This study draws on broader learning theories of social constructivism, engagement, assessment and literacy which are key drivers in education. Central to these perspectives are cooperative learning, activity theory, situated practice, structural alignment and formative assessment however this study will focus on project based-learning, digital technologies, multiliteracies and assessment for learning.
This study aims to explore how technology usage, assessment for learning practices and the teaching of multiliteracies in the English classroom change when project-based pedagogies are used. This researcher posits that project based learning will provide teachers with the impetus and framework to successfully and purposefully integrate digital technologies, assessment for learning (feedback) and the explicit teaching of mutltiliteracties in the secondary English classroom.
Project-based learning is a pedagogy that engages students in relevant, real-world problems that require them to attain and strengthen skills essential for success in the 21st century – collaboration, communication, creativity, digital citizenship – as well as understanding positive ‘habits of mind’ (Costa, 2007). Founded in Constructivist theory, Project Based Learning “involves completing complex tasks that typically result in a realistic product, event or presentation to an audience” (Barron and Darling-Hammond, 2008, p. 2). Research into project-based learning (PBL) “has found that students who engage in this approach benefit from gains in factual learning that are equivalent or superior to those of students who engage in traditional forms of instruction” (Barron and Darling-Hammond, 2008, p. 2).
Since the implementation of DER, English teachers have been faced with the challenge of when, how and why to introduce digital technologies into their lessons. Moreover the current NSW Stage 4/5 syllabus (2003, p. 4) and the Draft Australian Curriculum: English (2011, p. 11) both stipulate that teachers are required to help students to become productive, creative and confident users of technology. The types of digital technologies that are beginning to be seen in educational settings and that will be the focus of this study include a combination of fixed (televisions, IWBs, computer lab) and mobile technologies (ipads, ipods, mobile phones) as well as the software and web-based tools teachers and students access. Digital technologies that teachers and students bring into the English classroom should be meaningfully integrated into learning activities. Ravitz (2010) conducted a study into the relationship between online technologies and the implementation of PBL in small schools across the United States and found that PBL “helps teachers integrate technology by providing reasons for its use” (p. 10) however there is a need for a greater understanding of the influence project based learning has on the use of technology in the classroom is needed (Ravitz, 2010).
A second challenge faced by secondary English teachers in Australia is the nature of assessment. Often the primary assessment in English is summative despite evidence that formative or assessment for learning practices have ‘more impact on learning than any other general factor’ (Petty, 2006). The Rationale of the NSW English Stage 4/5 Syllabus (2003, p. 7) and Australian Curriculum: English (2011, p. 6) both advocate assessment for learning practices including peer and self-assessment. In their seminal paper, Black and William (1998) conclude that the introduction of effective assessment for learning “will require significant changes in classroom practice” (p. 141) because “instruction and formative assessment are indivisible” (p. 143). Importantly Black and William conclude that “what is needed is a classroom culture of questioning and deep thinking, in which pupils learn from shared discussions with teachers and peers” (p. 146). These features are key elements of project-based pedagogies which have been shown to “have documented positive changes for teachers and students in motivation, attitude toward learning, and skills, including work habits, critical thinking skills and problem-solving” (Barron and Darling-Hammond, p. 4 ???) Barron’s (1998) study of project and problem-based learning using a longitudinal case study of 5th graders found that given timely feedback as part of their PBL experience, students took “advantage of the opportunity to revise” (p. 304). Barron concluded that an “emphasis on formative assessment and revision” (p. 305) is central to PBL.
The final challenge facing English teachers today is the necessity to teach multiliteracies. The term multiliteracies was coined by of the New London Group and is defined as ‘a new approach to literacy teaching … (that) … overcomes the limitations of traditional approaches by emphasizing how negotiating the multiple lingustic and cultural differences in our society is central to the pragmatics of the working, civic, and private lives of students” (New London Group, 1996, p. 1) A three-year ethnographic study by Ito et al (2008) describes how “new media allow for a degree of freedom and autonomy for youth that is less apparent in a classroom setting (p. 2)” and conclude that “the diversity in forms of literacy (accessed by young people) means it is problematic to develop a standardised set of benchmarks to measure” (p. 2) multiliteracies. Traditionally English in Australia has been viewed as a teacher-centred discipline with a heavy focus on linguistic literacy – reading and writing. However the introduction of multimodal and multimedia texts into the Australian Curriculum: English (2011, p. 1) reshapes our understanding of subject English. English teachers are now responsible for the teaching of multiliteracies, inviting another challenge for teachers because “literacy must address the impact of new communication technologies, and the texts delivered by them.” (Bull and Anstey, 2010, p. 6)
Meeting the demands of changing literacy needs, curriculum changes and the federal 1-1 initiative forces secondary English teachers in Australia to reconsider their pedagogy. Here, again, one alternative pedagogy that may provide teachers with a scaffold to integrate digital technologies and multiliteracies into the English classroom is project based learning (PBL). The aim of this study is to address the gap in research into student-centred and inquiry based pedagogies in English classrooms in Australia, specifically project-based pedagogies and the changes made to assessment practices, digital technology usage and teaching of multiliteracies when these pedagogies are implemented.