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Use, usage or both in english language teacher training programmes? (Language Teaching & Learning).

Abstract

This paper describes the research conducted at Trakya University Foreign Languages Department with the aim of designing a specific grammar syllabus for the English in Use Course. The need for such a syllabus emerged due to the students' failure in the Use of English part of the final exam as they could not put their syntactical knowledge into use. Thus, a syllabus was designed; specific classroom techniques were developed to serve the purpose of the study, and as a result, considerable improvement was observed in the students' achievement in the final exam.

Introduction

Grammar has always been the focus of interest for linguists, applied linguists and even for scholars of other disciplines. It is an integral part of the language we use in everyday communication. As language teachers we can hardly fail to be aware of its impact on our EFL teaching. We can not deny that grammar is a major influence in syllabus design and the focal point of many classroom exercises.

In the ELT Department of Trakya University, the students have to pass an English Proficiency test equivalent to Certificate in Advanced English (CAE). Language proficiency exams like CAE consist of five components. English in Use, one component of CAE, is the most difficult section for the majority of our students. Their background education in English enables them to know the grammar rules but they do not know how to put them in use.

The importance of syllabus design has recently attracted the scholars and different views , i.e. process-oriented and product-oriented syllabus design have been put forward. In product-oriented syllabus, the focus is on the knowledge and skills which learners should gain as a result of instruction. In process-oriented syllabus on the other hand, the focus is on the learning experiences of students. In our case, for the English in Use Course, a carefully designed product-oriented syllabus was seen essential to achieve the desired goal by the end of the academic year.

The research for this study was carried out in two stages: The Diagnostic Stage and the Therapeutic Stage. Techniques such as questionnaires, observations and tests were administered for collecting data. The first English Language Proficiency Test was compared with the final English Proficiency Test. The comparison of the pre- and post tests enabled us to see our success rate as researchers.

The research was completed in two academic terms (6 months). The subjects were 24 preparatory class students of the ELT Department of Trakya University. CAE type proficiency test administered at at the beginning of the academic year suggested that the English in Use section was problematic. The English in Use test consists of three sections with six tasks:

1. Cloze test (multiple choice)- vocabulary cloze

2. Cloze test (no word given)- grammar cloze

3. Error correction

4. Formal / informal words- register transfer

5. Sentence completion-- phrase gap

6. Notes expansion-- expanding notes

The subjects of the research showed failure in general in the Use of English section. However, compared to the other tasks, they scored better in the error correction part. Error correction task asks the students to find the spelling and punctuation mistakes or the unnecessary words. The students, being taught to be perceptive rather than productive during their secondary school education, find this task easier and score better in such type of exam questions.

The data led the way to diagnose the general problems encountered by the students in the Use of English section of the pre-test as follows:

() Insufficient knowledge of vocabulary which leads to comprehension problems,

() Unfamiliarity with the test type which causes hesitation in the choice of correct answer,

() Lack of training on register transfer which leads to confusion in the recognition of

() formal and informal English,

() Difficulty in expanding the notes which causes inefficiency in written expression.

The hypothesis of designing a specific syllabus concentrating on the problematic areas with intensive classroom drills was seen to be useful in supplying the desired success in CAE level English in Use Test. Therefore, a specific syllabus was designed considering Grave's (1996) following suggested steps for syllabus design:

() Needs assessment

() Determining goals and objectives

() Conceptualising content

() Selecting and developing materials and activities

() Organisation of content and activities

() Evaluating

() Consideration of resources and constraints

Assessment of needs showed the necessity for studying functionally since grammar is taught inductively. The goal was to increase the students' success rate of the Use of English section of the final exam and the objectives were determined to enable the students to overcome the problems they encounter in such exams by training them to make use of their existing syntactical knowledge of English in the way the exam questions require. For the conceptualization of the content; cloze tests error correction, formal/informal words, sentence completion and notes expansion exercises are seen to be essential to be emphasized in the syllabus. Appropriate materials with appropriate activities were chosen (i.e The Cambridge CAE Course- Spratt & Taylor 1997, Advanced Masterclass Aspinall & Capel 1996, Advanced-Language Practice- Vince 1994) and specific techniques and activities were developed in order to improve the students' ability of putting their syntactical knowledge into use. The organisation of the activities were done in line with the CAE English in Use section and they were grouped from the simplest to the more complex ones. An ongoing type of evaluation was seen to be efficient. Limitation of resources and working on the same type of tests were seen as constraints of the study.

As mentioned before CAE level proficiency test English in Use section consists of three sections with six tasks. Therefore the syllabus was designed according to these task types taking the students problems into consideration. Section A consisted of task types such as multiple choice cloze and grammar cloze. Section B consisted of two task types : error correction and register transfer. Section C had tasks like sentence completion and notes expansion. The classroom activities were designed with the aim of enabling the students to recognise the usage of the words, of the structure and of the register. Most of the classroom activities made students realize what is required for success and what their weak points are; in other words, the activities raised awareness on the students' own linguistic knowledge and on how to achieve success in the English in Use section of the proficiency exam. For example, in a multiple choice cloze task, they were given a text with some words underlined and they were asked to find out what part of speech the underlined words are. Then they were asked to give reasons why other words could not be used there. They prepared tests in the same format and exchanged them. Gap filling exercise as an example for a classroom activity can give the reader an idea on how student awareness is raised: Students were asked to fill the gaps at sentence level with one appropriate word so that they would not get bored and feel unsafe with lots of gaps. The next step was to find out what the students did when they tried to fill the gaps. They were asked to write their approaches on the board which was titled as" useful hints".

The subjects, when took the pre-test, showed failure in the English in Use section of the CAE level proficiency test. Top score being a 100, the number of students who scored over 50 (passing grade) was quite a few. Only 3 students out of 24 scored over 50 in the first task which tested the knowledge of vocabulary. In the second task- grammar cloze- 2 out of 24 scored over 50. In the third task- error correction 4 students, in the fourth task-register transfer- 4 students, in the fifth task- gap filling -- 6 students, and in the sixth task- note expansion only 4 students scored over 50. In the comparison of the scores between the tasks, error correction was the best. Table One. See issue's website <http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/fallp.htm>

Post-test (pre-test given as post-test) results, on the other hand, gave more satisfactory results. In the first task 11 students scored over fifty, in task 2 there were 8 students who scored over 50, in the third task, 15 students, in the fourth task 18 students, in the fifth task 20 students and in the sixth task 19 students scored over 50. Table Two. See issue's website <http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/fallp.htm>

The statistical results of the pre-test and post-test show that there is a meaningful difference at the level of .01. Table Three. See issue's website <http://rapidintellect.com/AEQweb/fallp.htm>

According to this result, it is possible to say that specifically designed classroom techniques were effective on students' success. The outcomes of the study were:

() The subjects were trained to study the test types in a more systematic way such as; reading the whole text to get the gist before filling in the blanks and filling in the blanks according to the part of the speech. Such a study increased the success rate.

() Subjects' success on vocabulary cloze part of the English in Use Test proved an expansion in their vocabulary.

() Specific classroom activities geared to students' problems encountered in proficiency tests proved to be useful in the achievement of good results in the final tests.

() Training on register solved the subjects' problem on type of register.

() The subjects showed a considerable progress on note expanding section of the test.

Co-operation between the teachers (reading, writing) was a positive affect on the subjects success rate. On the other hand, some uncontrollable variables such as time limit, limited resources and the subjects' and the informants' varying attitudes could be considered as negative affects e. Therefore the success was not at the rate expected. 16 students out of 24 scored a passing grade from English in Use section of the CAE type English Proficiency exam.

References:

Graves, K. 1996, Teachers as Course Developers, Cambridge language Education, C.U.P.

Aspinall, T., Capel, A. 1996, Advanced Masterclass CAE, Oxford University Press

Nunan, D. 1998, Syllabus Design, Oxford University Press

Yalden, J. 1987, Principles of Course Design for Languge Teaching, Cambridge University Press.

Selvili, F. 2000, How can grammar be used effectively in English Language Training Programme?, MA Thesis, Trakya University, Institute of Social Sciences, Edirne- Turkey

Dr. Tutunis is an Associate Professor at the ELT Section of Foreign Languages Department. Her interest lies in Learner Independence, CALL, and Academic writing.
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Author:Tutunis, Birsen
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2001
Words:1734
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