William Kilpatrick: The Project Method

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William Kilpatrick

William Kilpatrick (1871-1965) was a prominent educator of the early to mid 20th century. He was a colleague of John Dewey and a proponent of Dewey’  educational model. Kilpatrick’s contribution to education was not only as a supporter of Dewey’s work but also in his expansion of the work of Dewey.

Views on Education

Kilpatrick supported Dewey’s view of getting away from rote memorization and a rigid curriculum and replacing it with a child-centered approach. He was a major critic of the Committee of Ten with their emphasis on acquiring knowledge through traditional means. Kilpatrick saw school not only fulfilling a intellectual purpose but also a social one.

For Kilpatrick, education was about the social development of the child rather then their cognitive development through the mastery of content. This is not saying that the mind did not matter. The emphasis was on learning to think and not focusing on what to think.

The curriculum should come from real-life and not compartmentalized subject matter.  This idea calls for a need for an integrated curriculum  that stressed maximum student participation. These beliefs led Kilpatrick to create a unique form of teaching.

The Project Method

Kilpatrick’s Project Method is a blend of behavioral psychology and progressivism. It was behavioral in that student behavior was observed but it was also progressive in the focus on child-centered learning. The four steps of the Project Method are as follows.

  1. Purpose
  2. Plan
  3. Execute
  4. Judge

Teachers first need to decide what are they trying to do. Next, the need to develop a plan for achieving these objectives. The development of observable goals is clearly the behavioral aspect of this method. Execution involves the implementation of the the plan. Last is judge, the teacher assess the success of the plan. Again, assessing the students and curriculum is a behavioral aspect of the Project Method.

The progressivist aspect of this method was the constant revision of the curriculum based on student need and interest. The curriculum was developed jointly with the students. This was a core belief of Kilpatrick that students should be leaders in the development of their learning as nothing would motivate them more. This also led to the development of decision-making skills.

It is important to remember that the Project Method was not a rigid method but actually a philosophy. The steps in the method were really just an idea of approaching a child-centered learning experiencing.

Legacy

Few have heard of Kilpatrick today. He was a major supporter of the work of Dewey and lived in the shadow of Dewey throughout his career. Despite living behind a legend, Kilpatrick was an innovator in his own right and developed a distinct strain of progressivism that had an impact within many classrooms. His influence may not have been as strong but nevertheless, he played a role in how teaching is approach in America.

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