Curious Students’ Learning and Simple Sentence Construction: Responses to Negative Teaching Attitude Performed by English Teacher in South Nias, North Sumatera, Indonesia

Saniago Dakhi

saniagonias@gmail.com

Universitas Kristen Indonesia

Abstract

Various studies have been conducted on students’ interest (Tin, 2013; Kenning, 2007) and grammatical competence (Ting & Chang, 2010; Tarawneh & Almomani, 2013). However, studying curious student’s learning and simple sentence construction with their teacher’s negative attitude on language teaching were found questionable. This descriptive research was designed to respond to such a gap. To collect the data needed, a participant-observation, interview, and oral test were systematically administered at a primary school in South Nias, North Sumatera, Indonesia. The participant-observation was employed to figure out the students’ interest and in-class participation, and teachers’ attitude on English language teaching. Five observed active students in the classroom were then interviewed recording their further interest in learning and strategies in practicing English in their surroundings. In addition, the oral test was administered to obtain their oral grammatical competence. The findings reveal that the teacher’s negative attitude on language teaching seems to be influential to decrease the students’ in-class participation, but not to those with high interest. Regardless of their low grammatical competence, the students’ curiosity in learning appeared to be effective in building their self-confidence and interest in interacting with the teacher in the classroom and with a non-faculty member in their surroundings.

Keywords: learning interest; oral grammatical errors, teacher’s negative   attitude; practice with a non-faculty member

INTRODUCTION

It is certain that attitude towards language learning (Baker, 1992; Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991) is believed as a predictor to language achievement. Regardless of the different degree of effect, generally it was found effective to increase language proficiency. Taken, for example, Beliles’s (2015) descriptive analysis revealed that the attitude has a positive correlation with L2 proficiency. Similarly, Prestly, McKinnie, and Hunter (2009) reported that the attitude, social networks, and linguistic competence were correlated with each other. In Arabic pronunciation skill, AIMansor (2016) testified that six students with a good attitude performed the best Arabic pronunciation.

Describing such empirical impacts seems not to be surprising – it is very common. However, studying its influence on curious students’ learning (Tin, 2013; Kenning, 2007; Harackiewicz, Smith, & Prinski, 2016) and their simple sentence construction (Akinnaso, 1982; Tanen, 1982; Biber, 1988; Halliday, 1992; Leech, 2000; Ting, Mahadhir, & Chang, 2010; Tarawneh & Almomani, 2013) was found absolutely rare in South Nias. Nias is an isolated island located off the western coast of Sumatera, Indonesia. Besides the lowest literacy rate, according to NiasSatu.com (2015), a local online news agency, South Nias received the lowest rank of national examination average score among the other regencies in North Sumatera Province. The mean of primary students’ score, that of course including English that according to the observation result was taught by a non-certified English teacher with negative language attitude performed, was 36.99.

The absence of similar study in South Nias has led the present study to descriptive research. It aims at describing the curious students’ learning and their simple sentence construction as responses to a negative language attitude performed by the non-certified English teacher in South Nias, Telukdalam.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Language Attitude

Defining attitude needs to refer to Krech, Crutchfield, and Ballachey’s (1962) and Ajzen’s (1988) views. Krech, Crutchfield, and Ballachey (1962, p. 29) defined attitude as a general belief on positive or negative evaluations, emotional feelings, and pro or con action techniques with respect to social objects. Such an argument may result in some fruitful implications. Firstly, the attitude is concerned with an individual perspective. As it is personal, it is common to have different evaluations and opinions towards phenomenon. Secondly, only social objects can receive attitude. On the other words, the objects of an attitude are social phenomena, like language, learning, nationality, ideology, etc. Thirdly, only two possibilities of attitude that people perform, namely negative or positive attitude. This, therefore, corresponds to Ajzen’s (1988). It was claimed that attitude is viewed as a favorable or unfavorable response to an object, person, institution, or event.

Contextualizing it in language, it implies that learning another language appears to produce two consequences. To some degree, the positive attitude towards target language (second or third language) seems to be beneficial to increase its pride and growth. However, at the same time, it will increase the negative attitude towards the first language. Apart from such language users’ behaviors, the mentioned attitudes also contribute to language learning achievement. Such an argument is supported by Klausmeire’s (1985, p. 375). It was emphasized that attitudes influence the students’ learning and behavior.

Moreover, TÓdor and Dégi (2016) reported that students’ attitudes are determined by their own experiences of language use. Concerning the functions of the attitude, therefore, an account for principles to consistently produce a positive attitude, which may also be used as its indicators, is crucial. More technically, reviewed from the previous studies, they are as follows: (1) Using the language according to language norm; (2) Using the language according to language situation; (3) Using the language without mixing with a foreign language; and (4) Using the language according to necessity.

Though it does not guarantee equal results across genders, referring to Ladegaard’s (2002) finding, descriptively, a male had more vernacular features and language attitude than female, those five positive attitude tenets are assumed to predict Baker’s (1992) eight attitude types. They include (1) language variation, dialect, and speech style, (2) learning a new language, (3) specific monitor language, (4) language groups, communities and minorities, (5) language lessons, (6) the uses of specific language, (7) parents to language learning, and (8) language preference. It is also more likely to influence Larsen-Freeman & Long’s (1991) varieties of attitudes on language learning, such as parents, peers, learning situation, teacher, and ethnicity.

Learning Interest

Obviously many factors are thought to be the predictors of language proficiency. Gradman and Hanania (1991) claimed these are affective variables, sociocultural variables, age, language practice, and learning strategies. One of the affective variables, so-called internal psychological aspects (Dakhi, 2014), is interest.

More precisely, Harackiewicz, Smith, and Prinski (2016) argued that interest as both psychological state and enduring predisposition is an influential motivational process that is more likely to energize learning and guide academic success. Two inferred meanings are drawn from such view. Firstly, the interest has become an internal and personal state. Though external stimuli determine the interest, it is more likely to come from students’ personality. Secondly, the use of interest is found functional to endure the learning process and learning achievement.

The contribution the interest, which lies in students’ attitude (TÓdor and Dégi (2016), has been also evidenced by Harackiewicz and Hulleman (2010). They accentuated that the interest contributes to learning and achievement. In written discourse, Garner et al (1991) reported that interest determined the degree of remembering.

Oral Grammatical Competence

Studying oral grammatical competence, so-called spoken grammatical ability, is not a current fad. There are many scholars characterizing spoken language features including Fillmore (1981), Akinnaso (1982), Tanen (1982), Biber (1988),  Halliday (1992), Leech (2000), Levinsohn (2000), Dooley and Levinsohn (2001), and Paltridge (2006). The characteristics of spoken language are reviewed in Table 1.

In this regard, it is certain that most of language users make some mistakes in their talk. Some empirical studies testified it. Tarawneh and Almomani (2013), for example, claimed that most Jordanian English students were unable to produce English accurately. They claimed that the students were unable to use subject-verb agreement and plural morpheme. Similar errors also performed by university students at a Malaysian university. Besides subject-verb agreement, linking verb, and tense, forty-two participants’ errors were found in the use of preposition, question, and article (Ting, Mahadhir, & Chang, 2010).

METHOD

This study was a descriptive research objectively describing primary vocational students’ English learning interest and oral simple sentence construction. To collect the data needed, a participant-observation, interview, and oral test were systematically employed at the primary school in South Nias, North Sumatera, Indonesia. The participant-observation was carried out to figure out students’ interest and in-class participation, and teachers’ attitude on English language teaching. The teacher’s attitude was interpreted according to Table 2. Five observed active students in the classroom were then interviewed recording their further interest in learning and strategies in practicing English in their surroundings. In addition, the oral test was administered to gain their oral grammatical competence.

Prior to the participant observation, a video-tape was prepared to help the research carry out the survey. The observation recording was then transcribed. The excerpt of the observation was coded, thematized, categorized, elaborated, and discussed for further conclusion drawing. To establish the trustworthiness of the observation results, member-check and deep discussion were employed with the observed teacher.

After the observation, the five selected students were interviewed and tested. The researcher applied an open-ended interview to record the learners’ learning interest and ways to practice their English. A confirmation after having the transcription of the interviewee has guaranteed interview results objectivity. Similar to the previous steps, the findings were coded, thematized, categorized, elaborated, and discussed for further conclusion drawing. In the discussion phase, the findings were interpreted by using the related theories and studies.

As for the students’ oral grammatical competence, an oral test was administered. Freely, the researcher asked the participants to construct their ‘the most simple’ sentence they knew. The obtained data were then grammatically analyzed to highlight their grammatical errors. To assure their reported grammatical errors, the transcribed oral test results were separately rechecked by the five students.

FINDING AND DISCUSSION

Ungrammatical Simple Sentences Construction

The spoken test asking the participants to construct simple sentences showed ungrammatical outputs. They were unable to use a past verb, adverbs, and linking verb. A very simple sentence I go to school every day turned to *I go to school yesterday. Instead of using a predicate go, it is ideal to be went. Or adverb yesterday has to be today, every day, etc.

Another ungrammatical pattern found was in *I happy I am study English. Without am will sound more acceptable, and the use of am in I [am] happy is a must. Finally, there must be a conjunction because to link the two clauses (Table 3).

Not surprisingly since English is a third language in Nias (after Nias language named as Li Niha and Bahasa Indonesia), Tarawneh and Almomani (2013) claimed that most Jordanian English students were also unable to produce English accurately. They claimed that the students were unable to use subject-verb agreement and plural morpheme. Similar errors also performed by university students at a Malaysian university. Besides subject-verb agreement, linking verb, and tense, forty-two participants’ errors were found in the use of preposition, question, and article (Ting, Mahadhir, & Chang, 2010).

Learning Interest

According to the interview results, the majority of the students were interested to study English. “Belajar bahasa Inggris di sekolah ini, sangat menyenangkan, Bu” which means learning English is very interesting in this school, mom. Knowing the interest holds a fundamental role in learning, the findings indicate that the students were aware of the influence of interest. Need further empirical study on it, the students’ interest seems to be both their abilities to predict and postdict the experience in learning as well as what and how the values are presented in their learning (Tin, 2013).

For two reasons, they reported that the role of English and teaching made them study English attractively. One of the participants said,Karena bahasa Inggris itu merupakan bahasa komunikasi kita untuk……berbicara kepada orang asing atau tourist” meaning because English is a means of communication with foreigner or tourist. Such a view implies two important concepts. Firstly, the students are reported ‘understand’ the role of English as a lingua franca (Seidlhofer, 2005) and its function in economic and tourism development. Secondly, their vocational school program majoring in accommodation influenced their understanding of studying English. However, similar to Kenning’s (2007) finding, it was reported that their purpose of learning English is only to be able to communicate with foreigner or western tourists.

Another equally important reason for being interested in learning English is their teacher’s ways of teaching. As an information provider, role model, facilitator, assessor, planner, and resource developer (Harden & Crosby, 2000), the teacher’s effectiveness (Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005) has made the students interested to learn English. Student’ higher levels engagement and learning are usually achieved when faculty members apply active and collaborative techniques, engage students in experiences, develop higher-order thinking, active classroom activities, interact with the students, challenged academically, and value enriching educational experiences (Umbach & Wawrzynski, 2005). Reported by the participant, “…menyenangkan jika Bapak/ Ibu guru selalu aktif” meaning (it is) interesting when the teachers are active (in teaching them). It was also found that the teacher’s material explanation influenced their interest. Another interviewee said, “Yah, karena gurunya menjelaskan dengan baik kepada kami” meaning well! (it is) because the teacher explained it well.

Keep Practicing English

The interview results show that practicing their productive skills in English appeared to be applied with foreigners in the beach, street, and hotel. In this regard, they preferred to practice their oral skill than their literacy skill. Supported by previous studies, the practice has been thought to be effective in improving second language learning (Dekeyser & Sokalski, 1996, Izumi, 2003; Swain & Lapkin, 1995).

Though such a strategy seems to have benefits in listening and speaking ability, practicing English with foreigners have also some weaknesses. A non-trained teacher with whom the students practiced their English will make them confused to listen to diverse accents. As a variety of English and a big number of speakers of English all over the world, their non-specific foreigners with whom they practiced is assumed ineffective in their learning. This is because a non-classroom interaction (with faculty members) can only maximize an understanding of learning experience (Inozu, 2011).

As for the topics of their English practice with the foreigners, they were unplanned, informal, and superficial. Referring to the interview results, the topics are greeting, introduction, offering help, etc. This indicates that the greeting as a phatic communication that does not necessarily need an answer developed no speaking ability. Apart from its social function, the ineffective learning through greeting was caused by the deep coverage of the English practice. However, informal learning experience, so-called self-direction learning, is thought to be personalized, strong, and alluring (Jefferies & Nguyen, 2014).  The following excerpt illustrates it.

A respondent said, “Di jalan raya kalau ada orang asing yang melintas” meaning on the street when foreigner passed by. This, therefore, suggests their readiness to greet the foreigners in English. A slightly different result with the previous study as we have different contexts of research, Rash’s (2004) survey revealed that only one woman reported that she would prefer not to greet everyone, and 67 or 84% greeted anybody.

Teacher’s Code-Switching (CS)

The data analyzed from the participant-observation was the teacher’s activities in delivering the material. It was discovered that the English teacher mixed his languages, namely English and Indonesian, to enable the students to understand the material easily. Indonesian was used more often rather than English in explaining the material.

Though it was used to make the students easily understand the materials, the use of code-switching might lead to negative learning attitudes of the learners. This is because the inconsistent target language use and the use of Indonesian language potentially reduce the academic atmosphere to better learn English. Besides, this is also harmful in naturally learning English as it has totally different characteristics from Indonesian. Not only impacts on the students, the present study also reveals the negative attitude of the English teacher. Though it has a good impact on learning participation and comprehension, Mokgwathi and Web (2013) reported that the code-switching did not contribute to developing the learners’ proficiency and confidence in speaking English. Furthermore, the current study expands the use of code-switching in EFL learning as Ibrahim, Shah, and Armina’s (2013) report that the use of code-switching was to serve pedagogical purposes only. Another interesting previous study to discuss the code-switching is the preference of using Swedish and English (Johansson, 2013). She evidenced that the teachers undertook it rarely, but preferred it when teaching grammar. Overall, 87% of the students wanted to study target language without using other languages.

Learning Participation

The data obtained from the observation related to the students’ attitudes, though some were passive, the majority of them looked so serious to study at the beginning of the lesson. It was also recorded that they studied without any teacher’s feedback responding to their uninterestedness. Furthermore, only five active students participated in teaching and learning. Those were the interviewees in the study. With some grammatical errors, they asked questions using English, took notes, consulted their dictionaries, and did the assigned task.  

Two fruitful implications are drawn from this observation results. Firstly, Such finding indicates that though the English teacher did not provide feedback to the students who were uninterested to study, they were still silent and let the other students study. Secondly, the five students outperformed interest and participation in class interaction with the teacher.

With reference to the low participation in this study, an account for in-class participation contribution is important to discuss as it contains advantages and disadvantages. It is plausible that learning participation contains learning benefits, but treating is as an indicator scoring the students in EFL learning appears, to some extent, to be ineffective and unfair. In line with Crosthwaite, Bailey, and Meeker’s (2015) finding, it is testified that in-class participation was found ineffective and unfair to 143 participants with different learning styles. In contrast, reviewed by Tavares (2016), peer conversational interaction has a strong impact on social structure and identity of the EFL learners.

CONCLUSION AND SUGGESTION

Both learning interest and students’ ability in producing ungrammatical oral sentence are very common. However, describing those aspects reaction to the teacher’ negative attitude on language teaching appears to be interesting. Simple oral test asking curious students to construct simple English sentence revealed ungrammatical sentence production. They found difficult to use a past verb, adverb, and linking verb. Observation results showed that the English teacher preferred to use code-switching strategy to present the materials. More surprisingly, Indonesian was used more often than the English in the classroom. However, five students were found active in learning.

Regardless of their low grammatical proficiency, they asked questions using English, took notes, consulted their dictionaries, and did an assigned task. Five interviewed participants reported that they were interested to study English as it is an international language and as it was taught very well by the teacher. It this regard, such finding implies that the code-switching method used in teaching by the teacher was found appropriate meeting the students’ low performance in English. Moreover, such low performance was testified by the tendency of told topics and locations of their self-learning practice with foreigners. Limited understanding of language learning, non-faculty member’s interaction, and culture influenced their phatic communication including greetings to the foreigners. Though they viewed that greeting the foreigners How are you? and offering help Can I help you? were methods to practice their English proficiency, a reviewed research indicates that practicing English with the non-faculty member only expands learners’ social sensibility and experience. To sum up, the teacher’s negative attitude on language teaching seems to be influential to increase the students’ in-class participation, but not to those with high interest. Regardless of their low grammatical competence, the students’ curiosity in learning appeared to be effective in building their self-confidence and interest in interacting with the teacher in the classroom and with a non-faculty member in their surroundings.

To respond to the findings, some suggestions are provided. Firstly, training teachers on how to perform teacher’s and peer’s feedback during the EFL learning seems to be advantageous to the schools in South Nias. Secondly, since the present study employed a descriptive analysis method, expanding it by using quantitative approach will make new insight for a further researcher. Finally, serious consideration has to be taken into account in the students’ low grammatical competence as the participants were unable to construct the simple present tense as a basic, and the most simple, English sentence structure. 

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This article was presented in The UKI English Education Department Bimonthly Collegiate Forum held on Friday, December 9, 2016

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