The PRIME Method
The PRIME Method adopts appropriate aspects of other methods that conform to the principles of the Approach. Elements of recognized historical and contemporary methods fit with the PRIME Approach.
However, three methods developed in recent years figure prominently in the delivery mode of programs guided by the PRIME approach. Two of these methods are ACTIVE Learning (Tweedie, W.M. 2002) and PROJECT – BASED (Moss, D and Van Duzer, C. 1998). Elements of a COLLABORATIVE LANGUAGE LEARNING process are also evident. These methods are currently in use by many public and private institutions all over the world.
Concurrent with these methods is the provision of language learning strategies (Oxford 1993) and facilitation strategies for multiple learning and thinking styles.
The Prime Method (SIDCME - Student Initiated, Directed, Controlled, Monitored and Evaluated learning) is distinguished by the high degree of active participation by the students in initiating the process of acquisition (largely through development of their own content), individually or collaboratively directing their own process of learning, having the confidence and the tools to control their conversations, to monitor, and evaluate their progress. The method follows on the heels of the most recent research into second language acquisition. Elements of Active and Project-based learning figure prominently in the PRIME Method. Overviews of these two methods follow.
Incorporating the Principles of Active Learning
The Active Learning Model is guided by the following principles.
- Silence is necessary
- Students progress through errors
- Diversity is valued and incorporated in program activities
- A safe and comfortable environment is essential
- An accepting and predictable environment fosters motivation
- Students must be involved
Silence is necessary
Students must be silent at times as they learn to speak a foreign language. Some learners need to focus more on listening than speaking, especially during the early stages of the English acquisition process. For others, there may be a need to "tune out" briefly at points in the course to "recharge" from the constant effort of listening and speaking in a new language.
Silence may also occur in extended pauses before a student answers a question. Students are allowed additional time to collect their thoughts and structure their answer. If a facilitator moves too quickly to the next student the first may be discouraged in his/her efforts to respond; in contrast, recognizing that the student needs more time to answer lets the student know that the facilitator is interested in listening.
Students progress through errors
As with first language acquisition, errors can actually have a positive meaning. They often appear when a learner is trying out new grammatical structures. When the focus is on communicating, direct correction of errors can hinder students' efforts and discourage further attempts to express ideas with the language skills they have available. Rather than correct errors directly, a facilitator can continue the dialogue by restating what the student has said (echoing) to model the correct form.
Diversity is valued
Valuing the diverse backgrounds and resources that EFL students bring to the classroom and being sensitive to their unique needs can serve to build an instructional environment that can benefit all students. Unlike many ESL situations where classes have a mix of students from different ethnic, social, cultural backgrounds, and countries of origin, many of these kinds of diversities don’t exist in an EFL context. However, ethnically homogeneous EFL students do have diverse social, economic and community environments that when mixed with individual personalities, learning and thinking styles, a rich pool of unique and special people comes together that must be valued for its diversity and potential.
Current education research and reform focus on increasing student participation in instruction and on basing instruction on the real-life needs of students. An active English acquisition instructional model for EFL students includes elements that address the special language-related needs of students who are in the English acquisition process.
Instructional content should utilize student diversity. Incorporating diversity into the classroom provides EFL students with social support, offers all students opportunities to recognize and validate different perspectives, and provides all students interesting information. Also, examples and information relevant to EFL students' backgrounds assist them in understanding content.
Comfort levels must be high
The classroom should be predictable in its structure and accepting of all students. All students are able to focus on and enjoy the English acquisition process more when the school and classroom make them feel safe - comfortable with themselves and with their surroundings. Facilitators can increase comfort levels through structured classroom rules and activity patterns, explicit expectations, and genuine care and concern for each student.
Instructional activities should maximize opportunities for communication and as much as possible, language use. Opportunities for substantive, sustained dialogue are critical to challenging students' abilities to communicate ideas, formulate questions, and use language for higher order thinking. Each student, at his or her own level of proficiency, should have opportunities to communicate meaningfully in this way.
Students must be actively involved
Instructional tasks should involve students as active participants. Students contribute and learn more effectively when they are able to play a role in structuring their own acquisition process, when tasks are oriented toward discovery of concepts and answers to questions, and when the content is relevant, meaningful, and challenging.
Instructional interactions should provide support for student understanding. Facilitators should ensure that students understand the concepts and materials being presented. For EFL students this includes providing support for the students' understanding of instructions presented in English.
The environment for learning must be accepting and predictable
A supportive environment is built by the facilitator on several grounds i.e., acceptance, interest, understanding of different backgrounds, beliefs, and learning styles or multiple intelligences. Explicit information on what is expected of students should be provided and reinforced through clearly structured daily patterns and class activities without compromising student input, the principle of flexibility, and the encouragement of creativity. These provide important social and practical bases for students, especially EFL students. When students are freed of the need to interpret expectations and figure out task structures, they can concentrate on and take risks in the English acquisition process. Provide a clear acceptance of each student.
The opportunities for language use must be optimized
Communication in all its aspects, i.e., observing, listening, reading, writing, and all other means, including oral expression, is really central to the English acquisition process for all EFL students. Through experience in trying to express ideas, formulate questions, and explain solutions, students' use of their native as well as English language and other communication skills, supports their development of higher order thinking skills. The following points are important ways to maximize language use.
A. Ask questions that require new or extended responses.
The facilitator's questions should elicit new knowledge, new responses, and thoughtful efforts from students. They should require answers that go beyond a single word or predictable patterns whenever possible. Students can be asked to expand on their answers by giving reasons why they believe a particular response is correct, by explaining how they arrived at a particular conclusion, or by expanding upon a particular response by creating a logical follow-on statement.
B. Create opportunities for sustained dialogue and substantive language use.
It is often hard to give many students the opportunities needed for meaningful, sustained dialogue within a facilitator-centred instructional activity. To maximize opportunities for students to use language, facilitators can plan to include other ways of organizing classroom activities. For example, in cooperative process groups, students use language together to accomplish academic tasks. In reciprocal teaching models, each student/group is responsible for completing then sharing/teaching one portion of a given task.
Opportunities for maximizing language use and engaging in a sustained dialogue should occur in both written and oral English. Students can write in daily journals, seen by only themselves and the facilitator. This type of writing should be encouraged for students at all levels. Some EFL students may be too embarrassed to write at first; they may be afraid of not writing everything correctly. The focus in this type of writing, however, should be on communicating. Students should be given opportunities to write about what they have observed or learned. Less English proficient EFL students can be paired to work with other, more proficient students or be encouraged to include illustrations, for example, when they report their observations.
The facilitator should also ensure that there are substantive opportunities for students to use oral and written language to define, summarize, and report on activities. The English acquisition process takes place often through students' efforts to summarize what they have observed, explain their ideas about a topic to others, and answer questions about their presentations. EFL students' language proficiency may not be fully equal to the task; however, they should be encouraged to present their ideas using the oral, written, and non-linguistic communication skills they do have. This can be supplemented through small group work where students learn from each other as they record observations and prepare oral presentations.
C. Provide opportunities for language use in multiple settings.
Opportunities for meaningful language use should be provided in a variety of situations: small groups, with a variety of groupings (i.e., in terms of English proficiency); peer-peer dyads (again, with a variety of groupings); and facilitator-student dyads. Each situation will place its own demands on students and expose them to varied types of language use.
The physical layout of a well equipped room should be structured to support flexible interaction among students. There can be activity areas where students can meet in small groups or the facilitator can meet with a student, or the furniture in the room can be arranged to match the needs of an activity.
D. Focus on communication.
When the focus is on communicating or discussing ideas, specific error correction should be given a minor role. This does not mean that errors are never corrected; it means that this should be done as a specific editing step, apart from the actual production of the spoken language or written piece. In oral language use, constant, insistent correction of errors will discourage EFL students from using language to communicate. Indirect modelling (echoing) of a corrected form in the context of a response is preferable to direct correction. Students should be made aware of this and other techniques early in the process. Discuss these with them frankly, what their purposes and your expectations are.
E. Provide for active participation in meaningful and challenging tasks.
Shifts in approach, that recent research and reform efforts indicate are effective for all students, are especially necessary in EFL contexts. For example, many descriptions of instructional innovation focus on increasing student participation in ways that result in students asking questions and constructing knowledge, through a process of discovery, to arrive at new information that is meaningful and that expands students’ knowledge. An important goal is to create or increase the level of "authentic" (Newman and Wehlage, 1993) instruction, i.e., instruction that results in an English acquisition process that is relevant and meaningful beyond success in the classroom alone.
F. Give students responsibility for their own English acquisition process.
In active participation, students assist the facilitator in defining the goals of instruction and identifying specific content to be examined or questions to be addressed. Students must also play active roles in developing the knowledge that is to be learned and the language that they want or need to acquire (e.g., students decide on topics of interest, research or observe and report on what they have observed, and assist each other in interpreting and summarizing information). Active participation also involves some shifting of roles and responsibilities; facilitators become less directive and more facilitative, while students assume increasing responsibility.
EFL students need to participate. Their participation can be at a level that is less demanding linguistically, but still requires higher order thinking skills and allows them to demonstrate or provide information in non-linguistic ways. For example, using limited written text, an EFL student with very little oral or written proficiency in English can create a pictorial record of what was observed in one of his other classes, noting important differences from one event to the next.
G. Develop the use of a discovery process.
When students take an active role in constructing new knowledge, they use what they already know to identify questions and seek new answers. A discovery process is one in which students participate in defining the questions to be asked, develop hypotheses about the answers, work together to define ways to obtain the information they need to test their hypotheses, gather information, and summarize and interpret their findings. Through these steps, students learn new content in a way that allows them to build ownership of what they are learning and of the language that they are acquiring in the process. They are also in the process of learning how to learn and acquire the use of their new language.
H. Include the use of cooperative student efforts.
Recent findings about how people learn emphasize the social nature of the English acquisition process. Many successful examples of classroom innovation with EFL students show the value of using cooperative working groups composed of heterogeneous groups of students, including students at different levels of ability. The composition of groups should be carefully considered and should be flexible so that students experience working with different individuals. Mixing less English proficient with students who are more proficient promotes opportunities to hear and use English within a meaningful, goal-directed context.
Learning to work in cooperative groups requires practice and guidance for the students. Formal roles should be assigned to each member of a group when appropriate (e.g., note-taker, reporter, group discussion leader), and these roles should be rotated. With a little encouragement, as students identify different tasks to be accomplished by a group, they will define and assign their own responsibilities. In all cases, the use of group work requires attention to ensure that each individual has opportunities and responsibilities in contributing to the development of the overall product. Facilitators need to be sensitive to the fact that some students prefer to work independently rather than cooperatively in the process’ structures and activities. Facilitators may want to consider adjusting the balance of the acquisition process activities for students to accommodate such differences and to provide more support, thereby allowing students gradually to become more comfortable in these activities.
I. Make the English acquisition process relevant to the students' experience.
Content matter is more meaningful for students when it relates to their background and experience, interests and goals (BIG). Furthermore, new knowledge is best learned and retained when it can be linked to existing "funds of knowledge" (Moll et al. 1990) so new content should be introduced through its relationship to an already understood concept. For example, a discussion of food cycles can begin with a discussion of foods commonly found in students' homes and communities.
It is important that the learning experience regularly draws links between home, the community, and the classroom because this serves to contextualize and make content practical, relevant, and meaningful for students and ultimately to better acquisition of English.
An active acquisition instructional approach ultimately seeks to develop in students a view of themselves as learners in all aspects of their lives, not only in the classroom. Students should see opportunities and resources for the English acquisition process outside of the classroom as well. Whenever possible, the resources of the home and community should be used. For example, when a class is learning about structure, a parent or appropriate faculty instructor who is a carpenter and who speaks some English can be called upon to explain how the use of different materials can affect the design and strength of a structure (taking into account function, strength, flexibility, and so on). Asking students if they are aware of such resources should be part of the BIG assessment carried out at the beginning of the term.
J. Use thematic integration of content across subject areas.
The English acquisition process is also made more meaningful when it is contextualized within a broader topic. Business administration, Telecommunications, and Information Technology can all become interrelated through their common reference to the same theme or topic of interest just as Maintenance, Production processes, and Food Technology can (or any combination for that matter). In this way different perspectives on the topic are developed through linkages across different types of acquisition process activities.
K. Build in-depth investigation of content.
Instruction is more challenging and engaging when it provides in-depth examination of fewer topics instead of limited coverage of a broad range of topics. Furthermore, a comprehensive exploration of one or more content areas promotes understanding and helps students retain what they learn. In addition, integrated, thematic curricula that address the same topic across different content areas provide students opportunities to explore a given subject in greater depth. These areas need to be identified by examining the curricula of different faculties in the school when and where possible.
L. Design activities that promote higher order thinking skills.
Classroom tasks should challenge students by requiring them to develop and utilize higher order skills. Higher order thinking activities require students to use what they know to generate new information (e.g., to solve problems, integrate information, or compare and contrast). Higher order skills are utilized, for example, when students are asked to review a local folktale or when comparing it to one from another country that they have just read, to identify another folktale from their own background that they think makes a similar point, and to explain the similarities and differences. This is in contrast to lower order thinking skills such as rote repetition of responses or memorization of facts.
M. Provide support for understanding.
Students need opportunities to take responsibility for their own English acquisition process - to seek out information and formulate answers. This is what the active acquisition process instructional model provides. However, essential to the process, is the support provided by the facilitator. As a partner in students' investigations of new content, the facilitator should guide and facilitate students' efforts.
The facilitator's input, as a facilitator and guide to students, should be carried out in a variety of ways, such as:
- asking open-ended questions that invite comparison and contrast, and prompt students to integrate what they have observed, draw conclusions, or state hypotheses;
- assisting students in identifying needed resources, including setting up linkages with resources in the local and wider communities (e.g., experts who could visit, field trips to organizations, and so on);
- structuring acquisition process activities that require students to work cooperatively, modelling the different group member roles if necessary;
- encouraging students to discuss concepts they are learning, to share their thoughts, and to express further questions that they would like to tackle;
- establishing long-term dialogues with students about the work they are doing, either in regular facilitator/student conferences or dialogue journals; and
- setting up opportunities for students to demonstrate or exhibit their work to other classes in the school as a means of prompting further dialogue outside of the classroom
N. Work together with others.
The attempt to restructure activities in the classroom and to deal with new forms of diversity is a challenging one. However, facilitators need not face the challenge alone. They should combine their expertise with that of other facilitators.
A significant body of recent research has focused on the value of facilitators combining their professional expertise and sharing their experiences with one another. Facilitators can offer important support to each other by serving as sounding boards for successes and failures, as additional sources of suggestions for resolving problem situations, and as resources to each other in sharing ideas, materials, and successful practices. In addition, the more facilitators who work with the same students share information, the more consistent and effective their students' overall instructional experience will be.
Facilitators should take steps to:
- Collaborate and confer with EFL specialists;
- Collaborate with other content area facilitators who work with the same EFL students to share resources, ideas, and information about students' work;
- Share ideas and experiences with facilitators who are interested in trying out more active instructional activities with their students; and
- Involve the program director. (Let him know what you are doing. Explain how you are implementing an active instructional model in your class and the benefits for the students. Ask for support. Some of this support should come in tangible ways, such as assistance in scheduling joint planning periods or in-class sessions in co-teaching or straightforward observation.)
Implicit in the active learning model’s principles as applied to the PRIME Approach is a concentration on project based work. We turn our attention now to a closer look at this important framework for EFL acquisition. (See the section on PRIME Projects)
Project-based learning is an instructional approach that contextualizes learning by presenting learners with problems to solve or products (completed activities, summaries, reports, etc.) to develop. For example, learners may research an aspect of one of their career subjects (in our Technological University context) and create a report or handbook to share with other language learners in their program, or they might interview local employers and create a bar graph mapping the employers' responses to questions about qualities they look for in employees.
This overview provides a rationale for using project-based learning with young adult English language learners, describes the process, and gives examples of how the facilitators of one particular English as a Second Language (ESL) program has used project-based learning with their adult learners at varying levels of English proficiency.
The following principles characterize Project-based learning:
- Builds on previous work
- Integrates observing, speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills
- Incorporates collaborative team work, problem solving, negotiating and other interpersonal skills
- Requires learners to engage in independent work
- Challenges learners to use English in new and different contexts outside the class
- Involves learners in choosing the focus of the project and in the planning process
- Engages learners in acquiring new information that is important to them
- Leads to clear outcomes
- Incorporates self-evaluation, peer evaluation, and facilitator evaluation
Rationale for Project-Based Learning
Project-based learning functions as a bridge between using English in class and using English in real life situations outside of class (Fried-Booth, 1997). It does this by placing learners in situations that require authentic use of language in order to communicate (being part of a team or interviewing others, etc.). When learners work in pairs or in teams, they find they need skills to plan, organize, negotiate, make their points, and arrive at a consensus about issues such as what tasks to perform, who will be responsible for each task, and how information will be researched and presented. Learners have identified these skills as important for living successful lives (Stein, 1995) and by employers as necessary in a high-performance workplace (U.S. Department of Labor, 1991). Because of the collaborative nature of project work, development of these skills occurs even among learners at low levels of language proficiency. Within the group work integral to projects, individuals' strengths and preferred ways of learning (e.g., by observing, reading, writing, listening, or speaking) strengthen the work of the team as a whole (Lawrence, 1997). Project-based learning is particularly applicable in the context of educational settings where practice and the practical application of knowledge acquired has significant weight (70% of class time) in the curriculum of all career departments. The inclusion of project work in the PRIME Curriculum (partially in the Real Talk course and as the focus of a separate course, PRIME Projects) is therefore particularly justified and appropriate.