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A large amount of studies have been conducted on students attitudes toward language learning and they have sought to find answers to the questions like these: What are the reasons of students negative attitude toward learning English? What can be done to help students foster positive attitude toward learning English? Still, there are lots of questions that are raised over this topic. Some researchers have the idea that factors such as age, gender, teacher-student relationship may have great impact on students' poor motivation. However, this study shows that most of the students can foster positive attitude toward English lesson when vocational English and daily spoken dialogues applied to the lessons rather than grammar. Therefore, students needs and preferences should be taken into account during the learning process.
Background to Attitude and Motivation
In this part, definition of attitude and motivation is given and their importance in language learning discussed. After that some information is given in terms of how to motivate students and change their negative attitude into positive one.
Description of Attitude and Motivation
According to Verma (2005), 'attitude is a set of beliefs developed in a due course of time in a given sociocultural setting.' and he puts forward that positive attitude facilitates learning. If the student is willing to learn something, then the process of learning becomes easier. That is to say, attitude affect learning either positively or negatively.
The term attitude reminds us another term called motivation. Motivation, closely related term to attitude, is defined as 'the key term to all learning' by Lile (2002). Like in the case of negative attitude, lack of motivation, unfortunately, hinders learning.
The Effects of Attitude and Motivation in Language Learning
Bropy (2010) emphasizes the importance of motivation as in the following:
'In the classroom context, the concept of student motivation is used to explain the degree to which students invest attention and effort in various pursuits, which may or may not be the ones desired by their teachers. Student motivation is rooted in students' subjective experiences, especially those connected to their willingness to engage in learning activities and their reasons for doing so.'(p.3)
It is quite true that subjective experiences such as students' past lives related with lessons, their successes and failures in the past, form the students' attitudes and affect their motivation degree toward lessons.
As Dörnyei and Csizer (1998) indicates 'without sufficient motivation, even individuals with the most remarkable abilities cannot accomplish long-term goals, and neither are appropriate curricula and good teaching enough to ensure student achievement.'
As the above statements support, motivation and attitude have central roles in learning environment. Therefore, the following title includes the information in terms of motivating learners.
How to Motivate Students
Every student is unique and so are their needs and preferences. Therefore, there is not a clear cut way to motivate students, however some researchers propose different ways which they think to be effective to motivate learners. As Tsiplakides and Keramida (2010) puts forward, by a close and constant observation of their students, teachers can recognize sources of discontent among students, the reasons of their misbehaviors, unwillingness to participate in lesson and their low performances. Tsiplakides and Keramida (2010) claims that the relationship between teacher and student, the general classroom atmosphere and the use of authentic teaching materials and activities affect students' attitude in language learning.
Like Keramida, Thanasoulas (2002) sets forward strategies to motivate students. These strategies are: 'a) appropriate teacher behaviour and good teacher-student rapport; b) a pleasant and supportive classroom atmosphere; c) a cohesive learner group characterised by appropriate group norms.'
In the process of learning, the teacher has an important role. The learners' needs and problems should be thought and we should try to understand the reasons of students' negative attitudes toward lessons. It is necessary to help our students to develop positive attitudes.This paper handles the topic from a different viewpoint and puts forward that in vocational high schools the negative attitudes of the learners may change if the lessons are supported with vocational and daily dialogues of English, that is, if the students' needs and demands is taken into account.
Aim of the Study
The first goal of this study is to understand the reasons of students' unwillingness toward English lesson in computer programming department and understand their needs and preferences in terms of English learning. The following questions compose the core of this study:
-Why do the students show disinterest toward general English lesson?
-What are their preferences during English lessons?
-What do the students want from their teachers to do during the lesson?
This study is based on action research. Ferrance (2000) defines action research as 'a process in which participants examine their own educational practice systematically and carefully, using the techniques of research.' O'Brien provides us with another clear definition of action research: 'learning by doing'. Action research gives us the opportunity to see problems and try to find solutions to them. In classroom environment, we face variety of problems related with classroom management, methods and strategies used in lessons, needs and preferences of students. Therefore, action research is a real necessity for teachers to find long-term solutions to the problems in real learning environment. Based on action research, in this study, first of all the problem is defined and discussed. Then, possible solutions are applied to see the effects on the students attitudes during the process. After that, the results are discussed.
This study include my first year students in Computer Programming Department in SeydiÅŸehir Vocational High School regardless of their age and gender.
Written interview (4 open-ended questions) and observation were used to collect data for this study. Additionally, two computer department classrooms (Class A and Class B) were compared during the research. After that their final exam results were compared to see whether new strategies were effective or not.
I observed my students during the class time. Everyweek I wrote my observation about the differences and similarities between the two classrooms in order to see whether newly applied stategies improved the situation or not.
Analysis of the Observation
From the beginning of the semester I have witnessed that most of the students in computer programming department have been disinterested with English lessons. This situation was really irritating me. I had the opinion that I was trying to do everything to help my students' learning. However, most of the students seemed totally indifferent to my lesson. Most of them were unwilling to participate in the lesson and some of them didn't even have a notebook and pencil to take notes. Although the classroom atmosphere was relaxed as I didn't put pressure on them to join in the lesson and do something else related with the lesson, they didn't take even a step further to study and learn English. It was completely clear that they didn't like the lesson and lacked in motivation. Therefore, I decided to take an action and learn the reasons of students' negative attitudes, lack of motivation toward English lessons and produce solutions.
Analysis of the Interview with the Students
As most of the students were disinterested toward English lessons, I decided to apply a written interview to the students and wanted them to be clear and honest. To increase the relaibility of the interview students didn't write their names. There are some questions which are thought to be helpful to find the reasons of students' disinterest toward English lesson. The general results of the questions are like in the following :
- Some of them (18 out of 40) think that English lessons are not as important as their department lessons. They want to focus on department courses rather than English.
- Most of them (28 out of 40) have the opinion that vocational English and dialogues used in daily life will be more helpful and interesting instead of overlapping of the grammar knowledge.(
- Most of them (30 out of 40) believe that their department lessons include many specific terms in English. Therefore, it is necessary for them to begin learning specific terms on their first years.
- Some of them think that two hours of English in a week is not adequate to learn English effectively. For this reason, instead of focusing on grammar, having the knowledge of specific English, that is vocational English, is the main requisite for them.
The following table clarifies the main problems with the students:
Problems with the Students
Fed up with learning grammar
Thought of English lessons' being less important than other lessons
The first question of the questionnaire is on the students' general thoughts about English lesson. Their responses (%72) indicate that knowing English is necessary in this day and age. However, the recognition of this necessity doesn't motivate them toward English lessons. Even if they know that English is widely used language in the world, students don't want to study English. As Tsuda (2003) states in his study, there is a contradiction between students' understanding of importance of English and their attitudes toward it. Karahan (2007) claims that one of the reasons of students being passive instead of taking active steps in learning English is that they don't have positive attitudes toward English Language. % 28 of the students think that English is unnecessary for them. The result of the first question cleary shows that the big majority of students believe the importance of knowing English but they don't take an active step to learn it which may be the result of negative attitude or lack of motivation.
The second and third questions were related to each other and asking if English is necessary in vocational high schools and whether knowing English will help them in their future career. %68 of the students' answers indicate that English is a real necessity in vocational school as their department lessons include many terms in English. %76 of them believe that knowing vocational English will help them to get a good job in the future. These results led me to think that the students wanted us to focus on English for specific purposes.
The last question about what their preferences are in English lessons. They (%84) generally prefer learning daily dialogues and talking in addition to learn more vocational English. Their answers indicate that they are fed up with grammar as a central topic in the classroom. The preferences of the other students to that question was just like this: 'We don't have any preference related with English.' These students didn't have any expectations in terms of English.
From the beginning of the semester, I was teaching grammar and focused on grammar activities as I thought that my students lacked in grammatical knowledge of English. As I understood, keeping grammar on the center would do no good.
I decided to revise my teaching method and in order to reform it, I decided to apply new ways considering students' needs and preferences. Before beginning to my new way teaching, I decided to comprare two computer department classes: class A and class B. Both of the classrooms' needs were approximately the same but I applied new methods such as communicative language teaching, task based approach (include vocational English) to one of them to see whether there will be a difference between the attitudes and success of the two classes' students.
The following table presents the possible solutions to the problem:
Changing instructional strategies
Applying different methods
Variety of activities including vocational English and daily dialogues
First week, I brought an activity to the classroom which includes matching activity. It was about computer's outer parts and students were wanted to read the sentences and found which computer part was adressed. Also they learned a dialogue which was about asking for directions.
The second week, the students in class A brought their materials to present their works related with computer. They seemed almost proud of their success as they could present their works orally. Also, they composed a dialogue which gives information about themselves.
Third week, I brought a dialogue which includes computer terms in it and students studied on this dialogue. After that, I wanted them to write a dialogue with the words that they learnt previous weeks.
The fourth week, the students studied on a short vocational texts and job interviews. They studied in groups and they helped each other while making their dialogues, paragraphs.
Interview after Acting
At the fourth week, the interview was made again with the students of class A in order to learn their ideas and feelings toward the English lesson after they were faced with vocational and daily use of English. Most of the students were satisfied with that kind of lesson and they made the comment that English in this way would be more helpful for their future career. Still, there were students who doesn't care about the lesson but most of the students were satisfied with the situation.
The Comparison of the Two Classrooms
From the beginning of the semester both classes were nearly the same in terms of attitudes. My observations indicated that most of the students had negative attitudes toward English lessons. As students were lack of motivation, different ways of methods were decided to be used. Therefore, it was decided to compare both classes to see the results of the study.
Throughout the four weeks, computer related topics were applied to computer class A and class B continued to take regular same English lessons. The students in class A were faced with different activities related with computer programming department as well as daily dialogues in English. However, class B continued lessons which were based mostly on grammar learning activities. During this process, the students in class A started to prepare their homeworks more regularly. Also, there were some students that were completely quiet in the class A. After I gave the homework related with computer, they brought their studies to the classroom and asked me questions about them. In addition, they try to explain their homeworks to the class like their other friends. However, I was unsuccessful to activate my three students to change their negative attitudes toward my lessons. They came and slept throughtout the lesson. Generally talking, my observations indicated that most of the students began to be more motivated and participate in the lesson. On the other hand, in class B the situation was the same. The students went on to be silent and they did the grammar activities unwillingly.
After the two classes took their examinations, I compared their examination results. Class A which took the vocational English has 61,85 average as their exam results indicate while class B has 57,45. This result may be the sign of the success of applying vocational English and daily dialogues to class A. But we cannot be cartain only by looking this exam results. However, my observation was that most of the students in class A were more eager to learn and study English after I applied daily dialogues and vocational English.
The purpose of this study was to find answers to these questions: Why do the students in computer programming department have negative attitude toward English lesson? What are the reasons behind low level of motivation? What are their needs and preferences? The current observations and the examination results of the both classroom indicate that the teacher should take into account his/her students' needs and preferences. According to obtained data, most of the students prefer vocational English rather than grammar. Since, most of the students have been fed up with learning garammar from primary schools, teachers cannot ignore thier needs and demands.
Although, these findings cannot be generalized to all vocational high school students as every students has different learning environments, this study gives way to the new studies on this topic. In order to get more productive results, the teacher should cooperate with the students and decide the most appropriate techniques that answer to students' needs.