LEARNING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE THROUGH ON-LINE READING ACTIVITIES

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1 LEARNING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE THROUGH ON-LINE READING ACTIVITIES CESAR AUGUSTO QUINTERO MAHECHA. UNIVERSITY OF QUINDIO FACULTY OFEDUCATION MODERN LANGUAGES PROGRAM ARMENIA 2010

2 LEARNING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE THROUGH ON-LINE READING ACTIVITIES CESAR AUGUSTO QUINTERO MAHECHA Research Project report Advisor ALEXIS GUEVARA HENAO UNIVERSITY OF QUINDIO FACULTY OFEDUCATION MODERN LANGUAGES PROGRAM ARMENIA 2010

3 Introduction The research project entitled LEARNING ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE THROUGH ON-LINE READING ACTIVITIES was directed to fifth graders from one of the elementary schools of the departments of Colombia with the approval of the different coordinators, teachers and people related to the institution. The main reason to carry out this project is because the teacher researcher considered that on-line activities used appropriately, interactively, and, with guidance, will become tools for the development of English skills especially, the reading skill. The purpose is to make use of the different activities that the internet offers and create learning activities which are mainly based on online learning exercises that could be used to "enhance reading skills in the students in class. For having a better understanding of the Action Research Project, the teacher-researcher highlighted that the study tried to go beyond the problem, and, parallel to that, provided some practical solutions making use of reading activities and different tools that the internet offers to everyone. This action research was developed taking into account the central focus of the problem which was the lack of reading comprehension skill in students. Some literature review was made by the teacher researcher with the purpose of expanding knowledge concerning the issue

4 Rationale The main reason the teacher researcher conducted the study part was because he observed a specific context the classroom in which he found out a lot of problems concerning reading skills in fifth graders, since the development of reading at primary levels is elementary. Taking into account personal interest on this issue, the teacher researcher believed that this research project could influence every student by the implementation of the information communications technology. In that way, the learners would interact and perform different on-line reading activities. Besides, technology can be used in order to leave old teaching practices aside and begin to experiment an interactive teaching and learning environment. Thus, Students can be plugged into computers to do drill and practice activities which are different from workbooks. Teachers can use multimedia technology to give more colorful, stimulating lectures. In that way, teachers will supply some of the learners needs and see improvements in their learning process by the means of implementing useful activities and techniques teaching reading through learning on-line activities. The teacher researcher believed that teachers could take advantage of those tools in order to solve or improve learning problems, and in this way, make the teaching of English interactive and meaningful for learners.

5 1. Description of the context and settings This research has been conducted in a Colombian public school; this institution is situated in the department of Quindío, Colombia, South America, a place historically known for many tourist attractions. At present time, it has appropriate physical conditions, for instance, six classrooms all the classrooms are well organized and cleaned also, the school has a big place where the students play and enjoy in their resting time. The institution has a small park especially for children besides, this school has a special room for the teacher`s meetings, and it has a small restaurant, and a small room with three computers. Mission and vision The Mission of the institution is to orientate its Educative Process those processes stipulate the formation and orientation of integral students from the primary levels until the secondary levels in order to develop their personal identity and contribute to the development to the local and national environment. According to the vision of the institution, in the year 2015, the institution will be recognized as an excellent and competitive institution in the local educative setting and national setting. The academic community The average overall number of students is approximately 350. The students of the school are five to twelve years old and of different social status, from low class. All those students are assisted by an average number of 8 professors, four in the morning and four in the evening, and the English schedule is only three hours per week

6 2. Description of the problem The teacher identified the problem after observing the weak level of English, with regard to reading skill. There, he realized that the main problem was that the school did not provide meaningful activities for students; many of the topics were taught in isolation. Another point was that the different activities did not call the attention of the pupils. Besides, those activities made in class were not appropriate for the student s age. Also, all of the lessons were based on the translation method. The teaching of English in that setting did not permit the students to accomplish suitable learning since the different activities were not appealing for them. There was a real importance of using different on- line activities in order to solve those learning problems and make the students perform the reading skill successfully in the second language. Another important point was the diagnostic stage which was done by the teacher researcher; it consisted of the application of instruments which helped the teacher in charge of the project to take valuable data. Thus, four different instruments were designed with the specific purpose of collecting useful information that would make possible the analysis and the identification of the reading problems in the institution. With the application of the instruments and comparing them by means of triangulation, the problem was clarified and showed to the teacher researcher that the research project of on- line activities would be used as a way to enhance reading skill.

7 3. Research question All this was compiled in one question that contains reading skills and on-line activities. How can on - line activities enhance reading skill in the students?

8 4. Objectives 4.1 General objective: -To enhance the reading strategies in English by means of on-line activities. 4.2 Specific objectives: -To foster autonomous learning in the students in the learning process. -To foster learners self-development in the reading skill.

9 5. Theoretical framework 5.1 E-learning On line activities is also known as e- learning. It is commonly recognized as a powerful and valuable extension to traditional educational initiatives and learning management systems (LMS) which are key tools that support new educational models. According to Campbell (2004), in the school sector E- learning refers to the use of both software-based and on-line learning, whereas in business, higher education, the military and the training sectors, it refers solely to a range of on-line practices. In addition, Downes (1999) defines E-learning as basically learning that is facilitated and supported via information and communications technology ICT. (Downes, 1999, p5). Masie (1997) says Online learning is the use of network technology to design, deliver, select, administer, and extend learning. In the same manner, Rosenberg (2001) described how e- learning "refers to the use of Internet technologies to deliver a broad array of solutions that enhance knowledge and performance" (Rosenberg, 2001, p28). Bernard Luskin argues that the "E" must be understood to have broad meaning if e-learning is to be effective. Luskin says that the "e" should be interpreted to mean exciting, energetic, enthusiastic, emotional, extended, excellent, and educational in addition to "electronic", that is a traditional interpretation. This broader interpretation allows for 21st century applications. Also, Rosenberg (2001) described the importance of the Internet to enable networking for the shared storage/retrieval of information in the context of what he saw as the broadest view of learning. However, having access to vast amounts of information online is to deny the importance of social interaction and the communication and interaction that take place as part of the practice of teaching. Networking is not just about information and linked technologies, it is something that people can engage in most effectively online and

10 provide one of the real strengths of e-learning( Rosenberg, 2001,p 29) E-learning strategies Taking into account this issue, there has been a range of exciting strategies for utilizing the Internet in schools in order to promote excellent learning environments and bring benefits to the educational system by the used of new technologies. In the spirit of innovation, the early adopters have been given time and space to explore a range of opportunities and possibilities without too many rules to bar their progress. As time passed more and more people such educators, institutions, and specialists in the field of education have become interested and absorbed by the teaching and learning potential of the Internet for themselves, and for their e-literate students. The possibilities and vision for e- education was becoming stronger and stronger with a clear need for an e-education strategy that compliments the ICT strategies of the future. (Campbell, 2001, p4). Rosenberg (2001) highlighted the importance of an e-learning strategy and warned that this was not just about utilizing tools. An effective e-learning strategy must be more than the technology itself and the content it carries. It should focus on critical success factors that include building a learning culture, encourage true leadership support, deploying a nurturing business model, and sustaining the change throughout the organization. (Rosenberg, 2001, p11). As many theorists have argued and practitioners have experienced for themselves, on line- learning is but a subset of learning in general thus, we can expect issues relevant to how adults learn generally to also be relevant in an on line- learning context (Herrington and Oliver, 1999).

11 5.2 Theory and practice of On-line learning. Some behaviorist, cognitivist, and constructivist theories have contributed in different ways to the design of on line-materials, and they will continue be used to develop learning materials for online learning for instance behaviorist strategies can be used to teach the facts (what); cognitivist strategies, the principle and processes (how); constructivist to teach the real life and personal applications and contextual learning. There is a shift toward constructive learning, in which learners are given the opportunity to construct their own meaning from the information presented during the online sessions. (Anderson, 2004, p39). In addition to the existing learning theories, connectivism should be used to guide the development of online learning, since the other learning theories were developed before we became a networked world (Anderson, 2004). In this way, connectivism and connective knowledge serve as a framework for the different theories relate to teaching and practice since it outlines and helps to understand how the educational system can be in the future and how these theories are going to be implemented within the classrooms and the real impact in students. According to Siemens (2004), connectivist theory is for the digital age, where the individual learns and works in a networked environment. As a result, we do not have control over what we learn, since others and that requires new learning. Thus, on line learning environments are also viewed as opening the door to educational opportunities where none existed before. Technology, however, brings with it its set of encumbrances and difficulties and its successful implementation requires careful networks of student support (Davis, Little and Steward 2008).

12 5.2.1 Foundations of educational theory for on-line learning There is ongoing debate whether using a particular delivery technology improves the learning (Beynon, 2007; Clark, 2001; Kozma, 2001). It has long been recognized that specialized delivery technologies can provide efficient and timely access to learning materials; however, Clark (1983) claims that technologies are merely vehicles that deliver instruction, and do not themselves influence student achievement. As Clark notes, meta-analysis studies on media research show that students gain significant learning benefits from audiovisual or computer media. The use of any particular delivery technology is a great opportunity to see new ways to carry out learning for introducing students to new or difficult concepts. Nowadays, times tables or grammar are incorporated into platform games that use positive reinforcement to encourage children to move onto new difficulty levels of learning. This interactive element is essential to ensure learners to feel that they have some control over their education and see progress in the learning process Benefits of on-line learning Using on-line learning delivery helps learners to immerse into training content. Text, graphics, illustrations, photographic images, animation, full-motion video, narration, music and sound effects are used to create an engaging learning environment that can train bot only students but also teachers consistently, economically and with better learning and retention. According to Bonk and Reynolds (1997), to promote higherorder thinking on the web, on-line learning must create challenging activities that enable learners to link new information to old; in order to acquire meaningful knowledge.

13 Increasingly, organizations are adopting on- line learning as the main delivery method to train employees. At the same time, educational institutions are moving toward the use of internet for delivery, both on campus and at distance. For organizations and institutions to make this often expensive move, there must be a perception that using on-line learning provides major benefits. For learners, online learning knows no time zones, and location and distance are not issues. In asynchronous online learning, students can access the online material anytime, while synchronous online learning allows for real- time interaction between instructors and students (Simmons, 2002). For instructors, tutoring can be done anytime, anywhere. On line materials can be up date, and learners can see the changes immediately. When learners are able to access materials on the internet, it is easier for instructor to direct them to appropriate information based on their needs. If designed properly, online learning systems can be used to determine learner s needs and current level of expertise, and to assign appropriate materials for learners to select from, to achieve their desired learning outcomes (Anderson 2004) Reading skill What is reading? This is seen as a simple question but it is filled with complexity. People from various disciplines have attempted to define reading, and in the searching of a proper definition it is not surprising to find educators, physiologists, linguists, sociologists to have filled volumes with their definitions about reading. Thus, one definition emphasizes the mental process involved in reading and the different values that may be derived from the process (Romero, 2008) Also, current reading research incorporates the basic tenets of cognitive psychology and schema theory (Gillet and Temple, 1990). In the current model, readers are active participants who use before, during and after reading strategies to engage with the text. By using the reading process, readers are more than passive participants who merely receive information from the text. As readers interact with the text, they construct meaning by using their prior knowledge (Marr and Gormey, 1982).

14 Lapp and Flood (1978) state that all definitions of reading fall into two categories. First, there are those who view reading primarily as a decoding process, a breaking of a visual code. In a second view, reading for meaning is emphasized from the very earliest stages of the instruction; in this view reading as a comprehension process is stressed. In the same way, Smith (1993) has arrived at some characteristics of reading. 1. Reading is a complex process. Ones reading performance is affected by a number of correlates so that is not easy to explain why an individual s reading may be satisfactory or unsatisfactory. 2. Reading is two way process. Reading is commutation between author and reader. Communication gap between author and reader results too poor comprehension. When that gap is bridge, better comprehension is better. 3. Reading is largely a visual process. Normally good eyesight is required in good reading. 4. Reading is an active process. It is a thinking process. A reader usually reacts physically, emotionally or intellectually about what he reads. 5. Reading makes use of a linguistic system which enables readers to be more effective users of written language.

15 5.2.4 Reading skill acquisition Reading skills acquisition is the process of acquiring the basic skills necessary for learning to read; that is, the ability to acquire meaning from print (Romero, 2008). According to the report by the US national Reading panel (NRP) in 2000, the skills require for proficient reading are phonological awareness, (sounds-symbol correspondence), fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension. -Phonemic awareness: the ability to distinguish and manipulate the individual sounds of language. Also, it includes rhymes, syllables, and onsets and rimes. -Phonics: method that stresses the acquisition of letter-sound correspondences and their use in reading and spelling. This helps beginning readers to understand how letters are linking to sounds (phonemes), patters of letter sound correspondences and spelling in English, and how to apply this knowledge when they read. -Fluency: the ability to read orally with speed, accuracy and vocal expression. The ability to read fluently is one of the several critical factors necessary for reading comprehension. If a reader is not fluent, it may be difficult to remember what has been read and to relate the ideas expressed in the text to his or her background knowledge. This accuracy and automaticity of reading serves as a bridge between decoding and comprehension. -Vocabulary: a critical aspect of reading comprehension is vocabulary development. When a reader encounters an unfamiliar world in print and decodes it to derive its spoken pronunciation, the reader understands the word if it is in the readers spoken vocabulary. Otherwise, the reader must derive the meaning of the word using another strategy, such a context.

16 -Reading comprehension: the NRP describes comprehension as complex cognitive process in which a reader intentionally and interactively engages with the text. Reading comprehension is heavily dependent on skilled word recognition and decoding, oral reading fluency, a welldeveloped vocabulary and active engagement with the text. Those are skills required for proficient reading according to the US national Reading panel. (Howlett, 2002, p3) Reading skills in EFL Reading whether in a first or second language context involves the reader, the text, and the interaction between the reader and text. The act of reading in a second language was often viewed as merely a slower version of doing the same task on the native language. This process is also a meaning-making process involving an interaction between the reader and the text. Readers use mental activities in order to construct meaning from text. These activities are generally referred to as reading strategies or reading skills. (Singhal, 1998). It is at this point where content schema and reading comprehension both meet. Content schema or cultural orientation in terms of background knowledge is also a factor that influences L2/FL reading. According to Smith (1973), Reading engages a trade-off between visual and non-visual information The more that is already known, the less visual information is required to identify a letter, a word, or meaning from text. The importance of background (cultural) knowledge in reading is of great relevance to Schema Theory which states that reading a text implies an interaction between the reader s background knowledge and the text itself (Fuhong, 2004).

17 In a similar way, Nutall (1982) affirms that if students have no need to use the foreign language outside the classroom the only function of the FL for them seems to be: to be learnt; and their reason for reading it is: to learn to read it. This is sterile and is not a surprise if students motivation is low. (Nutall, 1982, p5) Implementing e-learning in EFL Emerging technologies and their affordances require that educators rethink their fundamental assumptions about teaching and learning (Vrasidas and Glass, 2002). Technology affordances played a major role in reshaping teaching and assessment and have revolutionized the use of portfolios as a pedagogical, reflective and assessment tool (Mason, 2002; Vrasidas and Glass, 2004). Many studies over the past twenty years have attempt to measure the impact of the introduction of new information and communication technologies (ICT) on the second language performance of learners (Higgins, 1983). Early studies of the role in language learning generally confined themselves to an analysis of content and task authenticity, rather than authenticity of experience. More recently, however, author have begun to explore notions of multiliteracy whereby to be considered multiliterate, students today must acquire a battery of skills that will enable them to take advantage f the diverse modes of communication made possible by new technologies and to participate in global learning communities (Kaspar, 2000 p 305). The use of ICT in the language learning process might, therefore, have an impact well beyond the language classroom, as students not only develop linguistic and sociocultural expertise thought ICT, but also acquire ICT related skills thought the target language. On this basis, it could equip the individual to participate fully in all aspects of modern society (Kaspar, 2000) within dynamic and ongoing process of perpetual information (Neilson, 1989).

18 5.2.7 The changing word of English language teaching. As technologies embed themselves in everyday discourse an activity, a curious thing happens. The more we look, the more they slip into the background. Despite our attention, we lose sight of the way they shape our daily lives (Bruce and Hogan, 1998, p 270). Things change, however, as technology becomes the normal and expected means of communication, and education. (Bruce and Hogan 1998). They point out, important changes occur in expectations about the abilities students have to acquire to be successful language users. The abilities required by English language users should be directly relevant to English language teachers. Moreover the bond between technology and language use in modern world should prompt all language professionals to reflect on the ways in which technology is changing the profession of English language teaching in particular, and applied linguistics as a whole. If technology has as Bruce and Hogan (1998) suggests, slipped into the background, it may be necessary to attempt to bring it back into the foreground to explore its implications for language teachers and researchers. For example Kurzweil,(1999) predicts significant changes in different areas in which English language teaching and research are involve. In particular, he predicts a lot of changes in which can take place in communication and education because of the advances of technology and the speed of intellectual progress.

19 6. Methodological design 6.1Type of Study The type of study of this project is basically action research since the researcher conducted a reflective process of progressive problem solving in which he gathered important data in order to find a possible solution to the main problem related to the reading skill. Also, the teacher researcher inquired about the ways in which the particular public institution operated and how the students improved in the reading skill. This project shows some important features of an action research project such as detecting a problem by observing techniques, developing a plan for improvement, implementing it, observing and at the same time documenting the effects of that plan, and reflecting on the effects of implementation to obtain final conclusions. This project involves some important steps of action research, but it also shares some characteristics of a descriptive research since it has some statistical results which are mainly based on descriptive data collected by means of observations, questionnaires, interviews, journals and surveys. The design, the instruments, the formats, the interpretation and the conclusions based on the triangulation are presented in a clear way in order to facilitate the understanding of it. Needless to say that

20 this project has characteristics of both action and descriptive research, the data gathered through the process share two perspectives, qualitative and quantitative. Thus, this action research project has been carried out within the classroom taking into account scientific methods. The final product of the research project can be analyzed from a scientific perspective.

21 6.2 Participants The population of this project was fifth graders who were students of a public school with an average of ages between nine and ten years old. Their mother tongue was Spanish. Afterwards, a sample of fifty students was selected for practical reasons. This group was selected since they were eager to work and also for their good willing to collaborate; the research showed to help not only the students but also the teacher researcher. Another participant who was involved in this research project was the teacher who collaborated in many activities; besides, the teacher had his own perspective in respect to the phenomena. Some other teachers were also requested for helping a little bit during the implementation stage.

22 7. Phases of the research 7.1 Phase I: Diagnostic stage The diagnostic stage consisted of the application of some instruments Description of the Instruments In order to diagnose, four instruments were used, one survey to students, one check-list to the teacher, one questionnaire to the teacher, and one exam to students. Graph: 1 description of diagnostic instruments Instrument Description Interpretation criteria Survey to students Appendix 1 Check list to teacher Appendix 2 Questionnaire to teacher Appendix 3 Test to students Appendix 4 Composed by six questions and four multiple choices. Composed by nine questions and yes or no options for reviewing the teacher performance and one chart for comments Composed by seven open questions that allow multiple answers. Composed by nine questions, seven with three multiple choice and two questions of reading comprehension. Quantification of responses and statistical medias were used to determine the results The results were given through interpretation of the responses taking into account the categories based on online activities. The results were given through interpretation of the different responses of the teacher. Quantification of responses and statistical medias were used to determine the results Triangulation The following chart displays the triangulation of the instruments implemented by the teacher researcher in relation to the categories such reading skill and on-line activities.

23 Instruments Graphic: 2 triangulation of instruments CATEGORIES SURVEY TO THE STUDENTS CHECK LIST TO TEACHER PERFORMANCE QUESTIONNAIRE TO THE TEACHER TEST TO STUDENTS CONCLUSIONS READING SKILLS 37.5% of the students expressed to understand little about English readings and 25% of the students expressed to understand a little of the English readings. The check list showed that the teacher did not emphasized her class in reading skill The teacher expressed to implement copies and workshops in order to enhance reading skill The level of students is emerging since there is a lack of writing within the classroom. The majority of the students in reading skill are in emerging level because of the lack of writing in class. See Appendix 1 See Appendix 2 See Appendix 3 See Appendix 4 ON-LINE ACTIVITIES 43.75% of the students showed a high interest in the implementation of on-line activities in the classroom The teacher did not use on-line activities in the classroom The teacher is totally in agreement with the implementation of on-line activities in the classroom The majority of the students are interested in the implementation of on-line activities in the classroom Finally, with all the information gathered, the teacher researcher concluded that the level of the reading skill of fifth graders at the Elementary School is emerging. Based on the triangulation of the instruments and the interpretation of the data gathered, there is a high percentage of the students had an emerging level with regard to the reading competence then there is an obvious need to put into practice on-line activities in order to enhance reading skill in students, but there is an important factor the majority of the students are interested in the implementation of on-line activities in the classroom in order to improve the weakness in the reading skill.

24 7.2 Design and Implementation of Action Strategies Structure and Design of the Research Proposal As the problem has been detected, reading skill, was previously observed and adequately documented, the way to tackle it was through the use of different on-line activities using new technologies such as internet. To reach this aim, three different cycles were designed with three different lesson plans, and activities The Cycles The stimulus provided was mainly based on three lesson plans which were carried out taking into account the different levels of difficulty from the easiest to the hardest ones. Cycle I: Short story about a special Christmas present. This activity was made taking into account on-line activities from internet. The first part of the activity consisted on reading the text called a special Christmas present in that reading student had to answer nine questions with multiple choices after that, the student had to click on the best answer for each question based on the information given in the text. The second part consisted on recreating the story; the students had to build the story by choosing one of three sentences given in the web page according to the order of the ideas. If the choice was correct, the sentence was added to the story. The last exercise was based on a summary of the story in which the student had to complete the text by typing the correct word into each space and when the student had finished he or she clicked on check and look if the answers were right.

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