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Agnieszka Leśniak-Nowak, 2018-04-09
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GROUP WORK AS AN EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE IN INCREASING MOTIVATION – ACTION RESEARCH - LEŚNIAK AGNIESZKA

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GROUP WORK AS AN EFFECTIVE TECHNIQUE IN
INCREASING MOTIVATION –ACTION RESEARCH


LEŚNIAK AGNIESZKA



INTRODUCTION


The English language teaching literature introduces a wide amount of concepts and theories, presenting a broad variety of methods and styles, but usually makes a widespread presumption on the form of real classes in which that teaching techniques are to be involved. Every single teacher wishes for the perfect teaching situation where highly-motivated and active learners combined with a boundless stock of time and materials, but in the reality the teaching environment that many teachers have to cope with is far from ideal (Komorowska, 1978).
There are many limitations that influence the foreign language learning. The most common limitation is teaching in a mixed-ability classes and the difficulty that this brings into successful foreign language teaching although, as Richards (1998, p. 1), stresses the fact that “Every class we ever teach is mixed ability”, and Rinvolucri (1986) states “We do not teach a group, but thirty separate people. Because of this, the problem of mixed abilities in the same room seems absolutely natural, and it is the idea of teaching a unitary lesson that seems odd” (p.17).
This paper brings up the problem of low motivation among low ability learners in the mixed–ability classroom and the ways it may be solved by the teacher. The problem with low motivation among low ability students is very common in Polish classrooms and in my teaching experience this is a serious barrier in the teaching-learning process.
When faced with different levels of motivation which go along with a wide span of capabilities within one class, a clear strategy to that difficult situation could be to create distinct classes based on students’ levels of knowledge but, when that is not possible, especially because of the financial situation of schools and the shortage of English teachers in Poland, the teacher is confronted by a common predicament: should one give a lecture to the low ability students under the threat that it could bore the more able students, or should one risk isolating the less able learners and focus on the more able peers? (Gorska, 2004).
Therefore the question investigated in this diploma is: What techniques are achievable to help teachers to find a more obliging way out? In this diploma paper I will be proposing a feasible solution to that problem, based on my small scale investigation conducted with a class of Polish students who present different levels of motivation. The hypothesis formulated for the research purposes is that group work is an effective technique that increases motivation in weaker learners.
The diploma paper consists of two parts. I start section one with discussing the importance of motivation in foreign language learning. After that I focus on some definitions of motivation, types and characteristics of motivated learners. I also present the well-known distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Finally, I discuss the usage of group work in foreign language learning and present five pedagogical arguments which support that group work can help students in their learning process.
On the basis of the theoretical background from section 1, I carried out an action research which I present in section 2. I will propose to create small mixed-ability groups within one class in which the high-ability students may serve as teaching assistants, instead of remaining largely ignored or overlooked.








SECTION 1
THEORETICAL BACKGROUND


In section 1 I present the theory that considers the importance of motivation in foreign and second language learning, its definitions, sources, hypotheses, stages and characteristics of motivated learners. I discuss the four main hypotheses of motivation and the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Then I focus on group work as a possible way of solving problems connected with low motivation in mixed ability classrooms and discuss five pedagogical arguments for the use of group work in second language learning.

1.1. Motivation in foreign and second language learning.

There is no question that foreign language learning is different from learning other subjects, mainly because of the social nature of such a venture. Language, after all, is a part of one’s identity, and is used to convey this identity to other people.
Language belongs to a person’s whole social being. Foreign language learning involves far more than simply learning skills, or a system of rules and grammar. It involves an alteration in self-image, the adoption of new social and cultural behaviours and ways of being. That is why it has a significant impact on the social nature of the learner (Williams & Burden, 1997). Gardner (1985, p. 146) states that “languages are unlike any other subject taught in a classroom in that they involve the acquisition of skills and behaviour patterns which are characteristic of another community”.
Gardner’s (1985) socio-educational model of language learning incorporates the learner’s cultural beliefs, attitudes towards the learning situation, their integrativeness and motivation. Gardner emphasises that the primary factor in the model is motivation.
Corder’s phrase, “Given motivation, anyone can learn a language” accentuate the importance of motivation (cited in Skehan, 1993, p.49). Brown (1994) states that motivation is probably the most frequently used catch-all term for explaining the succes or failure of virtually any task. The author states that success in a task is due simply to the fact that someone is ‘motivated’.
There are many definitions of motivation. Motivation is commonly presented as an inner drive, impulse, emotions, or desire that moves one to a particular action. Gardner (1985) describes motivation as referring to a combination of effort and desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favourable attitudes towards learning the language. Other factors, such as motives towards the learning situation and integrativeness can also influence these attributes. According to Keller, motivation refers to “the choices people make as to what experiences or goals they will approach or avoid, and the degree of effort they will exert in that respect” (cited in Brown, 1994, p. 152).
My working definition of motivation is that motivation is a combination of effort and desire to achieve the goal of learning the language plus favourable attitudes towards learning the language (Gardner, 1985).
Motivation can have several sources. According to Fisher (1990), there are three major sources of motivation in learning. These are the learners’ natural interest (intrinsic satisfaction), the teacher/institution/employment (extrinsic reward) and success in the task (combining satisfaction and reward). However, Littlejohn (2001) claims that the success in the task is the most important source. People like what they do well and that is why they are more likely to do it again, and put in more effort. If they put effort, they get better, and so that sustains and even increase their motivation (see Figure 1).




Motivation Ability


Figure 1. The spiral relationship between motivation and ability (Littlejohn, 2001).

Littlejohn (2001) also observes that the spiral of the relationship between motivation and ability can often function in reverse. The author states that feeling of failure, especially in students’ school career, can gradually lead to a downward spiral of: a self-perception of low ability - low motivation – low effort – low achievement – low motivation, and so on.
Skehan (1993) proposes four hypotheses of motivation: the Intrinsic Hypothesis, the Resultative Hypothesis, the ”Internal Cause” Hypothesis and the ”Carrot and Stick” Hypothesis. The Intrinsic Hypothesis states that the stimulus for motivation would be an inherent interest of learning, because classrooms or learning situations might be attractive places for themselves. Alternatively, the Resultative Hypothesis suggests that motivation might be influenced by the success experienced by learners. Those learners who do well in the class experience reward and are encouraged to try harder. Learners who do not do so well are discouraged by their failure, and as a result, lack persistence. The author claims that motivation would be a consequence rather than a cause of success. The ”Internal Cause” Hypothesis shows that the individual student may bring to the learning situation a certain quantity of motivation as a ”given”, causing the interesting question of why an individual is motivated to the degree that she or he is. Finally, the “Carrot and Stick” Hypothesis stresses the fact that there may be external influences and incentives, such as rewards contingent upon the learner succeeding or sanctions which influence performance.
Gardner and Lambert (1972) also make the now well-know distinction between integrative and instrumental orientations in motivation. They examined motivation as a number of different kinds of attitudes. Two different clusters of attitudes divided two basic types of motivation: instrumental and integrative motivation. According to Gardner and Lambert (1972), instrumental motivation is based on the advantages that can accrue if a language is known, such as furthering a career, capacity to do one’s job well, ability to read useful material in target language, potential to exploit members of the foreign culture, translation, and so forth. An integrative motive, on the other hand, is employed when learners wish to integrate themselves within the culture of the second language group, to identify themselves with and become a part of that society. They state that an integrative motive is a particularly important source of motivation because it is firmly based on the personality of the learner. Integrative motivation is likely to extort its influence over an extended period and to sustain learning efforts over the necessary time in order to attain language learning success. Gardner and Lambert (1972) stress the fact that an instrumental motivation is less effective because it is not rooted in the personality of the student and is more dependent on fallible external pressure. Therefore, the learner is less likely to expand effort to achieve cumulative progress.
Williams and Burden (1997) found it helpful to distinguish three stages of motivation, which are shown in Figure 2. There are reasons for undertaking a particular activity. The activity will probably involve a mixture of internal and external influences which will be personal to different individuals, who will make their own sense of the various events surrounding them. After that, they consider what is actually involved in deciding to do something that makes people choose to embark on a particular task and to invest time and energy in it. Finally, they state that people have to sustain the effort required to complete the activity to their own satisfaction, which will take place, of course, within a social context and culture which will influence choices made at each stage.

Reasons for doing sth  Deciding to do sth  Sustaining the effort, or
persisting

Figure 2. A three-stage model of motivation (William, Burden, 1997, p. 121 ).

Ur (1996) claims that motivation is an abstract term and suggests to think about in terms of the motivated learner: one who is willing or even eager to invest effort in learning activities and to progress. Naiman, Froelich, Stern and Todesco in their classic study of successful language learning “The Good Language Learner” state that the most successful learners are not necessarily those to whom a language comes very easily but they are those who display certain typical characteristics, most of which are clearly associated with motivation (cited in Ur, 1996, p. 275). Some of these are:

1. Positive task orientation. The learner is willing to tackle tasks and challenges, and has confidence in his or her success.
2. Ego-involvement. The learner finds it important to succeed in learning in order to maintain and promote his or her own (positive) self-image.
3. Need for achievement. The learner has a need to achieve, to overcome difficulties and to succeed in what he or she sets out to do.
4. High aspirations. The learner is ambitious, goes for demanding challenges, high proficiency, top grades.
5. Goal orientation. The learner is very aware of the goals of learning, or of specific learning activities, and directs his or her efforts towards achieving them.
6. Perseverance. The learner consistently invests a high level of effort in learning, and is not discouraged by setbacks or apparent lack of progress.
7. Tolerance of ambiguity. The learner is not disturbed or frustrated by situations involving a temporary lack of understanding or confusion; he or she can live with these patiently, with a confidence that understanding will come later.
(cited in Ur, 1996, p. 275)

1.1.1. Intrinsic motivation.

In focusing on the reasons why people choose to act in certain ways, it becomes apparent that these reasons for actions fall into different types. People sometimes do something because the act of doing it is enjoyable in itself but sometimes they engage in an activity not because they are particularly interested in the activity itself, but because performing it will help them to obtain something else that they want. Cognitive psychologists, therefore, came to draw a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. It is perhaps the most powerful dimension of the whole motivation.
Maslow (1970) claimed that intrinsic motivation is clearly superior to extrinsic because learners are ultimately motivated to achieve “self-actualization” once the basic physical, safety, and community needs are met. No matter what extrinsic rewards are present or absent, people will strive for self-esteem and fulfillment. Deci (1972) states that:
Intrinsically motivated activities are ones for which there is no apparent reward except the activity itself. People seem to engage in the activities for their own sake and not because they lead to an extrinsic reward. . . . Intrinsically motivated behaviours are aimed at bringing about certain internally rewarding consequences, namely, feelings of competence and self-determination.
( p. 23)
According to Ur (1996), the global intrinsic motivation is the generalized desire to put effort in the learning for its own sake and it is mostly rooted in the previous attitudes of the learners: whether they see the learning as valuable, whether they like the language and its cultural, ethnic and political associations. The author states that it is possible to help to foster these attitudes by making it clear that they are shared, or by giving further interesting and attractive information about the language and its background.

1.1.1. Extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsically motivated behaviours are carried out in anticipation of a reward from outside and beyond self (Brown, 1994). Typical rewards are money, prizes, grades, and even certain types of positive feedback. The author states that behaviours initiated in order to avoid punishment are also extrinsically motivated.
Extrinsic motivation comes from the influence of some kind of external motive and it is different from the wish to learn for its own sake or interest in tasks (Ur, 1996). The author states that some sources of extrinsic motivation are inaccessible to the influence of the teacher. Students learn to please some other authority figure such as parents, or to succeed in an external exam.
Success and its rewards is perhaps the single most important factor in raising extrinsic motivation. Learners who have succeeded in past tasks will be more willing to engage with the next one, more confident in their chances of succeeding, and more likely to persevere in their efforts (Komorowska, 1978).
Nevertheless, students will find it difficult to learn a second language in the classroom if they have neither intrinsic nor extrinsic motivation, as is probably often the case in school language teaching. The problem of very low motivation occurs especially in mixed ability classrooms where students present different levels of English and the use of group work can be a good technique to solve that problem.

1.2. Group work in mixed-ability classes.

Most if not all language classes contain students of mixed abilities. This happens for a number of reasons, but mainly because of distinct learning styles, different learning speeds, or variations in motivation. Very often the teacher is faced with a class with two or more different levels of ability and has to tackle the problem of how to meet the needs of everyone in the class.
There is no doubt that group work can tackle the problem of how to meet the needs of everyone in the class. However, the grouping strategies are certain to arouse discussion. Grouping strategies based on ability are used in various forms in schools and classrooms world-wide. There are a multitude of different ways of devising and using ability groups depending on the teacher, class and subject area. They can range from teacher - nominated to those with a large degrees of self-selection based on predetermined tasks with clearly different levels of ability and motivation required (Komorowska, 1993).
According to Komorowska (1993), there is no doubt that forming separate classes for high ability students and low ability students might be advisable but it is not recommended to create that kind of division within the same class. The first reason is that it would be demobilizing for low ability students. In such groups high ability students feel that they are better than the others and do not give enough effort in learning, whereas, low ability students feel as worse and do not even try to do anything. Komorowska emphasizes that mixed-ability groups within one class are a much better solution.
There is another argument for such kind of groups. Low ability students are often very dynamic, vigorous, less conventional and more inventive children. They play a very important role in a group, whereas high ability students are very often more concentrated and more lonely children who spend a lot of time with books. Thus, mixed-ability groups can help them in communication (Komorowska, 1993).
In conclusion, grouping on the basis of ability with appropriate differentiated instruction is clearly beneficial not only to high ability students but also to average and low ability students (Komorowska, 1993).


1.2.1. Pedagogical arguments for group work.

Nowadays methodologists paid special attention to the structure of tasks that learners work on together. They state that group work can be an interactive substitute for the very common “lockstep” manner and a practicable classroom alternative for individual discussions with mother language speakers. To recommend the great usage of small group work in the foreign language classrooms, methodologists have used some pedagogical arguments (Long & Porter, 1985).
There are five strong pedagogical arguments for the usage of group work in the process of foreign language learning. Group work can increase the quantity of language training opportunities, and also can improve the quality of learners talk. Moreover, group work can individualize instruction and create a positive atmosphere in the class. Finally, group work can be an effective technique in increasing learners’ motivation (Long & Porter, 1985).
The lack of time seem to be a common problem in the teaching process, especially in large mixed-ability classrooms. Learners very often complaint they do not have enough time to practice the foreign language (Long & Porter, 1985).
Some observational investigations of the classroom situation (e.g., Hoetker and Ahlbrand 1969) showed that the lockstep was and still is the main mode of instruction, in which that is the teacher who lectures, explains a grammar point, leads drill work, or asks questions. Flanders (1970) states that in lockstep classroom situation, a teacher talks for about 20 minutes, which is the two thirds of a class period. Moreover, every teacher usually spends about 5 minutes on organizational matters, for instance, getting the learners in and out of the classroom, calling a roll, collecting or distributing homework tasks and about 5 minutes on writing or reading. The whole time achievable to learners is in fact about 15 minutes. In the class of 30 students, that means 30 seconds per every learner. Group work cannot solve that problem completely, but it can help. Supposing that just half of the total time achievable for each learner talk is dedicated to work in small groups students, the total personal time for practice available to each learners’ will be expanded (Long & Porter, 1985).
Group work can also increase the quality of learners talk. In small groups students talk openly with each other. They just say what they want to say. They are not afraid of talking. Lockstep lessons promote a conventionalized diversity of conversational tasks in which very often one person (the teacher) asks a sequence of information or displays questions. The negative effect of that type of communication is that students’ consideration starts to wander. In order to prevent it, majority of teachers maintain a fast pace to questions and attempt to ensure quick and short answers. Moreover, teachers used to correct immediately any mistakes, and learners become aware of the fact that how they say something is more important than what they say (Long & Sato, 1983).
Long and Porter (1985) emphasize that small group work can dealt with that case. The authors stress the fact that working in small group of students, unlike the lockstep, is a natural environment for discussion. Moreover, three or four learners who work together for about five minutes at a period are not restricted to produce harassed and isolated sentences. Learners can engage in logical and cohesive sequences of conversation and develop discussion capability, not just a sentence grammar. Finally, according to Long, et al. (1976), children can undertake different roles, which in lockstep practice are the teacher’s private domain, and can practice a span of language functions connected with those roles.
The very significant fact is that small group work can individualize instructions. The lockstep way of teaching does not care about many personal differences naturally present in a class of learners. That is mainly true of the larger part of learners, who are placed in their classes on the basis of mental or chronological age (Prodromou, 1992).
Group work cannot cope with all students’ differences but it can help. Small groups of learners can work on distinct parts of items that suit to their requirements. They can do it simultaneously thus preventing the danger of boring other students who have different problem. Group work is a principal course of action toward individualization of teaching, which all teachers agree is a fine idea (Long, 1977).
Barnes (1973) states that group work upgrades a positive affective climate. A lot of learners, especially those shy or unconfident, experience large strain when hailed upon in the public field of the classroom. The information that students must respond correctly and above all fast increases that stress. Contrary to the climate of lockstep teaching, a group of peers provides a comparatively intimate situation and generally a more encouraging surrounding in which to try out undeveloped foreign language skills. Barnes (1973) wrote of the small group setting:
An intimate group allows us to be relatively inexplicit and incoherent, to change direction in the middle of a sentence, to be uncertain and self-contradictory. What we say may not amount to much, but our confidence in our friends allows us to take the first groping steps towards sorting out thoughts and feelings by putting them into words. I shall call this sort of talk “exploratory” (p. 19)
The more obliging assortment of connections provided by group interaction and the freedom from the need for correctness, favor a positive and affective atmosphere. That positive atmosphere, in turn, allows for the evolution of the sort of creative talk for which all teachers aim to prepare their students (Barnes, 1973).
The most important fact is that group work can increase students’ motivation. Recently, Littlejohn’s independent research, conducted on the Spanish students, showed, that the presumption that group work can be an effective technique in increasing motivation, is true (cited in Long & Sato, 1983). The results of the questionnaire, filled in by the Spanish students after the treatment, showed that learners felt less shy, more open to speak and even to make mistakes in their groups than in the teacher-fronted lessons. Within small groups, children have much more time for individual practice and what is very important they communicate in natural environment for conversation. Moreover, they can work on distinct set of materials that suit to their needs. All these attitudes bring about positive classroom atmosphere and can lead to higher motivation towards foreign language learning.
There are many benefits that group work brings into the learning process. Group work increases the quality and quantity of learners talk and creates a natural setting for conversation. Furthermore, in group work learners are personally involved in the conversation, which creates a positive affective atmosphere. Because of all these advantages and because of the diversity that group work brings into every lesson, it seems to be obvious that small group work can motivate learners towards foreign language learning (Long & Porter, 1985).

1.3. Conclusion

The aim of this section was to define motivation. I presented some definitions, types, stages and four main hypotheses of motivation. Then I discussed the characteristics of motivated learners and the well-known distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The ultimate goal of the presentation was to make the background for the next section. Next section will concentrate on the investigation of how group work can increase motivation among weak students.
















SECTION TWO
ACTION RESEARCH


In Section Two I present the action research which I carried out in one of the classes I taught. There is a presentation of the problem which occurred in the class and the way in which I tried to solve it. The aim of my action research was to find out whether dividing the class into small mixed-ability groups would increase motivation among weaker learners.

2.1. Teaching situation

I have been teaching the class of 24 eleven-year-old pupils of the fifth class in the primary school starting this year. I am their second English teacher. They have been learning English for 2 years. In the class there are 13 girls and 11 boys. The English book they use is “Welcome1” by Express Publishing. They have 3 English lessons a week.

2.2. Problem

While teaching the class for about one month I noticed that it was a typical mixed-ability class where high ability learners and low ability learners were very active but in a totally different way. High ability students were very active and eager to learn but the others, especially learners with difficulties, tended to speak aloud and laugh, or do something else. While doing so they distracted the rest of the class from doing the language activities. When I asked them to show me the results of their activities it turned out that they had not done them and, in fact, they had not even started to do them. To excuse themselves they told me that the language activities were too difficult and that learning English had no sense. They stated that to know one foreign language is enough and told me that they prefer to learn German to English.
I have to mention that my students and I live in a small village in the Lower Silesian area where almost every family has double citizenship and German language has been taught at schools as the native language for many years. English, on the other hand, has been taught to them for just two years.
According to my preliminary observation of the learners in the class, in September 2003, the reason of low ability students’ disruptive behaviour and absolute dislike of learning English was the students’ different level of motivation. There was a group of highly and moderately motivated students who are very eager to learn English and had no problems with it. They did their tasks in much shorter time than the rest of the class and very often asked for additional exercises. However, there was also a small group of low motivated students who had difficulties in learning in general. They did not like to learn English and what is even worse they thought that to know English is needless. While the faster students were trying to focus on doing an activity, the slower ones who had not even tried to do anything behaved in such a way that distracted the faster learners from doing their activities. Both the slower learners and the faster ones lost a lot. The students that belong to the slower group could not cope with an exercise because they thought either it was too difficult for them or they were just not interested in doing it, so they started to disrupt. Moreover, the faster students could not carry out an exercise because of the noise made by the rest of the class. That situation was not beneficial to their language development.
In order to solve this problem I decided to organise the learners into six mixed-ability groups. Every group would include students of different levels of motivation. My decision was based on suggestions made by Komorowska (1993) who stated that mixed-ability groups within one class can help both high and low ability students in learning English.

2.3. Participants

All 24 students of class 5 took part in the action research. I decided to form mixed-ability groups within that class. Before dividing the class into six groups, I spent one month on observing the learners in order to recognize the highly and moderately motivated learners and the low motivated ones. After my observation, I formed six mixed-ability groups of four. In every group, there were two moderately motivated learners, one highly motivated who might actively serve as a teaching assistant and one low motivated. I explained to the class that students in each group must perceive that they “sink or swim” together and they cannot succeed unless all in the group succeed. I stressed the fact that since that day they would be responsible for each member of their group and at the same time they would be dependent on all the others (cf. Davis).

2.4. Materials

Below there are presented some activities which were used during my action research treatment phase.

Activity 1
All the students practised using the possessive case and new vocabulary. The activity which they had to do was matching the children to a pet or object they have (dog, ball, umbrella, ring, hat). There were five sentences (see Appendix 1). After that, the learners were asked to act short dialogues about phone numbers in pairs. The faster students in one group were to practice with the slower ones. For example:
A: What’s Eddy’s phone number?
B: 3691842
A: What’s Lin phone number?
B: 965371

Activity 2
When the whole class were familiarised with the names of the food (see Appendix 2) they were provided with the structures “some” and “any”. Their task was to create a dialog about a situation that can happen in a restaurant, for example:
A: Are you ready to order?
B: Yes. Can I have a hot-dog and some orange juice, please?
A: I’m sorry, there isn’t any orange juice.
B: Is there any banana juice?
A: Yes, there is.
When they finished they were familiarized with the new song “My Favourite Things” (see Appendix 3). Their group homework was to transform that song into a funny performance (see Appendix 4).

Activity 3
All students had to practice parts of the body. Their first task was to draw the parts of the body indicated beneath the frames (see Appendix 5). Then, the students had to describe children in the pictures (see Appendix 6) using the parts of the body and the well-known form “to have” for example:
A: What’s Lin like?
B: She’s got brown eyes and black hair.
After that every group received a big sheet of paper on which they had to draw a project of the most eccentric monster that they could ever imagine. Their homework was to meet together after the lesson in order to make such a monster and to write a short description of him/her. Then, the students were to prepare an exhibition “My Monster” for the whole school (see Appendix 7).
Activity 4
Working with new vocabulary (see Appendix 8) every group was given 20 pictures of people doing different activities and 20 cards with the words indicating these activities. They had to match the pictures with the appropriate words. Then the students had to write in their notebooks about activities they can do or cannot do. After that, they were asked to make a small interview with all members of their group (see Appendix 8).

Activity 5
While practising the Present Simple tense my students did not even know that they were introduced to some difficult grammar rules. I prefer inductive way of teaching grammar so I familiarized my students not with the tense but with a funny magician called Present Simple (see Appendix 9). Then my students were informed from which time the funny magician was and what substances were in his magic concoction which he used to create some affirmative, negative and interrogative sentences. On the next lesson, my students were asked to prepare magic hats for themselves and one magic pot for each group. I prepared many paper cards with English words and put them into the pots. The students’ task was to create as many sentences, in Present Simple, tense from those words as possible (see Appendix 10).

Activity 6
The whole class studied the difference between “how many” and “how much” questions. Their task was to recognize whether the objects in pictures from the exercise 5 (see Appendix 11) represent countable or uncountable nouns and then to write questions about them. When the whole class were familiarized with these questions and answers like “not many / much” or “a lot of” then their task was to create a dialog about a situation that could happen in a shop. They had to ask questions about the products from the special shopping list (see Appendix 12). For example:
A: Good morning!
Can I have some apples, please?
B: How many?
A: A kilo, please!
B: Here you are!
A: Thank you!

Activity 7
The whole class did a writing activity (see Appendix 13). They had to write a paragraph about how to make their favourite sandwich. First, the students worked individually. When the teacher’s assistants finished they were to help the slower ones from their groups. When everyone was ready, I asked them to exchange their recipes. They had to read and correct the grammar and spelling in the partner’s recipes. Their homework for the next lesson was to bring their real sandwich to school and to describe how to make it (see Appendix 14). After all presentations, everyone ate his / her sandwich.

Additionally, all students were asked to fill in a special questionnaire which I prepared in order to recognize their level of motivation. The questionnaire contain 13 items (see Appendix 15). I assured my students that the questionnaire would not affect their evaluation.

2.5. Procedure

I set six months during which I aimed to work with the six mixed – ability groups within that class. Before dividing the class into six mixed – ability groups, I was observing the class for one month. To make sure that my division was right, I prepared a special questionnaire. The students were asked to fill in the same questionnaires twice during the project, once at the beginning of my action research in September 2003, and again at the end of my action research in March 2004. The questionnaires were collected for analysis. The questionnaire was a useful source of data because it provided me with an overview of how my actions influenced my students. Based on class observation and the results of the questionnaire I finally divided the class into six groups. In every group there were two moderately motivated learners; one highly motivated who may actively serve as a teaching assistant and the low motivated one (see Appendix 16). During each of the many lessons, the highly motivated learners served as teaching assistants and helped the other members of their group. Every group had their own name that was invented by the members (see Appendix 16). Every group made a big poster of their group. They created some resolutions about themselves and wrote them down on that special poster (see Appendix 17). Since that time, all members of the group were responsible for each other and had to create their own promises. They had to meet after school and practise their English skills: writing, speaking, grammar or new vocabulary. After every meeting, they had to write a report about that meeting and describe what they were doing. Every group had a special notebook for the reports.
Every member of each group had to perform a special role. The highly motivated student served as a teaching assistant so his / her role was to help the rest of the group in the exercises and to motivate them to be active on the English lessons. The low motivated student, who used to be the noisiest one, in the group had to serve as a discipline guard. That very important challenge was created to prevent the low motivated students from their disruptive behaviour. The two moderately motivated students were responsible for the correct posture of the whole group while sitting. After very lesson, every group was given some “funny faces”: the yellow ones for their right posture while sitting; the green ones for the perfect discipline and the blue ones for their being active during English lessons. Every group had to stick the faces on a special scoreboard (see Appendix 18). I had prepared special diplomas “Perfect English Learner” (see Appendix 19) which I gave my students at the end of my action research. To get such a diploma every member of each group had to do his / her best to get as many funny faces for their group as it was possible.


2.6. Results and discussion

According to my preliminary observation, the low motivated students, who very often were sitting together at the same bench, behaved disruptively. They could not manage the exercises and at the same time they were too ashamed to ask for help the teacher or other students, so they did not like English lessons at all. That is why, they tended to speak aloud and laugh instead of doing the language activities. On the other hand, the highly and moderately motivated students had no problems with English but they could not carry out some English exercises because of the noise made by the rest of the class. Such a difficult situation took place before the treatment.
During these six months when my students worked in six mixed – ability groups of four and the highly motivated students served as the teaching assistants, the situation changed. I divided the class into six mixed – ability groups (study teams) with the stable membership whose primary responsibility was to provide members with support and encouragement in the learning process. The low motivated students in every group were given a very important role of the discipline guard. While performing the role low ability students had no opportunity to behave disruptively. Moreover, they found English learning interesting and not so difficult as they thought earlier. In their groups there were three classmates always eager to help them if they had any problems. Furthermore, all members of each group were meeting after every lesson in order to do their homework, to make a project or in order to practise writing or speaking. The low motivated students started to think that they could cope with English learning and that they are not alone any more. They noticed that they are a part of a group and that the group cannot succeed unless all members of the group succeed. So, they started to learn harder and more effectively. Finally, they started to succeed so their motivation increased. The questionnaire, filled in after the treatment, indicated that the low ability students’ motivation and attitude towards English learning highly increased (see Figure 3).

Do you like to learn English language in common?

Figure 3. Question taken from the questionnaire.

After six months I returned to the traditional way of teaching. The students implied immediately that they prefer working in their own groups. The high and moderately ability students started to complain that their low ability students disturbed them again. The low ability students did not do anything because they could not manage with the exercises so they gave up doing them and started to disrupt. So, I decided to introduce the mixed–ability groups into my normal way of teaching the class. The students were very glad of my decision.
According to the questionnaire and my observation of the class, the hypothesis that working in mixed–ability groups can improve motivation among low ability learners is true.

2.7. Conclusion

The goal of my action research was to check whether dividing the class into six mixed–ability groups, where every student gets a role, would increase the motivation among low motivation students. Section Two presented a small action research that I conducted in one of my classes and the problem of low motivation among weak students. Then, the way in which I tried to cope with that problem, was described. At the end of my diploma paper all results of my small action research, which state that the hypothesis that small mixed–ability groups within one class can increase motivation among weak learners is true, were presented and discussed.
Based on the research finding the following final conclusions can be drawn:
1. Mixed ability is a common phenomenon in Polish classes.
2. Group work seems to be a valuable interaction pattern that helps to cope with mixed-ability classes.
3. Mixed – ability groups can help both high, average and low ability students’ in all aspects of foreign language learning especially in speaking and reading activities.
4. Group work can increase the quantity of language practice opportunities.
5. Group work can improve the quality of students’ talk.
6. Group work upgrades a positive climate in the classroom and certainly increase learners’ motivation towards English learning.
7. While working in small mixed–ability groups the problem of the discipline (disruptive behaviour) totally disappeared.
8. Dividing students into mixed-ability groups helps weaker students in becoming more involved.











CONCLUSION AND IMPLICATIONS

The present diploma paper deals mainly with the interpretation of the results from the investigation conducted on students from class 5. The basis of this investigation lay in a conviction that small mixed-ability groups within one class can increase motivation among low ability students.
In section one the theory that considers the importance of motivation in foreign language learning is described. Then, some definitions of motivation, its types and characteristics of motivated learners are discussed. After that, the main distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is analysed. At the end of the section one, the group work as a possible way of solving problems connected with low motivation, is presented.
In section two the small action research which I conducted in one of my classes is presented. My small investigation was based on a questionnaire and my own observation of the class. After teaching the students from class 5 for about one month I noticed that the reasons of the low ability learners’ disruptive bahaviuor are their different levels of motivation. According to Komorowska (1993), who stated that mixed–ability groups within one class can help both high, moderately and low ability students in foreign language learning and at the same time can increase motivation among weak students I decided to organize my students into six mixed-ability groups. I presented the procedure of the pre-questionnaire, the treatment phase and the post questionnaire. As the comparison of the both questionnaires’ result showed, Komorowska’s method appeared very helpful for my low ability learners. On the basis of the results I can say that after the treatment the low ability students’ motivation and attitude towards learning English highly increased.
As for any implications for English as a foreign language,
I might suggest using Komorowska’s method when teaching English in mixed–ability classrooms, especially in classrooms consisting of learners of different levels of motivation. Besides, I discovered that working in small groups helped not only low ability students but also average and high ability ones in their English language development.
Moreover, in my opinion, it is vital that further research should be conducted in this matter. I have done only a small scale research so it is certain that a bigger one should be done to confirm the results. I think that the problem of how to teach mixed–ability classrooms is very common in Poland and that is why every foreign language teacher should try to find the best method for teaching learners of different abilities.

SUMMARY


In my diploma paper I discuss the problem of low motivation among low ability students in mixed–ability class. I open Section One with the theory that considers the importance of motivation in foreign and second language learning. Then I present some definitions of motivation. I also present some characteristics of motivated learners. After that I describe the most common distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I present some students’ differences that cause problem of low motivation among students with difficulties in teaching in common. I focus on group work as a possible way of solving problems connected with low motivation in mixed– ability classrooms. Finally, I discuss five pedagogical arguments for the use of group work in second language learning.
In Section Two I present the problem which occurred in the class I teach and the way in which I tried to solve it. I describe the action research that I have carried out in one of the classes I have taught. Basing upon information from the Section One I divided the students into six groups consisting of four students presenting different level of motivation. Moreover, I present the activities that were done during the lessons and all changes that had happened in the class. The treatment phase lasted six months and the results surprised everyone. The highly and moderately motivated students felt satisfaction that they could help the other member of their group. They understood that to create a good group they have to cooperate and that they cannot succeed until all members of their group succeed. They felt responsible for each other. They met after every lesson in order to help the slower member from their team in learning English. The low motivated students appreciated the care and helpfulness of the rest members of their groups. Moreover, they found English learning interesting and not so difficult as they thought earlier. They started to think that they could cope with English learning. They started to learn English harder and more effectively. They were not of afraid asking for help if they had any problems. Gradually they started to succeed. Step by step their English skills became more excellent. The problem of low motivation among students with difficulties in learning was fading which proved that dividing the class into six groups consisting of four students presenting different level of motivation helped to increase motivation among low ability students which confirmed my research hypothesis that group work can be an effective technique in increasing motivation. The diploma paper concludes with a discussion about the results of my action research and gives suggestions for continuing the research in the future.

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