1) Why have you started to do action research?
It was observed by the researchers that many Year 10 students have problems producing grammatically accurate spoken English even if they can produce the mistaken forms correctly in their written output. There is a body of research in English language education (e.g. Fotos, 1994; Mackey, 2006; Mennim, 2007; Stones, 2013) on the noticing or consciousness raising approach to improving the application of language skills. Research in this area has tended to focus on written language rather than spoken but some workers have investigated error noticing on oral English production.
Aline [1, p. 72] found that “it is possible to affect students' production to some extent through metalinguistic techniques such as having them discuss their own output in the form of transcripts”. Stones [7, p. 20] in asking students to transcribe their performance in an IELTS type test and to respond to errors noted both by themselves and by teachers, observed that students approached correction in a wide variety of ways “from single corrections to complete reformulations”. There were also indications that “students were able to make gains with a variety of forms, appearing more likely to use their own corrections than those of the teacher [7, p. 20].
In a different spoken English context, that of delivering a lecture, Baleghizadeh and Derakhshesh also found some improvement in language accuracy after a process of transcription and self-correction followed by teacher correction. They attribute the difference not only to the noticing process but also to the effect of task repetition [3, p. 142]. They state that the fact that “the participants had an opportunity to produce language, notice the errors in the output, and correct them points to the substantial noticing function of the output” and add that “(t)ask repetition provided the participants with further opportunity to use the correct forms and thus had a positive effect on their accuracy" [3, p. 150].
After reading in the general field there appeared to be scope to investigate the potential role of error noticing in improving student spoken English. Errors can take many forms including but not limited to clarity (pronunciation, syllable and sentence level stress), grammatical accuracy, lexical appropriateness and communicative effect. Aline cautions that “(h)ow teachers choose to try to manipulate their students' production, if they choose to do so, will depend on the three goals of accuracy, fluency, and complexity” [1, p. 72].
Noting this caution and following on from research by the current authors on an approach to improving grammatical accuracy in extended writing, it was decided to apply the noticing approach to investigate its effect on grammatical accuracy in spoken English. With this focus in mind, the following research questions were formulated.
1) Are students able to notice grammatical and other errors in their recorded spoken English?
If so, 2) Can this noticing lead to improvements in subsequent speech?
A positive answer to the first question is required in order to progress to the assessment of the effect of noticing on spoken production.
2) How did the work start?
The research began in the second term of 2015-16 and involved students from two Year 10 classes. The classes study the same curriculum in the same school and are taught by two of the researchers.
3) Research plan
Using the action research model outlined in [2, p. 554], a repeatable cycle of four steps was followed, as below.
The first step involved the observation by the teachers of the students’ difficulty with producing accurate spoken English and by reading in the literature. Having decided that research into the effect of noticing on speech, several practical and logistical issues had to be addressed.
Two principles were adopted at the start of the project.
- The research had to be time-efficient for both the teachers and students. Full-time teachers delivering a set curriculum do not have a large amount of extra time to devote to activities such as research, no matter how much they would like to. With respect to the students as well as to the research design, the project should interfere with planned lessons as little as possible. The students selected for the project should receive as similar an educational experience to their classmates who will act as a control group.
- The research should have immediately applicable implications in terms of teaching practice, planning or overall approach.
It is expected that both principles will be able to be observed in the current project (see the next section for details).
Students’ voices were recorded either by phone or by computer. Both methods proved possible but whichever method is used, a copy of the sound file must be able to be saved by the teacher and be available to the relevant student. This also requires accurate record keeping involving the naming and storage of files.
In order to observe the principle of time efficiency, it was decided to limit the number of students actively involved in the regular recording of speech to three per class. An initial assessment of student spoken accuracy of all students in both classes would be made using the IELTS spoken test descriptors by one of the researchers who is an IELTS Examiner Trainer. This would provide a general baseline value for the class against which the individual grades of the test students would be compared. This overall assessment would be repeated at the end of the study. This enables both a vertical and horizontal comparison of spoken ability. Post-research performances of the test students would be compared with their pre-research performances, and with the pre- and post-research values of their cohort.
Given that only three students per class would undertake the regular voice recording and noticing process, there needed to be a rationale for choosing which students would take part. It was decided that, rather than, for example, selecting only high level students who would more likely be able to self-notice and self-correct errors, students known to be of high, medium and low ability would give a better indication of the students for whom this process may be of help.
4) What you have already done?
Initially it was foreseen that there would be a period of time during which anticipated and unanticipated practical issues would be encountered and dealt with. This turned out to be the case and most of them have been addressed. An noted above, the research began in the second term of 2015-16 and, in terms of the action research model adopted for this project, the first Reflect step has been completed. As this model represents a repeatable cycle of steps, further logistical issues may arise during the research which will be dealt with systematically in the Reflect stage of the second cycle.
All students in the two classes were given a topic on which to prepare and speak. The students then spoke on the topic for two minutes and were recorded. After listening to the recordings, it became apparent that they outputs sounded less like spoken English than written. The students, it transpired, had diligently written down their responses to the topic and memorised them. Consequently, it was decided that an IELTS-style speaking event would be recorded. That is, students would not know the topic beforehand and have only one minute to prepare their spoken response. This has elicited more natural samples of oral language that more closely represents students’ ability in spoken English.
One advantage of this pre-research period of trial is that both students and teachers are becoming used to the novelty of recording and listening to speech, and to the practice of noticing, and noting, grammatical errors. It is planned to begin the research proper in Term 4 and whether the same students or different ones will be invited to be the three subjects the process will not be foreign to them. At that time also, Informed Consent forms will be sent to student parents and a timeline will be decided.
- Aline, D. (2001). Noticing output and its effects on learner production. In Second Language Acquisition Research in Japan. JALT Applied Materials. (pp. 60–73). Tokyo: Japan Association for Language Teaching.
- Ary, D., Jacobs, L. C., Sorensen, C. K., & Walker, D. A. (2014). Introduction to Research in Education (Ninth Edition, International Edition). Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
- Baleghizadeh, S., & Derakhshesh, A. (2012). The effect of task repetition and noticing on EFL learners’ oral output. International Journal of Instruction, 5(1), 142–152.
- Fotos, S. S. (1994). Integrating Grammar Instruction and Communicative Language Use through Grammar Consciousness-Raising Tasks. TESOL Quarterly, 28(2), 323–351. http://doi.org/10.2307/3587436
- Mackey, A. (2006). Feedback, noticing and instructed second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 27(3), 405–430.
- Mennim, P. (2007). Long-term effects of noticing on oral output. Language Teaching Research, 11(3), 265–280.
- Stones, T. P. (2013). Transcription and the IELTS speaking test: facilitating development. ELT Journal, 67(1), 20–30.