ABBREVIATIONS AND ACRONYMS
DEO – District Education Officer
EAS – Essay Analysis Schedule
ESL – English as a Second Language
ICT – Information Communication Technology
GNECO – Ghana National Examination Council
WAEC – West African Examination Council
KICD -Ghana Institute Curriculum Development
GIE – Ghana Institute of Education
LLS – Language Learning Strategies
LOI – Language of Instruction
L1 – First Language
L2 – Second Language
MoE – Ministry of Education
MoEST – Ministry of Education, Science and Technology
NACOSTI – National Commission for Science Technology and
NCST – National Council for Science and Technology
SPSS – Statistical Package for Social Sciences
SQ – Students’ Questionnaire
TIS – Teachers’ Interview Schedule
The ability to achieve communicative competence in writing is a major facet of language development and academic success among students at all levels of the education system. However, learning to master essay writing skills is a problem students face in secondary schools. This has been consistently shown by the Ghana Certificate of Secondary Education (WAEC) examination results in English, as noted by the Ghana National Examination Council (GNECO) reports. The purpose of this study was to investigate challenges students face in learning essay writing skills in English language in Yendi Senior High School, Northern Region, Ghana. The specific objectives of the study were to: determine methods teachers use in teaching essay writing skills, investigate Exploring Students’ Poor essay writing skills, establish strategies students employ in learning essay writing skills .The study was based on the process genre approach theoretical model for teaching writing skills as advanced by Badger and White (2000). A descriptive survey research design was adopted in this study. The target population was English language teachers and form three students in Manga district. Stratified random sampling and purposive sampling techniques were used in selecting the sample for the study. Thus, a sample of 180 students and 10 teachers of English language were used as the respondents of the study. Data was collected by the use of a questionnaire for students, interview schedule for teachers and an essay writing test for students. The validity and reliability of the instruments were established through a pilot study and the input of experts in the area under study. Quantitative data collected was analyzed using descriptive statistical techniques, which involved percentages, frequencies, and the mean while qualitative data was thematically analyzed. The research findings indicated that common methods teachers use in teaching essay writing skills are: lecture, question and answer and teacher demonstration. However, group work, peer teaching and role play which have been proven to enhance learning of writing skills among other methods were the least used. The results further revealed that major Exploring Students’ Poor essay writing skills include: inadequate content mastery, incorrect use of grammar, first language (L1) interference, limited vocabulary and inadequate teaching and learning resources. The results also showed that most of the students do not frequently use interactive learning strategies. In view of these findings, it was established that teaching methods and learning strategies used by both teachers and students influence the learning of L2 writing skills. Recommendations based on the study were made to enable curriculum developers, policy makers and teachers to come up with strategies to address the challenges students face in the learning of L2 writing skills.
This chapter deals with the background of the study, statement of the problem, objectives of the study, research questions, significance of the study, scope and limitations, assumptions, theoretical and conceptual framework based on the study.
1.1 Background to the study
The ability to achieve communicative competence in writing is a major facet of language development and academic success among students at all levels of the education system. Writing is considered the most important skill that students require in order to enhance their personal development and academic success (Mukulu et al. 2006). In addition, Adams and Keene (2000) note that learning to master writing skills can help students to deal successfully with their academic demands and to perform effectively in their disciplines and professional contexts. In the academic context, students are required to produce specific writing genres such as essays, summaries and reports (Dudley-Evans, 2001).
However, learning to write in a first (L1), second (L2) or foreign language (FL) seems to be the most difficult skill for language learners to acquire in academic contexts (Negari, 2012). Similarly, Richards (2008) notes that learning to write in either first or second language is one of the most difficult tasks students encounter and one that few people can be said to fully master. Kroll (2003) also observes that writing is a complex process that
involves the mastery of multiple skills that contribute to the overall difficulty of writing for any language user. Thus, it is a challenging and difficult skill for both native and nonnative speakers to acquire. According to Hyland (2003), writing requires composing, which implies the ability either to tell pieces of information in the form of narratives or description, or transform information into new texts, as in expository or argumentative writing. Therefore, it is viewed as a continuum of activities that range from the more mechanical or formal aspects of writing to the more complex act of composing.
Tangpermpoon (2008) points out that when compared with other language skills of listening, speaking and reading, writing is the most difficult skill to learn because it requires writers to have a great deal of lexical and syntactic knowledge as well as principles of organization in L2 to produce a good written text. On the other hand, Myles (2002) observes that the ability to write well is not naturally acquired from the environment through exposure to the language. He argues that writing is learned or culturally transmitted as a set of practices in formal instructional setting. Similarly, Byrne (2000) notes that writing is learned through a process of instruction in which the student is expected to master the written form of the language and to learn certain structures that are not common in speech but which are vital for effective written communication. He further observes that conscious effort must be made to equip language learners with writing skills which will enable them to organize their ideas so that a reader who is not present and even known to them can understand. In addition, Hyland (2002) asserts that writing is an activity which must be mastered in order for students to express their ideas effectively in writing. Therefore, it is imperative for teachers to help students to learn writing skills that will enable them express themselves appropriately and effectively in L2 writing.
According to Ong’ondo (2001) there are two broad categories of writing namely functional and creative. Functional writing involves writing of letters, minutes, reports, notices, speeches, book reviews, and memorandum among others. On the other hand, creative writing is concerned with the ability either to tell or retell pieces of information in the form of narration, description and can also be used to transform information into new texts such as in exposition and argumentative writing. The study focused on creative writing with the specific aim of investigating challenges that students face in learning essay writing skills. Writing skills that are necessary for the two categories of writing have been grouped by Gathumbi and Masembe (2005) into two classes: basic and advanced. Basic skills involve good handwriting, proper spelling and correct punctuation. Advanced skills are those related to proper organization of ideas, correct use of grammar and originality of expression. They further observe that in a second language learning situation, writing skills are the most difficult to master. In addition, Graham and Perin (2007) claim that a well written essay focuses on the topic and has an organizational pattern that enables a reader to follow the flow of ideas. It also contains supporting ideas that are developed through the use of examples, appropriate vocabulary and follows the conventions of standard written English language such as correct spelling, capitalization and sentence structure.
In Ghana, English language is learnt and taught as a second language and it is also the country’s official language, as well as the Language of Instruction (LOI) in schools, colleges and universities. Assessment of students’ achievement in English language and other subjects in the curriculum is done through writing. Writing is also a skill that draws from other language skills of listening, speaking and reading. Ghana Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD), formerly known as Ghana Institute of Education (GIE), English language syllabus (2002), writing is recognized as an advanced language skill that has wide ranging implications for the way we think and learn. Writing also encourages learners to be organized, logical and creative in their thinking. Society demands that learners should be helped to acquire skills that will enable them to express their ideas clearly and effectively. It is because of this that the syllabus singles out the ability to write well as essential in influencing students’ chances of success, personal development and relations with other people. It is further emphasized in the syllabus that there is need to encourage learners to achieve competence in writing using language structures they have learnt. The learning objectives pertaining to writing as spelt out in the syllabus include the ability to: write clearly and correctly for a wide variety of purposes and functions, use effectively the main structures of English language by writing logically and coherently on a given topic, demonstrate acceptable habits both in spoken and written communication among others.
1.2 Statement of the problem
The ability to write appropriately and effectively is considered a major part of written communicative competence among students at all levels of the education system. However, learning to master essay writing skills is a problem that students face in secondary schools. The GNECO reports on candidates’ achievement in English at WAEC level have over the years consistently shown that students face various challenges in essay writing which lower the overall performance in English as a subject. The GNECO report for the year 2010 results noted that many candidates wrote irrelevant essays, demonstrated poor word choice, wrong grammar and spelling and lacked logical argument and coherence. This problem has been partly attributed to inadequate practice and teaching of essay writing skills and failure to read and understand the set texts and literary concepts on the part of most students (GNECO, 2011).In order to help students achieve communicative competence in L2 writing, the MoEST recommends the adoption of the integrated approach to the teaching of the four language skills. Despite this intervention, the GNECO reports have over the years persistently shown that students face challenges in essay writing in English language at WAEC level. In Manga district, performance in English language at WAEC level has remained below average over the years. Therefore, this study investigated challenges students face in learning essay writing skills in English language in Yendi Senior High School, Northern Region, Ghana.
1.3 Objectives of the study
The objectives of the study were to:
- Determine methods teachers use in teaching essay writing
- Investigate Exploring Students’ Poor essay writing
- Establish strategies students employ in learning essay writing
1.4 Research questions
The following research questions were addressed in this study.
- Which methods do teachers use in teaching essay writing skills?
- What challenges do students face in learning essay writing skills?
- Which strategies do students employ in learning essay writing skills?
1.5 Significance of the study
It is hoped that the findings of this study would serve as a basis for assisting English language teachers adopt teaching strategies that will enhance learning of essay writing skills among students. Secondly, the study would enable curriculum developers and textbook writers to come up with materials that will address the challenges students face in L2 essay writing. The researcher also hoped that the findings of the study would be relevant in teacher education as a whole, especially regarding language education which may enable teacher trainers to come up with better methods of training language teachers with specific reference to essay writing skills. Finally, the study could contribute to knowledge of classroom research in second language writing and form a basis for further research which could prompt other researchers to do similar studies in other regions or levels of learning.
1.6 Scope and limitations of the study
This section provided information on the scope and limitations of the study. The scope puts forward information concerning the extent and range that was dealt with in this study with regard to the variables under investigation. The limitations provide information on the boundaries of the data, findings and conclusions of the study. Further, it provides information concerning the challenges and restrictions that the researcher faced during the entire research period.
The study focused on Exploring Students’ Poor essay writing skills in English language in Yendi Senior High School, Northern Region Ghana. The study further sought to establish the most commonly used teaching methods and learning strategies used by both teachers and students and how these influence the learning of essay writing skills among students. Respondents for the study were 180 form three students and 10 teachers of English language.
The findings obtained were limited to the responses which were obtained from teachers’ interview schedule, students’ questionnaire and an essay writing test. The study was limited to 10 public secondary schools since it did not target private schools. The sample size of 10 secondary schools in the area under study, however, this reduces the generalizability of the findings to all secondary schools in Ghana. The study also investigated only one area of language learning. Lack of adequate published works for review of related literature in the context of Manga district with regard to challenges in learning L2 writing skills was also limited. For this reason most of the search was done over the internet. Despite all these limitations, it is hoped that the results of this study would significantly contribute to the study of pedagogy of second language writing.
1.7 Operational definition of terms
Achievement: Successful accomplishment of a task in essay writing usually by reasons of skill, hard work and interest.
Challenges: Difficulties students face in the process of learning essay writing skills.
Communicative competence: The ability that students need to develop in order to express themselves appropriately and effectively in various situations like in essay writing.
Effective interaction: Refers to a process of actively involving students in essay writing lessons that incorporate learning activities such as questioning, explaining and discussion.
Effective learning A process that produces a desired outcome in essay writing among students.
Effective teaching: A process that produces the desired result in the teaching and learning of essay writing skills.
English as a second language: The English language learned by students to whom the language is a second language in their country.
Essay: A text or a piece of writing that students creatively compose, either independently, in a group or with the help of a teacher, in response to a writing exercise or task.
Improvement: The process of making the learning of essay writing skills better.
Learning: A process of gaining knowledge or skills on English language essay writing .
Learning strategies: Techniques that students employ to improve their own progress in learning essay writing skills in English as a second language.
Performance: Refers to the ability or level of competence of a student in essay writing, measured by means of an achievement test.
Second language: Acquisition and learning of an additional language after the first language(L1).
Strategy: Refers to a technique employed by students to facilitate the process of learning essay writing skills.
Teaching: Refers to a process of helping students learn essay writing skills.
Teaching methods: Activities, tasks and learning experience used by teachers during the process of teaching essay writing skills.[email protected]
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