But learner-directed projects may vary in terms of the following:

  • The degree to which the project requires conscious participation on the part of learners.
  • Whether or not all learners in a class or grade are involved.
  • The degree to which groups of learners who meet project criteria are selected, while others are not.
  • Whether or not the project outcomes explicitly state direct and measurable impacts on learners.

Learner motivation and buy-in are vital in projects in which learners need to actively participate. Some key lessons learnt:

  • Grade 12 is a short academic year, and learners are under many other pressures therefore, the best case scenario for including Grade 12 learners is if they have already been involved in the same project in previous grades.
  • Targeting Grades 8 and 9s has some benefits, in that the project is then setting up a foundation to reduce the need for remediation in later grades. However, this must be weighed up against the levels of maturity and commitment that these learners can bring to a project.
  • Mechanisms for targeted selection should suit the aims of the project. Some general observations include:
    • Internal school marks are a poor mechanism in multi-school projects, as standards may not be consistent across schools.
    • An externally designed and marked selection assessment tailored to the nature of the project is a more reliable indicator.
    • Academic testing should not be the only selection mechanism. Commitment to full participation is an important consideration.
    • Where projects require commitment and enthusiasm from the targeted learners, an interview might be the best mechanism. This can also be used to check whether home circumstances and maturity will support their participation in the project.
    • An essay could replace or supplement the interview process. This mechanism was used in GIBS Spirit of Youth. Graduates from the programme endorsed this approach, saying that it weeded out learners who were there for the wrong reasons.
    • Schools should have a designated role to play in the selection process, as this ensures buy-in from school leadership.
    • School-based selection however needs to be carefully monitored. Schools may have a tendency to exclude rebellious, non-conformist or ‘problematic’ learners, who may in fact be the very learners who have leadership potential, or who could benefit from a particular programme.
  • Some projects are aimed at target groups who might be performing in a specific mark range (e.g. either high performing or under-performing). However, projects should be prepared to be flexible in relation to these criteria as need dictates
  • Some projects may apply to all learners. There are benefits to this in that all learners are on an equal footing in the project, and no one is excluded from potential benefits. In addition, projects that are inclusive of all learners in targeted grades tend to draw in greater commitment from school leadership and teachers.
  • The flip side is that not all projects will cater for the full range of academic or social needs to the full body of learners. Projects designed specifically for a targeted group will dilute their intended benefits if all learners, regardless of match to project aims, take part in the programme.

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