then choose the layout and design of the publication. Additionally, they provide illustrations by taking pictures, creating or collecting drawings, and producing any handouts to be included in the magazine.

Finally, the preservice teachers present their finished product. They explain the title of the magazine, describe its target audience, and review its content. Classmates read each other's magazines and vote for the most interesting contribution in each one. All the magazines are then posted on the groups' Web pages.

Reflection on the Project

At the end of each project, I ask the preservice teachers to evaluate the stages they went through and the difficulties they encountered. They report that the most common difficulties include choosing the title, choosing article topics, writing articles that would be interesting for their peers, dealing with time constraints, cooperating with group members, and resisting the temptation to plagiarize. Benefits of the project include, as one learner put it, "working in a team, sharing ideas, and learning interesting things while looking for materials." Most agree that they "had fun while working in a team."

The EFL journal project has proved to be a beneficial example of cooperative group work for preservice teachers' professional development. Not only can project work provide teacher learners with hands-on experience with teamwork, it can encourage them to use group project work with their students in the future.

Reference

Stoller, F. (2002). Project work: A means to promote language and content. In J. Richards & W. Renandya (Eds.), Methodology in language teaching: An anthology of current practice(pp. 107–119). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Natalia Orlova (orlova@pf.ujep.cz) teaches TEFL courses for preservice teachers at the University of J. E. Purkyne, in Usti nad Labem, in the Czech Republic.