Project Based Learning in a English Learners’ Classroom

Today’s Contributor: Dr. Shary Shimray, is a Stem Department Chair, CLI Ambassador and Campus Innovation Connector at International High School.

Currently, I am teaching Algebra 2, CTE, Computer Science. I would like to share some of the highlights of Project Based Learning (PBL) that I have implemented from what I have learned through PBL Leadership Pathway.

During the implementation of Leadership Pathway PBL MC 1, students in Computer Science (CS) learn how to use HTML and CSS to create websites. As they learn more about HTML & CSS, students become more creative and adventurous. Even though my students are all English Language Learners (ELLs), they are able to apply what they have learned to create something that is meaningful to them. For example, some students created a flyer for an adopt a pet event (images below). Since they love pets, they became more creative and brave in expressing their ideas.

As students work through PBL, develop their voice and choices, they start turning their focus on others rather than themselves. When I asked them to find some issues of their concern, they started looking for issues that have been troubling them. Before this project, students thought they did not have the power to change these issues due to their limited English language skills. One group wanted to address the issue of cyberbullying and helping their peers to know how to deal with cyberbullying. Another group voiced the need to modify the school lunch menu by providing healthy food, such as vegetarian options.

The second semester, through the reading of “Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain,” I have intentionally asked students to share about their culture background since I have 100% of English language learners. According to the author, most ELLs are dependent learners. Dependent learners cannot become independent learners by sheer willpower. It is not just a matter of grit or mindset. We have to help dependent students develop new cognitive skills and habits of mind that will actually increase their brain power.

Students with increased brainpower can accelerate their own learning, meaning they know how to learn new content and improve their weak skills on their own. A systematic approach to culturally-responsive teaching is the perfect catalyst to stimulate the brain’s neuroplasticity so that it grows new brain cells that help students think in more sophisticated ways. As students share about their birth place and their culture, they become more connected to each other and more accepting of their cultural differences. Working in groups became a blessing as they utilized their rich cultural background.

As students worked on another PBL project, they developed a habit of ongoing self-reflection and giving feedback to their classmates. It was hard in the first semester to ask students to do revision of their work, but it became easier as they developed a habit of ongoing reflection on their works.

Students enjoyed sharing their projects with their peers and giving each other feedback (see image below).

Seeing students grow from dependent learners to independent learners through PBL and Cultrally Responsive Teaching is like helping students become self-directed learners or lifelong learners.

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