Groupwork in teaching English

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WOULD GROUP WORK ENHANCE GRADE 10 STUDENTS’ PARTICIPATION IN
SPEAKING ACIVITIES?
Introduction
In Vietnam, English has earned an increasing attention from different fields of the
society such as technology, science, business, education, entertainment. It is also considered
as major means of communication thanks to its globalization. Therefore, English has become
popular and it is attempted to study from elementary school to higher education. In order to
study English, learners need to attain four language skills: speaking, writing, reading and
listening. Among these skills, speaking seems to be the most crucial for communication
process (Boonkit, 2010) and it can be seen as a bridge to facilitate other skills (see Ur, 1996).
In addition to, speaking can assist students to be better readers, effective listenersas well as
more accurate writers. In a study taken by Nunan (1991), it was highlighted that “success is
measured in terms of the ability to carry out a conversation in the (target)
language”.Moreover, learners enable to show their feeling or opinions by verbal and nonverbal symbols in different contexts through oral production (Rahimy & Safarpour, 2012).
It is obvious to realize the importance of speaking skill. However, less attention has
been paid in speaking classrooms at My Loc high school in general and most Vietnamese
high schools in particular by following reasons. Firstly, most English tests are grammaroriented. Thus, teachers and students focus mainly on learning and revising grammar
structure in order to pass written examinations. As a result, speaking skill is put less emphasis
and seems to be ignored for years. The second problem is that students not only in My Loc
high school but also in other Vietnamese high schools have to study in large classrooms with
a high proportion of learners (40-45 members in each class). Therefore, little opportunity can
be provided for every learner to interact. Most of students only sit and listen to teacher’s
instruction or their peers. They do the required tasks and response if necessary. Gradually, a
great number of learners become passive in speaking activity. More importantly, they are not
offered authentic environment for developing oral communication as display questions are
frequently dominated in speaking lessons and teachers initiate most class interactions. As a
consequence, students get difficulty in expressing ideas or even using simple language in the
real situation. In order to deal with these obstacles, I try to seek for a good and suitable
solution to promote speaking ability of students at my setting.
A series of language researchers have conducted to find out the best method for
speaking improvement. In these studies, group work is proved as one of the most effective
2
techniques as it shifts form teacher-centered approach to learner-centered approach and
contributes to gain learning outcome (Alley, 2005). Additionally, learners can develop their
own critical thinking skills thanks to working in groups when they become less dependent on
teacher. As supported by Meng (2009), getting involved in discussion collaboratively learners
can help their partners in understanding. Other study implemented by Long and Porter (1985)
suggested that “group work promotes a positive affective climate” (p. 211). From these
previous literatures, my own research will be carried out to investigate whether group work
could improve speaking skill of tenth graders at My Loc high school. Hopefully, the success
of the research can bring many benefits for both teachers and learners, reinforce teachers to
adopt group work frequently in speaking class as well as conduct more studies in this field.
Research aims and research questions
My study will be undertaken with the aim at exploring the benefits students at My
Loc high school can gain when they work in groups in speaking lessons and investigating
what types of group activities will be most effective for students. In order to complete the
aims of the research, two following research questions will be addressed:
-
What benefits would grade 10 students in My Loc High School get from group work
activities in speaking lessons? (primary question)
-
What group work activities work better for students? (sub-question)
Literature review
Overview of speaking and its importance in language class
In very earlier study by Byrne (1978) in Le (2008), speaking was seen as a process
when two or more learners participate in producingand receiving the target language for
comprehension. Speaking skill was also regarded by Chaney & Burk (1998)as “the process
of building and sharing meaning through the use of verbal and non- verbal symbols, in a
variety of contexts”(p.13 cited in Vietnam - Teaching of English Language). It is also
referred to as productive skills, (Harmer 1995, p. 16 in Temerová, 2007). In a research carried
out by Nunan (2003), speaking skill is defined as the ability speaker can produceEnglish
speech sounds, use words and sentences stress, intonation patterns of target language as well
as choose words, phrases and sentences for specific context of communication appropriately
and logically (see Vietnam - Teaching of English Language). After referring recent studies, I
find that speaking skill plays very crucial role in not only professional but also personal
context andit can assist to interact with each other easily and avoid misunderstanding (Thuy,
2012). Nunan (1991) also stated that students are motivated to learn language through
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speaking skill (as cited in Le, 2008). Additionally, a survival skill in real environment is oral
communication (Ur, 1996). Another important role of speaking task is that it can build up
learners’ confidenceand reduce their anxiety as they are encouraged to express ability of
speaking, they seem to get familiar to speak in front of large number of people. It can result
in raising confidence and independence in many social interactions (Hanh, 2008).
The role of group work in increasing speaking skill
The fundamental concept of group work still makes confused although this term is
used very often in classroom and a wide range of authors have mentioned it in their studies.
In a study implemented by Doff (1988 in Le, 2008), group work is referred a process when
class is divided into some small groups and they often do the tasks collaboratively at the same
time. It is also a process that two or more learnerstake part in classroom activity without any
observation from teachers (see Alley, 2005). It can be noticeable that group work is an
activity in which learners cooperate with their partnersto express ideas or share opinions as
well as responsibility in order to fulfill the assigned tasks.
Recent studies have been investigated to find out the benefits of group work in oral
speaking class. Firstly, students are provided with more opportunity to do a lot of practice
than doing tasks as a whole class (Temerová, 2007). As supported by Lightbrown & Spada
(1999) “learners working in groups get far more practice in speaking and participating in
conversations in group work than they ever could in a teacher–centered class” (p.168).
Commonly, most students are not given chance to express their ideas with a large class.
Working in small groups therefore can increase the amount of time for speaking, which helps
to upgrade communication (Le, 2008). The author added students can exchange a variety of
experience, viewpoint and knowledge by getting involved in cooperative activity.
Consequently, students enable to learn from each other as great source of information can be
created to share (Temerová, 2007). Moreover, “group work promotes a positive affective
climate” (Long & Porter, 1985, p. 211) as learners may feel more comfortable to express their
oral communicative ability through group work activities without being observed by
professional teacher or all class members (Jiang, 2009). More importantly, not only better
learners but also weaker students achieve from group work when no pressure can be placed
on them and they are reinforced to talk without concerning about mistakes. Another positive
point of working in group is that this activity can raise students’ confidence and self-esteem.
In competitive learning environment, one needs to make every effort to demonstrate
themselves as the best student in both social interactions and classroom discussion as well as
4
remain their success even in small number of people, as cited in I-Jung (2004). Group work
thereby stimulates to show their ability, which leads to their learning improvement.
Grouping strategies
In an investigation in how to apply group work effectively, I-Jung (2004) highlighted
some grouping strategies as follows:
-
Random grouping: based on seating arrangement or serial number) and applied in
revising activities in short-time program without differences of learners’ language
knowledge, learning habits or ability.
-
Student-selected grouping: learners can choose the person to include in their group.
They feel more comfortable to work in this type of group without threatening by making
errors or being evaluated by strangers.
-
Instructor–selected grouping: teachers choose group members basing on some
requirements “students’prior achievement, level of preparation, work habits, learning
preferences” (p. 4).
Group size
As suggested by several authors, the most suitable number for each group ranges from
three to five members (I-Jung, 2004; Le, 2008). Four learners in a group may contribute to
interesting as well as challenging tasks (Le, 2008). Besides, group members are given much
opportunity to express and negotiate with other partners to reach the target goal.
Nevertheless, the participation opportunity may be decreased when working in a large group
(I-Jung, 2004). The choice of group size is advisable when I implement my real research at
My Loc high school as all students can be offered equal participation in cooperative activities
Group work activities
Numerous oral activities applied for group work have been mentioned in recent studies.
However, only three major activities including group discussion, debating and cross grouping
(cited in Le, 2008) are noted for the purpose of my own research.
-
Group discussion: discussion is defined by Ur (1992) that the “most natural and
effective way for learners to practice talking freely in English is by thinking out some
problem or situation together through verbal interchange of ideas; or in simpler terms, to
discuss” (p. 2 see in Le, 2008). Students have opportunity to talk and share opinions to each
other to find a solution for certain problem.
-
Debating: two groups hold different ideas. They need to make arguments for or
against the given topic or issue.
5
-
Cross grouping: students not only participate in discussing in their group but also join
into other groups to share ideas with other partners so that the information can be exchanged
and group members can learn from each other
After reviewing these above studies, it is obvious to be shown that group work can be
extremely beneficial for developing students’ engagement in speaking lessons and it can be
seen as “an effective tool to direct over-sized and low motivation classes” (I-Jung 2004, p. 2).
I can find similar contexts with suitable approaches and methods from related literatures that
can support to conduct in my own setting.
A description of research setting and the innovation
My Loc high school is located in a suburban area of Nam Dinh province, the North of
Vietnam with a population of nearly 1,500 students. English is taught as a compulsory subject
with three periods a week. The course books are administrated by Ministry of Education and
Training. After each grade, learners are required to pass final written examination. The
participants in my research will be my own class with 40 students with different levels of
using English language, gender and cultural background knowledge (18 males and 22
females with the average ages from 16 to 17). Most of them come from rural areas of My Loc
district. Though students have experienced studying English for many years, they are unable
to use English effectively, especially in speaking skill. The selection of participants is based
on speaking lessons at the first semester of school year 2014. Moreover, they are still affected
by learning styles from secondary school.
I will undertake my research for 8 weeks (19 August – 15 October, 2014). The class
will be divided into experimental group (20 students) and control group (20 students).
Learners in experimental group will be required to complete speaking tasks in groups while
control group members still receive traditional teaching. From the first week, I will have to
prepare for teaching materials; design questionnaire, observation and interview; group
participants. The group work will be introduced from week 2 to week 8 and I also will
employ observation note from the beginning to the end of the project. When the innovation is
applied (two 45-minute periods per week), students in experimental group will be separated
into 5 groups of four.They are randomly chosen and required to do the given task with their
group member. I will adopt activities for group work from Le (2008) that I find suitable for
learners’ level in my own context. In addition, I am going to use the topics in the English
course book selected by my school and modify if necessary in combination with other topic
searched from the Internet. These various topics will be suitable and satisfy learners’ interests
6
and hobbies. Data from questionnaire and interview question will be collected after the
completion of the course.
Methodology
I will carry out a qualitative research after referring a great amount of related studies
that marked numerous advantages of this approach. Qualitative research is defined by
Creswell (1994) as “an inquiry process of understanding a social or human problem, based on
building a complex, holistic picture, formed with words, reporting detailed views of
information and conducted in a natural setting” (p.1-2). Patton (2002) suggested that
qualitative strategy can assist researcher to discover rich and detailed information from a
variety of social phenomena, cases, or events that cannot be received from quantitative study.
As advised by Hinchey (2008), qualitative method can put emphasis more on the on-going
process rather than the product so as to explore deeper understandings as well as meanings of
social issues. As revealed in Qualitative Data Analysis (chapter 10), various strengths are
demonstrated in qualitative approach compared to quantitative approach: emphasize on
meaningful data rather than on statistic or numerical, gather great sources of information,
investigate issues in depth and detail, examine specific context, pay much attention to the
impact of the researcher’s and others’ values on the course of the analysis, provide overall
views of the phenomena. From these suggestions, I will choose to undertake qualitative
research on applying group work to improve tenth graders’ oral communication as I find it
appropriate and similar to my real setting at My Loc high school.
Methods and data collection
Three main data instruments will be used to collect information for analyzing such as
questionnaire, observation and interview.
Questionnaire
In seeking for data for social studies, questionnaire can be regarded as one of the most
common used method (Gillham, 2000 in Le, 2008). Moreover, survey questionnaire may
place “less pressure on respondents, not under pressure of interview bias and analysis of
answer is straightforward” (p. 16) Questionnaire could also provide with a great deal of
information for data analysis. When participants are delivered with questions they will
provide great deal of information related to the given issues (Maykut & Morehouse, 1994;
Le, 2008). Therefore, questionnaire will be administrated to explore students’ engagement in
group tasks, their communication with their group members. Besides, it will examine
students’ ideas about speaking skill, their attitudes toward oral group activities. The
7
information of the benefits and difficulties after the use of cooperative activity with partners
will also be collected. This tool will be employed at the end of the course (week 8) with the
participation of experimental group in order to double check the data from interview. All
survey questions are in English that students can avoid misunderstanding (see appendix A).
Each student needs to complete their questionnaire in five minutes.
Observation
One of the advantages that I will apply observation is that this instrument can offer
great sources of information or useful feedback directly, which cannot capture from other
data collection tools (Vietnam - Teaching of English Language; Hilmi & Lu, 2010).
Regarding to the use of this method, Richards, Platt & Platt (1992) implemented to gather
data by observing behaviors and events in language classroom from very early research. As
shown in Vietnam - Teaching of English Language, one of the most popular techniques
utilized in qualitative study is observation. Observers can have deeper understanding on how
their subject matter is done, what methods of teaching are applied and how the process of
actual lesson is happening in the class. This procedure results in assisting researcher to find
out the most useful and effective ways for their work in term of suitable teaching materials,
the process to carry out the lesson, the time for each activity. It is undeniable that observation
can be appropriate for data collection in my research as my purpose will seek for participants’
involvement in speaking tasks, their interaction with group members as well as attitudes
toward the use of group work. Furthermore, I will observe to examine what types of group
work activity they will use and which will be more effective. The observation will be
conducted from the beginning to the end of the innovation with the help of three experienced
teachers in my school (see appendix B).
Interview
I will use interview questions as the third method to comply information. For the aim
of the research, this method seems to be suitable for my study as I can obtain relevant sources
of information and individual’s attitudes from respondents (as cited in Hilmi & Lu, 2010). In
comparison with observation, interviewees’ ideas and feelings about the given matters can be
gained, which researcher may not find in observation process (Patton, 1990). In my real
study, eleven interview items (see appendix C) will be given to students to examine
participants’ response to the speaking tasks, their engagement in oral communication with
their group members, perspectives toward the new learning technique as well as the group
activity they utilize in speaking lessons. The interview will be conducted in group work that
8
all participants need to discuss the questions and group leader will demonstrate ideas of
whole group members. The information will be compared with that from questionnaire for
analyzing. To prevent from any constraint from producing participants’ opinions, interview
questions will be in Vietnamese, and then translated into English for data analysis. Each
interviewee has 12-15 minutes to present their points of view.
Ethical issues
Several ethical considerations need to be dealt with before undertaking my own study
at My Loc high school. Informed consent will be sent to school principal, students and
students’ parents in order to have their permission to implement as well as participate in the
research (appendix D). Besides, I have to explain the purpose and process of the research.
Some expected results are also demonstrated. Moreover, participants’ information will be
kept secret and research findings will be used only for the aim of the study. More
importantly, I have to ensure that students’ academic result will not be affected by the study.
Data analysis
As cited in Hinchey (2008), data analysis is “the process of deciding what new
information the collected data provide” (p.86). In an investigation on the ways to analyze the
data, Merriam (1998) suggested various techniques to data analysis in qualitative research
such as “ethnographic analysis, narrative analysis, phenomenological analysis and constant
comparative method” (p.97 in Kawulich, 2004). More specifically, Kawulich (2004)
explained that “a qualitative content analysis approach to data analysis involves reading and
re-reading transcripts, looking for similarities and differences that enable the researcher to
develop themes and categories” (p.104). From the consultants, I will combine and apply some
methods of analyzing data that seem to be useful to my context: underline relevant
information, mark prominent sets of information by colored pen, reduce unnecessary
information, arrange the data into themes or patterns, make connection and interpret data
(Weber, 1990; Qualitative Data Analysis; Kawulich, 2004).
Potential problems and solutions
When implementing the research I may face with several issues that I need to seek for
efficient ways to overcome. The first obstacle is that I have to consume much time and effort
preparing for teaching materials, data gathering instruments and analyzing the collected data
by myself, which seem to be overload. Therefore, asking for help from other teachers to
search for and design materials as well as information collection tools. Secondly, the topics I
provide for my students may be uninteresting or out of their habits. Giving participants the
9
chance to select topics basing some requirements may be the better solution. Additionally,
grouping participants can be one of the most difficult tasks. Students may not cooperate with
their peer enthusiastically if they do not like the partner, thus I need to combine group
members with different level and groups with same ability and they can join in other groups.
I also have to encourage them to assist each other. Finally, my research is done in my own
setting with tenth grade students at My Loc high school, the research findings therefore
cannot generalize for the large amount of tenth graders at other school. To address this issue,
it is preferred to extend the scope of the research.
Conclusion
My qualitative study aims at investigating whether the application of group work can
facilitate students’ participant in oral communication. It focuses on my own context of
teaching at My Loc high school with tenth graders. The data of the research are mainly from
questionnaire, observation and interview that can bring to an insider researcher rich and
meaningful information about students’ speaking ability, their advantages as well as
disadvantages. I therefore can choose useful and suitable materials, design interesting lessons
as well as apply effective teaching methods. Though I may cope with several problems
during 8-week course, the research is expected to strengthen the frequent use of group work
in speaking class. I also hope not only students but also teachers achieve significant gains
from the new technique. From the research finding, more teachers and researchers are
promoted to discover the most effective teaching and learning strategies in education.
Word count: 3,649
References
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Hilmi, H. & Lu, E. T. (2010). Teaching speaking skills through group workactivities: A case
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Hinchey, H. P. (2008). “Action research primer”. New York, NY 10006: Peter Lang
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http://is.muni.cz/th/104306/pedf_b/HOW_TO_IMPROVE_STUDENTS_COMMUNICATIVE_
SKILLS.doc
I-Jung, C. (2004). Utilizing Group Work Effectively in the English Language Classroom.
TESL Reporter, 37(1),1-7.
Jiang, Y. (2009). Applying Group Work to Improve College Students’ Oral English.
International Education Study, 2(3).
Kawulich, B. B. (2004). Data analysis techniques in qualitative research. Journal of Research
in Education.
Le, H. M. L. (2008). A study on improving speaking skill of the 1st year students of pre
intermediate level at FPT University through group work. ULIS
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Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rde. d.). Thousand Oaks,
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Patton, M.Q. (1990) Qualitative evaluation and research methods (2nd Ed). Newbury Park,
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Appendix A
Sample of questionnaire
1. What do you think about learning English speaking skill?
A. Difficult
B. Normal
C. Easy
2. How often do you speak English in groups?
A. Sometimes
B. Rarely
C. Usually
3. Do you like speaking English with students in groups?
A. Like
B. Dislike
C. Normal
4. How do you feel when speaking English with group members?
A. Exciting
B. Feel confident
C. Boring
5. You prefer to speak English:
A. With all classmates
B. With one peer
C. On your own
6. How do you participate in group work?
A. Actively
B. Passively
C. Normal
7. What benefits can you gain from oral group activities?
A. Raise confidence
B. Correct mistakes
C. Lesson anxiety
D. Non-threatening atmosphere
E. Be encouraged to express
8. What difficulties do you encounter from group work tasks?
13
A. Consume more time
B. Depend on other group members
C. Feel unsafe to express ideas
9. How is the atmosphere of speaking class when students work in groups?
A. Boring
B. Normal
C. Interesting
10. Which is the most suitable number of students in a group?
A. 3
B. 4
C. 5
D. 6
14
Appendix B
Observation
Teacher’s name:
Observation’s date: ….../...…/.
Number of Participants:
Lesson time:
Class:
Observation Notes
Group 1
Group 2
Group 3
Group 4
Group 5
a. participate in the
…………
………….
…………
…………
…………
activity with great
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
enthusiasm
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………
…………… …………… ……………
b. participate in the
…………
…………
…………
activity passively
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
Observation notes
Participants’ involvement
c. keep quiet
d. using Vietnamese
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
Interaction
a. which group talk more
15
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
c. enthusiastic
…………
…………
cooperation with their
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
partner
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
feeling excited while
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
doing oral group
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
activities
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
…………
…………… …………… …………… ……………
b. which group talk less
d. do other things
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
…………
Behavior
What types of group
work activity they use
16
Appendix C
Sample of interviews
1. What is your name?
2. Which groups are you in?
3. How many members in your group?
4. What do you think about practicing speaking in group?
5. Do you involve in oral communication with your group members actively or passively?
6. Do you like speaking with your friends in group? Why? Why not?
7. How do you feel after oral communication activities in speaking lessons?
8. How do your group members engage in speaking tasks?
9. What types of activities for group work you apply? Which do you like most?
10. Do you complete the speaking tasks with groupers successfully?
11. Do you want to continue implementing group work in speaking class?
17
Appendix D
Consent form
Participant Information and Consent Form
You have been invited to take part in an eight-week research on the effectiveness of
group work on learners’ participation at My Loc high school. Should you decide to involve in
this program, you will be required to discuss several as follows:
-
Response to the speaking tasks.
-
Engagement in oral communication with your group members.
-
Attitudes toward the new learning technique.
This study will be conducted for 8 weeks from 19 August to 15 October, 2014. You
will need to response in the questionnaire and interview after the completion of this project.
Besides, the observation will be employed from the beginning to the end of the innovation. I
affirm that all your information from data instruments (interview, questionnaire and
observation) will be kept secret. Moreover, learning process or final result won’t be affected
by the research findings. Surely, the findings are used only for the research purpose.
Hopefully, your speaking ability will be improved after this program.
If you need more information, please call me at 0984604229 or by e-mail at
[email protected] gmail.com.
Please complete and sign the information below. Thanks for your cooperation!
Sincerely,
Nguyen Dinh Thuan
Student name: …………………………………….
I have read the above and agree to take part in this research
Agree ______________ Do not agree ______________
Printed Name
Signature
Date
Parents’ name: …………………………………….
I have read the above and agree my son/daughter to take part in this research
Agree ______________ Do not agree ______________
Printed Name
Signature
Date
18
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