Identification And Ranking Of Difficult Topics In Teaching And Learning Of English Language At The Basic Level
This had been an attempt to identify and rank difficult topics in teaching and learning of English Language at the basic level in Lagos State. In carrying out the study, a descriptive survey research design was used. A total of two hundred and thirty six respondents were drafted from English teachers and students at the basic level from Education District IV of Lagos State. The researcher designed ‘‘Teachers and Students questionnaire on Difficult Teaching Topics in English Language”.
The study found out that the topics which are difficult to students in English language at the basic level are poetry, composition writing, debates and active and passive verbs. The most difficult topic in English language at the basic level is debate seconded by poetry. Teachers were of the opinion that poetry,intonation, stress and rhythm, composition writing, spelling are more difficult than active and passive verbs for students at the basic level. It was concluded that pupils at the basic level do not understand debate and poetry as well as some other topics.
It is therefore recommended that teachers should ensure that emphasis is made on the topics identified in this study and that students need to be encouraged that they can master these topics that seemed difficult to them. The researcher however suggested that the study be replicated by other researchers using different location to confirm or refute its validity and to expand the scope of work previously done.
1.1 Background to the Study
Despite all efforts by the government, parents and teachers towards improving the teaching and learning of English language at the basic level, students’ academic achievement has not yielded the expected result. Therefore, this study is an avenue to identify and rank difficult topics in teaching and learning English language at basic level. It is also a process of showing or presenting the topics in English language in order of level of difficulty as perceived by the students and teachers of English language in primary and junior secondary school levels.
The National Policy on Education (2004) defined basic education as a 9 year education comprising 6 years of primary education and 3 years of junior secondary education. It also includes adult and non-formal education programmes at primary and junior secondary education levels for the adult and out-of-school youths. The aforementioned document also highlighted the goal of basic education to include among others, permanent literacy and numeracy, and ability to communicate effectively.
However, this study is limited to only the 9 year education for primary and junior secondary school children. The medium of instruction as mentioned in the National Policy on Education is languages of the environment for the first three years and from the fourth year; English language is expected to be used as a medium of instruction. However, due to the fact that English language is not the language of the environment, there are some difficulties especially in some topics which conflict with the learning process in basic level education. These difficult topics arguably hamper students’ performance in English language as a subject at the basic level.
The teaching and learning of English language in basic level is not a simple task (Jolayemi, 2009). Being a second language, some students are not even familiar with the language until they get to senior secondary school (Esan, 2011) as some primary schools hardly use English language as the medium of instruction. Esan also attributed this to poor performance in English language in both the common entrance examination and junior secondary school certificate.
English language in basic level consists of topics which include but not limited to reading, writing, spelling, speaking, listening, comprehension, verbal and vocabulary. For reading, Dairo (2008) observed that it is a lifelong activity but also a complex cognitive process of decoding symbols in order to construct or derive meaning. It is a means of language acquisition of communication and of sharing of information and ideas. However, it is not only basic level students that have been found to experience difficulty in reading, senior secondary school students and all categories of reader are also affected. Oyetunde & Udoh (2006) however list impediment to positive reading as lack of materials, lack of interest, home background and lack of adult readers as models.
A child’s ability to learn to read, known as reading readiness, begins in infancy, as the child begins attending to the speech signals in their environment and begins producing spoken language. Children make some use of all the material that they are presented with, including every perception, concept and word that they come in contact with. The amount of time that a child spends together with parents or other important caregivers while listening to them read is a good predictor of the level of reading that the child will attain later in life. As a child sits with a caregiver, looking at pictures and listening to stories, he or she will slowly learn that all the different lines on each page make different symbols and then that together these symbols refer to words. Taking time to read to children is the most important precursor to a child’s development of reading. Preschool-aged children with limited exposure to books and reading in their home, including limited experience of being read to, are at risk of reading difficulties.
Ojo (2011) found that children with limited exposure to books and reading in their home, including limited experience of being read to mostly identify reading as one of the most difficult topics in English class. For example, these children tend to have less exposure to literary phrases, such as “Once upon a time”, and have smaller vocabularies, both factors that affect the ability to read by limiting comprehension of text. The environment in which a child lives may also impact their ability to acquire reading skills. Children who are regularly exposed to chronic environmental noise pollution, such as highway traffic noise, have been known to show decreased ability to discriminate between phonemes as well as lower reading scores on standardized tests.
Creative writing is also another topic that has been reported by researchers as a topic that often looks difficult to students in basic level classes. Studies that have investigated why students perceive creative writing as difficult topic have produced contradictory results over time. Ojo (2009) discovered that some students are not exposed to creative writing method as a reason for identifying creative writing as a difficult topic while some other researchers are of the opinion that creativity is a gift and not all students can be creative in writing. In this sense, creative writing is a more contemporary and process-oriented than what has been traditionally called literature. This branch of writing includes narrative, descriptive, persuasive and expository writing. Students at the basic level may not be enthusiastic writers but most kids have active imagination in some areas or another. Creative writing is also believed to focus on students’ self expression.
Ogunlewe (2009) mentioned punctuation as another area which students find challenging. Punctuation is the use of spacing, convention, signs and certain typographed device as aids to the understanding and correct reading. In written English, punctuation varies with language, location, register, time and are constantly revolving while certain aspect of punctuation are stylistic and author’s choice.
Grammar has also been found to be very difficult for students in basic level to comprehend. As a result of various new grammar rules that emerge on a daily basis, there have been difficulties is application of these new rules when writing or speaking. Therefore, grammar has been said as a topic that is not easy to understand but researchers like Anderson (2011) and Wallace (2009) have shown that some students in basic class do not regard grammar as a difficult topic. Grammar also comprises the usage and application of noun, adjectives, verbs, determinants and speech.
Another topic which students perceived as difficult in basic level is words and vocabulary. These are distinct meaningful elements of speech or writing used with others to form a sentence. Vocabulary is commonly described as all the words known and used by particular persons. Vocabulary is also a stock of collection of words used by a particular person. Knowing a word is not as simple as merely been able to recognize or use it. Various aspects of vocabulary include listening vocabulary, speaking vocabulary, writing vocabulary, and focal vocabulary.
According to Anibueze (2007), there are many problems that teachers and students encounter in course of teaching and learning English language. Such problems are classifies as the problem in equivocation which refers to the problem students and teachers encounter when they read meaning of words, sentences and passages. The problem in elocution which also refers to the problems students envisage in their practice of oral delivery or in usage of the English language has also been mentioned. The problem in transliteration which is affected by interference of the mother tongue also contributes significantly to students’ mastery of English language.
In a separate studies conducted by Ajibola (2009), Wilson (2011) and Yusuf (2009), they all concluded that reading, vocabulary and spelling are the most common topics that are difficult to students in basic level especially in African region. However, Esan (2008) found out that reading, writing, spelling and comprehension are the most difficult topics in basic level curriculum.
Similarly, in a self rating questionnaire for students in public primary school in Lagos Metropolis as reported by Ndukwu (2005), he found that listening, speaking, reading and writing abilities often affect students’ performance in English language. When asked students in a study conducted by Esan (2008) to indicate the order of difficulty of various topics they had to learn on a 4 point scale where 1 represents easiest and 4 represents hardest, a significant number of respondent perceived reading as hardest.
The conflicting findings generated by other researchers when ranking difficult English language topics and investigating the reasons for general poor performance in English language in basic classes therefore necessitate the identification and ranking of the difficult topics in teaching and learning English language.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Specific educational policies aimed at improving students’ performance in English language at the basic level have been largely ineffectual in the country. Non-identification of, uncertainty about and non-chalant attitude towards prioritizing the particular areas and topics that are difficult to students by policy makers so that adequate attention be paid have indeed help to erode studies ever geared towards improving students’ performance in English language (Tsikata, 2007).
General poor academic performance at the basic level in English language has been established (Ojo, 2012). While some researchers have blamed home background as one of the factors that are accountable for the poor performance of students, some researchers have identified problems in equivocation, elocution, transliteration and expression as reason for students’ poor performance. The researcher then feels that it is necessary to build on existing body of knowledge by highlighting the topics that are actually difficult as perceived by the students and teachers in order of difficulty so that adequate measures can be put in place.
1.3 Purpose of the Study
The general purpose of this study is to identify and rank in order of difficulty, English language topics at the basic level. Specifically, the study was aimed at:
- Finding out the topics that are difficult in English language at the basic level.
- Determining the extent at which the difficult topics identified in English language affects students’ academic performance.
- Identifying in order of difficulty the topics in English language as perceived by basic level students.
- Identifying in order of difficulty the topics in teaching-learning of English language as perceived by teachers at the basic level.
1.4 Research Questions
This study provided answers to the following questions:
- What are the topics that are difficult in English language at the basic level?
- To what extent will difficult topics identified in English language affects students’ academic performance?
- What is the order of difficulty the topics in English language as perceived by basic level students?
- To what extent do English language teachers perceive various topics identified to be difficult?
1.5 Research Hypotheses
- No significant influence of difficult topics identified exists on the academic performance of students in English language at the basic level.
- No significant level of difficulty exists in any topic identified as difficult in English language at the basic level.
1.6 Significance of the Study
This study will help to identify the areas that require most attention in English language.
Teachers will be able to understand more about their students’ problems and proffer necessary solutions
There have been few studies on the identifying difficult topics in English Language. Therefore, this study will provide a template for other researchers who may want to embark on a similar study.
Curriculum developer will use the result of this study to design a realistic curriculum that will suite both teachers and students in junior secondary schools.
1.7 Scope of the Study
This study is strictly concerned with identifying difficult topics and the extent at which the teachers and also the students perceived it to be difficult. It covers students and English language teachers at the basic level in Education District IV of Lagos State. Both primary and secondary sources of data will be available for use.
1.8 Operational Definition of Terms
This refers to the rate of success in an examination. Throughout this study, the term ‘Students Academic Performance’ shall be interpreted as meaning gains made by students in the SSCE results in five subjects including Mathematics, English Language and Biology which are subjects under Lagos Eko Project.
It is the capacity to have an effect on the character, or behavior of someone or something or the effect itself.
Unpleasant to do as it requires a considerable effort or skill. Not easy to accomplish.
This has to do with the effective teaching, content knowledge, subject mastery, application of appropriate skills and materials.
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