A study on increasing the students’ participation in communicative activities in large classes by using group work and questioning technique in Marie Curie High School, Hai Phong

The expansion in enrolment and the opening of private high schools in Vietnam leads to the fact that large classes have become a common phenomenon for higher education. With regard to teaching efficiency in large classes, it requires of teachers not only good knowledge of the subject matter but also a combination of other skills concerned with students such as managing the classroom, encouraging class participation and students interaction, assessing, motivating students, etc. Therefore, teachers cannot teach effectively or transform students without their participation. Students’ participation, though is viewed as "a threat to teaching" (Barry, 1993), is worth being studied as it play a very important role in teaching efficiency. Additionally, among the modern language teaching approaches, Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) emerges as the latest development because of its superiority. In the view of this approach, the learner is considered the center of the leaning process; the teacher serves as a facilitator, allowing students to be in change of their own learning. Breen, M and C.N. candling (1980) stated the role of learners as follows: "The role of the learner as negotiator - between the self, the learning process, and the object of leaning - emerges from interacts with the role of joint negotiator within the group and within the classroom procedures and activities which the group undertakes. The implication for the learner is that he should contribute as much as he gains, and there by learn in an interdependent way". (Richards, 2001: 116, cited in Breen, 1980) According to them, learners should be active in group as well as in classroom activities to enhance their interactive learning to be communicatively competent. They also stated the role of teacher is CLT classroom as one who facilitates the communication process between all participants in the class and the various activities. But who are the participants? There is a fact in most large language classes that not all learners are participants. Most of them only passively sit and take notes, rarely contribute in the lesson and do not ask the teacher question even when they have problems. The reasons can be seen from the students themselves (e.g., different in learning styles, shy, lacking in motivations) and from teachers' factors (e.g., methods, personalities). Whatever the reasons are, teachers should be totally responsible for their teaching and partly for their students' learning because no one else except the teachers themselves can motivate students and change their teaching methods. Thus, in order to involve all learners in class activities, it is the teachers business to design and apply techniques to increase students' participation in class activities and make students active learners. It should be noted that although large class is the focus of much of research during the last decade, a great deal of them concentrate mostly on the relationship between class size and essential in effective language teaching, but there is inadequate research on this issue. As far this matter is concerned, there has been almost no research work touching upon the issue of increasing students' participation in large classes in Vietnam, particularly in higher institutions.

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Part one: introduction 1. Rationale The expansion in enrolment and the opening of private high schools in Vietnam leads to the fact that large classes have become a common phenomenon for higher education. With regard to teaching efficiency in large classes, it requires of teachers not only good knowledge of the subject matter but also a combination of other skills concerned with students such as managing the classroom, encouraging class participation and students interaction, assessing, motivating students, etc. Therefore, teachers cannot teach effectively or transform students without their participation. Students’ participation, though is viewed as "a threat to teaching" (Barry, 1993), is worth being studied as it play a very important role in teaching efficiency. Additionally, among the modern language teaching approaches, Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) emerges as the latest development because of its superiority. In the view of this approach, the learner is considered the center of the leaning process; the teacher serves as a facilitator, allowing students to be in change of their own learning. Breen, M and C.N. candling (1980) stated the role of learners as follows: "The role of the learner as negotiator - between the self, the learning process, and the object of leaning - emerges from interacts with the role of joint negotiator within the group and within the classroom procedures and activities which the group undertakes. The implication for the learner is that he should contribute as much as he gains, and there by learn in an interdependent way". (Richards, 2001: 116, cited in Breen, 1980) According to them, learners should be active in group as well as in classroom activities to enhance their interactive learning to be communicatively competent. They also stated the role of teacher is CLT classroom as one who facilitates the communication process between all participants in the class and the various activities. But who are the participants? There is a fact in most large language classes that not all learners are participants. Most of them only passively sit and take notes, rarely contribute in the lesson and do not ask the teacher question even when they have problems. The reasons can be seen from the students themselves (e.g., different in learning styles, shy, lacking in motivations) and from teachers' factors (e.g.., methods, personalities). Whatever the reasons are, teachers should be totally responsible for their teaching and partly for their students' learning because no one else except the teachers themselves can motivate students and change their teaching methods. Thus, in order to involve all learners in class activities, it is the teachers business to design and apply techniques to increase students' participation in class activities and make students active learners. It should be noted that although large class is the focus of much of research during the last decade, a great deal of them concentrate mostly on the relationship between class size and essential in effective language teaching, but there is inadequate research on this issue. As far this matter is concerned, there has been almost no research work touching upon the issue of increasing students' participation in large classes in Vietnam, particularly in higher institutions. The above situation of teaching large classes and the gap of knowledge in the research area have aroused my interest and encouraged me to carry out this study “A study on increasing the students’ participation in communicative activities in large classes by using group work and questioning technique in Marie Curie High School, Hai Phong”. 2. Aims of the study The aims of the study are: - To prove the hypothesis that: The two techniques: group work and questioning will help students increase their participation in communicative activities in large classes. - To provide systematic knowledge of using these techniques in large class context. - To suggest the implications for learners and teachers in order to raise their awareness of students' active role and teachers' efficiency in large classes. 3. Research questions To reach the aims of the study, the two research questions are addressed: (1) What techniques and activities do the teachers at Marie Curie High School often use in their large classes and how is the students' participation in communicative activities? (2) Does the use of the two techniques: group work and questioning increase students' participation in communicative activities in large classes? 4. Scope of the study There exist varieties of techniques to encourage students' to participation in class activities. However, it is not my intention to cover all of them because of the time and length constraint of the study, only two techniques, group work and questioning, that is considered well matched to the CLT approach, a learner-centered approach, are focused on and tested in large classes at Marie Curie High School. We chose these techniques because of the following reasons. Firstly; they are not cost-affected for we needed no equipment or no considerable expense to conduct these techniques. Secondly, these techniques are not very sophisticated to carry out. Lastly, they are suitable to the context of large classes. Among performance indicators for language skills, reading, speaking, writing, and listening, speaking is the best in expressing the students' participation, and most effective in observing and recording. For its strong evidence-bearing capacity, speaking is selected as a major indicator to measure participation. In this study, students' participation happened only in classroom, particularly in speaking activities inside classroom. 5. Methods of the study Both quantitative and qualitative methods are employed to carry out the study. That is, the data serving the research analysis and discussion were collected by means of: - Questionnaires. - Classroom observations. - Interviews. Besides, reviewing the related document is also a method to establish the theoretical background of the study, which mainly focuses on communicative language teaching, large classes, students' participation and the principles of using the two techniques: Group work and Questioning. 6. Design of the study The study consists of four chapters not including the introduction (which contains rationale, aims, methods, scope and design of the study) and the conclusion (which reviews the main content and findings of the study and ends with some suggestions). - Chapter I: Literature Review establishes the basic theoretical background from the literature on large classes, students' participation, teaching techniques, communicative language teaching. Especially, the two techniques, group work and questioning, which are the focus of the study, are discussed thoroughly in this chapter. - Chapter II: Methodology describes the overall picture of how the research was carried out from the fist step of determining the research design to the last step of gathering the results. - Chapter III: Data Analysis and Findings interprets the results of the experiment, which applied the two techniques in large classes with the cooperation of the author's colleagues and students. This Chapter attempts to provide answers to the posed research question: what techniques and activities the English teachers at Marie Curie High School often do in their large classes and how students' participation is; whether the two techniques are helpful in increasing students' participation in communicative activities in large classes. The findings and the chapter with conclusions and comments after the experiment was finished. - Chapter IV: Implication suggests some ideas for teacher so that they can maximize the benefits offered by the two studied CLT techniques. Part two: the study Chapter I : literature review This chapter consists of three sections. Section one deals with the issue of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) which is intended to be discussed in terms of CLT characteristics and communicative activities. Section two focuses on the definition of the two techniques: group work and questioning. Section three concerns some concepts related to the study of increasing students' participation in large classes; large class definition; problems is large classes; students' participation and its affected factors; group work and questioning for enhancing students' participation. I.1 Communicative Language Teaching I.1.1. What is Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) The origins of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) date back early 1970s. Until then Situational Language Teaching represented the major British Approach to teaching English as a foreign language. In Situational Language Teaching, language was taught by practising basic structures in meaningful situation-based activities. But just as the linguistic theory underlying Audiolingualism was rejected in United States in the mid-1960s, British applied linguists began to call into question the theoretical assumption underlying Situational Language teaching. (Richards and Rodgers 1991:64) As the scope of Communicative Language Teaching has expanded, it was considered as an approach rather than a method, which aims to: i- make communicative competence the goal of language teaching ii- develop procedures for the teaching of the four language skills that acknowledge the interdependence of language and communication. (Richards and Rodgers 1986:66) CLT is often mentioned as an approach that comprises two sets of theories: assumption of what to teach, and assumption of how to teach. Assumption of what to teach In this assumption, Richards and Rodgers argue that “at the level of language theory, Communicative Language Teaching has a rich, if somewhat eclectic, theoretical base. Some of the characteristics of this communicative view of language follow. - Language is a system of the expression of meaning - The primary function of language is for interaction and communication - The structure of language is reflects its functional and communicative use - The primary units of language are not merely its grammatical and structural features, bur categories of functional and communicative meaning as exemplified in discourse. (Richards and Rodgers 1986:71) Therefore, the purpose of language teaching is to develop "communicative competence", a basic concept in CLT. Hymes (1972, cited in Richards and Rodgers, 2001) defined "communicative competence" as "what a speaker needs to know in order to be communicatively competent in a speech community". His viewpoint show that acquiring communicative competence means acquiring both knowledge and ability for language use. Sharing the same view of communicative competence with Hymes and Yalden, Munby (1979) stated: "To communicate effectively, a speaker must know not only how to produce any and all grammatical utterances of a language but also how to use them effectively. The speaker must know what to say, with whom, and when and where ". (Munby 1979: 17) Assumption of how to teach If the first assumption in CLT is concerned with what should be taught, (in this case, that is communicative competence), then the second assumption is related to how the teaching should be carried out. One of the linguists devoting great contribution to communicative development is Wilkin D. A. who proposed the first syllabus models which was developed into his later book Notional Syllabus in 1976. This syllabus model, remarked by Richards (2001) as an attempt to illustrate the functional view of language in syllabus design, specifies the two categories namely notional (e.g.., frequency, motion, location) and communicative function (e.g., requests, offers, apologies, complaints). That is to say, a notional syllabus comprises not only grammatical and lexical elements but also the necessary concepts, notions as well as topics for learners to communicate about (Richards, 2001). Wilkin' viewpoint of syllabus model is also strongly supported by Brumfit and Roberts (1983: 85). “Syllabus aiming at communicative competence no longer concentrates so much on grammar but looks at the nature of meaning and of interaction. Syllabus of this kind is usually referred to as "Functional" or "Notional" or "Functional/Notional". Brumfit & Roberts (1983: 85) However, notional syllabus faces the criticisms from other scholars such as Henry Widdowson and Margie Berns, M. (1984: 15), then argued that the textbooks based on the functional view might be "sorely inadequate and even misleading in their presentation." She also warned that if the context, a real key to transmitting meaning to both form and function, was not paid attention in the textbook, learners’ communicative competence development would be limited. Therefore, the notional syllabus deals with the components of discourse, but may not be concerned with discourse itself. Learner-centeredness is another good point of CLT. Students in this approach are seen to be able to play a more active and participatory part than in traditional approaches. And therefore, the roles of teacher will be re-defined with the change of activity organization because each leaner is thought to have unique learning styles, needs and goals, which should be reflected in the design of the method of instruction. (Richards and Rodgers, 2001) In conclusion, CLT can be identified with the following characteristics: - An emphasis on learning to communicate through interaction in the target language - The introduction of authentic texts into the learning situation - The provision of opportunities for learners to focus, not only on language but also on the learning process itself. - An enhancement of the learner’s own personal experiences as important contributing elements to classroom learning. - An attempt to link classroom language learning with language activation outside the classroom. (Nunan, cited in Brown 1994a:78) These characteristics will be the principles for teachers to choose to improve their students’ participation in communicative activities in a language classroom. Some communicative activities will be discussed in the next section. I.1.2. Activities in Communicative Language Teaching According to Harmer (1991), communicative activities are those that give students involved desire and a purpose to communicate. Such activities are very beneficial for students because they can do their best to use the target language and arrive at the degree of proficiency in the end. Nolasco and Athur (1993) characterised communicative activities as follows: They involve using language for a purpose. They create a desire to communicate. This means there must be some kind of “gap” which may be information, opinion, or reason that students seek to bridge. They encourage students to be creative and contribute their ideas. They focus on the message and students concentrate on “what” they are saying rather than “how” they are saying it. The students work independently off the teacher. The students determine what they want to write and say. The activity is not designed to control what the students will. (Nolasco and Athur 1993: 58) I.2. Teaching techniques: Group work and questioning There exist a lot of techniques to solve the problem of less participation in large classes, for examples: using students’ names; pair / group work, questioning, extra-class work, incentive marks and other techniques. The followings are the two main definitions of techniques which focus on communicative competence and learner-centeredness. I.2.1. Group work Group work gives the students far more chances to speak English in the classroom. Students participate in the lesson much more actively because they are involved in talking to their friends exchanging opinions, practising new structures more than listening to their teacher talking. This is important in our schools when English lessons usually take place three times a week, teachers have to practise, develop all the language skills and it happens that there is no time left for speaking. So if a teacher has ten minutes left during the lesson it is better to divide the class into groups to give the learners opportunity to really use the language to communicate with each other. According to Michael Long and his colleagues who investigated differences in the quantity and quality of student language in group work versus teacher centred activities the language produced by students working in groups is more varied and greater in quantity. Learners take the initiative to express themselves, they are more spontaneous. Asking questions and responding they use more language functions. (Lightbown and Spada, 1993:85) By dividing the class into groups students get more opportunities to talk than in full class organization and each student can say something. Penny Ur recommends that teachers working with large classes should divide them into five groups which is the most effective organization for practising speaking. (Ur, 1996:232) In the long run group work develops learners' independence. At first preparing a group presentation may be time consuming and requires more effort from the student. However, using this technique regularly students become more efficient and skilled at practising the language. They become more confident, their motivation also increases and they can manage without regular teacher's supervision. Students learn how to learn and gradually take responsibility for their own learning. Brumfit says that group work is the most effective technique of classroom organization which combines aspects of communication learning and natural interaction in a stress free environment. (Brumfit, 1984:78) I.2.2. Questioning Questioning is still a widely used technique because it helps teachers to create positive working environment which can involve students during the lessons. According to Ur (1996: 230), teachers can use questions to attract students in the lesson and make them participate actively through speech. By using questioning techniques, teachers can get students to be active in their learning and they not only provide poor students with a chance to take part in but also encourage students to be self-confident. Brown (1994) defines the functions of appropriate questioning as follow: - Teachers’ questions provide students with the motivation and opportunity to produce comfortably language without having to risk initiating language themselves. - Teachers’ questions help a teacher have immediate feedback about students’ comprehension. - Teachers’ questions can be used to start a discussion or an interaction among students. - Teachers’ questions can help students in their self-discovery. In other words, when students speak or respond to the questions, they can find out what their own opinions or reactions are. I.3. Problems in teaching large classes I.3.1. Concept of large class There has been no agreement on the size of a large class. In an UNESCO Regional Workshop on Teaching and Learning in Higher Edu Kenya, the question “What is a large class?” was raised to some senior academics and they viewed the definition of a the size of a large class as follows: “Large classes have more than 100 students enrolled.” “A large class is one with more students than available facilities can support.” “There is no fixed number. The large class depends on the discipline – smaller number for engineering, science, and medicine and large number for the arts, humanities, and social sciences.” “There is nothing like a large class. The large class is only in the mind of the orthodox teacher.” (UNESCO Regional Workshop) Ur (1996:302) also stated that “large class” varies from places to places, and the “exact number does not really matter: what matter is how you, the teacher see the class size in your own specific si
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