How Can I Can I Help My Students Become More Active in Class

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  • 8/9/2019 How Can I Can I Help My Students Become More Active in Class


    How can I can I help my students become moreactive in class? Liu Hui , Guyuan Teachers

    College, Ningxia, P.R. China.June, 2004

    Introduction: Action research is a name given to a particular way of researching you own learning. It is a particular way of looking at your practice in order to check whether it is

    as you feel if should be. (McNiff, 2001) It was two years ago that I first found out abouteducational Action Research with the help of Dr. MoiraLaidlaw* in Guyuan Teachers College. I had justgraduated from Ningxia University and become one of the departments youngest language teachers. I foundAR to be a particular way of improving practice thatstimulated me to start my teaching career. Jack Whitehead (1985) describes a basic action processas follows:

    I experience a concern when some of my educational

    values are denied in my practice. I imagine a solution to that concern; I act in the direction of the imagined solution; I evaluate the outcome of the solution; I modify my practice, plans and ideas in the light of myevaluation.

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    This systematic plan implies that I, as a researcher and practitioner, should do some research on myself andreflect deeply on my work. I am now sure that was theright way to do it, and constantly bear in mind thesewords:

    Action research is a systematic self-reflective scientificinquiry by practitioners to improve practice. (McKerab,J. 1991: 3-5)

    I therefore reflected on my teaching situation first. As usual, every head-teacher [1]waits for the freshmen toenroll in the colleges multifunctional hall in September of each year. It was last September that I first made anacquaintance with my students. Most of them camefrom the nearby countryside in the Xihaigu [2] Area. Inoticed that quite a number of students seemed to bevery timid, even with their parents. They followed their

    parents every move as they carefully pulled out moneyfrom inside pockets to pay the different fees for variousdepartments of the school. I also noticed that these

    parents wore color-faded clothes; their faces wereheavily winkled, maybe due to years of hard work in poor conditions. I fully understand how hard it is for the parents in Xihaigu, where the natural conditions are so bad, and people greatly depend on suitable weather toharvest corn for the whole family. Parents always placetheir hopes in their sons and daughters to change the

    poor situation by finding a good job after their college
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    education. However, since the government policy of enrollment expansion five years ago, many graduatesfrom universities as well as colleges are now confrontedwith a highly competitive job market. There are moregraduates from universities each year. In contrast, thestudents from our college face an even gloomier situation because of the status of this place. How can wetry our best to help students be self-supportive in thisintensely competitive society? In answering this

    question, I feel a strong responsibility to help to developmy students self-confidence and arm them withknowledge. As I still remember, I was encouraged withslogans like Knowledge is power, Knowledge iseverything, in my own educational experience. My class consisted of a group 28 students who had justfinished their high school and were now majoring inEnglish Education. Im not only their head teacher, butalso their teacher for teaching the course IntegratedSkills of English (Books I and II), compiled by ZouWeicheng. The aim of this course is to developstudents abilities in listening, speaking, reading,

    writing and translation skills. When I was teachingthem, I found a lot of problems, such as studentslistening and speaking skills, their heavy reliance on theteacher, and their negative attitudes towards learningEnglish. Ma Huiling [3], my target student, is a quiet, frank but arather introverted girl.
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    From the very first contact with this student, I found shewas very poor in English grammar and pronunciation.In my class, when I was teaching, she seldom responded

    to me, except that I called her name and asked her toanswer the question. Later, I got some reasons: MaHuiling is from a special family, whose parents aredisabled and her two elder sisters have got married. Shecared for her parents while still studying in the school.But, because of her poor mastery of her English coursein senior high school she fell behind. She felt Englishwas quite difficult for her, and she felt sorry for her

    parents. So, I realised I should help Ma Huiling makeimprovements in her learning in order that she couldcomfort her parents by a good performance in college. Bearing my students in mind, I started teaching by

    placing a significant emphasis on bringing knowledge tothem. As the same time, I found my students were so poor in English grammar both in their homework and intheir classroom teaching, I developed my original AR question: How can I help the first-year English majorswith their poor English grammar?

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    Why I came to realize that I should do some changesin my teachingThe students themselves needed changes in myteaching. I once came across Ma Huiling in front of my office; Iasked how her parents were. She was glad to tell methey were well and thanked me for my caring. Then Iinvited her to my office and we had a relaxing talk. I

    found out that in fact, she wants to keep pace with myteaching, but she doesnt have time to take in what Imteaching and sometimes she finds herself drifting awayinto her own thoughts. It seemed that it was me whowas controlling the students too much and not givingthem enough space in which to develop themselves. With my AR question, I focused my teaching on howmuch grammar knowledge I was teaching the students.Thus, it was me who did all the work, explainingeverything and talking for 90% of the class time. Thestudents took an increasingly passive stance inclassroom activities. They become more and more

    reluctant to ask and answer questions. Even in their homework they still made the same mistakes that I hadcorrected several times already. I was aware that I needed some urgent adjustments tochange the current situation. I also wanted to hear thestudents opinions about my teaching and what theywanted to change most in my teaching. Therefore, I

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    conducted an opinion poll. I communicated with thestudents in the way friends might in order to find outwhat about my teaching, how I could help them, andwhat I should be worried about. I then asked them tovoice their opinions. I asked each student to write downtheir suggestions and expectations for teaching andlearning. To my great delight, I accumulated valuable suggestions

    from their writing. Some said even though they hadunderstood what they had learnt in the class, theycouldnt make use of it while doing exercises, so theywanted me to introduce efficient learning strategies for them; some hoped I could tell them some funny storiesor sing songs at intervals in my teaching in order toavoid a boring atmosphere! Zhao Caihua, a diligent girl wrote to me: Miss Liu, I really feel you are a patient and kind teacher. Somehow I easily lose interest in your teaching. Could you help me?

    Some suggested to me that I should ask more questionsto make them keep pace with my teaching; some askedme to trust them and give them keys to the exercise;they said they could check by themselves and so on.The students were also very kind and gave me manycompliments as well. I felt so moved while I was

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    reading their opinions as this was real communicationand heart-to heart talk. As soon as I finished reading their writing, I expressedmy gratitude for their valuable suggestions. I read someof their advice and told them of my revised teaching

    plan according to their suggestions. In that moment, Iunderstood more about how much the students neededto be respected, valued and encouraged, because I saw

    many students smiling happily with shining eyes when Iread suggestions they put forward. They must have feltvery proud of themselves. Furthermore it was their smiles that motivated me as well, just like the NewCurriculum of English says:

    2 (The New Curriculum of English, 2002) [4]

    Colleagues comments for improvements of mylessonMy colleague and teacher as well, Miss Liu, who taught

    a methodology course for grade three students, visitedmy lesson. She talked with me after her observation:Miss Liu: I was very surprised you talked so much inthe class. I found some students seem to be bored.Liu Hui (me): When I found this passage (the teaching material I taught that day) was quite difficult for the

    students to understand. I wanted to explain it clear.
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  • 8/9/2019 How Can I Can I Help My Students Become More Active in Class


    though my practice denied it. Finally, Dr. Laidlaw saidto me that she wholly believed that I realized our education is aimed to foster lifelong learning and enablethe students to transfer knowledge and abilities to their lifes experience. She was also kind to suggest me tochange my question into How can I help my students to

    become more active in their learning? I realised thiswas the path I needed to take now.

    My planning actionsIn order to help the students become more active inclass, I made up my mind to give them learningstrategies with detailed instructions, help them becomeconfident with themselves and assign tasks based on the

    principles of cultivating cooperative learning spirit, self-study learning abilities and competence in language use. Class Report

    Ask the students to prepare a five minutes speech

    about any topics before my teaching started.

    offer them a chance to show themselves Build up their self-confidence by the way of

    speaking in public Group work Divide the whole class into 7 groups. Four studentswere to be in each group. Every group would have a

    group leader, who would check the students activities

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    and take some records of their groups work. Theactivities they were required to do were the following: Class discussion : to motivate the students to speak more and share ideas Oral homework: to encourage them to consolidatewhat has been practiced in the class and cultivate inthem a sense of cooperation.

    Checking written homework : to offer a chance for thestudents to find out the common mistakes bythemselves, such as He glance round the room to seewho was there, He studies music plays piano well.Then they were asked to hand their homework in. Supervising retelling: It is self-evident that languagecan take place when the learner has enough access toinput the target language. (Hu Zhuangling, 2001). So,retelling, as one of the most efficient way to languagelearning is very helpful for student target languageinput.

    Grammar teaching: each group was asked to prepare agrammar item and select a representative to make useevening class to give a lecture in 30 minutes and 20minutes to feedback about teaching contents, teachingmethods, teaching language and so on.

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    Notes for group work: the group members werechanged every 3 or 4 weeks. At the end of the last

    period of group work, students and teacher will have ameeting to evaluate each groups work. Then, the bestcooperative group would be awarded with 4 gifts,financially supported by the combined contributionsfrom the class itself. Creative drama:

    As the New Curriculum of English suggests,. [5]

    I guided students to adapt the teaching materials to the

    plays, and encouraged them to act in order to, on theone hand, practice their writing with soundunderstanding of the text, and on the other hand, toenjoy themselves with humorous acting. Meanwhile, thestudents were required to take notes and give commentsfor each groups performance. As a result, I hopedstudents would become more confident aboutthemselves and have a sense of achievement.

    Western Cultural Knowledge CompetitionIn order to motivate every student know about cultureknowledge, I reorganized the group work and ask 28students to make up four teams. Here are the rules:

    Work out a rule for competition.
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    Over two weeks time, have a knowledge

    competition of western culture, which every groupcan prepared in advance.

    Find the top group and provide also the single prizes for the other three groups.

    Teachers assistant

    Before the new teaching unit begins, students in

    each group will work together, preparing a review

    note of what they have learned in the last unit.

    Each group will take over some responsibilities from the teacher and prepare a mini lesson in 5minutes or more to help their classmates review thelessons effectively.

    Every group leader has to give the teacher groups

    feedback for the teaching.Much help made my Action Research possibleAs Montaigne the French writer said: No wind blows in favour of the ship that has no port of destination.

    Without the Experimental Center for EducationalAction Research in Foreign Languages Teaching atGuyuan as our strong support, we would not have

    become involved in this practical research. Manyexcellent teachers in the department are helping me withmy work.

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    Dr. Moira Laidlaw helped me in formulating my AR question and gave me valuable suggestions aboutcollecting data through a journal. This helped me takemy work in the right direction. Her visit to my class notonly motivated me a lot, but also encouraged mystudents to be confident. When she had finished her observation of my class, she told my students they wereexcellent. She really understood what they said, and alsogave me 5 A4 pages of notes with suggestions for my

    improvements and h...