Planning my Action Research with some preliminary results.

Draft by Ling Yi Wen.

Chinas Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching,

Guyuan Teachers College, Guyuan 756000, Ningxia Province,

Peoples Republic of China.



How can I improve the students' self-confidence in classroom activities?

I begin my Action Research again.


I introduce my AR report with the word "again", not because I have finished doing a cycle of my first research. To be honest, I gave up my first AR halfway though. My first AR was begun in September 2002 with the help of Dr. Moira Laidlaw. My understanding of AR at that time was just of a method, which could encourage me to improve my teaching method. I thought I had done some AR before. However I hadn't taken any notes. My concern was "How could I help my students to make spontaneous conversation? " I thought I had made some progress on my AR from my diaries and personal reflections and observations, but I didn't know how to provide the evidence to support that claim. At last, I realized I only had subjective accounts, and it was very difficult to provide evidence. Could I actually do something about this issue? Had I brought about some changes? Was I out of my depth? Was I clear about what I meant by a spontaneous conversation? I became puzzled ......  I gave it up and I did nothing about my AR during my further studying in Xi'an from March to July 2003.


I have been a teacher for almost thirteen years, and I deeply influenced by the teaching methodology named "The Grammar-Translation method". Its goal was expressed like this:


"Foreign language study is to learn language in order to read its literature or in order to benefit from the mental discipline and intellectual development that result from foreign-language study. Grammar Translation is a way of studying a language that approaches the language first through detailed analysis of its grammar rules, followed by application of this knowledge to the task of translating sentences and texts into and out of the target language. (Stern1983:455)


Thus, during my early years of being a teacher, I spent most of my teaching time helping my students get good understanding of English and try to use it correctly. I did a lot on analysing its grammar rules, which was really boring both for the teacher and the students. That is to say, the students always accepted the knowledge in a passive way and they didnt show any initiative and creativity in language learning. Sometimes, this dull atmosphere would pervade the whole classroom, which often made me feel depressed and discouraged. I began to realize gradually that something had to be changed. Meanwhile, the reform of teaching methods was being widely launched across the nation because:


"Changes in the kind of proficiency learners need, such as a move toward oral proficiency rather than reading comprehension as the goal of language study". (Kelly 1969)


In my career I have tried a variety of teaching methods, such as Communicative Teaching Approach, the Situational Language Teaching to break the students 'silence in classroom activities. Those methods did work and made me excited now and then.But I just did the work in a random and unstructured way not systematically ,so I just got some fragmentary experience in my teaching .


I began with my AR again this term after the conference held in November 2003 at the College. I learned more about AR. What struck me most is that:


"Action researchers have the social intent of improving the quality of life for themselves and others, and this is deeply value-laden."McNiff, Lomax & Whitehead,1996


I have also learned from the book "You and Your Action Research Project" written by Jean McNiff, Pamela Lomax and Jack Whitehead that AR is a way of working that helps us to identify the thing we believe in and then work systematically and collaboratively, one step at a time, to making them come true. Meanwhile, Stenhouse (1975:142-165) made a strong case for teachers becoming researchers because it was a means through which they could bring about improvement in their teaching. As a   teacher for freshmen[1], especially for the students in Grade one Class three who got the lowest scores in the examination, which was used to decide to group into classes, my concern became


How can I help my students improve their self -confidence in classroom activities, so that they will have initiative in their language learning?


Why am I concerned about it?

Firstly, I am the teacher in charge of students in Grade one Class Three, and my students received the lowest scores in the entrance examination when our college first accepted more students[2]. So, these students are often quiet and hang their heads in the class when I wanted to discuss some problems with them. This worried me a lot. The main reason for this worry and their concern is the lack of general and professional knowledge, which results from a lack of self-confidence in their study, I believe. Most students would put up their hands if I asked them to read a text or participate in a conversation, however, except Yang Xiao Yan, Yang Qing, Ma Lin and Ma Cong Liang. In addition, grouping them into special classes doesn't mean that we will give up on those students[3]. On the contrary, it should help teachers organize those students' study more effectively, so that they will make a greater progress in their future language learning and become qualified graduates after a three-year-study.


Secondly, my students lack initiative in their study. For example they would often get better marks in their dictations if I told them in advance I would give them a dictation the following day. Otherwise, they would get lower marks. (I have detailed records about that). The same situation often happened in their homework. Therefore, improving the students' self-confidence becomes more important when we know:


"that a person who lacks self-confidence will lack initiative to develop his different kinds of abilities ." (Huang Xi Ting 1997)


Finally, I believe the students' silence and non-participation in classroom activities are partly due to the lack of self-confidence. My students often told me that they refused to participate classroom activities because they are afraid of making mistakes. Sometimes when I asked some students murmuring the answers to speak out loud, they would often hang their hands. Consequently, I have to spend a lot of time persuading and encouraging my students so that I couldn't finish my teaching plan sometimes. I will try my best to change the situation.


How can I improve it?

"Not only Intelligence Quotient but also Emotion Quotient plays an important role in learning and they will develop gradually and interact with each other." (Huang Xi Ting)


Hence, it will become important to improve the students' basic spoken English so that they can participate classroom activities with confidence. I decided that what I would do in my Intergrated Skills Class would be to make full use of the first parts "Listening and Speaking Activities" of each unit. The parts involve greetings, farewell, introducing others or oneself, asking and giving information, and so on. It includes lots of different basic sentences that can be used in different situations. Each day, I would ask a student to give us a morning report by making a full preparation before class, which had to involve a function of one of the first parts. For example, the student would say something like this: "Today I will introduce some sentences which can be used to ask permission.... and so on. I would give some supplementary explain if the student couldn't do it completely. This would help students review these parts and have a good command of some basic sentences. Every action would be scrutinized and detailed notes taken. Two weeks later, I would let the students make some conversations with proper sentences they had learned and record them.


Gradually, some performances according to the conversations of each unit would be offered by students .As we all know:


"to develop self-confidence belongs to the realm of self-consciousness in Psychology, which involves self-knowledge, personal- experience and self-regulation. (Huang Xi Ting 1997).


Moreover, it would be easier to develop students' personal-experience and self-confidence with relaxation and freedom in performance, otherwise the students would be easily nervous. I decided to correct some mistakes they had made after their performances and observe carefully to see whether they could help improve their own confidence, all the while taking some detailed notes.


Two weeks later, Lily (Liu Hui) and Miss Jiang were to be invited to visit my class to discuss their observations and ask suggestions. The same thing will happen four weeks later. Meanwhile I planned to record some students' conversations again.


Then I wanted to divide my students into five groups and each group is responsible for explaining a conversation of a unit so as to give students some chances to embody their ability ,improvement and self-confidence. I wanted them to become experts in their conversation by making a full preparation before class, and the students asking any questions they liked. I thought of making five students as organizers of each group whose job it was to introduce their group members and decide in which ways their conversation would be represented and who was to be the main speaker of their group. Yang Qing and Yang Xiao Yan were two of them. Meanwhile, a questionnaire "Which is better to be the organizer of the group turn and turn about or to choose the student who is good at his \her study? would be offered and I would keep these questionnaires and at the end of the first cycle of my AR, Id give them the same questionnaire and compare the results. Liu Binyou[4] would be invited to visit my class after two week's practice and six week's practice. I would discuss with him his observation and take some notes.

By the way, I mention these two students here (above) because they are my chosen participants. There are several reasons for this choice. The first time they called my attention to them was the day when I asked my students to read a dialogue. All the students put up their hands except Yang Qing and Yang Xiao Yan. Then, I began to keep my eyes on them.Yang Qing has been a volunteer in classroom activities twice over the last few months and Yang Xiao Yan has never been a volunteer however easy  the activities. I got to know later that Yang Qing is from a poor remote village and he is a little introverted and he always appears quiet in his daily life. He never speaks loudly. This was also the case in his classroom activities. It was difficult for me to hear him when he tried to answer any questions, and he often hung his head in classs. How could I help him improve his self-confidence so that he will become a good teacher in the future?


Yang Xiao Yan is active in her daily life, and she is good at singing and dancing. But her English is so poor that she lost her self-confidence in learning English completely. She is too shy to say anything and she always hangs her head, especially when I ask for answers. How can I help her improve self-confidence in learning English through her other abilities? What I want to do is to encourage them to participate different kinds of  activities by telling them what I  like them to  do next class in advance .In this way, they will have a full preparation .Two weeks later, I will ask them to do something without telling them in advance. T and I will take part in the students Sunday activities both in Chinese and in English, and I will recommend Yang Xiao Yan to give us some performances, showing her we value her.


Who can help me and how?

  Dr. Moira Laidlaw, Dean Tian Fengjun, and Mr. Ling Peidong can help me. I will make them as my tutors who are usually on my side but challenge me in order to move my own thinking forward. I will come to them if I can't understand why something has happened in my teaching , whether a particular action is ethical, and what I should do to improve it and so on.


Tao Rui, Miss Liu Hui, Miss Jiang Hongxia and Liu Bingyou will be invited to visit my class, to be involved in my AR project. I will discuss with them their observations and ask for suggestions, taking important notes as well. Otherwise, I wont be able to get any valuable feedback.


My students can help me,for example, in discussion about their activities in class, their studes and asking for suggestions twice a month in order to get further improvement ,getting feedback of my actions from the students and collecting some data. I will talk with Yang Qing and Yang Xiao Yan to collect some data and their actions in activities. In addition, my student Tian Xiao Dong, the monitor of the class and Sheng Hai Qing who is in charge of study can help me to organize some activities and collect some feedback from the students.


In other words:


"Aim to work collaboratively rather than competitively and build an atmosphere of trust and mutual support." (McNiff, J., Lomax, P., Whitehead, J.,1996)


When will I know that it has improved?

The students self-awareness will give me some hints that their self-confidence has improved. For example, their sense of being in control of their learning or not.

Their performance in activities will give me some idea.

The data I collect in my daily work can show it.

When the students volunteer to ask and answer questions.

Something that I don't know before will happen, I believe.


What I have done so far?

In my Integrated Skills classes, I often divide my students into five groups, with each group responsible for explaining a conversation in the unit. I wanted them to become experts in their conversations by making a full preparation before class, and the other students asking any questions they liked. I made five students as organizers of each group whose job was to introduce their group members and decide in which ways the conversation would be represented and who would be the main speaker of their groups .


Yang Qing and Yang Xiao Yan were two of them. Here I want to present some records about Yang Qing and Yang Xiao Yan.


The first activity:

a. Yang Qing was very nervous and introduced his members in a low voice. The students applauded him, however.

b. Yang Xiao Yang was too shy and she introduced her members with a stammer.


The second activity:

a. He (Yang Qing) made himself the main speaker of his group, but his voice was so low that the students said they couldn't hear him in class. I encouraged him after class and he said he would try it again.

b. Yang Xiao Yan came to see me in the office one night before the second activity , and she asked me to give her some advice on how to learn English well.

c. She became much better in her introduction during the second time .She introduced her members without any stammer.


Some records of the classroom activities:

A. I am interested in the student's performance about those conversations and they often introduced some extra plot .For example, if they give us a performance about inviting somebody to dinner, there would be a beggar there. Actually their performances were often interesting and lifelike.

B. I told Yang Xiao Yan that I would ask her to recite the text the next day. But she failed to do it that day. Later Yang Xiao Yan said to me that she knew how to recite the text, but she forgot it completely when she was asked to recite it in front of her classmates, which made her cry in class. Then, I told her that I believed that she could do it.

C. November 26th. Yang Xiao Yan was one of  the volunteers to give us a performance , even though she began to stammer again when I moved towards them so I moved back again.

D. To my great joy, Yang Qing became attentive, and he often looked at me and smiled these days in class. One day when I explained the word "lose heart " (become discouraged), it reminded me of the word  "lose one's heart to someone" (fall in love with s.o.). I explained these two words to the students and then I said we could say a phrase like this: "Have you ever lost your heart to anyone?"


At the moment, Yang Qing said naughtily "Yes".

I said, Really?


He hung his head and laughed. In fact, he began to participate in more and more activities from then on. It really made me excited and I am full of confidence now that Yang Xiao Yan will be active in classroom activities from now on ...I will try my best ......



McNiff, J. withWhitehead, J., (2002), Action Research: Principles and Practice, Routledge, London and New York

JeanMcNiff, J.,Lomax, P.,Whitehead, J.,(1996), You and Your Research Project, Hyde Publications, Dorset,U.K..

Jack C. Richards and Theodores S. Rodgers, (1986), Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching.

黄希庭 1997)心理学



[1] Freshmen, the English name given to new students at the three-year college as in America. Second year students are called sophomores, and third years graduates.

[2] This happened eighteen months ago.

[3] The organization of students into ability groups is taken at the top level of the colleges administration.

[4] Departmental English teacher and administrative secretary.