Teaching In The Hong Kong English Language English Language Essay

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The role of grammar teaching in the Hong Kong English language curriculum has always been an important one. Despite the advent of communicative language teaching and task-based approach, grammar-based instruction has formed a salient component of English lessons. The explicit form-focused instruction has been a deep-rooted dominating approach in Hong Kong.

Different grammar teaching methodologies which have been proposed in the SLA paradigm lie on a continuum between deductive and inductive approach (Thornbury, 1999). While my original teaching was mainly conducted through a deductive approach, in which the lesson is teacher-centered and dominated by mechanical drillings, student's performance was unsatisfactory. Motivated by such observations, I decided to carry out this study on exploring the possibility of adopting an inductive approach for grammar teaching. In a review of the SLA literature discussing those approaches, I discovered a prevalence of grammatical consciousness-raising tasks which stress the learners' making inductive discovery of grammatical information through guided exposure to enriched language input.

The purpose of this study was to examine the use of grammatical consciousness-raising tasks as an inductive approach to grammar pedagogy in an ESL classroom. Comparison is made to traditional deductive approach. In this study, the following issues were discussed: the approaches adopted for teaching of grammar in the Hong Kong ESL classrooms and the influence of CR task on learning.

2. Literature Review

In the literature, the definition of consciousness-raising (CR) tasks had been encapsulated in various ways. According to Fotos and Ellis (1991), CR task is designed so that student can induce and formulate some grammatical rules from the presented sentences through interacting and negotiating in small groups. Fotos (1994) point out that this task provides opportunities for communication and promote noticing.

Schmidt (1990) identifies three levels of consciousness, perception, noticing and understanding. The mental processes of noticing, structuring and restructing allow learners to organize language flecibly, combining elements from grammar and lexis productively. As a result, students achieve the self-discovery of grammar rule and self-expression of them in communication. Exposures to meaningful samples of language and plenty of opportunities for practicing it freely are essential to improve students' learning performance. Explicit knowledge about the grammar rules are considered to be important for the learners' L2 acquisition, and CR thus promote explicit knowledge of the target structure.

Following the model of CR tasks as proposed R. Ellis (1991), a CR task is divided into several stages. First, it is an orientation to the selected grammar item in order to activate learners' prior knowledge regarding the particular grammar item. The next stage is a reading activity in which learners are to interact with a text illustrating the use of the selected grammar item in two ways, first comprehending the text and grasping its meaning and second identifying instances of the target item in the text. This is then followed by an analytic stage to develop and test hypotheses regarding the grammar rule that is operating (Fotos, 2002:147). Learners can discuss the results of their respective analysis with each other.

In this sense, the learners engage themselves with both reading and grammar simultaneously, which has been advocated in the SLA literature. Knitson states that teaching grammar through reading is useful to draw students' attention to linguistic features of target language. Finally, misunderstanding on the part of the learners is to be clarified through 'additional information, description, explanation and example (Brender, 2001:6), and learners are then provided with such other consolidation activities as posttest and further readings 'with multiple embeddings of the target structure' (Fotos, 2002:146).

The interactive nature of CR task is well supported by two influential SLA theories. According to the Interaction Hypothesis (Long, 1996), interaction promotes acquisition if learners are engaged in negotiating for meaning, especially in existence of communication breakdowns. Learners are expected to negotiate different aspects of grammatical information regarding the targeted language. The meaning negotiations arising help to make input more comprehensible to the learners. On the other hand, the Vygotsky's sociocultural theory (1986) claims that knowledge is social in nature that is constructed through scaffolding. Scaffolding comes from ideas concerning the zone of proximal development (ZPD) and socicultural perspective (Vygitsky, 1986 and Werthch, 1998). Learning is useful if it challenges the learners to think and act in ways that are beyond their actual level of development. Contextualization are embedded in what the students know by heart. Prior knowledge is considered and used as a foundation of both building background and accessing new information Teacher should identify what a student already knows, build on that skill set when introducing new concepts. It helps students connect their new learning to their prior knowledge via scaffolding.

The Behaviorist theory is based on behavioral habits and the assumption that repetition of behaviors and reinforcement will lead to mastery of the fixed knowledge that is received from the outside environment (Semple, 2000). Rote rule memorization and the grammar translation method, an academic tradition that focuses on grammar, fall into a behavioral framework. With this model, language structures are presented by the teacher, then practiced in the form of spoken or written exercises in viewing language as stimulus and response, and then used by the learners in less controlled speaking or writing activities. (Hanleys, 1994).

Although the traditional grammar teaching method helps improve the student's mastery of the grammatical rules, the students cannot use these rules flexibly and appropriately in communication. Lasrsen-Freeman (2000), Richards and Rodgers (2002), learners learn about grammar rules deductively. It prevents the students from developing their communicative competence. The majority of the classroom time is spent on the teachers' elaboration of English grammar rules, while all the students are listening Thus little attention is paid to the development of English communicative competence. Besides, memorization and rote learning cannot help arouse student's interest.

3. Methodology:

3.1 Participants

Forty students at a secondary school in Tai Po participated in the study. The participants were all native speakers of Cantonese, with ages ranging from 15 to16. The result of first term uniform test showed that their English proficiency is average.

Students were divided into an experimental group and a control group. The experimental group was instructed through the use of CR task and the control group through the use of practice and traditional approaches.

3.2 Instruments and Design

Twelve 30-minutes classes were conducted in this experiment. Both groups learned how to use the second conditional to talk about unreal situations in the present or in the future. The control group received teacher-centered, deductive grammar lessons. There was explicit teacher's presentation through controlled practice exercises with several repeating activities.

Contrary, Students in the experimental group are instructed to read a text illustrating the use of the selected grammar item. Then, students analyzed the form of and the meaning expressed by the target language, and teacher provided step-by-step guidance each in the form of short-answered questions in the worksheet. Finally, the group sentence making activity was sued to consolidate students' learning. Students developed their own sentences that would be different from those created by other groups. In turn, one student from each group read the clues aloud. Other groups guess the identity.

Focus group was used to examine the factor contributing to CR task from students’ perspective. Burns and Bush (2006) mentioned that the optimal size of focus group was six to twelve participants. Therefore, group membership of the focus group included six participants. A sample of the questions was enclosed as Appendix 1.

The learners took the pre- and post tests that each required 20 minutes to complete.

Findings

According to class observation and students' test results, students performing CR task showed a significant gain in understanding of the use and form of the target language when compared to students learning the same items through deductive grammatical explanation.

Students responded that CR task is different from the traditional teaching. Traditionally, teacher provided direct explanations of a grammar structure. Students then memorized complex rule and apply this rule in written exercises. As a result, grammar exercises were widely used as a mean of mechanical drilling. In this study, teacher would like to induce students to work out the grammar rules from the examples given by them instead of explaining all first.

Students showed positive attitude towards learning grammar through performing CR task. Students responded that it was beneficial to mastering the target grammar item through CR task as they are able to figure out rules for themselves. Chomsky states that everyone has the ability to identify the set of rules about the language on the basis of limited exposure to that language. Thus, students are seen as actively acquiring the language by making hypotheses and then applying those regularities in what they say. Thus language learning is viewed as active and rule seeking rather than rule remembering. Drilling and repetition were no longer emphasized but activities which necessitated active learning. If teaching activities were planned appropriately, students would work out for themselves the underlying rules of the L2 and then practise them. New rules are hypothesized from the information given and then tested out though meaningful contexts.

According to xxx, the learner's identification of examples of use of the target grammar items may serve to make those items more salient (Nagata, 19977) in the contexts in which they were embedded, and may in turn promote the learners' noticing of such items. It facilitates the learners' finding out the rules underlying the target sentences through completing the CR tasks. Learner autonomy was emphasized as it developed students’ independent learning skills.

As for the questionnaire item asking whether the participants through CR task in this study were interesting and whether they enjoyed learning grammar though such task, the response were encouraging. 30 (73.2%) of them strongly agreed or agreed with that statement. They felt satisfied as they had developed a sense of satisfaction through successfully tacking the cognitive challenges in the CR task. . Unlike traditional teaching, teacher did not provide explicit explanation of grammar items, There are not mechanical drills and grammar exercise. They also enjoy to talk and to work with their peers on language forms rather than having extensive drills on them

Students are able to apply their knowledge in negotiating meaning. Meaning is negotiated through interaction. Therefore, it involved more active learner participation in the learning process.

Also they claim that the examples sentences provided in the CR task helped them kearn the grammar items. the learners were to comprehend texts in which examples showing the use of the target grammar items were embedded before they did explicit analysis on the form and meaning of those item. According to the interviewees, both the situational context and the linguistic context, were appropriate for guiding their making grammar discoveries during the CR task. This is accordance with Ellis (2003) that both the linguistic and the situation contexts are essential for any occasions of using a langugae. (contextualization) To point out the grammatical item clearly, several examples of that item are embedded in different parts of the text. Opportunities are given to students in order to internalize the grammatical system of the language and relate this grammatical system to the meanings it conveys in communication.

Although CR task bring about a greater learning outcome as student have been intensively working on the rule for a long time, it is time consuming. Besides, teacher T constantly have to be aware of incorrect rules student can come up with inductively as students are not familiarized with linguistic term when using the inductive approach. Nevertheless, students learn how to deal with linguistic concepts, though not specifically with the term related to it. Linguistic terms can be given after the induction process has been completed. The rule will then make sense to students. As students have to figure out the rule for themselves, it stimulate active and independent attitude towards grammar. As a result, student will become less dependent on instruction when there is no teacher that will present the rules for them. However, a student point out that it is more accurate to learn the grammar item given by teacher as they have to find out the rules on their own. It was corresponding to student' past learning experience of traditional grammar teaching.

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