Vietnamese American Training College, Soc Trang, Vietnam
Dealing with large classes (around 45 students per class) and the increase of drop-out students are the most urgent issues in Vietnamese educational system. In order to decrease those issues gradually, Vietnamese students should be motivated and controlled. This paper is to share some experiences about this.
Keywords: TEFL, control, motivation, Vietnamese upper secondary school
Introduction Control and motivation of students are two of the major features in the process of teaching and learning English. Malcolm et al (1982) explains that teachers often find it vital to maintain their dominant power in the classrooms. He says they need to be determined what to do in the classrooms and how to deal with students’ behaviour in every context. In contrast, Bell (cited in Ford, Alber & Heward, 1998) indentifies the three important issues in education: ‘The first one is motivation, the second one is motivation and the third is motivation’. Victor (1964: 229) reports that motivation influences effective performance. In EFL classrooms, this performance is related to linguistic performance which is considered the target of teaching a foreign language. As a result, there is no doubt about the importance of control and motivation. However, the quality of teaching and learning English in Vietnam is limited because of the loss of control and motivation in language classrooms.
Most Vietnamese high school students seem to be disinterested in English for a large variety of reasons. Firstly, English is not a core subject in the curriculum. Secondly, English textbooks in Vietnam are considerably complicated and impractical because of the length of units and unfamiliar topics mentioned in lessons, such as discussing the ideal seat on a luxurious yacht, the life under the sea or gravity (see English 10: 1999). Moreover, they are interrupted by many events during the school year which is from September to May, for example, the Vietnamese Woman’s Day, the Vietnamese Teacher’s Day, Christmas Day, the Western New Year Day, and the Vietnamese Lunar New Year Week. Besides, students postpone their study for several events of other ethnic groups such as the holidays of the Khemer and the wooden sampan racing considered a holy ceremony to wish a new productive harvest and lasting for a few days. Finally, students are organized in large classes having from forty-five to fifty students per class whereas the classes in language centres often have about twelve students.
The aim of this paper is therefore to examine the control and motivation of students in Vietnamese Secondary Schools. In the first part, important definitions will be explained. Problems arising will be discussed in the next part. The following aspect is about possible solutions. Finally, evaluations are mentioned.
Motivation is related to several issues.According to Deborah (2001:310), motivation refers to self-confidence, enthusiasm, and the desire to understand and develop skills. In contrast, Wlodkowski (1997) confirms that motivation stimulates behaviour, gives purpose to behaviour, permits behaviour to persist and leads to the selection of a certain behaviour. For Hunter (1981), motivation can be learnt, taught and is the responsibility of educators. Because motivation can be divided into smaller concepts, it is known to be difficult to define.
Motivation is categorized into two types: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation focuses on ‘satisfactory completion of the course’ and strongly affected ‘by external rewards and pressures’ (Brown et al, 1998:16). In other words, students learn because of external reward like grades or prizes from parents. In contrast, intrinsic motivation is dependent on personal goals and interests. In this case, students want to learn because of their natural interests and satisfaction. In general, extrinsic motivation is the-need-to-learn while intrinsic motivation is the-want-to-learn.
It is generally believed that control refers to the issues of disciplines and punishment. However, according to Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (2003), a ‘control’ is an act ‘to instruct or rule something or someone’s actions and behaviour’. Jenifer et al (1982:25) states that to control means ‘to direct the activities of pupils away from behaviour that was not allowed and towards the required activity of work’. Moreover, Malcolm et al (1982) reports that teachers feel it important to be dominant in the classes to cope with any situations arising.In this paper, controlling is a technique in classroom management so that teachers can manage the classes effectively in the ways that they want, especially when they are responsible with large classes.
A typical class in Vietnam:
2.1 The Preference of Core Subjects
Since English is not a core subject in secondary schools, Vietnamese students tend to neglect it. Students at Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Grammar Secondary School, in Soc Trang city is an illustration. Most of them study Maths, Physics, Biology or some other natural science subjects. This is shown by the number of Maths, Physics and Biology classes which are always the double or the triple of the English classes (Department of Education and Training: 2008).
In Vietnam, if students focus on English language, this means they can only take the entrance exam to universities with Maths, Literature and English which will lead them to careers in teaching or working in social sciences. In Vietnam, there are two types of entrance exam: one for social sciences which requires Maths, Literature and English; one for natural sciences including Maths, Physics and Chemistry. According to the data of Hung Vuong University for 2009, there were 3070 candidates registered to the entrance exam of natural sciences while there were 1264 candidates interested in social sciences. As a result, English is ignored.
2.2 The Failure of Language Achievement
The complicated English textbooks contribute to the factors discouraging students from learning English. Malcolm (1982) claims that teaching materials should not be too difficult or contains the use of complicated language.However, Vietnamese textbooks contain many complex grammar points and imaginary speaking and writing tasks. For example, changing sentences from direct into indirect speech (see English 10: 1999) or writing a letter to ask a friend to help on the birthday party (see English 10: 2008).
In addition, because the lessons are designed to develop specific skills, they must be conducted in well-equipped classrooms. However, a large number of schools do not meet the basic standard in equipment. A survey from Department of Education and Training conducted last year shows that approximately 50% schools lack tape and CD recorders, English tapes and disks and electricity (2008). Therefore, in every part of the lessons, students usually listen to teachers’ reading aloud which results in noise from students. As a result, equipment and materials strongly influence the teaching and learning process (Stefan: 1982).
2.3 BAD LEARNING ATTITUDES
Because students are interrupted by so many events during the school year, their attitudes towards learning are even worse after having time to celebrate those events. An example of this is students from Le Loi secondary school, a school of athletic students. They have to participate in some marathon and jogging races, sports, processions and meetings. For instance, 3600 students attended 9 processions in the second semester, resulting in students missing the classes so often. As a result, the learning interest including English cannot be developed as social activities are usually preferred to attending classes every day.
2.4 Difficulties in Organizing Pair Work and Group Work
Large size classes tend to result in the failure of the implementation of pair work and group work. Stenfan et al (1982) emphasizes that the arrangement of single unit desks in the classrooms is the most suitable for most classes, but with Vietnamese students whose tables are long, and heavy find it difficult to collaborate effectively because they cannot change their seats to participate in the groups. Ke (2008) points out that large size classes challenge teachers in two main aspects: effective communication with students and successful organization in activities and exercises. Consequently, they are not eager in learning English because it is difficult for them to get correction from the teachers in the classrooms due to large size classes.
In general, students tend to be demotivated in learning English, so there is a need to find some possible solutions to deal with such problems.
3. POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS
One way to attempt to eliminate the difficulties in controlling and motivating students is the implementation of a new mark record. This can be designed for not only teachers to control and motivate students in learning English at the same time, but also for students to be aware of their marks and more responsible to their study (see Diagram 1, below).
In this diagram, students’ marks will be recorded every week. They will be assessed on 8 criteria: taking oral tests, answering questions, summarizing lessons, taking good notes, making teaching aids, having good attendance, keeping notebooks clean and doing ‘running exercises’. This new assessment would work better on students because it is more comprehensive than the previous one which only has a mark for oral tests. Students have more chances to improve marks and teachers have more tasks for students to control their learning.
3.2 How It Works
The maximum mark for each criterion is 10 and the maximum bonus mark is 2. This example describes the marks of an imaginary student named Quoc.
3.2.1 Speaking Activities
It is generally believed that speaking activities are important in teaching and learning English. Jennifer et al (1982) suggests that concentrating in speaking activities is particularly useful to check students’ interests during the lessons. As a result, the first three criteria focus on speaking activities, including oral tests, answering questions and summarizing lessons.
An oral test is one of the everyday compulsory tests at the beginning of the class in Vietnam, since this is an effective way to find out whether students study or not (Malcolm et al: 1982).Each student has only one final score in the curriculum mark record. This means if Quoc gets low marks at the beginning of the term, he will have no other chances to improve his score which would most likely demotivate him during the rest of the term. Using this new form of mark record, he can have at least two more chances to improve the score because the teacher will make a total sum of all the marks he gets and records the final mark from the total sum. In the example, Quoc got two different marks in oral test on 09/9 and 15/09, 0 and 5.
Another speaking activity is giving marks for answering the questions, consideredone of the ways to get students involved in classroom activities. For Stefan et al (1982), taking answers from students is a common strategy to check students’ comprehension and attract their attention. Therefore, marking oral answers in classrooms is likely to make students more active. In the example, Quoc got 8 for this part.
The final issue is lesson summary conducted at the end of the lesson. Students can retell about any parts of the lessons such as the use of a grammatical point, the main idea of a reading text, some structures applied in a speaking lesson or the format of a formal letter in a writing lesson. In order to do such things, students are required to concentrate carefully on the lesson during the class. Therefore, giving marks for lesson summary may control and motivate students. In the example, Quoc got 9 for this part.
3.2.2 Writing Activities
It is widely agreed that writing is very important. Students should be aware of the value of writing (Bloomfield: 2004). Therefore, writing is emphasized in the next three criteria.
Taking notes is essential because Vietnamese tests are based on notes which are usually learnt by heart, and will help to memorize vital information (Mathew: 2009), so grading students’ notes can both arise their interests in study and train them the responsibility to have sufficient notes for the days they miss the lessons instead of skipping those notes. In the example, Quoc got 8 for this part.
Because of the importance of notes, marking notebooks should be applied for two reasons: the preparation for the inspection from supervisors of Education Department and the creation of the tidy habit. In the example, Quoc got 8 for this part.
Running exercise’, a fun activity, is of the last criterion. An exercise is given to students to finish in limited time and only few fast answers are graded. Anyone who completes the exercise on time has to run quickly to the teacher’s table to hand in the answers. Easy tasks are often organized into this to encourage students to take part in the lesson, providing them a chance to get great marks. Dornyei (2003:14) agrees that giving the right task is also a motivation in learning a target language. Therefore, this exercise would change students’ passive mood. In the example, Quoc got 10 for this part.
3.3 Other Criteria
Teaching aids make the abstract concepts become concrete, thus increasing students’ interests and motivation (Ali: 2007). Therefore, students can be asked to make teaching aids. For example, they can collect film posters, photos of actors for a unit about motion pictures (English 11, 2001:5) or draw a picture of farming to illustrate a unit about a typical day of a farmer (English 10, 2008:6). This can be used as a technique to guide students’ learning outside the classroom because when they begin to make teaching aids, they have to review what they have learnt before or prepare the lessons in advance. In the example, Quoc got 2 marks for bonus which would be added up to the total score.
The last criterion focuses on students’ low attendance and drop out from schools because it is a serious setback (France: 2009). According to the data collected in the school year 2008-2009 from Department of Education and Training in Soc Trang city, after term one, 963 students in Le Loi Secondary School left. Therefore, giving them some bonus marks for their attendance may contribute to not only the control in classrooms but also the limitation in the number of students dropping out of schools. This is of high concern because if any school has a highly considerable rate of dropout, it will miss the annual prize from the city government no matter what achievements it gains in other fields. In the example, Quoc got 1 bonus mark.
In the last step, the teacher will make a total sum of the marks Quoc received to give him the final score in the official mark record.
0+5+8+9+8+8+10= (48+2+1)/7=51/7=7.28 → 7
For instance, Quoc, in our example would get 7 in the official mark record instead of 0 which he would get from the current system.
Using the new form of this mark record has both positive and negative aspects for teachers and students.
The first advantage for teachers is its simple and easy application because nearly all of activities are targeted in it. Because of its comprehensiveness, teachers can benefit from it to vary their activities to avoid students’ boredom. In addition, a good relationship between teachers and students which, according to Malcolm (1982), can be mentioned as an encouragement, is possibly developed as well. As a result, an active learning atmosphere can be achieved which also motivates teachers themselves during the teaching process.
For students, using this form is a chance to improve scores. As a result, they can self-evaluate in learning progress. Furthermore, they are encouraged to practise English in the classrooms with obvious reasons. In addition, the more important point is that they are trained the habit to prepare lessons in advance gradually and naturally resulting in better learning attitudes. Besides, they are probably motivated by great marks since marks are important to them. Finally, the experience in finding the material to illustrate related lessons seems to be developed at the same time which is good for autonomous study. Convington et al (2001:46) confirms that ‘freedom of choice’ of exercise to ‘act autonomously’ is a great positive intrinsic motivation, so students can be interested in study.
However, the application of this new mark record has the potential to depower the image of the role of teachers because of the friendlier relationship between students and them. A stereotype in traditional teaching is that many teachers may be concerned about the tendency to lose part of their power if these traditional roles disappear. Many teachers (cited by Malcolm: 1982) believe that the main duty of a teacher is to control students. In addition, this application is likely to be time-consuming as teachers have to do many calculations when the term finishes. Finally, students may be more concerned about the marks than knowledge conveyed in the lessons.
In summary, the lack of students’ motivation and the challenge of controlling classes in TEFL are caused by the interest in natural sciences, the inappropriate content of English textbooks, the abundance of holidays in different time during the school year and the organization of large size classes. A possible solution is using the new form of mark record which comprehensively covers most of the teaching and learning activities happening in the classrooms. Students’ intrinsic motivation is awakened by the extrinsic one which gives them obvious objectives before doing some tasks instead of simply delivering several activities to force them to complete. Although this solution may break the image of a powerful teacher in Asian countries, consume a great deal of time, and concern about marks, it is simple to use, can vary teaching activities, improve teachers’ and students’ relationship, encourage speaking English, create active learning atmosphere, and develop the study autonomy.
Although some restrictions still occur, hopefully this form can work well with the paper administrative system applied in education in Vietnam. There is a belief that in the near future Vietnamese students can benefit from a qualified education system consisting of appropriate content textbooks and smaller class sizes to attract more students in learning English. This can only be done when designing textbooks does not involve business issues, but instead a student’s ability, age and characteristics (Malcolm: 1982), and more land is saved for schools to narrow the class sizes. Therefore, Vietnamese government should manage the budget for education more carefully to be certain that public finance is spent wisely.
Allan, W., Jacquelynne, S. E. (2002). Development of Achievement Motivation. Academic Press, Florida
Anh, T., Ha, P., Phuong, V. M. (1999). English 10 &11. The Education Publishing House.
Ford, D., Alber, S & Heward, W. (1998). Setting Motivation Traps for Underachieving Gifted Students. Prufrock Press Inc.
Louis, B. (2004). The Importance of Writing. Philadelphia Inquirer.
Malcolm, C., Jennifer, H. & Stefan, Z. (1982). Classroom Management Strategies. Lindsay & Co Ltd
Hunter, M. (1981). Motivation theory for teachers. E1 Segundo, CA: TIP Hunter, Publications.
Martin, V. C., Elizabeth, D. (2001).The Developmental Course of Achievement Motivation: A Need-based Approach. Academic Press.
Sally, B., Steve, A., Gail, T. (1998). Motivating Students. KOGAN PAGE:SEDA.
Van, H . (2008). ‘Tieng Anh 10 & 11’ (English 10 & 11). The Education Publishing House.
Wlodkowski, R. (1997). Motivation. Washington, D.C. National Educational Association.
Zoltan, D. (2003).Attitudes, Orientations, Motivations in Language Learning: Advances in Theory, Research, and Applications. Blackwell Publishing
Ali, M. (2007).The Importance and Effect of Using Aid Materials in Foreign Language Teaching
http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01/0000019b/80/2b/65/a2.pdf, [Accessed on 07/09/2009]
France, E. (2009).Causes And Effects Of Dropout Students Discussed At Summit
http://www.pbcommercial.com/articles/2009/07/31/news/news4.txt, [Accessed on 07/09/2009]
Ke, L. (02/2008). Teaching college English to a large class: Problems and remedies
http://www.linguist.org.cn/doc/su200802/su20080203.pdf, [Accessed on 07/09/2009]
Mathew, L. (2009). The importance of taking notes
http://www.allfreeessays.com/essays/The-Importance-Of-Taking-Notes/24551.html, [Accessed on 07/09/2009]