Action Research

A novice teacher’s action research on EFL learners’ speaking anxiety

Mihri Koçaka

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to share the findings of an action research which aims at helping students to overcome anxiety problem they suffer while speaking in speaking-listening course. The first step was identification of the problem and for this purpose an open-ended questionnaire was given to all of the students in that class. Following this, interviews were conducted with eight students, six of whom were highly anxious and two of them were not anxious according to their answers to the questionnaire. After identifying the causes of their anxiety most of which were related with fear of failure as a result of poor performance, an action plan was developed and implemented. In this presentation, both this action research process and its role in the researcher’s professional development will be shared.

For the full-text version of the article, please click here.

 

Language teacher action research: achieving sustainability

Emily Edwards and Anne Burns

Action research (AR) is becoming increasingly popular in ELT contexts as a means of continuous professional development. The positive impacts of AR on language teacher development are well documented, but the important question of how those impacts can be sustained over time is virtually unexplored. Drawing on findings from a study of teachers in Australia, we address the question of the sustainability of the impact of AR. Data from a survey and interviews show that, between one and four years after completing an AR programme, the teachers felt more confident, connected to their students, research-engaged, and recognized by colleagues and managers. We argue that a balance of top-down institutional support and individual teacher motivation is essential in ensuring sustainability of the impact over time. Finally, we suggest how the benefits of AR can be sustained for teachers doing AR and their colleagues.

For the full-text version of the article, please click here.

 

Language Teaching Beliefs, Problems and Solutions:
Reflecting and Growing Together
Amanda Yeşilbursa

Taking the principles of reflective practice and teacher cognition as a starting point, this paper will present the findings related to the beliefs, perceived problems and suggested solutions emerging from an action research study involving three university English Language Teaching (ELT) instructors seeking ways to improve their practice using peer observation and reflective journals.

The data are the Language Teachers’ Beliefs Systems (LTBSs) adapted from Richards and Lockhart (1996), the audio-recorded post-observation conferences and the electronic personal reflective journals following video-recorded lessons for each participant. During the data collection process, the participants took on the different roles of observer and observed teacher and focused on collaboratively predetermined problems with the aim of bringing about change in each others’ practice. The emerging problems and solutions were commented on in the light of the data collected from the LTBSs.

The findings show that the participants’ beliefs about language, learning and teaching were reflected both in their own practice, and in how they viewed their own and others’ practice. They
tended to look to themselves rather than secondary sources, suggesting that observation by more than one colleague and the inclusion of a theoretical aspect in the process might offer a wider
perspective.

Full Text is available here.

MAY 2016

Audio-visual Feedback Through Screencasting Technology

by Sevda Akman

Abstract

Through digitalization, students can reach information anywhere where they have the Internet connection. While a student is walking back to his dormitory, he can easily watch a video sentby his teacher or he can textto make sure that the teacher got his assignment on Whatsapgroup. To keep up with the technological advancements that their students are highly knowledgeable, instructors in ELT, areexperimenting with a variety of educational tools to increase the effectiveness of their teaching.Giving feedback to students’ written outcome has always been a great challenge for the language instructors;however, now it is easier with screen casting technologies.Screencasts are digital recordings of the activity on one’s computer screen,accompanied by voiceover narration that can be used for any class where assignments are submitted in some sort of electronic format.Screen capture software enable the tutors to record their on-screen actions and their spoken comments while creating feedback. This study has been carried out to demonstrate how screen casting technology can help the teachers to develop a more efficient and time-saving way of giving feedback.

This action research was conducted in two groups of students taking ENG 101 – English for Academic Purposes I. While treatment group 1received traditional written feedback for their written outcome, the treatment group 2 received audio-visual feedback through ascreencastingtool. After the students wrote their expository paragraphs, the researcher gave each group feedback and the students wrote their second draft.In order to understand the students’ attitudes towards written and audio-visual feedback, they were given a questionnaire and a selected group of students were interviewed. Furthermore, for qualitative data, the students’ first and second drafts were compared in terms of the revision done in content, organization and language.

The results of the action research revealed that audio-visual feedback increases the efficiency of the teacher’s feedback on students’ written outcome and makes the students more interested in the feedback process. Students emphasized they were content with getting video feedback as it helped them to understand their mistakes and revise their first draft more easily than written feedback. Additionally, they stated that they felt a stronger emotional bond with the instructor.

Key words: audio-visual feedback, screen capture, feedback, written feedback

imagesFull Text

JUNE 2015

“Integrating Literature into EAP Context as Extensive Reading Material”

by Buket Dogan

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Any one who says businessmen deal in facts, not fiction, has never read old five-year projections”

Malcolm Forbes

Buket Dogan

In English for Academic Purposes (EAP) context, one of the most crucial objectives will surely be to enhance students’ reading and critical thinking skills. In ENG 101, although students read several articles intensively during class time, they still have another opportunity to read more thanks to the extensive reading pack. Extensive reading offers several advantages to students; such as, pleasure of reading, the opportunity to read more pieces than the course offers in class hours and the chance to develop several reading skills on their own. Yet, the EAP students may still have difficulty in reading between the lines or answering higher-order thinking skills questions in reading passages though they can easily recite the information in the text back in other comprehension questions. Thus, my starting point for this study is to subject my students to critical reading, which I believe, can best be promoted by studying literature texts.Including multi-faceted characters rather than stereotypes, depicting events and/or feelings from as many different angles as possible and involving culture specific situations and concepts, literature texts will force students to use their reasoning and critical thinking skills to dig the meaning out of text. I have deployed extensive reading pack as an arsenalto introduce literature to ENG 101 students. My overriding aim for this study is to gauge our students’ attitude, beliefs, knowledge and self-perception about reading in general, extensive reading, types of reading texts (academic or literature texts), literature texts in extensive reading as a tool to develop language skills and to help them cope with departmental courses and the relationship between reading and critical thinking strategies.

Key Words: extensive reading, integration of literature into EAP context, critical thinking/reading, and learner’s reading attitudes.

  1. Introduction

2.1. Extensive Reading Pack as a Tool to Experiment with Literature Texts to Develop Critical Reading/Thinking Skills

Richards and Schmidt express that extensive reading “is intended to develop good reading habits, to build up knowledge of vocabulary and structure, and to encourage a liking for reading” (as cited in Yamashita 2004). Extensive reading, as Al-Homoud and Schmitt assert, “entails learners reading as much as possible, for the purpose of pleasure or information rather than learning particular language features” and what is more, with varying degrees of confidence, “extensive reading facilitates reading comprehension ability, reading speed, vocabulary acquisition, and positive attitudes towards reading” (2009, p. 384). Seeing that extensive reading can serve such various purposes, in ENG 101, the “Extensive Reading Pack” may create the necessary space for the instructor to integrate literature text into the course content, as literature texts will definitely be a switch for the students to the realm of pleasure, variety and being critical for the technical university students.

For this study, my first and utmost motivation was to pinpoint students’ reading attitudes towards literary texts in the framework of extensive reading pack. The participants of the study were mostly from Faculty of Engineering, who are accustomed to reading academic pieces. One thing certain about the study is that one section of students had a chance to experiment with literature texts and to analyze them critically with the help of critical reading input session and the quiz with critical reading questions. This study is not so assertive to claim that the students reading literature pieces has become more critical readers in such a short period of time, yet it is for sure that the study contributes to raising awareness of the students about the importance of literature texts to become critical readers. As Yamashita lists, so far “[g]ains in various aspects of learners’ abilities, such as general linguistic proficiency, reading, writing, vocabulary, and spelling, have been investigated” by several canonical academicians like Krashen, Kitts and Susser, yet what is distinctive about this study is that the integration of literature in an extensive reading pack in EAP context to foster critical reading skills has relatively been unexplored (2004).

 2.2. Integration of Literature into EAP Context

To say that literature has been banned from the curricula and methodologies designed to teach ESL for academic purposes would be an overstatement, but to say that its role has been greatly reduced and its place more narrowly circumscribed would be accurate. (Holten, 1997, p.377)

This is how Christine Holten, being an EAP instructor herself, starts her article entitled “Literature: A Quintessential Content”.  She believes that literature is “a more universally appealing content, one that students are motivated to tackle” and that “[t]he subject matter of literature is intrinsically accessible because literature is about us” (1997, p.380). Yet, in EAP context, the content of the courses is based on tasks that are directly related to academic sphere and there is almost no space left for literature, which is regarded as something just for pleasure without any pragmatic value. However, literature has a lot to offer for EAP students by including wide range of vocabulary and structures, building on specific cultural elements and providing various viewpoints for students to develop several language and reading skills.

Quite a lot of studies have been directed to show the significance of literature in ELT canon, yet quite a few put the emphasis on the pivotal role literature occupies in stimulating critical thinking skills. In his article entitled “Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still Read Fiction,” Gabe Bergado explains what researches found about the readers of fiction: “[s]pecifically, researchers found heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, part of the brain typically associated with understanding language” and they also “found increased connectivity in the central sulcus of the  brain, the primary sensory region, which helps the brain visualize movement” (2014). What is more, if the readers opt for literature fiction over the popular one they are supposed to analyze the characters who are “complex, ambiguous, difficult to get to know” rather than “stereotyped simple” ones. Thereby, readers of literature fiction will undoubtedly have to use their critical reading skills to be able to analyze the characters deeply. In a post-Saussurean and post-Derridean world, where the idea of the ultimate truth and/or the message is deconstructed, our students are supposed to dig for a meaning by deciphering the context, laying the working mechanisms of the text bare, and by being critical with the statements they read.

            Having all these concerns in mind, this study started with the spirit to make ENG 101 students taste some literature to refresh their joy of reading and to get benefit from extensive reading material to develop their language and critical thinking skills. Seeing the treatment group 1 (Section 29) adopt even more positive attitude towards literature texts and appreciate the improving and challenging aspect of reading literature gives me, I must confess, naïve contentment at the end of the study.

 Review of Literature

Though being called with alternative names such as pleasure reading, sustained silent reading, free voluntary reading or book flood, extensive reading is commonly defined as “reading in quantity and in order to gain a general understanding of what is read” (Richards and Schmidt, as cited in Yamashita, 2013, p. 248). The role of the teachers is rather “model readers, guiding the students … than teaching them explicitly” (Day and Bamford, as cited in Yamashita, 2013, p.248).  There is quite a lot of research undertaken to show the positive effects of extensive reading on a range of language skills such as; “reading comprehension, reading rate, vocabulary, grammar, writing, and general L2 proficiency” and what is more, it has been found out that extensive reading has “positive impacts on the affective domains of reading, such as attitude and motivation” (Yamashita, 2013, p. 249). According to Hedge (2000), extensive reading will help students “build their language competence, progress in reading ability, become more independent in their studies, acquire cultural knowledge and develop confidence and motivation to carry on learning” (204).

Reading attitude is another term that needs clarification, for this study. It is rather a miscellaneous concept having affected and being affected by several aspects. Yet, for this study, among several definitions, Alexander and Filler’s fits most: reading attitude is “a system of feelings related to reading which causes the learner to approach or avoid a reading situation” (1976, p.1). In this study, both pre and post-tested treatment group 1 find themselves to have a liking for literature texts.

Integration of literature into EAP context can be regarded as not related.Yet, Christine Holten believes that “[o]nce students [EAP] have felt the success of understanding the gist of the plot and are familiar with characters and themes of a short story, they may be more willing to look more closely at the grammatical structures and vocabulary that make up the text itself” (384). For Vural, “[a] literary work can transcend both time and culture to speak directly to a reader in another country or a different time” (2013, p.16). He further lists the unique aspects of literary texts; as follows: “[i]t expands language awareness, encourages interaction and discussions, and educatesthe whole learner’s personality. It is also enjoyable and motivating, because there is a secret formula in literature that literature reaches the parts of a person’s feelings, dreams, fantasies, and experience that other texts can’t reach” (Vural, 2013, p.16). Betil Eröz, has yet made a wider interpretation about the central role of the literature as such: “[u]sing literature in language classes has long been seen as an appropriate means of helping students master all four skills as well as developing appreciation for the arts, building critical thinking skills, becoming more emphatic person and increasing cross-cultural awareness” (p.58).

Critical thinking and reading have been combined by several scholars like Norris and Philips, for whom reading is more than just saying what is on the page; it is thinking (as cited in Aloqaili, 2010, p.38). For Beck, “there is no reading without reasoning” (1989, p.677). A more comprehensive definition of critical thinking is by Facione and Facione: “[c]ritical thinking is considered to be purposeful, self-regulatory judgment ending in interpretation, analysis, evaluation, and inference, it also involves conceptual and contextual basis of thosejudgments” (as cited in Fahim & Nazari, 2012, p. 86). Though not having consensus among canonical writers of ELT about the definition of critical thinking, the one I would adopt for my study will be McPeck’s: “[t]he propensity and skill to engage in an activity [in this study, it is reading] with reflective skepticism” (as cited in Aloqaili, 2012, p.37). What is expected to cover under the blanket of critical thinking will be judging the credibility of the sources and the writers, asking appropriate clarifying questions, and drawing conclusions with discreetness. EAP courses, similarly, aim to develop students’ critical thinking skills along with the four skills including reading.EAP students reading literature texts extensively have to make use of these skills while studying literature texts.

 Method

4.1. Research Questions

            This study focuses on exploring the following research questions by means of interpreting the results of the pre and post-surveys of both treatment and the control groups.

  1. What are EAP students’ habits about reading in general?
  2. Do EAP students feel comfortable reading extensively in English outside class?
  3. Do EAP students feel positive about literature texts in the “Extensive Reading Pack”?
  4. Do EAP students believe that extensive reading will improve their language skills and help them cope with their departmental courses?
  5. Do EAP students recognize the connection between reading literature extensively and critical thinking skills?

4.2. Participants

            Two sections of ENG 101 students took part in the study. The participants were mostly male students and almost all of them were Faculty of Engineering students. The treatment group 1 was Section 29, who studied three short stories in Extensive Reading Pack and the treatment group 2 was Section 30, who studied three academic articles. For “Likert Pre-Survey”, 18 students’ responses were taken into account from each section. For “Likert Post-Survey”, 19 students’ responses were analyzed from each section.

4.3. Data Collection Instruments and Procedure

The study followed a quantitative methodology. Data was gathered through a) “Likert Pre-Survey” and b)Likert Post-Survey”. Data collection procedure was as follows:

  1. The researcher asked students to participate an identical “Likert Pre-Survey” for both groups. Each item was fixed to a 4-point Likert scale, ranging from “strongly disagree” (1) to “strongly agree” (4); the 4-option format left no option for neutral responses, in order to escape “fence-sitting” position (Dörnyeri, 2003). The items on the survey were divided into four different groupings but related categories, as listed below:
  2. attitudes toward reading in English general
  3. literature texts and academic articles as extensive reading material
  4. extensive reading to develop language skills and to help them cope with departmental courses
  5. beliefs in literature texts’ being a tool to develop critical thinking skills

(For “Likert Pre-Survey” see Appendix 1)

  1. The researcher made an input session of 50 minutes for both groups about how to analyze a text by making use of their critical thinking skills. (For Lesson Planand materials ,see Appendix 2)
  2. The researcher informed the treatment group that they were going to study three short stories, which are related to the theme of ENG 101 book; which is change. The stories are about the change in father and son relationships in three different cultures. The first story is “Reunion” by an American writer John Cheever, and it depicts an American father and son relationship. The second story is “A Devoted Son” by an Indian-German writer Anita Desai and it portrays the conflict between an Indian father and a son. Finally, the third story is “A Family Supper” by a Japanese writer Kazuo Ishiguro and it narrates how a family union starts to be destroyed in Japanese culture. (For short stories see Appendix 3). She informed the participants that they were supposed to make use of their critical thinking skills while studying the short stories as she showed them in the critical thinking input session. The researcher also informed participants that they were going to take a quiz 15 days later and that she was going to ask them five critical thinking questions about the short stories they would study. (For quiz questions see Appendix 4).
  3. The researcher informed the treatment group 2 that they were going to study three academic articles, which are related to the theme of ENG 101 book; which is change. Each article focuses on different aspect of change. The first article is “Individuals and Masses” by Aldous Huxley and it depicts the change in people when they are involved in masses. The second article is “The Social Responsibility of Scientists” by Bertrand Russell and it portrays the changing role of the scientist in society. Finally, the third article is “Will MOOCs be Flukes” by Maria Konnikova and it talks about the changing trends in education. (For academic articles see Appendix 5). She informed the participants that they were supposed to make use of their critical thinking skills while studying the articles as she showed them in the critical thinking input session. The researcher also informed participants that they were going to take a quiz 15 days later and that she was going to ask them five critical thinking questions about the academic articles they would study. (For quiz questions see Appendix 6).
  4. 15 days after the researcher gave them the “Extensive Reading Pack”, the participants took the quiz. The quiz results of the treatment group 1 are much higher than the control group. (For quiz results see Appendix 7).
  5. The researcher asked students to participate a “Likert Post-Survey”. The researcher conducted different “Likert Post-Surveys” for the treatment group 1 and 2. They were asked to identify their attitude about the “Extensive Reading Pack”: whether they liked reading literature or academic articles, whether they saw some value in these texts to improve their language skills and to help them cope with departmental courses and finally whether they could see any positive contribution of the literature or academic articles to their critical thinking skills. (For “Likert Post-Surveys” see Appendix 8)

4.4. Data Analysis:

            Since this study has a quantitative nature most of the data were interpreted with the help of SPSS program. The “Pre-Survey” attitudes of both groups are analyzed in terms of frequency and the descriptive quality of the students’ answers is interpreted with the help of descriptive analysis tool of the program. For the “Post-Surveys”, the research design was T-test treatment, which compared two groups receiving different extensive reading materials; literature texts and academic articles, respectively.Besides, the items in the “Post-Surveys” of the two groupsare analyzed in terms of frequency and the descriptive quality of the students’ answers are interpreted with the help of descriptive analysis tool of the program, as well. What is more, the quiz also gave some idea to the researcher about the students’ attitudes. Seeing that they were successful with the questions, the treatment group 1 reported more positive attitude towards reading literature.

  1. Findings and Discussions

The findings and discussions will be based on four different headings; 1) the EAP students attitude towards extensive reading, 2) literature and academic articles as extensive reading materials, 3) their beliefs about the extensive reading to develop their language skills and help them cope with departmental courses and 4) towards the relationship between extensive reading pack and the critical thinking skills.

5.1. EAP Students’ Attitudes towards Extensive Reading

            In “Pre-Survey”, the treatment group 1’s attitude about extensive reading can be regarded as positive, as the frequency of the item 1 measuring their general attitude about extensive reading pack is more than 70%, accumulating between “agree” and “strongly agree”. It will be a reasonable guess to evaluate the treatment group 1’s attitude towards extensive reading is quite positive and that they do not see it as a threat.In “Pre-Survey”, the variables of the treatment group 2 are not that much different; they can be regarded as quite positive about the extensive reading; the frequency being at 94%.

Q1
Section Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
29 Valid D 5 27,8 27,8 27,8
A 10 55,6 55,6 83,3
SA 3 16,7 16,7 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0
30 Valid D 1 5,6 5,6 5,6
A 14 77,8 77,8 83,3
SA 3 16,7 16,7 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0

Table 1: Frequency percentages for item 1, measuring their general attitude about extensive reading pack.

In “Post-Survey”, the treatment group1 and the treatment group 2 reported positively to the item:1 asking whether they enjoyed reading the texts in the Reading Pack, though the difference is quite slight, still the treatment group 1 appears to be more positive as the “T-Test” shows below. Difference being slight between the two groups will be taken quite normal, when the small number of participants is taken into consideration.

  One-Sample Test
SECTION Test Value = 0
t df Sig. (2-tailed) Mean Difference 95% Confidence Interval of the Difference
Lower Upper
29 Q1 18,000 18 ,000 2,842 2,51 3,17
30 Q1 18,258 18 ,000 2,737 2,42 3,05

Table 2: T-Test for item 1, measuring whether they enjoyed reading the texts in their reading pack.

5.2. EAP Students’ Attitudes towards Reading Literature and Academic Articles in the Extensive Reading Pack

In the “Pre-Survey”, the frequency of the items (2&3), asking their general attitude about reading literature and academic texts, is again positive for both groups; there is not any significant difference between the responses to the second and the third item; both groups are at equal distance towards literary and academic texts.

Q2
Section Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
29 Valid D 2 11,1 11,1 11,1
A 15 83,3 83,3 94,4
SA 1 5,6 5,6 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0
30 Valid D 3 16,7 16,7 16,7
A 14 77,8 77,8 94,4
SA 1 5,6 5,6 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0
Table 3: Frequency percentages of both groups for item: 2, which is “I would feel comfortable reading academic articles in my reading pack”. Q3
Section Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
29 Valid D 6 33,3 33,3 33,3
A 10 55,6 55,6 88,9
SA 2 11,1 11,1 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0
30 Valid D 3 16,7 16,7 16,7
A 12 66,7 66,7 83,3
SA 3 16,7 16,7 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0

Table 4: Frequency percentages of both groups for item: 3, which is “I would feel comfortable reading literature articles in my reading pack”.

In the “Post-Survey”, both groups reported to be happy and comfortable reading “literature” or “academic” articles in the reading pack. Yet, the frequency rate is again higher with the treatment group 1 in the table below.

One-Sample Test
SECTION Test Value = 0
t df Sig. (2-tailed) Mean Difference 95% Confidence Interval of the Difference
Lower Upper
29 Q2 19,282 18 ,000 2,789 2,49 3,09
30 Q2 15,076 18 ,000 2,632 2,26 3,00

Table 5: T-Test for item 2, measuring whether they enjoyed reading literature or academic texts in their reading pack.

5.3. EAP Students’ Beliefs about Extensive Reading Pack to Develop their Language Skills and to Help them with their Departmental Courses

            In the “Pre-Survey”, both groups do place value to extensive reading pack to develop their language skills (=item 9) and will somehow help them deal with their departmental courses (=8).

Table 6: Frequency percentages of treatment group 1 in a bar chart for item: 8, which is “Reading English outside class will help me cope with my departmental courses”.

Table 7: Frequency percentages of the treatment group in a bar chart for item: 9, which is “I believe that encountering unfamiliar expressions in the reading text will improve my English”

Similarly, for the treatment group 2, their belief in extensive reading pack to help them cope with departmental courses is above 66% as the table suggests below.

Q8
Section Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
29 Valid SD 1 5,6 5,6 5,6
D 2 11,1 11,1 16,7
A 13 72,2 72,2 88,9
SA 2 11,1 11,1 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0
30 Valid D 6 33,3 33,3 33,3
A 9 50,0 50,0 83,3
SA 3 16,7 16,7 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0

Table 8: Frequency rates of both groups for item 8, in the pre-survey.

In the “Post-Survey” both groups attach value and importance to reading literature or academic articles to develop their language skills and to help them cope with their departmental courses. The related items were; item 3 and 6 in the “Post-Survey”. Item 6 for the treatment group 1 was “I believe encountering unfamiliar expressions in the literary texts in the reading pack helped me improve my English” and for the treatment group 2, it was “I believe encountering unfamiliar expressions in the academic texts in the reading pack helped me improve my English”. Item 3 for the treatment group 1 was “I believe reading literature texts in the reading pack helped me cope with my departmental courses” and for the treatment group 2, it was “I believe reading academic texts in the reading pack helped me cope with my departmental courses”.

 One-Sample Test
SECTION Test Value = 0
t df Sig. (2-tailed) Mean Difference 95% Confidence Interval of the Difference
Lower Upper
29 Q3 11,339 18 ,000 2,632 2,14 3,12
Q6 29,397 18 ,000 3,421 3,18 3,67
30 Q3 13,961 18 ,000 2,474 2,10 2,85
Q6 25,381 18 ,000 3,053 2,80 3,31

Table 9: T-Test for items 3 & 6.

Here, the frequency rate of the treatment group 1 for item: 6 is again higher than that of the treatment group 2, and more important that this, the treatment group 1 appreciates the benefit they will get from the reading pack for their departmental courses more than the treatment group 2 does in item 3. The treatment group 1 could have seen literature reading valuable but totally irrelevant for their departmental courses, almost all of them being engineering students. Yet, they believe reading literature extensively will help them cope with their departmental courses, which is, I believe, the most important contribution of the study.

5.4. EAP Students’ Beliefs about Extensive Reading Pack to Enhance their Critical Thinking Skills

            In the “Pre-Survey”, both groups without showing any significant difference between, believe that reading extensively will help them enhance their critical thinking skills; either by providing them with new ways of seeing things or with evaluating the information presented to them critically. The frequency for these items (4,5,6 &7) is again above 80%. To illustrate, for the item:4, which was “ Reading English outside class will help me develop my critical thinking skills”, the frequency rate is totally equal, which means both groups believe that reading extensively develops their critical thinking skills as the table suggests below:

Q4
Section Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
29 Valid D 3 16,7 16,7 16,7
A 7 38,9 38,9 55,6
SA 8 44,4 44,4 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0
30 Valid D 3 16,7 16,7 16,7
A 11 61,1 61,1 77,8
SA 4 22,2 22,2 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0

Table: 10: Frequency percentages of both groups for item: 4.

In the “Post-Survey”, for items measuring the relationship between reading literature or academic texts to the critical thinking skills, again the treatment group 1 rated higher.

One-Sample Test
SECTION Test Value = 0
t df Sig. (2-tailed) Mean Difference 95% Confidence Interval of the Difference
Lower Upper
29 Q4 22,860 18 ,000 3,158 2,87 3,45
Q5 20,679 18 ,000 2,947 2,65 3,25
Q7 14,602 18 ,000 3,053 2,61 3,49
Q8 21,770 18 ,000 3,263 2,95 3,58
30 Q4 17,544 18 ,000 3,000 2,64 3,36
Q5 16,264 18 ,000 2,737 2,38 3,09
Q7 17,110 18 ,000 2,895 2,54 3,25
Q8 18,000 18 ,000 2,842 2,51 3,17

Table 11: T-Test for items: 4, 5, 7 & 8.

In the “Pre-Survey”, there was an item, which clearly asked the participants to mark which type of texts they believe will improve their critical thinking skills, and the treatment group 1 stated that they favor academic texts more than the literature texts to improve their critical thinking skills.

Q10
Section Frequency Percent Valid Percent Cumulative Percent
29 Valid Academic 11 61,1 61,1 61,1
Literature 7 38,9 38,9 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0
30 Valid Academic 5 27,8 27,8 27,8
Literature 13 72,2 72,2 100,0
Total 18 100,0 100,0

 Table: 12: Frequency percentage for item: 10

In the “Post-Survey”, the treatment group 1 almost totally changed their minds and remarked that they believed literature texts would develop their critical thinking skills more than academic articles would do.

Table: 13: Frequency rate for item 9; which was “Which one do you think may inform your critical thinking skills?”

From the data provided here, among all one thing vivid and easily discernible is the treatment group 1, after experiencing with the literature texts reports their positive attitude about all the aspects this study is trying to shed light on.

  1. Conclusion

The present findings of the study shed light not only on the crucialrole of the extensive reading for EAP students but also on the convenience of it to improve EAP students’ language skills as well as developing their critical thinking skills with the help of literature texts. The treatment group 1 participants held more positive views about reading literature as extensive reading material. With the help of this study they had a chance to experiment with literature texts. The positive results cannot be seen as due to “halo” effect as both groups have experienced with the extensive read pack for the first time. Besides, in the “Post-Survey”, the weighty rise in the frequency rate of the treatment group 1’s answers for the literature texts shows the positive effect of literature text in extensive reading pack beyond doubt. At all events, making students try out literature texts, the researcher raised students’ awareness about different types of texts and analyzing a written work from a critical perspective.

In conclusion, in EAP context, the students can be given a chance to try out different genres of texts. Literature is a rewarding alternative for these students. Reading literature extensively outside class will definitely make them have a relief from the heavy workload studying something pleasurable. At the same time, they will see the benefit of this diversion by developing their language skills, like improving their vocabulary, and by adding to their critical thinking skills. For EAP, literature can be taken as a little light relief that is well worth a visit.

  1. Limitations and Suggestions for Further Research

As in all studies, this study should be interpreted in the light of several limitations. First of all, for an extensive reading pack in order to make students appreciate more of literature, they could have been assigned to read more. Yet, due to the limitations of the curriculum, quite small credit is allocated for the extensive reading pack and being motivated by grades, ENG 101 students may have refused to read any literature text, at all. Furthermore, the researcher could have done more critical reading strategy training for both groups so that they could have analyzed the extensive reading texts more critically. However, again due to time limitations, I could not spare more time for this. Lastly, it is quite ashort-term study with limited materials and participants to see such big results. If the study had a longer time to spare, it would have more process-based results.

Deciding to write an action research, the first thing I did was to try to find the most fitting definition to adopt for myself and it was the one offered by Mackey and Gass: “action research generally refers to research carried out by practitioners in order to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of how second languages are learned and taught, together with some focus on improving the conditions and efficiency of learning and teaching” (2005, p.350). To this end, this study made me “gain a better understanding” of EAP students’ dynamics about reading, extensive reading and critical thinking skills. For the second part of Mackey and Gass’s definition, I can tell that a lot more can be done to improve the conditions and efficiency of our students’ learning: this study can be extended to more participants from a wide range of departments and according to their interest, unique reading literature packs can be designed. With the help of these reading packs, the instructors can spare some time to provide our students with some strategy training about critical reading. These can be the extensions of this small-scale study. As a last word, although action research is a progressive construct, still I see something cyclical in it; we, as teachers, should always be rethinking about our remedies and revisiting our understanding of teaching.

References

Al-Homoud, F. & Schmitt, N. (2009). Extensive reading in a challengingenvironment: a comparison of extensive and intensive reading approaches in Saudi Arabia. Language Teaching Research,13 (4), 383-401.

Alexander, J.E., & Filler, R.C. (1976). Attitudes and reading. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Aloqaili, A.S. (2012). The relationship between reading comprehension and critical thinking: A theoretical study. Journal of King Saud University – Languages and Translation, 24, 35-41.

Beck, I.L., (1989). Reading and reasoning. The Reading Teacher, 42, 676-682.

Bergado, G. (2014). Science Shows Something Surprising About People Who Still

Read Fiction. Retrieved January 7, 2015 from http://mic.com/articles/104702/science-shows-something-surprising-about-people-who-love-reading-fiction

Dörnyei, Z. (2003). Questionnaires in second language research: Construction, administration, and processing. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Fahim, M & Nazari, O. (2012). Practicing Action Research for Enhancing Critical Thinking. Journal of Science, 2 (1), 84-89.

Eröz, B. (n.d.). Using Literature and Movies for Integrated Skills Development in English Language Teaching. TESL Reporter, 58-65.

Hedge, T. (2000). Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holten, C. (1997). Literature: A Quintessential Content. In M. A. Snow & D. M.

Brinton (Eds.), The Content-Based Classroom: Perspectives on Integrating Language and Content. (pp. 377-388). White Plains, N. Y.: Longman.

Mackey, A. & Glass, S.M. (2005). Second language research: Methodology and design. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Vural, Haldun. (2013). Use of Literature to Enhance Motivation in ELT Classes. Mevlana International Journal of Education (MIJE), 3 (4), 15-23.

Yamashita, J. (2004). Reading attitudes in L1 and L2, and their influence on L2 extensive reading. Reading in a Foreign Language,16 (1).

Yamashita, J. (2013). Effects of extensive reading on reading attitudes in a foreign language. Reading in a Foreign Language,25 (2), 248-263.

Appendices

 Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3

Appendix 4

Appendix 5

Appendix 6

Appendix 7

Appendix 8

May 2015

“Enhancement of Student Writing Through Awareness-raising” by Sinem Bür

sinem

“At university level, disciplinary knowledge and understanding are largely exhibited and valued through the medium of writing”,  which is often considered as a difficult aspect of language among the four skills (Coffin, 2003, p.19). For an English-medium university, it is even more difficult for students to exhibit their knowledge because foreign language writing presents significant challenges. Despite all its challenges, students need to master this skill and display a level of competence so that they can succeed in their departments. Unfortunately, this is not the case all of the time because students experience great difficulty in producing a piece of writing and they cannot write effectively.

Having taught for 13 years in university context, I observed that most students have a wrong assumption about what makes an effective writing. They mostly rely on memorized structures, clichés and superficial structured writing. In addition, they think that linkers, examples, fancy grammar and vocabulary structures make their writing an effective one. On top of all these, they have content and coherence problems, which considerably affect the quality of their writing. However, unfortunately, most of them are even unaware of such problems.

all these problems, students’ wrong assumptions, and the significance of writing in EAP context, I started to question whether we, teachers, can really help our students in writing because it plays an utmost role in my context; in METU, Department of Modern Languages (DML),  which offers academic English courses. Especially in ENG101 course, in which students are expected to produce expository and reaction paragraphs as well as an expository essay it is even more important as this course is the basis for academic English and also the prerequisite for ENG102, in which students are expected to produce argumentative writing. Moreover, the students taking this course are either preparatory school graduates or those who pass the proficiency exam and are exempt from the preparatory school program so except from the ones repeating the course, it is the first time majority of students are taking a course offered by our department.

Thus, in order to help my students more in this often-difficult process of writing, in this research, with the purpose of improving students’ writing competence, I decided to design cyclic lessons at the end of which I can  see whether or not those methods have a positive impact on their performance.

2.METHODOLOGY

 2.1. Research Questions 

To be able to improve students’ writing competence, it was first essential to find out the students’ perceptions about writing. Therefore, the questions focused on throughout the research were:

  • To what extent are my students aware of effective writing?
  • Do my students fully understand what academic writing is?
  • How can I help my students improve their writing competence?

 2.2. Research Tradition and Approach 

In this study, to explore the views and experiences of ENG101 students about writing, I used qualitative research paradigm, which is concerned with interpretation and human understanding (Ernest, 1994).  I conducted the study in the context of DML and I studied the writing strand of the course in depth with the purpose of improving students’ writing by raising their awareness.

 2.3. Participants 

The participants, aged between 17 and 26, were 38 ENG101 students, who have different levels of experience and writing competence. As qualitative research is concerned with participant perspectives; what they are experiencing and how they interpret it (Biklen & Bogdan, 1992), I worked with participants from different departments and having different language backgrounds and I tried to find out how they perceive writing.

2.4. Research Methods and Instruments  

The methods of information gathering in this study are questionnaire, pre & post interviews and document analysis.

At the beginning of the semester, I informed the students about the research and as the primary research tool, I used a questionnaire to obtain information about their views and perceptions about effective writing in academic context. In addition, I interviewed ten students in order to further get their views on the research topic. The interview, which lasted about 15-20 minutes, was a semi-structured one, in which I asked open-ended questions as they “facilitate the giving of opinion and allow the respondents’ opportunities to develop their responses in ways which the interviewer might not have forseen” (Camplbell, McNamara & Gilyn, 2004, p. 99). In the interviews, I asked participants questions that would make them reflect on their writing and also enable me to design lessons to cater for their needs and weaknesses. Finally, in order to draw better qualitative conclusions, I got students to write a diagnostic paragraph about plastic surgery and I analyzed each paragraph on the basis of how each student has written in the light of what he/she had said in the questionnaires and interviews.  I selected the paragraphs of the participants through purposive sampling, in which samples were chosen for a specific purpose (Cohen, Manion & Morrison, 2000: 103); revealing students’ perceptions of writing. At the end of the study, I had the post interviews in the form of evaluation and reflection so that I would better get their views on their writing performance and the way they see writing.

2.5. Data Analysis

I collected data over a period of 6 weeks and analyzed it inductively to develop a descriptive model as this research is based on a qualitative paradigm (Biklen & Bogdan, 1992, p. 70). Having collected all the data, I analyzed students’ answers for the questionnaire, interview and sample writings thoroughly in line with the research questions. Throughout the study, I kept analytical notes based on the sample student writings and I also used a coding strategy in order to better keep track of them. Since there was the human factor in the study, it could not be carried out without taking their affective needs into consideration. Thus, in order to gather data on their thoughts and feelings about the teaching cycles, after each cycle I had a chat with the students and asked them: “How do you feel about today’s lesson?” and sometimes I even didn’t feel the need to ask them questions because they were already making comments and showing their reaction and feelings.

Goetz and LeCompte state that interpretation of data requires finding out “what the data mean for the questions asked in the study and why particular meanings are salient” (1984, p. 206). Therefore, to interpret the results obtained by means of descriptive analysis, I analyzed the results in relation to each research question. Although I received some of the answers that I was expecting, some of the answers were quite surprising for me.

3.INTERPRETATION OF RESULTS & DISCUSSION

In the questionnaire, more than half of the participants indicated that they feel worried about writing (23 students-App.2) and half of them do not feel comfortable about it since they regard their writing competence as ‘weak’ (18 students-App.2). Moreover, 32 of the students (App.2) stated that they are aware of their weaknesses and strengths. Unfortunately, however, 26 of them (App.2) don’t know how to improve their writing and almost all of them accept that they need support and guidance. Observing their attitudes towards writing and having received such answers in the questionnaire, I anticipated the answer for question 2 in part 2B as a negative one, but surprisingly, 17 out of 38 students (App.2) think that they can write effectively. This indicated that they were not fully aware of their performance or what effective writing is and students’ diagnostic writings were clear indication of this. When analyzing the sample documents, I expected to read papers supporting students’ answers in the questionnaire but I was quite surprised to see that students’ writings were unsatisfactory. This actually answered my first research question and made me even more curious about my study. Although majority of them have poor writing competence, they were quite overconfident about their performance in writing, which I believe was due to their wrong assumptions and lack of a mutual understanding about what makes a piece of writing effective. Unfortunately, many students have the wrong assumption that memorized expressions, cliché statements and a ‘template-like’ structured writing style is a successful one which is appreciated by teachers. That is why, in their writings, most students had the same ‘structure’, which looked like a template given to them. Majority of the papers had the same transitions, which is a safe way of answering the prompt so the students didn’t have their own voice but had only “one common voice”! (App. 4).

As for my second research question – students’ understanding of academic writing-, in the questionnaire, almost half of the students were not sure about whether they know academic writing or not (App.2). Moreover, all of the students I interviewed said that they do not know what academic writing is (App.4). Although 31 of them have been studying in an academic environment for at least a year, they are unaware of academic writing and more importantly, 28 of them have never written essays, so they do not have an idea about what an essay is (App.2). This was clearly observable in students’ diagnostic writings since they used inappropriate register, overgeneralizations and personal constructions (App. 5).

Another issue worth noting concerns content-related problems. In students’ diagnostic writings, I noticed some weaknesses that affected the quality of the papers. Unfortunately the ideas were presented in a superficial and limited way and the quality of arguments was poor. Most students failed to develop their ideas and they left the reader with questions in mind (App. 6). While reading the paragraphs, I had to ask questions like “why, how, so what, in what condition?” Due to this, students’ writings were usually superficial and their arguments were weak (App. 6).

In the light of all these findings, I thought that the first and the best step to help my students improve their writing would be to raise their awareness. Therefore, I decided to have a series of lessons (teaching cycles) with different aims and methods likely to raise student awareness.  In each lesson, I aimed at catering for the weaknesses I identified based on the research findings.

Teaching Cycles

Cycle 1

I conducted an introductory lesson where I had the opportunity to get students’ views on ‘what they do to write effectively’, ‘what teachers want them to do to become successful’ and ‘what gets a good point’. After a short discussion on their experiences and views, I tried to eliminate their wrong assumptions by showing them an ineffective writing and asking their views as to whether it is a good or a bad one. Some of the students found it successful although it was a poor writing. When I showed them the problematic parts, they were surprised and claimed that I had high expectations and that they will be challenged throughout the term (App.8). Indeed, it was a good opportunity for me to highlight the expectations of the “course”, not individual teachers. However, unfortunately, they kept saying that their previous teachers liked it the other way or their previous teachers wanted them to do it differently. This was disappointing to hear as it revealed too much teacher reliance. Students were not doing what they themselves learn and believe to be correct but what is told them as correct, which showed lack of critical thinking and independence.

I also explained my students what academic writing is with the help of concrete examples. This attracted students’ attention and they were all engaged in the lesson. At the end of the lesson, they asked me to send the power point slides to them and some were surprised to see that academic writing was not what they thought it to be.

Cycle 2

Believing that students should be informed about the criteria
and standards for the task they need to master”, I displayed the criteria and went over each item one by one in order to clarify what is meant because when students are just given the criteria or told to check it from the webpage, they do not have full understanding of it (Wiggins, 1998: 64). I think students can write more effectively and feedback becomes more meaningful when they fully understand the criteria. Therefore, after explaining them the criteria, I gave two sample student papers and asked them to evaluate them by using the criteria. They loved being a teacher and evaluating the paper, but they were quite generous and couldn’t detect the content problems in the weak paper. I noticed that the way they analyzed the papers were quite superficial so I decided to plan the following cycles accordingly.

In addition, I showed students some model paragraphs in order to make the picture clear in their minds. “Although models are often prescriptive, affecting students’ individual voices and creativity ,they are useful for supplementing explicit instruction”(Hyland, 2003, p. 19) because with the help of explicit instruction students can pick up the conventions and features  and they can master correct usage and expressions in writing  (Smagorinsky, 1992). The students were eager to analyze each model and they were clear as to how they need to write.

 Cycle 3

Having analyzed students’ diagnostic writings and observed them in cycle 1 and 2, I noticed a serious problem in students’ written work. Their ideas were limited and basic. They didn’t have deep level thinking; they had generic expressions and superficial explanations, instead. In most of the papers I read, there was inadequate development of ideas (App. 6).

To solve this problem, I had 4 lessons with students and in each of them; I focused on development of ideas. I started with the basic sentence-level development and even for a simplistic idea like “this pencil case is good because it ….” I pretended to be a student and showed them how they fail to develop ideas and then I encouraged students to explain. They laughed at first and maybe found it nonsense, but later they realized how ineffective their development was or they even realized that they were not developing ideas but just putting forward arguments without any or little support.

After this basic sentence-level work, I showed students sample paragraphs and encouraged them to ask questions that would promote thinking (Langer & Arthur, 1987 in Kepner, 1991). I asked them to evaluate the effectiveness of the paragraphs and this led them to focus more on the transmission of meaning rather than the structure or accuracy (Hedgcock and Lefkowitz, 1996, p. 289).  Then, I got the students to write well-constructed arguments which lay out logical reasoning and evidence. I gave them feedback and they had the chance to evaluate each other’s papers and to learn from their peers’ mistakes. Students loved this activity as I tried to help them see it as a game or a puzzle. I told them that while writing, they should always visualize the reader like a little curious child who needs clarification and asks a lot of questions as well as an opponent who tries to refute their ideas. They loved this game and criticized each other’s papers. On top of all, it contributed a lot to the way they develop their ideas.

Having completed all the cycles I planned, I asked students to write an expository paragraph about social media. My aim was to see students’ performance after completing all three cycles. I wanted to check whether teaching cycles had a positive impact on students’ writing so I evaluated all the papers and compared them to students’ diagnostic writings.

 4.DISCUSSION

In this study, naturally, generalizability of the conclusions might be questioned as the research was conducted in a short period of time, with only 38 students (Marshall & Rossman, 1999). However, samples from a smaller portion of a group are taken so as to represent a “general scheme of things” and readers are expected to fit them in their own context as this study is based on my own context (Biklen & Bogdan, 1992, p. 45).

Overall, it can be said that this whole study served a very good purpose and if did nothing, carried the students to the level where they explored the demands of writing in academic context. It created miracles for the ones who were ready to grasp it; however, for the ones who were already indifferent or reluctant, the lesson was quite boring and unnecessary.

A striking point that I found out after analyzing the samples was that there was not a remarkable improvement in students’ papers, which I believe is due to limited time we had. The students’ answers in the post interview also supported this as they also stated that they wanted to do more writing practice. In addition, although the development of ideas was better than their diagnostic writing, content was still unsatisfactory. Actually, it was quite normal as improvement in writing requires time.  However, it was still good to hear from even the weak students that the process was really beneficial for them and even if it could not yield the expected outcomes, there was noticeable increase in the awareness of students, which was evident in the post interviews (App.7). Besides awareness, in terms of content and academic register, there was some improvement in some of the papers as displayed in Appendices 4,5,6 and 9. Papers 11 and 37 showed an improvement in the development of ideas as their explanation and expansion was much better than their previous version. Also, it was nice to see that in their paragraphs students tried to use different structures that they saw in the models.  In papers 2, 19 and 29 I noticed that students used “to do so”, “more importantly” and “by doing so” rather than only relying on “firstly”, “secondly” and “for example”.  Moreover, academic language lesson worked very well for some students and it was evident in their paragraphs as I noticed that they tried to use tentative language (App. 9, paragraphs 7, 19).  After that lesson, students who repeatedly used personal constructions learned to use impersonal constructions so their register was much better

5.CONCLUSION

This study was an opportunity for me to gain a deeper understanding of students’ perceptions about writing and it enabled me to reflect on the way I teach writing. I reconsidered the materials I use in my writing lessons and I had a chane to design tailor-made lessons that would serve as a remedy for students’ weaknesses. This, indeed, gave me great satisfaction as a teacher.

From an institutional point of view, this study made a valuable contribution to students’s written work as it raised their awareness and encouraged them to write more effective papers. It was also helpful to improve the writing strand in ENG101 course. I believe that such an awareness raising work and maybe teaching cycles should always be conducted right at the beginning of ENG101 course as it is the basis of academic writing and will eventually be beneficial for students in ENG102, in which they learn writing argumentative essays.

More importantly, students’ poor writing performance and their answer for the last question in the questionnaire (20 of the students were not sure whether their prior education (preparatory school) prepared them for the written work required in this course) was worth noting (App.2). This, for me, is a significant issue because, unfortunately, it seems that there is a gap between the preparatory program and the freshman courses. Although the preparatory and post-preparatory programs in METU have quite strong links to each other as they have the same ultimate goal of providing the most appropriate setting for exposure to English language in academic context, the two separate teaching perspectives generate different pedagogical foci which put emphasis on different teaching and learning strategies. This is apparent in students’ writing papers. With what they have been told at preparatory program in mind, students wrote paragraphs, in which they paid utmost attention to structure as well as language. However, their writings were unsatisfactory when compared to what is expected of them in ENG101 and unfortunately some students had no idea of what an essay is, which I believe is quite late to be taught in ENG101. Also, teaching academic writing, essay writing and the importance and meaning of content in ENG101 is quite late due to time constraints and the loaded teaching program of the course. This was also highlighted by students in the post interview. They stated that they needed some more time and do more practice for writing (App.7).

To conclude, as a natural extension of this research, a future study which would explore ways of bridging the gap between preparatory program and DML could be worthwhile.  In this way, a smooth transition to the DML courses could be established and students’ cognitive and affective readiness would be ensured. Thus, teachers can better contribute to the improvement of their students’ writings and therefore help them become effective writers.

  1. REFERENCES

Biklen, S. K. & Bogdan, R. C. (1992). Qualitative research for education. Allyn and Bacon: Needham Heights.

Campbell, A. & McNamara, O. & Gilyn, P. (2004). Practitioner research and professional

development in education. London: Paul Chapman.

Coffin, C. (2003). Teaching academic writing. New York: Routledge. Cohen, L. & Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2000). Research methods in education (5th ed.). London: Routledge.

Ernest, P. (1994). An introduction to research methodology and paradigms. Exeter: University of Exeter.

Goetz, J. P. & LeCompte, M. D. (1984). Ethnography and qualitative design in educational research. London: Academic Press.

Hyland, K. (1990). Providing productive feedback. ELT Journal, 44, 279-285.

Kepner, C.G. (1991). An experiment in the relationship of written feedback on the development of second language writing skills. Modern Language Journal, 75, 305-313.

Marshall, J. & Rossman, G.B. (1999). Designing qualitative research (3rd ed.).California: Sage Publications.

Smagorinsky P. (1992). How reading model essays affects writers. In Irwin J., Doyle M. (Eds.), Reading/writing connections: Learning from research (pp. 160-176). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Wiggins,G. (1998). Educative Assessment: Designing Assessments to Inform and Improve  Student Performance. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.

APRIL 2015

pinarMotivation…Is it a Dream?” by Pınar Gacan Ertuğrul

Teaching a class which consists of highly motivated, active, dynamic, attentive students who are willing to learn and engaged in coursework is probably every teacher’s dream, as is mine. On the other hand, it is quite apparent that each learner is unique and the classes we teach encompass a great diversity and complexity in terms of students’majors and their departmental needs, language abilities, interests, and learning styles.  In order to be able to survivein such classrooms, ‘effective’ teachers are usually required to maintain student interest and motivation, to create a non-threating learning environment, to appeal to different interests and needs, and to bring a variety to their teaching materials and techniques. Therefore, it is a very challenging task for teachers to sustain and promote student motivation in such multidimensional classes.

Although having such students as mentioned above is what I always dream of, my dreams have not been really fulfilled this term in one of my sections. When I carefully observed my classes in the four-hour video-recordings, I realized that the students neither wanted to participate in the coursework voluntarily nor tried to fully engage in the course material. In other words, my students seemed to lack motivation for ENG 101 course, which impelled me to take action to revive their interest in the course and cultivate their motivation by adapting my teaching methodology. The motive behind this action research is to make my students benefit from the course more and make them more successful since motivation has been regarded as one of the influential factors behind academic success by many scholars in the field (Ellis, 1994; Dörnyei, 2001; Dörnyei&Ushioda, 2011).

Hence, the purpose of this action research was to identify to what extent the students in Sections 36 and 37 were academically motivated in ENG 101 course and to examine the effects of certain instructional procedures on student motivation by manipulating the instructional activities that the students were engaged in during a three-week period of time. This action plan was expected to be potentially fruitful both for the teacher and the students since this reflection on teacher’s instructional practice would both contribute to teacher’s overall teaching skills and promote a more curious and stimulating learning environment for the students.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Since motivation has been regarded as a dynamic, inconstant, multidimensional, and complicated concept which includes several interactive facets (Dörnyei&Ushioda, 2011), finding a straightforward definition which fully reflects the nature of the second language learning motivationseems to be quite demanding. Nevertheless, it has been defined by Dörnyei (2001, p.7) as “why people decide to do something, how hard they are going to pursue it and how long they are willing to sustain the activity”. Furthermore, Gardner describes motivation as “the combination of effort plus desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favourable attitudes towards learning the language” (1985, p. 10). This highly complex issue has aroused a lot of interest and many prominent motivational theories in educational psychology such as Gardner’s Motivation theory (1985),Deci and Ryan’s Self-determination theory (1985), Dörnyei’s Framework of L2 Motivation (1994), William and Burden’s extended framework (1997), and Dörnyei’s L2 Motivational Self-System (2005) have emerged since 1950s (see Dörnyei, 1998 for a comprehensive review of educational motivation theories).

In line with the theories proposed in the literature so far, various research studies have been carried out with different groups of learners in different contextsso as to gain a better understanding of the factors that influence student motivation(e.g.: Coleman, 1994; Tremblay& Gardner, 1995; Dörnyei, Nyilasi, & Clément, 1996). One of those research studies which isquite recent and highly relevant to this learning context is that of Hoa Le, Thi Le, and Pham (2014), which investigated the students’ academic motivation in an ESP course by applying the MUSIC model of academic motivation developed by Jones (2009). They administered the survey on 214 undergraduate students and found out that the participants were quite motivated in terms of the instructors, their instructional methods, and the usefulness of the course they took even though the participants reported that the course did not cater for their academic needs and failed to attract their attention.  Another study of relevance to this research context was conducted by Sun (2010) to scrutinize the effect of a different factor, namely language teaching materials,on student motivation. Sun reported that different factors outlined in the literature affected student motivation toward teaching materials such as interest in the subject matter, level of difficulty, relevance to existing knowledge, and perception of usefulness (2010, p. 891). However, it is not possible to claim that using motivating teaching materials affects students’ general motivation for the course in a positive way since the results of this study did not investigate the participants’ overall motivation for the course.

Even though there have been various suggested remedies such as creating a pleasant atmosphere in the class or making the classes interesting in “Ten Commandments for Motivating Language Learners” by Dörnyei and Csizer (1998) to cultivate student motivation so far, I decided to focus on only the ‘Interest’ factor and adapt my teaching methodology (i.e. teaching style and instructional materials) accordingly so as to tap into my students’ motivation. The reason for selecting this factor is that many prominent motivational theories have embraced this idea. Besides, the pre- survey results indicated that ‘Interest’ was the least motivating factor for the students at the time of testing. Finally, as put by Wachob (2006), teaching materials can reinforce the construct of student motivation.

In the light of the theories and previous research studies presented above, this action research study aims to answer the following research questions:

  • To what extent are the students in Section 36 and 37 motivated for ENG 101 course?
    • Which motivational constructs do they have the least motivation for?
    • Which motivational constructs do they have the most motivation for?
  • Does the integration of instructional technologies into the in-class activities increase students’ general motivation for the course?

ACTION PLAN

1.   Subjects

The subjects of this action research were the students who enrolled for‘ English for Academic Purposes I’ course during 2014-5 fall semester upon the successful completion of the preparatory school requirements. A total of 34 students from sections 36 and 37 participated in the pre- and post- surveys conducted in the middle and at the end of the semester. Their language level varies from pre-intermediate to upper-intermediate. Their age ranges from 18 to 23. Finally, their departments vary from engineering studies to social studies or educational sciences.

2.   Data Collection Instruments

This action research has been designed based on mixed method research, which comprised the use of both qualitative and quantitative methods. For the quantitative facet of this design, a quasi-experimental design was adopted with the teaching methodology being the independent variable and the general academic motivation being the dependent variable. As for the qualitative side, semi-structured interviews were carried out. The data was triangulatein order to ensure the reliability of the information collected and thoroughly scrutinize the motivation issue in this context.

The first data collection instrument was the video recordings of two classes, which enabled the researcher to decide on the topic of the action research.After the focus of the research was specified, the MUSIC model of academic motivation inventory (Jones, 2009), which includes 26 Likert-type items, was administered to the studentsin both of the groups by the researcher in order to determine their motivational level and orientationbefore and after the treatment took place (see AppendicesA and B for the surveys).

The MUSIC model encompasses five components that are reported to be critical to student engagement in academic environment, including ‘Empowerment, Usefulness, Success, Interest, and Caring’ (Jones, 2014, p. 2). The definitions of these constructs are presented in Table 1 (see Appendix A for the items written for each construct).

Definition
Constructs The degree to which a student believes that:
Empowerment(2, 8, 12, 17, 26) he or she has control of his or her learning environment in the course
Usefulness(3, 5, 19, 21, 23) the coursework is useful to his or her future
Success(7, 10, 14, 18) he or she can succeed at the coursework
Interest(1, 6, 9, 11, 13, 15) the instructional methods and coursework are interesting or enjoyable
Caring (4, 16, 20, 22, 24, 25) the instructor cares about whether the student succeeds in the coursework and cares about the student’s well-being

Table 1.The MUSIC inventoryconstructs and their definitions

(taken from Jones, 2014)

Many prominent motivation inventories have been specifically designed based on different motivation theories for second language learners (Attitude/Motivation Test Battery – Gardner, 1985; Clément, Dörnyei, & Noels, 1994; Dörnyei, Csizer, & Nemeth, 2006) so far. However, what is peculiar to this inventory is its appropriateness for all kinds of learners who are in an academic context. When it is taken into consideration that the actual objective of ENG 101 course is to develop students’ language skills in an academic context and higher-order thinking skills rather than teaching a second language, employingthe MUSIC survey seemed to be more relevant to the purposes of this action research.

There were some additions made to the pre-treatment survey. Part 1 inquired about the participants’ demographic information and asked the participants to put the given motivational factors in ENG 101 course in order of importance. There was also an open-ended question which required the participants to enumerate their suggestions on how to improve their motivation and how to sustain engagement in learning activities. Part 2 was devoted to the items of the MUSIC survey of academic motivation. A further question about the participants’ general motivation for this course was included at the end of the pre-treatment survey. Contrary to the pre-treatment survey, the post-treatment survey did not integrate the demographic information and the open-ended question parts. Apart from these differences, the pre- and post- surveys were identical to each other.

Finally, semi-structuredinterviews were conducted with two students from each section to supplement the quantitative data and to obtain further insights into the issue. Two of the interviewees were assumed to have motivation for the course to a certain extent whereas the others were predicted to have poor or no motivation for the course (see Appendix C for the interview questions).

3.   Implementation

The focus of the action research was determined with the help of thevideo recordings of two classes. Before the treatment or remedy of each section started, the pre-treatment survey, which investigated the students’ motivational attitudes towards the course, was administered as a paper-pencil test in each section during class hours. It took the students 10-15 minutes to complete the survey. Based on the results of the pre-treatment survey, the most motivated class was assigned to the control group whereas the least motivated class was assigned to the experimental group.

The statistical analysis of this survey revealed that the lowest component of the motivation survey among its five components (empowerment, usefulness, success, interest, caring) was ‘Interest’. Besides, the qualitative content analysis of the responses given in the open-ended part of the survey indicated that the subjects strongly favoured the integration of computer and instructional technologies into the lessons over the other given options such as the integration of more speaking activities into the lesson or the integration of activities that enhance their critical thinking skills. Then, the treatment plan was designed for both of the groups.

The experimental group received lessons into which instructional technologies were incorporated for three weeks. Table 2 provides information regarding the type of each lesson, the cognitive processes each lesson involved in, and the technological tools integrated into each lesson.

Type of the lesson Cognitive Processes Technological Tool(s)
Week 1 – Reading Lesson- Input Lesson (Reaction-response paragraph) – Understanding, Analysing- Understanding, Creating – A vocabulary quiz on Kahoot, a listening task with a TED Talk, cartoons for a discussion activity- Pictures and videos for teaching how to react, Prezi for the paragraph input
Week 2 – Essay input- Essay input contd. – Understanding, Applying- Remembering, Understanding – Input via PowerPoint presentation- An essay revision quiz on Kahoot, a short video related to unity and coherence
Week 3 – Input Lesson (Figurative Language)- Input Lesson (Making Inferences) – Understanding, Creating- Analysing, Evaluating – Input via PowerPoint presentation- Pictures to infer the underlying message, a TV advertisement and Defective Detective video integrated into EduCanon with some questions, a short video which explains how to make inferences in an academic context

Table 2.Technological tools integrated into each lesson

The control group, on the other hand, was deprived of all these technological activities/tasks in their lessons for three weeks. Contrary to the experimental group, this group closely followed the coursebook with the only addition of extra practice worksheets.

After the three-week instruction period was over, the students in both sections were given the post- questionnaire, which was very similar to the pre- questionnaire. Finally, a series of 10-minute interviews were conducted with some students from each section.

4.   Data Analysis

IBM SPSS Statistics 20.0 statistical package was utilized both to enter and analyse the data obtained from the questionnaires. For the open-ended questions, qualitative content analysis was applied and the frequencies of same answers were calculated and they were used to support the descriptive statistics throughout the paper.

First of all, the descriptive statistics (i.e. mean, standard deviation) of the five constructs in the pre- and post-treatment surveys were calculated and paired samples t-test were carried out to find out whether there were statistically significant differences between the constructs in each group and motivational differences between the control and experimental group. Finally, content analyses were applied on the interviews which were transcribed by using Microsoft Word.

RESULTS

1.   The results of the Pre-treatment Survey

The MUSIC inventory of academic motivation was administered in order to assess both the students’ general motivation for ENG 101 course and to determine the less motivating factor for them before the remedy was designed.

First of all, when the item that evaluated the general motivation for the course on a 5-point Likert scale was descriptively analysed, a mean score of 2,86 for the control group and 3,11 for the experimental group was obtained, which means that the students had neither a strong motivation nor poor motivation for this course. The descriptive statistics of the individual motivational factorsare demonstrated in the following table.

(1= Definitely agree, 2= Agree, 3= Disagree, 4= Definitely Disagree)

  Experimental Group Control Group Total
Empowerment 2,00 2,08 2,04
Usefulness 2,22 2,12 2,17
Success 2,04 2,25 2,14
Interest *2,42 *1,91 *2,18
Caring 1,32 1,37 1,34

Table 3.The mean scores of the individual factors in the pre- survey

These results were quite surprising for me in that the participants held fairly positive attitudes towards all of the motivational factors, with ‘Caring’ being the most motivating for both groups and ‘Interest’ being the least motivating factor only for the experimental group, which was entirely contrary to my expectations. Nevertheless, the lowest factor, ‘Interest’, was selected as a remedy to be integrated into my teaching methodology.

Furthermore, the students selected the use of technology as the most important method of increasing their general motivation in the first part of the pre-treatment survey in which participants were asked to put the given options that could enhance their motivation in order of importance, which is in line with the findings from the quantitative part of the survey and clearly supports the idea that there should be some action to be taken to improve the instructional techniques used in in-class activities by integrating the use of technology to cultivate student motivation for this course.

2.   The results of the Post-treatment Survey

After the three-week period of the treatment, the same motivation inventory was administered again. The results of the post-treatment survey are presented in Table 4.

  Experimental Group Control Group Total
Empowerment 2,09 2,25 2,18
Usefulness 2,06 2,15 2,11
Success 2,05 2,32 2,21
Interest *2,02 *2,30 *2,19
Caring 1,38 1,55 1,48

Table 4.The mean scores of the individual factors in the post- survey

 

Table 4 demonstrates that ‘Success’ has become a slightly more motivating factor than ‘Interest’ for the students mainly because they tend to be more concerned about their grades due to the approaching end of the semester. With respect to the ‘Interest’ component, the students in the experimental group seem to be more motivated than the ones in the control group.

As for the item which assessed their general motivation for the course on a 5-point Likert scale, a mean score of 2,86 for the control group and 2,20 for the experimental group was obtained, which means that the students in the experimental group were much more motivated than the ones in the control group after the remedy. Furthermore, when the mean scores of the pre- and post-treatment surveys are compared, it is evident that the general motivation of the students in the experimental group increased by almost thirty percent whereas the motivation of the students in the control group remained the same.

The next section will give further insights about whether the differences that have been obtained between the groups and within the groups so far are statistically significant or not.

3.   A comparison of Pre- and Post- Surveys in terms of ‘Interest’

Figure 1 summarizes the mean scores of the ‘Interest’ component of the survey, which is the main focus of this action research study. It is apparent from the figure that the students in the experimental group became more interested in the coursework after some instructional technologies were incorporated into the lessons whereas the students in the control group became less attentive to the coursework after they did not encounter any technology-integrated lesson. Even though there appears to be some numerical differences between the groups’ pre- and post- scores, the paired samples t-tests do not confirm these differences.

Figure 1.A summary of the mean scores: ‘Interest’

One of the paired samples t-tests conducted to compare the mean scores of the experimental group in the pre- and post-treatment surveys did not show any significant difference between the experimental group’s pre- and post- survey mean scores(t(14)= .885, p >.05), which indicates that the numerical difference between the conditions does not mean that the experimental group’s motivation has changed. A second paired-samples t-test was carried out to compare the mean scores of the control group in the pre- and post- surveys, which demonstrated that the difference did not reach statistical significance(t(13= -1.71, p >.05).

A final paired sample t-test was carried out to compare the groups’ general motivation for the course before and after the remedy. The results did not demonstrate any statistically significant difference between the experimental group’s pre- and post- scores (t(14)= 2.15, p > .05), between the control group’s pre- and post- scores (t(14)= -.15, p > .05), and finally between the experimental group’s and the control group’s post scores (t(14)= -1.66, p > .05).

Overall, it can be stated that the students in the experimental group became slightly, though not significantly, more motivated than the students in the control group after the remedy was implemented. Interestingly, the content analysis on the interview transcripts demonstrated that the interviewees in the experimental group were not aware of the integration of instructional technologies into the lessons whereas the interviewees in the control group reported feeling that no instructional technologies were used at some point of the semester. This might be the justification of the slight increase in the experimental group’s motivation level. Besides, it is clearly evident in the findings of the surveys that the ‘Interest’ factor solely was not adequate to enhance the students’ motivation significantly and other factors such as ‘Usefulness’ or ‘Empowerment’ should also be taken into consideration. The interviews with the students seemed to corroborate this idea since each student reported a different factor to be effective to increase their motivation for this course (P1: empowerment, P2: success, P3: interest, P4: interest), which is an obvious indicator of the importance of individual differences and preferences in motivation studies (see Appendix D for the interview transcripts).

CONCLUSION

The purpose of this action research study was to increase the motivation level of my students by designing lessons which integrated instructional technologies appropriately and the expectation was that the students who were taught with the integration of technology would be more motivated than the control group after the remedy. However, the results of the analysis demonstrated a slight increase in their motivation, which was not statistically significant.

The reason for this unexpected finding might be due to both the limitations of the current study and the nature of ‘Motivation’ studies. First of all, the remedy of this study was applied in only three weeks, which might be a limited period of time to produce the desired behaviour. In addition, the remedy might have been planned in a more systematic and effective way so that the integration of technology into in-class activities would not have been overlooked by some of the students.

Besides the problems of this study, both researching motivation and implementing experimental designs have their inherent drawbacks. First of all, several confounding factors can be existent in experimental designs since it is not possible to control the groups for everything except the manipulated variable. The individual differences, styles, and preferences cannot also be disregarded in a study of such a highly complicated and manifold construct, i.e. motivation which “cannot be represented by means of simple measures” (Dörnyei, 2011, p. 197). As also indicated by Dörnyei and Csizer (1998, p. 224), the value of motivational strategies or factors cannot be taken for granted since our classes are unique, dynamically changing, and diverse learning environments in which both teachers’ and learners’ traitsand the harmony of the learner group will always interfere with the effectiveness of the strategy.In the future, another action plan which includes other motivational factors that have been reported to be crucial in the literature can be designed and implemented in different classes. Finally, studying the issue of motivation from both teacher and student perspective and researching the factors that demotivate students might also give further insights into the issue from a totally reversed perspective.

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 Appendix

Appendix 1

 

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