Some helpful hints to enhance students exploration of different reference sources in the study of American culture and civilization

Abstract. The article focuses on suggesting some helpful hints for both teachers and learners of EFL (English as a foreign language). These are developed on the basis of the learner-centred approach which can be effectively implemented in teaching and learning the subject of American Culture and Civilization. With some specific features of the subject, some helpful hints to enhance the learners exploration of different reference sources in the study of the subject are discussed carefully in the article. Obviously, great responsibility for the students own learning cannot be obtained without teachers instructions. In other words, the roles of the teacher can be clearly realized when he/she is aware of the needs analysis, strictly following the courses assessments, enthusiastically giving feedback to students homework tasks, and is independent in classroom management. Hopefully, these hints can also be implemented in launching learners into self-access to various reference materials in the study of many other subjects and promoting them to reinforce their active learning process.

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JOURNAL OF SCIENCE OF HNUE 2011, Vol. 56, N◦. 1, pp. 130-137 SOME HELPFUL HINTS TO ENHANCE STUDENTS EXPLORATION OF DIFFERENT REFERENCE SOURCES IN THE STUDY OF AMERICAN CULTURE AND CIVILIZATION Nguyen Thi Ha Hanoi National University of Education E-mail: tuanha407@yahoo.com Abstract. The article focuses on suggesting some helpful hints for both teachers and learners of EFL (English as a foreign language). These are de- veloped on the basis of the learner-centred approach which can be effectively implemented in teaching and learning the subject of American Culture and Civilization. With some specific features of the subject, some helpful hints to enhance the learners exploration of different reference sources in the study of the subject are discussed carefully in the article. Obviously, great respon- sibility for the students own learning cannot be obtained without teachers instructions. In other words, the roles of the teacher can be clearly realized when he/she is aware of the needs analysis, strictly following the courses assessments, enthusiastically giving feedback to students homework tasks, and is independent in classroom management. Hopefully, these hints can also be implemented in launching learners into self-access to various refer- ence materials in the study of many other subjects and promoting them to reinforce their active learning process. Keywords: American Culture and Civilization, classroom management, Exploration of different reference resources 1. Introduction Teaching and learning English in modern times are of great concern in many countries and especially in Vietnam. In order to obtain desirable success in ped- agogy, the concept of learner-centeredness has been taken into great consideration among educators. This has ever been applied differently in English classes. I have been doing some research to investigate the most effective ways to activate students roles and responsibities in their English study, especially in their study of American Culture and Civilization, which I have been in charge of teaching at the Faculty 130 Some helpful hints to enhance students exploration... of English (F.O.E.) for some years now. This subject is commonly known as the one which not only teaches students language skills but also provides them with a fundamental background about America, one of the most powerful countries in the world. Also, it helps learners understand and explore more about American people and culture. However, the three-credit course of American Culture and Civiliza- tion in the undergraduate curriculum is certainly inadequate for exposing students to fundamental knowledge about the country. Hence, this article will recommend to teachers some of the helpful hints to encourage students exploration of differ- ent reference sources in the study of the subject. The suggestions totally focus on the learner-centred approach, which is one of the most fashionable and effective methodologies for teaching and learning languages. 2. Content 2.1. Why should learners explore different reference sources? Undoubtedly, American Culture and Civilization is of the factual and eventful subjects, and in fact, some information and data about the country itself and its people are always being updated. Also, the main Coursebook, to some extent, cannot provide video clips which are of great necessity for the learners to hold a broad view about the country of America. Meanwhile, as assigned in the curriculum of the Teacher Training course at F.O.E, HNUE, time duration of three-credit courses (equal to 45 class hours) covered in one semester is delivered to the subject. As a result, with an aim to master comprehensive understanding about the country, it is obviously a necessary task for the learners to refer to different sources outside class rather than the main coursebook for updating information. One more reason why the learners at F.O.E. at HNUE. should explore differ- ent reference materials is that they are obliged to satisfy the university and class requirements with specific assessments including class participation, a midterm test, and a final exam. Only by searching information about America from various ref- erence sources, will the students be able to participate actively during class hours (either by answering the teachers random questions or sharing updated information to friends), and fulfill all of the questions in the test papers. Last but not least, exploring various sources of reference in the study of Amer- ican Culture and Civilization is a very typical and effective example of activating the dominant role of learner-centred approach in teaching and learning languages. With their own active searching, the learners can broaden their general knowledge about the country, its culture, people, etc., which gives great contribution to their success in communication, further study, or later career paths. Apparently, this activity of 131 Nguyen Thi Ha students exploration of different materials both meets the objectives of the course and the learners needs in their study of the target language. 2.2. Some helpful hints to enhance students exploration of different reference sources in the study of American Culture and Civilization 2.2.1. Needs analysis Mahmuda Yasmin Shaila and Beth Trudell in [3] stated that an immediate task for the planning group was to design and administer a needs assessment to gather information. For the specific features presented in the subject of American Culture and Civilization, three following questions should be distributed to the learners at the beginning of the course to investigate their needs: (1) what types of learning styles the learners belong to, (2) how they access to information suppliers, and (3) what they want to know about America. This information is vital to adapt a learner-centred approach to the study of the subject. Regarding the first question, according to Rosie Tanner and Catherine Green in [6], to find out the appropriate learning styles, students are assigned to read the three brief descriptions and choose which is his/her strongest learning style: - Visual learners: You learn better by visual means, for example by reading and by looking at pictures or films. You remember instructions best if you see them, for example on the white board. - Auditory learners: You learn well by hearing things, for example lectures or tapes. You like teachers to give oral instructions and you like making tape recordings of what you are learning and having discussions. - Kinaesthetic learners: You learn best when you have hands-on experience, when you are physically involved or can actively participate. You like moving around when you learn and you also like a variety of classroom activities. Evidently, it will be efficient for the teacher to group individuals of the same learning style so that they can feel motivated to cooperate or share their opinions to one another. However, each groups performance will be more varied if its members own different learning styles, which can be considered as an ultimate piece of advice for the teacher to promote students needs for exploring different reference materials in the study of American Culture and Civilization. From the answer to the second question of how learners access to information, suppliers such as newspapers, magazines, TV, radios, internet, etc., we can realize what the students current situations of accessing to various media are, and if the 132 Some helpful hints to enhance students exploration... students encounter any difficulties in searching information from different sources. Once the teacher is aware of these problems, he/she should directly share his/her own experience in this aspect to the learners and/or hold a mini-conference about accessing to multi-media on the second day of the course. This activity is certainly significant in enhancing the students exploration of different reference materials in the study of this eventful subject with updated information. The last question is so helpful for teachers to explore more about the learners needs for the subject in order to design an appropriate and detailed syllabus which can satisfy both the objectives of the course and the learners desire. With the limited time duration of three credits, it is impossible to cover all the aspects about the USA. As a result, the teacher should focus on the objectives of the course as well as the areas in which most students are interested in order to accomplish the tentative but comprehensible syllabus. Moreover, the fact that learners needs or desires are initially investigated will help the teacher select the students who share the same interests in one group for class activities. The appropriate syllabus and groups are, hence, considered as the major learners motivations in searching for more and more information from available sources. 2.2.2. Assessments So as to promote the students responsibility for exploring different reference sources in the study of American Culture and Civilization, the teacher should also be responsible for introducing in detail regarding the course assessment at the beginning of the course. First of all, the learners should be provided with the requirements of the course as follows: Each student must be responsible for searching updated information about the topics. A group-work activity of sharing the information is held during class hours in order to help the participants widen their knowledge about the given aspects of American Studies. Also, students are divided into groups of three or four at the beginning of the course. Each group is required to (1) participate well in all activities in class, and (2) prepare some background, relevant knowledge presented in the syllabus for the assigned week from the course-book, reference materials and available websites on the internet, and deliver a power-point presentation within 20 minutes. Then types of assessment are delivered in detail like this: Midterm test accounts for 25% of the total grade, which includes the assess- ment of class participation and presentation. End-of-course test, whose format is designed as the written test including both 133 Nguyen Thi Ha multiple choice and open questions, accounts for 75% of the total grade. Furthermore, according to Marilyn Lewis in [4], teachers are highly advised to think of purposes of feedback to students tasks and answers. Feedback is a way for teachers to describe their learners language. It gives teachers information about individual and collective class progress and, indirectly, is a form of evaluation on their own teaching. For learners, feedback is an ongoing form of assessment which is more focused than marks or grades. By highlighting strengths and weaknesses, the comments provide information about individual progress, unlike marks or grades, which tend to compare one student with another. Also feedback provides students with advice about learning. Whenever the teacher holds a clear view about learners style, he/she can provide students with the most appropriate and useful comments, which can help the latter for a better performance in the next task. Another pur- pose of using feedback is that it is a form of motivation. Both hardworking and underworking students need encouragement but it needs to be given in different ways. For instance, a small gift (e.g., a candy, a sticker,) can be awarded to the formers when they share correct answers or good presentation, while either a spe- cific suggestion or a clap of encouragement can be distributed to the latters. This, obviously, contributes such great enhancement to learners exploration of various reference materials in the study of American Culture and Civilization. 2.2.3. Homework tasks It seems that homework tasks are out of teachers control. In my own practice, however, they play a vital part in promoting students exploration of various reference materials. For an effective task done by learners outside the classroom, on the first day of the course, the teacher should demonstrate a model presentation which covers two parts: Part 1 deals with the content of the sub-topic assigned in the syllabus, and Part 2 is designed with 20 multiple choice questions including images, video clips about whatever topics are in relation to America. If any student can deliver the correct answer to the question, a small gift will be given to him/her as a motivating award. The class atmosphere is certain not only to become fresh but competitive, which implements learner-centred approach so efficiently. After this demo presentation, the students are highly motivated to follow the presentation format to fulfill their homework tasks in groups. Each group is responsible for emailing the complete task to the teacher for valuable feedback, where the teachers role is performed. According to Brown [1], group work creates a favorable climate for communi- cation by relieving students of the anxiety of having to talk in front of the whole class. In addition, group work makes students more responsible and autonomous. 134 Some helpful hints to enhance students exploration... This homework task will promote learners to explore information about the subject from various resources if they wish to achieve good marks or positive comments from the teacher, which accounts for the result of the midterm test. According to Olgar Kozar in [5], English Teaching Forum, cooperation can be achieved if all participants do their assigned parts separately and bring their results to the table; collaboration, in contrast, implies direct interaction among individuals to produce a product and involves negotiations, discussions, and accommodating others perspectives. While working together to accomplish their task, the members in each group should be aware of the more proper method for their own group to achieve the most effective result, cooperation or collaboration. This task, thus, raises the students self study, especially in searching for updated information from available sources (books, press media, websites etc.,) for the subtopic presentation and quiz. As for individual tasks at home, the teacher also instructs each learner to explore himself/herself for relevant background knowledge, information about the topic assigned and whatever news pertaining to the country. In order to check whether each individual implement the homework task, the teacher will seriously observe his/her participation during class hours, which will be further discussed in the next part of classroom management. 2.2.4. Classroom management According to Irina Lytovchenko in [2], group work and pair work are indis- pensible to task-based teaching. This type of classroom arrangement creates a com- pletely different atmosphere from that of a traditional teacher-centred class; instead of strictly controlling the students, the teacher coordinates their work. How to or- ganize group work or pair work effectively depends on the teachers observation and ongoing evaluation. As for American Culture and Civilization, at the beginning of each class, the teacher will check each individuals homework task by grouping 4 or 5 students and asking them to share whatever they have explored about the country at home. Although a classroom with moveable tables and chairs is ideal, most class- rooms in F.O.E., at HNUE. have rows of desks that are permanently attached to the floor. In this case, one solution is to ask the students in one row to turn around and talk to the students sitting in the row behind them. In this way, they can face each other during the discussion. It will be more interesting if the teacher selects new members in each group for each activity in every class. Then, it is now the time for the teacher to walk around the classroom and observe each participant in groups to examine how actively they are participating in the activity. The evident aim of this observance is that the learners will feel more responsible for exploring information about the subject from various resources so that they can be praised or 135 Nguyen Thi Ha given positive comments from the teacher. Apart from organizing group works or pair works, the teacher of American Culture and Civilization is also in charge of lecturing about the subtopic listed in the syllabus. He/ She should be aware of the presentation with the aid of hi-technology. In other words, his/her careful preparation of the power-point presentation must be delivered under any circumstances. For example, in the case of power cuts, the teacher should be independent to fully charge his/her laptop before the class. In addition, only when the teacher activates the use of various reference sources in his/her lectures, will the students exploration about the materials be promoted. The teacher, thus, should always be active in showing the learners posters, images, video clips, puzzles, etc., from available sources inside the class hours. One more thing that the teacher should take into consideration in the class- room is his/her use of gestures, body language, facial expressions, examples, etc., to communicate clearly in English with students. Learners will become well motivated if they are naturally attracted by the teachers positive behavior. There is no doubt that whenever the students feel interested in the class where the teacher acts as the leader or in the role of an actor/ or actress, they will obtain their own intrinsic and extrinsic motivation for their own study of the subject. It is the time for the teacher to use his/her own praises or critical comments in accordance with the students re- sponses. Those who gain positive comments about their searching at home will feel so proud in front of their partners and very excited about their next exploration of the update information, while those who are given critical or constructive comments will talk to themselves about the more responsible and independent participation in the next class. Advisably, the teacher should usually prepare himself/herself for the best atmosphere before each class so that he/she can create a good impression on the learners and avoid causing a bad atmosphere during the class hours. The last recommendation for managing a good class which can be applied in American Culture or Civilization is that some specific rules should be declared at the beginning of the course. Punctuality is the very first obligation. Learners are not allowed to attend class later than the teacher, which also surges the teacher to be present on time. If one student is late for class, he or she will be required to share the latest information about the United States or answer two or three questions given by the teacher; in case he/she cannot give the answer, a bad mark will be given to his participation. Another rule which can be established during the class hour is that all of the students are obliged to participate in answering questions designed by the teacher or the group presentation. If there are no answers from one student, he/she will get bad marks for participation. One more rule which can foster the learners exploration of different reference sources is that it is a must for each group 136 Some helpful hints to enhance students exploration... to add at least 2 or 3 video clips related to the topic in their presentation, otherwise they will not obtain good marks. 3. Conclusion All the things considered, it can be assumed that learner-centred approach can be effectively implemented in teaching and learning languages in general and in the subject of American Culture and Civilization in particular. Basing on the specific features of the subject, this approach is well present