By: Students Group (Matrix)
Subject: Projectbased learning (PBL)
Project-s: Zwak News – 2014

Last Year, on 2014 NewsPaper project by Matrix Group of Kardan University Students.


Projectbased learning (PBL) recently has been favored by teachers using various adaptations throughout the world. The purpose of this article is to share
the experience of developing language skills via a project called “Faculty Voice.” In this project, secondyear students of English, worked in groups as  news editors to produce news; the traditional classroom environment no longeexisted. The teachers gave feedback and help when students faced problems   with language and technology. All activities related to the learning process  were required to cover all four macroskills. Proper criteria and rubrics were
also set up for assessment. At the end of the term, changes were found not only  language competence and attitude, but also in some important soft skills.
The Need to Change Through the fast development of technology, the mass media has seen great progress in their effort to satisfy a large number of customers. From a linguistic and pedagogical view, the mass  media have made a great contribution to both learning materials and learning methods. In
addition to using news texts adjusted for student reading materials and listening extracts, the process of students “making news” by writing, producing, and presenting their own news broadcasts has been used as a technique for them to practice and acquire a foreign language. In the movement toward innovation in language teaching at the Foreign Languages Faculty at Thainguyen University in Vietnam, making news was undertaken as a projectbased learning
(PBL) technique for secondyear English majors with the main aim of enhancing English  competence among students and experimenting with a new way of learning and teaching.
Formerly, teachers were encouraged to design their lessons in such a way that there needed to be a more communicative context for learners themselves to produce the language item after it was presented and controlpracticed. This P-P-P (Present, Practice, and Produce) approach
was seen as the core of communicative methodology and proved to be more effective than previous approaches. However, teaching and learning is always demanding work, and the P-P-P approach sometimes seemed inadequate. More tasks and activities needed to be  integrated into the approach to create more student interaction and meaningful communication. In this age of internationalization, learners are in a more accessible world of earning, not limited to a fortyfiveminute class with teachers as the only source of knowledge.  The question for teachers is how to create an authentic task for students to learn.
Language Education in Asia, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2012
integrate students’ exposure to the language into the syllabus. Among sources of access to
language after school, news programs or channels in the target language appear to be
common. The application of PBL is not new at the faculty (Diem, 2009), but making news as a
language task had not yet been done before at the university.
Features of PBL
According to Esch (1998), PBL starts with an idea of the final result. Students must investigate
the topic, plan how to achieve the desired result, and manage problems that may arise, as they
would in a realworld setting. While undertaking the project, students gain a specific set of
content knowledge and skills. Thomas (2000), citing Bereiter & Scardamalia (1999), claimed
that to be a PBL project, “the central activities of the project must involve the transformation
and construction of knowledge. . .” and added that “if the central activities. . . represent no
difficulty to the student or can be carried out with the application of alreadylearned
information or skills, the project is an exercise, not a PBL project” (p. 4).
Authentic integration of skills is also widely seen as a reason for PBL to be utilized. Learning in
a reallife context, learners not only have authentic language input to develop their language
competency, but also have opportunities to use other skills, such as those for IT, teamwork,
critical thinking, and professional knowledge. The realworld connection gives students a
“break from routine” (Gallacher, 2004, para. 2), as they can do something different beyond the
classroom environment. This permits authentic assessment, involving the teacher and students,
as well as real audiences to thoroughly assess students’ end product. Another feature of PBL is
that it “accommodates and promotes collaboration among students, between students and the
teacher, and ideally between students and other community members as well” (“Project Based
Learning,” n.d., para. 6). Students learn to work in small groups that are more cooperative than
competitive. Interpersonal relations are developed and gradually form the way students will
work with others later in life. Finally, PBL enables students develop learning skills that will be
useful beyond school.
The NewsMaking Project
After considering the abovementioned underpinnings and highlights, PBL was seen as a
potential and practical approach and was chosen to be one of the major experiments for
curriculum innovation.
The 35 intermediatelevel participants were secondyear fulltime students at Thainguyen
University. They were sampled by their own wish. These 35 students made up one class for
this news project. The class met once a week for 3 periods (45 minutes per period) during the
Teaching Practice
15week term. At the beginning of the school year, all available projects were briefly
described to all students, and they decided which project they wanted to do.
The objectives of the project were to:
Help students practice language skills via the activity of broadcasting radio news.
Extend students’ vocabulary and general understanding on various aspects of everyday life
such as education, sports, culture, and the economy.
Develop other skills such as computer skills, organizing, information processing, critical
thinking, and teamwork.
Create a reallife context for learning, and hence enhance students’ confidence, autonomy,
and responsibility.
There was no textbook. Students were free to choose what they wanted to work on. In the first
week, students were provided with the objectives and requirements of the project. They also
grouped themselves on their own and appointed a group leader. In addition to choosing a title
for their “broadcasting station,” they were also required to sketch a plan for the whole term.
To help them fulfill this task, a handout was delivered as a guideline, as shown in Figure 1.
Activities (Try to make use of real events and unpublished information to create the
news. Don’t translate or edit published information for every news item.)
         Figure 1. Project framework
This was the most important step in doing this project. As shown in Figure 1, students, working
in groups, were responsible for selecting news to broadcast. They had to report real events or
unpublished information. This framework was seen as the reference for students to follow
throughout the term and for the instructor to use in supervising or checking the products.
Language Education in Asia, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2012
Diem Page 99
After the framework (or schedule, as it is titled in the handout) was approved by the instructor,
students started working as correspondents, hunting for news, editing, and producing
broadcasts. All the proposed activities to make news items and broadcasts had to meet the
requirements agreed upon at the beginning of the course as follows:
Project Requirements
! News reports are produced every three weeks (in 57 minutes) reporting events of the class /
faculty / college, book reviews, film reviews, TV program reviews, tips for learning, sports,
countries, tourism, health, etc. Students are free to choose the content of the news providing
that it’s impressive, truthful or worthwhile.
! News reports are recorded and submitted to the instructors.
! Recorded news is played to other students in the form of Faculty Voice during the breaks.
! Opinion polls or surveys can be done to get feedback / comments from the listeners (about
the content of the news and their friends’ speaking skills).
! All members are required to read the news of the week. The name of the newsreader and
reporter(s) should be mentioned.
! The news should follow the schedule as planned in the schedule of a week. Exceptions are
allowed for news to report seasonal holidays or local events happening around the year.
! It should be noted that activities related to producing news must cover all four basic skills.
Listening to English TV channels and English radio programs is a MUST.
! It should be borne in mind that the target audience of the radio news is students of the
Figure 2. Project requirements
Among the requirements mentioned above was a new idea proposed by the author. The
project created a program that was called “Faculty Voice.” Every three weeks, the complete
products of all groups were broadcasted to all other students of the Faculty during break time.
Project Assessments
The products of the project were broadcasts produced throughout the term. Assessment rubrics
were designed and introduced to all groups in the first week. The assessment criteria for the
broadcast included a logical and cohesive schedule, delivery techniques such as sound effects
and newsreader changing, pronunciation, and fluency.
Before broadcast, draft versions were submitted to the instructors, and students used the rubrics
to selfassess their work. The broadcast rubrics were also employed when students peer
assessed their friends’ news, the audience gave feedback on “Faculty Voice,” and the instructor
gave final marks. Apart from broadcast assessment, other rubrics were used to assess students’
portfolios (written news items to evaluate students’ use of language and attitude).
Teaching Approach Instructorsʼ Roles
There were two instructors for this course. In this project, teachers and students no longer
worked together in 45minute lessons with textbooks. Teachers acted as instructors, giving
guidance in choosing events to report, activities, and broadcast themes. More importantly,
teachers prepared lessons to familiarize students with news language and structures. One
structure, creating headlines, was a difficult task (headlines should be impressive and follow
specialized grammatical and lexical rules). Additionally, the language features of sports news
were very different from those of weather or entertainment news. Therefore, it was necessary
to provide students with basic background knowledge to produce news.
Language Education in Asia, Volume 3, Issue 1, 2012
Instructors were also responsible for providing technical support. Producing a broadcast
involved certain IT techniques such as editing audio files or cutting transfer music. This was
not an easy task, as students worked in groups and individuals took turns reading the news
items. Next, news items were edited and combined to make a complete broadcast. Not
surprisingly, it took students much time to deal with technical problems. The instructors had to
provide appropriate software and instructions to use the required software. It must be
mentioned as well that in Vietnam, not all students could afford audio / video recorders,
laptops, or even desktops; in addition, some students had limited computer skills. Therefore,
before doing this project, students were required to take a compulsory course included in the
curriculum, such as IT Applications in Language Learning and Teaching. The instructors were
also ready to work in the computer laboratory if students needed computers for their projects.
Another important responsibility of the instructors was to give feedback and correction.
Instructors and students met every week to edit news drafts, with teachers giving advice on
news language, genre, news structure, and the right choice of words or expressions, along with
correcting pronunciation and intonation. Using the appropriate emotions necessary for reading
news was also a focus of attention and practiced by students.
The last function of the instructors was supervising. The instructors followed the news
producing schedules proposed by “stations,” checked regularly whether students were
following the schedule or not, and reminded them of deadlines. The date for editing and
publishing news was fixed, so students needed to be on time in writing news reports and
rehearsing for broadcasts. Without the instructors’ input, students might have spontaneously
changed direction every time they became aware of new ideas for news stories and would
likely have fallen behind schedule. It was stated, however, at the beginning of the term, that
students could change the order or content of newscasts to match the seasons or local events;
however, they had to inform their instructor in advance to see if it was advisable to make the
Subject Evaluation
At the end of the term, a subject evaluation form (see appendix) was administered to obtain
students’ feedback of all subjects in the term, including “Faculty Voice.” Additionally, the
grades of all endofterm tests were studied to examine students’ progress.
Results and Discussion
With regard to project implementation, particularly this news project, the following results
were found.
Firstly, the idea of “Faculty Voice” was much appreciated by the students and seen as a
stimulus for them to complete the project. More than 90% of the students highly appreciated
it. They eagerly waited to listen to their voices from the loudspeaker during break time. When
students were asked to give comments on the activity, some remarks were given, as
summarized below:
Students preferred feedback and comments from their friends.
This event successfully created an enjoyable and educational atmosphere for students.
Students realized the activities were meaningful and that they were making progress.
They saw their work as a real show with a real audience.
Teaching Practice
Therefore, students taking part in this project put much care and practice into producing news.
They worked as real reporters.
Apart from the positive learning attitude, much progress was found in the language
competence and soft skills of all students. Progress was particularly seen in the high grades
they gained in the subjects of Oral Proficiency and Written Proficiency. This can be reasoned
from the following points: (a) news items were products of language activities (e.g.,
interviewing, reviewing, conducting surveys, summarizing programs on English channels,
discussing in groups, and being a newsreader) that involved the use of all four macroskills; (b)
drafts were revised by peers and the instructor; and (c) proofreading was also required before
broadcasting. Students also received feedback from listeners and hence accumulated
experience in learning with each broadcast. Additionally, some soft skills, such as negotiation,
teamwork, information processing, critical thinking, and IT were also exploited to the full and
improved. In summary, the project proved to be a good chance for students to practice the use
of the language.
Finally, from the observation of the author, attempting this new model helped to shape new
learning methods and teaching approaches. In this textbookfree classroom, students were
independent in deciding what to learn and how to learn. They worked both in groups and
individually to reach the aim of the project. Their autonomy was initially established and
enhanced. They no longer depended on the teacher as the only source of knowledge.
Teachers, in turn, changed their traditional role to support students in the project. They
worked as coordinators to moderate groups, as facilitators to provide technical support, and as
instructors, supervisors, and examiners. This kind of projectbased learning also required
teachers to be flexible in choosing a suitable role in various situations. Teachers and students
worked together, cooperated, and compromised to reach an end.
However, the author, when working as a teacher, did face some difficulties. Since students
worked independently in groups both inside and outside the classroom, it was not easy to
ensure the equal contribution of each group member. Some group members worked more and
some less. To avoid this problem, apart from the teacher monitoring the students, the role of
group leaders should be emphasized. The leaders were the ones who distributed the tasks
among their group members and reported to the teacher about the performance of their friends.
It also took the teacher much time to give technical support, and there was the possibility that
some students’ requests might go beyond the teacher’s ability to solve. Therefore, it would be
ideal if the institution could provide a laboratory with available equipment to help students
with such projects.
The project was a part of curriculum innovation at the Foreign Languages Faculty of
Thainguyen University in Vietnam, so it was an official subject in the curriculum. In other
cases, where PBL is not approved to be a separate subject, there could still be many other ways
to apply it. Teachers could integrate it into a certain class as practice in writing news, reading
news, listening and summarizing news, or reading the news aloud, for example. From all these
practicing activities, students could gather their products to make a mini broadcast. With
teachers’ creativity, PBL can be easily adapted to make language learning more effective and
In conclusion, PBL, although it was only experimentally integrated in the curriculum for a short
period of two terms, created many changes in the faculty. Students changed their learning
methods. Teachers changed their way of teaching. Everyone no longer depended on the
traditional classroom with a ringing bell, a textbook, chalk, and a board. The impact was not
only seen in those who took part in the project, but also on other students and teachers who
knew about it, enjoyed its results, and observed its progress. The atmosphere of the whole
faculty also changed when it was time for each new broadcast, and the project’s reputation
was passed by word of mouth. It is the author’s personal belief that this type of learning should
be employed and implemented in other subjects or with other products to motivate students in
acquiring a foreign language.
Author Note
Matrix, Foreign Languages Faculty, Kardan  University, Afghanistan.

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