Elementary English In Overcrowded Classes Education Essay

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Learning Elementary English in Overcrowded Classes for True Beginners at Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo (UASD). Santana, Isaias, 2010: The proposal, NOVA Southeastern University, Fischler School of Education and Human Services. Learning/Overcrowded Classes/Large Classes/ True Beginners/ False Beginners/Educational Research.

The purpose of this study will be to determine if there are differences in learning elementary English for true beginners in overcrowded classes, and if the application of 5 pedagogycal teaching tecniques will ameliorate the teaching learning process. This research will compare 2 set of groups of overcrowded classrooms (experimental and traditional) using 5 teaching tecniques with 2 groups of ideal classes in which the 5 teaching techniques will be applied to see if there are a significant difference in the learning process of true beginners in overcrowded classes. Findings will be based on standardized achievement test of the method Touchstone that these students use in elementary English classes at UASD.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction …………………………………………………………………………...4

Nature of the problem ………………………………..………………………………..….4

Background and significance of the problem ……...…………………………….……….5

Purpose of the study ………………………………………………………………………6

Research questions ………………………………………………………………………..6

Null hypothesis ………………………………………………………………………...…7

Hypothesis ………………………………………………………………………………..7

Definitions of terms………….…..………………………………………………..………7

Chapter 2: Review of the literature ……………..……..…………………...………………...….12

Studies based on overcrowded classes ……………………..……………………………10

Negative effects of overcrowded classes……………...…………………………………10

Techniques to teach overcrowded classes ……………………...………………………..14

Chapter 3: Methodology…………...………………...…………………………………………. 17

Participants …………………………………..……………………………………….… 17

Instruments ……………………………………..…………………………………….… 17

Procedures ………………………………………..………………………………….…. 17

Limitations of the study…….………………………..…………………………….…….19

Anticipated outcomes …………………………….………………….…………….…….19 Timeline ……………………………………………..…………………………………. 19

Evaluation plan ……………………………….…………………………………………19

Implementation matrix ……………………………...………………...………………....21

References

Chapter 1: Introduction

Learning to communicate in English is of a great importance for the students of the modern language career at Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo (UASD). However, the amount of students enrolled in the university is over 160, 000 which makes most of the courses to be overcrowded. This situation goes to detriment of the learning process, specifically, in the elementary levels in which the students should grasp the basis to master the language. For that reason, it is required to investigate the effects of overcrowded classes in the learning process to get viable solutions to the teaching-learning process of the English language in order to identify teaching techniques that help to improve the proficiency of the students in elementary English classes.

Nature of the problem

Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo (UASD) is the public university of the Dominican Republic which has faced a boost in the enrolment of students every year due to the fact that becoming a bachelor or getting a bachelor degree is the requirement to get a decent job opportunity in the country. Thus, students in the Dominican Republic at the moment of studying at the university level have two ways. One is going to a private university, and the other one is going to the public university which has a number of characteristics, such as prestige, tradition, low tuition, and branches around the country among other elements. These characteristics make UASD very attractive for most Dominicans at the moment of choosing a university. As a result, the number of students has increased over160, 000. This amount of students has been maintained from 2007 to 2009 according to the statistic office of the university. For this reason, the professors of the Languages Department have to work with classes from 30 to over 50 students. This fact has made the teaching process difficult to handle, so this situation is detrimental for the teaching-learning process in the elementary English levels in which true beginners struggle to grasp the minimum knowledge of the English language in order to pass the level, but not to learn the language properly. Therefore, the purpose of this research will be to determine the difficulties in learning elementary English in overcrowded classes for true beginners at UASD (Santo Domingo) in order to implement teaching techniques to ameliorate the learning process.

Background and significance of the problem

UASD is the public university of the Dominican Republic which in 1966 changed its philosophy to an open and critical university for the masses (Cuello et al., 2007). This philosophy and the need of getting a degree made the enrolment rate triple the amount of students from 1995 to 2004 (Brea, 2004). In the last three years, the university maintained the number of students over 160,000 from the year 2007 to 2009 according to the statistic office of this university.

Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo

Planning University Office

Years 2007-1 2008-1 2009-1

Total 166, 228 166, 603 166, 818

These numbers represent the total of the students in the first semesters of these years. As a result, the classes in the university have to be arranged over 50 students per section according to the assignment program of this university. The Languages Department is not the exception to this trend of overcrowded classes; so the elementary English classes are allowed to be overcrowded which hampers the teaching-learning process of students. According to Slavin (1989) showed that advantages of a reduced class size are more apparent when the number of students in the class was fewer than 20, ideally between 15 to 19. Thus, this research will demonstrate that English Learners who are true beginners at UASD (Santo Domingo) face difficulties in learning English properly to apply teaching techniques to improve the learning process.

This research will be carried out with the Elementary English levels of the modern language career at UASD, and the results will help to understand the learning process that true beginners face studying in overcrowded classes. Furthermore, this research will give possible solutions or insights to the Dominican Republic and other places around the world where the conditions are similar in order to improve the teaching-learning process.

Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study will be to determine if there are differences in learning elementary English for true beginners in overcrowded classes, and if the application of 5 pedagogycal teaching tecniques will ameliorate the teaching learning process. Thus, this study will compare true beginners in overcrowded traditional classrooms with true beginners in overcroweded classrooms in which a set of predetermine teaching techniques will be applied. These results will be compared with true beginners in an ideal classrooms in which the same set of predetermine set of teaching techniques will be applied to understad if the application of predetermine pedagogycal techniques will have an impact in the teaching-learning process of true beginners in overcrowded classes.

Research questions

1. Is there a significant difference in scores between true beginners in traditional overcrowded classes and true beginners in overcrowded classes in which 5 pedagogical teaching techniques are applied?

2. How do true beginners who are in traditional overcrowded classes score in comparison with students in ideal classes in which 5 pedagogical teaching teachniques are applied?

3. Is there a significant difference in scores between true beginners in overcroweded classes in which 5 pedagogical teaching techniques are applied and true beginners in ideal classes in which 5 pedagogical teaching techniques are applied?

Null hypothesis

There will be no significant differences between the scores of true beginners in the treatment groups (overcrowded and ideal classes) and true beginners of the control of the control groups (traditional overcrowded classes) after the intervention.

Hypothesis

There will be significant differences between the scores of true beginners in the control groups (traditional overcrowded classes) and true beginners in the treatment groups (overcrowded and ideal classes) after the intervention.

Definitions of terms

In this dissertation will be used terms that need to be explained in order to avoid any doubts in the reading of this research. The followings are:

Learning. Though the years, many scholars have given different definitions of the concept depending on their school of thought. In this research will be reviewed the most outstanding definitions in order to adopt the definition of the concept that will be used throughout the research. The followings definitions are:

According to Hoy and Miskel (2005), the modern behavioral approach to learning merged from the scholarship of Skinner and his Followers. The behavioral approach defines learning as a changed in behavior brought about by experience with virtually no concern for the mental or internal processes of think (Hoy and Miskel, 2005, p41). Thus, in this school of thought can be perceived that learning changes the behavior of the students.

Hoy and Miskel (2005) points out that the cognitive approach perceives learning as an active mental process of thinking, acquisition, remembering, creating and problem solving. Therefore, this approach defines learning as an internal mental activity that can be observed directly through understanding, remembering and using new information logically.

The social constructivist approach perceives learning as a process in which the students have to be actively involved to discover principles, concepts and facts for themselves, Hence, the importance of encouraging guesswork and intuitive thinking in learners (Brown et al. 1989; Ackerman 1996). Moreover, other educators in the constructivist field agree that people get meaning thru the interactions among them and with the environment around them. For that reason, they believe that knowledge is a product built by human beings thru social and cultural interaction (Ernest 1991; Prawat and Floden 1994)

In the constructive field, McMahon (1997) also states that learning is a social process. Besides, he says that learning not only is developed in our minds, nor is it a passive act of our behavior formed by external forces. He extrongly believes that meaningful learning appears when human beings are involved in social activities.

Another point of view in the same tenet is stated by Vygotsky (1978) in which he also highlighted the convergence of the social and practical elements in learning by saying that the most significant moment in the course of intellectual development occurs when speech and practical activity, two previously completely independent lines of development, converge. Thus, through practical activity a child constructs meaning on an intrapersonal level, while speech connects this meaning with the interpersonal word shared by the child and her/his culture.

The term learning can be viewed or defined depending on the point of view that is adopted for its interpretation. Other scholars that have given a definition to this concept are:

Woolfok (1999), and Hoy and Miskel (2005) expresses that learning occurs when experience produces a relatively permanent change in the individual's knowledge or behavior, change that can be deliberated or not, to get better or worse.

Another definition is given by Brown (2000) who perceives this concept in a complex way impossible to be summarized in a simple definition. Thus, he shows each one of learning's characteristics, such as acquisition or getting, retention of information or skills, cognitive organization, memory, conscious focus on and acting upon, relatively permanent but subject to forgetting, reinforced practice, and a change in behavior.

In this research, learning is understood to be a complex concept. However, the definition that will be taken along the investigation is the one given by Hoy and Miskel (2005) in which they perceive that learning happens when experience produces a stable change in someone's knowledge or behavior.

Overcrowded classes. This term is also referred as large classes. For that reason, it will be defined using the facts given in some articles:

In an article online Paulsen (2006) shows the finding in which The Vancouver Secondary Teachers' Association states that a classroom with more than 30 students is overcrowded. Therefore, it exceeds new provincial limits.

Another article in which the term overcrowded classes is used to express that a class with more than 25 is Overcrowded classes hampering Kerry kids (2008) in which a Killarney Town Council member, Sean O'Grady told:

There is no maximum size for classes in Ireland but it should be reduced, as a matter of extreme urgency, to the European norm which is 25 per class and 15 per class where there is chronic disadvantage.

In this research, it will be assumed that an ideal class is composed of less than 20 students as it was stated by Slavin (1989). Therefore, it will be assumed that an overcrowded class is composed by more than 24 students in a classroom.

False Beginners. There are many definitions of false beginners which can give an idea of the concept. One of them is the definition given by Macmillan English Dictionary "false beginners have some understanding of the basics of English, but they cannot use it very well. They may give the impression that they know little or nothing of the language".

Another scholar who gives a definition of this concept is Helgesen (1987) in which he states that false beginners understand the basis of the language and can be involved in activites which need some accuracy of the language. However, they have limited skills in the language when they are involved in activites that need fluency of the language to be developed.

According to Richards, et al. (1985), false beginners are students who have had some kind of instruction in the language, but they have developed limited language proficiency. For that, reason, they have been classified at the beginning level. False beginner students can be compared with true beginner students, as true beginners do not have any knowledge of the language to be studied.

The term has also been studied in Japan due to the big amount of students that they receive each term. According to Peaty (1987), false beginners are those students that enter a university in Japan normally with a background of six years of school English based on the study of grammar and translation of sentences. However, the true beginners have never learned or have completely forgotten. For that reason, this author explains that false beginner students in Japan knows a lot of English, so they can use this knowledge to develop litsening and speaking skills which were neglected at school.

True beginners

The term true beginner is defined in the MacMillan Dictionary as students who know absolutely nothing about English and have had little or no contact with the language. Thus, for this investigation a true beginner is the student that has not been exposed to the language before.

Chapter 2: Review of the Literature

This research will analyze the effects of overcrowded classes in elementary English levels in the learning process of true beginners. The topic of overcrowded classes is not new and it has appeared many articles around the world which denounce the detrimental effects in the teaching-learning process. However, a few studies have been dedicated to analyze overcrowded classes. This review of the literature will be presented in two parts. The first part will show the studies and articles based on overcrowded classes, and the second part will present techniques to teach overcrowded classes.

Studies on overcrowded classes

Research has shown that the advantages of a reduced class size are more apparent when the number of students in the class was fewer than 20, ideally from 15 to 19. In a 1989 Slavin study, classes of fewer than 20 students were compared to substantially larger classes, and students in both groups were comparable in demographics and educational ability. Thus, Slavin (1989) found that reduced class size had a small positive effect on students that did not persist after their reduced class experience.

Another research is the Tennessee's Project STAR (Student-Teacher Achievement Ratio) spent four years looking at kindergarten, first-, second-, and third-grade classrooms, which began in 1985. STAR compared classes of 13 to 17 students with classes of 22 to 26 students. Participating teachers did not receive any professional training on teaching reduced-size classes, and were randomly assigned to the classes. The study included 79 schools, more than 300 classrooms and 7,000 students.

The results of the experiment showed that students in the smaller classes outperformed those in the larger classes on both standardized and curriculum-based tests. This was true for white and minority students in smaller classes and for smaller class students from inner-city, urban, suburban, and rural schools. These results have also been supported by Hanushek (1994).

In the United States, in 1999 Vice President Al Gore criticized the practice of "herding all students into overcrowded, factory style high schools" and Education Secretary Richard Riley suggested reducing school size to address issues of student alienation. Riley told the National Press Club that the nation needs to "create small, supportive learning environments that give students a sense of connection. That's hard to do when we are building high schools the size of shopping malls. Size matters." (Gore and Riley cited in Mitchell, 2000, p.12).

Moreover, Winerip (2003) in an article for the New York Times states that public schools opened in New York reports of widespread classroom overcrowding. Another article with denounces about this topic is written by Rezonable (2007) in which he mentions that the California State University is facing problems with overcrowded English classes for freshmen as well as in Chicago where Chicago Public Schools have ordered all 595 of its schools to bring class sizes under control and the Chicago Teachers Union has vowed to investigate crowding complaints Dell' Angela (2005).

The same situation is stated in Ireland in an article of The Kingdom (2008) in Which Killarney Town Council member, Seán O'Grady, show that 20.5 per cent Kerry pupils learn in classes of 30 or more, in stark contrast to European norm of just 25 per class in areas of chronic dis-advantage. O'Grady has called for politicians in the county to take stock of where they stand in relation to class size and the condition of the accommodation of the classroom. Moreover, another article from Vancouver denounces difficulties of learning in overcrowded classes. This article written by Paulsen (2006) shows that a study finds 30,000 Vancouver students are in overcrowded classes.

Negative effects of overcrowded classes

There are many scholars who have spoken about the negative effects of overcrowded classes on students' academic performance, such as Snow (2000) in the McGill Tribune in which he expresses that according to his teaching experience, in large, especially overcrowded classes, students do not do as well as those in small classes. He also states that students learn more in small classes and marks tend to be better. However, in large classes, the only thing a teacher can do is to lecture. The teacher cannot have much discussion with students.

Another article that mentions the negative effect of overcrowded classes in California is The Crisis (2008). This article states that students in overcrowded schools pay less attention, achieve less, and experience more violence.

Furthermore, Konaré (1994) in the English Teaching Forum states that the first problem concerns the actual participation of all the students in the reading activities set by the teacher. What happens all too often in large (overcrowded) classes, when the answers to comprehension tasks are given orally, is that the activity is dominated by a small minority of the best students. Most of the class does not even have enough time to finish reading, let alone to formulate their answers, before the quick, bright, or pushy few are waving their arms about and forcing the pace of the lesson, impelling the teacher to call on them to answer. Moreover, Konaré (1994) states that the frustration of the weaker students causes them to opt out of more and more reading activities knowing that they will not have time to complete them and most likely will not be asked to answer. Thus, the gap between the few best students and the silent majority widens steadily, even though the teacher is setting the right sort of tasks to train all the students in the reading process. The teacher may be aware that many students are not participating, but the teacher may feel it is their fault because of their level.

In addition to the difficulties mentioned above, Hughes (2006) in an article for the English Teaching Forum states that a well-known and persistent problem with teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in overcrowded classes is the lack of resources, and that such conditions are an everyday reality for many teachers around the world. However, he found the challenges in Indonesia to be nearly overwhelming.

Finally, UNC Charlotte Faculty Center for Teaching (2000) lists the types of challenges to teach a large (overcrowded) class. These challenges are the followings:

1. Paperwork which means that teachers have to check assigments, grade exams, prepare lesson plans, prepare their classes, etc.

2. Deal with distractions in the classroom, such as students' talking, getting late, and leaving early.

3. Learn students' names in order to take attendance, motivate them to participate in class, motivate students to do assigments on time,

4. Lack of flexibility in class activities at the moment of changing activities, doing group work and motivating critical thinking and writing skills.

5. Diverse students' levels and background.

On the other hand, students in overcrowded classes also experience important challenges in their learning, especially if they are new to the college experience. These include:

1. Difficulty to understand wheather information is relevant.

2. Doubtful at the moment of asking questions and in some cases showing lack of knowledge.

3. Uncomfortable to be smart in front of classmates (the nerd curse).

4. Difficulty to manage time to study and lack of skills necessary for success.

5. The use of anonymity to challenge authority and to push boundaries.

Techniques to teach overcrowded classes

According to Duppenthaler (2000) overcrowded classes are not necessarily something to dread. However, teachers face a number of challenges, such as identifying students among several overcrowded classes at the same time, monitoring students' individual progress, identifying students' individual language strengths and weaknesses, being able to respond to the students as individuals, with interests outside the classroom.

Duppenthaler (2000) presents a way to solve these challenges of large classes. Thus, he has created photo roll cards which are a variation on the standard roll book, and they are very effective in identifying, monitoring, recording, and responding to students. Thus, they make learning and teaching more effective and more enjoyable.

UNC Charlotte Faculty Center for Teaching (2000) describes some alternatives to use Technology in a variety of ways in large or overcrowded classes. These alternatives are the followings:

1. To use power point or a similar program to make presentations in class. This allows teacher to present outlines, and lists of key concepts.

2. To use Excel or a similar program to manage class lists.

3. To prepare a set up a class newsgroup or an electronic mail list (through listserv), Students can ask questions and get help from other students.

4. To create a course web site that contains practice problems, answers to sample test questions or homework, a glossary of terms, etc.

5. To create a searchable test bank of questions (using FileMaker Pro, for example). This is especially useful when you have to give multiple versions of the same questions.

6. To extend your office hours through email.

7. To give quizzes or tests.

Chapter 3: Research Methodology

Participants

UASD is the public university of the Dominican Republic, and the number of students from 2007 to 2009 is over 166,000 according to the statistics office of the university. This amount of students has made that most of the sections in this university are overcrowded. Thus, the languages department is not the exception to this trend, so most of the sections of Elementary English 1 have increased to 50 or more students per section which hampers the teaching learning process of these students. Another important characteristic to this research is that the students in these English sections are Dominicans, and many of them have little or no knowledge of the English language

Instruments

The data will be collected through a pre-test to determine the level of the students. This pre-test will show whether the students are true or false beginners whereas a post-test will be used to determine the students' level at the end of the process which will show whether there are difficulties or not for the students who study under these conditions. These tests will be prepared by the researcher following the program of the university for elementary English 1.

Procedures

To determine the effects of learning English in overcrowded classes, it will be prepared a quasi-experimental study in which will be selected three groups composed of two sections each. These groups will be called Group A, Group B, Group C.

The first group or Group A will be composed of two sections of overcrowded classes which will be taught in a traditional way, and it will be given a pre-test to determine the true and false beginners. Finally, the post-test will indicate how the true beginners learn under this condition.

The second group or Group B will be two sections of overcrowded classes in which will be used the treatment or techniques to teach overcrowded classes. These two sections will be given a pre-test to determine the true and false beginners, and a post-test to obtain the results of how the true beginners learn under these techniques.

The third group or Group C will be two sections of ideal classes composed from 15 to 20 students in which will be used the teaching techniques chosen for Group B. These sections will be given a pre-test to determine which students are false and true beginners. Finally, these sections will receive a post-test which will show how the true beginners learn under these teaching techniques.

Moreover, all the groups will be observed and the researcher will not disturb them while working, for their professors will give the students the pre-test and post test, and the students will perceive those exams as part of the teaching learning process.

Another point for this research is that the techniques used in the experimental groups (A and B) will be chosen and explained by the researcher to the professors. Some of the techniques to be used are:

A blog page in the internet which allows the students to practice the English language.

Radio and CDs to work the lessons.

E-mail to send their homework to practice short composition at the students' level.

Movies for the students to identify words and structures at the students' level.

Cooperative group work activities in class.

Limitations

Some of the constraints that can be encountered are that the students at the moment of taking the pre-test are nervous and their score will be different in terms of their knowledge or that some of them miss the pre-test. Another issue can be that some of the students do not know how to use the internet.

Anticipated Outcomes

This research will show the effects of learning elementary English in overcrowded classes which will help educational institutions and educators in the Dominican Republic and around the world in which the English language is taught in similar conditions to organize the elementary English levels to alleviate the teaching-learning process of true beginners.

Timeline

The concept paper will be presented as soon as NOVA's enrollment letter will be received that should be in August 2009. Thus, after the acceptance of the concept paper, the proposal will be submitted three month later to the committee. For that reason, the proposal will be presented in January 2010. Once the proposal will be accepted which is hoped to be in September 2010. The applied dissertation will be finished in May 2011.

Evaluation plan

This research will be a quasi-experimental study in which will be selected three groups composed of two sections each. First, the professors will have an introduction workshop in which they will become acquainted with the treatment to be applied. In all the groups will be given a pre-test to determine the students' level (either true or false beginners), and the professors of these groups will be in charge of giving the exams to the students. After that, these data will be analysed by the researcher. Then, the implementation of the program will be observed and notes will be taken during the implementation face that will last 14 weeks. Moreover, during the intervention, the professors will have three workshops in which will be discussed topics related to the techniques to be applied, possible modifications to the program, and the professors' perceptions. Finally, the results will be collected with a post test; these data will be analysed by the researcher to complete successfully the applied dissertation.

Implementation Matrix

Time

Terminal Objectives

Process Objectives

Activities

Doer

Evaluation

First week

1st Workshop to the professors

Learn and discuss the different techniques to be used

The researcher

Use a pre and post survey to find out the professors' perception

First week

Determine the students' level (true beginners or false beginners)

Give the material to the professor

The professor

a pre-test

First week

Determine the students' level (true beginners or false beginners

Quantify and classify the data

The researcher

Use statistical methods- computer -programs-etc

1st -13th week

Implementation of the program

Use of blog page in the internet which allows the students to practice the English language.

Radio and CDs to work the lessons.

E-mail to send their homework to practice short composition at the students' level.

Movies for the students to identify words and structures at the students' level.

Cooperative group work activities

The professor

1st to 13th week

Determine the effects of learning elementary English in overcrowded classes

Determine the true beginners' performance in elementary English levels in overcrowded classes

Implementation of the program

Go to the classrooms

The researcher

Take notes

4th week

2nd workshop to the Professors

Discuss about The professors' experience and their ideas about new techniques

The researcher

Use questionnaires to find out the professors' perceptions

9th week

3rd workshop to the Professors

Discuss about The professors' experience

The researcher

Take notes about professors' perceptions

13th week

4th workshop to the Professors

Discuss about The professors' experience and futures plans using the techniques implemented

The researcher

Take notes about teachers' perceptions

14th week

Determine the results

Give the post test to the students

The professor

Post test

14th week

Determine the effects of learning elementary English in overcrowded classes

Determine the true beginners' performance in elementary English levels in overcrowded classes

Determine the results and the data will be contrasted among the groups

Quantify and classify the data

The researcher

Use statistical methods- computer -programs- etc

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