An investigation of high school students’ attitudes to group work and pair work

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BM03-TMSKKN Title: An investigation of high school students’ attitudes to group work and pair work. ABSTRACT This research aims to find out to what extent the teachers and students favour group work and pair work. This paper also suggests ways to effectively use group work in order to enhance students’ positive attitudes to group work and development of orally communicative competence. The research paper includes areas such as learning styles, attitudes to group work, methods of teaching, and techniques of group work organization. A review of the literature related to group work areas helps the researcher to support the arguments and to write about the findings. The “study” section describes samples, data collection, data analysis and a brief discussion of difficulties in conducting the research. INTRODUCTION We use language as a means of communication in daily situations. It is necessary for us to state our opinions and express our feeling. English is used as an international language. Many people in Vietnam need to use it as a communicative tool at work, on business and in commercial environments. It is recognised by learners that the main focus of learning English as a foreign language is their communicative competence. The more opportunities students are given to practise oral interaction in the classroom, the more effectively and fluently they can communicate in real-life situations. Therefrore, as a teacher of English, in order to promote oral communication in the classroom, there are a number of things I can do: effective classroom management, dynamic learning activities and productive teaching and learning approach. In considering effective classroom management, many teachers in my school experience that the benefits of group work and pair work are not recognized by the students. A majority of the students are resistant to group work and pair work 1 because they think that group work is a waste of time and they are just interested in working alone, translating or learning vocabulary and grammar. In improving the teaching and learning of English, there are many innovations to be introduced. The most important of them is to use pair work and group work in the classroom whose benefits are to promote classroom interaction which can facilitate second language acquisition, to personalize the learning process and to increase the students’ responsibilities for these own learning. As an attempt to improve the teaching and learning of English, especially English for communication, I conducted this small scale research project which took two months, from 1st December , 2011 to 15th February, 2012. CONTEXT My school has thirty-four classes with over 1400 students each year, is one of the biggest schools in Dong Nai, an industrial and commercial province, about 50 kilometres away from Ho Chi Minh City. My school is also located in a place where there are many foreign visitors each year. Therefore, many people need to use English to communicate with these foreigners. In my school, each class has forty-five students who are at different levels, some with quite competent English, some whose English is not very good, while others whose English is just getting started. Most of the students are just part-time ones who go to school in the morning and have to help their parents the rest of the day. For these reasons, their English is still limited , especially their practice of English skills. Each of the classes is also equipped with well-lit rooms, enough tables, a blackboard and a cassette player. As common in other high schools in Vietnam, the students in my school have to take English as a compulsory subject and they study English three periods a week . Together with the curriculum, the current ways of teaching English here are still traditional. The grammar translation method is mostly used, classroom activities are heavily teacher-centred and most of the teachers are regarded as the source of knowledge and students only come to class to get that knowledge. One more serious problem is that the class size is big in comparison with the accepted 2 norm which is only twenty-five students for each class. Therefore, I think interactive teaching and learning is impossible without pair work and group work. RESEARCH QUESTIONS - What are students’ attitudes to group work? - What should the researcher do to improve the use of group work? - Can interesting , interactive and meaningful tasks and activities (e.g. information gap, role playing) maximize the effectiveness of group work? HYPOTHESES Students have positive attitudes to group work and will work well in groups if they are provided with interesting , meaningful and challenging tasks, clear instructions and directions and effective guidance by their teachers. LITERATURE REVIEW A successful language program depends greatly on appropriate teaching models chosen by flexible, competent teachers, good learning strategies and effective classroom management. In communicative language teaching, group work is considered a useful and effective technique to assist learners to use the language in class and then in real-life situations. Defining the term “group work”, Brown ( 1994: 173) says, “ It is a generic term covering a multiplicity of techniques in which two or more students are assigned a task that involves collaboration and self-initiated language”. In considering the advantages of group work , Ur (1996:232) states that group work is a form of learner activation which is of particular value in the practice of oral fluency, and learners in a small group can get five times as many opportunities to talk as in full-class organization. She also emphasizes that group work fosters learners’ responsibility and independence, helps to improve motivation and contributes to a feeling of co-operation and warmth in the class. When students are put in groups, they can help each other to carry out interviews, to play roles in a dialogue, to do problem solving, surveys, and values clarification. In agreement with Ur, Harmer (1998:21) says, “the other 3 advantage of group work and pair work ( but especially group work) is that they give the teacher the opportunity to work with individual students”. He also adds that group work gives the students chances for greater independence because when students work in groups, they take some of their own learning decisions. They can work without the pressure of everybody listening to what they are speaking or watching what they are doing. Group work ; however, has some problems the teacher should take into account so that he or she can maximize its effectiveness. Ur (1996:232) points out, “ In individual classes, group work may encourage students to be more disruptive than they would be in a whole class setting”. Obviously , in groups without the teacher, students can make unneccesary noise or use their own language. Brown ( 1994:177) emphasizes, “ Many students, especially adult-age students, prefer to work alone because that is the way they have operated ever since they started school”. He adds that some students find group work frustrating since they only want the teacher to give them the answers to the problems. In solving the above problem of group work, Brown (1994:177) suggests that we should be sensitive to our students’ preferences and help them to see that language is for communicating with people and that the more they engage in face to - face communication, the more their oral communicative competence will improve. He also mentions that problems of group work, such as some members of a group being reluctant to share information with the others, can be solved by careful planning and management and by interactive, interesting and relevant tasks, for example practising dialogues with a partner, question and answer exercises, performing certain meaningful substitution “drills”, games, information gap tasks, interviews, problem solving and decision making activities. Lynch (1996:115) says, “ when setting up group work, one of the teacher’s important decisions is who is to work with whom”. In his book, Doff ( 1988: 142 ) says that clearly defined tasks, clear instructions about when to start, what to do, and when to stop as well as teacher demonstration before students work on tasks. All of them can 4 help students to know exactly what to do and they, as a result, get more involved in group work. Ur ( 1996 : 234 ) states that we should give the instructions before giving out materials or dividing the class into groups, and a preliminary rehearsal or “ dry run” of a sample of the activity with the full class can help to clarify things. In explaining the advantages of group work, Brown ( 1994:173) says that group work helps to solve the problem of classes that are too large to offer many opportunities to speak. He also emphasizes that group work offers the security of smaller groups of students where each individual is not so starkly on public display, vulnerable to what the student may perceive as criticism and rejection, and group work promotes learner responsibility and autonomy. DEVELOPMENT From the literature review, we can see that many authors like Brown, Ur, Harmer, Doff, and Lynch who have great influence in the area of group work organization and English language teaching and learning , define that appropriate and good classroom management, flexible classroom activities and interesting tasks are key factors which contribute to a success of a language programme. Based on students’ backgrounds , their learning needs and my analysis, I realize that there is a need for a new appropriate approach to language teaching and learning in my school which will shift the focus of attention from teacher-directed to student-centred teaching and learning environment with the effective use of group work and pair work and the communicative approach as the key to improve students’ performance as well as their outcomes. The main reason is that teacherdirected and teacher-dominated classrooms with poor tasks cannot be naturally interactive. METHODOLOGY A. Subjects This study was conducted with the students of the 12 th form in my school. Among twelve classes of 12th form, I chose two classes: 12A1 and 12B8 to carry out the surveys. Their age ranges from 17 to 18. Some of them were familiar with 5 group work , while others were not. Twenty students in each of these two classes were selected at random for the research. I chose these two groups of students because they had learning styles, learning needs, study habits and attitudes that were commonly shared by other students in my school and in many other high schools in the province. In addition, two teachers of English in the school: Huy and Tien were interviewed. I chose these two teachers because they appeared to be active and hard-working and they agreed to help me to carry out the research. These teachers had earned a bachelor degree in English language teaching and had much teaching experience. I also learnt from discussions with them that they were aware of the benefits of group work for second language acquisition and they had made attempts to use it with varying degrees of success in their classes. B. Instruments In order to gather information about my students, and classroom activities, I used three instruments: the class evaluation form, the questionnaire and the interview. I believe that data is more reliable if it is collected from different sources and with different methods. In considering the reliability of data, Wallace ( 1998: 210) says,“ Triangulation should make our findings more reliable, and subjecting them to different people’s scrutiny within the action research team should make the findings more valid”. + The Class Observation Form I designed this form in order to evaluate the teachers and students’ performances, attitudes and activities in the classroom. Bell ( 1997: 109) says, “ Direct observation may be more reliable than what people say in many instances. It can be particularly useful to discover whether people do what people say they do, or behave in the way they claim to behave". I invited one more teacher in the school to conduct this evaluation form. I strongly believe that the observation results are more reliable because “reliability is enhanced by having two observers ( the second may be the researcher himself or herself) observe the same behaviour at 6 the same time, either in the field or on a video tape” ( Slavin, 1992:93). The class evaluation form includes two parts: the first is about the teacher, the second is about the students and activities in the classroom. Each part consists of some statements ( please see appendix 1). The rating scales of the statements vary as follows: 1. Not at all 2. Slightly 3. Neutral 4. Very 5. Completely + The Questionnaire The designed questionnaire is anonymous so that the students may not conceal their real feelings when they comment on their teacher and his or her teaching. The questionnaire used closed and open questions ( please see appendix 2). It covered different fields related to students, their attitudes and language learning, including learners’ purposes, expectations, learning habits, learning styles and preferred forms of classroom organization. The purposes of the questionnaire instructions and the reasons for the research were clearly explained to the learners because “ if the pupils understand the reason for the research and are interested in its outcomes, a questionnaire can produce very reliable data and, at the same time, make a contribution to improving the situation”, Altrichter Posch & Somekh ( 1993: 114). + The Interview I asked the teachers ten questions ( please see appendix 3) related to the students’ attitudes , learning styles and the teachers’ techniques of classroom organization or management. All the dialogues in the interview were carefully recorded. The staff included only two teachers, all the questions on the survey were open-ended. When I did the research, I made questions in Vietnamese so that I could get real information from my students. The duration for the interviews were reported to the teachers before the interview. 7 Questioning , orally or in writing, often more direct access to the meaning it has for the pupil than do other methods. I told my students that the responses would help me to improve my teaching and their learning of English because “ the interviewee should believe that the outcomes of the interview are useful for him or her” (Altrichter, Peter Posch and Bridget Somekh 1993 ; 101 ) C. Data Analysis + Class observation data analysis There are twenty statements, describing the students’ learning styles and attitudes, and the teachers’ teaching methods. There are two tables presented in this section. One presented comments on the teaching methods, techniques and skills of group work organization, while the other presented students’ involvement in group work. The data presented in each table show the frequency distribution of each statement. The numbers shown in the frequency distribution indicated the majority ratio integrated from five rating scales. Table 1: Teacher Evaluation  Comments on the teaching approaches , group work organization Frequency Distribution Statements Positive Number Scale(%) Neutral Number Scale(%) Negative Number Scale(%) 1. The teacher’s instructions are clear. 2. The tasks are clearly explained to students 3. The teacher demonstrates how to do the task. 4. The teacher organizes the group well. 5.The techniques are appropriate for each stage of the tasks. 6. The teacher shows interest in the 8 students’ work . 7. The teacher offers help when needed. 8. The teacher is flexible and uses many effective techniques. 9. The teacher sometimes joins in a group. 10. The teacher answers students’ questions about the tasks given. 11. The teacher is cheerful and friendly. 12. The teacher skillfully selects group members, group leaders. 13. The teacher signals for everyone’s attention. Table 2 : Student Evaluation  Students’ Involvement in group work Frequency Distribution Statements Positive Number Scale(%) Neutral Number Scale(%) Negative Number Scale(%) 14. Students are involved in group work . 15. Students feel relaxed and free to learn in groups. 16. Students co-operate with each other. 17. Students participate in doing tasks. 18. Students understand the teacher’s instructions 19. Students show interest in the lesson. 20. Students use more L2 than L1 in class.  Questionnaire Data Analysis. 9 The questionnaire consists of 36 questions related to the students attitudes, learning styles, learning preferences and the teacher’s methods of teaching. There are two tables presented in this section. Table 1: Students’ learning preferences Table 2: Students’ attitudes to group work and the teachers’ methods of teaching. The two tables below will show the frequency distribution of each statement. The numbers shown in the frequency distribution indicate the exact number of students’ responses to the questionnaire. Table 1: Students’ Learning Preferences Frequency Distribution Statements Positive Number Scale(%) Neutral Number Scale(%) Negative Number Scale(%) 1. Working in pairs/groups 2. Working in the whole group 3. Working only by myself. 4. Working in small groups. 5. Working in one large group. 6. Talking to other students. 7. Discussing with others. 8. Working with fluent speakers of English. 9. Working on new exercises/tasks. 10.Talking only to my teacher. 11.Working with my close classmates. 12.Talking to English speaking people. 13.Teacher’s lecture. 14. Doing exercises and being given answers by the teacher. 15.Small group work 16.Role-plays 10 17.Whole class discussion 18.Teacher’s translation 19.Students’ translation 20.Writing what my teacher provides and explains to me. Table 2: The students’ attitudes to group work and the teacher’s methods of teaching. Frequency Distribution Statements Yes Number No Scale(%) Number Scale(%) 21. Group work is interesting 22. Group work is useless 23. Group work is time-consuming 24. Group work helps me a lot in learning English. 25. Group work helps me to work with many friends 26. She/he wants us to help one another 27. She/he wants to increase classroom interaction 28. She/he wants us to make friends with one another. 29. She/he does not want to teach 30. She/he has not prepared her/his lesson 31. Tasks are interesting 32. Tasks are boring 33. Tasks are useless 34. Tasks focus on grammar 35. The teacher’s instructions are clear and simple 36. Games are interesting. + Interview Data Analysis 11 There are ten questions dealing with the students, teachers and their methods of teaching in the interview. The data was presented in the form of qualitative analysis. + Time-line My research was lasted for two months from 1st December, 2011 to 15th February 2012, and I was able to get enough time and preparation to collect data from the students as well as teachers. The following time line illustrated what I did for my research report. The first week - Wrote an outline - Draw a concept map The First Month ( December, 2011) and design questionnaire items The second week - Trialed the questionnaire. The two weeks - Observed After the second The first week - Redesigned Questionnaire, Interviews The second month The second week - Conducting Questionnaire, Interviews (JanuaryFebruar y,2012) The third week - Analyzed Data The fourth week - Wrote up the research paper - Wrote recommendations FINDINGS The first survey which I administered to the above - mentioned group of students surprisingly indicates that they were very interested in improving communicative English competence. 80 % of the students needed to improve their interactive English. They are interested in learning by doing things. Additionally, the survey shows that the students had a variety of methods to practise English outside the classroom , for example reading magazines, newspapers, looking up unfamiliar words in dictionaries, practising English with friends and classmates. The students did not like the traditional methods, the most commonly used methods of teaching in High Schools in Vietnam. They are grammar translation, 12 lectures in the classroom and homework which is then corrected in class. Their responses show that such traditional methods make the group of students bored and frustrated. Instead, they were keen on being given effective teaching and learning methods. 74 % of the students liked working in small groups to carry out communicative activities and tasks. They liked to make responses to questionnaires, interviews. They also enjoyed discussing with one another in groups. A. Learning styles. Question 1: How would you like to study English?  The questionnaire data revealed the following: - 37 students = 74% of the students liked to work in pairs and groups. - 5 students = 10% of the students liked to work alone. - Only 16% of the students (8 students) liked to work in the whole group. Comment : The majority of students like to work in pairs and groups. Question 2: How often would you like to have the following teaching methods in your class ? - 82% of the students (41 students) want their teacher to use group work in class often. - Only 3 students (6% of the students) like to have lectures and translation in class. Comment: The majority of students do not like traditional methods of teaching and learning. CLOSING REMARKS I have described the ways to carry out small scale research on students’ attitudes to group work in my school. The brief literature review emphasized the advantages and disadvantages of group work and some techniques of group work organization. The three surveys, which contained students’ attitudes, learning preferences, teacher’s approaches of teaching, and classroom activities, were the 13 main tools for collecting data from students. The quantitative analysis of the questionnaire, observation form and the qualitative analysis of the interviews helped me to get reliable data from students. It is the first time to conduct research, and there were some possible problems which included students’ being uncooperative funds and time limitations. These problems were solved by the following ideas: + The reasons for the research, and purposes of data collection were clearly explained to the administrators, teachers and students. + I made my administrators believe in the importance and validity of my research. + The duration of the research project was well-organised. Through the survey, I did understand much about my students . I need to design relevant, appropriate tasks so that I can help my students to effectively achieve their communicative goals. RECOMMENDATION In English teaching, we are more successful and our approaches of teaching English are more effective if we know clearly about our learners’ problems, their learning preferences and strategies. Through empirical methods, we can understand our learners so that we can help them to improve their language skills. I carried out this research by using the three surveys stated above. I know there are other tools which are available such as discussion and keeping diaries, but I could not use all of them because of time limitations. The participants involved in the research come from only one school. Through the research I found out possible solutions to the problems of group work in high schools in Viet Nam. One more important thing is that I improve my students’ attitudes to group work. The research proves, I think, that in the Vietnamese teaching situations, interactive teaching is impossible without group work. Through the research, I had opportunities to improve my readings skills, especially reading academic texts. I also used much terminology which helped me understand concepts and ideas of research and teaching areas. 14 BIBLIOGRAPHY 15 - Altrichter, Herbert, Peter Posch and Bridget Somekh, 1993 , Teachers Investigate Their Work: An Introduction To The Methods Of Action Research, Routledge , London. - Altrichter, H, Posch, P & Somekh, B, 1993, Teachers Investigate Their Work, Poutledge. - Bell, Judith , 1997 , Doing Your Research Project , Open University Press , Buckingham , Philadelphia. - Brown , H. Douglas , 1994 , Teaching By Principles: An Interactive Approach To Language Pedagogy, Prentice Hall Regents, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. - Doff, Adrian, 1988, Teach English: A Training Course For Teaching, CUP , England. - Harmer, Jeremy , 1998 , An Introduction To The Practice of English Language Teaching, Longman Ltd , England. - Lynch , Tony , 1996 , Communication in the language classroom , Oxford University Press , Oxford. - Slavin, Robert E.,1992 , Research Methods In Education, Allyn and Bacon, USA. - Ur , Penny , 1996 , A Course In Language Teaching , Cambridge University Press , Cambridge. - Wallace , Michael , 1998 , Action Research for Language Teachers , Cambridge University Press. NGƯỜI THỰC HIỆN Nguyễn Trần Quốc Việt Appendix 1 16 LONG THANH HIGH SCHOOL Research Project CLASS OBSERVATION FORM There are five rating scales which vary as follows. 1. Not at all 2. Slightly 3. Neutral. 4. Very. 5. Completely. Teacher Evaluation 1. The teacher’s instructions are clear and simple 1 2 3 4 5 2. The tasks are clearly explained to students 1 2 3 4 5 3. The teacher demonstrates how to do the task. 1 2 3 4 5 4. The teacher organizes the group well. 1 2 3 4 5 5. The techniques are appropriate for each stage of the tasks. 1 2 3 4 5 6.The teacher shows interest in the students’ work. 1 2 3 4 5 7. The teacher offers help when needed. 1 2 3 4 5 8. The teacher is flexible and uses many effective techniques. 1 2 3 4 5 9. The teacher sometimes joins in a group. 1 2 3 4 5 10. The teacher answers students’ questions about the tasks given. 1 2 3 4 5 11. The teacher is cheerful and friendly. 1 2 3 4 5 12. The teacher skillfully selects group members, group leaders. 1 2 3 4 5 13. The teacher signals for everyone’s attention 1 2 3 4 5 STUDENT EVALUATION 14. Students are involved in group work. 1 2 3 4 5 15. Students feel relaxed and free to learn in groups. 1 2 3 4 5 16. Students co-operate with each other. 1 2 3 4 5 17. Students participate in doing tasks. 1 2 3 4 5 18. Students understand the teacher’s instructions 1 2 3 4 5 19. Students show interest in the lesson. 1 2 3 4 5 20. Students use more L2 than L1 in class. 1 2 3 4 5 Appendix 2 17 LONG THANH HIGH SCHOOL REASEARCH PROJECT QUESTIONNAIRE ( Learning Styles and Attitudes to Group Work ) The purpose of this survey is to find out about your learning styles and attitudes to group work. Your responses will help us to improve your learning. You do not need to write your name on this form. 1. How would you like to study English? * Please indicate your attitudes towards the following areas by circling the appropriate number. 1. I do not like this at all. 2. I do not like this very much. 3. This is okay. 4. I quite like this. 5. I like this very much 1. Working in pairs/ groups 1 2 3 4 5 2. Working in the whole group. 1 2 3 4 5 3. Working only by myself. 1 2 3 4 5 4. Working in small groups. 1 2 3 4 5 5. Working in large groups. 1 2 3 4 5 6. Talking to other students. 1 2 3 4 5 7. Discussing with others. 1 2 3 4 5 8. Working with fluent speakers of English. 1 2 3 4 5 9. Working on new exercises/tasks. 1 2 3 4 5 10.Talking only to my teacher. 1 2 3 4 5 11.Working with my close classmates. 1 2 3 4 5 12.Talking to English Speaking people. 1 2 3 4 5 2. How often would you like to have the following teaching methods in your class. 18 * Please indicate your attitudes to the following areas by circling the appropriate number. 1. Never 2. Occasionally. 3. Sometimes 4. Usually 5. Always 13.Teacher’s lecture . 1 2 3 4 5 14.Doing exercises and being given answers by the teacher 1 2 3 4 5 15.Small group work 1 2 3 4 5 16.Role-plays 1 2 3 4 5 17.Whole-class discussion 1 2 3 4 5 18.Teacher’s translation 1 2 3 4 5 19.Students’ translation 1 2 3 4 5 20. Writing what your teacher provides and explains to you. 1 2 3 4 5 3. What is your opinion of group work? 21. Group work is interesting Yes No 22. Group work is useless Yes No 23. Group work is time-consuming Yes No 24. Group work helps me a lot in learning English. Yes No 25. Group work helps us to be more co-operative Yes No 26. She/he wants us to help one another Yes No 27. She/he wants to increase classroom interaction Yes No 28. She/he wants us to make friends with one another. Yes No 29. She/he does not want to teach Yes No 30. She/he has not prepared her/his Yes No 4. Why does your teacher use group work ? 5.What do you feel about your teacher ‘s tasks and instructions? 19 31.Tasks are interesting Yes No 32. Tasks are boring Yes No 33. Tasks are useless Yes No 34. Tasks focus on grammar Yes No 35. The teacher’s instructions are clear and simple Yes No 36. Games are interesting. Yes No Thank you very much for your co-operation 20
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