Lecturer in English, MA
University of Tartu, Pärnu College, Estonia
High youth unemployment is the challenge facing today’s young people. Many universities feel the need to prepare students for a new reality and try to facilitate the process of acquiring entrepreneurial skills. This article sets out to emphasize the importance of using language in authentic interactive settings in order to develop communicative skills and content-based competences. The results achieved suggest that using project based learning strategies could be helpful in developing students’ skills needed in their future career, providing them with the experiences related to content and language knowledge integration.
Reconsidering teaching practices
High youth unemployment is the challenge facing today’s young and jobless. Although a college degree has been considered the best guarantee for avoiding the status of unemployed, recent college graduates are struggling to find a job. Many universities feel the need to prepare students for a new reality. Could supporting entrepreneurial spirit in the classroom be one of the solutions to the problem? And can we expect all the students of entrepreneurship to become self-starters and founders of businesses? Some of them have the spark, initiative and inborn qualities for that, but not all the students who choose the speciality. We as teachers can help them find the creativity, initiative and courage in themselves. We can support and facilitate the process of acquiring entrepreneurial skills. The valuable skills that employers seek are: communication (writing and oral), creativity, adaptability, and critical thinking.
All syllabuses have their learning goals ̶ outcomes specifying „what“ of content learning, but they do not address the „how“ of content learning – which should be considered even more important (Coyle et al 2010). The question is how to bring out the entrepreneurial qualities in our students. How to trigger the initiative and spirit of a businessman/woman in them?
At our college we have not consciously designed any courses integrating content and language learning (CLIL) yet, and our courses probably do not qualify as pure CLIL, but we have worked toward furthering integration of content and language learning in collaboration with the programme directors to generate the integrated curriculum content. We aim to design the courses to improve the students’ productive and professional communication skills. As any learner needs a very definite connection between the learning goals and usability, the language learning module of project management for the first-year students involves a one-month „project“ for launching a new product or service on the market (also including marketing and advertising modules).
Promoting cooperative learning
Learning the basics of project management by having a simulation of a project is all about promoting cooperative learning – excellent strategy to enhance student satisfaction with their learning experience and develop teamwork skills. What is critical about project-based language learning (PBL) for language teaching and learning is the way in which activities are highly interactive and integrated. While students are practising and developing language skills in the five main language learning areas: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and interaction, they are also developing interpersonal skills such as team work and organization (Dooly & Masats, 2011).
PBL enables a very natural integration of skills, we find that students are engaged in authentic tasks that require that they read to write, write to speak, listen to write, etc., which leads to meaningful language use and recycling of key vocabulary and grammar forms (Stoller, 2006).
For getting the first idea of project work and to ease collaboration of project teams, students use online Zoho projects environment which also supports improvement of their relevant IT skills. Besides staying updated on students’ progress, this environment in itself reinforces understanding of project work and acquiring content-knowledge.
Designing meaningful tasks
The majority of the project assignments may be defined as “collaborative and on-display assignments” – they are meaningful, demanding efforts and offering problem-tackling and innovative thinking. The whole course includes a lot of content-based oral presentations with peer assessment and discussion. The evident advantage is the subsequent feedback as the oral presentations in the classroom are recorded and uploaded to the e-learning environment of the course.
There are many advantages of using integrated learning and PBL. Firstly, students’ motivation and content relevance. The main achievement of the project was that the students could see they were synthesizing theoretical and practical knowledge ̶ after each introductory theoretical part and key vocabulary followed an authentic, practical task. Using specific topic-related vocabulary facilitated the development of their content-based competences. It also enabled increasing their specific language knowledge – language for project work, language of meetings and discussions, extending presentation skills, report writing skills, etc. Student-centred activities developed interpersonal and teamwork competences ̶ collaborating and working towards the goal provided new abilities to use English for effective professional communication. It also developed students’ competences of reflection – making the outcome visible enabled students assess their progress and that of peers, reflect on their work and give feedback.
Throughout the project there was peer interaction, teacher feedback and support which helped the students be more engaged and not to lose their enthusiasm. The end result was an authentic experience of project work and awareness of what integrated teaching really signifies.
Preparing students for future careers
Study evidence shows that learners have to be challenged and motivated in order to transform information, solve problems, understand and discover a new meaning. The goal of using integrated learning, cooperative learning or project based learning is not the strategy or method in itself, but the results we get. The results achieved indicate that using CLIL and PBL strategies could be helpful in developing students’ skills needed in their future career, providing them with the experiences related to content and language knowledge integration.
New approaches have challenged teachers who have to reconsider their teaching practices and design purposeful learning activities for students. As motivation is the key theme for language learning, a deeper emphasis should be laid on good task and materials design, on developing students’ metacognitive skills how to cooperate effectively in groups, solve problems, discuss, reflect, and discover new meanings.
Coyle, D., Hood, P., Marsh, D. 2010. Content and Language Integrated Learning. Oxford: Cambridge University Press.
Dooly, M., Masats,D. 2011. Closing the loop between theory and praxis: new models in EFL teaching. ELT Journal Volume 65/January, pp.42 -51.
Stoller, F. 2006. Establishing a theoretical foundation for project-based learning in second and foreign language contexts. In G. H. Beckett & P. C. Miller (Eds.), Project-based second and foreign language education: Past, present, and future (pp. 19–40). Greenwich, Connecticut: Information Age Publishing.