Action Research on English Writing Skill of the Tertiary Level Students of the Colleges of Dhaka City, Bangladesh[1]

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  Research on Humanities and Social ISSN 2222-1719 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2863 (Online)Vol.3, No.4, 2013 119 Action Research on: English Writing Skill of the Tertiary Level Students of the Collegesof Dhaka City, Bangladesh Mohammad RukanuddinAssistant Professor of English, Department of Arts and SciencesAhsanullah University of Science and Technology141-142 Love Road, Tejgaon Industrial AreaDhaka 1208, BangladeshEmail:  Abstract This action research, though in a miniature scale, has aimed at finding out the condition of English writing skill of the tertiary level students studying in the colleges of Dhaka City in Bangladesh. It explores that the target students’ writing skill is faulty (lexically, structurally, and cohesively). It also finds that if the students are taught this skillaccording to appropriate language teaching principles and methods, they are, in most cases, receptive and improveconsiderably. Keywords: action research, tertiary level students, writing skill, language teaching method 1. Introduction Writing skill is one of the four basic skills  –  listening, speaking, reading and writing - of language. It is a productiveskill of language users, which enables them to put their thoughts into words in a meaningful form and to mentallyreact to the message. Though the goal of writing is expression of thoughts and ideas, it is attained through various phases. Hampton (1989) says that writers are independent when they are able to write without much assistance. Next,writers gain comprehensibility when they can write so that it can be read and understood by themselves and others.Then, writers attain fluency by being able to write smoothly and easily as well as understandably. Finally, writersgain creativity when they can write their own ideas, not copying what has already been written, so that they can beread and understood. 1.1 Importance of writing skill Writing skill is an important tool for better performance in examinations and greater academic achievement. In reallife situation most potential employers give importance to writing skill. Among a group of employees requiringwriting skill, someone who writes well is sure to stand out and achieve success more quickly than others. Moreover,it is the writing skill that has enabled authors to record their thoughts and expressions in books and various other media from the far past. 1.2 Testing writing skill Two different approaches are used for assessing learners’ writing ability. Weir (1988) mentions them as direct method and indirect method. In the indirect method writing can be divided into discrete levels: grammar, vocabulary, spelling and punctuation which can be tested by objective tests. In the second method ‘more direct extended’ compositiontasks can be used as stimuli for assessing one’s writ ing capability focusing on an understanding of vocabulary,structures and cohesive devices. This direct way of testing is regarded as a suitable tool for assessing the ability to present a written argument in a logical manner, which cannot be tested in other ways. However, there are criticismsof this direct way of testing on several grounds. They include the fact that this test involves subjective or impressionistic assessment. 1.3 Action research:  An action research is a kind of research through which teachers investigate teaching methods and approaches, and learning in order to improve their own and the students’ performance. Carr and Kemmis (1986) state that action research is about the improvement of practice, understanding of practice and the situation in which practice takes place. Action research is used in real life situations, rather than in any artificial, experimental studies, since its primary focus is on solving real problems.Educational Action Research, has its foundations in the writings of John Dewey, the great American educational  Research on Humanities and Social ISSN 2222-1719 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2863 (Online)Vol.3, No.4, 2013 120  philosopher of the 1920s and 30s, who believed that professional educators should become involved in community problem-solving. Its practitioners, not surprisingly, operate mainly out of educational institutions, and focus ondevelopment of curriculum, professional development, and applying learning in a social context. It is often the casethat university-based action researchers work with primary and secondary school teachers and students acting upon theconditions to make necessary changes.Regarding action research Susman (1983) gives an elaborate listing of its phases (Figure # 1). He shows five phases to be conducted within each research cycle. Initially, a problem is identified and data are collected for a more detaileddiagnosis. This is followed by a collective efforts of several possible solutions, from which a single plan of actionemerges and is implemented. Data on the results of the intervention are collected and analyzed, and the findings areinterpreted in the light of how successful the action has been. At this point, the problem is re-assessed and the process begins another cycle. This process continues until the problem is resolved. In this way effective actions or measuresare adopted for the betterment of learning and teaching in education as well as in the field of language learning andteaching. Figure 1: Action Research Model (adapted from Susman 1983)2. Research area The research area investigated by the researcher is the condition or quality of English writing skill of the tertiarylevel students of the colleges of Dhaka city of Bangladesh under the title:   DIAGNOSING Indentifying or Defining a problem SPECIFYINGLEARNINGIndentifying GeneralFindingsEVALUATING Studying the consequences of anaction TAKING ACTION Selecting a courseOf action ACTIONPLANNING ConsideringAlternative coursesOf action    Research on Humanities and Social ISSN 2222-1719 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2863 (Online)Vol.3, No.4, 2013 121 Action Research on English Writing Skill of the Tertiary Level Students of the Colleges of Dhaka City, Bangladesh. 2.1 Aim of research The aim of the research was to find out the quality of the writing ability of the students studying at the tertiary levelcolleges of Dhaka city in Bangladesh. It is very often noticed that the students at this level of studies fail to expressthemselves in writing in English. Most of them fail even to produce what they have learnt in their academic courses,and ultimately score very badly in examinations. That is why the researcher undertook an investigation to pin pointthe problem areas first and then to find out probable solutions to the problems. 2.2 Research question: The question that has made the researcher undertake the incumbent action research work is how correctly the tertiarylevel students of the colleges of Dhaka city of Bangladesh write English. The same has been put as a question in thefollowing manner:How correctly do students write English at the tertiary level colleges of Dhaka City of Bangladesh? 2.3   Hypotheses :a. The tertiary level students of the colleges of Dhaka City of Bangladesh cannot write English effectively. b. The tertiary level students of the colleges of Dhaka City of Bangladesh write English effectively.On the basis of the research question, the researcher assumes the above two probabilities in his research area: thewriting capacity of the subjects is either effective or not effective with a view to finding out the truer fact between thetwo. As a hypothesis helps a researcher to collect data in an orderly way and it provides the basis for distinguishingrelevant facts from irrelevant data, the researcher has adopted these two hypotheses.The first hypothesis is a working hypothesis. The researcher has used this hypothesis as a presupposed or predictedfact for his research with the hope of establishing the fact.The second hypothesis has been used as a null hypothesis which is eventually disproved or nullified, because when anull hypothesis is rejected, it actually proves the working hypothesis. 2.4 Justification of the project One of the major concerns at our tertiary level educational institutions is that students are having difficulty masteringthe writing skill despite the fact that they have studied English language as a mandatory subject from standard one tostandard twelve. The researcher believes that because of the limited foundational instructions these studentsdemonstrate a lack of proficiency in writing English among other reasons. 3. Literature Review:  Action research has been defined by many experts in different ways. However, almost all of them agree that this is done for the improvement of the ‘strategies’ and ‘practices’ with which some action is performed. The phrase ‘actionresearch’ was first coined by Lewin (1946) to mean a social action research for the  purpose of social development.Cohen and Manion (1985) in Nunan (1992) say that action research is situational and concerned with theidentification and solution of problems in a particular situation. Allwright and Bailey (1991) say that through action research ‘the exploratory teacher will not only improve achievement but also contribute to our … knowledgeabout how language classroom works.”  As far as research on writing skill is concerned the samples of writings are required. For this purpose, the subjectsshould b e made to write on something. Hughes (1989) says that ‘the best way to test people’s writing ability is to getthem to write.’ Harris (1969) points out five principles to follow in order to make the testing tasks representative. First of all, arrangement should be there to take several samples, rather than one. Secondly, writing tasks should bewithin the reach of all. Thirdly, regarding the writing tasks all necessary directions should be provided. Fourthly, noalternatives should be allowed. And finally, the writing assignments should be pre-tested if possible. 4. Data and Data Collection Methods As the sample population of the study, 33 students were chosen from a tertiary level educational institute of Dhakacity. Among them 96.97% were male, 3.03% were female (Fig # 2)  Research on Humanities and Social ISSN 2222-1719 (Paper) ISSN 2222-2863 (Online)Vol.3, No.4, 2013 122 0102030405060708090100MaleFemale   Figure 2: Percentage of male subjects and female subjects of the sample population in graph 30.30% participating subjects had Dhaka based urban school background, while 69.70% had high school backgroundfrom outside Dhaka (Figur#3).. 0%10%20%30%40%50%60%70%Dhaka basedOutside Dhaka   Figure 3:Percentage of the Dhaka based and out-side Dhaka subjects in the study in graph 4.1 Data Collection Methods  As Onwuegbuzie and Leech (2005) suggest that typically minimum sample size of 30 is required for an actionresearch, the samples of writing from 33 students studying at a bachelor’s (honours) degree programme (notmajoring in English) at an institute in Dhaka City, Bangladesh, were taken before and after treatment. Next, somerele vant information regarding the students’ learning background and teachers’ teaching strategies were collected through interview. 4.2. Data Collection tools: Writing task, tests on grammatical items like right use of verbs, identifying sentence structures like simple,compound and complex, questionnaire for the learners and teachers were used as tools for data collections. 4.3 Action At the first meeting with the subjects, they were motivat ed and asked to write a paragraph on ‘An Ideal Student’, a
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