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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

FUN WITH COOPERATIVE LEARNING


Before the second semester started, as part of my long-term plan, I decided to incorporate cooperative learning strategies in my Mathematics classes to enhance the learners’ learning of Mathematical concepts and the contextual uses of the English language. Provided that it would be properly implemented, I believe it would help both the average and the fast learners in the classroom.


Through cooperative learning, the learners’ social skills could be enhanced as they work with their teammates in ensuring both individual and group success. In addition to, I found this strategy to be very interesting because learning usually happens in a very natural way wherein everyone could get support from every member of the group. Other advantages of cooperative learning strategies include a greater chance of developing the learners’ social skills, oral communication skills, self esteem and most of all their academic achievement regardless of their academic background.

However, in order to accomplish tremendous success in this strategy, as teachers, we need to fully understand how cooperative learning works best in the classroom. We need to effectively communicate to the learners that through this strategy, no one of the team members could be considered loser for every member gain from each other’s efforts. Instead, we have to make sure that the learners fully understand how every member share a common fate, thus, how one’s performance could positively or negatively affect other members.

TEAM BUILDING
Before fully implementing the strategy in the classroom, learners need to completely understand the importance of each member in a team. At this point, they need to understand that they would not only be working with those students they like or the ones who are good. Instead, they need to recognize their individual responsibility in helping one another in order to succeed in every learning endeavor.

In my all-boy class, I related a learning team to a football team. In every game, one or two players would always stand out but that is not important at all because what is more important, is that, they won the game as a team and no good player could win without the support of other team members and the same is true in a learning team. One might be good in one area and the others might be good in another area. As a team, they could use their differences as a tool to learn from one another.

And to personally build their respective teams, I gave time to my students to creatively think of a name that would best describe their team as learners of Mathematics. I gave them enough time to discuss and decide for it and in the end they were able to coin interesting names which they cheered as I read them. Some of the teams came with names like MathMatrix, The Absolute, Math Boys, Super Math and Math Rangers and they all justified why they came up with such names for their teams. Teams could also create their team logo or team tag to keep the spirit of their teams alive.


TEAM LEARNING
After building their respective teams, we are now confident to move to the next level which is the heart of this learning strategy. Of course, we didn’t just divide the class into teams for the sake of doing it. The very reason why learners are with their respective teams is for them to maximize learning on the subject matter.

This is the very reason why we encourage heterogeneous type of grouping because we want learners of different levels and abilities to help each other in achieving common learning goal. In my class, I always emphasize to every group that they need to consult every member of their team if they have any idea about the lesson and I also encourage them to be as resourceful as possible. I tell my students to make their teacher as their last resource so they could practice doing appropriate actions when problems occur during the learning process. As teachers, we have to be extra careful in entertaining simple questions which sometimes lead to the answer and in helping a group because when other teams will see that you are spending much time with one group, they would also ask for your help and the domino effect goes on. When that happens, dividing the class into teams do not make any sense at all because what a teacher would usually do is move from one group to another teaching the concepts.

During the group learning process, the responsibility of the teacher is to facilitate the activity by monitoring each group. We need to observe each group and keep a record of the students’ behavior and level of participation in the activity. We also have to constantly provide immediate feedback to each team so that they would know how to improve in the following activities.

TEAM TOURNAMENT
To make the class livelier and to keep every team’s spirit alive, have each team participate in a team tournament. Show which group is excelling and monitor each team’s standing from time to time so that every team will be encouraged to participate. The score of each team could be taken from the score each member earned during individual assessment and group assessment. Authentic assessment is highly encouraged in cooperative learning. Assessment should be anchored upon the learning objectives specified before the introduction of the subject matter. Constantly communicate these objectives so that it would become a goal for each team.

TEAM CELEBRATION
After working so hard for the achievement of their goals, it’s always good to end it up with a rewarding team celebration. As teachers, we need to recognize both individual and group efforts of our students.

In my class, I am awarding certificates and other prizes to the best performing team at the end of the semester. I also give special awards to add more fun during the awarding day. However, this reward is a long-term reward and this could not contribute to the present learning needs of the students. To keep each team’s enthusiasm, I do give constant rewards in the form of simple recognition every time a team does something worthy of recognition.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Total Quality Management (TQM) and Thailand's English Program (EP)

In the course of a decade, the world has tremendously experienced rapid change in various aspects which eventually led to the globalization of economy and the transformation of society. Competition became a cliché in all aspects from economy to education and others.

Realizing the current condition of the world, the National Education Act of 1999, which is the blueprint of the modern Thai educational system, has profoundly expressed, “The urgently needed reform will undoubtedly redeem the country from the downward spiral, so that Thailand will rise in the immediate future as a nation of wealth, stability and dignity, capable of competing with others in this age of globalization” (ONEC, 2007).

Heeding the latest national education reform which calls for competency among Thai citizens in the global arena, the Ministry of Education spearheaded the transformation of the education system through a strategy based around enhancing moral and ethical values together with a core program of enhancing the quality of education in which the transformation of language learning is one of the focuses. The learning of English language has been given main focus through English Program which aimed at providing full Thai curriculum subjects in English (Thailand MOE, 2004).

However, as an emergent practice in the field of basic education, a plethora of problems has stricken the operation of the program and has caused several impediments in achieving the nation’s goal for its citizens. These problems include difficulty in finding textbooks that would match the Ministry of Education’s curriculum, hiring qualified teachers to teach the subject matter in English, low level of students’ conception over the subject matter, lack of motivation to learn the subject matter in English among students, internal conflicts among teachers and school administrators resulting to low level of teachers retention, lack of awareness of the program’s vision, mission, goals and objectives among most of the stakeholders and dissatisfaction of some parents over the operation of the program. Beyond the school organization, there is a pungent competition among the basic education institutions offering English Program.

The abovementioned problems are supported by an array of local researches and literatures which reveals the current status of language education in Thailand especially in the English Program. As pointed out by Wiriyachitra (2007), with all the efforts to enhance English language teaching and learning, Thailand is still facing many problems that inhibit her from standing tall in the “Knowledge” societies. She further revealed that one of the factors that inhibit Thailand’s capability to be in the “Knowledge” society is that foreign teachers in the English program are less qualified. Hence the students, on average, do not excel in mathematics and science.
Furthermore, a study of attitudes and problems in teaching and learning English in Islamic religious schools in Yala conducted by Rattnanayart, Charumanee and Chiramanee in 2006 has revealed the following results:

1. English teachers in the three school sizes perceive English teaching problems mostly at a critical level. These problems, ranked in order of seriousness, are those concerning teaching and learning materials, evaluation and testing, students, and workload.
2. All administrators agree that they have not yet succeeded in their management; they want to improve the quality of teaching and learning English to make it more effective.
3. School administrators face similar problems concerning financial support from the government, students, English teachers, curriculum, the environment, teaching and learning facilities, and assistance from the educational authority in charge.

The problems cited in the previous paragraphs are few of the dilemmas which can be addressed by a well-implemented TQM Program. However, even if TQM can be a panacea of the various problems facing the English Program in basic education institutions, it has to be understood that TQM is not a solution which ordinarily comes out of the blue. As mentioned by Sallis (2003) in his book Total Quality Management in Education, "TQM is not an imposition. It is not something which can be done by somebody for you and for the others. TQM needs to be implemented by individuals who are of utmost commitment in achieving the customer-focused vision of the program."

TQM, in general, could be an answer to Thailand’s dream to redeem itself from the downward spiral and become a country capable of competing with others in this age of globalization. As pointed out by Fitzgerald (2004), “Now that the technologies of transportation and communication have replaced national economic systems with a global economy, nations and businesses that do not practice TQM can become globally non-competitive rather rapidly.” He further divulged, “This march towards non-competitiveness can be avoided if citizens are helped to become TQM practitioners.”

References:

Fitzgerald, Ron (2004). Total quality management in education. Minuteman career and technical high school. Retrieved December 18, 2008 from http://www.minuteman.org/topics/tqm.html

Rattnanayart, W., Charumanee, N., & Chiramanee, N. (2007). A study of attitudes and problems in teaching and learning English in Islamic religious schools in Yala. ThaiTESOL Bulletin, 20 (1-2), 73–100

Ministry of Education(2004). The education system in Thailand. Towards a learning society in Thailand (pamphlet of the Bureau of International Cooperation). Retrieved January 26, 2009 from http://www.bic.moe.go.th/fileadmin/BIC_Document/book/MOEleaflet/Thai-ed-system.pdf

Office of the Education Council (2007). National Education Act of B.E. 2542 (1999). Office of the Education Council. Retrieved January 26, 2009 from http://www.onec.go.th/publication/law2542/index_law2542.html

Sallis, Edward. Total quality management in education. Kogan Page Ltd. London: 2002

Tan, Hedda (2009). English language teaching in Thailand: where do Filipinos fit in? Filipinos in Thailand: Filipinos living, working, traveling in Thailand blog. Retrieved February 20, 2009 from http://www.filipinosinthailand.com/english-language-teaching-in-thailand-where-do-filipinos-fit-in/

Wiriyachittra, Arunee (2007). The present perfect for the future perfect. ThaiTESOL Bulletin, 20 (1-2), 101–110

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Learning Assessment: From Theory to Practice

This article is the first part of a condensed series of discussions on Seminar-Workshop in Ethical and Legal Issues behind Students Assessment presented for Seminar in Ethics and Legal Issues in Education class at St. Theresa Inti College- Bangkok Campus.

The seminar-workshop aims to provide better understanding towards learning assessment – its definition and purpose/s, the transition from traditional to modern assessment methods, the teachers’ roles in assessment for students’ learning. Built upon the foundation on understanding the basic theories and practices in students assessment, case studies on ethical and legal issues teachers’ prejudices in providing authentic assessment among the students will be presented and analyzed.


What is Assessment?
In this context, assessment is primarily regarded as gathering relevant information concerning the learners (e.g. learning styles, needs for improvement, learning difficulties encountered, and students’ progress) in order to evaluate their existing knowledge and assist them in impending learning endeavors .

To define learning assessment in the general context of education, I adopted the definition of The UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (2000) in its Code of Practice as cited by Harvey (2004-8) which states:

Assessment is a generic term for a set of processes that measure the outcomes of students’ learning, in terms of knowledge acquired, understanding developed, and skills gained. It serves many purposes. Assessment provides the means by which students are graded, passed or fail. It provides the basis for decisions on whether a student is ready to proceed, to qualify for an award or to demonstrate competence to practise. It enables students to obtain feedback on their learning and helps them improve their performance. It enables staff to evaluate the effectiveness of their teaching.
The abovementioned definition of assessment attempts to discuss the three kinds of assessment happening in the classroom level which will be discussed in the following section of this article.

Kinds of Assessment and their Purpose
As cited by the Government of British Columbia (2007), there are three current approaches, as literature suggests, to classroom-based assessment that can be used in conjunction with each other to support student achievement.

1. Assessment FOR learning refers to formative assessment through which teachers collect information about student achievement and use this information to plan follow-up classroom activities.

2. Assessment AS learning refers to the active involvement of students in assessment of their own learning. Assessment as learning assists students in understanding what they might need to improve upon in order to successfully meet learning outcomes.

3. Assessment OF learning refers to assessment practices that take place at the end of a lesson or unit so that student achievement can be reported.

The three approaches to classroom-based assessment stated above are the two general types of assessment referred to as formative assessment (numbers 1 & 2) and summative assessment (number 3). Formative assessment, as defined by Tan (2008), is the one designed to provide direction for improvement and/or adjustment to a program for individual students or for a whole class. Formative assessment generally takes place during the discussion of the subject matter in order to provide learners with immediate feedback on their progress and inform development.

For instance, in my Mathematics class with young English as Second Language (ESL) learners, I give students worksheets and other activities to work on wherein I give immediate feedbacks and provide support (scaffolding) to those who are showing difficulty in doing the activity. Before presenting the activity (worksheet), I communicate with my students the expected output and encourage them to do the activity by their own and ask for my assistance if ever they will encounter any problem in doing so. I always assure them that such activities are given in order to help them understand the lesson better so they have nothing to worry if they get high or low marks. When students submit their works, I observe for possible errors and give them time to go over their work for correction in which they are happy about especially when they are able to correct their own mistakes.

The second type of assessment is a very common one and is not difficult to understand. Summative assessments are given after finishing a certain chapter and/or a course/subject. The purpose of which is, primarily, to provide information on how much the students have learned and/or how well the subject matter was taught.

Traditional vs. Authentic Assessment

Traditionally, assessment which is typically done in a form of test or quiz provides negative notion among the students. More often than usual, traditional assessment methods merely expects the students to recall knowledge through multiple choice tests, enumeration, identification, and others. Such method of assessment usually causes anxiety among the students which hinders them from giving accurate response as to what they have really learned – thus, hampering valid formative assessment and feedback.

On the other hand, authentic assessment or alternative assessment usually entails tasks in which the students will be involved and an accompanying rubric which will be used in evaluating their performance on the specified tasks. Wiggins (1993) as cited by Mueller (2008) defined authentic assessment as engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field.

In other words, authentic assessment is the provision of direct application of knowledge learned through practical tasks designed to evaluate the students’ ability to apply learning (transfer of learning). According to Mueller (2008), authentic assessments, on the other hand, offer more direct evidence of application and construction of knowledge compared to traditional assessment. Going back to my Mathematics class with young ESL learners as concrete example, along with mastery in the fundamental mathematical operations the students are also expected to develop their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills while studying Mathematics. When I taught “Money and Budget” among the learners, I assessed their ability to solve problems related to money and their ability to integrate the four language skills by asking them to look for a practical problem which involves money. I asked my students to write them down in paragraph form, interpret and express them in mathematical symbols, and then present their problems and solution in class. I developed a rubric to evaluate their works (oral and written) and communicated it with them beforehand. That way, I was able to provide authentic assessment among my students for their presentations have reflected how much they have learned and my feedback (which was based on the rubric) was clear with them beforehand, thus, learning what needs to be improved next time.


References:

Harvey, L. (2004–8). Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International. Retrieved, February 7, 2009 from http://www.qualityresearchinternational.com/glossary/

Mueller, J. (2008). What is Authentic Assessment?, Authentic Assessment Toolbox. Retrieved, February 7, 2009 from http://jonathan.mueller.faculty.noctrl.edu/toolbox/whatisit.htm#definitions

Province of British Columbia (2007). Classroom Assessment, British Columbia: The Best Place in Earth. Retrieved, February 7, 2009 from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/classroom_assessment/

Tan, H. (2008). 7 Ways to Assess Effectively FOR Learning, Teaching English Literacy: A TEFL Blog by Hedda Tan. Retrieved, February 1, 2009 from http://www.heddatan.com/7-ways-to-assess-effectively-for-learning.html