Academic journal article School Community Journal

"In the Beginning I Thought It Was All Play:" Parents' Perceptions of the Project Approach in a Second Grade Classroom

Academic journal article School Community Journal

"In the Beginning I Thought It Was All Play:" Parents' Perceptions of the Project Approach in a Second Grade Classroom

Article excerpt

Abstract

The idea of learning through projects has a long history in the field of education in general, and in early childhood education in particular. Many educators provide guidelines on how to approach project work with children and assert its benefits in various areas of children's learning and development. Yet few empirical studies investigate what parents think about their children's learning through projects. In this case study, we intend to fill this gap by exploring parents' perspectives of the project approach in a second grade classroom in which a majority of the students were from low-income families. Our analysis revealed the parents' undisputed positive perceptions of project work, which overall included (a) increasing motivation, (b) building a community of learners, (c) utilizing children's strength, (d) improving academic achievement, and (e) encouraging parent involvement. We conclude with implications for early childhood research and practice, particularly for collaboration between teachers and parents.

Key Words: parents' perceptions, project approach, parent involvement, early childhood education, classroom projects, motivation, community of learners, children's strengths, academic achievement, diversity

Introduction

In this article we report our collaborative inquiry into the perspectives of a group of parents regarding their children's learning through projects. Many parents in a second grade classroom where Mariana taught echoed what Ced-ric's father summarized in one sentence: "In the beginning I thought it was all play." (Note: All names of children and the school, except for the classroom teacher who is the first author of this manuscript, are pseudonyms.) The parents initially thought project work was "all play;" parents and students resisted when first implementing the project approach in this early primary grade classroom. Parents were used to having lengthy homework packets sent home daily, or at least weekly, and consequently asked for more homework. Students were used to sitting and doing desk work without having to be involved in problem solving/situated learning experiences, and they asked when they were going to learn real math with math textbooks. It was indeed more work for students to investigate and find answers to real-life questions than to complete mere paper and pencil tasks. Parents were used to watching their children finish pages of homework as opposed to going to the library or to the park to investigate the habitat of ants, for example.

As time went by, doubts and questions about project work faded. Doing projects that interested them, students often expressed their excitement about the learning that was going on inside and outside the classroom. Parents and siblings knew what was going on in the classroom as the students shared the questions they were pursuing and engaged their families in dinnertime conversations. Yet, we wondered how these parents came to see their children's learning through projects and decided to explore it together.

Framework

A project is an in-depth investigation of a topic in which "children's ideas, questions, theories, predictions, and interests are major determinants of the experiences provided and the work accomplished" (Katz & Chard, 2000, p. 5). Learning through projects is not a new idea. It was advocated during the Progressive Education Movement in the United States. Kilpatrick's (1918) article, ".e Project Method," attested to this historical root. He articulated that a project as "the hearty purposeful act" (p. 320) could be used to actualize the ideal that "education is life" (p. 320), not a mere preparation for later life. He argued that educational experience should have a resemblance to the worthy life, which consists of the "purposive activity" (p. 322). Although the project method is similar to the Bank Street model (Katz & Chard, 1998, 2000), this idea was most extensively used in early childhood classrooms in other countries, such as the British Infant Schools in the 1960s and 1970s (Helm & Katz, 2001) and Reggio Emilia schools in Italy that received international recognition in the past decade (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1993, 1998). …

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