Problems of second-year english-majored students in writing essays focusing on structure format at can tho university

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CAN THO UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES ENGLISH DEPARTMENT PROBLEMS OF SECOND-YEAR ENGLISH-MAJORED STUDENTS IN WRITING ESSAYS: FOCUSING ON STRUCTURE FORMAT AT CAN THO UNIVERSITY B.A. Thesis Supervisor: Nguyễn Hồng Quí, M.A Student: Lâm Ngọc Yến Thư Student’s Code: 7107044 Class: NN1054A4 Course: 36 Can Tho, 2013 DECLARATION The thesis entitled “Problems of Second-year English-majored Students in Writing Essays: Focusing on Structure Format” is conducted under the supervision of M.A. Nguyễn Hồng Quí, an instructor of English at English Department, Can Tho University. I declare that the information reported in the current paper is the result of my own work, except where due to reference is made. The thesis has not been accepted for any degree and is not concurrently submitted to any candidature for any other degree or diploma. CanTho, December, 2013 Supervisor Signature Nguyễn Hồng Quí Lâm Ngọc Yến Thư ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This study has been completed thanks to the help of many people from whom I have received support. I would like to express my appreciation to all of them. I wish to express my deepest gratitude to my supervisor, Mr. Nguyen Hong Qui, for his support, guidance, and devotion during my study. This is the first time I do the research; therefore, confusion is always included. He gave me encouragement at all the stages of completing my study. Be supervised by him, I am not only instructed carefully, but also learn many valuable things from method of doing research, the way to consider and solve problems independently. Without his guidance, help and support, I would not have completed my study. My deep appreciation goes to Mr. Nguyen Hai Quan, for his valuable feedback and advice on my study. He also helped me a lot with the initial ideas of the research topic. Especially, he spent his valuable time reading and giving comments on my study. My deep gratitude also goes to Ms. Ho Phuong Thuy for her enthusiastic support and encouragement. Sometimes, my mind as well as my study was like a mess, she spent her valuable time to talk and help to escape me from the confusion. I would like to express my sincere thanks to all instructors at the English Department, Can Tho University; especially seven instructors who took part in as participants and helped me complete my study. Besides that, I also appreciate second-year English-majored students because of their cooperation in data collection procedure. I am sure that I would not have completed my study without their enthusiastic participation. Last but not least, I am grateful to my parents for their mental support and encouragement. Sometimes I felt I was in an impasse with my study and I cried a lot. I know they worried about me; they gave me many advice and encouragement. They are the motivation for me to overcome all the difficulties in completing the study. In addition, I would like to say “Thank you” to my friends, thanks for their being side by side with me. Again, thank you so much! Lam Ngoc Yen Thu CONTENTS Page Declaration ........................................................................................................... i Acknowledgements ............................................................................................ ii Contents .............................................................................................................iii List of table and figures ..................................................................................... vii List of Abbreviations ........................................................................................ viii Abstract .............................................................................................................. ix Chapter 1 Introduction ..................................................................................... 1 1.1 Rationale ....................................................................................................... 1 1.2. Research aims, research questions and hypotheses of the study ................ 3 1.2.1 Research aim...................................................................................... 3 1.2.2 Research questions ............................................................................. 3 1.2.3 Hypotheses ......................................................................................... 3 1.3 Significance of the study............................................................................... 4 1.4. Organization of the study............................................................................. 4 Chapter 2 Literature Review ............................................................................ 6 2.1 Overview of writing ....................................................................................... 6 2.2 Importance of EFL/ESL writing .................................................................. 6 2.3 Essays ........................................................................................................... 7 2.3.1 Definition of essays ............................................................................ 8 2.3.2 Types of essays ................................................................................... 8 2.3.3 Basic structure of English essays ........................................................ 9 2.4 Difficulties in writing essay in another language ....................................... 16 2.5 The comparison in academic writing structure between English essays and Vietnamese essays ...................................................................................... 16 2.5.1 Basic structure of Vietnamese essays ................................................ 17 2.5.2 The similarities and differences in structure between English essays and Vietnamese essays ............................................................................ 17 2.6 Points of view of some people about problems in writing essays ................ 18 Chapter 3 Research methodology ................................................................... 19 3.1 Participants ................................................................................................. 19 3.1.1 Participants for questionnaire………. ............................................... 19 3.1.2 Participants for interview ................................................................. 20 3.2 Research instrument ................................................................................... 20 3.2.1 The questionnaire ............................................................................. 21 3.2.2 The interview.................................................................................... 22 3.2.3 The essay samples ............................................................................ 23 3.3 Design ......................................................................................................... 23 3.4 Data Collection Procedure.......................................................................... 23 3.5 Data analysis .............................................................................................. 24 3.6 Conclusion .................................................................................................. 25 Chapter 4 Results ............................................................................................ 26 4.1 Data from the questionnaire ....................................................................... 26 4.2 Data from the interview .............................................................................. 31 4.2.1 Interview for instructors ................................................................... 31 4.2.2 Interview for students ....................................................................... 33 4.3 Data from essay samples …………………………………………………...35 Chapter 5 Discussion, conclusions, limitations and recommendations ......... 39 5.1 Discussions ................................................................................................. 39 5.1.1 The problems relating to the essay structure that students meet in writing essays ................................................................................... 39 5.1.2 Some suggestions to solve problems relating to the essay structure in writing essays ................................................................................... 42 5.2 Limitations .................................................................................................. 45 5.3 Recommendation ........................................................................................ 45 5.4 Conclusion .................................................................................................. 46 References……………………………………………… .... …………………...47 Appendices .......................................................................................................... i Appendix 1 Questionnaire on students’ problems relating to the structure format in writing essay (English Version) ........................................................................... i Appendix 2 Interview for instructors teaching Writing at English Department (English version) ............................................................................................... iii Appendix 3 Interview for instructors teaching Writing at English Department (Vietnamese version) ......................................................................................... iv Appendix 4 Interview for second-year English majored students studying Academic Writing 3 (English version) ................................................................. v Appendix 5 Interview for second-year English majored students studying Academic Writing 3 (Vietnamese version) ........................................................ vi LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES Table 3.1: Reliability Statistics of Questionnaire Piloting ........................................ 22 Table 4.1: Reliability Statistics of Questionnaire ..................................................... 26 Table 4.2: Descriptive Statistics of Theory and Practice .......................................... 27 Table 4.3: Descriptive Statistics of Introduction, Body, Conclusion and Whole Essay ....................................................................................................................... 28 Table 4.4: Percentage of problems in mastering the essay structural format ............. 30 Figure 4.1: Mean of students’ problems in mastering the theory and practice .......... 27 Figure 4.2: Mean of students’ problems in Introduction, Body, Conclusion and Whole Essay............................................................................................................ 28 LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS EFL: English as a Foreign Language ESL: English as a Second Language NS: Native Speaker L1: Language used as the first language L2: Language used as the second language ABSTRACT Problems relating to the structure format of the essay are problems which students always face in their essay writing. This study was conducted to examine the reasons why students meet the problems relating to the structure format in writing essays. Especially, this study investigated the problems relating to the essay structure of one hundred second year English major students of English Department, Can Tho University. Besides finding out the reasons, this study also aimed to give some suggestions to help students overcome the problems relating the essay structure in writing essays. Three instruments were employed to collect data. First, the participants in five Academic Writing 3 classes responded the questionnaires with 12 closed statements. Second, ten out of participants were invited randomly, two participants per class, to conduct an interview to supply more information. In addition, seven instructors were also invited to take part in the interview. The data were analyzed by using descriptive approach. The results showed that students meet the problems relating the essay structure in writing essays because of the weakness in mastering in the essay structure and negative effects of writing essays in the mother tongue. Moreover, this study figured out the solution for these problems. The study gave a clear and specific view about English problems and difficulties in writing essays faced by English major students at Can Tho University. CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION This chapter will present in details (1) the rationale of this research, (2) the research aims, (3) the research questions, and (4) the organization of the study. 1.1 Rationale According to Carroll (1990), “the most important invention in human history is writing. It provides relatively permanent record information, opinions, beliefs, feelings, arguments, explanations, theories, etc”. Boonpattanaporn (2005) also commented the importance of writing. He said that writing is one of the necessary means for people to express their thinking or emotion and to communicate precisely. Besides, in the aspect of a subject or skill, writing is also appreciated highly in comparison with reading, listening and speaking. Writing is one of the most difficult tasks because writing requires the writer to master and use a complex combination of language skills, from vocabulary and spelling to the ability to organize ideas logically. In addition, it can also reflect students’ competence of thinking, organizing and expressing. According to Nguyen (2013), some common difficulties of students in writing skill are about grammar, structure, spelling, punctuation, word choice, etc… In writing, essay writing is one of the important contents because it requires writers to have basic necessary knowledge and skills. The essay is also considered as the standard form of writing for most students. To writers of English as the first language countries, essay writing is not an easy work, and it is sure that essay writing is harder to writers who are from English as the second or foreign language countries like Vietnam. Most of students reveal that they always get problems in writing essay, especially in the essay structural format. In sentence writing, if grammar and vocabulary are the most noticeable problems, a lack of clear thesis statement, good and reasonable points or evidences to support and control the thesis statement, a lack of unity in essay organization, a lack of coherence among essay components and so on are major problems that writers have to confront in essay writing. In addition, the habit in writing essays in the mother tongue language has also affected ESL writers strongly, which can be an obstacle to them. There can be a huge difference between English writing by native speakers (NS) and English writing by ESL learners. ESL learners have more than one language while they are thinking or writing as compared to NS. Since they have more than one language, it brings more problems. ESL learners are mixed in using those two languages so it causes some confusion in the structure and meaning. Leki (1991) said “the fact that the rhetorical conventions of English texts- the structure, style, and organizationoften differ from those in other languages”. Because English is not the first language in Viet Nam, there are many differences in essays writing. Although second-year English-majored students at Can Tho University are taught writing skills from the first semester (according to syllabus of English Major, Can Tho University), they still complain that they have problems when applying these skills in their writing. It is complained that it is not easy for them to write essays in English and they always confront with passive influence from mother tongue (Vietnamese). Perceiving the importance of writing skill and problems that students are confronting; therefore, this research "Problems of Second-year English-majored Students in Writing Essays: Focusing on Structure Format" aims to find out not only the problems relating to the essay structure in writing essays that second-year English-majored students at Can Tho University have but also why it is not easy for them to write essays in English. The research also aims to give some suggestions for students to solve these problems to help them write essays better. This is based on the belief that if students have a thorough grasp of structure of English essays, they will be better in writing essays. Because of the limited time, the present study focuses on the problems relating to the structure of English essays. 1.2 Research aims, research questions and hypotheses of the study 1.2.1 Research aims This research aims to find out the problems relating to the essay structure in writing essays that second-year English-majored students at Can Tho University face. In addition, this research also aims to give some suggestions for students to solve these problems to help them write essays better. 1.2.2 Research questions This study aims to answer the two following questions: (1) What are the problems relating to the structure of the essays that secondyear English-majored students at Can Tho University face? (2) What are some suggestions for students to solve problems relating to the structure of essays to help them to write essays better? 1.2.3 Hypotheses Based on the critical analysis of the results essay writing tests of students marked and commented by their teachers in writing classes and my self-experience through four years studying at Can Tho University, it is hypothesized that (1) English majored students have to face problems in writing essays because of the weakness in mastering the structure of English essays and effects of writing essays in their mother tongue. (2) If they master the structure of English essays and have time to practice writing logically with the help of teachers, it will be easy for them to solve the problem. 1.3 Significance of the study Writing essays is not only an important content in learning process at school, but also a necessary skill in working process in the future. Problems in writing essays lead to many problems in different fields. The study shows a clear and specific view about English problems and difficulties in writing essays confronted by second-year English-majored students at Can Tho University. The results will give a general view to instructors about problems students are facing in the writing process as well as help students to have the perception on their problems themselves. In other words, the findings of this study will hopefully be beneficial for instructors in their teaching and for students in learning writing English essays. Besides finding the problems, the study also gives some suggestions for students to help them overcome their problems, improve their writing skills, and finally achieve their academic success. 1.4 Organization of the study This current study consists of five chapters, including (1) Introduction, (2) Literature Review, (3) Research Methodology, (4) Result, and (5) Discussions, Conclusions, Limitations and Recommendations. Chapter 1 presents background information and reasons for conducting the research. Besides that, this chapter also introduces the research aim, hypothesis, significance of the research as well as the organization of the study. Chapter 2 reviews related literature as the previous knowledge to the present research. Chapter 3 focuses on the research methodology including participants taken in, instruments used in the study, the research design and procedures of data collection for the study. Chapter 4 analyzes and shows the results of the study. The data from questionnaire are first reported in table and bar chart. Then, the data from interview and essay samples are stated. Chapter 5 summarizes the findings of the study. The findings are compared with the previous studies. This chapter also presents the limitations as well as the recommendations for further research related to the current research. CHAPTER 2 LITERATURE REVIEW The purpose of this literature review is sixfold: (1) define writing; (2) highlight the importance of writing to EFL students; (3) define, classify and give the structure of an essay, (4) analyze the difficulties in writing essay in another language, (5) compare between English essays and Vietnamese essays in academic writing structure and (6) summarize points of view about difficulties in writing essays. 2.1 Overview of writing According to Chakraverty & Gautum (2000), writing is defined as “a reflective activity that requires enough time to think about the specific topic and to analyze and classify any background knowledge. Then, writers need a suitable language to structure these ideas in the form of a coherent discourse.” Seen by Shokrpour & Fallahzadeh (2007), writing is “a complex activity, a social act which reflects the writer’s communicative skills which is difficult to develop and learn, especially in an EFL context”. Writing is also a means of exploration and discovery, and today, more than ever, being able to write well is a visual skill: people all over the world communicate, exchange information, and conduct business instantaneously across cyberspace (Kelly & Lawton, 1998). In conclusion, writing is a productive activity in which the writer uses his or her own language to express, analyze, prove or convince about the specific topic in a structured form. 2.2 Importance of EFL/ESL writing Writing has always been considered as an important skill in teaching and learning not only in English as the first language countries but also in English as the foreign language countries like Viet Nam. As commented by Rao (2007), there are two useful respects of EFL writing: First, it is the motivation for students’ thinking, organizing ideas, developing their ability to summarize, analyze and criticize. Second, writing also helps to strengthen students’ learning, thinking and reflecting on the English language. There were many researches or journals about “EFL/ESL writing field” which proved the importance of EFL/ESL writing. According to Ahmed (2010), essay writing is meaningful and useful to the learning of EFL students because it provides students with basic necessary skills for understanding what they study and expressing it in their own words. Unlike other skills, writing requires students to think more, helps them to keep away from mechanical memorization, rote learning or learning by heart without understanding that are not allowed or supported in teaching and learning process. In addition, essay writing is one of important and integral parts of any tests or exams, competence in essay writing will help students pass all their academic courses successfully. Moreover, they will have more foregrounds when applying for any jobs compared to other students especially in private companies that are involved at international level. 2.3 Essays 2.3.1 Definition of essays An essay has been defined in a variety of ways. In the Preface of Collected Essays by Huxley (1923), the author commented "the essay is a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything", and added "by tradition, almost by definition, the essay is a short piece". Langan (2004) showed a more simple definition of “essay” by comparing between “a paragraph” and “an essay”; the author claimed that “an essay does the same thing a paragraph does”. However, the difference is “a paragraph is a series of sentences about one main idea or point, while an essay is a series of paragraphs about one main idea or point_called the central idea”. Although there are many terms and patterns used in the definition of essay, the core elements are similar. In brief, it can be summed up that an essay is a short piece with several paragraphs written about a subject, in which the writer expresses his or her opinions or tries to make certain points using details and facts to support each idea or opinion. 2.3.2 Types of essays There are many types of essays and each essay serves a different purpose. They vary in purpose, length, content, and tone. According to classification of Savage (2006) and Davis (2006), there are nine types of essays: Descriptive essays, Narrative essays, Opinion essays, Comparison and Contrast essays, Cause and Effect essays, Analysis Process essays, Argumentative (Persuasive) essays, Classification essays, Reaction essays. In English Language and Composition, Lindner (2005) gave definitions or an overview for readers about these types. Descriptive essays: The descriptive essay is used to portray something. It can be used to depict a person, a setting, an experience, an event, or even a science experiment. Writers use descriptive essays to garner the imagination of the reader. Descriptive writing portrays people, places, things, moments, and theories with enough vivid detail to help the reader create a mental picture of what is being written. Narrative essays: The narrative essay relates a story or tells about an event. It is frequently used for English and history composition. It can also be used for college essay. This type of essays retells a meaningful event, either historical or personal. It must contain relevant details and be well organized in a chronological manner. Opinion essays: The opinion essay presents the writer’s point of view on a particular subject supported by reasons and examples. The opposing viewpoint is also suggested, it goes with argument that show that is unconvincing. Comparison and Contrast essays: The compare and contrast essay is used to highlight similarities or differences between two or more people or things. Cause and Effect essays: The cause and effect essay explains why certain actions, situations, and behaviors happen. The essay can start with an effect, such as success, and find its causes, which might be education or talent. This essay can also begin with a cause and describe its effects. Process Analysis essays: The process analysis essay shows a logical progression of stages that lead to a finished product or end result. The process analysis essay might illustrate a natural process, such as photosynthesis pr soil erosion. It may also describe how something is made or done, such as banking a cake, preparing for a festival, or using a computer. Argumentative essays: The argumentative essay is sometimes called a persuasive essay this kind of essay expresses an opinion about a controversial issue. Writer must convince others to agree with their opinions, facts by using strong, logical reasons to support their argument. Classification essays: In a classification essay, information is organized into meaningful categories or groups and each follows a single, unifying principle. Reaction essays: In a reaction essay, the writer analyzes and evaluates his response to a prompt or prompts, which may be written works images. 2.3.3 Basic structure of English essays Although there are many types of essays, they have a similar format. According to Langan (2004), there are three parts in an English standard college essay, also known as a one-three-one essay or five-paragraph essay: Introductory Paragraph, Body with supporting paragraphs and Conclusion. He presented an overview of the traditional form of the essay through the following diagram. Title of essay Opening remarks to catch reader’s interest Introduction Thesis statement Plan of development Topic sentence 1 (supporting point 1) Specific evidence Body Topic sentence 2 (supporting point 2) Specific evidence Topic sentence 3 (supporting point 3) Specific evidence Summary Conclusion General closing remarks (Or both) (Adapted from Langan, 2004) Ways to achieve a good essay It is impossible to write a good essay without an outline. An outline is useful for any type of writing because it helps to organize one’s thoughts in a logical or sequential order. Nguyen (1998) stated that most of professional writers, experienced critics and talent authors still need an outline before writing. An outline can be written outsight on the paper or can be thought in the writer’s mind. Because students are in learning and practicing process at school, it is necessary for them to write a clear outline out on the paper before writing. Actually, the main purpose of writing an outline on the paper before writing is asking writers to think, brainstorm about the problems they want to write. Regardless of category writing, the outline always plays an important role, including writing essays. An essay outline helps students be more comfortable and easier in writing because it provides all key points and the connection between different points. As Bean (2001) noted in a book called Engaging Ideas, some writers organize better before they write while others organize better after they have attempted to write something. He focused on to analyze the way to write better by using outline. This method is helpful to show relationships among the ideas and details that occur to writer first. Three following outlining strategies were mentioned in his book. Mind-mapping (also called Idea Maps and Concept Maps) Mind Maps are used very early in the writing process to help generate ideas and clarify the relationships between ideas. The key to do mind map productively is the freedom to follow your train of thought wherever it leads you. The goal is not to be concise and precise but rather to explore the topic in very broad, general terms. Strategy for Mind-mapping First, you begin by drawing a circle in the middle of a piece of paper and write a key word or phrase that is central to the general focus of the paper. Second, you write the first thought that comes to your mind about this key word or phrase and connect it to the circle by a line (a branch). From this first branch, you write more thoughts connecting them by more branches and sub-branches and continue to do this until your ideas “run dry”. Next, you go back to your key word and phrase in the circle and start a new branch of thought. You repeat this step with your new branch. Last, you continue this process until you think you have covered the main issues of the focus of your paper.
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