Vietnam National University, Hanoi College of foreign languages Post graduate Department o0o nguyễn phưƠng ngọc an Action research on the effects of Pre writing



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Vietnam National University, Hanoi

College of foreign languages

Post graduate Department

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NGUYỄN PHƯƠNG NGỌC


An Action research on the effects of

Pre - writing activities on the Grade – 11 Non – Major English students’ motivation in writing at Nguyen Binh Khiem High School Hanoi


A minor M.A thesis
Field : Methodology

Code : 601410

Supervisor : TRẦN THỊ MẠNH, M.A

Ha Noi - 2008

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
This thesis could not have been completed without the help, encouragement and support of a number of people who all deserve my sincere gratitude and appreciation.
First of all, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Mrs. TRAN THI MANH, my respectful supervisor, who has given me the great help to my study.

I am also very grateful to my colleagues at English Department of Nguyen Binh Khiem High School, Hanoi, who have been willing to answer my questions and have given me invaluable advice and suggestions on the research of how pre – writing activities affect to students’ writing performance and on the completion of my research.

I also owe my sincere thanks to all of the students of the classes 11CT1, 11CH, of Nguyen Binh Khiem High School, who have been the enthusiastic participants in my action research. Without them, my action research could not been completed and successful.

I would like to send my thanks to my lecturers, my friends and my classmates for their sincere comments and criticism

In the end, I would like to show my big gratitude to my beloved people, my husband and my parents, who have constantly inspired and encouraged me to overcome difficulties to complete this study.

Finally, a special word of thanks goes to my readers for their interest and comments on this study.


Hanoi, August 15th, 2008

Nguyen Phuong Ngoc



ABSTRACT
When teaching writing skill to the 11th non – major English students at Nguyen Binh Khiem High School the author of this research found out that pre – writing stages are very important in teaching writing and it also has significant effects on the students’ writing performance. If students do not prepare well enough, they can not write well, they can not even write anything in their notebooks.

The aims of carrying out this action research were twofold: (1) to investigate the current situation of the teaching writing and learning writing of the grade 11th non – major students at Nguyen Binh Khiem High School in common and the teachers’ attitudes toward the pre – writing activities in a writing lesson in particular; (2) to find out how pre – writing stages affect students’ writing performance. The Action Research consists of three main stages: Pre – Improvement stage, Trying – out stage and Post – Improvement Stage. In the first stage, some lessons were observed to illustrate the problem and then a survey was conducted to get ideas from students. After that the causes of the problem was found out by consulting with colleagues, trainers and reading professional books/ journals for ideas and suggestions. In the second stage, strategies were designed for improvement. During this stage, all things happened in the class were recorded. In the last stage, the Try- out was evaluated by observing a lesson (Focusing on students’ improvement in a writing lesson at the end of the Try – out stage) that illustrates the changes that have been made. Then the teacher reflected on the reasons for those changes. Next, the researcher carried out a survey to get comments and opinions from students. In the end, the researcher gave comments and conclusions about the study.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

Page

Acknowledgements i

Abstract ii

Table of contents iii

Abbreviations vi
PART ONE: INTRODUCTION

I. Rationale 1

II. Research questions 1

III. Methods of the study 2

III.1. Participants 2

III.2. Instrumentation 2

IV. Research procedure 3

V. Scope of the study 4

VI. Design of the study 4

VII. Significance of the study 4


PART TWO: DEVELOPMENT

CHAPTER ONE: LITERATURE REVIEW

I.1. ACTION RESEARCH

I.1.1. What is action research? 5

I.1.2. Why does a teacher need action research? 6

I.1.3. How does a teacher carry out action research in a language classroom? 7

I.1.4. Summary 8

I.2. WRITING 9

I.2.1. What is writing? 9

I.2.2. Why teach writing? 9

I.2.3. Approaches to teaching writing 10

I.2.3.1. Controlled – to – Free Approach 10

I.2.3.2. Free – Writing Approach 10

I.2.3.3. Paragraph – Pattern Approach 11

I.2.3.4. The Grammar – Syntax – Organization Approach 11

I.2.3.5. Communicative Approach 11

I.2.3.6. The Process Approach 11

I.2.4. What is pre – writing? 12

I.3. PRE – LESSON FACTORS AFFECTING STUDENTS’ PERFORMANCE IN WRITING LESSONS 12

I.3.1. Student factors 12

I.3.1.1. Students’ learning styles 12

I.3.1.2. Students’ motivation 13

I.3.1.3. Students’ language level 13

I.3.2. Teacher factors 14

I.3.2.1. Teachers’ teaching methods 14

I.3.2.2. Teachers’ knowledge 15

I.3.2.3. Teachers’ instructions 15

I.3.3. External factors 16

I.3.3.1. Time limitations 16

I.3.3.2. Classroom and materials restraints 16

I.4. THE WRITING PROGRAM FOR GRADE 11TH NON – ENGLISH MAJOR STUDENTS AT NGUYEN BINH KHIEM HIGH SCHOOL 17

I.4.1. The objectives of the program 17

I.4.2. The teaching materials 18

I.4.3. The schedule of the course 18
CHAPTER TWO: ACTION RESEARCH PROCEDURE

II.1. Pre – Improvement stage 20



Step 1: Identifying the problem 20

II.1.1. Identifying the problem 20

II.1.2. Observing a lesson that illustrated the problem 20

II.1.3. Conducting a survey to get information from students 22



Step 2: Finding causes of the problem 24

II.1.4. Consulting with colleagues 24

II.1.5. Reading professional books or journals for ideas and suggestions 28

II.2. Try – out stage 28



Step 3: Designing strategies for improvement 28

Step 4: Trying out strategies and making notes on what happened in the class 29

II.3. Post – Improvement 29



Step 5: Evaluating the try – out 29

II.3.1. Post – improvement class observation 30

II.3.2. Post – improvement questionnaire for students 34

II.4. Summary 38


PART THREE: CONCLUSION 39

I.Summary of the main findings 39

II. Implications for more effective writing lessons 39

II.1. To the teachers 39

II.2. To the classroom facilities 40

III. Limitations and suggestions for further study 40

IV. Conclusion 40
REFERENCES VII

APPENDICES IX




ABBREVIATIONS

NBK: Nguyen Binh Khiem

MOET: Ministry of Education and Training

SS: Students

T: Teacher

S: Student



PART ONE: INTRODUCTION
I. RATIONALE

Nowadays English has become an international language because it is widely used in many parts of the world. In the tendency of integration of the global economy, English is one of the effective communicative tools for everybody. The role of English is considered to be very important in the fields of economics, politics, science, culture and education. Especially, Vietnam’s official membership of WTO on 7th November 2006 opened a new door for integrating into the world economy, and more and more people want to learn English for communicating with foreign partners, tourism, study tours, etc.

Thanks to the innovation of ways in teaching English, English lessons are taught with four skills (speaking, reading, listening, writing) in one unit. Moreover, there exists three stages – Pre - while – post - teaching in one lesson. This really helps students improve their skills beside the grammar exercises to pass the exams.

When teaching writing skill to the 11th non – major English students at Nguyen Binh Khiem High School the author found out that pre – writing stages are very important in teaching writing and it also has significant effects on the students’ writing performance. If students do not prepare well enough they can not write well, they can not even write anything in their notebooks.

The author of this research decided to carry out the action research to find out how pre – writing stages affect the students’ writing performance and whether the pre – lesson activities are important to teachers of English at NBK High School. Based on the results of this action research, some changes and improvements could be applied in the author’s lessons, and some appropriate strategies needed to be designed with the hope that students will work more effectively in a writing lesson. Hopefully that the results of this study would be shared with any colleagues who had the same problem or anyone who is interested in this study.

II. RESEARCH QUESTIONS


  1. Do teachers highly appreciate the pre – writing activities in a writing lesson?

  2. How do pre – writing activities affect the students’ writing performance?

III. METHODS OF THE STUDY

The study is basically a qualitative research, which employs the following methods:

1. Data is collected by means of three sets of questionnaires, one on the teachers and the others on the students in pre – improvement stage and post – improvement one. The questions are of the three – kinds: close – ended questions, open – ended questions and scaling

2. Other sources of data come from writing tasks from the textbooks.

The analysis of the data hopefully will bring about reliable findings useful for the teaching of writing to non – major students at Nguyen Binh Khiem High School, Hanoi.

III.1 Participants

The subjects chosen for the research include 80 grade 11th non – major English students in class 11CT1, 11CH of Nguyen Binh Khiem High School with the survey questionnaires, and 15 teachers who are currently teaching English. To be more specific, among 15 teachers answering the questionnaires, there was no male teacher. The teachers’ ages range from 24 to 56. Their experience of teaching English varied from one year to 30 years. The research was carried out during the first term of the academic year 2007 – 2008 at Nguyen Binh Khiem High School.



III.2 Instrumentation

Instrumentation one: A set of questionnaires answered by the students in pre – writing stage

The questionnaires were designed with 5 questions to elicit from students the information about the situation of their class in pre – writing stage, the way the teacher carried out these activities. The questions is multiple choice



Instrumentation two: A set of questionnaires completed by the teachers

This set of questionnaires were designed with the aim to find out the attitude of the teachers toward teaching pre – writing activities in a writing lesson, the difficulties they often meet while conducting these activities and solutions to solve the problem. In addition, their suggestions of how to make the pre – writing activities effectively were also mentioned. To complete the questionnaires, teachers had to tick the appropriate boxes or to give answers.



Instrumentation three: A set of questionnaires answered by the students in post – writing stage.

This was done with a view to exploring the changes that the teachers made to change the situation, the changes from the students appreciated by themselves



Instrumentation four: A collection of students’ writing papers in both pre – improvement stage and post – improvement one.

The researcher wants to find out the results of how pre – writing activities affect to students’ writing performance. The students’ writing papers were analyzed to withdraw the compared results.



IV. RESEARCH PROCEDURE

This action research consists of three main stages: Pre – Improvement stage, Trying – out stage and Post – Improvement stage



Stage 1: Pre – Improvement

Step 1. Identifying the problem which was wished to solve or an area which was wished to improve by:

  1. Observing a lesson that illustrated the problem

  2. Conducting a survey to get information from students

Step 2 Finding causes of the problem by:

  1. Consulting with colleagues: a number of colleagues were asked to answer three questions about the effectiveness of conducting the pre – writing activities in writing lessons

  2. Reading professional books/ journals for ideas and suggestions

Stage 2: Trying – out

Step 3: Designing strategies for improvements (plan for action)

Step 4: Trying – out the strategies (action) and making records of what happened in class.

Stage 3: Post – Improvement

Step 5: Evaluating the try – out by:



  1. Observing a lesson (Focusing on the students’ writing performance at the end of try – out period) that illustrated the changes that have been made;

  2. Reflecting on the reasons for those changes (which could include things that had been improved or that had been got worse)

  3. Carrying out a survey to get information from the students

  4. Giving comments and conclusions.

V. SCOPE OF THE STUDY

This study was carried out in two English classes with 80 11th grade students at Nguyen Binh Khiem High School in Hanoi. The research focused on how pre – writing activities affect the student’ writing performances in writing lessons.



VI. DESIGN OF THE STUDY

The research consists of three main parts : Introduction, Development and Conclusion.

Part 1: Introduction presents the rationale, the research questions, the method of study, the research procedure, the scope of the study, the significance of the study and the design of the study.

Part 2: Development consists of Chapter one “Literature Review” and Chapter two “Action Research Procedure”. In Chapter One, the theoretical background of action research are introduced with its definition, three reasons to use it, and ways to carry it. The concepts of writing, approaches to teaching writing and some pre – lesson factors affecting students’ writing performance are also presented in this chapter. What is more, the writing program for grade 11th non – English major students at NBK High School is described in this chapter, too. Chapter two namely “Action Research Procedure” describes the procedure of this action research with the following main steps: defining the problem, observing class, conducting a survey using questionnaires, collecting data and analyzing data, and giving out conclusions from findings.

Part 3: Conclusion is the last part which offered a summary and suggestions for more effective writing activities and some limitations and suggestions for further studies

VII. SIGNIFICANCE OF THE STUDY

Writing, one of the two productive skills, has always a significant position in language teaching. Nevertheless, how to teach and learn writing effectively often poses great problems to both teachers and students. For the teachers of English at high school, writing is considered a difficult skill to teach. Some of them even ignore teaching writing skill and focus only on grammar excercises for the exams. However, nothing is difficult if we, the teachers make decision to make it easier. Hopefully , with a range of suggestions of how to make pre – writing activities effectively in writing lessons introduced in this research, it will be more motivating for the teachers to teach and make progress in teaching writing Therefore, their students will be interested in writing lessons.



PART TWO: DEVELOPMENT
CHAPTER ONE: LITERATURE REVIEW
I. 1. ACTION RESEARCH

I.1.1. What is action research?

According to Jerry G. Grebhard (1999), the concept of action research originated in the work of Kurt Lewin (1948,1952). He was a social psychologist who brought together experimental approaches to social – science research and the idea of “social action” to address social issues. Stephen Corey (1952,1953), a Columbia University Professor, was among the first to use action research in the field of education. He argued that formal research following a scientific method had little impact on educational practice. Through action research, he argued, changes in educational practice were possible.

In terms of what action research was, having considered what it was not, action research had been defined in many different ways. In Stephen Corey’s definition “Action research is a way in which teachers try to study their own problems scientifically, in an effort to evaluate, guide and correct their procedures”. Tsui’s definition was more detailed and simpler: “Action research is a very effective way of helping teachers to reflect on their teaching and to come up with their own alternatives t improve their practice” (Tsui, 1993)

In another way, action research was mentioned at two levels by Grebhard and Oprandy: “At one level, action research is about teachers identifying and posing problems, as well as addressing issues and concerns related to the problem. It is about working toward understanding and possibly resolving these problems by setting goals and creating and initiating a plan of action, as well as reflecting on the degree to which the plan work. At another level, it can be about addressing educational practices that go beyond each teacher’s classroom” (Grebhard and Oprandy,1999).

In the “Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics” Richards, J.C and Platt, J.H. gave the following definitions of action research:

In the general meaning, it is “…research which has the primary goal of finding ways of solving problems, bringing about social change or practical action, in comparison with research which seeks to discover scientific principles or develop general laws and theories”.

In teacher education, it is “…..teacher – initiated classroom research which seeks to increase the teacher’s understanding of classroom teaching and learning and to bring about improvements in classroom practices”

In brief, action research is a kind of scientific study which is often carried out by a teacher or an educator in order to solve a practical problem in a classroom. As it was named, it focuses mainly on the actions of both students and teachers. So, it can solve the problems which are related to all actions and activities in a classroom. The problems which are solved by action research are often practical and useful for teachers.



I.1.2. Why does a teacher need action research?

Action research in schools, colleges or universities solves everyday practical problems experienced by teachers, rather than the “theoretical problems” defined by non – teaching researchers. It should be carried out by the teachers themselves or by someone they commission to carry out for them.

Action research in education focuses on the three related stages of action:


  1. Initiating action, such as, adopting a text, choosing an alternative assessment strategy.

  2. Monitoring and adjusting, such as ,seeing how a pilot project is proceeding, assessing the early progress of new programme, improving a current practice.

  3. Evaluating action, such as, preparing a final report on a completed project”

(Sagor, 1992)

If the teacher was trained to conduct action research, he could solve his problems on his own or in collaboration with other teachers. Anders (1988), Curtis (1988) and Tsui (1993) gave three reasons why a teacher needed action research:

- to solve own problems in a scientific process and improve own practice

- to adapt theory (findings of conventional research) to practice (own problems)

- to share the results of action research with other teachers

Moreover, action research was also for a teachers’ professional developments. He would become a better teacher because he knew how to find out and solve his problems in teaching scientifically on his own. This also showed his dynamic, activeness and imagination in his teaching job.



I.1.3. How does a teacher carry out action research in a language classroom?

Tsui (1993) suggested 5 steps in conducting action research:



Step 1: Identifying problems you wish to solve or an area you wish to improve by:

  • reviewing an audio – or a video – taped lesson and the transcription of a segment of the lesson that illustrates the problem.

  • Conducting a survey to hear from your students

Step 2: Finding causes of the problem by:

  • consulting with your colleagues, trainers

  • reading professional books/ journals for ideas and suggestions

Step 3: Designing strategies for improvement (plan for action) and writing a proposal for action research

Step 4: Trying out the strategies (action) and keeping a diary of what happened in the class

Step 5: Evaluating the try – out by:

  • reviewing a lesson (taped at the end of the try –out period) that illustrated the changes that have been made and

  • reflecting on the reasons for those changes (which could include things that have been improved or that have been gotten worse)

  • carrying out a survey to get information from students.

Other authors such as Kemmis and Mc Taggart (1998), Andy Curtis (1988) and Nunan (1989) also recommended the similar steps in doing action research in a classroom. Different from Tsui, in the step of “Collecting data and identifying the problem”, Nunan (1992) suggested that teachers should observe and make notes on what their learners and themselves said and did in class, and then, based on these observations, identified positive ways to bring about this change.

In my opinion, observing the class and making notes are feasible for a teacher to implement his/ her action research where cassette recorders or camcorders are not available.

A necessary component of action research is collaboration among different people. They are teachers, their colleagues and students, who should be willing to talk with each other about the problems and find out the solutions together, as well as help each other in implementing classroom – centered action research projects. It also needs the collaborative efforts of students who participate in the action research project. Students’ collaboration plays an important role in the success of the action research project.

I.1.4. Summary

Action research is a kind of scientific study carried out by a teacher which solves the practical problems in a classroom. The teacher needs action research to adapt theory (findings of conventional research) to practice (his/ her own problems). Action research consists of three stages:



  1. Pre – improvement: Firstly, the teacher identifies the problem in his teaching job in class. He. She observes by himself/herself or asks somebody to observe or has his/ her lessons video – taped in class to get data to prove the problem. He/ she also proves the problem by conducting a survey to get information from his/ her students. Secondly, the teacher tries to find out the causes of the problem from professional books or journals, colleagues and students.

  2. Try –out: The teacher designs the strategies for improvement and tries them out in some following lessons. Next, a lesson is observed or video – taped to get data to illustrate the changes and improvements.

  3. Post-improvement: The teacher reflects on the reasons for the changes and improvements. To ensure the success of the applied strategies in action research a survey is necessary to get the evaluation from students. From the results of the action research some conclusions and comments will be made.

Action research can be carried out in collaboration with other teachers or educators and it needs the supports from both students and education administrators. Its results should be popularized and shared with anybody who is interested in.
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