Limitations of Project Work

Rainbow of Ribbons
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I do an amount of project based learning particularly in SESE. I just think that one has to be very systematic and structured to get the most value from it as a methodology.

I am still struggling with maximizing the benefits of co-operative learning. I feel without a lot of initial direction from teachers, it can fail and have a detrimental effect on the participants, resulting in very little learning.

My own personal and teaching journey goes some way towards explaining my reservations. I am a child of an Irish classroom of the 60s where collaboration was not encouraged! I started teaching in the early 80s where it was seen as an enormous ‘sticking plaster’ where it would be the answer to nearly everything.

At the time the enormous creativity shown in classrooms in the UK were given to us as exemplars. It seemed to me at the time that project based learning was presented nearly as an alternative to strict objective based lesson planning.

I was on my own learning curve when I first started teaching. I had a third class. Deciding that project work was mostly about process and developing research skills I gave the children ‘free choice’ in terms of deciding on their topic with the very first project that we did.

Then each child set about researching their subject. In those days our main source of information was a twenty volume sets of the Children’s Britannica. In my first year teaching I asked one child to look up Russia, her chosen topic. Some long moments later when she hadn’t resurfaced, I went to look for her and found that she had started at the beginning, looking through Volume One Aa – Ay and was laboriously going through each book page by page. That’s when I realized I’d have to teach research skills.

To further elaborate on my reservations about the use of projects in class I wI think Allan Ahlberg‘s poem ‘Do a Project’ sums up my reservations about project work and co-operative learning

Do a project…

Do a project on dinosaurs

Do a project on sport

Do a project on the Empire State Building

The Eiffel Tower

The Blackpool Tower

The top of a bus

Ride a project on horses

Such a project on sweets

Play a project on the piano

Chop a project on trees


Write a project on paper

A plaster cast

The back of an envelope

The head of a pin

Write a project on the Great Wall of China

Hadrian’s wall

The playground wall

Mrs Wall


Do a project in pencil

In ink

In half an hour

In bed


Of someone else

In verse

Or worse

Do a project in playtime

Do a project on your hands and knees

Your head

With one arm tied behind you

Do a project wearing handcuffs

In a steel coffin

Eighty feet down

At the bottom of the Hudson River

(which ideally is frozen over)

On Houdini

Forget a project on memory

And refuse one on obedience.

There is also a story that sums the dynamic I often see where there is a group based project where not everyone is pulling their weight. 

A Little Story

This is a story

About four people




Anybody and nobody.

There was an

Important job to

Be done and

Everybody was

Sure that

Somebody would

Do it.



Could have done

It, but nobody

Did it.


Got angry about

That, because it

Was everybody’s

Job. Everybody

Thought that

Anybody could

Do it, but nobody

realised that


Wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that



Somebody when

Nobody did what

Anybody could

Have done.

So it is vital that the teacher monitored that the goals are being achieved and that the participants are maintaining an effective working relationship. Judicious assigning of roles to the team helps.



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