Strengthening Project-Based Learning with Genre Checkpoints

Brian Rugen


Project-based learning (PBL) is a learner-centered approach that integrates all the language skills as students work on addressing a particular question, issue, or problem. PBL combines academic knowledge with real-world applications, developing both language and content knowledge. For English language learners, PBL offers benefits related to English language development, motivation and engagement, critical thinking, and academic content knowledge. Despite the advantages, there have been some criticisms of PBL in terms of a lack of structure during the preparation phase and a disproportionate focus on summative assessment compared to formative assessment. In this paper, I discuss an action research project aimed at addressing these two concerns that have been raised regarding PBL. This action research took place in a university-level ESL class in Hawaii, where students were introduced to genre awareness checkpoints. A genre awareness checkpoint is a point during the preparation phase of a project where students are introduced to a relevant academic genre, investigating its move structure and linguistic features in a structured mini-lesson. Students are then required to produce the genre in order to move through the checkpoint and continue with a project. In this action research project, the implementation of genre checkpoints in PBL did not only help to add structure and opportunities for formative assessment in PBL, but also offered the added benefit of supporting students' developing genre awareness.

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