Real learning through experience What is it

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Rediscovered: Dewey and the project lesson

Educationally disadvantaged young people become »capable of further training« - observations from a comprehensive school in the Saarland LLL program

Klaus Winkel

For the introduction

"Look! Peter is learning English with Renate! ”Shouts Stefan excitedly into the hallway. Immediately 10 to 12 children from a 6th grade gather in the doorway and wonder. Her English teacher and tutor Renate and her math teacher Peter sit in the staff room and practice the correct pronunciation of simple mathematical terms. No dr Peter Kasten, who also teaches science in the class, has no plans to give a scientific lecture at an international specialist congress. There one would have paid little attention to his somewhat careless pronunciation of the "th". He was supposed to be teaching math in English in Stefan's class in a few days. And it came like this:

The comprehensive school in Gersheim in Saarland, in which the situation described could be observed, pretended to be project-friendly. But despite all the enthusiasm for project teaching, a line of conflict ran between the English teachers and their colleagues, as specialist hours were repeatedly used for project work on the subject, for excursions, presentations and other things without compensation. Projects effectively break the deadlock of the 45-minute hour. Now all teachers were enough subject representatives to develop an understanding of the needs of their colleagues. They all invented the "English day" together. For one day in the 6th year (6 classes with 30 students each) only English should be spoken: in class, during breaks, during lunch time and in the study groups. Only teachers who had only learned Latin and Greek in their school were exempt. These two were not allowed to talk at all and were called for everyone's amusement detectives deployed: whoever was caught speaking German that day went to the prison. They wore hats in the fashion of American detectives. Slightly less correct students avoided their proximity.

The English Day was a success. An important consequence of this was that the pupils were significantly more motivated to learn, after experiencing the effort their teachers made while studying as well as their natural willingness to seek help with pronunciation and sometimes with vocabulary in class. But they were also impressed by themselves, as they were already able to communicate well in the foreign language. Later, the unsynchronized films that the schoolchildren had got to know in their leisure time area were particularly popular.

However, whether the English Day was a project, i.e. whether it met the criteria of a project, was not checked at the time.

Criteria for project teaching

To say it in advance: the There is no project method in our usual use of the term method, but rather a variety of project teaching methods that can be varied and combined, which can be combined to a specific project course depending on the situation and goal orientation. Diversity does not mean arbitrariness. Essential project criteria must be made valid as a basis for the choice of method and every project probably also follows a typical process. But first a few remarks on the origin of the project teaching.

Project teaching idea

Even if the project idea is probably much older, the literature often introduces John Dewey as the founder of the project method. This is entirely legitimate because Dewey developed a theory of education based on pragmatic philosophy. The project method plays a central role in this. The project method is not a method in the interpretation of German educational science, the method and didactics often separate with the result that method can be taught for its own sake and detached from content and can ultimately run empty. For Dewey, 'method' is essentially identical to 'thinking'. Understanding this is essential in order to be able to understand project teaching as an alternative to specialist teaching and to make it usable.

For Dewey, philosophy grows out of problems of human coexistence; their job is to help solve human problems. He is interested in "dealing with problems and developing possible solutions that are always hypothetical and should be part of an ongoing process of further development". (Speth 1997, p. 20f)

If philosophy cannot be about ultimate truths and firmly established systems, schools cannot convey well-structured, diversified canonical knowledge either. That doesn't educate. Rather, the exchange between the self and the environment is educational. Man gains knowledge by actively dealing with the world in which he has experience. Gaining experience is not a thoughtless act, but always a spiritual, creative process. This also makes it clear that not only manual activities are meant. It is about the thinking comprehension of the changes in the process of dealing with the object. “Thinking experience” becomes a central concept for Dewey. I am doing this right now at my desk in order to deal with the project to show the possible importance of project teaching for teaching quality. It is a difficult and enjoyable undertaking: both qualities are required in projects.

Dewey clarifies the educational method of experience in his book "Demokratie und Erbildung":

“The essential characteristics of the 'method' are therefore identical to the essential characteristics of 'thinking'. They are as follows: first, that the student has a real state of affairs suitable for the acquisition of experience - that there is a coherent activity in which he is interested for its own sake; secondly: that in this situation a real problem arises and with it a stimulus for thought; third, that he has the knowledge and observations necessary to deal with the problem; fourth: that he finds possible solutions and is obliged to develop them in an orderly manner; fifth: that he has the opportunity and opportunity to test his thoughts through practical application, to clarify their meaning and to discover their value independently. "(Dewey 1964, p. 218)

When these levels of thinking are included, experience is valuable and educational. If this is to be realized in school, a new understanding of learning must be at least on an equal footing with the conventional for project teaching: In project teaching, there are no fixed stocks of knowledge that are divided into areas (subjects) that confront the students in an impersonal, objective manner and according to abstract and intellectual principles and must be learned. This learning is limited in time by the prescribed timetable, which specifies the grade and number of hours for each subject. In terms of content, the curriculum prescribes the subject matter. According to Dewey, this learning according to a plan is hardly possible successfully, since the teachers have considerable problems connecting the abstract subject matter with the active interest of the students.

Project teaching changes essential conditions of subject teaching: the active engagement with an object that is of lasting interest for the student and society constitutes students and teachers alike as subjects of learning. The principle of “research-based learning” that applies to them calls for different communication structures than instructional teaching. The differences between teachers and learners are also changed by the fact that there are no external objective standards for the assessment, but must be developed in a communicative manner. Even failure or success is not a standard, since the student can also fail “grandiose” and thereby has a particularly intense and thought-provoking experience. What is particularly valuable is the doing and the thinking that leads to higher thinking.

The understanding of time has to be redeveloped for project teaching. The progressive development is not possible in allotted short time units. Time does not flow in projects, as assumed in the timetable, externally given evenly linear, in project lessons it is a quality of the subject and the process and belongs to the subjects. The active argument does not have a bell, it needs phases of tension and relaxation after the students have judged the progress of their project. Of course, the time frame for a project has to be determined and dates have to be contractually stipulated.

For pupils, active engagement with a part of the world is always associated with feelings, sympathies, inclinations and interests. He does this as a whole person with heart, head and hand, connecting his child's experience with the object in the process of learning. In this way, the learner defines himself directly as the object, which is not didactically prepared following a scientific logic that is neither recognizable nor even comprehensible for students. The independently acting thinking subject gains 'dignity' (cf. Schreier 1997, p. 81)

The teachers also gain 'dignity' in project lessons. Studies and world experience enable them to anchor an ideal image for project teaching in the school and, with their specific competence (mathematical-scientific, linguistic, artistic), to work on their school project in an active way in such a way that they themselves and their students Mastering the future better and better. In this sense, they design school as a space of experience in which the pupils can learn from the teacher (cf. Maturana / Pörksen 2002, p. 75ff)

Technical or course teaching and project teaching, as it must be thought and implemented based on Dewey, are antipodes. Anyone who misunderstands project teaching merely as a further methodical variant in the frequently observed method circus of some teaching misses its core and destroys its potential. But how do project lessons get into school?

"Wouldn't it make sense to imagine a school system with a double curriculum in which, on the one hand, in a (...) part 'exam preparation', the tests and performance records are worked directly and without gimmicks, and on the other hand, the rest of the time available is ruthlessly focused on the Work on the 'hard and pleasant tasks' of projects? "(Schreier 1997, p. 83)

If you wanted to answer this question with yes, you should also specify that exam preparation does not consume more than half or a maximum of two-thirds of the learning time.

Criteria and standards must then be applied for project teaching that affect the qualification and role of the teacher as well as project practice.

It is already common practice to carry out projects, project weeks in schools. According to my observations, they are often marginalized (after the censorship conferences, before the holidays) and often follow the interests of the teachers outside of the classroom and not the goal of actively dealing with a major problem, a suitable situation, by the students. Therefore, and in order to promote a culture of project teaching, criteria and procedures for project teaching are listed here.

Project criteria and procedures

Project teaching has a peculiar double character. It's not just like any other class content determinable, “but he is also, (...) as Method of change and in this respect mmethodical determinable ”(emphasis also in the text below, KW). Dagmar Hänsel works out this dual character (1988, p.30f):

„▪ object From a content perspective, project teaching is a real situation suitable for the acquisition of experience, from which a real problem arises for the students. (...) The problem from which the lesson starts can not only be concrete problems of the social environment or the personal experience of the students, but also the way in which learning and teaching usually takes place in school. The secondary topic of every project lesson, namely the lesson and its changes, can thus also become the actual subject of the project lesson.

aim The aim of project teaching is to solve this problem in a better way, i.e. more educated, than what happens in social reality and in school.

▪ The method (...) is characterized by the fact that the problem processing (...) takes place in a joint effort of teachers and teachers and in an active confrontation with reality. The need to solve a real problem together results in a typical course structure of the project process, which leads from the formulation of the problem and the conceptual design of possible solutions via a plan to the best possible problem processing, the practical testing of the plan to the assessment of the problem solution.

In summary, project lessons can be used with it content determine as Classes in which the teacher and pupil try to solve a real problem in a joint effort and in an active engagement with reality, better than is usually done in school and society.

object of project teaching is, now viewed from a methodological perspective, a planned change of people and the world, i.e. of students, teachers, school and society.

aim of project teaching as a planned change in people and the world is to bring about education in a very comprehensive sense. Upbringing means not only a higher development of the individuals involved in the upbringing process, but also a design of school and society that is based on the standard of upbringing. According to this idea, school and society must be designed in such a way that they allow all of their members that comprehensive higher development and thus education.

▪ The method of project teaching as a planned change is an educational-practical one. The goal of project teaching, the educational change of people and the world, is achieved through practical educational activity by teachers and students in the process of this activity and at the same time extends beyond this process. It is realized in the process insofar as a new, reciprocal relationship is established between man and the world, which makes the utopia of a humane school and society concrete. Even if this utopia disintegrates again with the conclusion of the planned attempt at change, it creates a new perspective for action in practice.

In summary, project lessons can be used with it methodical determine as a planned attempt, as Pedagogical experiment that is undertaken by teachers and students in the form of lessons and that at the same time transcends the boundaries of lessons by trying to make school and society educational through practical pedagogical action. "

Project teaching is mandatory at a experience-based Educational philosophy of teachers bound, Hansel also emphatically points this out (op. cit., p. 31f). Teachers have to learn to understand how to design their lessons as education, only then does the project lesson come to terms with itself.The process of dealing with concrete situations with a societal core, from which a social task arises, is educable and no different.

This dual character of project teaching is possibly one reason why it has not really gained a foothold in German schools. Although Schreier's proposal to establish project teaching alongside exam preparation with a good amount of time is based on the complementarity of both types of teaching, in fact these teaching types are also destructively opposed. Project teaching always questions conventional teaching and at the same time develops the alternative. At the same time, this tension could be absorbed and endured by teachers and students. School itself is also a project that has to be pushed further and further. However, the subject teaching itself does not contain the necessary dynamics. The exclusivity with which it takes place in the majority of schools - especially high schools - has led to the TIMSS and PISA disasters, among other things.

Project teaching requires a high level of professional competence on the part of the teachers. It starts with coping with the content-related tasks (Hansel, op. Cit.):

1. Choosing a really appropriate state of affairs. It is not enough to set up a project tree and let the students collect and organize what they would like to work on. The teachers have to check with their students how relevant the suggestions are and whether they really contain adequate social tasks. In the traditional sense, this is a didactic task that has to be dealt with in dialogue here. Criteria are developed as to what a real situation is, whether it can actually be dealt with - not every relevant problem can and may be dealt with in school projects.

2. Development of a work plan. Even if teaching projects are to be open, a common plan must be worked out; Only the plan allows targeted action and enables openness, namely if one makes well-founded changes in the planning meetings that are necessary again and again.

3. Establish an action-related analysis of the problem. The action itself, the work process, the experiences made in it and thinking about it in roundtables, minutes, diaries, daily news is at least as important as a possible result.

4. To check the problem solution found against reality means to determine whether a better, because educative, solution to the problem has become possible. However, the problem processing can also be checked to see whether it is a better alternative to the current one. And finally, it can be asked whether and how those involved have changed and developed.

And continues with the method-related tasks:

1. Clarify the prerequisites for the experiment. Criticism of school and society as well as the conviction that one's own actions are significant for the change are included as prerequisites. Therefore, the teachers involved must give an account of their educational philosophy, their conception of school and teaching. In project lessons, it is a matter of course daily practice to subject it to meta-didactic reflection. Of course, the institutional conditions of the lessons and their changeability must also be checked so that there is no need to work on lines of conflict that decisively falsify the core of the selected situation.

2. Determining the goal of the experiment means not only giving an account of what students and teachers want to learn about a particular problem, but also, for the teachers, how they want to change in and through the project teaching. Project teaching is always a situation of change for both: students and teachers.

3. Establish experimental conditions. Project teaching needs better conditions than specialist teaching. Manufacturing these is part of the project. They consist, for example, in the more intensive cooperation of teachers, in determining their own time rhythm, in opening the school, in providing a PC, telephone and various work materials, in involving experts, foregoing the curriculum, tests and class work as well as conventional grading procedures.

4. Check the result of the experiment. In addition to the question of whether I have changed as a teacher in the project and how the students have changed, the question must also be asked how the project process has affected normal teaching. The teacher-student relationships can be changed, the professionalism of the teachers has increased, and new forms of cooperation have emerged.

After all, project teaching is tied to criteria that in turn require certain methods. Mastering them and combining them in a targeted manner is one of the teachers' prerequisites.

Emer and Lenzen (1997, p.217-220) name the following criteria:

▪ Independent work

▪ Interdisciplinary work

▪ Product orientation

▪ Communicative mediation

▪ Relation to society

▪ Relation to life practice

▪ Holistic work

From the abundance of methods, they take up the examples that are important for project teaching:

▪ Action orientation: Action orientation is first and foremost a teaching principle with an associated area of ​​methods. It is the central methodological principle of project work, which affects the self-activity and social competence of the learners. Action plays a central role in project work, not as a mere activity, but more pointedly as an intervention in social reality.

▪ Opening up schools: With the associated methods (e.g. exploration, interview, reportage, making contact), various dimensions of action orientation are addressed and criteria of project work (practical life, relation to society, etc.) are emphasized.

Other important methods are:

▪ Open teaching

▪ Experience-based teaching

▪ Epoch lessons

▪ Social learning and group lessons

▪ Exemplary genetic learning

▪ Interdisciplinary teaching

▪ Experiential education

▪ Discovery learning

▪ Practical learning

Project teaching requires the establishment of an object-related and goal-related network of criteria and methods and special consideration of the students' methodological skills to be developed. This network is always only a means, never an end.

Quality of teaching

Once again, the reception of the PISA study was accompanied by a critical examination of current teaching practice and the current method of questioning-developing learning (e.g. Baumert 2002, pp. 100-150). Basically, Dewey made this criticism 100 years ago. His concept of 'thinking experience' sees the student as a future person in a democracy. Conventional teaching tends to educate citizens about citizenship, so it is affirmative. It does not fulfill the claim of a democratically constituted country. For this reason alone, its reform is urgently needed. The fact that Germany is in the lower third of the success scales in all international comparative studies also forces a revision of the subject teaching and the teaching structure. Project teaching can help solve the problem. The class itself would be the really appropriate state of affairs for active discussion over a long period of time. The interest of the students is as certain as that of society. The project method offers the advantage of evolutionary development by the teachers and students themselves, if they cooperate with one another in specialist groups and year teams and in class councils and school conferences. The procedure is experimental, the results are implemented by you in new practice. For the teachers it is ultimately about the professionalization of their profession: to make their own activities observable and reflective and to focus on optimization. For this purpose, routines of action are to be dismantled and new action security to be worked out in a collegial manner, also under the condition of project teaching. Baumert rightly writes: “There is nothing to be bureaucratic here.” (Loc. Cit., P.147) Project lessons must be wanted by the students and teachers, then it will certainly improve the quality of the lessons.

From school to further education

These observations can be traced back - it was described at the beginning - to a project at the comprehensive school in Gersheim in Saarland. This school is a particularly committed educational institution. She also takes part in the Saarland project as part of the BLK pilot program for “Lifelong Learning”, which is supervised by the German Institute for Adult Education. The aim of the Saarland LLL project is to prepare educationally disadvantaged young people for lifelong learning processes, especially through media-supported project learning. They should be able to continue their education later, for example in their professional life, “independently” or with the support of adult education institutions. Especially with educationally disadvantaged young people, this is actually only possible through project work, through comprehensible learning contexts. The Gersheim experience is very encouraging in this regard.

So we can summarize: The example of the comprehensive school in Gersheim has once again made it clear that there seems to be a connection between the motivation to learn and the learning results; and the desire to learn is certainly increased through project teaching. In addition, the Gersheim experience suggests that project teaching also increases the chances of being able to win over educationally disadvantaged young people later as adults for further training opportunities.


Bastian, J./Gudjons, H./Schnack, J./Speth, M. (eds.) (1997): Theory of project teaching. Hamburg

Baumert, J. (2002): Germany in an international comparison of education. In: Killius, N./Kluge, J./Reisch, L .: The future of education. Frankfurt a. M., pp 100-150

Dewey, J. (1964): Democracy and Education. Weinheim / Basel (3rd edition reprinted in 1993)

Emer, W./Lenzen, K.D. (1997): Methods of Project Teaching. In: Bastian, J. et al. (Ed.): Theory of project teaching. Hamburg, pp. 213-230

Hänsel, D./Müller, H. (1988): The project book secondary level. Weinheim / Basel

Maturana, U. R./Pörksen, B. (2002): “The student learns the teacher.” In: Pedagogy, Heft 7-8, pp.75ff

Schreier, H. (1997): Three facets of the project idea. In: Bastian, J. et al. (Ed.): Theory of project teaching. Hamburg, pp. 71-88

Speth, M. (1997): John Dewey and the project idea. In: Bastian, J. et al. (Ed.): Theory of project teaching. Hamburg, p.19-37

German Institute for Adult Education
July 2003

Klaus Winkel, rediscovered: Dewey and the project lessons. Online on the Internet:
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