Luận văn How group work is used in speaking lesson of the 1st-Year major students of English at Vietnam University of Commerce

The use of English has been gradually increasing in Vietnam. Also, it has a stable ground in the Vietnamese education system. English is introduced to the educational curriculum from primary education (optional) to tertiary education (compulsory). Like many other universities, teachers and students at VUC were affected by the traditional philosophy of teaching and learning. They were subject to many influences of Confucianism as well as by French and Soviet education that focused on academic study of grammar and in-depth knowledge of literary texts. As a result, many students lack the ability to communicate in oral English after graduation from the university

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CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 1.1. Background and rationale The use of English has been gradually increasing in Vietnam. Also, it has a stable ground in the Vietnamese education system. English is introduced to the educational curriculum from primary education (optional) to tertiary education (compulsory). Like many other universities, teachers and students at VUC were affected by the traditional philosophy of teaching and learning. They were subject to many influences of Confucianism as well as by French and Soviet education that focused on academic study of grammar and in-depth knowledge of literary texts. As a result, many students lack the ability to communicate in oral English after graduation from the university. This fact gives rise to the need of a more effective method that creates opportunities for the learners, the subject and the centre of the teaching and learning process to bring full play their intelligence and creativeness. Over the past few years, the application of the Communicative Language Teaching method has been widely adopted. This marked the beginning of a major change in the language teaching and learning at VUC. And students’ speaking skill as well as communicative ability has been improved remarkably. VUC Faculty of English has been newly established for two years. Almost all of the teachers were trained about CLT approach at the University and they fully understood the important role of speaking ability among students. Therefore, they made all their effort to apply many kinds of activities in speaking lesson to encourage students to engage in speaking activities in classroom. As a teacher of the Faculty of English at Vietnam University of Commerce, from her own observations and experience, the present researcher has noticed that there are many speaking activities in the speaking lesson of 1st – year students, but group work – key features of learner – centered orientation – have received more emphasis. The researcher as well as other teachers at the University was well aware of the importance of using group work to energize the speaking lesson of the first-year students. Nevertheless, both teachers and students have faced a lot of challenges in implementing and managing group work during speaking lessons. For instance, the organization of group work is noisy, teachers sometimes lose control of the class or students tend to switch to use their mother tongue when not under the teacher’s eyes and so on. Moreover, the teachers’ procedure in organizing group work in speaking lesson was not very effective. The above mentioned situation has urged the researcher to conduct a study to investigate teachers’ group work organization procedure, teachers’ strategies to foster students’ English use and teachers’ and students’ difficulties ` implementing group work, the researcher of this study has decided to carry out a research into “How group work is used in speaking lesson of the 1st-year major students of English at Vietnam University of Commerce”. This study is intended to make a modest contribution to an increased understanding of using group work in the speaking lesson at VUC. 1.2. Aims of the study The purpose of this study is to explore the reality of the use of group work in the speaking lesson of 1st- year English major students of English at VUC where the researcher is serving. More specifically, this study attempts to clarify the procedures of organizing group work activity in the speaking lesson of 1st-year major students and to identify strategies used by teachers to stimulate students’ use of English in group work and the factors bringing about difficulties for the teachers and students in their application of group work. Another aim is to find out teachers’ solutions to the difficulties. One additional aim is to compare teachers’ practice with students’ expectation. Basing on the findings, the research further seeks to suggest practical recommendations for the possibility of group work in the speaking lesson of 1st-year major students at VUC. 1.3. The research questions In order to achieve the set goals, the research seeks to answer the following research questions: 1. What procedures do teachers follow in organizing group work during speaking lessons for the 1st year major students at University of Commerce? 2. What strategies do teachers use to stimulate and foster English language use by the 1st year major students at University of Commerce in group work? 3. What hinders teachers at Faculty of English of the University of Commerce in implementing group work? 4. What hinders the 1st-year major students at University of Commerce in participating in group work? 1.4. Scope of the study Though group work is applied in any of the four macro-skills, the present researcher has chosen to focus on speaking skill for the fact that mastering speaking is so central to language learning that when we refer to speaking a language, we often mean knowing a language (Karimmkhanlui, 2006). Among four language skills, namely listening, speaking, reading and writing, group work is used the most frequently in the speaking lesson. Therefore, this research tends to investigate the use of group work activity in the speaking lesson. Also, due to the time constraints, this study only involves a small number of VUC teachers and English-major students in their first academic year. 1.5. Benefits of the research The research is hoped to be valuable to both teachers and students of Faculty of English at VUC. Firstly, this study has been able to contribute to teachers’ knowledge of CLT approach in general and group work activity in particular. Secondly, from the findings of this study, teachers of English at VCU can be provided with important knowledge and information which may be very valuable for their future lesson planning. Ultimately, the teachers’ transformation in group work implementation will be beneficial to the students. 1.6. Organization of the study There are five chapters to the thesis. Chapter One presents some background to the research questions pursued in the study. In chapter Two, the literature on Communicative language teaching approach, the relation between CLT and teaching speaking and group work in teaching speaking are reviewed. Chapter Three describes the methodology used in the research study. The findings of the procedures in organizing group work, strategies to foster and stimulate English language use in group work, difficulties teachers experienced when implementing group work and difficulties students experienced when working in group suggested by the participants of the study are reported and discussed in chapter Four. Then, Chapter Five voices some suggestions for improving effectiveness of group work in speaking lesson and proposes areas for further research in the future. Finally, chapter Six discusses conclusions that can be drawn from the study. CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW This study investigates the process of group work implementation in speaking lesson. It aims at finding out how group work is organized in speaking lesson of 1st year students at University of Commerce. It also aims to find out the strategies that teachers use to motivate and foster students’ use of English in group work. The study also aims to find out the difficulties that teachers and students encounter while implementing group work. This chapter reviews the literature on some concepts, characteristics as well as teacher’s roles in communicative language teaching. In addition, the relation between CLT and teaching speaking skill is also addressed in this chapter. And definitions, benefits of group work, and the implementation of group work in speaking lesson are mentioned at the end of the chapter. 2.1. Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) 2.1.1. Some concepts of CLT The arrival of Communicative Language Teaching was in the late 1960s and its origins were found in the changes in the British language teaching tradition. Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) marks the beginning of a major innovation within language teaching for its widely accepted principles. CLT is now regarded as an approach which aims to make communicative competence the goal of language teaching and to develop procedures for the teaching of four language skills that acknowledge the interdependence of language and communication (Hymes, 1972). Hymes’s theory of communicative competence was a definition of what a speaker needs to know in order to be communicatively competent in a speech community. In Hymes’s view, a person who acquires communicative competence acquires both knowledge and ability for language use with respect to: whether (and to what degree) something is formally possible whether (and to what degree) something is feasible in virtue of the means of implementation available whether (and to what degree) something is appropriate (adequate, happy, successful) in relation to a context in which it is used and evaluated whether (and to what degree) something is in fact done, actually performed, and what its doing entails According to Richards and Rodgers (1986:161), at the level of language theory, CLT has a rich theoretical base and some of the characteristics of the communicative view of language are: Language is a system for the expression of meaning The primarily function of language is to allow interaction and communication The structure of language reflects its functional and communicative uses The primary units of language are not merely its grammatical and structural features, but categories of functional and communicative meaning as exemplified in discourse. Nowadays, language is seen as a dynamic resource for the creation of meaning. Communicative language teaching makes use of real-life situations that necessitate interaction and communication. Therefore, the importance of communicative language teaching is to provide students with as many opportunities as possible to use their communicative purpose. Students learn not only single grammatical rules but know how to use these rules effectively and appropriately in communication. 2.1.2. Characteristics of CLT It is no doubt that the characteristics of CLT, if precisely understood, may help teachers translate the theory of CLT into classroom reality and make their classroom “communicative”. Li (1998:679) reviews CLT characteristics based on the work of other researchers such as Larsen-Freeman (1986), Richards and Rodgers (1986), and Thomson (1996) as follows: - A focus on communicative function - A focus on meaningful tasks rather on language per se - Efforts to make tasks and language relevant to a target group of learners through an analysis of genuine, realistic situations - The use of authentic, from-life materials - The use of group activities - The attempt to create a secure, non-threatening atmosphere Communication competence is the goal of CLT, therefore a focus on communicative function may be considered to be the most typical characteristics of CLT. 2.2. Teaching speaking skill in CLT 2.2.1. Teaching speaking skill. Speaking skill plays a significant role in teaching and learning a foreign language. It not only helps students know how to read, to write and to listen but also know how to communicate with English speaking people. It is undeniable that the speaking ability is a good source of motivation for most students. Many students equate being able to speak a language to knowing the language. Therefore, they view learning the language as learning how to speak the language. According to Nunan (1991), success is measured in terms of the ability to carry out a conversation in the target language. Additionally, in the speaking class, if the right activities are taught in the right way, speaking can be a lot of fun, raising general learner motivation and making the English language classroom a nice and dynamic place to be. 2.2.2. Types of classroom speaking performance Brown (1994:271-274) proposes six categories applied to the kinds of oral production that students are expected to carry out in the classroom: - Imitative: takes a very limited portion of classroom speaking time when learners are practicing an intonation contour or trying to pinpoint a certain vowel sound, etc. - Intensive: includes any speaking performance that is designed to practice some phonological or grammatical aspect of language. - Responsive: is short replies to teachers or student initiated questions or comments. These replies are usually sufficient and do not extend into dialogues. - Transactional (dialogue): is carried out for the purpose of conveying or exchanging specific information. Conversations, for instance, may have more of a negotiative nature to them than merely responsive speech. Such conversations could readily be part of group work activity. - Interpersonal (dialogue): carries out more for the purpose of maintaining social relationships than for the transmission of facts and information. These conversations are a little trickier for learners because they can involve some or all the following factors: a casual register, colloquial language, emotionally changed language, and slang, etc. - Extensive (monologue): students at intermediate or advanced levels are called on to give extended monologues in the form of oral reports, summaries, or perhaps short speeches. Here the register is more formal and deliberative. These above six categories of Brown are highly valuable in offering a guide in working out the types of classroom speaking performance. The teachers should consider these points when teaching speaking skill. 2.2.3. Speaking activities Many researchers discuss classroom activities and a lot of activities are designed based on the theory and characteristics of CLT. Richards and Rodgers (1986:165) discuss that the range of exercise types and activities with a communicative approach is unlimited, provided that such exercises and activities enable learners to attain the communicative objectives of the curriculum, engage learners in communication and require the use of such communicative processes as information sharing, negotiation of meaning, and interaction. In their view, classroom activities should be designed to focus on completing tasks that are mediated through language or involve negotiation of information and information sharing. From the theory on speaking activities above, teachers should know how to adopt appropriate speaking activities which can help learners develop speaking skill. Group work is one of the main ways that the teacher can help students practice what they have learnt, find ways to achieve communicative objectives. 2.3. Group work in speaking lesson 2.3.1. Definition of group work There are some definitions discussing about group work: Doff (1988:137) defines group work as a process that “the teacher divides the class into small groups to work together (usually four or five students in each group), all the groups work at the same time.” According to Richards (1983:189), group work is an essential activity because the kind of interactions produced in group activities has been shown to be quantitatively as well as qualitatively different form that which goes on in the teacher-dominated lessons. It is obvious that group work is a co-operative activity, during which students share aims and responsibilities, they have chances for greater independence as they take some of their own learning decisions without the teacher controlling every move. And they can work without the pressure of the whole class listening to what they are doing. In addition, students have many chances to interact with each other. 2.3.2. Benefits of group work It is clear that putting students into small groups in the classroom will open up for them possibilities of interaction which are not usually available in a whole-class approach. Group work offers many chances for co-operation, through which students share responsibilities, give their own learning decisions and learn from each other. They learn to negotiate, learn to listen different opinions. They feel more equal to participate in group work and free to experiment and use the language. (Brown,2001). According to Brown (2001), there are four typical benefits of group work: 2.3.2.1. Group work generates interactive language The teacher talk is really dominant for a long time in so-called traditional language classes. The teacher lecture, explain grammar points, conducts drills and spend a little time for whole-class discussions in which each student might have a few seconds of class period to talk. With traditional methods, the teacher tends to be the only person who initiates language in an artificial setting and the whole-class becomes a “group interlocutor”. Thanks to group work, student’s opportunities for language practice as well as interaction are increased. In other words, students have more chances to speak English in the classroom. 2.3.2.2. Group work offers a positive affective climate The second important benefit offered by group work is to make learners feel secure when speaking on public. It is a nightmare for many students, especially the shy ones when being called to speak in front of the class and the teacher. Their mind becomes completely empty and even they cannot say a word. Nevertheless, a small group of peers provides a relatively intimate setting and a more supportive environment in which they will find it much easier to share their points of view in a natural way. 2.3.2.3. Group work promotes learners’ responsibility and autonomy The whole-class activities often give students a lot of time to relax even in a small class of fifteen to twenty students. But when they participate in group work which places responsibility for action and progress upon each of the members of the group equally, it is difficult for them to “hide” in a small group. In addition, group work allows students to make their own decisions in the group without being told what to do by the teacher. 2.3.2.4. Group work is a step toward individualizing instruction Each student in a classroom has different language needs and ability. Therefore, the teachers have some difficulties in managing the class with students at different levels of language. But small groups can help students with varying abilities to accomplish individual goals. In addition to variability in specific language abilities, another kind of individual difference among students are their age, sex, attitude, motivation, aptitude, personality, interests and language learning experience which can also be solved by group work. When organizing the class, the teacher can recognize and capitalize upon these differences by careful selection of small groups and by administering different tasks to different groups. 2.3.3. The implementation of group work in the classroom According to Brown (2001), if group work is not carefully planned, well executed, monitored thoroughly and followed up on in some ways, it can go wrong. The following are practical steps suggested by him to take to carry out successful group work in the classroom. 2.3.3.1. The selection of appropriate group techniques The first step in promoting successful group work is to select an appropriate task. Typical group tasks are defined and briefly characterized by Brown (2001) as follows: 2.3.3.1.1. Game. A game could be any activities that formalize a technique into units that can be score in some way. Guessing games are common language classroom activities. For example, twenty questions are easy adapted to a small group. One member secretly decides that he or she is some famous person; the rest of the group has to find out who, within twenty yes/ no questions, with each member of the group taking turns asking questions. The person who is “it” rotates around the group and points are scored. 2.3.3.1.2. Role-play and simulations Role-
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