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Teaching and learning presentation skills have long been stressed as an indispensable component in language enhancement cirricula at the university level. According to Shaaban (2005), this component can provide an accurate picture of students' language competence. At the same time, teachers have a better understanding of their students' interests, work spirit as well as organisational skillls.
To date, instructor-assessment has always been a conventional tool to evaluate students' oral presentations in front of the whole class. However, language instructors today do not totally rely on their own evaluation as this may seem a little too teacher-centred, thus, peer feedback has been adopted in many ESL/ EFL classes as an alternative assesment. Boud & Lublin (1983) maintain, "one of the most important processes that can occur in undergraduate education is the growth in students of the ability to be realistic judges of their own performance and the ability to monitor their own learning". Moreover, assessment by peers is widely encouraged as a learning opportunity because the students can look back at their performance, compare and learn the lesson for themselves. Nearly all of the informants in the study conducted by Stefani (1994) agreed with the aforementioned idea, and three-fourths of them said that they were made to work much harder under peer assessment than the traditional one.
In a class where students take turn to give presentations, Brown and Diem (2009) recognize that students often find this activity really monotonous (p.80) and boring. This is because there is nothing much for the students to do in the class but to watch many prepared presentations in a row and wait for their turn. From my own experience, in such a situtation students may start their private talk softly about their friends' performance. Their comments are mostly informal or even biased. Presenters who come to the stage later may gain some certain benefits such as being able to avoid or limit the mistakes made by their peers. Unfortunately, time is not enough for them to make any significant changes or improvement to their presentation delivery.
Fluency is one of the specific skills that students practice and develop throughout the course of presentation skills through a wide variety of pair/ group activities. Traditionally, there is only the teacher who observes and gives comments to students' speaking fluency, but rarely do students in a group help each other improve their oral fluency in English presentations. Thus, the research question was formulated, "What is the utility of peer-assessment or peer review in developing oral fluency in English in Vietnamese university students' second-year class presentation?"
This research will firstly examine the relevant studies in peer assessment of oral presentations; then the context of this study will be described. In the next part, I intend to explain why the qualitative action research method has been selected. In Analysis and Findings, the process of data collection is described and how they work for my research. Finally, Reflections and Conclusions respectively will be offered.
In many EFL/ ESL classes these days, a strong emphasis has been placed on the students' spirit working with each other in a group. In particular, group members learn to share the workload, assist each other to complete one's task(s) and are encouraged to express their evaluations of the others' work both in written and oral forms constructively and appropriately. This can be done under the teacher's guidance and supervision so that students know what to assess in their friends' work and later on make full use of the assessment criteria.
Peer assessment has also been known as peer review, peer evaluation, peer feedback, or peer critiques. Researchers such as Stefani (1994), Race (1999), Falchikov & Goldfinch (2000) have widely stressed on the significance of using this tool and also set out proposals for further boosting its effectiveness. Race (1999) regarded peer evaluation as a time-saving method for a teacher to evaluate students' presentations and offer detailed comments. More importantly, according to Huerta-Macias (1995), this alternative assessment can report "a story for every student, and what is the ultimate goal of evaluation but to give us the knowledge to reflect on, discuss, and assist a student's journey through the learning process" (as cited in Shaaban, 2005, p.39). Stefani (1994) asserts that peer assessment involves learners in the marking process by giving them more responsibility and creating a good opportunity to assess their classmates constructively. As a result, learners benefit from growing confidence and in-depth understanding of the subject as well as the assessment process which is usually merely done by the teacher; and that they probably learn the lesson for themselves through self-evaluation and reflection.
Many researchers express their doubts of students' assessment, they claim that students of lower competence often overestimate and high achievers underestimate their peers' performance; as a consequence, various solutions have been worked out.
Stefani (1994) in his study of first-year undergraduate biochemical classes claims that students' marks of their peers' performance can be as reliable as those of the teachers or tutors, or even their score range may somewhat be "stringent" that that of their teacher (p.73). This procedure seems to be a quite challenging task for students if they receive inadequate training. Therefore, to cope with this lack, Stefani (1994) puts forward the suggestion that students should familiarize themselves with the system of peer assessment early in their academic life alongside with the traditional teacher evaluations. It is quite challenging for teachers at the English Department, HANU to put it into practice due to some cultural aspect that students have strong preference for their tutor's feedback and also partly because of the very few teachers who would introduce this measurement to students.
In the research by Magin & Hellmore (2001) on final year engineering students at the Univerisity of New South Wales, the two researchers focus on comparative reliability of teacher and peers' summative assessment of students' oral presenations. They conclude that the combination of marks given by both a team of teachers and different groups of student assessors can increase mark reliability, and that students with further practice are able to give a wider range of scores.The fact that teachers' evaluation is always considered superior can be explained by teachers' greater experience and expertise. This is similar to the case of this study when studens in my observations tend to believe in the teacher's feedback rather than their group members'.
According to Langan et al. (2005), their research took place during a residential course to another country. It involved second year students of Environmental Sciences or Biology who would complete and deliver their presentations individually. Students were introduced to the process of peer assessment and explained what to do prior to the presentations. The researchers find out that although there is a slight difference in specific marks given by tutors and students, particularly students' marks are higher than tutors', the strong correlations in mean marks of both students and tutors reveal the "a high degree of precision" in the students' marks (p.25). This group of researchers also emphasize the benefits for the students involved in designing the marking criteria, that is, they are able to assess more accurately, more proximate to tutors' marks than others.
On the other hand, peer assessment also has it own challenges, one of which is that the lecturer has to work with groups of mostly 'green apprentice' from a wide variety of backgrounds (Langan et al., 2005). The informants in my study have different educational background. Those living in big cities acquire better English proficiency and social relationships than those from rural and remote areas who are often reserved and less talkative.
Shimura (2006) carried out her study with Japanese students of various proficiency in EFL classes, in which the accuracy of the correlations between teacher and peer assessment is taken into deeper consideration. Her conclusion is noticeable in that she suggested students of different levels should have different evaluation forms, which I think is not very feasible, practical and cannot be widely used because it is time and energy-consuming.
Peer assessment is usually placed in comparison with that of a teacher, or to be more exact, teacher assessment is considered 'standard' over students'. Falchikov & Goldfinch (2000) raise their hesitation in the relialbility and validity of a teacher. As aforementioned, marks are of higher reliability if they come from various sources of assessment. However, in their study Falchikov & Goldfinch (2000) proved that marks given by a panel of judges are not necessarily more valid than by a single assessor.
Newburger (1996) classified the ability to communicate well as one of the essential competencies so that students will be more confident dealing with their tasks in their future careers (as cited in Dunbar, Brooks & Kubicka-Miller, 2006). Specifically, it refers as the ability to speak and listen well both in the academic and professional environment. This provides the basis of the fact that communicative ability has become the educational objectives to be reached of many colleges and universities.
A course of fundamental communication techniques
This small-scale research was conducted among teachers and second-year English majors of the English Department, Hanoi University. The Language Skills Division takes responsibility for the design of the course curriculum, which is only utilized for the English Department. Presentation skills are introduced to students at the beginning of the second acdemic year at the university. The course takes 20 weeks. For the first 18 weeks students meet regularly in two-hour classes every week with various lessons of functional language input and basic presentation skills, deal with topic-based vocabulary, practice giving mini presentations in pairs or small groups, and receive teacher feedback either via email or orally to their in-class performance. And the rest 2 weeks are saved for the end-of-term test, in which students choose the topic of their own interests and present in front of the class in groups of three or pairs in about 15 minutes. Normally, student presentations are teacher-assessed in accordance with the rubric which is composed of 6 items and 4 different levels (see Appendix 1). It has been in use at the English Department for quite a long time. It was introduced by the Head of the Language Skills Division, but unfortunately its source was missing and it has been adapted to fit the requirements of the course. Students usually receive the rubric at the beginning of the course; however, the majority of them have never heard of nor practiced evaluating their peers' presentations in class with the criteria provided, let alone utilizing it in accessing their peers' performance and for self-development. They usually take the role of attentive audience and totally rely on their teachers' feedback.
In the EFL class I did my observations there were 22 students including 21 females and only one male. An interesting fact in most departments of foreign language studies at HANU is that females absolutely outnumber males because of the students' preference in the choice of their majors, that is, female students often enrol courses of languages and social sciences while males tend to do courses of natural sciences.
The students' ages in this class ranged from 18 to 22. They came from various English backgrounds, some have been studying English since they were at primary schools, some others only learned the language for 3 years at their high school before entering the university. Their social backgrounds were also varied, hence different English proficiency as previously mentioned. Their English speaking proficiency, tested through face-to-face interviews on the topics covered in the curriculum with another teacher at the end of the second semester of the first academic year, ranged from 4 to 8.5 on a 10-mark scale.
I taught Speaking and Listening skills to this class last semester, thus I knew quite well each individual. However, another teacher was assigned to teach my class Listening and Presentation skills this semester, and I took over hers but with a different skill, that is, Reading.
As part of the curriculum, students are instructed to work in pairs but preferably groups of three. They were required to practice one presentation skill each week, then completed a variety of pair/ group activities containing many presentation situations that force the students to make use of the skill, which was monitored by the teacher. 15 minutes prior to the end of the class, two students from a pair/ group were randomly selected to give a two-minute oral presentation about the given topic without looking at the notes prepared previously in pair/ group discussions. The presenters received oral feedback from their teacher about their performance or occasionally the teacher collected students' comments around the class.
I decided to focus on 3 specific informants, one male and two females for several reasons. First, they were quite reserved, timid, passive and less talkative in speaking activities. Second, they usually sat in the last row of the class (when the class was traditionally arranged row after row) or in the far corner (in case the teacher arranged the class in different tables, each can sit 2-4 students facing each other). Third, when the teacher of the class collected opinions around the class, they kept silent or just produced short phrases or 'chunks' with great hesitation. Next, the two females tend to stick to the same speaking partner(s) all the time while the male is willing to join a new pair or group. Finally, students in the class generally hardly ever give comments to other students's fluency in presentations. They pay more attention to the use of grammar, lexis, body language, visual aids design, etc. Therefore, I would like to try the model of peer assessment in enhancing students' oral fluency for their better delivery of presentations.
This paper is a case study using qualitative methods with a teacher interview, one checklist of fluency for students to assess their friends after the class session and teacher's class observation notes for eight class sessions.
The teacher in charge of this presentations skills class gave consent to allow me to carry out this case study in her class. We worked cooperatively and closely with each other. I explained my procedures thoroughly to her in advance and she also offered critical suggestions to my data collection. We also exchanged follow-up emails to keep track of the students' development or to elaborate any further questions or raised new ideas if we had.
After eight class sessions, I had an interview with Ms. A for her opinion of the application of this model in her class. The interview was transcribed and given back to her for any additional necessary changes before it was officially used for my study. Ms. A has been teaching at the English Department for approximately 8 years and
Throughout four class observations of the second stage, in-class data about strengths and weaknesses of the class were also taken into considerations. These pieces of information were helpful for my research, hence my analysis would be more accurate.
All the students of the class also gave their consent to pariticipate in this study. And they seemingly found it quite comfortable to work with two teachers in the class. Besides, as mentioned above, the students and I already knew each other. After attending the class for the first two sessions, I had a talk with Ms. A and we agreed on the three students with poor fluency. They were discreetly observed in the class settings. The two females were named Yellow and White, and the male was Black.
FINDINGS AND ANALYSIS