top of page


Updated: Sep 7, 2021

A Paradigm Shift

We all remember those tedious English classes in which the sound of the teacher's cassette fused with the background sound of the class as our mind traveled far away from there.

Luckily, or unfortunately for many others, the world is changing and we have to change with it. We must take into account the direction it is taking and focus our efforts towards preparing our students for this new future, returning the old cassette to the place to which it belongs: the English department storage room.

We have to teach looking at the future and stop teaching thinking about the past

We, as teachers, have an obligation to eliminate multi-hour master lessons in which students simply listened and took notes. We need to lift our students from their tables and put the focus of learning on them, let them learn through experience and content creation.

They must be responsible for their learning, let them go down that path with the teacher as a guide, but never again with the teacher as the center of content.

When we abandon the master lesson and books as a concept of learning we find many proposals that try to mark the change from a more traditional model to alternative pedagogies based on the needs of the S.XXI. One of these pedagogies, and on which this series of blogs is based is the "Project-Based Learning" (PBL).

In this approach students will work in groups developing 21st century skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, communication, decision-making or self-regulation. They also develop so-called "soft-skills" (they have nothing of soft) by learning to respect the ideas of others and developing empathy.

In this way, the PBL prepares students for the market and the work environment in which they will have to perform as adults. Companies that are being born in the 21st century (startups) base their working model on the skills that will be developed in this approach.

Focusing on language skills, the projects we will explain later will help improve all the language skills of a second language: Understanding and oral production and, understanding and written production. In this way, old approaches that focused on a single skill will be abandoned, giving the teaching of a second language a more global and inclusive vision.

Project-based learning

Project-based learning is an approach that seeks the development of the student leading him to a real-life situation. An empirical learning through doing and based on the student taking responsibilities: The student owns his learning. The teacher fulfills only a guiding role.

Perez (2010) lists some of the benefits of applying PBL in a class:

“(a) PBL is a learning strategy that enables the achievement of meaningful learnings, because they arise from activities relevant to students, and often contemplate objectives and content that go beyond curriculars. (b) Allows the integration of subjects (cross curricular learning), reinforcing the overall vision of human knowledge. (c) It allows to organize activities around a common purpose, defined by the interests of the students and with the commitment acquired by them. (d) Encourages creativity, individual responsibility, collaborative work, and critical thinking, among others"”

Project learning completely breaks with the ancient system of memorizing and reciting looking for students to believe and experiment with their own learning in a meaningful environment in which they give importance to what they have learned.

"Project-based learning is an educational approach that aims to bridge the shortcomings of a mechanical and rote learning model, and it is a great tool for working with groups of students who have different learning styles and skills” (Rebollo Aranda, S .2010)

Also, a strong point of PBL is its cross curricular application. When carrying out a project, we are developing different skills of students and at the same time, they are learning content from different areas of knowledge using language as a vehicle for this..

How is our approach for PBL? What is it based on?

When applying an ABP approach in a foreign language class we will rely on the following approaches and theoretical framework:

  • The communicative approach

  • The task-based learning

  • Student-centered learning

  • Significant learning

  • Collective scaffolding theory

  • 21st century skills

  • The ACTFL scale

The communicative approach

The communicative approach was born with Chomsky's criticism in his publications "Syntactic Structures" (1957) and "Aspect of the theory of syntax" (1965) which Hymes would reflect later (1967 and 1972) as communicative competition.

This competence refers to the ability to communicate by going beyond the concept of linguistic competence based on formal aspects. Communicative competence refers to more aspects than just form.

The pedagogical approach to this communicative competence leads to the communicative approach. This approach refers to meaningful activities prioritizing the message over form. Prioritizing the “what” above the “how”.

The project-based learning that we propose in this series of blogs has as its essential characteristic the development of these projects in a collaborative way. In this way, what we seek is the social interaction between learners, with this we seek to multiply the number of interactions in Spanish that occur in the classroom.

The PBL approach to the development of a foreign language that we expose is based on the communicative approach and the scale that will be used to measure their progress is the ACTFL scale. All these elements of the pedagogical framework surrounding this proposal are based on the student's ability to communicate (proficiency) and not on the grammatical precision of these communications.

The essence of this learning is the student's ability to convey the message he wants to the recipient. Essence based on Hymes's communicative approach (1967 and 1972).

On this basis, during the implementation of the projects students will have a lot of opportunities to use their language and therefore to develop it through its use.

Task-based learning

The task-based approach is based on an empirical approach related to our daily, real-life activities. It seeks to provide the student with a real-world experience to give a sense of the learning and improve the internalization of all the concepts taught:

"Tasks as a linguistic unit in real life are defined as those activities for which we use language in our daily lives" (Long, 1985)

The task-based approach is based on a sequence of activities with an end goal, a final project, or final activity:

"It is the sequence of carefully set tasks that revolve around a topic and that lead in a coherent way to the elaboration of a final task" (Estaire, 1990; Estaire and Zanon, 1990; Estaire and Zanon 1994; Estaire 1999)

This final activity is reinforced (Bruner scaffolding theory) by a series of previous activities (enabling tasks) that reinforce the knowledge or skills that we will use in this final task.

The final activity is based on a real-life situation with an open and uncertain ending in which students have to adapt their skills to produce and decode the language to the situation and context that is being given to them at all times.

Student-centered learning

When we implement the student-centered learning we escape from the traditional conception of teacher-centered learning. The student-centered approach puts the focus on the student learning process by giving the teacher a more secondary role, a guiding role, and counselor.

In this approach, the teacher goes from being the facilitator of knowledge to being the facilitator of the tools and context necessary for the student to create his own knowledge.

This pedagogical approach is based on the student's ability as a content creator always in a meaningful context basing the internalization of content and the skills development in the experience (Montessori approach): the student learns by doing, creating, discovering, experimenting, etc.

This learning approach gives importance to the decision-making and self-regulation of the student himself, giving the student responsibility for his or her own learning path. The student makes decisions, sets goals and solves the problems that are encountered in his learning process.

Meaningful learning.

Ausubel was the author and creator of this term that refers to the relationship of previous knowledge with those we already have acquired. The new knowledge we learn is associated with the previous ones by creating a new connection. In this way, when we have prior knowledge about a subject we are studying, it helps to internalize new knowledge.

Continuing with this theory, the projects that we are going to expose in next blog posts have a direct connection with the real life of our students. They will work and develop knowledge about elements they already know in a real and familiar context for them.

When designing these projects, we have taken into account the context that we wanted to create: a familiar context in which students felt comfortable when working and with direct connection to their daily life (Vygotsky Sociocultural Theory). When the teacher manages to create this work environment the ease with which students interact with each other increases, students feel comfortable and motivated, so the language develops effectively.

Also, when a real-life learning context is created, students are given a close starting point to their reality by improving the linking of previous content with new content by encouraging the internalization of these.

Collective scaffolding theory

This theory is based on the theory of scaffolding (Bruner) which in turn arises from Vygotsky's "near development zone" (ZDP) theory and Vygotsky's own sociocultural theory.

When we talk about scaffolding we refer to the idea of providing the student with the necessary help to reach the knowledge with a clear methodology: The greater the difficulties presented by the learner the greater the help we give him and the less difficulties the less help will be offered by the teacher. In this way the teacher has to be aware of the help that he has to give to the student so that the student can develop his knowledge.

The name of this theory is due to the analogy of building a building, in its beginning we need many scaffoldings to reinforce it, but then we will need less help since the foundations are more solid.

Bruner's scaffolding theory is later combined with Vygotsky's sociocultural theory to make sense of collective scaffolding.

Vygotsky's sociocultural theory states that learners are social beings, so learning has a social factor. Humans learn through collaboration and interaction with others.

If we put these two ideas together, it gives us what we call "the theory of collective scaffolding" this theory refers to the help that colleagues provide us to develop our knowledge, and in our case, linguistic skills.

The design of the projects considers the collaborative aspect of these, always looking for the kind of collaboration that will lead to a mutual help between ELE learners to enhance and develop their language skills.

21st century skills

We take as a starting point The theoretical and pedagogical framework of Microsoft for education (21 CLD) in which six skills stand out: Collaboration, self-regulation, real-life problem solving, use of ICTCs for learning and communication.

• Collaboration: As we have explained above, one of the strengths of the project-based learning. What stands out over other types of methodologies is the collaboration necessary between students to carry them out. This collaboration helps learning (collective scaffolding) and develops several social skills in students such as empathy or tolerance.

• Self-regulation: Students are responsible for setting weekly goals and self-assessing their own work based on the goals set. This will always come from respect and consensus on the part of all members of the group.

• Using ICT for learning: Students will have different electronic material access and will have access to online tools to edit the content they produce.

• Effective communication: Students will adapt themselves to the different types of audiences they have to reach depending on the type of product they want to create. This adaptation that occurs to reach the indicated audience has its impact on the language and vocabulary used. It is very important to know how to express yourself in all kinds of contexts.

ACTFL scale

The ACTFL language skill scale (ACTFL proficiency scale) is the scale we will use to evaluate students' language skills. This scale belongs to the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) and has the particularity that measures the performance and ability to communicate above the form and correctness of this communication. This paradigm faces the two aspects mentioned above: Proficiency vs Performance

  • Proficiency: “The ability to use language in real world situations in a spontaneous interaction and non-rehearsed context and in a manner aceptable and approapiate to a native speaker of that language” (ACTFL Peorformance Descriptor ofr Language Learners.2012)

  • Performance: “The ability to use language that has been learned and practiced in an instructional setting” (ACTFL Peorformance Descriptor ofr Language Learners.2012)

On this scale that is called the "proficiency" scale of the ACTFL what we seek is to measure the ability of students to function in spontaneous and real situations fleeing the academic framework and the correctness of the message. This way of evaluating our students' skills aligns perfectly with the communicative approach we follow when we design these projects, as well as the intention to develop students' language skills through multiplying the number of interactions they have between them.


We have also attended those professional development in which the speakers explains for two hours his methodology and all the implications that it entails and you leave the room with a feeling of emptiness wishing that they had given you practical examples to bring all this to your class.

Taking this into account, this is the first post in a series of five posts in which we will explain in detail four examples to develop this type of PBL in your class:

• Podcast

• Filmmaking

• Puppet theatre

• Newspaper

Follow the eTwinz on social media to find out when they are posted.

eTwinz EDU & eTwinz

Don't miss them!

218 views0 comments