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Strategies for Effective Learning in the TESL Classroom

Info: 5500 words (22 pages) Dissertation
Published: 12th Dec 2019

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Tagged: TeachingLearningEnglish as a Foreign Language

CHAPTER ONE:                                          INTRODUCTION

In Malaysian classroom, a teacher had a solid control in the classroom, the interaction pattern where the teacher selects a student to answer her questions is observed by Samuel (1982) in his study in a Malaysian school. This pattern occurred particularly when the teacher employed the questioning strategy during the course of teaching. After answering the teacher’s question, the student “gave the turn back to the teacher” (Samuel, 1982, p. 129). Hence if the teacher chooses this pattern of interaction, participation of students will be highly controlled by him or her.

When having teachers in monologic interaction, the class instructional practices will be on structured, discipline but it kills the desire to learn from the child instinct and at the same time does not arouse the critical and the creativity of a child. And this is totally different from the knowledge of the policy because in Malaysia Education Policy, it is stated that a teacher’s jobs is to nurture the child’s critical and creative thinking. When a lesson that is supposed to practice on communicative language teaching ends with the teacher instructing and being authoritative in the class, it kills the desire to learn.

In his findings, Ruzlan (2007) further found that all the questions posed by the teachers were the closed-ended in nature, where the children were anticipated to arrive at certain answers expected by the teachers only.

At the same time, it was found that the majority of questions set by EFL and Science as content taught in English classes were low level and factual, and not designed to encourage critical thinking on the part of learners. Again, there was a mismatch between what is stipulated by the national curriculum and how teachers actually teach in terms of posing questions. While national policy stipulates helping learners become critical thinkers, teachers seems concern with others, short term goal. For instance teachers’ belief about their students’ academic needs and what they should do is tailoring their questions to align with examination purposes at a low level factual category (Habsah Hussin, 2006).

It is proven that the practice of the policy is more on finishing the structured syllabus prepared by the school curriculum division rather than full filling the philosophy of education that is in building the students with the efforts towards further developing the potential of individuals in a holistic and integrated manner, so as to produce individuals who are intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically balanced and harmonic, based on a firm belief in and devotion to God. Such an effort is designed to produce Malaysian citizens who are knowledgeable and competent, who possess high moral standards and who are responsible and capable of achieving high level of personal well-being as well as being able to contribute to the harmony and betterment of the family, the society and the nation at large.

With this issues, enlighten the researcher to explore the basic of the education teacher training. What has been practiced in schools reflects on the training of the teacher in teacher training institution. Is it the system or the implementation of it that caused the mismatched in the instructional practices? What is supposed to be done? What has been practiced in the teaching institution? The approaches practiced on the trainees. Does the trainee’s ability to pose questions and interact with the students from the pedagogical aspects and methodological approach being prompt and develop? Do the trainers play their role as the facilitator and the mediator of the knowledge in ensuring the blooming of the beginner teachers?

The trainers have to play their important role well in shaping the student teacher in becoming an excellent teacher. They should model the trainees in the instructional practices in college. Being the expertise, the trainers should be well prepared with various approaches in exploring the student teacher ability in learning the English language in order to become a capable and competent English teacher.

1.1 Purpose Of the Study

The purpose of this study is to investigate the trainers in implementing their instructional practice in order to help the trainees to become effective second language teacher. As an ESL teacher and a second language learner, the researcher believes that interaction is the key to second language learning. Second language learners need comprehensible input, need to be in situations that provide maximum personal involvement in the communication and need opportunities to use the target language in social interactions. The learning of a language centres on the use of the language for communicative purposes. Alexander (2004) suggests that the basic repertoire of classroom talk is unlikely to offer the types of cognitive challenge required to extend students’ thinking. In contrast, he characterizes an approach he describes as dialogic teaching which is collective, reciprocal, supportive, cumulative and purposeful. However, these types of talk are less frequently encountered in classrooms (Mroz et al., 2000).

Dialogic pedagogies aim for classroom interactions that involve more than superficial participation. They are exemplified by the teacher’s uptake of student ideas, authentic questions and the opportunity for students to change or modify the course of instruction (Nystrand et al., 2003). Teachers relinquish some measure of control of the trajectory of the lesson as pupils are offered a degree of collaborative influence over the co-construction of knowledge.

1.2 Importance of the study

This study is important in four ways. First, as an eye opening to the concept of dialogic approach in the training institution and it is focusing on the classroom interaction between the trainees and the trainer in the class from the socio-cultural theory approach.

Second, it gives a holistic view on what is happening in the class and what could be done to help the trainees to become competent user of the English Language learner.

Third, it will trigger the needs for the trainers to have a series of cascade training organized by the Teacher Education Division, Malaysia in order to share, improve their approaches in class and vary their instructional teaching before they start teaching the trainees.

Fourth, it will establish the culture of sharing and collaboration among the lecturers in the training institute. It requires the teachers to work collaboratively, to open their classroom for observation, critical reviews and discussion with peers.

Lastly, it is focusing on the professional development of the trainers in providing the best approaches in exploring the best approach and varies their pedagogical approach in a second language learning class.

1.3              Research Questions.

1. To what extent do lecturers interact with students to develop their participation in classroom discourse?

2. How are the lecturers developing the English Language competency and critical thinking skills of students through the interaction in class?

3. How do lecturers evaluate their instructional teaching practices?

4. What impact has the Communicative Language Teaching had on the teaching practices to promote a dialogic pedagogy?

5. How useful is a dialogic approach to staff professional development?

1.4       Objectives of the study were as follows;

1. To measure the ways lecturers interact with the students to develop their participation in class. 

2. To identify how lecturers develop English Language competency and critical thinking skills through the interaction in class.

3. To explore the lecturers’ instructional practices in second language learning class.

4. To explore the impact of the communicative language teaching policy on language learning in teacher training institutions.

5. To explore the usefulness of a dialogic approach to staff development in teacher training institutions.

1.5. Methodology

Research design

The focus of the study is to look at the quality of classroom interaction between the lecturer and the trainees. The literature has offered a wide array of descriptions and definitions of the case study, for example: ‘a case study is an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context ‘in which multiple sources of evidence are used’ (Yin, 1984:23), ”the qualitative case study can be defined as an intensive, holistic description and analysis of a single entity, phenomenon, or social unit’ (Merriam, 1988:16).

Different from other research studies which aim for generalizable findings, case studies aim for ‘an understanding of the particular case, in its idiosyncrasy, in its complexity’ (Stake, 1988:256).

The case study aligns with my research objectives. It is focused on the two TESL lecturers, the researcher and their respective classes. The study is the interactive instructional practices of the two teachers, the researcher and their students. In order to provide a detailed and in-depth analytical description of the interactive features of the two cases, the researcher have to be into the research site and collected data from multiple sources in a naturalistic setting, namely, in a setting where teacher-student interaction occurs as it actually is.

The main purpose of the study was not to attempt to generalize the conclusions to a larger population but to gain a thorough and in-depth understanding of the topic at issue. At the same time a combination of sociolinguistic and ethnographic perspectives has been taken to approach the above research questions.  Data was collected using a range of techniques: interviewing, classroom observation, audio- and video-taping, oral report and stimulated reflection.

The sample for the researcher came from the teacher training institution that is situated in Ipoh, between the Bachelor of Education Twinning program UK-MOEM (Ministry Of Education, Malaysia) and the English Language lecturers.

Many teachers, even experienced ones, are not always aware of the nature of their interactions with individual students. Consequently, one of the most important purposes of systematic classroom observation is to improve teachers’ classroom instruction. Feedback from individual classroom profiles derived from systematic observations has been found to help teachers understand their own strengths and weaknesses, and have consequently enabled them to significantly improve their instruction.

Through feedback, teachers can become aware of how their classroom functions and thus bring about changes they desire. This process typically involves having trained observers systematically observe teachers and their students in their classrooms and later providing teachers with information about their instruction in clinical sessions. This approach is based on the assumption that teachers value accurate information that they can use to improve their instruction.

CHAPTER TWO                                          LITERATURE REVIEW.

This chapter will be reviewed the discussion on the theoretical ground on second language acquisition, the approach in the classroom, the student teacher interaction and the instructional pattern of communication being implemented in the classroom.

2.1              Socio-cultural theory


Vygotsky (1896-1934) is one of the Russian psychologists whose ideas have influenced the field of educational psychology and the field of education as whole. He argues for the uniqueness of the social milieu and regards sociocultural settings as the primary and determining factor in the development of higher forms of human mental activity such as voluntary attention, intentional memory, logical thought, planning, and problem solving.

According to Vygotsky (1978 cited Lantolf 2000), the socio-cultural environment presents the child with a variety of tasks and demands, and engages the child in his world through the tools. In the early stages, Vygotsky claims that the child is completely dependent on other people, usually the parents, who initiate the child’s actions by instructing him/her as to what to do, how to do it, as well as what not to do. Parents, as representatives of the culture and the conduit through which the culture passes into the child, actualise these instructions primarily through language. On the question of how do children then appropriate these cultural and social heritages, Vygotsky (1978 cited Wertsch 1985) states that the child acquires knowledge through contacts and interactions with people as the first step (inter-psychological plane), then later assimilates and internalises this knowledge adding his personal value to it (intra-psychological plane).

This transition from social to personal property according to Vygotsky is not a mere copy, but a transformation of what had been learnt through interaction, into personal values. Vygotsky claims that this is what also happens in schools. Students do not merely copy teachers capabilities; rather they transform what teachers offer them during the processes of appropriation.

Lantolf et al. (1994) indicate that the latter understanding of consciousness in the field of teaching is embodied in the concept of meta-cognition, which, according to him, incorporates functions such as planning, voluntary attention, logical memory, problem solving and evaluation.

Williams and Burden (1997) claim that socio-cultural theory advocates that education should be concerned ‘not just with theories of instruction, but with learning to learn, developing skills and strategies to continue to learn, with making learning experiences meaningful and relevant to the individual, with developing and growing as a whole person’. They claim that the theory asserts that education can never be value-free; it must be underpinned by a set of beliefs about the kind of society that is being constructed and the kinds of explicit and implicit messages that will best convey those beliefs. These beliefs should be manifest also in the ways in which teachers interact with students.

Socio-cultural theory has a holistic view about the act of learning. Williams & Burden (1997) claim that the theory opposes the idea of the discrete teaching of skills and argues that meaning should constitute the central aspects of any unit of study. Any unit of study should be presented in all its complexity rather than skills and knowledge presented in isolation. The theory emphasizes the importance of what the learner brings to any learning situation as an active meaning-maker and problem-solver. It acknowledges the dynamic nature of the interplay between teachers, learners and tasks and provides a view of learning as arising from interactions with others.

According to Ellis (2000), socio-cultural theory assumes that learning arises not through interaction but in interaction. Learners first succeed in performing a new task with the help of another person and then internalise this task so that they can perform it on their own. In this way, social interaction is advocated to mediate learning. According to Ellis, the theory goes further to say interactions that successfully mediate learning are those in which the learners scaffold the new tasks. However, one of the most important contributions of the theory is the distinction Vygotsky made between the child’s actual and potential levels of development or what he calls Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

Lantolf (2002), Wertsch (1985) and Shayer (2002) claim that Vygotsky’s introduction of the notion of the ZPD was due to his dissatisfaction with two practical issues in educational psychology: the first is the assessment of a child’s intellectual abilities and the second is the evaluation of the instructional practices. With respect to the first issue, Vygotsky believes that the established techniques of testing only determine the actual level of development, but do not measure the potential ability of the child. In his view, psychology should address the issue of predicting a child’s future growth, ‘what he/she not yet is’. Because of the value Vygotsky attached to the importance of predicting a child’s future capabilities, he formulated the concept of ZPD which he defines as ‘the distance between a child’s actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving, and the higher level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers‘ Wertsch (1985, P. 60). According to him, ZPD helps in determining a child’s mental functions that have not yet matured but are in the process of maturation, functions that are currently in an embryonic state, but will mature tomorrow. Moreover, he claims that the study of ZPD is also important, because it is the dynamic region of sensitivity in which the transition from inter-psychological to intra-psychological functioning takes place.

Shayer (2002) claims that a crucial feature of learning according to Vygotsky is that it creates a ZPD, that is to say, learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers. Once these processes are internalised, they become part of the child’s independent developmental achievement. Vygotsky advocates that ZPD is not the role of instruction alone, but developmental (biological) factors do have a role to play. It is jointly determined by the child’s level of development and the form of instruction involved. According to him, instruction and development do not directly coincide, but represent two processes that exist in a very complex interrelationship. He argues that the child can operate ‘only within certain limits that are strictly fixed by the state of the child’s development and intellectual possibilities’.


As in Feuertein’s theory (Williams and Burden 1997), mediation is central to Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory. Mediation according to Vygotsky refers to the part played by other significant people in the learners’ lives, people who enhance their learning by selecting and shaping the learning experiences presented to them. Vygotsky (1978 cited Wertsch 1985) claims that the secret of effective learning lies in the nature of the social interaction between two or more people with different levels of skills and knowledge. This involves helping the learner to move into and through the next layer of knowledge or understanding. Vygotsky also regard tools as mediators and one of the important tools is language. The use of language to help learners move into and through their ZPD is of great significance to socio-cultural theory.

Kozulin et al. (1995) claim that Vygotsky considers the learning process as not a solitary exploration of the environment by the child on his own, but as a process of the child’s appropriation of the methods of actions that exist in a given culture. In the process of appropriation, symbolic tools or artefacts play a crucial role. Kozulin (2002) categorises mediators into two categories: human and symbolic. According to him, human mediation usually tries to answer the question concerning what kind of involvement on the part of the adult is effective in enhancing the child’s performance; while symbolic mediation deals with what changes in the child’s performance can be brought about by the introduction of the child to symbolic tools-mediators.


According to Donato (1994) scaffolding is a concept that derives from cognitive psychology and L1 research. It states that in a social interaction, a knowledgeable participant can create by means of speech and supportive conditions in which the student (novice) can participate in and extend current skills and knowledge to a high level of competence. In an educational context, however, scaffolding is an instructional structure whereby the teacher models the desired learning strategy or task then gradually shifts responsibility to the students. According to McKenzie, (1999) scaffolding provides the following advantages:

a) It provides clear directions for students

b) It clarifies purpose of the task

c) It keeps students on task

d) It offers assessment to clarify expectations

e) It points students to worthy sources

f) It reduces uncertainty, surprise and disappointment

g) It delivers efficiency

h) It creates momentum

According to Rogoff (1990 in Donato, 1994), scaffolding implies the expert’s active stance towards continual revisions of the scaffolding in response to the emerging capabilities of the learner, and a learner’s error or limited capabilities can be a signal for the adult to upgrade the scaffolding. As the learner begins to take on more responsibility for the task, the adult dismantles the scaffold indicating that the child has benefited from the assisted performance and internalised the problem-solving processes provided by the previous scaffold episode. Wertsch (1979a cited Donato 1994) claims that scaffold performance is a dialogically constituted inter-psychological mechanism that promotes the learner’s internalisation of knowledge co-constructed in shared activity. Donato (1994) advocates that in an L2 classroom, collaborative work among language learners provides the same opportunity for scaffold help as in expert-novice relationships in the everyday setting. Van Lier (1988 cited Donato 1994) states that L2 teaching methodology can benefit from a study of L1 scaffolding to understand how classroom activities already tacitly employ such tactics. The study of scaffolding in L2 research according to Donato has focused exclusively on how language teachers provide guided assistance to learners.

2.2              Classroom interaction in socio-cultural theory

A socio-cultural theory was pioneered by Vgotsky (1978) and the core of the theory is the proposition that cognitive development originates in social interaction. Vgotsky (1981) formulated the trajectory of cognitive development as from the inter-psychological plane to the intra-psychological plane by saying:

Any function in the child’s cultural development appears twice, or in two planes: first, it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological plane; first it appears between people as an inter-psychological category, and then within the child as an intra-psychological category. This is equally true with regard to voluntary attention, logical memory and the formation of concepts and the development of volition (p.163).

In other words, learning first takes place between a child and an expert (e.g. the child’s parent) when they engage in joint under-taking. The expert assists the young child to appropriate his greater knowledge or skills in relation to the task at hand and gradually hands over the task to the young child. The child internalizes what he gained and transformed it into his own resources that can be used for individual thinking and problem solving. It is mainly mediated by means of talk.

2.3.               Classroom interactions

Constructivism Related to Questioning and Conversation

Constructivism plays a key role in effective classroom conversations and differs from classrooms filled with traditional conversations. Schulte (1996) argued that ‘Constructivist teachers must observe the students’ actions and listen to their views without making judgments or trying to correct answers‘ (p. 27). This differs from the traditional classroom where students are passive learners and wait for the teacher to give correct answers (Schulte, 1996). In contrast, constructivist classroom teachers must listen to students and help make connections between what they are thinking and what others are thinking during the same experience (Duckworth, 2006).

Teachers must also make connections for learners between the learner’s understandings and the teacher’s understandings (Duckworth, 2006). Instead of giving lectures and expecting students to regurgitate what has been lectured, teachers must show students how to listen to others and question ideas when they are unknown (Duckworth, 2006). Teachers must make their actions known to students by using explicit language, modelling the thinking process, and allowing students to think aloud about new ideas (Bodrova & Leong, 1996). Lambert, etal. (2002) supported the idea of sharing thoughts and ideas by stating, ‘In a constructivist conversation, each individual comes to understand the purpose of talk, since the relationship is one of reciprocity‘ (p. 65). Constructivist teaching allows students to actively participate in their learning versus the traditional idea of passively receiving information. It allows teachers and students to synthesize their knowledge in order to create new meanings.

Classroom discourse based on a constructivist’s view of learning involves student participation. This was explained by Hartman (1996) when stated, ‘As seen through Vygotsky’s views, classroom discourse is socially meaningful activity because it creates a situation in which all students can and are encouraged to participate not only by the teacher, but by the other students as well‘ (p. 99). Students are encouraged to share their ideas with others to help clarify their thoughts and make adjustments to their understandings (Schulte, 1996). Student participation means that teachers hand over control of classroom conversations and allow students to express their thinking aloud. This results in the student having the final word at times and helps the student create his or her own understanding instead of receiving the teacher’s understanding of ideas (Duckworth, 2006). When students are allowed to explain their thinking they must learn to be explicit and clear so others will understand them; that results in deeper understanding (Bodrova & Leong, 1996). Student participation during classroom discourse allows students to practice problem-solving and decision-making skills that will help improve their leadership ability as adults.

In Dantonio and Beisenherz’ (2001) book Learning to Question, Questioning to Learn, constructivist classroom discussions are referred to as instructional conversations. In an instructional conversation, a teacher is skilful in facilitating talk that promotes student thinking. Students require guided practice in order to respond in a manner that leads to a deeper understanding of subject matter. With guidance, students learn to enhance the quality of their thinking through the teacher’s effective use of questions. In line with Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, instructional conversations provide students with opportunities to do today with help what can be done independently tomorrow. Teachers and students work together to create new meanings and understandings through effective questioning and higher level learner responses.

Classroom discourse holds various meanings but definitions found in the literature hold a common ground: classroom discourse is talk between two or more persons that may or may not lead to a new understanding (Cazden, 2001; Mroz, Smith & Hardman, 2000). Two definitions of classroom discourse were given by Cazden (1998). She described discourse as conversations where participants are having the same talk. Discourse was also described as an understanding that occurs when participants take different positions in different talks at the same time. In their research findings, Edwards and Mercer (1987) described classroom discourse as the talk that occurs between two or more people that usually consists of a teacher and one or more students.

Additional researchers defined classroom discourse in their studies. Skidmore, Perez-Parent, and Arnfield (2003) proclaimed that classroom discourse contrasts to every day conversation because students must wait for their turn while patiently raising their hand. In everyday conversation people speak to one another at will to express their ideas and understandings.

Similarly, Townsend and Pace (2005) noted that classroom discourse that is directed by one person, usually the teacher, results in students repeating predetermined ideas or mere facts. It contrasts to classrooms where students are given opportunities to explore higher level questions and engage in meaning making activities (Townsend & Pace, 2005). Skidmore (1999) referred to traditional classroom discourse as, ”pedagogical dialogue,’ in which someone who knows the truth instructs someone who is in error, and which is characterised by a tendency towards the use of authoritative discourse on the part of the teacher’ (p. 17). All of these examples of classroom discourse vary from everyday conversations because students are subjected to waiting for a turn to give factual information. Researchers of classroom discourse refer to teacher dictated conversations as a traditional pattern of talk.

2.4              Research Studies on Classroom Interaction

Many studies on classroom interactions focused on teacher questions, learner responses, or the effect of questions on student achievement. Studies by Redfield and Rousseau (1981), Chin (2006), Wells and Arauz (2006), Boyd and Rubin (2006), Myhill and Dunkin (2005), and Schleppenbach, Perry, and Miller (2007) were reviewed, compared, and contrasted.

Redfield and Rousseau (1981) analyzed 20 studies on the effect of teacher questioning on student achievement. Redfield and Rousseau (1981) wanted to create a meta-analysis of data from the studies to determine the impact of program monitoring, experimental validity, and level of teacher questioning. All of the studies were experimental or quasi-experimental in nature. Quantitative tools were used to measure the effect size in each study. Redfield and Rousseau (1981) completed their research by stating, ‘Hence, it may be concluded that small-scale studies of teacher questioning behaviour have allowed for greater experimental control than large-scale studies’ (p. 242).It was found that teachers that predominately used higher cognitive questions had a positive effect on student achievement, and teachers that were trained in effective questions and used higher cognitive questions greatly affected their students’ achievement.

Chin (2006) conducted a study focused on teacher questions and feedback to learner responses during science lessons. She wanted to analyze the type of talk that occurs during science lessons, find out how teachers use questioning to engage students, and identify the various types of feedback teachers give to learners during an initiation response-feedback exchange of talk. Chin (2006) gathered data from two science classrooms in Singapore during 14 lessons. To explain the data analysis, Chin (2006) explained, ‘A ‘questioning-based discourse’ analytical framework was developed for the description and analysis of classroom discourse in science, with a focus on questioning based practices’ (p. 1334). It was found that when the teacher provided feedback in the form of subsequent questions that built upon a student’s response, acknowledgement of a student’s response, or a restatement of a student’s response, students responded at a level beyond recall. Chin (2006) concluded that ‘Students can be stretched mentally throu

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