Learning Strategies In A Task Based Learning Education Essay

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Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) as one of the ways of implementing a Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach is a favorite method employed by English teachers in Asia; (Nunan, 2003) claimed that most Asian countries surveyed (Mainland China, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam) subscribe to the principles of CLT, and in a number of them, TBLT (the latest realization of CLT) is the central pillar of government rhetoric. Task is basically defined as a goal-oriented classroom activity (Ellis, 2003; Nunan, 2006; Oxford, 2006; Prabhu, 1987; Willis, 1998). It requires learners' use of target language that is focused more on the conveying of meaning rather than on the practice of form (Ellis, 2003; Nunan, 2006; Skehan, 1998). Oxford (2006) completes the definition of tasks as behavioral classroom instructions that are externally imposed either on a person or a group.

There are two basic reasons to select TBL as an English teaching and learning approach. The first reason is the desire for a meaning-focused approach that reflects real life language use (Leaver & Willis, 2004). Language use needs to be transferred from real world activities into classroom activities, and this can be done through TBL. Another reason for selecting TBL is that task based interactions stimulate natural acquisition processes (Prabhu, 1987). A number of studies reveal the effectiveness of TBL in enhancing students' language proficiency, especially their oral communication skills (eg., Ahmed, 1996; Lochana & Deb, 2006).

It is official policy that the teaching and learning process of English as a foreign language at the Business Administration Department of the State Polytechnic of Malang is through a Task-Based Learning (TBL) approach. TBL has been adopted by the Business Administration department of the State Polytechnic of Malang because, as the latest realization of the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach, TBL is an implementation of the overarching Competency-Based curriculum the department employs. The selection of English teaching topics in this department is initiated with a needs analysis; the department regularly visits companies to survey employers' expectation of their future employees' skills. Most companies, especially the foreign companies, expect that their future employees possess adequate English oral communication skills as the first priority. Thus, the first goal of the teaching of English as a foreign language at this department is toward students' adequate oral communication proficiency. In this study, I define a task as a classroom activity that is focused on meaning rather than on form and that requires the learners to achieve observable outcomes by employing English as the target language for oral communication skills as used in real life. Appendix 1 is an example of TBL activity to develop the required skills.

The combination of needs analysis and appropriate TBL activities would seem to be the most effective way to develop the required skills. The implementation of Task-Based Learning has unfortunately had limited success to date. Most students graduating from the Business Administration department do not possess adequate oral communication skills. This problem is common among Indonesian tertiary education institutions, especially in the non-English departments. With my informal observation of teaching in this non-English department, this lack of success is in some part due to teachers' limited familiarity with suitable and appropriate implementation of Task-Based Learning. Measures need to be taken to improve the quality of the implementation of the TBL and this can be done through appropriately manipulating task characteristics and conditions.

However, manipulating task characteristics and conditions alone does not guarantee the meeting of a pedagogic outcome; attention also needs to be directed to the learners as the participants of the tasks. Learners' attention and their own learning needs contribute to their efforts to gain task outcomes (Murphy, 2003). The more effort students make to reach the outcome, the better the result of the learning will be. Their strategies to accomplish the tasks largely determine their success in attaining the pedagogic goal.

Learning strategies are personal efforts employed by learners to complete tasks , and students of different learning styles and different cultural background may employ different strategies to learn to communicate in a foreign language (Lam, 2007). Furthermore, appropriate employment of learning strategies plays an imperative role in promoting students' self-confidence regarding the development of their communicative competence (Oxford, 1990). Successful learners are believed to effectively employ appropriate learning strategies.

Regarding the teachability feature of learning strategies, a number of researchers (Griffiths & Parr, 2001; Oxford, 1990, 1996) argue that learning strategies are relatively easy to teach and modify. Students can be trained to be aware of and more conscious of learning strategy use and more proficient at employing appropriate strategies. Task requirements and teachers' expectations that are expressed through classroom instructional methods also shape students' learning strategy choice.

With the assumption that a task-based learning approach will help students in developing their communication skills and that the implementation of this approach will result in students' use of effective learning strategies which in turn will elevate students' success in developing their communication skills, I am interested in conducting a collaborative action research case study to produce an effective task-based learning program which aims to develop students' verbal communication skills and to explore the impact of task-based learning on students' employment of learning strategies.

Purpose of the Study

The prime concern of this study is to analyse non-English department students' learning strategies in a task-based learning approach which focuses on their oral communication skills.

Research Questions

The aforementioned purpose of the study leads to the formulation of research questions as follow:

What learning strategies do students with a range of oral proficiency levels employ during the implementation of a task-based learning approach?

Do these learning strategies change during a TBL program?

What are the students' and teacher's perception of the impact of TBL on the employment of learning strategies?

Delimitation of the Study

As reflected by the needs analysis conducted with prospective employers, the first required skills to be possessed by graduates of the Business Administration department of the State Polytechnic of Malang are their oral communication skills. Academically, the TBL program is designed to develop students' oral communication skills. In accordance with this focus, my intention to explore students' use of learning strategies is focused on the students' employment of oral communication learning strategies.

Methodology

This research will be informed by a qualitative research paradigm and involve an action research case study. It is an action research approach in which I will work collaboratively with one of the English teachers to improve the quality of the EFL teaching and learning process in this vocational higher education institution in Indonesia which is using a TBL program. During the implementation of the TBL, I will explore students' employment of learning strategies as a bounded system (a case) or multiple bounded systems (cases) over time, through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information (Creswell, 2007). Regarding the multiple sources of information, I will use some different instruments of data collection namely questionnaire, one on one interviews, focus group discussions, and document reviews (students' scores of their oral communication skills which is always officially conducted by the teacher every semester, students' learning journals, and teacher's reflective journals).

The research participants will be nine second year students of the Business Administration department of the State Polytechnic of Malang. These students are within a range of oral communication skills levels: three students are of the high rank, three are average, and the last three are of low rank. The determination of the students' levels is based on their test scores (final semester scores). Because the first goal of teaching English in this department is developing oral communication skills, then, their final test scores are to measure their oral communication skills. Based on their scores, students who belong to the high rank, middle rank and low rank will be invited to be recruited as the participants of the study. Because this study, in one part, will be a collaborative action research, the class teacher will also be a participant in the study.

The Methods of the study will include:

Questionnaire (Oral Communication Strategy Inventory/OCSI), adopted from Nakatani (2006). For detail description of the strategies inventory please refer to appendix 2.

Students' learning journals (One entry per week)

Teacher's reflective journal (One entry per two weeks)

Focus group discussion (see appendix 3 for the interview guide)

One on one interviews (one to expand on students' responses on the OCSI questionnaire, one for an interview with the teacher, and one interview for the Stimulated Recall)

Direct observations of both students' classroom activities and of videotaped students' classroom activities. For these observations, checklist and field notes will be used. The observation checklist is presented in Appendix 4.

The data collection process will be conducted following three stages:

Stage One: Preliminary data collection

Indication of students' existing language levels (the oral communication proficiency levels). This procedure will be conducted following the official testing method as usually implemented by the institution. The oral production test rating scale including its description is attached. The result of this test will determine the participants whom I will invite to participate in my study. The first three students of the high, three of the average, and the last three of the low rank groups to volunteer will be recruited as the participants of my study.

Completion of OCSI questionnaire (Oral Communication Strategy Inventory) which is adapted from Nakatani (2006).

This inventory will be translated into Bahasa Indonesia in order to gain true response from the participants without foreign language difficulties that may intervene. This procedure will function to determine the existing language learning strategies that students employ.

One -on- One interview

This one -on- one interview will assist me to expand on the questionnaire data to gain deeper information from the participants regarding their use of learning strategies. The interview will also be conducted in Bahasa Indonesia

Stage Two: During Data Collection

Students' learning journal (one entry per week, in Bahasa Indonesia)

In this learning journal participants are expected to respond to the following questions:

What strategy did you use in accomplishing the task?

Why did you employ this strategy?

Name the strategy and explain how (the context) in which you used the strategy.

Classroom activities videotaping

There will be classroom activities videotaping once per week with duration of 90 minutes per lesson. This will be conducted for 6 weeks.

Stage Three: Final Data Collection

Direct observation of classroom activities

Redo of questionnaire completion (Oral Communication Strategies Inventory/OCSI)

Videotaped pair work activities for use in the stimulated recall interview

Final interview on the use of learning strategies as the extension of the OCSI questionnaire completion and Stimulated Recall (pair interview)

Official administration of final test on oral communication using the same test administered in the initial process of data collection.

Additional data will be collected through the collaborative relationship with the class teacher. Data collection will be in the following stages:

Stage One: an interview in which the teacher is asked to explain his understanding of TBL and student learning strategies.

Stage Two: a reflective journal

Stage Three: a final interview in which the teacher is asked to revisit his understanding of TBL and learning strategies and to reflect on his perception of the impact of the above on the students' language skills

Details of data collection activities are as put in the data collection calendar in appendix 5.

Data analysis approach

The data analysis of this study will begin during the data collection process. To analyse qualitative data, it is preferred to do it simultaneously with data collection (eg. Merriam, 2009). The analysis will be focused on students' employment of learning strategies during the accomplishment of TBL. This learning strategy exploration is the main tool to analyse the data. The analysis will be based on the Oral Communication Strategies Inventory (OCSI) developed by Nakatani (2006) which sees learning strategies as conscious cognitive behaviours with two main categories namely strategies for coping with speaking problems and strategies for coping with listening problems. The speaking strategies are composed of 8 factors while the listening strategies consist of 7 factors. I will also analyse students' employment of learning strategies based on their oral communication levels: students of high rank, of middle rank, and of low rank. Appendix 6 shows the diagram of main framework of the data analysis. Since this study involves more than one subject, the data analysis will be within-case analysis followed with across-case analysis.

To answer the second research question, I will analyse the data chronologically from the beginning of the semester until the end of the semester. There will be three periods of chronological analysis with one period covering five-week implementation of TBL. This is to analyse the change of learning strategy use.

Data on students' and the teacher's perceptions of the impact of TBL on the development of learning strategies will answer the third research question. This may be an exploration of differences between students' and the teacher's perceptions. There may also be an analysis of differences in the teacher's perceptions before the implementation of TBL and after the implementation of TBL.

In general, the data analysis will follow these steps:

Identifying units.

This unit is a potential answer or part of an answer to the research questions. To answer the first research question, I will analyse students' strategies for coping with speaking problems and strategies for coping with listening problems. Secondly, there will be units of analysis of individual students, a group of students with the same level of oral communication skills, and students of across levels of oral communication skills. Third, I will conduct a chronological analysis of the students' learning strategies development/changes of every-five-week period of TBL implementation.

Categorizing the units.

This will be conducted through classifying units based on the recurring regularities of the data. Included in this stage is sorting or reducing redundant data and making a concrete description of observable data. The identified data of students' use of learning strategies in the implementation of TBL will be described in detail.

Interpreting the data.

At this stage the categorized data will be interpreted and referred back to the theory. It is a process of making inferences or generating theory. I will refer back to the learning strategies theories (for example, Cohen & Macaro, 2007; McDonough, 1995; O'Malley & Chamot, 1990; Oxford, 1990) including communication strategies theories (for example, Bialystok, 1990).

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