Aiding Students Comprehension Of English Subject Education Essay

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As was reported in Malaysian local newspaper, 29.2% of the 120,000 college graduates scored Bands One and Two in the Malaysian University English Test (MUET), which identifies them as "Extremely Limited User" and "Limited User" respectively. Considering Malaysia is one of the developing countries which claim to use English as its second language, it is very disappointing to have individuals who are at the tertiary level of education but cannot even construct a grammatically correct sentence. They are not up to par with their peers in other nations. Indeed, this issue has induced huge concerns among Malaysians, as to why these students cannot use English effectively.

Based on random interviews and observations, most of them admitted that they had not mastered the basics of the language. Since the basics are learned during the early schooling years, it is presumed that students who are unable to achieve decent grades in their English exams at the tertiary level had probably received a poor foundation in the language, which would then cause the aforementioned students to face difficulties in the subject in later years.

In Malaysian primary schools, students are prepared with the foundations of academic based subjects together with Malay and English. Since learning is a continuous process, it is crucial for the teachers to be equipped with effective teaching methods so that students; especially those in primary level of education will be well versed in the subject's basics to avoid further misunderstanding of the subject in their future years. In fact, the school's planning of English language-related programs in particular, must be well-organized to strengthen the student's level of understanding, and be realistic and practical, in order to complement the students' learning capabilities.

Purpose of the study

The main idea of this study is to analyze the efficiency of English-related programs administered by the primary school in aiding students' comprehension of English subject. This study is conducted in a chosen primary school and primarily done due to the researcher's personal concern regarding the disappointing level of English proficiency among Malaysian students which indirectly affects their verbal capability in this language. Therefore, the research question is 'To what extent do the English language-related programs conducted by the school help in promoting good comprehensive and interpersonal skills among primary school students in Sekolah Kebangsaan Assam Jawa, Selangor, Malaysia?'

Description of the study

In this study, the primary student's level of understanding in English, both in writing and oral will be tested and the outcomes will be used to determine the effectiveness of the English programs carried out by the school. If the students' levels of English proficiency both in writing and oral are relatively good, the programs conducted are effective enough in promoting good comprehensive and interpersonal skills in English. However, if the results are the reverse, then the mechanism of the programs will be seen as unsuccessful and ineffective for the students. From there, the weaknesses of the programs will be analyzed and suggestions will be made on how to overcome the flaws to improve the implementation of the programs.

2.0 METHODOLOGY

2.1 Research Instrument

This study used three different types of research instruments: survey, interview and observation. For the survey, two sets of questions were prepared for the target group (respondents). The first set assessed the students' level of understanding of English. All questions were Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ). Three different sections were included:

Simple vocabulary

Grammar

Language applying skills

In the second set, questionnaires to determine the students' personal opinions on English programs conducted by the school were distributed. There were 25 questions overall, mostly closed ended with some open ended questions for the purpose of obtaining suggestions to improve the programs.

The second research instrument used was observation and this was carried out by the researcher herself, to identify the teaching methods used by the teachers, the learning tools provided by the school and the feedback from the respondents (students). The third research instrument is interview where 3 different parts are involved:

Students (respondents)

Teachers

2.2 Sample of population

This investigation was conducted in Sekolah Kebangsaan Assam Jawa, which is situated in Selangor, Malaysia. This primary school is in a rural area, and is populated with students of ages ranging from, 7 (Standard 1) to 12 years old (Standard 6). The Standard 5 group of students was selected to be the sample of the study because at their level of education, the teaching of the basics of English is considered as sufficient. In fact, they have covered most of the basic learning outcomes of English subject as recommended by the Malaysian Ministry of Education.

Specifically, 60 Standard 5 students; 20 students gathered from each of 3 different levels of English acquisition took part in the assessment of the study. The student's level is decided by their English teachers. The 3 levels are:

Good,

Moderate

Weak

2.3 Method of analyzing data

Quantitative data was presented statistically in histograms and pie charts while tables were used to show qualitative data. This was followed by some descriptions and explanations on the data presented.

3.0 DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS

3.1 The programs and their mechanisms

Listed below are the English programs conducted by the English department of the school throughout 2009:

Activity

Description

(i) English language station

Aim is to create interest in learning English among students.

Activity:

Installing English learning materials in some areas of the school.

Eg:

Charts.

(Body parts, grammar, nouns,etc)

Hanging flash cards on school's hallways.

Labeling on plants and other school properties. (Staircase, window, etc)

(ii) Extra classes

The main objective is to enhance the student's comprehension of the English subject (improve student's academic achievement specifically in English subject).

Conducted formally by English teachers.

Mostly involve doing exercises on given hand-outs followed by discussion between teachers and students on the subject matter.

(iii) Activity with PSS (school library)

The main objective is to broaden the students' range of English vocabulary and develop good writing skills among them.

Conducted informally by assigning students to go to the library and search for English reading materials to read.

(iv) Co-curricular activity

Primarily organized by the school's English club.

Members: A number of Standard 4-6

students.

Advisors: English teachers.

Activities:

Spelling competition

Watching movie (Madagascar 2)

Treasure Hunt

"Best Teacher's Day card design competition"

Workshop on "The techniques required in presenting a good public speaking and story-telling"

Storytelling and public speaking contest

"Essay writing competition" (in collaboration with the National day celebration)

Making sandwiches

(v) Monthly test/ exam

Main objective is to test the students' comprehension of English subject and determine their current level of understanding of the subject.

(vi) Labeling school's and classes' properties

Main objective is to promote the application of knowledge among students to their surrounding environment.

(vii) Patriotic day activities

These activities are carried out in collaboration with the Independence Day celebration (31st August 2009)

Coloring contest and quizzes

Word maze

Crossword puzzle

Cursive writing

Essay writing

(viii) 'EMS' activity

(English for Mathematics and

Science)

The main purpose is to enhance the student's comprehension of English language used in Maths and Science.

Activities includes:

Phase 1 Classroom Language-

Build and Construct Instructions, Reading Comprehension, Walk Your Talk

Phase 2

Communicative Skills-Conversations, Asking Questions, Requesting for Information, Information Transfer, Expressing Views, Expressing Ideas, Giving Opinions, Telling Tales.

Public Speaking- Introductions, Public Speaking, Debating, Making Excuses.

Instructional Language

Mathematics, Science

Table 3.1.3: Year planning of English programs by the

English department of SK Assam Jawa 2009

Other than that, the teaching methods done by the teachers during P&P sessions included:

Reference to text book.

Q&A sessions with students.

Going to the library

Occasionally using multimedia presentations.

Repetitions of important concepts.

Based on the programs conducted by the school (refer to Table 3.1.3), the frequency of stressing each English component in each program is rated according to the indicator below:

√ Rarely √√ Occasionally √√√ Frequently

Programs

Components

English language station

Extra classes

Activity with PSS

Co-curricular activity

Labeling school and classes

Patriotic day activities

EMS

Simple vocabulary

(mainly verbs)

√

√√

√√√

√√√

√√√

√

√√√

Nouns

√

√√

√

√√

√

√

√√

Comparative adjectives

√

√√

√

√√

-

√

√√

Prepositions

√

√√

√

√

√

√

√√

Adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, simple past participle

√

√√√

√

√√

-

√√

√

Language applying skills

√

√√

√√

√√√

√√

√√

√√√

Communicative skill

-

√√

-

√√√

√√

√√

√√√

Table 3.1.4: The frequency of stressing each of the above English components in each activity

3.2 Student's level of comprehension of English subject

Knowing that the students are constantly undergoing the programs listed in Table 3.1.3, they were given the first set of questionnaires to test their proficiency level in the respective English components. The grading scheme decided is shown in Table 3.2.1 (in appendix). Results are shown in the graph below:

Graph 3.2.2: Number of students at corresponding level of understanding in different components of English subject

Based on graph 3.2.2, it could be clearly seen that the students are relatively good in simple vocabulary as majority of them scored well in this part. Hence, students are able to understand the meaning of simple vocabulary which consist mainly of verbs as they manage to apply their knowledge on verbs appropriately in the right context (Refer to questionnaire attached).

However, most of the students are weak in grammar which includes adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, simple past participle, nouns, comparative adjectives and prepositions because less than 50% of them managed to score well in any of those components (in the good level category). The highest percentage of students scoring good level in sections involving grammar is approximately 33% - (under the component nouns). From this data, it could be said that most of the students have not fully understood the concepts present in English grammar and often get confused in answering questions relating to grammar. In addition, the noun section recorded the highest number of students answering correctly among all other sections involving grammars as this component is much simpler than the others.

As most of the students' performance in language applying section is good, (about 62% of them obtain good level), it could be said that the students understand the language based on their personal perception about the general meaning of the whole sentence. Hypothetically, the individual meaning of any familiar words present in the sentence is being used to draw the most logical explanation in understanding the meaning of the whole sentence.

3.3 Student's level of English communication skills

In order to evaluate the student's ability in speaking English, (communication skill), interviews had been conducted for 20 students with a minimum of 6 students from each of the three aforementioned level. The student's level of communication skill is rated as below:

Level

Description

Good communicator

Fluent speaker, minimal grammatical error in speech, able to respond to question and give opinion, appropriate use of certain terms and have wide range of vocabulary (at primary standard).

Average communicator

Moderate speaker, made some quite obvious grammatical errors in speech, able to understand the question and respond accordingly, average range of vocabulary.

Poor communicator

Poor/slow speaker, made lots of very obvious grammatical errors in speech, unable to understand the question given and distortion of ideas in giving opinion.

Table 3.3.1: Grading scheme for student's level of fluency in speaking English

Based on the interviews, determination of students' English fluency level is shown in the pie chart below:

Pie chart 3.3.2: Number of students at corresponding English fluency level

Based on the pie chart, it is known that most of the students are poor in speaking English (55%). Only a small number of them (15%) are fluent in the language while the rest (30%) are of average level. Therefore, although a student performs really well in English comprehension, he or she may not necessarily do so in oral. This is because, out of 6 students who are categorized in the good level (by the teachers), only 3 of them manage to speak fluently, whereas the rest are rated as average speakers. Some of the students who are at average level of English comprehension also did poorly in their oral. Besides that, some students do have satisfactory range of vocabulary but unable to speak well due to their low self-confidence.

3.4 From the students' perspectives

Data analysis for this part is done based on results obtained from the second set of questionnaires.

The questionnaire is divided into 7 different parts to simplify the process of data analysis and below is the graph for part one of the questionnaire.

(Question 1 to 4)

Graph 3.4.1: Students' opinions on the English programs and their point of view (Part 1)

Graph 3.4.1 shows about 65% students dislike the subject. 55% of them admit their tendency to lose focus while learning the subject in class. Only 20% of them are aware of the importance of learning it while 65% think that having a good foundation of English doesn't provide any benefit for them in pursuing their future career.

Graph 3.4.2: Students' opinions on the English programs and their point of view

(Part 2)

From the graph above, 75% of respondents agree that learning English in school teaches them lots of new vocabulary but only 23% of them admit to have used the newly learned vocabulary in writing essays. In addition, most of the students (75%) agree that they understand the lessons conducted by the teachers.

Graph 3.4.3: Students' opinions on the English programs and their point of view (Part 3)

The graphs for questions 8 to 11 illustrate the students' thoughts on the programs conducted. 65% disagree that the programs are interesting, while 70% admit to attending English programs conducted in school. However, only 25% feel that they enjoyed themselves during the programs. As expected, the majority of the students (60%) disagree that the programs conducted had really helped them in providing a better understanding of the subject.

Graph 3.4.4: Students' opinions on the English programs and their point of view (Part 4)

The poll for questions 12 and 13 show that 60% disagree that going to library is a fun activity and helps them improve their vocabulary. In fact, from the interviews done with the students, many of them said that they rarely read books in the library as they are easily bored by the activity. However, this statement usually came from students who are weak in English. For some others, they really love this activity and learned lots of new words from the activity. Therefore, this activity is only considered effective for some of them; especially those who are able to comprehend the language.

Graph 3.4.5: Students' opinions on the English programs and their point of view (Part 5)

The results of questions 14 and 15 suggest that students really like the usage of technology in learning English (75% polls). However, a smaller number of students (60%) agree that it helps them to understand the subject even more; indicating that the contents of the multimedia presentation might be less effective in meeting the learning needs of some of the students.

Graph 3.4.6: Students' opinions on the English programs and their point of view (Part 6)

Part 6 of the questionnaire involves questions regarding the school's role in developing good English speaking skills among students. Only 39% agree that most of the programs conducted helped in improving their English speaking ability while 80% disagree that the school environment had influenced them to speak English.

Graph 3.4.7: Students' opinions on the English programs and their point of view (Part 7)

Results of the last part of the questionnaire show that only 45% of the students are confident while speaking English. This did not take into account their ability to speaking the language; whether it's good, average or poor. In addition to that, more than 90% of the students admit that their family doesn't really encourage them to speak English nor practice it at home, with a surprisingly higher number of students who strongly disagree compared to simply disagree.

4.0 DISCUSSION

4.1 Programs' assessment

From Table 3.1.4, English programs that frequently stress on simple vocabulary and language applying skill component include going to the library, labeling school's properties and 'EMS'. Most students scored well in simple vocabulary and language applying skill component (Graph 3.2.2); indicating that they are capable of using the right word in the right context. Thus, the 3 activities mentioned above are proven effective in enhancing the students' English vocabulary acquisition. However, despite the fact that students do well in the 2 components, they seldom use the words in essay writing or any activities as such (Graph 3.4.2). This might be why students are weak in grammar (Graph 3.2.2); due to the lack of practice in constructing grammatically correct sentence using the word that they have learnt.

For English language station, each component is described as being rarely stressed (Table 3.1.4). This is because; the presence of the hanging flashcards and charts aren't noticeable nor being used by the students. It is a disappointment considering there is much valuable information being displayed on each chart and flashcard. Therefore, this program is rather ineffective in facilitating students' comprehension in the subject.

Based on Table 3.1.4, it is known that lessons on grammar are mostly conducted in extra classes, compared to other programs. In Graph 3.4.2, 75% claim to understand most of the teachings done by teachers. This is quite surprising considering their current level of English acquisition, as a whole is not as good. So, students might think they have understood English lessons in class but in reality they didn't. Besides, 55% admit their tendency to lose focus while learning the subject in class (Graph 3.4.1). As primary students are at young age, they just listen to teachers and afraid to ask questions. This attitude has been very synonymous with Malaysian students especially among those in lower grades. It is due to the unbreakable boundary that exists between teachers and students. Although it has managed to maintain the students' respect towards teachers, the interaction between them is limited. Hence, students might have misunderstood some grammatical concepts in class and refused to clarify them with the teachers; which is the reason why they constantly have problems and confusions in understanding grammar.

For 'Patriotic Day' program, although interesting activities are conducted (Table 3.1.3), they are beneficial only to some students. This is due to the lack of participation from average and weak students. Good students are commonly chosen to participate in such activities which explain why about 60% of respondents disagree that most of the programs conducted had really helped them in providing a better understanding of the subject. Limited chances are given to average and weak students to improve their performance whereby they are being 'sidelined' in those activities.

On the other hand, activities relating to the use of technological appliances like LCD do help to stimulate students' involvement throughout the learning process. This is proven in Graph 3.4.5 where 75% of them prefer the usage of LCD in their English lessons. Students are easily triggered by the use of technology because of their personal background as most of them live in rural areas and are less exposed to modern-technological production. However, the contents need to be improved to meet the student's requirement in learning the subject. This is because, even though 75% of them prefer the usage of LCD, a smaller number of students agree that the contents are easily understood.

'EMS' and Co-curricular activities contain elements that can help enhance the students' communication skills. For Co-curricular activities, the advantage of improving one's communication ability is only gained by English club members since the club meeting is held in English. For EMS, even with convincing contents of the program (Table 3.1.3), students still aren't able to communicate well in English. This is because; the communicative part in 'EMS' is noticed to be insignificant since the main purpose of 'EMS' is more on enhancing students' comprehension of English language in Mathematics and Science (Table 3.1.3, viii, b(i)). In other words, activities that are supposed to enhance communication skills are not being conducted effectively or not being conducted at all. As a result, students are incapable of improving their communication ability gradually.

From the interview carried out with teachers, they find it hard to initiate students to voluntarily speak English in class. Therefore, it is equally hard to train them to speak properly. This might be influenced by the fact that they aren't used to converse in English due to their social background; as they live in rural areas. Nevertheless, as the two programs have failed in meeting the challenges abovementioned, they are considered ineffective in enhancing the students' English communication skill, as majority of them aren't able to speak well in the language.

Basically, English programs conducted by the school are less effective in promoting good understanding of English subject among students, especially in terms of enhancing their grammatical acquisition and developing their communication skills.

4.2 Suggestions for programs' enhancement

Knowing that most primary students, especially from rural areas aren't aware of the importance of learning English, it is fundamental for the school to expose them with the importance of learning the subject in school. A better perception on the subject can be developed when the students realise the importance of learning it. This is essential knowing that more than 90% of the students admit that their family doesn't really encourage them to speak English nor practice it at home (Graph 3.4.7). Hence, for students living in rural areas, school's role is most important as it is the students' sole source of learning English.

In the 4.1 discussion, students are found to have problems mostly in grammar. Grammar itself is a 'dry' subject, especially when it is only being taught in class. Monotonous teachings due to one-way interaction between teachers and students might cause boredom and lost of focus in the learning process. Thus, teachers should create fun ways of learning grammar, besides formal teachings in class. More activities involving the 'use' of grammar should be conducted to ensure that students know the significance of learning grammar and manage to apply their knowledge in the right context. Conducting sing-a-long on grammatical concepts can be useful. Children's brain tends to respond well to songs; which can help them remember the concepts better. Besides that, it is crucial to involve weak students in English activities and events as they could gain benefit from it. Thus, more opportunity should be opened to unleash these students' potential and prevent them from feeling left out in this subject.

Hanging flashcards and charts in the school's hallways could be useful if the students notice them. Therefore, teachers should test the students' awareness on this matter by asking them questions regarding the contents of the materials. A competition should be conducted on it to make it more fun. Winners should be rewarded and given privilege. It is proven effective in reinforcing positive behaviour among students [1] .

Based on Table 3.1.3, lots of workshops conducted on English communication skills fail to help the students improve their communicative ability. The main cause lies on the practice of the language. Developing good speaking skills is not as easy as attending and listening to workshops. The key of mastering any language indeed is the practice of it in real life. Hence, the school should create a more conducive environment for the students to encourage them to speak English.

Friends and family should be supportive of the student's effort in practicing the language. According to Williams and Asher (1993), 4 basic concepts should be taught in social skills coaching [2] :

No.

Concept

Examples

1.

Co-operation

Taking turns, sharing materials and making suggestions.

2.

Participation

Getting involved, getting started and paying attention.

3.

Communication

Talking with others, asking questions, talking about yourself, listening skills, making eye contact, using the other child's name.

4.

Validation

Giving attention to others, saying nice things to other people, smiling, offering help or suggestions.

Table 4.2.1: Four basic concepts that should be taught in social skills coaching according to Williams and Asher (1993)

Another effective way to enhance the student's communication skill is by encouraging them to watch more English cartoons with English subtitles. Kids are easily attracted to cartoons and this should be taken into advantage. 'Upin and Ipin' is a local cartoon show, famous among Malaysian kids. Thus, it is practical to let the kids watch the show in the English version. This can help them to familiarise with the usage of correct grammar and punctuation.

Lastly, the roles of teachers are as motivators. As many primary students are afraid of asking questions to teachers in English, giving appropriate feedback can encourage students' participation. Research found that positive feedback is more effective than negative ones in changing pupil behaviour. [3] 

No.

Effective praise

Ineffective praise

1.

Is delivered contingently.

Is delivered randomly or unsystematically.

2.

Specifies the particulars of the

accomplishment.

Is restricted to global positive reactions.

3.

Shows spontaneity, variety, and other signs of credibility; suggests clear attention to the student's accomplishment.

Shows a bland uniformity that suggests a conditioned response made with minimal attention.

4.

Rewards attainment of specified performance criteria (can include effort criteria, however)

Rewards mere participation, without consideration of performance processes or outcomes

5.

Provides information to students about their competence or the value of their accomplishments

Provides no information at all or gives students information about their statusTable 4.2.2: Five out of twelve guidelines for effective praise

4.3 Weaknesses and limitations

There were many weaknesses and limitations identified throughout the progress of the study. Firstly, the analysis of this study is done solely based on results gained from one school. Considering the location of the school which is in a rural area, other schools mostly those situated in urban areas might produce different outcomes. Therefore, the results from this research might be inapplicable for other schools with different type of environment.

Secondly, the rating of the students' individual performance is mainly done based on personal perception, even with grading scheme provided; especially in determining the student's communication ability. Hence, student who is rated as good communicator by the researcher might not be rated the same by other person. In addition, researcher might have lowered the criteria a bit considering the students are from a rural school.

Other than that, the students' level of understanding in each English component is determined based on their performance in answering 1 set of questionnaire. In fact, the questionnaire itself has some weaknesses on its own. Firstly, the instruction for the Language applying skill part is not clear for some students which had caused misunderstanding in answering the question. In addition to that, the questions prepared in each section might not be detail enough to allow precise indication of the students' level of acquisition in the respective English component.

Besides that, due to time limitation mostly, this research involves analysis of English programs conducted in the Year of 2009 only, which at the same time neglect other programs that had been organized by the school for the past four years; ever since the Standard 5 students started their schooling at Standard 1. This is by far the weakest point of this study as the analysis of the programs is done in reference to the programs listed in that particular year only.

5.0 CONCLUSION

While certain programs are proven effective in helping students in some English components such as simple vocabulary, they are ineffective for other components including grammar and the development of communication skills. Therefore, it is found that the series of English programs carried out by the school are less effective in developing students' comprehension and interpersonal skills in English. In fact, the students' verbal capability is much worse than their theoretical understanding of the language. This is because of their social background; living in rural areas where the exposure of English is limited. Although some English-learning sources are available through media; unsupportive family members can be the most dominant factor that hinders the kids from acquiring this language effectively. In other words, they tend to perceive English as something 'foreign' and less significant.

From previous discussion, it is known that most students are confident about their range of vocabulary, but fail to express their thoughts by speaking in English. This portrays how students see English as a theoretical subject, not as a language. Hence, the verbal practice of this language must be placed as one of the priorities in conducting any English programs to ensure that students know the main purpose of learning this language; which is to be able to speak in this language.

Students themselves have to be participative and enthusiastic in attending the programs. Weak students especially, should be motivated in any way to help them understand the subject better. Another important thing is the cooperation between parents and teachers. A good relationship should be established between these two parties to ensure the continuity of the learning process; both at school and at home. Parents must play their role as motivators to their children. They may not be good in English, but they should always support and encourage their children to learn it especially when the children are still young.

As the saying goes "Practice makes perfect", mastering the language is always feasible as long as those concerned play their roles; school administrators, teachers, parents and students themselves. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind that the basic learning of English should be well taught and learned so that students can use and speak the language at ease and it is hoped that it will boost their level of confidence for the future undertakings.

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