ÇUKUROVA UNIVERSITY INSTITUTE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES ENGLISH LANGUAGE TEACHING DEPARTMENT
TEACHER LANGUAGE AND LANGUAGE LEARNING: EVALUATION OF QUESTIONING AND WAIT-TIME TO CREATE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES FOR TURKISH ADULT EFL LEARNERS
ACTION RESEARCH PROPOSAL by STEFAN RATHERT
Submitted to: ASSIST. PROF. DR GÜLDEN L N
ELT-743 CLASSROOM RESEARCH AUTUMN TERM 2011/2012
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION 1.1. 1.2. 1.3. 1.4. 1.5. Background to the Study Statement of the Problem Aim of the Study Research Questions Operational Definitions 2 4 5 5 5
CHAPTER II LITERATURE REVIEW 2.1. 2.2. 2.3. The Role of Teacher Language and Teacher Talk in Language Learning 6 Questioning Wait-Time 7 7
CHAPTER III METHODOLOGY 3.1. 3.2. 3.3. Research Design Participants Instrumentation 3.3.1. Videotape Recording 3.3.2. Field Notes 3.3.3. Questionnaire 3.3.4. Semi-structured Interview 4. 5. Data Analysis Enacting Change 9 9 9 9 10 10 10 10 11
1.1. Background to the Study
Teaching young adult EFL learners at a Turkish state university has its distinct challenges, especially when the university is located in a rather remote area of the country and therefore lacks prestige. Consequently, students selecting such a university not only have gained low scores in the student selection examination and often possess a certain learner profile which is strikingly different from that of students’ entering more prestigious universities, but also often come with negative attitudes towards learning English not seldom resulting from a frustrating English learning experience at secondary and high school. For these reasons, it is of utmost importance to create a positive attitude towards English in students. Obviously, there are numerous factors which play a role in generating such a positive attitude. For the teacher (and with regard to classroom or action research particularly), the lesson itself, the interaction in classroom events created by teacher behaviour, is critical in developing ‘positive’ student behaviours. This means, rather than blaming students for their negative feelings towards English, lack of motivation, or poor performance in exams as well as in daily classroom work, teachers should constantly question their own classroom practice as reflective practitioners (Schön, 1991; Bartlett, 1990). In my own teaching practice, I have often noticed that, even if there is – at first sight and in my self-perception – a good relationship between me and my learners, over a period of time ‘bad habits’ break through, i.e. part of the learners lose their interest in my classes and seem to ‘miss the train’ being unable to follow the course of the lesson. Needless to say, this is a frustrating experience for both the teacher and the learners. It goes without saying that not all learners in my groups are affected by this problem in the same way; using the terms ‘students’ and ‘learners’ in the following I will therefore refer to those learners whose participation and performance is not satisfactory for any reason. Addressing the problem suggested in the previous paragraph I can speak with some certainty about my own perception: it seems to me that the students do not accept what I offer
in my class (even though I claim that I give my classes well-prepared, which, of course, does not mean that all lessons are successful); this feeling of being not accepted is frustrating and is likely to trigger negative feelings with me towards my students. I try to give communicationoriented classes, in which students are allowed and encouraged to bring contents into a personal perspective, i.e. they are expected to express their own opinions, feelings etc. Since my current classes are reading skill classes (two groups, each three hours per week), I do not have to deal with teaching grammar explicitly and intensively, which gives me the opportunity to focus on content rather than on form. There are often, especially in pre- and post-reading activities, discussions (provided by the reading skill book used), which serve my more or less communicative language teaching. Also in the while-reading stage of a lesson, I try to give students space to negotiate meaning, believing that if both teacher and learners are responsible for the classroom interaction, language acquisition most likely takes place; this assumption is underpinned by the social constructivist theory of learning (cf. Walsh, 2003, pp. 124-5). Even though I have observed that sometimes the extrovert students dominate the classes, I believe that, generally speaking, the participation in my classes is satisfactorily spread; however, lessons sometimes seem to lack ‘structure’, i.e. parts of a lesson might proceed in an uncontrolled way. Naturally, I cannot be sure of how my students see this issue. I observe that some students indeed give up following the lessons actively (and consequently stop working outside the classroom, i.e. they abstain from doing assignments, reading graded readers, using course book CD-ROMs, etc.) obviously having the feeling that it is meaningless to try to understand something which is considerably over their level and therefore an ongoing frustration. From a student’s point of view, the unfamiliar communicative focus of my classes as well as my expectation of students to be active (rather than only receptive) in the classroom might be a problem if we concede that there is a mismatch to their previous learning experience. To get an opinion from outside I asked two colleagues of mine to observe my classes independently. While one of the observers told me that the input I gave was not comprehensible (being too much over the students’ level), the other observer denied the existence of such a problem. One observer found that I did not use praise/reward sufficiently. Either observer pointed out that there was a lot of interaction in my class, but the thread of the lessons got lost now and then. One of the observers gave an explanation: He said with great certainty that I did not give enough wait-time to my students after asking a question. Particularly this observation gives me a reasonable explanation for the problem complex described above: Forcing my students to participate actively in the lesson and in
doing so being impatient with them when answers are not provided immediately, I do not allocate sufficient time to my students for their answers, particularly to those students who perform weakly. Furthermore, I possibly repeat questions too fast or reformulate questions without giving enough time to answer, a ‘strategy’ which probably confuses the weaker students, so that they ‘miss the train’ in the lesson. The issue of teacher language and questioning has been discussed in ELT methodology, and wait-time has been accepted as an important factor in effective questioning (for an overview see Nunan, 1991, p. 192-195). For the sake of practicability, this action research is going to apply the criteria suggested by Ur (1996, p. 230), which will be explicated in the literature review. 1.2. Statement of the Problem
The assumed negative teacher behaviour is located in the area of teacher language and its effect on language learning. In this context, Walsh (2002, p. 5) states that the
logical extension of the existing body of research evidence is that teachers engaged in teacher-fronted activities should be concerned to: • • • • engage learners in the classroom discourse; encourage interactional adjustments between teacher and learners; promote opportunities for self-expression; facilitate and encourage clarification by learners.
Taking Walsh’s concerns for granted, the problem being dealt with in the action research is that my teacher language is not (or might not be) suitable to meet the concerns formulated by Walsh. Since action research by definition should deal with a narrow problem for practical reasons, I should like to concentrate on the elements of questioning and waittime (which indeed is a part of questioning). Thus, the problem is formulated as follows: There is an inappropriateness of questioning and wait-time in my teaching so that SLA is not provided optimally.
1.3. Aim of the Study
Following the path provided by the statement of the problem, the main purpose of this action research is to find out whether the questioning, particularly under the aspect of wait time, meets the criteria for effective questioning suggested in the literature. In scrutinizing this issue I will also get if not an answer at least strong hints if my teaching is really grounded on the theoretical background I assume it is based on. In order to achieve the aim of the action research I will have to look at my classroom practice, my own (the teacher’s) perception and the students’ views. 1.4. Research Questions
The action research will set out the following questions: 1. Does the teacher’s questioning create or impede students’ opportunities for learning? 2. Is the wait-time appropriate to elicit students’ active participation? 3. Do students perceive the teachers’ questioning as useful for their own learning?
1.5. Operational Definitions Questioning: Questioning refers to a teacher’s activation technique which aims at eliciting a response from a single learner or the whole class. Wait-time: Wait time refers to the span of time provided by the teacher after questioning in order to receive a response from a single learner or the whole class.
2.1. The Role of Teacher Language and Teacher Talk in Language Learning
Teacher language and teacher talk have been in the focus of SLA research for being essential in the language learning process. Recent research has emphasised that teacher language used in interaction with learners is likely to elicit learning when it provides an opportunity for negotiating meaning (Harfitt, 2008; Walsh, 2003, Walsh, 2002); negotiating meaning is regarded crucial in the social constructivist theory of learning, a widely accepted approach in foreign language methodology (Walsh, 2002; Bruner, 1990; Vygotsky, 1978). In this framework, a shift in the view of teacher talk has occurred: While (extensive) teacher talk was regarded somehow negative as hindering students to use language in the classroom and consequently to be kept at a minimum, it is now accepted (if used properly in accordance with pedagogic purposes) as a tool for providing learning opportunity in the classroom: The quality, not the quantity, and its adequateness to its specific context which is generated by the pedagogic goal, referred to as mode by Walsh, are essential for eliciting learner participation (Walsh, 2003; Walsh 2006). Furthermore, turn management applied by the teacher to signal students when to participate, plays an important role in providing opportunities for learning (Xie, 2011). In his studies, Walsh points out that teacher talk is natural in the EFL classroom, which “is a social context in its own right” (Walsh, 2002, p. 4); teacher language is dependent on the context the classroom interaction is directed to and therefore different from ‘real world language’. This view is different from an approach which claims that teacher talk “should not deviate greatly from that likely to be encountered in real life” (Crookes and Chaudron, 2001, p. 39). In other words, the EFL classroom is one discourse setting among others with a specific choice of language. Thus, the question is not if teacher talk is desirable or not, but if teacher talk fosters learners’ engagement and active participation in classroom interaction so that learning can take place. If there is a mismatch between language use and pedagogic goal, teacher language is not likely to generate learning.
Questioning, a specific form of teacher language, is probably the most frequent kind of teacher talk in the classroom serving a great deal of functions. Questioning does not have to be done in form of interrogatives exclusively, but can also occur in form of e.g. statements or imperatives. It is commonly understood as the first part of the conventional IRF structure (Initiation – Response – Feedback); it is distinguished between display questions, in which the teacher knows the answer, and referential questions, in which the information to be given in the answer is unknown to the teacher and which are consequently characterised by a higher cognitive level (Ur, 1996; Crookes and Chaudron, 2001). Referential questions, in particular, have been regarded as an effective tool to elicit greater student participation (Harfitt, 2008) and they are likely, especially when students’ opinions are asked, to generate a feeling of satisfaction in students since they allow them to express an opinion that is related to their own knowledge or experience (Ragawanti, 2009). Ur (1996, p. 230) offered a criteria catalogue for effective questioning. She proposes • • • • clarity (do the learners understand the meaning of the question?); learning value (is the question relevant for the learning process?); interest (is the question interesting for the learners?); availability (is the question suitable regarding the level of the learners group or does it only address advanced students?); • extension (is the question likely to elicit a variety of answers?); this criterion might not be valid when display questions are asked; • teacher reaction (can the students be sure that their answers will be accepted with respect?). as categories to be used in analysis of effective classroom questioning. 2.3. Wait-Time
Wait-time refers to the length of time teachers give students to answer a question. It is believed that giving students sufficient time to answer will have positive effects on the quality of students’ answers and consequently contribute to language learning (Nunan, 1991; Ur, 1996; Crookes and Chaudron, 2001). Nunan (1991) summarizes the research on wait-time as follows: Teachers generally give less than one second wait time and even after training they
fail to give more than one or two seconds wait-time; providing three to five seconds waittime, however, leads to an increase in the length of student answers, increases the number of unsolicited answers, decreases the number of failures to respond and leads to a variety of student responses in terms of extension (cf. Ur’s criterion); the literature suggests, however, no unambiguous picture on how wait-time might affect learning efficiency. Obviously, waittime is an issue that deserves study in form of action research, as Crookes and Chaudron (2001, p. 40) point out:
We advance the matter of wait-time here as an example of a classroom procedure which is easy to manipulate and which warrants further classroom investigation. Teachers might want to try the effects of simply waiting longer as they interact with their SL students, knowing that their findings, if communicated, could aid their colleagues and further substantiate (or perhaps disprove) the potential of increased wait-time in SL teaching.
3.1. Research Design
In this action research both qualitative data and quantitative data will be collected in order to find out if and, if so, to what extent inappropriateness in questioning and wait-time exist in my teaching. According to the research questions and in order to warrant triangulation, different instrumentation tools will be used. 3.2. Participants
This study will be carried out in two reading skill classes with about 25 students each in the preparatory program of Kahramanmaraş University. The sample is selected conveniently, i.e. the classes I teach are selected. The students have 26-28 hours classes per week, three of them in the skills course I give. After completing the one-year preparatory program the students are going to study in different departments of the faculties of economics and administrative sciences, agriculture, and architecture and engineering. 3.3. Instrumentation 3.3.1. Videotape Recording
In order to analyze the teacher’s questioning style and wait-time allocated a videotape recording will be used. It would be sufficient to use an audiotape recorder for documenting the questions used by the teacher. In order to evaluate the wait-time, it seems more appropriate to use a video recorder because nonverbal participation (hand raising of the students, number of hand raising students) can be documented and set in relation to wait-time, which would be impossible with audiotape recording. Transcripts will be made, but for practical reasons only for those parts which are of relevance for the first research question. In spite of this restriction transcripts will play an important role in the data collection since they focus more strongly on classroom language and classroom discourse while video-recordings
in fact might distract from the language and emphasise more observable actions (Harfitt, 2008; Thornbury, 1996). Moreover, wait-times will be measured. 3.3.2. Field Notes
Field notes will be taken immediately after the lessons so that the data gained through video recording can be complemented through general impressions of the classroom interaction for further evaluation. 3.3.3. Questionnaire
A closed-ended questionnaire will be used in order to find out the students’ perception of the teacher’s questioning. The questionnaire will test if, according to the students, the questioning by the teacher meets the categories suggested by Ur (1991). Ideally, the questionnaire will be given twice (or more) to students after an action plan has been applied in order to evaluate how well the action has worked. 3.3.4. Semi-structured Interview
A sample of the students involved in the action research will be interviewed by the teacher in order to get a deeper understanding of the students’ perceptions. The semistructured interview will be applied after the questionnaire results have been gained. 4. Data Analysis
The obtained data will be analysed differently. While the data gained through the questionnaire and the measurements for wait-time will be analyzed statistically, the data gained in the semi-structured interview and the field notes will be exposed to content analysis. It is planned to analyse the videotape recordings/transcripts, which are at the heart of this action research, using an adaptation of SETT (Self-Evaluation of Teacher Talk) procedures, a model suggested by Walsh (2003 and 2006). SETT procedures allow the teacher to analyse part of a lesson by checking if the teacher language is congruent to the specific classroom context or mode during which the teacher language occurs; the mode is defined by the pedagogic goal that underlies it. Walsh distinguishes four modes: managerial
mode (aiming at organizing classroom interaction, setting up activities), materials mode (aiming at dealing with material used for language learning), skills and systems mode (aiming at focusing on meaning, form or skills) and classroom context mode (aiming at personalizing by making learners express themselves). Ideally, teachers using SETT procedures are enabled to identify a part of their lesson by matching it to one of the modes, and then to assess their own teacher language used in this specific situation in terms of appropriateness to the mode. A possible result of this analysis might be, for instance, that referential questions are used in a part of materials mode when actually display questions might be more suitable. 5. Enacting Change
Action research is interested in trying out an idea. It goes without saying that, at the current state of formulating a research proposal, it is not more than speculative to think about an action that serves as a solution to the problem (e.g. increasing wait-time or modifying questioning). This will be possible after relevant data has been collected, analysed and interpreted. It is in the nature of action research that enacting change is an ongoing process of evaluation of data collected in observation carried out in one or more action cycles (Hopkins, 2002).
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