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The Problem and Importance
This investigation is fundamentally based on the situation that the students live every day in Public High School’s students live everyday, such a case is Liceo Diurno de Esparza within the process of learning English for Oral Communication.
As part of Academic Education, learning English has become of primary importance in a globalized world. The creation and the advance of the massive mass media as well as the means of transportation have contributed for people to be able to communicate more quickly. However, despite the fast advancement of communications, an idiomatic barrier exists, and it is imposed among all the communities in the world and that impedes to communicate more efficiently.
The study of a foreign language was set in order to improve communication among different countries; those countries establish a universal language as an international way of communication. English is that language; it has become a worldwide language due to the great number of countries that use it as a native or foreign language. English has become mandatory in all public educational institutions in our nation.
In the same way, the introduction of transnational companies during the first years of XXI, has brought to the country not only the aperture of more and bigger companies, hence opportunities to Costa Ricans, but also the demand on English speakers in terms of quality and quantity.
In our country is very important that at least the basis of English are known in order to communicate in simple phrases, in our daily life routines, also because Costa Rica is a paradise for tourists and it demands a fullness in the way we manage this universal language as part of cultural and social diversity.
The intervention of the state in the design of English programs for the public sector was given a little late. According to Cordova, (1994), cited by Miranda (1997):
It was not unitl 1925, when the Costa Rican Government through the Department of Public Education decreed an internal regulation that permitted the teaching of foreign languages such as Latin, French, and English in “Casa de Estudio Santo Tomás”. English programs were not a success because of the lack of materials and English Teachers; for that reason, the programs were given by people who spoke that language and they had materials brought from other countries (p.3).
That is to say, the Department of Education did not have as a priority the learning of foreign languages for the students. Despite the effort made by the Department, the quality of teaching was worse. English teaching continued being developed without qualified professionals, methodology, and material.
English teaching and learning changed significantly in 1991, when the National Advisor decided to give a new course to the programs. It was in that year when a specific curriculum for English learning was created in High Schools and it covered “Tercer Ciclo” and “Educación Diversificada” (Senior High). Those programs were based on students needs. As a result advisors established in 1994 a program called “Children of Costa Rica, in a modern and integrated world” and decided English should be a subject inside the curriculum of schools. (Cabrera, 2005 p.3)
Despite all the efforts, English had be taken as common subject inside the national test and covered only the written skill and it did not take into account the oral skills. Cabrera (2005) said that “…English had become a written test that included only reading comprehension, and the professors were limited only to teach how to read, but they excluded the other linguistic abilities.” (p.1) After almost 70 years of English teaching in Costa Rica and multiple attempts to improve the English programs, it was only during the Government of José Maria Figueres Olsen in 1996, when they really began to evaluate the quality of the programs, and it was determined that students from public schools needed to be orally proficient in English.
Some years later, the Department of Public Education presented the first program of Conversational English for public schools which is part of the technological Education. The program of Conversational English covered listening and conversational skills to give students the capacity to use any given situation.
Since the year 2001, the Conversational English Program has been implemented in the Public High Schools of Costa Rica that want to enter Conversational English as an optional subject in Technical Education. The Advisors of Technical Education are conscious of the responsibility that the High Schools represent in terms of English learning and the quality of the graduated students for they will face the dynamics of the business sector. Thus our current students should respond to the demands of the world in a near future.
Yet, and during the last six years, the Department of Education has tried to change English Curriculum to give more emphasis on the oral and listening skills in the quality of English teaching and learning. Despite all the efforts, it is pitiful to know that after five or six years of English lessons, with three weekly lessons in the “Tercer Ciclo” (seventh, eighth and ninth grades), five weekly lessons in the “Ciclo Diversificado” (10th and 11th grades) and the development of a Conversational English Program with six weekly lessons, our graduates are still incapable of speaking English fluently. (Al Día, 2005).
Badilla (2003), in his study “A proposal of improvement of the applicability of the conversational English program of Public Education” expresses that:
‘The Costa Rican curriculum has suffered changes to be adapted to globalization and the programs should be analyzed to guarantee their quality”(p.lO).
Today, there are few existent studies related to the Conversational English Program and its applicability in different contexts. In the same way, it is important to mention that human beings suffer changes through life, and these changes possess some specific characteristics in the social and cultural aspects. In addition, all societies or communities present different characteristics from others. Those differences produce on any program the necessity of a contextualization because it is impossible to develop a program in the same way. All those aspects are very important to take into account in a program evaluation or study.
Due to the little existence of research about the social factors and a good teacher as a facilitator and the way the curriculum of the MEP is applied, the research is considered of importance to contribute with the needs of the students’ learning.
The main focus in this investigation is placed in determination of the topic in theoretical and social frames, according to the Costa Rican context. The investigation is build, as a main source, which analyzes the main factors that have their influence on the learning process of English for oral communication, with a hypothetical supposing that there are many factors which are motivators and barriers for the process of learning English for oral communication. The research considers the individual social characteristics as factors for participation in the process as well. A special emphasis in the investigation is directed about the students’ achievements toward the skills and capabilities which are required for successfully coping with the everyday job tasks and rapid changes in the students’ environment and society. Research is also giving the answers about the Teachers’ role and investment in the process of learning of the students.
All of the factors if treating in positive manner will give an impetus to the learning process of individuals while have a negative impact on learning process if acting in a negative manner. But for this investigation we are taking into account three specific elements only, social factors, role of the teacher and curriculum designed by the MEP.
The preceding situation justifies the importance of the present study.
Today’s society demands more active and dynamic communication by the used of efficient ways focused on the learning of foreign languages in order to improved the universal the development not only in terms of economics but also culture and society. Therefore, in the last decade many countries have entered different programs for learning a second language.
English learning as a second language requires the developing of a very complex learning process. It has become a need above all in the Costa Rican context because English becomes a language that offers opportunities to find employment. This is one of the greater demands that require the Costa Rican young population.
It is important to emphasize that English is currently very important as an international language, and it is the main-reason to justify its teaching and learning to contribute to the student integral education. The student’s deficiencies to speak English are the result of some aspects such as teaching methodologies, teacher’s proficiency, short time for the development of the program, the program design, and the student’s social factors.
There are many reasons and needs to learn a second language such as English; some of them are the bilingual personnel that the Job market, business and productive sectors demand. To cover those needs. Costa Rican government has established English teaching in private and public institutions.
The authorities of the Department of Education, different businesses and the press have expressed concern because of the poor English fluency that students of secondary schools have after graduating. Umaña (2005), a journalist of “Al Día” newspaper, States: “English is increasingly necessary to opt for a position of work and it is a great worry in the country because people have very limited preparation to meet the demands of this language.” (p.13)
Besides the imposed needs by the companies and Jobs, other factors exist which contribute to different personal development of individuals periods; above all, in the social, intellectual, emotional, and psychological aspects. It is important to emphasize that the purpose of the different English programs is not to teach a foreign tongue, it is to teach people to be able to communicate with it. (Cabrera, 2006).
In our country, Educational System has advanced by the introduction of the Conversational English Courses in High Schools, yet, there is a need for improving.
Learning a second language, in our case English, requires of a process followed by steps that influence drastically the development of the students academically. In the last years, and in an overall way, it is clearly perceived the evidence that the graduating students have suffered the consequences of a poor efficiency level of oral communication in English received during their years in High School.
Due to these effects, it is imperative to determine and analyze the relationship among the different factors that influence and provoke whether a positive or negative result in the students oral performance.
This case of study focuses on the investigation of the relationship among the main internal elements that influence the process the learning English for Oral communication according to the current profile proposed by the M.E.P. in the 11th graders.
Communication is many ways “transferring information” (Wikipedia.org). Our educational system places more emphasis in other areas of writing and reading. These two skills are important and part of a whole spectrum, however, there must by a greater emphasis and reinforcement on the listening as the input and oral communication as the output.
The students that represent the case of study, are teenagers who have being exposed through out all the years to the Educational System. These students carry 10 years of studying English, and still unable to communicate orally in an efficient way.
In addition to this, the profile proposed by the M.E.P. within the Communicative Framework attempts that all graduating students reach a certain level of oral communication which sufficient enough will give the future labour sector, the tools to find well remunerated jobs in a competitive world in which the use of a foreign language is mandatory as in the case of English. Yet, the intention of fulfilling the expectations need to be analyzed in order to find better methods and techniques in the process of learning English for oral communication.
There is not doubt that the accurate development of the process of learning English through the Conversational English arises as way of given students a new opportunity to develop oral skills that will result into a successful tool for the future. It becomes of primary importance that students fulfill a series of standards imposed by a continuous changing and demanding society in which having a backup of a second language represents a key for progress in all aspects.
While many discussions about learning a second language focus on teaching methodologies, little emphasis is given to the internal factors that influence the process such as the role of the teacher, students social factors, and the appropriate use of the curricula of the system.
Therefore, this research considers that the study of the internal elements that affect the learning process comes to contribute with the improvement of the pedagogical practice.
State the Problem
Based on the premonition that the process of learning oral communication is influenced by a series of factors, it is imperative to identify and determine the main questioning as follow:
Which Basic Internal Elements Influence the Process of Learning English in a Conversational Course for Oral Communication based on the Profile Proposed by the MEP in the 11th graders of the Liceo Diurno de Esparza in Puntarenas?
The basic internal elements in the process for learning English in a conversational course for oral communication to be considered the main influence for the 11th graders are:
- The role of the teacher as a facilitator
- The students as the social center of the class
- The appropriate use of the communicative approach proposed by the MEP.
- The effect of the internal factors in the English Conversational Class at the Liceo Diurno de Esparza.
Investigate how the role of the teacher as a facilitator, the students as the social center of the class and the appropriate use the communicative approach proposed by the MEP, influence the performance of the students during the process of learning English for oral communication.
- Analyze the students as the social center of the class through the process of learning English for oral communication.
- Demonstrate the role of the teacher as facilitator in the process of teaching specifically listening and speaking.
- Relate the appropriate use of the communicate approach as part of students´ achievement of the profile proposed by the MEP.
- Determine the internal factors effect on the 11th graders’ oral performance in the English Conversational Class at the Liceo Diurno de Esparza.
Scope and Limitations
As the major scope of this study, there is the attempt of making a relationship between the internal elements that affect the process for oral communication in the 11th graders. The achievements of this research are:
- This is centered on the Liceo Diurno de Esparza; therefore, its results to other high schools or institutions of the country cannot be generalized.
- The expectation for this case of study is to find and prove the effect whether negatively or positively that the role of the teacher as facilitator, the student as a center of the class and the communicative approach working together will launch.
- The main objective is to compile data that launches important facts about the main elements influencing the process of learning oral communication in the last year of Public High School.
The study may be of interest for all English teachers around the country as a diagnose about the importance of teaching a second language using the Curricula (CLT) imposed by the MEP and under the stipulations of the Public Ministry of Education as well as any
individual interested in having a view on the basic elements that influence the process of leaning oral communication.
In the same way, the study may be a starting point for investigation that in the attempt to look for further information may use this case as the based for their investigation.
Finally, in regards of the limitations that may be presented in the investigation are:
- It is imperative to mention that the Communicative Language Teaching used by Public Education in Costa Rica involves all four skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) as a whole spectrum in an integrated way; however, this study focuses only in Oral communication, in other words, in the speaking including the listening skill as the input.
- The little existence of investigations and studies that can serve of guide for the present investigation.
- The little existence of theoretical sources about the social factors and its influence on learning English for oral communication.
- The lack of confidence that the teacher and students can offer about the development of the program in its institutions.
- The validity or truth of the answers that the students offer in the different instruments.
Role of the Teacher as a Facilitator within a humanist and constructivist point of view
Today, teachers have to face the incorporation of new principles taken from educational psychology, such as humanism and constructivism. New beliefs, values and assumptions of the teacher about teaching encouraged the emergence of the view of the teacher as a facilitator rather than a transmitter of knowledge (Brown, 2001, 1991; Cook, 2003, 1991; Grasha 1996; Richards & Lockhart 1994). According to Grasha (1996), a facilitator is a supporter, a guide, and feedback provider; a facilitator is a monitor and observer of students’ progress and an aide while learners are building and appropriating their knowledge.
Grasha’s (1996) description of a facilitator certainly reflects the influence of the humanistic view of education in which the learner is seen as a whole person, not just as a cognitive being whose thoughts, feelings and emotions should be considered by the teacher who makes learning meaningful and engaging (William & Burden, 1997). In fact, according to these authors, making learning meaningful and engaging requires a facilitator who can:
..create a sense of belonging, make the subject relevant to the learner, involve the whole person, encourage knowledge of self, minimize criticism, encourage creativity, develop knowledge of the process of learning, encourage self-initiation, allow for choice , and encourage self-evaluation. (p.38)
Furthermore, the description of Grasha (1996) of the facilitator also reflects the principles of constructivism which integrates two branches, the cognitive and social (Brown, 2007, p.12) on learners. Several authors (Mitchell &Myles, 1998; Williams & Burden, 1997) describe a constructivist teacher as a mediator who encourages students to discover principles by themselves, engages in collaborative dialog with their students to help them connect their prior knowledge with the new knowledge being acquired and presents information in a format appropriate to the learner’s level of understanding.
The humanistic and constructivist influence on the teaching-learning process of second languages is clear. In fact, in order for Communicative Language Teaching to reach its objectives, it requires of a teacher who perform a wide range of roles. According to Gebhard (1996, p.55), “teaching is multifaceted, and much of the complexity involves how to assume roles that capitalize on our abilities in English while we at the same time take on roles that contribute to creating interaction in the classroom that is meaningful for both teachers and students,” as promoted by constructivism. This explains why several authors agree that teachers perform different roles in the teaching-learning process according to the lesson stage (Harmer, 1991; Nunan &Lamb, 1996, Richards & Rodgers, 2001).
Consequently, the teacher will be a controller when the group must be attentive to the topic being discussed at the moment; an adviser (when the teacher corrects or gives feedback to the students); organizer (when the teacher gives instructions or keeps the students working so the lesson goes on smoothly); encourager (when the teacher needs to encourage students to participate); participant (when the teacher participates in the class activities and respects the ideas, thoughts, and opinions given by students); resource (when the teacher provides information and assists students); tutor (when he/she helps to clarify ideas); researcher (when he/she observes and does some research on the teaching-learning procedures in the classroom), and facilitator (when the teacher creates a pleasant atmosphere for language learning). At first, it might seem that these roles are not consistent with the description of the facilitator, it should be remembered that the facilitator would adapt its teaching to suit the learner’s needs (Gebhard, 1996; Mitcherll& Myles, 1997).
On the other hand, the humanistic influence on today’s teachers is further noticed in what Underhill (as cited in Arnorld, 1999) calls the holistic nature of facilitation. According to this author, every personal feature “feelings, attitudes, thoughts, physical, presence, movements, quality of attention, degree of openness and so on” (p132) of the instructor can influence the learning environment in which the learners are involved in every lesson. This holistic nature of facilitation also enhances the sensitiveness of teachers toward student’s reactions to class activities.
In this sense, (O’Hara, 2003, as cite in Brown, 2007), focuses on the process of learning- teaching as a “transformative pedagogy”. He states that the goal of education is the facilitation of change and learning, where the teacher lowers to the level of student.
Moreover, Rodgers (as cited in Brown, 2007) supports this idea by stating that the chance is established by the interpersonal relationships among facilitator and learners. According to this author, for the teacher to be facilitators, fist they must be real and genuine, discarding masks of superiority and omniscience; second have genuine trust, acceptance, and a prizing of the other person as a worthy, valuable individual and third need to communicate openly and empathetically with their students and vice versa.
Teachers are challenged in fulfilling the wide range of roles somehow to be balanced in order to create harmony, positive atmosphere and guidance for the students. Yet, in order to be facilitative teachers, Krishnamurty (2001) points out they have to be
enthusiastic participants in the classroom
..who facilitate personal growth in students, are unique, extraordinary, worthy of the dedication…It [Facilitation] requires a self assurance, a willingness to share self, to care, to begin a journey, then launch the student on a personal quest… when we find the teacher who is facilitator, we find a classroom where personal growth is flourishing. (p.1)
Satir (2001) says that the facilitator promotes effective listening, genuine understanding, respect, and teacher-students-students effective communication in the classroom.
Moreover, an effective facilitator makes as many inquiries as possible in order to detect the strengths and weaknesses of students. Grasha (1996) points out that a facilitator is an instructor who guides the students by asking questions, seeking alternatives, and pushing them to have independent criteria. For him, one of the main goals of a facilitator is to encourage the students’ autonomy.
Authors such as (Harmer, 1991; Richards & Rodgers, 2001; Underhill, 1999) discuss different traits that an effective facilitator shares. They state that the facilitator keep a low profile so that students can come up with their own ideas about the learning situation. Teachers must not intervene when the students are having communicative activity but must always be ready to help students as necessary.
The facilitator does not only understand the subject matter and has the ability to use methods and techniques; the effective facilitator also studies and pays attention to the psychological environment and the learning processes in order to let students take responsibility for their own learning.
Importance of Students as the Center of the Social Factor
As part of a society, community, school community and consequently of a classroom, the student has an active performance. It is at the core of every day class, thus, of the teaching-learning process.
For many years, traditional education has viewed teacher as authority figures Oxford (1990.p10), thus, the center of the class. In these classrooms, the students are objects rather than the subjects. In our country, it is very likely to occur that students have magisterial class even thought our educational system is based on the Communicative Language Approach since many years ago already and consequently, on student-centered classroom.
The interaction and exchange of information in language learning of the students is affected by variant social factors. Indeed, students are part of this “social community” in which students are social beings that communicate in many different ways, are as well a social factor that influence the process of teaching-learning at the internal.
The responsibility for learning and progressing is characteristic of the students:
“Learners must individually discover and transform complex information if they are to make their own, [suggesting] a more active role for students in their own learning than is typical in many classroom” (Slavin, 2003, pp.257-258, as cited in Brow, 2007, p.12)
Students must control the way they manage themselves within the teaching-learning process, the teacher is just a guide and facilitator (Brown, 2007) who gives them the tools, but it is up to them what the results would be. The whole process focuses on the communicative competence of the students who are at the center of the classroom and the real protagonists.
Understanding Fundamental Principles on Learners
For understanding the role of students and their development within the process of language learning, Brown (2001.p.54), reflects three fundamental principles for understanding practices for the student to develop a communicative language process.
Brown demonstrates by three main principles, the conceptions to be considered:
- Cognitive Principles
- Affective Principles
- Linguistic Principles
According to Brown (2001.p.55) “cognitive” is related to mental and intellectual functions. In other words, it refers to what is inner the students’ mind that influences their development within the teaching-learning process.
This principle relates to the learning of the language subconsciously, in other words, students exposed to language input that later have the opportunity to experience output, will learn the language “without” thinking about it, as in an automatic way.
In order for students to accomplish this principle it is important that they experience (Brown2001):
- Subconscious absorption of language through meaningful use
- Efficient and rapid movement away from a focus on the forms of language to a focus on the purposes, to which language is put,
- Efficient and rapid movement away from a capacity-limited control a few bits and pieces to a relatively unlimited automatic mode of processing language forms, and
- Resistance to the temptation to analyze language forms
Yet, the principle of automaticity is stated as follow:
“Efficient second language learning involves a timely movement of the control of a few language forms into the automatic processing of a relatively unlimited number of language forms. Overanalyzing language, thinking too much about its forms, and consciously lingering on rules of language all tent to impede this graduation to automaticity.” (Brown, 2001 p.56)
In order for students to built automaticity more efficiently, students should use language in authentic contexts for meaningful purposes. Moreover, students must be aimed at employing functional purposes (Brown, 2001) for gaining more language competence.
This principle is closely related to the principle of automaticity. Brown enhances the strength of meaningful learning opposed to rote learning- taking isolated bits and pieces of information that are not connected with one’s existing cognitive structures(Ausubel 1963, as cited in Brown,2001). On the other hand, meaningful learning (Brown, 2001) incorporates new information into existing structures and memory systems.
The fact that students associate sounds, words, structures and discourse elements with what is relevant and important in their every day life use for knowledge or survival is more likely to (Brown, 2001) lead toward better long-term retention.
Then, this principle emphasis on students to:
- Capitalize on the power of meaningful leaning by appealing to students’ interests, academic goals and career goals.
- When a new topic or concept is introduced, attempt to anchor it in students’ existing knowledge and background to associate with something already known, also referred as schemata activation
On the other hand, students should avoid rote learning:
- Too much grammar explanation, abstract principles and theories, drilling and memorization.
- Activities whose purposes are not clear
- Activities that do not contribute to the accomplish of the goals of the lesson, unit or course
- Mechanical techniques, instead, the use of language and meanings.
The Anticipation Reward
Skinner (as cited in Brown, 2001p 58) states that:
Human beings are universally driven to act, or “behave” by the anticipation of some sort of reward -tangible or intangible, short term or long term-that will ensue as result of behaviour.
It is understood that people are somehow inspired and moved by a goal or purpose and according to this author; the anticipation of reward is the most powerful factor in directing one’s behaviour.
Within the classroom application and more specifically with the students, it is important that they receive for example rewards for having a good performance that indicate their success. At the same, Brown (2001) agrees that it helps students to see… that what students are doing has relevance to their long- term goals in learning English.
Yet, it has to be clear stated that this practices must be regulated in order not to create (Brown,2001) dependence over the rewards…to look only over rewards and the development of own internal…system of rewards by the students’ side.
Instead, students have to be aimed to receive according to Brown’s constructive classroom implications:
- An optimal degree of immediate verbal praise and encouragement.
- Reward each other [students] with compliments and supportive action
- Short-tem reminders of pro
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