Problem-based learning in an LSP classroom
at higher education institutions
by Dubravka Celinšek and Irena Kuštrin
Initially, problem-based learning (PBL) in an LSP classroom in Slovenia started as a TENTEC (Teaching English for Technical Purposes) Leonardo da Vinci project at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in Ljubljana. After presenting the project at theIATEFL Slovenia Conference in Ljubljana in 2000, a group of tertiary level language teachers decided to introduce this approach to teaching and learning a foreign language in some Slovene higher education institutions. Consequently, the project started inside the Slovene Association of LSP Teachers (www.sdutsj.edus.si) with the support of the University of Aston, Birmingham, UK and the British Council in Ljubljana in the academic year 2000/2001.
In our association we plan to disseminate our knowledge and experience writing student's and teachers' guides to PBL as well as organizing workshops and publishing articles on this topic. We are about to issue the teacher's guide and are trying to find some partners to work on an international project.
General Overview of the PBL Process
The cross-curricular dimension of PBL requires at least two teachers to be involved in the PBL process: in our case the language teacher and the subject specialist. The subject specialist provides a problem to be solved and he also suggests some literature and provides professional guidance during the project. The language teacher provides the help concerning the foreign language.
Following this approach, students work in teams. After the teams are formed and problems designed, the teacher should make sure that the students are ready for their discussions or meetings, respectively. To hold meetings successfully, students should be able to actively participate in discussions, knowing the role of a chairperson and a secretary as well as how to write the minutes. These notes will also be a useful source for their report, for observing the participation of each team member and will also include technical terms important for improving their language proficiency. After the meeting, a secretary or the whole team works on the minutes, which also serve as a starting point for the new agenda.
There are two meetings where all the teams and the language teacher, desirably also the subject specialists, are present. Moreover, teams have additional meetings and work on their own: they analyse the problem, compare the resources they find, discuss possible solutions and finally decide on the best solutions to the problem.
Students should be aware of their final objective: producing the report on the problem they solve and the presentation of their research and suggested solutions.
Clear and effective communication is of utmost importance. During their meetings students should keep in mind that there may be positive and negative reactions to their opinions and that their suggestions might or might not be accepted. Moreover, they should be able to defend and support their opinions. They should be open and willing to try and understand different points of view, respect each other, and should not be afraid to express their concern if some team member does not co-operate. Their ideas and opinions in a foreign language should be presented clearly and effectively.
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