Hummel, M. D. (2006). Integrating Project-based Learning and Poetry Teaching. Instructional Technology Monographs 3 (2). Retrieved <insert date>, from http://itm.coe.uga.edu/archives/fall2006/mhummel.htm.

Integrating Project-based Learning and Poetry Teaching

by

Meghann D. Hummel
University of Georgia

 

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine the effect project-based learning has on student learning in regards to poetry. The study examines student motivation, understanding, and learning in the context of merging technology and poetry. Two specific research questions are: 1. How does Project-based Learning (PBL) affect the learning of poetry? and 2) How does technology aid in allowing students to personalize their projects and relate to poetry? The research is a case study conducted in an urban high school near Atlanta. The participants are ninth grade honors students, most of whom were interested in poetry. The results of this study favored the implementation of project-based learning in conjunction with technology integration in the context of learning poetry. This data was attained through correlating pre and post-tests, attitudinal assessments, a learning styles inventory, and project results. The average score increased from the traditional assessment to the project for all students regardless of learning style. The major conclusion derived from the study is that when technology and project-based learning are combined, student interest increases. In terms of student motivation, understanding, and learning, their scores increased and their reaction to the project was positive. The implications for teaching poetry in the future include providing options and merging technology with projects appeals to a wider range of students and will therefore have a positive effect on more students. The results of this study support my proposition that technology allows poetry to become more accessible and enjoyable for students, and can enhance creativity.

 

Literature Review Methods Results and Discussion Conclusions References

 

Introduction

As a high school language arts teacher, I have been repeatedly astonished by the adverse reaction students have to poetry. The essence of poetry is often lost in the delivery or teaching method used to discuss poems. By the time students begin high school, their views about reading and writing poetry need to be reconstructed. In the past poetry was a primary means of expression; today it is often considered a lost art. Many students do not connect with poetry because of its complex nature, or they are uncomfortable with the open expression of emotions and personal thoughts. Often students do not see the relevance of poetry to their lives. Many students have difficulty buying into the necessity of writing or reading poetry. Frequently, student motivation is what determines the success of teaching (Bradford, 2005). If success can be hindered by lack of student motivation, then teaching practice has to motivate students to want to work and learn.

While studies have been conducted concerning the effects of teaching methodology on student motivation (Brophy, 1999; Burden & Byrd, 2003; Covington, 1999), it is hard to find research that is specific to teaching poetry. This is important because students must have a fluent knowledge of poetic terms and be able to explicate a poem in order to meet Gwinnett County AKS standards and be promoted. This knowledge is also found on standardized tests, which students must take at the county, state, and national levels (final exams, graduation test, SAT, ACT). If project-based learning positively affects students in terms of learning and understanding poetry, then it likewise could play a role in student performance on standardized tests, though establishing this relationship quantitatively is beyond the scope of the present study.

Combining education theory and strategy, constructivists claim that when students are active participants in authentic projects (i.e., those that are related to real-world situations) that are shared and reviewed with others, the learners can then create meaning or ideas (Han & Battacharya, 2002). Allowing learners to create their own meaning, instead of using them as receptacles for information, forces them to become more involved with their learning experiences. Project-based learning is based on constructivist theory that involves students working collaboratively to produce a meaningful artifact or product representative of the knowledge learned (Houghton Mifflin, n.d.).

While project-based learning is often inter-curricular, the present exploration was designed to investigate how it can enhance learning specifically in the field of language arts. Will my students still be able to learn required texts, processes, and critical thinking, while participating in project-based learning? Pressures from standardized tests, both national and local, often deter teachers from using student-driven practices in their classrooms. Ensuring that project-based learning coincides with standards is necessary in order to prepare students for high-stakes achievement testing. Does project-based learning influence student motivation in regards to poetry? Students often feel disconnected to poetry; will project-based learning affect this?

This case study was designed to explore honors ninth graders’ reactions to poetry using a new pedagogical approach. Traditionally, students read a poem and answer questions in order to assess understanding and exhibit mastery of knowledge. Often, the learning stops here and teachers move on to the next unit of study. This study assessed student learning using traditional methods and then built on this foundation of knowledge using project-based learning.

The effects that various approaches to poetry have on students were documented. Since many of today’s students are far more comfortable with technology than poetry, I connected the two in this project-based learning inquiry. The research included student interviews, pre and post assessments, and on-line artifacts and websites created and presented by the students. The purpose of this research was to determine the effect project-based learning had on student learning in regards to poetry. The study examined student motivation, understanding, and learning. This study did not explore the reasons why students arrived in my class liking or disliking poetry, but focused on how project-based learning influenced the learning of poetry.

 

Literature Review

Background: Project-Based Learning

Our society has progressed from the Industrial Age to an Age of Information and our teaching methodology needs to meet the needs of our learners (Gonzales & Miller, 2005). To be successful in the modern workforce, research and interpersonal skills are necessary. Schooling helps prepare students to become contributing members of tomorrow’s workforce, and effective members of any workforce must be able to work successfully with others. Our schools have a responsibility to allow students to collaborate, while they learn and progressively build their knowledge over time. Project-based learning differs from other forms of learning, partly because of its emphasis on collaboration.

While projects are often assigned to enhance learning, project-based learning should be on a larger scale. Often it encompasses a unit of teaching, a semester, or can carry over from year to year. Steinburg (as cited in Preuss, 2002) has compiled a list of requirements for effective project-based learning: authenticity, academic rigor, applied learning, active explorations, adult relationships, and assessment practices. To ensure that my research of project-based learning and poetry was effective, I implemented these standards. My students’ poetry projects are authentic because they connected poetry to their own real world experiences in their writing. Academic rigor was required because of the necessary application of advanced poetic devices. Students incorporated new technology into their poetry projects that required active exploration and collaboration for project success. Students worked closely with the media specialists at school, therefore establishing collaborative relationships with adults. Most importantly, students’ artifacts were assessed based on a detailed rubric that matched the course’s learning goals.

Project-based learning forces students to look beyond the classroom and create something with real world meaning or application. According to Houghton Mifflin (n. d.), project-based learning should begin with a question(s) based on a big idea, and end with an artifact (e.g., a paper, research poster, etc.) that addresses the essential questions associated with the big idea (Kame’enui, Carnine, Dixon, Simmons, & Coyne, 2002). Students participating in project-based learning must be responsible for knowledge acquisition, connecting new information and skills with existing knowledge and skills, and collaborating with one another. Teachers must learn to step back and facilitate, rather than control what is being learned.

Teachers may ensure that curriculum requirements are addressed by helping to formulate the big ideas and the driving questions that students will pursue. While the questions must be open to interpretation and not have contrived answers, the questions should force students to stay within a specific subject area if necessary (Houghton Mifflin, n. d.). Many proponents of project-based learning feel that it is most effective when students choose projects that interest them. Learners are more intrinsically motivated to work hard to find answers to questions that they formulate (Wolk, 1994). While this is true, sometimes student choice must be limited due to the nature of curriculum and school in general. If one of the goals of project-based learning is to teach students how to seek answers and interact with others, then this knowledge can be applied to projects that they choose to complete outside of class. Ideally the thirst for knowledge cannot be quenched during school hours and in conjunction solely with school assignments.

Noam (2003) discussed the importance of project-based learning in connecting out-of-school experiences with those of the school. This “does not mean that all programs must become school based . . . (but) aim to create some across-learning opportunities, achieve integration of some learning goals, and deepen children’s exploration and skill acquisition” (p. 124). Noam emphasizes the value of all types of learning and how project-based learning lends itself to a combination of inter-curricular and extra-curricular studies. Unfortunately, in the location that I teach, the after-school programs for high school students are athletic or social rather than directly related to academics. It would be nice if there was a service-learning type of program that took students’ thinking in school even further outside of school; a program that was community-based, but required school knowledge, such as a community service organization in which students had a vested interest that they could also use as a source for a school project. I think project-based learning activities that involve the community or students’ personal lives in some way, are more authentic and, therefore, more valuable to the learner.

Research

Papert (2001), one of the leaders in project-based learning, feels that it can only be effective if the idea of curriculum is set aside. A curriculum narrowly promotes certain types of learning and restricts others, and may not allow for students to complete self-driven projects and research, especially when a specific topic must be learned on a particular day. As a teacher who must give standardized tests based on a formal curriculum (Georgia Department of Education, n. d.), completely setting aside the state’s Quality Core Curriculum is impossible. Papert (2001) is working in conjunction with the College Board, the creator of many standardized tests, to ensure that such assessments will become more authentic. Although it may be unrealistic to implement project-based learning in its purest form in all classrooms, adopting Papert’s way of thinking can help educators decide what should be taught and how to evaluate it. “The way to think is, ‘What can I do Monday that will prepare for one day?’ And this leads to a different kind of criteria for what you would choose” (Papert, 2001, p. 7). Although I cannot ignore curriculum standards, the method that I use to teach the required subject matter is my choice, and as a teacher I decide how to assess student learning.

Howard Gardner (as cited in Edutopia, 2005) sends a similar message about curriculum issues. The importance lies in mastering scientific thinking, not science. His theory of multiple intelligences converges well with project-based learning. According to learning styles theory and research (McCarthy, 1997; Swisher & Schoorman, 2001), some people learn in a logical fashion, others are language oriented, and others need to explore in a hands-on manner. Creating a student-centered classroom that encourages projects and student-driven learning allows students to learn in the manner that best suits their learning preferences. However, having a student-driven project-based classroom is likely counterproductive if the only assessment over the learning outcomes is a multiple-choice exam. The goal of assessment is to measure the mastery of a task, and teachers must re-evaluate assessment methods to ensure that they are aligned with project-based learning outcomes.

The issues associated with the theory of project-based learning causes me to question how I can implement such activities in my classroom and still have my students master the required standardized tests. How can I resist the mistakes of the past without harming my students? Will I jeopardize their academic futures in not teaching to the high-stakes required tests? I recognize that teaching students critical thinking skills, collaborative skills, and the ability to seek answers will be more valuable in ensuring their success in college and the workplace than having them memorize lines from Romeo and Juliet. However, if the institutions of higher learning require standardized test scores for admittance, it appears that post-secondary training requires both a great deal of concrete information as well as the developed capacity for critical thinking. While these are not antithetical, both are extremely time consuming. Most colleges want students who think critically, but admit students based on standardized tests. How does a student-centered classroom prepare students for objective tests? Does good teaching ensure that learners will be successful standardized test takers regardless of the concrete knowledge required?

According to Eva Reeder, “project-based learning has beneficial effects on standardized tests,” because students have truly learned the skills on the tests; “It’s just a way of learning information that works” (as cited in Curtis, 2002, p. 51). When students are engaged in authentic learning they remember what they have learned and can apply their knowledge to the real world. From this, I conclude that, by allowing my students to participate in some project-based learning activities, the skills and knowledge they acquire will hopefully prepare them to perform successfully on various assessments.

Csikszentmihalyi (2002) discussed the importance of achieving a flow in learning. This occurs when students are extremely involved in the process of learning and intrinsically motivated to learn. Intrinsic motivation to learn comes from tapping into student interest, which project-based learning allows (Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Bradford, 2005; Gonzales & Nelson, 2005). If students are intrinsically motivated to learn, learning is not as likely to stop after a test.

Project-Based Learning: Language Arts Curriculum

Georgia’s Language Arts Quality Core Curriculum (QCC) standards require that “Students be able to research, evaluate, make meaning, summarize information, present information, differentiate between fact and opinion, and convey information through writing” (Georgia Department of Education, n. d.). Many of these standards can be addressed through project-based learning. In the language arts classroom, project-based learning can often be taught in the context of instructional units. Arranging units according to a theme allows for student choice, but also keeps projects related. Peter Smagorinsky (2002) contends that “conceptual units are well-suited for integrated learning, enabling students to explore a topic over time through the lens offered by a variety of texts” (p. 17). This allows for student-driven projects in the context of the curriculum. For example, if you are teaching a unit on freedom and identity, the main text of the unit could be curriculum related, but could also inspire students to branch out and research and read texts of personal interest. The curriculum and student interest are united when teachers use project-based learning in conjunction with big ideas (Kame’enui et al., 2002).

Often when thinking about the language arts curriculum and my desire to focus on project-based learning, I worry about writing and research requirements. However, the artifact students create can be writing-based and research-based, either through interviews or print resources. An interesting marriage between project-based learning, thematic units, and research papers is the multi-genre research paper. Tom Romano (1995) suggests tweaking the traditional research paper into a student-driven project that requires the exploration of multiple genres of writing. Students choose a topic or theme that is related to the curriculum in some way or completely determined by the student. An aspect of the topic is researched and students then connect their findings by creating a unique artifact. This artifact looks very different from traditional research papers because students must use different genres (usually a minimum of five to seven) to relay their information. For example, a student researching The American Dream could have several traditional research paper paragraphs interspersed with a personal poem about his or her American dream. Pictures, diagrams, and technology based genres are encouraged. Students may choose any genres that interest them and create an extremely challenging, personal, and interesting artifact that forces them to make connections between different modes of expression.

The educational experiences that worked twenty years ago, does not work as well today. That is not to say that there were not great educators and opportunities for education in the past, but our worlds have evolved so much due to shifts in culture, technology, and the requirement of advanced skills that our students need additional experiences to matriculate.

One skill that many students lack that project-based learning requires is the ability to collaborate. Students are required to work with other students and often with adults in the community as well. Hull and Schultz (2002) interviewed lower socio-economic students about school, and one of the most common complaints was that students “were looking for –and not finding –footholds that would let them chart meaningful paths in school, to see school as a place of promise” (p. 133). Project-based learning allows students to make meaning out of something that they find important, an outcome supported by the American Psychological Association (1997). Literature and writing open up a plethora of possibilities for student inquiry and the creation of artifacts.

Project-Based Learning: Technology’s Role and the Language Arts Classroom

Learning standards and requirements have changed due to the role that technology plays in society and the role it can play in student learning. In addition to QCC standards requiring students to be taught reading, writing, and communication skills, a technology aspect has been added to the language arts curriculum. For example, one of the standards is that students “Experience(s) a variety of non-print resources as a part of the study of technical and business applications; create(s) multimedia presentations” (Georgia Department of Education, n. d.). The creation of an artifact using various mediums is recognized as an important and required skill. This coincides perfectly with project-based learning. Students must reference sources from the Internet and databases and differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate sources. Interviewing an expert, or more knowledgeable other, may also serve as a reference for information. It is quite likely that the skills required to create a presentation from research may be used more often (in the future) than those required to write a research paper.

Using presentations and projects is a critical part of teaching because they allow for the use of PowerPoint, Dreamweaver or other webpage design programs, computer-driven research, and the opportunities to use print-based programs to create unique artifacts (e.g., newspapers, magazines, etc.). Projects using these resources meet QCC standards and could be integrated in project-based learning. For example, Carr and Jitendra (2000) completed a problem-based learning study researching the effects that it had on students at risk of dropping out of high school. Students worked with a nearby homeless shelter researching the effects of poverty. Students conducted real (i.e., authentic) research and their final product consisted of a multimedia presentation to leaders in the community. While working on this project, attendance rates increased and students were able to find meaning in their learning. Instead of being problems, they were solving them and serving as presenters of knowledge. Writing, research, and presentation skills are all required within the language arts curriculum. This is a project that would benefit from a relationship between in-school and after-school programs.

In the context of poetry, project-based learning has helped college students in an education program connect with the genre that they will have to teach. One reason high school students may feel distant from poetry is because many teachers never connected with it themselves. Warburton and Campbell (2001) merged poetry and technology in their college education class so that their students would be able to see modern relevance in poetry. In addition to the aesthetic value of poetry, the importance of poetic understanding and appreciation is largely due to its role “in the development of the capacity to use language well” (p. 587). Learning about poetry not only prepares students for assessments but also improves their general language skills; when students understand poetry they are truly able to understand the meaning behind language. I would like to see the results of incorporating technology and poetry with project-based learning in my classroom.

Technology seems to be an integral part of project-based learning. I think this is because so much of what we create today is done with technology. Technology can open up doors to interviewing leaders in the business across the world. Current research requires access to the Internet and recent articles. Many schools have Internet access, but it is not accessible to students on a regular basis. The lack of equity of access to these tools creates a greater divide between the haves and have-nots. As a teacher, I cannot control funding or purchase technology for my students, but I can create assignments that allow my students to go into the community to access the latest technology.

Work-based learning is nothing new. The idea of apprenticeships was around even before formal education. Students will only have access to the most of up-to-date technology if they are immersed in the field itself because businesses update technology at a faster pace than schools. I could easily connect this type of project-based learning to the language arts curriculum if my students participated in something similar to the Women in Technology Program (Boudria, 2002). This program is an example of pure project-based learning because students immersed themselves in a business environment and created authentic projects that served a dual purpose as both school assignments and something that would actually be used by businesses. This could connect with the language arts curriculum because students conduct on-site research and then create written proposals along with various artifacts. This program was inter-curricular and involved multiple subjects immersed in a technology-driven real world experience. I think this style of learning is ideal, but it requires support from the community, businesses, and the school.

Project-Based Learning: Challenges and Problems

While project-based learning can increase student motivation and even test scores, there are still some problems that arise. Classroom management is extremely important to ensure that students are on-task and behaving. This becomes “more problematic because of the ambiguity of project-based learning, and the likelihood that numerous activities will occur simultaneously” (Blumenfeld et al., 1991, p. 381). Just because students are more motivated does not mean that they want to, or will, work. Students will be at different points in their projects at different times, and the collaborative nature of project-based learning makes it difficult to differentiate between work and play. I think one solution to this problem could be requiring process pieces along the way. This could take the form of reflective writing pieces about the project, notes, a preliminary draft of a project, an outline of research, or a discussion that a student has with the teacher that displays his or her knowledge and work accomplished thus far. (See attached flowchart.)

Cohen (2001) completed a study comparing two prestigious schools; one very traditional and the other a proponent of project-based learning. An overwhelming number of students involved in project-based learning had difficulty with “working on teams and often not knowing what to expect” (p. 363). Project-based learning often encompasses an entire semester. With such a large scale assignment, students often feel lost in the process or overwhelmed. This is why detailed rubrics are necessary and should be reviewed throughout the project. Final grades, whether on projects or report cards, should not be a surprise to students. Students should be able to accurately estimate their standing in a class, based on feedback provided to them, at any time during the grading term (Monetti & Hummel, 2004).

Project-based learning is challenging for teachers and students. Many aspects of traditional teaching, such as lectures, usually cannot be used and teachers are no longer experts supplying information. In fact, one thing that is very challenging is when students are completing projects that the teacher knows little about. Redefining roles is necessary for project-based learning to work. Support is often needed from the administration, community, and other teachers for project-based learning to be effective; this is sometimes hard to find. Despite curriculum challenges and other various setbacks, project-based learning can increase student motivation and help to ensure that students are learning critical thinking skills instead of only memorizing factual information for a test.

Discussion

Many ideas of project-based learning overlap with other teaching theories. Good teachers take what works from various methods and blend them together to create a classroom where students learn and enjoy the learning process. Having students create a meaningful and authentic artifact is often more challenging and more representative of student learning than a test at the end of a chapter. I am not discouraging testing, but I am a proponent of multiple forms of assessment. It is known that project-based learning is a motivator for students and challenges them to think, learn, and create. Project-based learning can help increase test scores because it requires critical thinking, which students need to be successful on tests and in life. Much of the curriculum can be taught through project-based learning (PBL), and many of the aspects of PBL coincide directly with Georgia’s QCC standards.

Although there is much research on constructivist approaches to learning and how they benefit students, student motivation is hard to measure and evaluate. Is motivation measured by attendance, completing the project, staying awake? Does project-based learning really affect motivation, or would those students be equally motivated by an entertaining teacher skilled in the Socratic Method and direct instruction? There are many teaching methods, and I feel it is unfair to say that one method is always bad or uninteresting. I like project-based learning because students are creating, but I know students who dislike projects and working in groups. Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences shows that different people learn best by different methods. As a teacher, I think it is best to give several assessments and teach in various ways. Sometimes teachers need to lecture, but not everyday. Sometimes students need to answer questions silently, but not everyday. I often only become a better teacher when my lessons do not produce their intended effects on my students, at which point I re-design the lesson. Project-based learning is not fool-proof, but I would like to see more research about its effect on student literacy.

Figure1.

Organization Chart for Article

Methods

Qualitative methodology “reflects the role of subjective judgment in generating data” (Isaac & Michael, 1995, p. 218). In the present study the data gathered involved the opinions of those being researched along with the observations of the researcher. This study employed a qualitative research method, case study, to collect rich information regarding participants’ thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes on the project-based learning approach. The strategy of this case study involved mainly open-ended answers to questions concerning poetry, student learning preferences, their attitudes about learning poetry, and their views on projects and other group-based activities as a major approach to learning.

The participants in this case study included twenty-four honors ninth grade students in a language arts class at a large urban school just outside of Atlanta. The students were of diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Being enrolled in an honors class, these students are proficient readers and writers. I met with students five days a week for approximately an hour a day, either in the classroom or the school’s media center.

Each participant had access to a computer during the time spent in the media center. On the days spent in this setting, a media specialist helped me assist students with their work. Students worked in heterogeneous groups of four to six based on a blend of their learning style preference, mastery of basic poetic concepts, and student choice.

Throughout this research study, I gathered data measuring content mastery in addition to attitudinal aspects. The questions this case study addressed included:

1. How does Project-based Learning (PBL) affect the learning of poetry?
A. Specifically, using pre- and posttest measures, over the course of the study, to what degree did students master the use of poetic terms and display this in the writing of their own poems?
B. Were students excited about working on poetry projects?
C. Did working with others add or take away from the students’ drive to learn about and write poetry?
D. How was the work meaningful to the students?

2. How does technology aid in allowing students to personalize their projects and relate to poetry?
A. Which technology tools were used, and which did the students rate as most useful?
B. Was the technology necessary?
C. Did using technology allow students to form a modern connection to poetry?

Data Collection Process

Before the research began, an informed research consent form was sent home with each participant to inform students’ guardians of the research and ensure the participant’s rights. The identity of the participants remained anonymous. The initial questionnaire was distributed along with a content-based pre-test, and a learning styles inventory before any teaching took place. The questionnaire was used to identify the prior knowledge my students had about poetry along with their poetic experiences, attitudes towards poetry, and their individual learning-styles preference; this was one of the aspects used to place them in their groups.

The questionnaire consisted of interview-style open-ended questions in addition to Likert-style survey questions. Some of the information gathered from these initial questions included: the past methods used to teach the participants poetry and how each approach aided student understanding and appreciation, the degree to which they enjoy reading poetry, the frequency that poetry was read outside of school, the frequency that poetry was written outside of school, and the themes associated with the poetry that they wrote. Students also explained their responses by answering open-ended interview questions. There was a blend of both qualitative and quantitative questions in order to sufficiently analyze student data. Students rated and explained their responses which allowed me to aggregate some of their responses into easy to read graphs to help sort the results of the data.

A pre-test was given to assess the participants’ knowledge of poetic terms and their ability to explicate a poem. A similar post-test was given after the information had been taught using more traditional teaching methods (not project-based learning). The pre- and post-test data was interpreted based on student mastery of the material. Two open-ended questions were asked of students to gather attitudinal data about learning poetry: Explain what you liked and disliked about the recent poetry unit, and do you feel that the experience was meaningful? Student attitudes were then compared to student mastery.

Building from this new foundation of knowledge, students then completed a project-based learning assignment. The concept of hyper-poetry was explained to my students. This involved an electronic poem that had no clear beginning, middle, or end. As a class they brainstormed different topics and conflicts related to Homer’s The Odyssey. Students were assigned to small groups and chose a topic to write their poems about. Every student wrote an individual poem, but within each group there had to be a common theme or link. Students were required to use figurative language, similes, personification, and alliteration in their poems. Revision occurred within their groups to provide feedback for improvement. An agreement had to be reached within each group not only concerning the topic, but also in dealing with how the poems should link to each other.

At the conclusion of the writing process, students drew on paper how they want their poems to look on their webpages. Drawing their webpages aided in student understanding of placement and color. Students also were required to have a minimum of two links within their poem to the poems of other group members. One day was spent in the lab allowing the students to become comfortable with Dreamweaver and reviewing how and where things need to be saved. Students then had two more days in the lab (these days were spread out to allow time to revise and compile information outside of the lab) to complete their webpages.

This artifact required the application of the knowledge that they have already been assessed on and was graded based on a clear rubric to determine their scores. These scores were evaluated based on each participant’s scores from their pre- and post-tests. Students were then asked to again answer the same attitudinal questions about project-based learning.

Students also completed the Memletics Learning Style Inventory (2003) after the pre-test to determine what kind of learning styles they preferred. When I received these results, students wrote whether they agree or disagree with them. This data was used to: assign participants to their groups, compare pre- and post-test scores, and evaluate the project-based learning artifacts. My major hope was to discover the effect project-based learning had on students with various learning preferences.

Data Analysis

Students’ responses to the open-ended qualitative and survey questions were interpreted in relationship to their pre- and post-test scores, and their PBL artifact grade. This occurred to determine if a positive attitude about learning poetry played a role in student learning. Do students who enjoy poetry do better on poetry assessments? I also related students’ learning style preferences with their performance on achievement and attitudinal measures to determine if students who prefer projects scored higher on their PBL assessment than on their traditional test.
The data show how student achievement was affected by project-based learning. Specifically, the students’ scores on the various assessments were used to determine if PBL has a positive effect on student attitudes and achievement when teaching poetry.

Limitations

This case study involves one class of honors students, so the findings may not generalize to all students. As the researcher and teacher, I am biased because I have taught for several years and I use prior knowledge about what has worked and failed in class to plan current assignments. I have used project-based learning in my classroom when teaching other units of study, and believe it has had a positive effect on learning. I also know and have relationships with my students outside of this case study which could affect how I perceive their work. To both ensure accuracy in my research and to decrease the potential for bias, all instruments completed by students were anonymous (students were given an identification number that they used so that pre- and post-test changes on the surveys can be evaluated).

All data were collected in a five week period from the beginning of September through the second week of October, 2006. Initially the research was explained to students as a way for me to determine the most effective and enjoyable way for them to learn the concepts of poetry. IRB consent forms were explained, signed by students, and then returned with parental consent.

Results and Discussion

Survey

Students seemed open and excited about participating in this research study. Several items of the survey questioned students about their attitudes towards poetry and their prior knowledge. It was revealed that while all of them had been exposed to poetry in some form, twenty percent of them had never studied poetry in conjunction with project-based learning. Of the students who had completed projects based on poetry, two-thirds rated this method as the most optimal for appreciating and understanding poetry.

Almost eighty-five percent of the students either enjoyed poetry or were open to reading and writing it. Although the majority of students reacted positively to poetry, some had no interest in the genre. One student explained why she was torn on her feelings about poetry saying, “With poetry, some are very enjoyable to me, but only when I can understand what I’m reading and if the poetry has a meaning to it.” Often students fear poetry because they think that it must be complicated or rhyme; this quote is a good example of that concern. Some examples of feedback from students who enjoy reading poetry include: “I love to read the emotion and suspense in their writing,” and “because some poems help what you are going through.” There were other similar responses from students who have felt connected to poetry that they have read.

The connection between students who read poetry outside of school and those that write their own poetry was not as strong as expected. According to data from the survey, the same students who disliked reading poetry also were disinterested in reading and writing poetry outside of school, but there was no pattern among my students who enjoyed poetry. Some enjoyed reading it and hated writing it, and vice versa, and some enjoyed both. While the correlation between reading and writing poetry is important, the topics that students wrote about during their free time were most interesting, which included: “Life experiences;” “Love, joy, and sadness;” “Death, the past, emotions, music;” and “Most of the time it is about faith.” These topics can all be connected to various thematic units of literature and poetry that are read in school. Knowing the topics that they desire to write about played a role in allowing student choice in their poetry project.

Prior Knowledge

After collecting attitudinal data, I related students’ feelings about poetry with their knowledge and understanding of poetic concepts. A poetry pre-test was given testing students on poetic terms, paraphrasing a poem, and interpreting a poem. Most students did poorly on this test, but they tended to do well on the interpretation section. The mean score on the pre-test was 33 out of 100 possible points, which indicated that prior knowledge was lacking. This data supports the hypothesis that either my students had not been taught certain terms, or that they forgot them.
Performance on the pre-test showed that the degree to which students rated whether they liked/disliked reading or writing poetry was not related to their entry-level knowledge of poetry. The mean score on the pre-test for the twelve students who rated the degree to which they enjoy reading poetry as above-average or greater was a twenty-nine. The other twelve students rated the degree to which they enjoy reading poetry as average, below-average, or none had a mean score of thirty-eight. Both students that liked and disliked poetry did poorly. Of the two students who did well on the pre-test, one was extremely interested in all aspects of poetry, while the other student exhibited only an average interest and does not write poetry outside of school. I think this is important because my students started from a similar place and had a great deal of poetic knowledge that they needed to be exposed to and learn.

Learning Styles

In order to determine the students’ preferred learning styles, the Memlectic Styles (2003) questionnaire was used to determine how they best learn. The learning style categories in the questionnaire include, visual, social, physical, aural, verbal, solitary, and logical. The preferred method of learning in my class was social with a rating of 80%. The other methods that ranked on the higher end include learning physically, aurally, and verbally. There is a wide array of learning styles exhibited amongst my students, but most students fall into the social learning category (See Figure 2).


Learning Style Results


These results seem to reflect the behavior I have witnessed in my classroom and the majority of students agreed with their individual learning style. My students seem to thrive when they work in groups, discuss the material together, and move around the classroom. These results were attained by analyzing each student’s individual learning preferences and averaging them together. When my students viewed their individual results, all but one agreed. The student responded, “I think I’m more solitary than anything, so I have to disagree with some of the numbers.” Some positive responses include, “Yes, it was very accurate because I like verbal, hands-on learning and this is what it shows,” and “I agree with my graph because I feel more comfortable learning in groups, where everybody can ask questions.” I feel this particular learning-styles inventory is important because even the one student who disagreed did not disagree with all of the results, only thought that the solitary numbers should have been even higher.

Traditional Assessment

As expected, student scores increased from the pre-test to the post-test due to instruction and review. Only twenty-five percent of students failed the post-test, and these grades were still at least a thirty point improvement over the pre-test. The majority of students scored an eighty or above. The mean score for my class on the post-test was a seventy-seven; the pre-test mean was thirty-three. While the information was learned for the test, I wanted to ensure that students could apply their knowledge to their own writing. This can only be accomplished through project-based learning. Even my students who prefer to work individually enjoy completing projects because they are creating rather than reciting knowledge.

Poetry Project

The scores on the students’ poetry projects were very high ranging from a seventy to one-hundred percent. They were graded based on five categories, participation, creativity, process, technology, and content. Content was the section worth the most points because points were deducted for not using the required poetic elements here. I only had two students not apply these correctly and lose points in this section. The most common mistake students made was forgetting to document where pictures were from. The students’ mean score on the poetry-project was an eighty-two, an increase over their traditional assessment scores. From these results, I can assume that project-based learning is beneficial to student learning of poetry and poetic concepts. Students were able to apply the knowledge they learned by creating an original poem to be published on the web. Student mastery of poetic terms can be seen by the overall increase in scores from the test to the project. I interpret these results to mean that project-based learning increases students’ understanding through the application of knowledge and skills.

Post-Project Questions

Most students reacted positively to the hyper-poetry project; almost eighty percent of my students found the project meaningful and were excited about completing it. Responses included, “Yes. I felt it was meaningful because it helped me put together a webpage and learn how to write poetry about certain things even though it was challenging,” and “. . . because I was able to express one of my most fears and turn it into a beautiful poem. . . I like writing my own poetry because it’s my feelings and how I feel. I’ve been writing poetry all my life, so I’ve just started writing even more than before.” Three students, or about twelve percent, felt that the experience was not that meaningful because either they were already extremely comfortable writing poetry or have no interest in the genre period. Two students (slightly less than ten percent of the class) had mixed responses. One said, “I’m actually less comfortable writing poetry than before. Unlike narratives poetry requires strict forms of writing and descriptions. It limits my thoughts about writing.” I don’t interpret these mixed responses as negative towards project-based learning because both students enjoyed using the technology and felt that it brought meaning to their project.

Students became excited and wanted to create webpages beyond most peoples’ initial capabilities. Many would have liked more time to learn the idiosyncrasies of Dreamweaver and how best to manipulate their webpages. One of the positive outcomes of this project is that while all students do not like writing poems, and some do not like using the computer, none dislike both. Because of this, students who feel threatened by technology still enjoyed the assignment because many of them like writing poetry and vice versa. Of the five students (twenty percent) who either claimed the project and poetry were either not meaningful or had mixed feelings about the project, all of them said they enjoyed using the technology.

Eighty-three percent of the students found the computer useful because they were able to do more using the program than they would have been able to do on paper alone. They enjoyed using the technology because “it’s fun, entertaining, and it’s easier to work with because if you want to change anything you can,” “we were able to do more to our poems and it made it more interesting,” and “it was a new approach to poetry for me also because it made me actually want to do the project and it was easy to be creative because I don’t know how to draw so my project could still look presentable with computer graphics.” The positive response my students had to using technology was also probably due to the programs used. Dreamweaver is user friendly and even students who were resistant were able to master the basics of the program because all of my students completed their artifacts (webpages).

While most of the responses were positive, I had one student say that the project was not useful because, “I don’t think we really need to make a webpage for just a poem.” This particular response comes from a student who enjoyed the technology aspect of the project, but disliked writing poetry. Although the response questions the necessity of the assignment, this student was more likely to write a poem because of the technology. Some students were disappointed because they could not make their webpages look how they had envisioned. Other students said, “It was fun because I was able to show my emotions; also I was able to put a background on it to make it more emotional,” and “I thought the project was useful because it taught us how to use dreamweaver. Also it might have encouraged people to write more poetry.” The overall consensus was that the computer made writing a poem more creative and fun. One of my favorite responses is, “It was useful to use the computer because my page could still look creative without me having to draw and it made me work harder for my page to look nice.” I think it is interesting that several of my students claimed to work harder because they knew that using technology expanded the aesthetic possibilities of their poems. I think that one of the signs of a meaningful project is when students go beyond the requirements and create something with personal meaning. The hyper-poetry project allows students to form a modern and personal connection to poetry as exhibited by their positive reactions to the project itself and their willingness to exceed expectations.

Many students enjoyed incorporating images and music that enhanced their poems. Several brought in photos from home or found others on the web to enhance the message found in their poetry. Adding music to the poems was an option that not many had time to accomplish (mostly due to a lack of knowledge of Dreamweaver that can only be attained through time and experience), but I did have a few students stay after school using this additional time to incorporate a musical element.

Figure 3. Correlation of Student Test and Project Scores According to Learning Style

Bar Graph of Results

Conclusions


My students were extremely interested in poetry, but had little knowledge of poetic terms or how to apply them. Often educators confuse liking something with being knowledgeable of it, and my students’ initial reactions to poetry along with their pre-test assessment show that there is not always a correlation. While most students enjoyed poetry on some level, few had enough prior knowledge to pass the initial assessment. There was also no definitive connection between enjoying reading poetry and enjoying writing it. I think this is important because many students like poetry because it can connect with their own feelings; some make this connection through reading other people’s poetry, others would rather express their feelings through writing their own, and some enjoy both.

Students benefited from project-based learning because the scores on student projects were significantly higher than those of the pre-test. On average, all students regardless of learning style scored higher on the project than the post-test as well (view Figure 3). Students who are physical learners had the greatest increase in scores. Because the majority of my students enjoy learning socially, I think this learning style lends itself to working together on projects. Students were engaged when working on their projects and would have actually liked to have more time to complete them. While a few students (those who were solitary learners) preferred to work alone, everyone passed the poetry project and exhibited the required skills. In fact, students who preferred to work alone still did better on the project, probably because although they worked with others, the poem itself was individually written. The project allowed students to make poetry meaningful because they were creating their own, writing about topics of their choice, rather than reading poetry chosen for them. Although most of my students find reading poetry they can connect with just as meaningful as writing it, finding a poem that all students like is an impossible feat, that is why I prefer it when my students create their own poems and projects.

The hyper-poetry project received an overwhelmingly positive response from my students, and part of this was because they were able to use technology. Technology scaffolding was needed in order for students to master the requirements of the hyper-poetry assignment, but all students were able to master the rudiments of Dreamweaver and webpage design. While many students were forced to step out of their comfort zones (none had ever made a webpage before), they enjoyed being able to add pictures, symbols, and colors to their poems. Although this can also be done on paper, it does not have the same effect. Many students claimed they were happy to be able to express themselves using pictures that they didn’t draw. Not all students enjoy using technology or writing poetry, but when the two were combined, all of my students were able to find the project meaningful in some way.

Connecting students to the curriculum is something that I think is inherent in being a successful teacher. Poetry is a great way to accomplish this task, but the challenge is getting students past their prior negative experiences with poetry or their resistance to write. Incorporating technology, in this case Dreamweaver and Internet research, alleviated much student resistance. From a numbers only standpoint, my students successfully learned poetic concepts without project-based learning. Student scores rose to an acceptable class average of seventy-seven. However, by taking an extra step in learning and teaching, more students were able to benefit due to the exposure to multiple teaching methods that correlate with different learning styles. I am of the opinion that adding project-based learning to a unit can only help, because it will not harm students who already grasp the material traditionally and it can enhance the learning of those who still have doubts or questions.

This case study supports the need for project-based learning in conjunction with poetry. Students of all learning styles and attitudes increased their scores through applying knowledge in a project. One of the reasons for the success of the hyper-poetry project is due to technology integration. Students not susceptible to writing poetry tended to enjoy incorporating technology. Future studies could occur using the same technology (Dreamweaver) in conjunction with other literary units of study (short stories, fiction, nonfiction, etc.) to determine whether student interest was enhanced. Future research needs to be conducted studying different groups of students’ (not honors, but maybe technical or remedial students) reactions to technology integration projects, specifically with poetry.

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Appendices

Appendix 1


IRB
STUDENT ASSENT FORM


I, , understand that my guardian has given his/her permission for me to take part in a research project about how students best learn and understand poetry under the direction of Meghann Hummel.


I am doing this because I want to do it. I understand that I can stop at any time and my grades (or anything else) will not be affected in any way.

______________________________________
Student Consent Signature

Appendix 2


IRB
PARENT/GUARDIAN CONSENT FORM

I understand my student ______________________________________________ has been asked to participate in a research project being conducted by Meghann Hummel at UGA.

This is an anonymous study researching how children react to different approaches to poetry. All student information will remain confidential. Students may choose to participate and there will be no penalty for not participating. All students will complete the assignments, but only data gathered from students who consent to participate will be analyzed.


_________________________________________________ __________________
Guardian Consent Date

_________________________________________________
Researcher Signature

Appendix 3


Survey

1. How have you been taught about poetry in the past? Mark all that apply.
A. Lectures
B. Question & Answer Discussions
C. Projects
D. Other_______________________

2. Please rate how your understanding/appreciation of poetry was influenced by each approach.
A. lecture
none avg. great
1 2 3 4 5

B. Question & Answer Discussions
none avg. great
1 2 3 4 5

C. Projects
none avg. great
1 2 3 4 5

D. Other ____________________________
none avg. great
1 2 3 4 5

3. Rate the degree to which you enjoy reading poetry.
none avg. great
1 2 3 4 5

4. Explain why.

5. How often do you read poetry that is not a part of an assignment?
never sometimes frequently
1 2 3 4 5

6. How often do you write your own poetry?
never sometimes frequently
1 2 3 4 5

7. What topics or themes does your poetry deal with? Please list.
Appendix 4


Poetry Pre-Test

Poetry Terms

1. Write an example of a simile.

2. Write an example of personification.

3. _____________________ is the repetition of the accented vowel sound and subsequent sounds in a word.


4. ______________________ is the repetition of consonant sounds in words that appear close together.


5. Define pun.


6. Paraphrase the last stanza from this poem.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


7. Interpret This Poem

“We Never Know How High We Are” Emily Dickinson

We never know how high we are
Till we are asked to rise
And then if we are true to plan
Our statures touch the skies—
The Heroism we recite
Would be a normal thing
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
For fear to be a King—

Cubits=ancient measure of length
Warp=twist or distort

Write 3-5 sentences explaining what you think Dickinson is saying.

Appendix 5


Post-test

Poetry Terms

5. Write an example of a simile.

6. Write an example of a pun.

7. _____________________ is the repetition of the accented vowel sound and subsequent sounds in a word.


8. ______________________ is the repetition of consonant sounds in words that appear close together.


5. Define personification.

9. Paraphrase this stanza of Robert Frost’s poem.

I shall be telling this with a sigh 10.
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 11.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 12.
I took the one less traveled by, 13.
And that has made all the difference 14.


Interpret This Poem

“A Dream Deferred” by Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?


Write 3-5 sentences explaining what you think Hughes is saying.

Appendix 6


Post-Unit Questions

1. Explain what you liked and disliked about the recent poetry unit. Describe at least three things you liked and three things you disliked.


2. Do you feel that the experience was meaningful? Explain why or why not by answering the following: Do you now know more about poetry than you
did before this unit? Are you now more comfortable writing your own
poetry? Are you now reading and/or writing more poetry?


Appendix 7


Poetry-Project Rubric

Section Details Point Value
Participation Students complete their poems, peer edit, create links, and create a webpage that reflects sincere effort. 10
Creativity Students use their imaginations to create original poems and representations of their poems. The principle of fearless curiosity is reflected in the final project. 20
Process Students complete all steps in the process: write poem, edit poem, pick links, draw out page, explore dreamweaver, create a complete webpage 20
Technology Students document any sources (pictures they found). All links work appropriately. The placement on the page must also make sense. 20
Content Students use all required poetic elements in their poem. 30


Appendix 8

Post-Project Questions

1. Explain what you liked and disliked about the recent poetry unit. Describe at least three things you liked and three things you disliked.


2. Do you feel that the experience was meaningful? Explain why or why not by answering the following: Do you now know more about poetry than you
did before this unit? Are you now more comfortable writing your own
poetry? Are you now reading and/or writing more poetry?

3. Did you enjoy using technology with your project? Explain why or why not.

4. Rate the usefulness of the computer for this project.


unnecessary useful extremely important
1 2 3 4 5


Explain your answer.

Appendix 9

Link to Student Projects

http://www.astralspot.com/Meg/project/home.htm