A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín
Statement of the problem
Currently teaching English has become an ongoing process in education since its meaning is changing in order to make it a more meaningful experience. Nowadays, the idea is not just to teach vocabulary and structures or to emphasize on form more that on meaning as it was done some years ago. Today as Alptekin (2002) stated “learners are not only expected to acquire forms of the target language, but also to learn how to use these forms in given social situations to convey appropriate, coherent, and strategically effective meanings” Under this perspective, teaching English becomes a more challenging task since teachers have to teach the language but also how to use it. The concern is then how to guide learners to be real language users and how to use those structures and vocabulary acquired to communicate spontaneously.
Based on the reflection above, I have identified a problem in a private institution, specifically in kindergarten students from this school; these learners understand full classes in English, they listen to videos, they sing songs, they respond to instructions, and they have enough vocabulary. I would say that they have the lexical competence well developed. However, when they need to communicate ideas, they do not use what they know in English in spite of the fact that multiple strategies have been applied in order to motivate them to speak.
Thinking about the factors that influence a language learning process, I would refer to the methodology applied by the teacher in this case and to these learners’ features as key concepts to understand why if they are positive, the results are not the expected. On the one hand, the English classes for these young learners are carefully prepared keeping in mind their age, the topic, the learning goals, and the same students’ needs. On the other hand, these kindergartens are students very enthusiastic, they show a certain pleasure when they are in the English classes and they seem to learn everything they are taught. However, I have not found a way to make them to speak.
By carrying out this research process, I want to get the way to make children to use English as another communicative tool, I have chosen storytelling and story reading as the possible ways to achieve this goal. Isbell, Sobol, Lindauer, and Lowrance (2004) claimed how “story reading increases reading achievement scores, but also listening and speaking abilities”. Besides, they argued how storytelling although it has not received enough attention, this method is important because it “helps to develop skills in both oral and written communication, while developing understanding of story schema”. I chose these two strategies because they are ideal for young learners. Children love stories and by listening to them they would be encouraged to produce ideas in the foreign language.
To work on the concern presented above, this study proposes the following research question: HOW DO STORY READING AND STORYTELLING INCREASE YOUNG LEARNERS’ ORAL LANGUAGE?
This proposal will be developed around some basic concepts such us young learners, oral language, storytelling, and story reading. I will explain what they are on the light of some theories and I will state how they support this study.
Before searching and reading the articles that I selected for supporting this project, I understood by young learners those children whose age ranges between 0 and 7 year old. However, some authors have explained how age cannot be the criteria to classify students since many children who are the same age present different characteristics. According to Numan (2011)
“some writers and researchers try to segment learners strictly according to age: 3 to 5 year- olds, 6 to 8 year -olds, and so on. While, as we shall see, children do exhibit different mental and social characteristics at different ages, a strict segmentation is not particularly helpful”
Numan (2011) proposed a different segmentation, he talked about younger learners and older learners. He claimed that “Younger learners are children at pre-school or in the first couple of years of schooling” Based on this definition, the participants I chose for this study are considered as young learners since they are at the kindergarten level. Another characteristic that Numan (2011) stated was that young learners “have a holistic approach to language, which means that they understand meaningful messages but cannot analyze language yet” This idea makes me think about the concept of metalinguistic awareness or the “ability to reflect on language as a carrier of meaning” (Doherty, M. & Perner, J., 1998). Young learners do not have this ability yet, they just try to get the idea of the messages they receive. Cameron (2001) also pointed out that “children actively try to make sense to find and construct a meaning and purpose for what adults say to them. They can only make sense in terms of their world knowledge, which is limited and partial”.
Some other features characterize young learners and distinguish them from older students. For instance, Cameron (2001) talked about children as spontaneous learners, “children often seem less embarrassed at talking in new languages, and their lack of inhibition seems to help them get a more native-like accent”. Since children are more natural at learning, they enjoy a lot what they learn, Cameron (2001) referred to children as “more enthusiastic and lively as learners, they want to please the teacher, they will have a go at an activity even when they do not quite understand why and how” These characteristics figure out young learners’ positive attitudes toward the learning process.
Finally, Numan (2011) also referred to the ability these young learners have “to enjoy fantasy, imagination, and movement”. At this point I find a closed connection between children and the strategies that I will use to encourage them to express ideas in English: story reading and storytelling. If children enjoy fantasy and imagination, by listening to story reading and storytelling they would find even more pleasure at learning this language.
Although today we talk about communicative competence, I will focus this study on the development of the oral language since it is one of the ways that young learners can use in order to show comprehension of the learning they are acquiring. According to Rubin (1978) “A child’s oral language experience may be described as interactive conversations in which the child participates as both speaker and listener” Children are social learners and as they are provided with opportunities to interact, they would have the need to speak. Concerning this point, Lightbow & Spada (2004) argued that “language develops as a result of the complex interplay between the child and the environment in which the child develops”. In this same matter, Genishi (as cited in Isbell et al., 2004) stated how
“The development of oral language is one of children’s most impressive accomplishment that occur during the first 5 years of life. Their oral language is complex and it has also been found that children understand far more than they can speak”
It is clear that children comprehend easier and that it is very difficult for them to produce the language but as they are exposed to speaking situations, in a variety of learning scenarios they would feel the need to practice while growing as language users. Rubin & Wilson (as cited in Isbell et al., 2004) argument that “early childhood teachers can provide opportunities for young learners to play with language, while gaining an appreciation of the sounds and meaning of words”. Teachers’ role today should be focused on creating as many interactive situations as they can, besides the best way to develop the oral language is mainly by speaking.
It has been one of the most privileged strategies to teach languages to children. Students listen to stories while they support their understanding with the pictures they observe. Kaderavek & Justice (as cited in Isbell et al., 2004) assumed story reading as” a way to foster communication opportunities for young children, as they discuss the text and the illustrations”. From Snow’s points of view (as cited in Isbell et al., 2004) “story reading benefits children in two ways, not only they acquire language and literacy skills , but they also experience vocabulary growth, knowledge of handling books, and many other skills”. Reading stories to young learners is necessary because stories catch children’s attention, at the same time because stories promote the achievement of many learning goals including the oral language development. In this particular case, it is necessary the use of books which is also useful since students need to be familiar with this kind of material.
Storytelling has been defined for Jane Yolen (as cited in Bordine & Hughes, 1998) as “the oldest of arts, has always been both an entertainment and cultural necessity”. It is also an effective strategy to teach languages to young learners, in fact, it has some other advantages like the possibility to keep in contact with the learners while the teacher tells them the story. By establishing a constant interaction, it is possible to promote students’ participation, to make them to speak, to motivate them to express what they feel or think about the stories told. Isbell et al. (2004) made reference to this point, “in a storytelling event, the words are not memorized, but are recreated through spontaneous, energetic performance, assisted by audience participation and interaction”. Considering storytelling, Peck (as cited in Isbell et al., 2004) also added that “telling stories in the classroom furthers oral and written language development, as well as furthering comprehension for reading and listening”.
From a different perspective, Hendrickson (as cited in Bordine & Hughes, 1998) stated how “stories are valued as providing comprehensible input that facilitate language acquisition” By telling stories, the teacher can use a simple language and support the expressions with body language or some other techniques that facilitate the children’s comprehension. Besides, storytelling helps to create an ideal learning environment, Morgan & Rinvolucri (as cited in Bordine & Hughes, 1998)
“contend that, as stores are told, affective filters come down and language acquisition takes place more naturally. They list linguistic benefits such as improved listening comprehension, grammar presented in true to like contexts, and numerous opportunities to encourage oral production”.
Another advantage of storytelling is that it accepts different readings, it means that different learning styles are developed through this methodology. Bordine & Hughes (1998) explained that “personal learning style of each student may be more readily accommodated when using stories during learning since storytelling allows for personalized interpretations and visualizations of the content”
Finally, the last point to consider is that by telling stories, young learners can find a relation between their prior knowledge and the input they receive from the story. Kang (2007) stated how the use of stories with young learners “help them to connect English with their background knowledge, which is limited because of their young age and inexperience”
The theories that support this research project come from different reliable sources such as google scholar, EBSCO, ELT journal, early educational childhood journal, and the UPB’s searching source. I looked for different key words such as “teaching English to young learners”, “storytelling”, and “oral language development”, the same words that I used to develop the conceptual framework presented above.
I read 9 articles for structuring the conceptual framework, 3 of them focus on young learners, 3 of them develop the concept of speaking and communicative competence, and 4 of them refer to storytelling and story reading as teaching techniques used with young learners. From the articles that I read about young learners, I discovered and understood how age is not the only criteria to classify students as young leaners, it is also important to go further and analyze learners’ characteristics, differences, learning styles, and of course to keep in mind the course they are taking. Young learners are spontaneous, they assume learning as a simple experience and that is why they enjoy while they learn. To work with young learners seems to be a simple task since children show positive attitudes towards knowledge, however early childhood teachers have to be even more creative than any other kind of educator. I especially valued the article written by Kang (2007) in which he suggested 10 helpful ideas for teaching English to kids: “the use of supplement activities with visuals, realia, and movement; move from activity to activity; teach in themes; use stories and contexts familiar to students; establish classroom routines; use L1 when necessary…”
On the one hand, literature about oral language development emphasizes on the importance of interaction as a way to stimulate students’ communication among them. Providing opportunities to interact must become one of the main goals when planning teaching. If learners have the chance to interact and to practice what they know, then they will grow as speakers. Isbell et al. (2004) revealed how complex is this process of language development and if learners do not practice they will not achieve this process.
On the other hand, four of those articles explain how teaching English to young learners through stories would be useful tools since they catch learners’ attention in special ways. Stories have exceptional powers, a study done by Gafu, C. & Badea, M. (2011) revealed that “stories increased student’s desire to communicate and provided a purpose which involved them in varied situations of using the language”. Furthermore, Pedersen (as cited in Bordine & Hughes, 1998) also talked about some other advantages of stories concerning to ESL children “the benefits he found in telling ESL children stories were that listening skills were developed and more natural and complete language input was possible. Affective benefits include helping children to develop emotionally and socially”. In short, stories benefit learning process at different levels, not only communicative or academic situations but also affective dimensions are satisfied.
To summarize, from literature reviewed, I see the importance of adapting storytelling and story reading in teaching planning, different articles mentioned the lack of qualified studies proving that importance, Isbell et al. (2004) claimed that “storytelling experience with young children need to be carefully attended to by educational researchers”. In agreement with this statement, Bordine & Hughes (1998) proposed “storytelling as a pedagogical tool in ESL needs examination from an interdisciplinary perspective and better support on the basis of both theoretical and instructional principles”. Keeping in mind these perceptions, I will ty to provide some other evidences through this study so that language teachers recognize stories as a teaching technique useful to increase language development in young learners.
This study is a qualitative research because I will work on a real situation that happens in my teaching environment. This consideration explains why it is a situational study since I will focus on my own reality. Besides, this research will be also interpretative so that I will try to understand why a particular situation is not working as it was supposed to do (problem) and by comprehending that, I will implement some possible solutions based on some theories and studies on the field. The idea here is that if I am able to go beyond the events that I observe, I will understand them better and work on them. Yim (2011) stated how “qualitative research usually focuses on the meaning of real life events, not just on the occurrence of events”. Furthermore, through this study I attempt to build my own theories as a researcher teacher, the information collected will allow me to get my own principles as it was stated by Kathryn (1995) who claimed that “a major goal of interpretative qualitative research is to develop theory through the process of collecting data”
Another characteristic that I will consider refers to what Kathryn (1995) mentioned “a strength of qualitative studies is that they allow for an understanding of what is specific to a particular group”. May be the findings that I get will not be useful neither for other researchers, nor for myself in different teaching contexts, that is another reason to explain why it is a situational study because it just works on the context where it was developed.
Finally, I will use different data collection techniques in order to get consistent information and to validate data since different points of view. Concerning this point, Kathryn (1995) stated “An interpretative qualitative study utilize interviews, observations, and other forms of data collection within the time frame necessary for gaining an understanding of the actors’ meanings for social actions”
Participants and sites
This research project will be carried out in a private institution located in Envigado, Antioquia. This school has given a significant importance to the teaching of English and that is one of the reasons why parents choose this school. It is a big institution and it offers education from preschool to high school.
I have chosen three main participants for developing this study; on the one hand, I will work with kinder level learners, there are 4 groups of them (KA, KB, KC, and KD) but I will select just one group as the sample for this study. Kinder students are learners whose age ranges between five and six year old. There are 4 kinder groups with thirty three students in each but when they have English classes, each group is divided into two to attend to this subject that takes place six hours per week. It means that my first group of participants is composed by 16 young learners approximately, all of them at the kinder level.
On the other hand, my second group of participants is represented by my colleague, the other English teacher of the kinder students. I chose her because she knows the methodology of the school for teaching English, we are both in charge of the English at this level, we plan English classes together, and she knows the learners who will participate in this study. In other words, she would be a reliable source of information in this research project. Finally, I consider myself as another participant of this research, I will do participant observation, I will teach and monitor the effects of my practice and record all the significant events in different sources.
I will use four different techniques in order to collect the data that I need and that will allow me to get the outcomes for this study. I will utilize participant observation, reflective journals, semistructured interviews, and students’ artifacts. I chose these techniques because they are more suitable to do research with young learners.
Participant observation will allow me to be in the place where the events occur. Mayky & Morehouse (1994) referred to this consideration by pointing out that “participant observation, by definition requires the researcher to be in the field or present in the natural settings where the phenomenon takes place”. They also emphasized on the importance to enter in the participants’ lives, analyze what happens there, identify important data, then as they said “subsequent observations will be guided by initial discoveries”
Reflective journals would be assumed as my personal data source, there I will register all my observations, feelings, concerns, ideas, and everything that comes to my mind while observing. Mayky & Morehouse (1994) said “we encourage beginning researchers to maintain a research journal from the beginning to the end of the project. A richly detailed research journal becomes a useful part of the data collection and analysis process”.
Semistructured interviews will be adapted as an instrument through which it will be possible to establish “purposeful conversations” interviews are particularly important when one is interested in gaining participants’ perspectives”
Finally, I will use students’ artifacts understood as everything that students do in class. I will use them as another source of data or to support some of my findings.
Data analysis and reduction
After gathering the data, I will analyze them carefully in order to get the most relevant aspects. Then, I will code the data collected using different colors. Each color will become a pattern or a category, categories will emerge as I find the recurrence of them on the data. In a posterior stage, I will define those categories based on the theories but also based on my findings. Subsequently, I will create some charts to ensemble the information gathered, it will allow me to make the data more manageable and to present it in a clearer way to the other participants. After doing this, I will be ready to report my outcomes.
As it was reported by Lankshear and Knobel, “researchers want others who read their research to have confidence on their data and to have good grounds for respecting its integrity” that is exactly what I want as a beginner research, that all the information that present be considered reliable and that every person who reads my paper feels the same respect as if reading an academic paper. In order to guarantee that trustworthy I will use triangulation understood as the way of ensuring the presence of multiple realities that will enrich the situation, in other words triangulation will allow me to compare the data gathered since different perspectives. I will also use member checking defined as a way to validate the information gathered with the participants of the study, Lankshear and Knobel referred to member checking as “one single procedure to check that what we think the participants have said is what they in fact intended to say”.
Role of the researcher
My role as a researcher is basically to be an active participant in this study, I will act not only as an instrument of data collection and analysis but also as the most interested person on understanding, modifying, and making sense of a phenomenon that affects my teaching.
So far, I have identified two limitation in this study, I am referring to the age of some of the participants. Age could be a limitation when collecting information or when analyzing the data because young learners will not understand some of the requirements that I will make. However, I will use a very simple language in order to make this limitation a more manageable situation. Another limitation could be getting the appropriate theories to support my study. I will continue reading and looking for more information so that I find more useful and significant sources.
Alptekin, C. (2002).Towards intercultural communicative competence in ELT. Elt Journal 56 (1), 57-64.
Bordine, H. & Hughes, K. (1998). Storytelling in ESL/EFL Classrooms. TESL Reporter 31(2), 21-31.
Cameron, L. (2001). Children learning a foreign language. In teaching languages to young learners. (pp 1-20). Edinburgh, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Doherty, M., & Perner, J. (1998). Metalinguistic awareness and theory of mind: just two words for the same thing? Cognitive development, 13, p. 279.
Gafu, C. & Badea, M. (2011). Advantages and Disadvantages of Storytelling in Teaching English at Academic Level: A Case Study in the University of Ploiesti, Romania. (pp 195-201).
Isbell, R., Lindauer, L., Lowrance,A., & Sobol,J. (2004). The effects of storytelling and story reading on oral language complexity and story comprehension of young children. Early educational childhood journal 32(3), 157-163
Kang, J. (2007). Ten helpful ideas for teaching English to young learners. Cairo: the merican University.
Kathryn, D. (1995). Qualitative theory and methods in applied linguistics research. TESOL Quarterly Journal. 29 (3), 8-31. Retrieved from http://126.96.36.199/TESOL/TQD_2008/VOL_29_3.pdf#page=36.
Lankshear & Knobel. A background to data collection. In teacher research as qualitative investigation (pp 171-193).
Lightbown, P. & Spada, N. (2004). Learning a first language. In How languages are learned. Oxford University Press.
Mayky & Morehouse. (1994). Data collection in the natural setting: studying people, studying settings. In data collection in the natural setting (pp. 63-108).
Rubin, A. (1978). A theoretical taxonomy of the differences between oral and written language. Campaign, Illinois.
Yim (2011). Choice 5: incorporating concepts and theories into a study (or not). In choices in designing qualitative research studies. P. 93