This research has been a requisite due to the fact that in 2011 students' performance at Higher School Certificate level had a fail rate (Grade U) of 34.16% out of 161 examinable candidates in Business Studies at Advanced Subsidiary level (MES, 2012). Moreover, the key messages from the principal examiners report for teachers (2011) claimed that educators should show students how to - construct their answers by using the context and data provided; put emphasis on number of attempts of all questions in the data response paper; improve time management skills; read questions carefully and focus answers closely to question asked; provide guidelines for command words in questions such as 'explain', 'analyse' and 'evaluate' as evaluation remains a problem for candidates. In relevance to marketing, focusing on the elements of changes to the marketing mix; contextualising the market research; picking key evidences from daily marketing activities of businesses of were the most important aspects. On the other extreme, candidates should take care to - apply analysis and evaluation skills in the context in order to achieve higher marks; give a balanced argument in answers; show how concepts are useful to a business; comprehend the exact requirements of the questions.
In 2000, Raelin (p.107) sustained that
"We need to continue to experiment with ways to bring reflective practice to management education (Business Studies in this context). Management is truly a messy, interactive, and typically tacit activity. We tend to treat instruction at an absurdly low level of complexity . . ."
Consequently, the author believes that Action Learning as an Action Research may revolutionize the leaning process of Business Studies' students at secondary level.
Aims and Objectives of the Research
Aims of Research
To show how effective is Action Learning as a concept in the teaching and learning of Business Studies at HSC level.
To identify learning difficulties during Business Studies lesson.
To enable set participation and discussions to acquire new skills during Business Studies lesson.
To assess student based on their social skills and help them to learn from their own action.
To compare performance of students' behaviour based on past experiences in Action Learning.
To provide participants the opportunity to ask questions, support each other and take action to resolve problems.
To see how effective is Action Learning in developing other skills for learners.
During the past years, teacher centred approaches have dominated the learning process leading to poor results in Business Studies. Students have very often complained that the teaching strategies being adopted by teachers are not motivating. Learners see the lesson as being bulky to complete at the two last periods after recess with conventional instruction. Throughout, interest level seems to be very low and the learners try to oppose the learning process. These are the main causes why the author proposes an alternative concept in Business Studies to minimise learning barriers.
This research adopts a purely humanistic conception toward the enhancement of personal development of students in Business Studies. The humanistic perspectives incorporate cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains to facilitate experiential learning. The researcher is convinced that learning difficulties encountered by the students can be identified through action leaning. Guided and just-in-time learning will take place within a safer environment in order to acquire additional skills (communication skills, social skills and interpersonal skills). Real problems may be challenging for learners though discussion and questioning. In the company of a facilitator, critical thinking, generalisation of ideas and reflection of set members are achieved.
What types of problem are students facing while doing business studies at HSC - Advance Subsidiary level in Forest Side SSS (boys)?
Does action learning affect personal development and performance of students during learning process?
An action research has been adopted for this study based on qualitative and quantitative research methodology. For the collection of data, qualitative assessment will be implemented on social skills through participant's observation and quantitative assessment in the form Students' Feedback Questionnaire. The sample size consists of 5 students studying Business Studies (Advance Subsidiary) at Lower Six. Materials will be mostly Case Studies where students will have to identify problems and discussions will be made in prior to obtain an outcome by using action learning.
CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCTION
This chapter outlines the history and evolution of Business Studies curriculum and syllabus in Mauritius at both Lower and Upper secondary level. It highlights the importance of choosing Cambridge International Examination (CIE) for Business Studies at SC level as basic 'grassroots'. However, the author lays more emphasis on Higher School Certificate (HSC) at Advance Subsidiary level (AS) as it is the research focus area.
1.1. Brief history of Business Studies
In 1948, management of business as a subject was introduce in the Mauritian curriculum during the British colonisation. The aim was to educate elite and students from aristocratic background to undertake family businesses. Later, Mauritian students got access to London Chamber of Commerce for distance learning in management studies. Some years later, in 1965 more precisely, the local government come to a decision to launch Business Education studies in both public and private schools. Business education was provided as core and elective module at the University of Mauritius after 1971.
. Business education at School Certificate level
Introduced in lower secondary level (Form 3) curriculum during 1986, Business Education encompassed of three major domains namely Commerce, Principles of Accounts and Economics. Few years later prescribed textbooks along with their syllabus of these subjects had to be used in all schools doing Business Education.
To be eligible for SC exams, students are offered a list of subject choices in Form 3 before promoting to Form 4. They are given the chance to select their study side. For instance, they can opt for Commercial studies, Business Studies, Economics, and Accounting. The syllabus code for Business Studies at 'O' level is 7115. The exam paper embraces two sections namely; short-answer questions, structured questions and data response questions and Paper 2 - questions derived from a given case study carrying equal weightage. Business activity, the organisation, changing business environment, economic environment, marketing and production are some underlining topics at Business Studies 'O' level for students to apply their understanding to a variety of simple business situation. Figure 1.1 illustrates the grade distribution of Business Studies in 2011 at SC level.
Figure 1.1 shows the overall performance of Business Studies at School Certificate level for 2011
Source: Mauritius Examination Syndicate (2012)
1.3. Why choosing Cambridge 'O' level Business Studies?
Cambridge 'O' level Business Studies is acknowledged by Universities and employers as "a proof of business concepts and techniques across a range of different types of business" (University of Cambridge, 2012). Successful students are exposed to lifelong business skills incorporating:
understanding different forms of business organisations, the environments in which businesses operate and business functions such as marketing, operations and finance;
an appreciation of the critical role of people in business success;
confidence to calculate and interpret business data;
communication skills including the need to support arguments with reasons;
ability to analyse business situations and reach decisions or judgments.
(Source: University of Cambridge, 2012)
1.4. Business education at Higher School Certificate level
Business Studies at HSC level is demarcated by offering "compulsory" subject combinations through which learners have to compete for. For example, E03 would mean the combination of Economics, Business Studies and Accounting and NS20 would stand for Mathematics, Business Studies and Accounting. The paper code was amended in 2001 as 9707 which was previously 9368 for Management of Business. The exams paper takes into account of Core topics (for Advance Subsidiary) and Extension topics for Advanced level students.
The composition of Advance Subsidiary (AS) exam session is of Papers 1 and 2 covering only core topics in Business Studies curriculum. Paper 2 lasts for 90 minutes through which students have to answer two data response questions in contrast to Paper 1 having two sections (A for short answer questions and B for essay on core curriculum) with duration of 75 minutes and weightage of 40 percent of the total marks. AS level syllabuses are designed to offer candidates with 180 guided learning hours with direct teaching per subject over the duration of the course and may vary with curricular practice and candidates' prior knowledge on the subject. The main aims of the syllabus are to provide critical understanding of business activity, nature, and behavior and at the same time developing skills for decision making, problem solving, management of information and effective communication. Some topics covered by the syllabus are business and its environment, people in organizations, marketing, operations and project management, finance and accounting and finally strategic management which was recently introduce in the syllabus.
It is worthy to note that AS results are shown in grades of 'a', 'b', 'c', 'd' and 'e' whereby grade 'a' being the highest, 'e' the lowest marks scored and 'U' as ungraded (fail). A concrete example is illustrated in Figure 1.2 showing the performance in Business Studies at AS level for 2011.
Figure 1.2 shows the overall result performance of Business Studies candidates who took part for Higher School Certificate at Advance Subsidiary level in 2011.
Source: Mauritius Examination Syndicate (2012)
There has been an evolution in Business Education since 1965. With a high level of failures among Business Studies students in 2011, this study has become a priority to identify the factors causing learning difficulties through the use of Action Learning. The next chapter present an overview of AL as a concept.
CHAPTER TWO - LITERATURE REVIEW
There is a number of reasons for the need for educational reform, including inappropriate methods of teaching and learning Mograby (1999), which have been "largely a combination of teacher-directed rote learning using state developed curriculum and test-driven assessment" (McNally, et al.,2002). Educational reform requires teachers with new knowledge and skills, teachers who are proactive and "capable of generating their own professional dynamics" (Wallace, 1996, p. 281). For those hoping to achieve learner agency, there are many powerful approaches aligned with the goals of active learning. One of these is Action Learning (AL) by Revan (1998).
Hence, in this literature the first part emphasise on a definition for action learning. Various models of AL are discussed and interpreted as experiential leaning process. Last but not least, the characteristics of AL are described bearing in mind its components such as the AL set and the facilitator or the advisor.
2.1. Definition of Action Learning
Revans (1998, p.83) asserted that "there can be no learning without action and no action without learning". An "action" is a process of doing something to achieve a particular aim: student need to study to pass exams. Alternatively, "learning" is the acquisition of knowledge or skills through study or experience: different student experience different learning difficulties. Wrapping up "action" and "learning" would simply mean a course of action of performing a task differently through study and past experience to attain particular objectives. In a different way it is the "transfer of knowledge, skill, and behaviour... to something practical" (Weinstein, 1998) to acquire wisdom. Yet, numerous researchers have elucidated the concept of Action Learning further.
Action Learning formerly developed by Revans during the 1940s enable top management to "steer the coal mining industry through a period of tumultuous change" after world in Britain (O'Hara et al, 1996). The idea of Action Learning later became a reference for problem-solving for managers who believed that appropriate solutions may arise through discussions and changes in behaviours. Willmott (1997) elucidated how action learning can contribute to critical thinking by exploring how "comparative abstract ideas" can be mobilized in the process of "understanding and changing interpersonal practices". Tom Bourner et al (1996) defined AL as "a process of reflection and action aimed at improving effectiveness of action where learning is an important outcome" while in 2002, Zuber-Skerrit came forward with a newer definition for Action Learning as learning inspiring from "concrete experience and critical reflection on that experience" which may occur in or by "group discussions, trial and error, discovery and learning from and with each other". O'Neil (1996) believed that AL programmes are used to "help individuals to acquire new learning skills (social skills, communication skills and interpersonal skills)", however, O'Hara et al (1996, p.16) put it as being "less straightforward and more demanding than a traditional taught program". The latter argued that "participants develop the capacity to be life-time learners, enabling them to adapt to new situations and circumstances (p.21)" through AL.
2.2. Models of Action Learning
Revans (1998) derived a model for action learning through conventional education system ("traditional and formal methods of instruction") and penetrating questions (questioning skills used "to get to the unknown"). He expressed it by an equation:
Whereby, L represents "totality of individual's learning"; P which is "programmed knowledge" and Q as the "questioning insight". Though "questioning insight" boosts up effective learning (questions set from lower levels to higher levels) and facilitates the exploration of nature, action learning is not about acquiring only knowledge. That is why, Weinstein (1998) put forward that action learning is about "practical learning" and thinking differently through the use of "new set of values and beliefs". Besides, based on a UK conference experience, Krystyna Weinstein devised a model of AL by focusing on a combination of "three Ps" comprising of a philosophy; specific procedures and two-end products.
Figure 2.1 shows the three Ps of Action Learning (Weinstein, 1997)
Weinstein (1997) argued that if any of the three Ps is missing, action learning will not crop up due to the fact that the "philosophy underpins the procedures and show how the two end-products are reached".
In her model, Ruebling (2007) stated that awareness (goals to achieve), inquiry (structured questioning through factual, feeling, possibility and decisional questions), insight and possibilities (suggestions), planning, commitment of future team meeting, accountability, execution, reflection, experiential learning and recalibration (take any particular to the next level whilst providing additional solutions) are the critical success factors for AL.
Numerous types of AL were thought-out into four different schools (Tacit, Scientific, Experiential and Critical Reflection schools) by O'Neil in 1999 whereby the centre of attention were real problems, scientific research, experiential learning, and reflections consecutively.
O'Hara (1996) proposed a model to show how AL has been integrated in higher education whereby it involved processes which motivate participants to learn in a safety environment; set members share commitment and competences which eventually lead to personal or group challenges; the facilitator brings in trust, support and intellectual or emotional energy. Furthermore, the learner achieves a more fulfilling and successful experience when the action leaning approach is merged with stock of knowledge, research techniques and outcomes are assessed to gain academic qualification, learning skills and ability to deals with new circumstances.
Figure 2.2: Action learning integrated in Higher Education (HE) (O'Hara, 1996)
2.3. Action learning as experiential learning
Zuber-Skerritt (2002), Miller (2003) and Hicks (1996) advocated that action learning is identical to experiential learning that is, it is more than just a different form of expressing how to learn from experience (Mumford, 1995). However, Smith (2001, p.36) implied that:
"It is well known that experience itself is a very slippery teacher; most of the time we have experiences from which we never learn . . . action learning seeks to throw a net around slippery experiences and capture them as learning, i.e. replicable behaviour in similar and, indeed, differing contexts".
A framework is provided to AL participants through which an individual, having had a concrete experience and having made observations about and reflected upon that experience, is in a position to form or develop abstract concepts or generalization based upon their observations and reflections. These concepts can then be tested in a new situation or a changed environment, which will, in turn, lead to new concrete experiences (Raelin, 1997; Smith, 2001).
Figure 2.3 shows the Experiential learning cycle design by Kolb (1984)
Experiential learning (Figure 2.3) also occurs through the action learning set (Mumford, 1991) as set members learn through their experiences of their actions, their observations, reflections, and conceptualizations are developed. They are encouraged and challenged explicitly through the set, which provides support to test the new understanding for discussions to develop and learn from experience in order to change, rather than simply repeating previous patterns (McGill and Beaty, 1992).
2.4. Characteristics of Action Learning
Many researchers debated that effective Action Learning can only take place if the four elements below are linked to one another:
the person or individual;
the problem they are seeking to solve;
a group of individuals (the learning set) with whom they interact; and
action on the problem and learning from this action.
Following the same dimensions, Smith and O'Neil (2003) grouped some common characteristics of AL whereby "problems are tackled in real time with no right answer; participants meet several times in small sets; problems are relevant; participants ask questions, reflect, extract lessons; they support each other; and take actions to resolve problems between set meetings. Problem solving provides the learner with an opportunity to act, be creative and to show that there is a significant change in behaviour, not simple increased awareness than rumination on unbounded ideas (MacVaugh and Norton, 2011). Although problems involved in learning may be "familiar or unfamiliar to a group, internal or external", AL problems must, be real, significant, clearly defined, challenging, involve implementation (action) and capable of being learned from (Revans, 1980, 1982; Edmonstone, 2002).
Furthermore, Marquardt (1999, 2004) identified six components of Action Learning which encloses a challenge is important to the group; diverse background for groups of four to eight; a process of questions and reflections; power to take action for strategies developed; commitment to learning at team and individual level; and lastly an AL coach who promotes learning and improve skills for personal development of team members. Personal development requires a person who is encouraged to develop his or her own reflective practices with a view to making things happen or change. According to Revans (1980, p. 43) this personal development works best when it is a natural outcome of a manager's reflection on their daily practice; "by tackling today's problems more thoughtfully, he automatically learns how better to tackle tomorrow's". Ruebling (2007) discussed that "bottlenecks" can be eliminated from beginning to end by "peer accountability" and a distinctive "peer-questioning" to classify biases and assumptions driving "thinking processes and behaviors".
2.5. Action learning Set
"Set" is a group of participant or colleagues working with "real problems with the intention of getting things done" and "take active stance toward life and helps to overcome...pressures of life and work" (McGill and Beaty, 1992). Set members comprises of four to six learners as there are "no hard or fast rules about the constitution" (Johnson, 1998). Set as a group process; "it uses peers to generate learning from reflection on practice" (Beaty et al., 1997, p. 185) and "brings people together to exchange, support and challenge each other in seeking to learning" (Pedler, 1996, p. 15). It is not an official meeting as there is no headperson or minutes of meeting to be taken which is "absolutely essential to effective action learning" (Mercer, 1990; Mumford, 1995). On the contrary, Craig Johnson (1998) stated that sets meeting "support individuals in reflecting on past actions...and construct future action based on actual problems" but Lee (1996) maintained that "set requires equality of voice, shared trust and confidence, open discussion and a supportive environment, and works best when of an interdisciplinary nature". It is through discussion and questioning that set individuals develop their understanding and outcomes of a scrupulous problem.
2.6. The facilitator
In action learning the facilitator creates a conducive learning environment by enabling participants to be more active and self-directed towards taking more responsibility for what they learn and how they learn it, and for assessing whether they have learned it. He or she is mainly the teacher in a classroom context with the expectation of developing the skills of learning for the students. Skills as such may be for instance, encouraging critical thinking, theories development and real world reflections. Also known as the advisor, the exact moment is resolved to perform role plays in a particular milieu. Facilitators rely on the group to offer suggestions to members engaged in project quandaries (Raelin, 1997) and are "dissimilar from that of the university lecturer; they do not teach, but help participants to learn from exposure to problems and one another" (Mumford, 1995). The role of the facilitator is to ensure the set is focused on and effective in its discussions, but ultimately the facilitator wants the set to work independently. However, it was observed that external pressures influencing the learning advisor were encountered "within the organisational setting" (sitting arrangements for this research) and low frequency of "regular meeting over an extended period of time" of group members (McGill and Beaty, 1992; Pedler, 1991). Other researchers such as O'Neil and Marsick (1994) noted that programme design that is "questioning insight" in action learning provided "just-in-time learning". However, the "background of the advisor/facilitator", "workload assigned", "need and attitudes of participants" (O'Neil, 1996) might have a harsh impact on the learning process.
The literature review chapter clearly depicts that very few educational institutions (Tacit, Scientific, Experiential and Critical Reflection schools) are said to have applied active learning using a unified model (Maudsley, 1999) such as action learning (Revans, 1998). AL programmes help students to acquire new learning skills O'Neil (1996) and learn from concrete experience and critical reflection through group discussions. In a way, it is a "transfer of knowledge, skill, and behaviour... to something practical" (Weinstein, 1998) by set members whereby "problems are tackled in real time with no right answer (Smith and O'Neil, 2003). The facilitator or the teacher creates a favourable learning environment by enabling participants to be more active and self-directed towards taking more responsibility. That is why the author believes that there is a need to change from the traditional "transmission model," (transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the student, (McNally, et al., 2002)) to a learner centred approach by implementing AL.
CHAPTER THREE - METHODOLOGY
The purpose of this chapter is to describe the methodological implementation of Action Leaning concept as an Action Research in Business Studies to achieve research objectives. One of the main objectives is to point out whether Action Learning offers contribution to the development of student's social, communication, interpersonal and problem solving skills. Furthermore, it provides the opportunity to see whether a profound learning relationship is built between the teacher and the student through participation, discussions, past experiences and transferring of skills. The first section discusses about the AR process and its implementation throughout the study context. Details about the data collection methods are elaborated further at a later stage along with the sampling design process.
3.1. Study Context
This study has been carried out in a Secondary State School in lower Plaines Wilhems district (Zone 3) in Mauritius. Students in Lower Six Economics One (LVIE1) studying Business Studies at Advance Subsidiary with subject's combination of Sociology, Accounting, Economics and Mathematic were the main participants for this research. Respondents were informed beforehand about this research and were willing to try something new as a teaching and learning strategy in Business Studies.
3.2. Why Action Research (AR)?
AR is a new methodology that 'emerged after the First World War from the intellectual climate and ethos of an era that focus on empowerment and change, gathering momentum across contexts and cultures' (Zuber-Skerritt and Fletcher, 2007). Some key features of Action Research outlined by Koshy (2005) are the involvement in research for teacher's own practice (analysis, reflection and evaluation), facilitation of changes through enquiry and its usefulness in term real problem solving as it deals within actual situations. The main advantages gain from using Action Research are: - research is focused only to a specific context which provides the efficient use of time and cost; researchers can be participants and always close to the situation; open-ended outcomes can emerged; through AR the researcher can bring about modification in projects and at times theoretical development may occur. O'Leary (2004) depicted AR as a cyclical process comprising of observations to gather data, reflect on these research data and finally design a plan for implementation to generate further knowledge. She further argues that 'cycles converge towards better situation understanding and improved action implementation; and are based in evaluative practice that alters between action and critical reflection' (2004: 140).
Figure 3.1 gives a picture of O'Leary's cycle of research (a cyclical process of AR where the outcome is to refine understanding) - adapted from Action Research for Improving Practice (Koshy, 2005)
3.3. Time Frame
The implementation of Action Learning in 'Marketing' as topic in Business Studies took place from 29th August to 13th September 2012 wrapping up three weeks during the third school term. The consecutive weeks were split into three cycles as stated below:
Cycle 0: 27th August - 31th August (3rd Week)
Cycle 1: 3rd September - 7th September (4th Week)
Cycle 2: 10th September - 14th September (5th Week)
3.4.1. Set Members
The sample to undertake AL has been students from Lower Six Form at a State Secondary School. These participants also known as the 'set' members are mixed ability students having different socio-economic and ethnic background. All of them lives in the nearby villages and will take part in the Cambridge International Examination next year. The set comprises of five boys, all studying Business Studies at Subsidiary Level in respect of their other subjects chosen at Advanced Level. For AL to take place, set members are to be grouped to achieve learning objectives.
3.4.2. The facilitator
In this context, the researcher will act as the facilitator to smooth the progress of discussions through effective questioning methods. The advisor encourages participation to develop positive attitudes along with social skills among students.
3.5. Data Collection Methods
Innovative forms of assessment will be carried out to gather data instead of the traditional test assessment in the forms of:
Qualitative assessment through observation and checklist prepared by the facilitator to assess interaction among students,
Quantitative assessment through Students' Feedback Questionnaire at the end of the teaching/learning strategy.
Observation is performed by the facilitator whereby attitudes and behaviours are noted down. The important criteria considered to bring drastic changes in personal development in the student will be as follows; students' level of response, involvement, participation, behaviours toward peers and ability to discuss and ask questions.
The facilitator's assessment checklist is constructed from beginning to end based on variables (criteria) discussed in Chapter Two (Literature Review) on Action Learning. Criteria are selected by the researcher for the contribution of personal development as well as improving social, problem-solving, communication and interpersonal skills. Each criteria is rated from 1 (Very Poor) to 5 (Very Good) including 3 as Satisfactory as illustrated below in Table 3.1.
Table 3.1 shows the researcher's checklist to assess students
3.5.3. Students' Feedback Questionnaire
Students' Feedback Questionnaires (See Appendix 1) were distributed and collected to targeted respondents on 19th of September after the AR had been completed. After a small consultation about confidentiality, students were convinced about reliability of this research and agreed to fill in the data with all honesty. Some students had a kind of fear as it was the first time they were participated in a survey. However, the response rate was 100% as they cooperated and participated fully in the exercise.
3.6. Ethical Issues on Data Collection
Ethical requirements in research should not only aim to only benefits but to avoid any harm. In this context, the principles of the research ethics were considered as:
Minimising the risk of causing emotional harm to students by not probing into their personal life through the use of irrelevant questions. Moreover, the researcher would have been out of context and would shatter the prevailing level of trust.
Obtaining the consent of the learner himself without which getting hold of data would have been impossible. Consent forms were set up and signature of students' parents were required.
This research provides secrecy for the name of school and school staffs where this study has been carried out.
Protecting confidentiality of data collected was of high priority as trust is the 'bridge' between the researcher and the respondent.
There was avoidance of deceptive practises whereby students were well informed beforehand about this research and additional information was provided to them to clear any misunderstandings.
Learners were provided the right to withdraw from the survey at any point of time and were not forced to take u this exercise.
More than one method of data collection tools has been used for this Action Research. Triangulation methodology is a mixture of quantitative and qualitative research techniques to generate reliable data and at the same time support the validity of the research. In this study data triangulation was obtained from observation of learners, the outcome in terms of class work and feedback questionnaire.
3.8 Research Design
The structure of the questionnaire was split into four main sections (A, B, C and D) to assess Learning Difficulties (A), Personal Development (B), Participation (C) and Action leaning as the Teaching Method (D). It contained 12 simple open-ended questions taking into considerations the level of learners. The whole layout, arrangement and wordings were decided by the author. The purpose and level of confidentiality were discussed to encouraged student to place more effort and stay focus as far as possible. On the other hand the researcher's checklist were prepared from criteria obtained in Chapter 2 and used mainly by the researcher to assess students' behaviour.
3.9. Pilot Testing
The pilot test was carried out among 18 students in another Lower Six class doing Business Studies at Advance Level. Results from the pilot test showed that some words were too difficult to understand and that the number of questions needed to be reviewed as it appeared to be first time for most of the learners taking up this exercise. Moreover, questions were found to be too long and time consuming. Students proposed for additional time to fill in the questionnaire. All these defects have been taken care before designing the new one.
3.10. Analysis of data
Data collected would be mainly interpreted in a consistent form to meet the requisites of the research aims and objectives. Findings were tabulated in parallel to learners' responses and researcher's observation. The analysis of data was carried out on basic statistical tool (Microsoft Office Excel 2010).
By bearing in mind O'Leary's cycle of Action Research procedures which should be in a cyclical process, three cycles starting directly from Plan, Action, Observation and Reflection were implemented.
3.12. Implementation of Cycle 0 in Action Research (27th - 31th August)
Table 3.2: Lesson Plan One - Business Studies (3rd Week)
The lesson plan of Cycle 0 was implemented on 30th of August 2012 whereby students needed to prepare themselves for the Lower Six final year exams. The sitting arrangement was traditional like the 'bus' type. The class began by a recapitulation on Market Share, Market Growth and Market Location through questioning. After a while, Case Study sheets were distributed and guidelines of questions were outlined. The whole case was read by the trainee teacher and new words were explained. Students were given 25 minutes to finish the class work on their own and reminded that there would be minimal classroom intervention from the teacher to avoid misuse of time. Learners had to use their analytical, interpretative and problem solving skills to tackle the questions. They were allowed to discuss only with their friend sitting next to them and only a certain level of noise were permitted for not disrupting the whole class.
As it was the first time that these students had to take up a Case Study, they seem confusing and had to read it several time without being conscious about the time being wasted. Level of discussion was very poor as students are used to individualised class activities. The fifth boy had difficulties to integrate with his peers and was asking suggestions very often on top of that disturbing his classmates. Some of them were overacting in the sense of doing the class work. The level of noise was fluctuating as suddenly some were talking loudly without taking turns and then went down instantly. Learners were preferred to avoid the problem than to face it though they knew their definitions and formulae by hard. Not all students brought their calculators and during the lesson, permissions were sought to borrow from other class though they were already informed beforehand about this activity. Moreover, excuses such as using mobile phones as calculators, permissions for drinking water and going for toilet as signs of evading were observed. At the end of the 20 minutes only one question out of four was answered partly. Two learners did not work at all as they faced some learning difficulties due to lack of skills of attempting Case Studies.
It is a requirement for learners to engage in problem solving using Case Studies as these are the backbones of Business Studies exams paper. As for the Lower Six students taking Business Studies at Subsidiary Level, some might have done the subject at Form 5 and some not. An overview of the class would be that it was monotonous, poor learning or at least no learning took place and students showed no interest at a later stage. There was also an expectation of formative assessment of number of questions completed for correction in next session which was not fruitful. So, there is an expectation to carry out the lesson with more explanations leading to additional time and help learners to master the skills required to deal with Case Studies for lifelong. It is very difficult for student to develop analytical, interpretative skills instantly as the researcher believed that it will take time but an alternative teaching strategy could be a suitable solution for that.
3.13. Implementation of Cycle 1 in Action Research (3rd - 7th September)
Table 3.3: Lesson Plan Two - Business Studies (4th Week)
The whole class was introduced to the new concept of Action Learning and the reasons why it is being used in achieving learning outcomes in Business Studies. Further explanations were given on: what is AL; what are expected from students during the lesson; what will be the role of the trainee teacher and the subject teacher and the course of action of the lesson. Cycle 1 started with a set formation of 5 students all grouped together. No group leader or time keeper was assigned as it was not a group work and every learner should feel reassured and comfortable. The peer assessment criteria based on communication, interpersonal and social skills was elaborated upon as well as how the facilitator will assess them through his own observation checklist (details not given to learners). Case Study sheets were distributed and new wordings were explained. Learners were asked to read, underline key words in the questions and search for possible facts in the Case Study.
Questions 1 and 2 were about the calculations of Tesco Lotus sales and its percentage increased of market share in the following year which can also be referred to the programmed knowledge. A brief recap on market share was carried out along with details about the formula were elaborated. Model of the answer was illustrated on the blackboard. More emphasis
Question 3 was about constructing a meaning for the term 'market leader' and its advantages. Therefore, questions were asked to learners to build abstract ideas on 'market' and a 'leader'. For example, 'what were your personal experiences at a local market place?'; 'What if you were the fruit or vegetable seller describe what would be your actions in a market?'; Have you ever think about yourselves being leaders one day?; What do think are the thoughts of a leader?
Question 4 was about placing restriction by Thai government in the local context. Students were expected to describe the actions performed by a government in a country and reflect on these actions affecting their life daily. Learners had to generate ideas from what they experienced from the rises in current price level and what actions can they take to minimise daily school expenses.
Learners seem to have a positive attitude towards working in set together with their teacher leading to open discussions. However it was time consuming to make sitting arrangement as it was their first time that students were exposed in such a learning environment. At first they thought of a group work rather than AL but later realised that they were independent and had not rules to follow. Level of commitment to work out the Case Study was present as it was being performed at a second instance. Learners started to developed emotional behaviours while answering to the questions as some experiences seem to be aligned with others. The facilitator observed a sense of honesty among participants as they were willing to listen, support and accept differences of their friends. Mutual respect were shown towards the facilitator may be due the closer gap of learning experiences. On the contrary, being in group was as if fun for them, diverting conversation where facilitator had to put them on track and scaffold their ideas. Some members continued to perform individual work and lack self confidence in problem solving. Arguments at times were harsh as one member did not feel comfortable with probing questions to his personal life. The class exercise was completed in due time.
Questions put by the researcher were to improve the critical thinking experiences and develop the capacity of life time learners. However, no signs of critical thinking were revealed even after completing the lesson. The new learning strategy is believed to be a success for the first time but need some future adjustments. There is a necessity for more probing questions with respect to other students and improvement areas would be to amplify discussions and transmission of knowledge. Wastage of time should be minimised in terms of members setting and irrelevant commentaries in the next lesson.
3.14. Implementation of Cycle 2 of Action Research (10th - 14th September)
Table 3.4: Lesson Plan Three - Business Studies (5th Week)
Set members were rotated in their sitting arrangement without much instruction given. As usual the facilitator did a recap on primary and secondary research through questioning. After the distributing new Case Study worksheets, a checklist (as shown in Table 3.2) was given to each learner to assess their peer performance in terms of social skills assessment criteria.
Table 3.2 shows the assessment criteria for social skills.
The checklist's criteria had to be rated by using 1-Very Poor, 2-Poor, 3-Satisfactory, 4-Good, 5-Very Good. Its main objective was to create a fairness learning environment among students. The use of English instead of Creole in the last lesson was encouraged.
The set was shaped in lesser time as predicted and with little emphasis on Case study. Learners had more trust in the facilitator as they were very at ease with probing questions. Response level was high as the class environment seemed to be secure and friendly. Students were able to finish on time with more valid answers relating to the local context. Communication, interpersonal and problem solving skills were improved bringing about a changed in behaviours. Learning difficulties were minimised and more questions were asked to construct abstract ideas by students. More situations and past experiences were revealed by students.
The main purpose of using AL for this study was to improve performance in Case Studies. Action Learning considers the emotional factor in learning as well as past experiences of learners. The author was stunned from what was revealed during the discussions. AL may improve the learning environment but will demand more time for student to get used to. It helped in reducing the gap between the facilitator and the student making the teacher to feel more motivated to work. Students have learned how to managed conflict by taking examples from their past experiences which help them to reflect upon. Real world problem were found to be a weakness for learners.
If AL is implemented appropriately, social, interpersonal and communication skills may be easily developed by learners through questioning and reflecting on their past experiences. Though Action Learning is difficult to use during performing calculations, together with other teaching strategies effective learning can take place in Business Studies and improve students' performance.