By Arianna Chaves Durán - Student of the Master’s degree in Teaching English with a Mention in Direction and Evaluation of English Programs
After years of working as an English coach for multinational corporations, I have evidenced how candidates with outstanding résumés and experience do not get a job offer simply because they cannot communicate in English fluently. In a study conducted by the OECD (2020), it is noticed how the Costa Rican education system is failing to equip learners with the skills the labor market needs. Among the factors that greatly contribute to the problem of English proficiency and employment are the lack of candidate’s communicative and argumentative skills, content and language being taught in isolation, and scarce opportunities to practice English in real contexts. English learning in Costa Rica is urged to implement innovative teaching methodologies. By using the Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach in the EFL classroom, learners will benefit by practicing the language skills in an integrated way, engaging in authentic activities, and becoming more autonomous language learners.
Undoubtedly, preparing students to be competent in the four language skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) in work-related tasks is fundamental. According to Alan and Stoller (2005), PBL offers opportunities for students to work collaboratively by planning the project phases, gathering the research information through reading articles and listening to videos, using oral skills while analyzing the information, and presenting their final product through oral presentations, written reports or persuasive debates. Using the four language skills in an integrated way allows learners to practice English in a practical manner by conducting a series of activities where they need to communicate, negotiate, debate, and collaborate towards the same goal. These are all skills required to be competitive in the labor market.
Besides the advantages of using PBL to integrate the teaching of the four language skills, this approach also engages learners in authentic activities that will simulate the type of tasks they will encounter in the workplace. Through PBL, students are engaged in purposeful communication where they need to negotiate for meaning with their peers, teachers, and even outside participants in a relatively natural context, and participate in meaningful activities where they require using both the content knowledge and the language skills (Dewi, 2016). The use of authentic materials not only allows merging content and language, but it has also been demonstrated that they enhance student’s motivation towards language learning and stimulate creativity and critical thinking.
Although implementing PBL may provide several advantages for EFL learners, researchers have argued that this methodology may be intimidating for some experienced teachers and even worse for beginners (Sumarni, 2015). PBL is characterized by being a student-centered approach making it difficult for teachers to control the production of language forms/functions in a sequential fashion. Even though I agree that embracing this methodology requires lots of planning, flexibility, and teacher training, the benefits outweigh the deficiencies. In the 21st century, teachers play a fundamental role by becoming facilitators who create a learning environment encouraging the pupils to work independently so they can construct knowledge on their own (Devkota et al., 2017). Undoubtedly, this approach enables students to become more autonomous by assessing a problem and discovering by themselves how to solve it while using the language skills acquired inside the classroom and outside of it. Through PBL, students learn the target language by using it and become more independent.
To conclude, the Costa Rican education system must implement teaching methodologies such as Project-Based learning since early grades. This teaching approach has a considerable impact on communicative skills such as speaking and writing, and integrates the teaching and learning of reading and listening when developing the different stages of the project. Moreover, through PBL, learners are exposed to authentic materials and content that is used in real-life situations. It has been proven that motivation increases and anxiety levels lower when using the target language to accomplish a common project goal. Learners also become more autonomous and responsible for their own learning inside and outside the classroom setting. Finally, it can be concluded that PBL and EFL are a good combination due to the many benefits it offers for second language learners, plus the fact that indirectly students are acquiring invaluable skills such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity that will ease their access to the labor market further on.
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Alan, B., & Stoller, F. (2005). Maximizing the Benefits of Project Work in the Foreign Language Classrooms. English Teaching Forum, 43(4), 10-21. https://americanenglish.state.gov/files/ae/resource_files/05-43-4-c.pdf
Devkota, S. P., Giri, D. R., & Bagale, S. (2017). Developing 21st Century Skills through Project-Based Learning in EFL Context: Challenges and Opportunities. The Online Journal of New Horizons in Education, 7(1), 47-52. https://www.tojned.net/journals/tojned/articles/v07i01/v07i01-07.pdf
Dewi, H. (2016). Project-Based Learning Techniques to Improve Speaking Skills. English Education Journal (EEJ), 7(3), 341-359. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/291614094.pdf
OECD. (2020, July). OECD Economic Surveys: Costa Rica 2020. https://www.comex.go.cr/media/8137/oecd-economic-survey-costa-rica-2020.pdf
Sumarni, W. (2015). The Strengths and Weaknesses of the Implementation of Project-Based Learning: A Review. International Journal of Science and Research (IJSR), 4(3), 478-484. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/4350/2f32f6b94fb074cc37c093a7b5db2a4f3c14.pdf