The Aftermath of Project Work: Confessions and Reflections
By: Isabel Siow (16S03I) and Tasha Palani (16S03P)
Remember being asked about your worst Project Work experiences last year?
Our sincerest apologies for dredging up those memories again. However, with the end of the school term and the resultant closure of the Project Work (PW) nightmare we’d all love to forget, it is high time that we reflect on this journey that we have carried each other through. We have collected the following accounts from a variety of batch mates who were happy to share their stories with us! We sincerely hope that this article will provide an appropriate finale for your PW trials and, at the same time, provide some useful pointers for the next few batches of candidates to come.
When it came down to summarizing the PW experience, our survey brought up a few choice words, the most apt comparison of which was that of “a never-ending marathon”. We have found this especially true during the last few months of our journey where the gruelling rehearsals in preparation for oral presentation ate up the better part of our afternoons. However, it is surprising to note that most share the sentiment that the worst part was not the heavy workload but instead the stress that built up as the (wrong part of the) hourglass filled with sand. With frayed nerves and the threat of losing that highly-coveted A grade looming over candidates, friction between group members bubbled over to the surface and brought out the worst in the majority of them. Frustrations increased in groups with half-hearted group members or those not pulling their weight, making group sessions all the more unpleasant. One frustrated candidate stated that “not everyone was self-motivated to work so we had to keep prompting each other… or else absolutely nothing would get done,” a sentiment that aptly encapsulates that of most other members stuck with uncooperative or disinterested groupmates. A fun fact for the remaining survivors: amusingly, the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board has suggested a reasonable recommended time of 60–75 hours, assuming an average of 2.5 hours per week, to be dedicated to this subject. All those who have been through the arduous Project Work journey with us know that it would be a good week if we could get away with even five times that.
Furthermore, PW, to many, seems to be an inherently unfair process. Some groups are simply blessed with many diligent and dedicated group members while others are forced to pull the weight of less earnest members in their group. In what has been described to be “dysfunctional” groups, the hardworking members had to take on the additional workload of their uncooperative group mates in order to secure the desired grade. Instead of the ideal situation where group members worked together to overcome difficulties, many group’s dynamics played out where one or two dominant members took on the burden of writing the report for the entire group while the remainder of the members sat back and relaxed.
“In a sense, PW is done in a very ‘ends justifies the means’ way, and this compromises the process, which I didn’t like,” states on of our survey respondents. “Let’s be real – there are groups that fake their survey results, etc,” she goes on to add. And in many instances throughout the Project Work journey where this view holds true. Many groups went on to modify the responses in their interview transcript when their interviewee did not say what they intended for them to. This was done largely out of necessity as an appropriate response is always needed in order to build the solid written report required for an A in the subject.
Some reasonably point out that achieving creativity at the risk of potentially jeopardizing one’s academic future is not an ideal situation – so many factors prevent students from reaching our full potential. Admittedly, this is mainly due to the sad truth that most would strive to do anything that will ensure them their grade, including conforming to the ‘model way of doing things’ in order to grab their A, yet in the process, lose out on vital creative learning experiences. For example, some teachers discreetly advised us on how to tweak our reports to fit the mould of the ideal report or piece of evaluation. Surely, they only want the best for their students — but just in terms of tangible takeaways like result slips. However, the inherent need to strive to fit the mould of a model answer defeats the entire purpose of attempting to provide students to engage in ‘creative application of synthesized knowledge’. The strains that the workload of this puts on J1 students, may sometimes result in less than ideal results, and this is potentially a flaw of PW as a graded A Level subject.
However despite all the negativity associated with PW, some say that there is still a silver lining. The greatest redeeming factor of the subject is perhaps the amazingly dedicated teachers who have sacrificed sleep and combatted stress to journey alongside us as we fought the battle that is Project Work. Some teachers were sweet angels from the get-go, gently encouraging us through the difficult times. “Mr Chris is a beast!” said one student, “Thanks for tolerating our nonsense throughout the year.” In contrast, other teachers were painfully brutal at the start of the year as we handed up work of lower quality than expected of us for vetting, leading us to fear them and the entire Project Work process in relation. However, as the months passed, many came to realise in hindsight that perhaps the harsh reprimands were exactly what the unfocused, careless students we were in the beginning had needed, and grew to love their teachers for it. One student revealed, “To be perfectly honest at the start of the year we were really terrified but as the year went on you’ve really helped us with our projects. Thanks for being the best PW teacher we could have hoped for.”
Another of the sweetest takeaways from the Project Work journey is the new friends that some of us have gained. “The best part of the PW experience for me was … the togetherness I suppose, helping each other out, covering for our mistakes, making suggestions, getting to know people [better].” Even those with tough Project Work groups did not walk away from the entire experience empty handed. Some acknowledge the thought of PW as an ‘oddly enriching experience’, despite the stress that came with it. “I felt like I could take on the world after working with my [difficult] group mates,” answered one of our respondents.
We would like to proceed to give a word of advice to next year’s batch of students who will have to sit through the Project Work module. Many of you would have heard horror stories from your seniors of the onslaught of pain and suffering that this subject brings with it. Take all these accounts with a pinch of salt. It is inevitable for a sprinkling of groups to be cursed with poor dynamics or skiving group members, but when we surveyed the ‘16 batch of students, we found a large majority who actually enjoyed their Project Work experience. It seems, as with many other situations, those who are satisfied are quiet with their praise while the disgruntled and unhappy among us are quick and loud in their complaints. Perhaps this explains why you hear more accounts depicting Project Work as a horrible monstrosity as opposed to those painting it in a more favourable light. While it is true that the the sheer volume of work that has to be put in to create a presentable portfolio is at times enough to induce fainting spells, there are still a number of redeemable qualities in Project Work, features that on hindsight make the journey all worth it. The Project Work module might be a pain, but it does not look like it is going away any time soon. So we might as well make the best of it – when you are assigned your groups next year, don’t be so quick to cringe and shy away. Give it a chance. You might find it not quite so bad after all.
Our fellow ‘16 batchmates, the year-long module that has routinely kept us up past all reasonable hours of the night and into the wee hours of the morning; diligently spending the better part of the afternoons on scripts and slides; wasting a ridiculous amount of paper on drafts has finally come to an end. And on this note, so has our article. The Project Work module has been a necessary hurdle for batches after batches of junior college students. Just as it has been for your seniors, this module has, for the past year, made up a large part of your school life. For those of you who thoroughly enjoyed this year’s journey, you are the lucky ones. I am sure the friendships you have formed within your group will only grow from here on. For those of you who experienced hell on earth, the suffering is over now; you have made it through. The struggle has made you stronger. With all that said and done, in the end, be it a beautiful ride through fields of roses with rainbows and glitter dancing through the air or a Lovecraftian nightmare from the darkest depths of your imaginations, this subject would undeniably have made an impact on you too for better or for worse.