In todays era of globalization and human interdependent interaction between one another, the ability to converse and communicate in the English language has become extremely important and cannot be denied since it is becoming the lingua franca of the world spoken everywhere. With the advancement in technology, the importance of English has become easy and readily available in many aspects of everyday life in the form of education, economy and social perspective. Inability to possess this form of acquired skill will result in miscommunication in various levels that can lead to misinterpretation and communication breakdown. Miscommunication could occur with business partners and deals go bad, while in extreme cases whereby diplomatic relationship between countries goes sour and affects each countries diplomatic tie with one another. In turn, leads to scenarios where the immediate ramifications of miscommunication between countries are the businesses, investments and tourisms will be severely affected. Therefore, it is undeniable that the significance of good communication skill has a tremendous impact on a country as a whole.
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It is in the best interest to the nation of any country to start teaching English in the early years of a student education due to young children capacity to learn English as their second language is much better than that of their adult counterparts. Hence, it is only logical that the acquisition of English language starts at its grassroots via learning in a conducive classroom taught by a qualified ESL teacher. In order to teach English as the second language and promote learning, an effective teacher may have a number of approaches that can influence and assist their students’ English language learning through the form of interaction and participation (Walsh, 2002).
It is common in the context of Malaysian ESL teachers concerning with the issue of students’ lacking of communication skill in English. It involves the students’ inability to express opinion orally in the second language which has been one of the major problems. Learning the second language involves four skills namely listening, writing, reading and speaking whereby the skills are integrated through social experience. There are many factors that can affect learners’ second language acquisitions such as attitude, motivation, social and socio-economic status, exposure as well as culture to name a few. Through scaffolding, teacher can utilize this method to help the students to increase their involvement in a discussion and thus allowing more interactive and meaningful participation in the classroom.
Past studies covering the participation of students in the classroom have been largely performed on children and less focus on young adults and adults (Fassinger, 1995). Therefore in this paper, we examine how the teachers’ involvement links to classroom activities that may or may not help to promote young adults’ engagement in learning English as a foreign language.
1.1 Background of Problems
Students’ unwillingness to communicate and express their opinions in the target language has been one of the major hurdles faced by English language teachers in Malaysia. The interaction that exist in a classroom should be benefited fully by the students as means of practicing the target language and also provides them the opportunity to negotiate meaning in purposeful conversation in the classroom. Even though many of the students are aware of the importance of classroom interaction, many choose to shy away from the opportunity given. Instead of involving and participating actively in the classroom interactions, many Malaysian students prefer to be passive learners who depend solely on the teachers to do most of the talking and the situation became a one-way-communication. Undeniably, there are many excellent students who manage to score an ‘A’ for English during the public examinations such as UPSR, PMR and SPM. However, some of them fail miserably when it comes to oral communication. Students will face hardship later in their career life as they will inevitably be interacting with people and foreigners who utilize English as means of communication. Thus, it is important and crucial for ESL teacher to look into this matter to remedy this issue concerning students’ lack of participation at its grassroots stage.
1.2 Research Questions
The aim of this study is to find out the in-depth-view of ESL teachers’ beliefs in their teaching strategies and their actual teaching practices bearing in mind:
i. How teachers increase opportunities for young learners’ engagement in classroom?
ii. How effective teaching strategies can increase young learners’ engagement in an ESL classroom?
iii. What is the most dominant type of teaching strategies used by teachers to increase young learners’ engagement?
1.3 Conceptual Framework
Teachers’ beliefs and practices
Students’ performance in language learning
Teaching English to young learners
Impacts of effective teaching strategies on learners’ engagement
Effective teaching strategies
Figure 1: Framework of Effective Teaching Strategies to Increase Students’ Engagement in the ESL Classroom
1.4 Significance of the Study
By answering the research questions of this study, researchers can shed light on which teaching strategies used by primary school teachers is the most effective in increasing students’ engagement in the ESL classroom. Thus, findings made can be used to recommend for future teaching strategies ensuring a more conducive teaching environment for students learning English as their second language.
2.0 Literature Review
English language is becoming more important and compulsory in the Malaysian education; the emphasis on ESL created its own field since it starts early as the primary level and involves teaching English to the young learners. According to Ersoz (2007), children who are in the age bracket 6 to 12 years old are defined as being young learners. This age group is believed to have the ability to learn language better than that of their adult counterparts since they perceive positive attitudes towards foreign languages and cultures. Moreover, as Brumfit (1991) states that young learner’s brain can more easily process new information before puberty than later. That being said, it is also a blessing in disguise as any new learner will encounter problems such as lacking in confidence and tendency to shy away in learning English and unwilling to be an independent learner due to low in motivation and reinforcement. Thus, different methods need to be applied when teaching young learners. This justifies the need for ESL teachers to strategize and plan their approaches in engaging young learners to be active participants in the process of language learning in a classroom.
2.1 Teaching English to young learners
As previously mentioned, teaching young learners requires a different approach by the ESL teachers. A few considerations must be taken into account when teaching young learners as Piaget (1970) stated that children are active learners and thinkers. During this development stage, they are able to learn and make sense of the knowledge gained by a constant interaction with the physical environment. In addition, young learners also learn by interacting socially with their peers (Vygotsky, 1962) to solve any tasks given to them. Usually young learners have a quite short attention span towards receiving any new knowledge, instructions and completing an activity. Therefore, it is important during a young learner’s early stage of learning to be properly guided by ESL teachers in making sure they learn effectively.
2.2 Effective teaching strategies
The challenges faced by ESL teachers are strategizing, planning and executing a proper learning environment as to make sure young learners maximize their participation in a classroom. ESL teachers are responsible in imparting English skills (i.e. listening, speaking, reading and writing) while fostering socialization within the classroom community. For that reason, ESL teachers utilize various strategies to make sure young learners take a full advantage of the opportunity given to them. Among these effective teaching strategies used by ESL teachers which commonly practiced as classroom routines and procedures are as follows:
The first teaching strategy commonly employed by teachers is through the usage of collaborative learning as Christison (1990) pointed out. It can be defined as a collaborative learning approach by grouping two or more students mutually working together to develop a sense of understanding and meaning to solve a task assigned (Sharan, 1980).
The second strategy used is known as role play, whereby the objective of this approach is to emphasize on the nature of learning and exploring the young learner topic of interest and integrating it into experimental learning activities. Poorman (2002) sees this strategy as a way of heightening as well as stimulating the young learners’ interest by actively taking part in the activity set out in the classroom.
3) The third teaching strategy usually employed by ESL teachers is storytelling. Wnjnryb (2003) mentioned through storytelling, the teaching tool that holds several advantages in the sense it utilizes the teachers’ creativity to instruct their students by making it entertaining and interesting.
4) Other strategy used for the same purpose is by the use of songs as mentioned by Sevik (2011). The flexibility nature of songs can be used for a various purposes as means of developing the students listening and speaking skills while entertaining them in the form of inclusiveness with all students. It is no surprise that songs can be considered as one of the most valuable pedagogical tools in teaching young learners.
5) The last valuable strategy employed by teachers to teach young learners are by making the teaching activities fun and entertaining in the form of games as mentioned by Ara, S. (2009). The activities carried out are usually familiar to young learners and they can easily associate the rules and structures of the games to their home background.
2.3 Impacts of effective teaching strategies on young learners engagement
As any teacher involved with teaching young learners, the strategies employed must yield a substantial impact so as to meet the ultimate objective of the study by increasing the students’ engagement in the ESL classroom. As previously explained, all the five strategies are used in order to maximize the learning curve of young learners during their primary education level. It has been proven that in the case of collaborative learning, a positive social outcome is achieved whereby students’ performance in various subjects have been elevated (Slavin 1995, Tengku Nor Rizan 2007). Similar impacts are also observed where role play teaching strategy has been applied and the results proved in an increase of learners’ engagement in the classroom (Fogg, 2011). The most outstanding advantage in applying role-play strategy is that the learners view a task from a different perspective and teaches them empathy (Poorman, 2002). Other teaching strategies such as story and songs aim to instruct young learners in the form of moral lessons, improve young learners’ pronunciation, vocabulary, sentence structures and listening skills as well as speaking skills while making all learning experiences entertaining (Murphey, 1992). These strategies employed by ESL teachers have the objective of maximizing the learning curve of the young learners through inclusiveness in the classroom. All of the young learners’ different personalities and learning styles can be catered since the nature of the strategies are repetitive, minimizes the students’ anxiety and motivate them greatly. Thus, encouraging young learners to be fully engaged in their language learning and participated actively in classroom activities.
3.1 Research Design
This study was designed as a descriptive study with an aim to explore the strategies preferred by primary school teachers in their ESL contexts by using several procedures; firstly, a set of questionnaires consisting of 30 qualitative questions were given to get an in-depth-perspective of the teachers’ teaching strategies. Secondly, classroom observation by the researcher and video recordings of lessons were carried out twice over a period of one hour. Finally, a semi-structured interview is performed with all the five teachers and later transcribed verbatim. All of the procedures utilized are necessary in order to achieve triangulation and affirmation with what the teachers’ teaching strategies and the actual teaching practices. Furthermore, the researcher in this study acts as a non-participant observer and does not interfere with the lessons carried out by the teachers.
Teaching strategies used by primary school English teachers
Figure 2: The Flow Chart of the Data Collection Procedures
Before the start of the research, consent from each teacher is needed by explaining the nature of the study in order for participation to take place. To reduce biasness, a sample population of teachers from five different primary state schools in Pontian district were invited to participate in this research. Five teachers with almost equal in teaching backgrounds were asked to carry out a set of tasks. The backgrounds of each teacher are as follows:
B. Ed TESL
B. Ed TESL
B. Ed TESL
B. Ed TESL
B. Ed TESL
Figure 3: Summary of Research Participants’ Backgrounds
3.3 Data Collection
For this research study, a qualitative approach was conducted by means of questionnaires, observations, video recordings of lessons and semi-structured interview with all the five participants.
3.4 Data Analysis
The data gathered from the sources (i.e. questionnaires, in-depth observation of the teachers by the non-participant observer in the classroom, video recordings of the lessons and semi-structured interviews) are used to triangulate to confirm the teaching strategies employed by the teachers correlated with their actual teaching beliefs.
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