Reimagining Pedagogy: How Project-Based Learning Makes Learning Fun and Engaging
Back in April 2023, during a school visit in the district of West Godavari, Andhra Pradesh, I was asked a peculiar question by a student of grade 6 while a few curious minds and I were having an interesting "let's-get-to-know-each-other" conversation over lunch. She asked me in somewhat broken but comprehensible English, “Ma’am, what was your favorite subject when you were my age?” My instant reaction was, “How am I supposed to remember that? But let me think.” After a few seconds, I answered, and we moved on to the next set of questions they had in store for me.
Later that evening, I pondered the reason for my answer, which became the theme of my thoughts through the long journey back from school and this blog. The reason for choosing that subject wasn’t the subject content, as I could barely remember what it encompassed then. It wasn’t my inherent love for the subject or even the easy-to-get-marks nature of the subject. It was (by a landslide) the subject teacher, her style of teaching, and the environment she created for us to learn. I realized that one thing that greatly and directly impacted my classroom learning experiences was the teaching methods the teacher chose to adopt. It struck me with great clarity that I received an enriching learning experience in her classroom. Were all our students from the 105 schools receiving the same?
The Baseline Study
In June 2022, when we began our work with the 105 residential institutions of the Backward Classes Ministry, a baseline to gauge student learning levels in Math and English was conducted, which highlighted that more than 50 % of students in grade 5 lacked basic arithmetic and literacy skills, making it extremely arduous for them to grasp grade-level content, and increasingly strenuous for teachers to bridge this foundational gap in the students’ learning levels. To address this challenge, efforts were concentrated to equip the grade 5 English and Math teachers with Foundational Literacy and Numeracy knowledge.
With the intervention ending for the year in April 2023, significant success was achieved, with the endline proving that 20% of the grade 5 students had reached grade-level learning outcomes. However, through Learning circles, capacity-building sessions, and my visits to schools (about 25 out of 105 schools by then), which enabled interactions with School leaders, teachers, students, and many a classroom observation led me to arrive at 3 of these following points, that stubbornly embedded themselves in my mind-
1. Students from higher grades struggled with grade-level English and Math due to weak foundations. Teachers wanted to work on the FLN gaps of these students, too but weren’t getting the time, space, resources, or support to do it.
2. Students have immense potential. With a few 21st-century skills like taking ownership, thinking critically, effectively communicating, and collaborating, students can become drivers of their learning, bringing about transformative learning outcomes in their classrooms
3. A pedagogical shift from a directed style to a more facilitated teaching style was required to shift from teacher-centered learning to student-centered learning to achieve point 2.
“We need to do something about these,” I told my team while we brainstormed our strategy and plan for the coming academic year. To our luck, one solution that presented itself before us was Project Learning for grade 6 and 7 students- which would aim to build students' Foundational Literacy and Numeracy skills and encourage a teaching style that enables 21st-century skills to be developed in students.
The Turning Point
Delighted to collaborate with Education Above All, a Qatar-based organization, and leverage their Internet Free Education Resource Bank (IFERB) to create engaging projects for our students, I was curious to understand what these projects would look like and how they would play out in our classrooms. As I skimmed through the IFERB projects and did my secondary research on Project-Based Learning (PBL), I found the elements of PBL extremely interesting, especially the “Sustained inquiry,” “Student Voice and Choice,” and “Reflection.” These would bring drastic changes in classroom dynamics, with students sitting in groups and discussing, encouraging collaboration and communication, teachers asking guiding and leading questions, enabling critical thinking and reflection, and providing spaces for feedback and iterating, aiding a growth mindset and creativity to innovate.
The Road Ahead
While I worked on the proposal for implementing Project-Based Learning in 105 residential schools, to be approved and signed by our department Secretary, I couldn’t but foresee the countless implementation challenges that would come our way in less than a few days. But for a few moments prior, I chose to delve into the optimistic hope and vision of breaking from the idea of one way of teaching and initiating constructive dialogue on different methods of teaching-learning, keeping students at the center, towards a Society where slowly and steadily, all students receive an enriching learning experience.
The hope is that when I ask the same question to students that were asked me during my next school visit, I will receive answers whose reasons are similar to the one I had. :)
Written By: Mekhela Uchil, Program Lead - Andhra Pradesh, Mantra4Change