Term Paper, 2017
23 Pages, Grade: 62
List of Appendices
Speaking is a skill which could be said to cause issues for language teachers. The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) (2011, p.23) claim that speaking ‘was the weakest skill in four out of five of the schools visited’ in their 2011 report. I aimed to find out what effect the use of drama can have on learners’ speaking confidence, spontaneity, and fluency – three areas mentioned in the National Curriculum for Key Stage Three (Department for Education (DfE), 2014). I consulted a range of literature on the subject and considered several approaches. I implemented my chosen strategies over three lessons with a class of 20 year ten pupils and used different tools to collect data for analysis, such as a questionnaire and observation notes from the class teacher.
The focus of modern language (ML) teaching has changed over the decades. Methods concerned mainly with grammar gave way to ‘intensive oral training’ (Even, 2011, p.300), and though we have moved on again from solely communicative language teaching to cover a range of skills equally, ‘[speaking] is the skill by which [learners] are most frequently judged’ (Bygate, 1987, p.vii). The language teacher must find a way to increase learners’ confidence in speaking the target language (TL), as well as their proficiency. Graham (2014, p.51) discusses a ‘paradox’ regarding speaking: pupils see it as an important goal, but they feel they have the least success in this skill. Ofsted (2011, p.23) agree that speaking is ‘a concern’. How, then, can teachers improve their approach to speaking in ML lessons?
Only two of the schools visited by Ofsted in their 2011 (p.24) report were said to have developed outstanding listening and speaking skills, which they did by ‘using drama to enhance their performance’ and being taught to ‘cope with information gaps’ to ensure they could react spontaneously. As well as spontaneity, research points to other benefits of using drama in the ML classroom.
Drama pedagogy is a ‘highly promising’ approach to ML teaching (Even, 2008, p.162) which moves drama from its traditionally extra-curricular status (McNeece, 1983, p.829) to a key teaching and learning tool. Authentic communication is often mentioned as a goal of drama pedagogy; the teacher wants to create a context for ‘speech that simulates […] actual communication’ (MCNeece, 1983, p.832), rather than the isolated or contrived sentences and dialogue often found in textbooks. Horne (2014, p.67) points out that authentic interactions can occur in the classroom, namely ‘the acquisition and use of classroom equipment or the carrying out of classroom routines’ but this is a limited view of what authentic communication could look like. Ofsted (2011, pp.23-24) stress the need to create ‘meaningful situations’ for conversation, something which asking to borrow a pencil would not satisfy. Pacher et al (2014 p.242) state that to make pupil interactions more like ‘real’ communication, they should be given opportunities to ‘define and express their own needs’ and take ownership of the language used. They suggest open-ended role-plays or writing mini-plays to facilitate this, and although these activities cover a range of skills, Ofsted (2011, p.24) claim that too many speaking activities are still grounded in writing, not allowing for true spontaneity.
Of course, one could say that true spontaneity is not easy to elicit. Horne (2014, p.68) reminds of the importance of teaching strategic competence – being able to deal with the unpredictable or working around a lack of vocabulary to communicate the message. Smith and Conti (2016, p.80) agree that the latter is the most important part of speaking, above accuracy. Even errors need not be corrected too frequently, which could impede the sense of authentic communication. Instead, they suggest correcting common errors at the end of an activity (p.81). The National Curriculum (DfE, 2014) also deems it important to help pupils find ‘ways of communicating what they want to say’, and being able to do so is a great motivating factor for pupils.
Kyriacou (2014, p.111) defines two types of pupil motivation: intrinsic, in which pupils develop their skills for ‘their own sake’ and extrinsic, in which they achieve some external goal or reward. Exams and other external factors can motivate pupils, but building intrinsic motivation, through authentic communication, can have a much greater impact on progress (Horne, 2014, p.67). Drama ‘makes language learning a stimulating and enjoyable experience’ (Smith and Conti, 2016, p.275), which can be invaluable when it comes to pupil motivation. Kyriacou (2014, p.113) suggests selecting topics which arouse interest and offer choice to build intrinsic motivation. Graham, (2014, p.52) agrees that learners are often given tasks which ‘fail to motivate them to speak’; they may be uninteresting or inauthentic. Pachler et al (2014, p.242) states that an element of unpredictability can make certain topics ‘more immediately interesting to pupils’, while Smith and Conti (2016, p.83) go further and instruct teachers not to ‘stick to the topic’. An ideal approach to ML, perhaps, but not an easy one under demanding time constraints.
It seems authentic communication could lead to increased motivation, but drama can also affect learners’ fluency and spontaneity. Fluency is defined as ‘the length of a run of speech between two pauses (Horne, 2014, p.66), while Smith and Conti (2016, p.83) state it is about the ‘speed of retrieval of the required L2 [second language] items from long-term memory’. The National Curriculum only briefly mentions fluency (DfE, 2014), but it does mention the need for ‘accurate pronunciation and intonation’, all of which improve as the learner moves closer to native speaker competency. Smith and Conti (2016 p.83) suggest detailed listening and decoding skills will help with spontaneous speaking, as well as teaching ‘hesitation language’ (p.84). The latter falls under the requirement for pupils to be able to ‘cope with unfamiliar language and unexpected responses’ (DfE, 2014). This is the type of experience they would have using the language in a real context abroad, which, aside from exams and qualifications, is the aim of learning a language. Time in the foreign country is invaluable (Even, 2011, p.300) in achieving true fluency, but if this is not possible the teacher can attempt to simulate the experience with carefully-chosen drama activities.
Pair and group work can be beneficial in reducing self-consciousness (Smith and Conti, 2016, p.275; McNeece, p.836), though it is possible that some pupils will not stay on task and ‘lapse into their L1 [first language]’ (Smith and Conti, 2016, p.80). If suitably motivated and monitored, however, pupil to pupil interaction can increase the amount of time spent speaking the TL and reduce anxiety (Graham, 2014, p.53). This would increase learner confidence, and possibly their fluency and spontaneity.
Role plays are a common tool for most language teachers, but what makes a particularly effective role play is the use of questions. Using a variety of longer and more complex questions alongside simpler, more familiar ones has a positive effect on language acquisition (Smith and Conti, 2016, p.82). Underhill (1987, p.51) agrees that the ability to ask and answer questions is ‘often overlooked’ in speaking but it is something which role plays are ‘good at eliciting’. The asking and answering of questions is a key component in leaners being able to ‘understand and respond to its speakers’, as stated in the National Curriculum (DfE, 2014).
Having to ask and answer questions is also a key feature of information gap activities (Graham, 2014, p.54) , which include the aforementioned element of unpredictability and provide a challenge for intermediate pupils (Smith and Conti, 2016, p.277). They can help provide a purpose for the activity, by reporting information back to the class, provided the teacher has made the pupils aware that feedback will be expected.
Drama activities to improve learner confidence as well as spontaneity and fluency are not limited to those above: once a teacher gets past their fear of losing control (Smith and Conti, 2016, p.275), drama can be a highly engaging and enjoyable teaching tool.
When designing my research, the first consideration was the ethics involved. I completed an ethics form and sought appropriate permission for my data collection tools. I had to obtain informed consent (Bell with Waters, 2014) from the participants before collecting any data, to allow them to withdraw if they wished (British Educational Research Association 2011). This is also stated, in writing, at the top of the questionnaire (appendix two): ‘You do not have to complete this questionnaire’, to make it completely clear.
I chose to carry out my research with a Year Ten class containing 20 pupils. This is a small sample size but as my research was qualitative (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011), it was not an important consideration. Moreover, using a non-probability sample involves ‘targeting a particular group, in the full knowledge that it does not represent the wider population’ (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011, p.154). I chose this group in particular due to their need to practice speaking skills for upcoming assessments – a purposive sample (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011, p.156), one which is chosen for a specific purpose and can provide in-depth information, despite it not being representative.
My research could be described as small-scale (Bell with Waters, 2014). Due to time constraints, my research only covered one group of pupils over three one-hour lessons. Such small amount of data may be unreliable (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011) but this was unavoidable.
To effectively triangulate any findings, which Bell with Waters (2014) state is important in any piece of research, no matter how small, I used several methods of data collection. I then cross-referenced any data gathered with the literature, to make sure my data was valid (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011).
My presentation slides (appendix four) are forms of documentary evidence, which Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011, p.249) describe as: a record of an ‘event or process’, or a specific point in time. In this way, they are more objective than other methods of data collection, which made sure that my findings were more reliable.
I also used observations (appendix three) from the class teacher to further back up my research. I chose this method to avoid too much ‘personal bias’ in my methods (Bell with Waters, 2014), though Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011, p.472) state selective attention and reactivity as common issues with observation, especially unstructured observations such as these. I did not choose a specific area for my observer to focus on, therefore the results were not always relevant to my research. Secondly, participants are known to change behaviour if being observed, calling into question the validity of my research. These pupils, however, are used to being observed and it should not have posed many problems.
Finally, I gave the pupils a questionnaire (appendix two) to analyse their attitudes to the strategies. Some researchers (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011) point out that questionnaires can be unreliable as ‘we have no way to check whether respondents are telling the truth’. Anonymity can help avoid this, as participants are more willing to be honest (Check and Schutt, 2012). I made sure to instruct the participants not to put their name on the questionnaire, both verbally and in writing. Other potential issues with questionnaires require careful design of the questions themselves, prior to beginning the research (Bell with Waters, 2014, p.157), to make sure that they are not leading or assuming. With regards to multiple choice questions, they can be useful as long as the categories are discrete (Cohen, Manion and Morrison, 2011, p.382), that is to say, contain no overlap and are mutually exclusive. I therefore made sure that you could not choose more than one option by phrasing the question with superlatives: ‘Which one of the following skills do you find most difficult?’, for example. This was still not entirely clear as some pupils asked whether they could circle more than one answer. I could have included an extra instruction to avoid this, such as ‘only circle one answer for each question.’
Using suggestions from the research and considering the practicalities, I chose three activities to carry out: a speed dating activity with no preparation to simulate an authentic conversation; a role-play scripted by the pupils; and a pair conversation, with ‘character cards’ to give pupils an idea in English what they could say, and questions on the slide. To analyse whether my three drama activities had an effect on pupil’s speaking, I have the following data: the questionnaire (appendix two), observation notes (appendix three), and lesson slides and resources to illustrate the activities (appendix four). One questionnaire was not completed and as BERA (2011, p.6) state: ‘researchers must recognise the right of any participant to withdraw from the research for any or no reason, and at any time’, which means that I had 19 questionnaires. Of these, seven participants filled in the optional ‘extra comments’ box. Cohen et al (2011) suggest participants are more likely to complete a questionnaire if it does not require lengthy answers, hence this comment being optional.
I organised the data in a simple table (appendix 2.2), as Bell with Waters mention that (2014, p.123) ‘In small […] studies, it may be better to keep to manual methods of data analysis’. This format allowed me to find information easily and consider how many people had chosen a particular answer.
I firstly wanted to confirm my earlier findings on pupils’ perception of speaking as a skill. Surprisingly, considering Graham (2014, p.51) found that feel they have the least success in this skill, in this study 8 out of 19 pupils claimed that listening was the skill they found the most difficult. With only 6 out of 19 pupils stating it as the most difficult skill, speaking came second. It is nevertheless an important skill to concentrate on, as confirmed by pupil comments such as ‘could we do more speaking activities’ and ‘speaking in general is hard for me’. It is not clear from the comments whether the activities were effective from the pupils’ point of view, as the comments are vague, a common issue with qualitative data gathered from questionnaires (Bell with Waters, 2014).
The one activity mentioned specifically by pupils was speed dating. Unfortunately, this included comments such as ‘speed dating sucks’ from two pupils. There were also relatively few pupils who chose speed dating as an option for improved confidence, fluency, or spontaneity. The activity aimed to produce ‘actual communication’ (MCNeece, 1983, p.832), which, looking at the observation notes, was successful: ‘Pupils engage well with the activity and produce some good quality answers’. The production of these answers without written support was a good example of spontaneity in line with Ofsted’s (2011, p.24) expectations, seen above. The fact that pupils were not comfortable with this activity suggests that it may not be best for increasing their confidence, but could be useful for other reasons, like spontaneity and fluency.
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