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A STUDY OF TEACHING LISTENING TO INTERMEDIATE LEARNERS

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A STUDY OF TEACHING LISTENING TO INTERMEDIATE LEARNERS
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    Baku, Azerbaijan| 207   INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL of ACADEMIC RESEARCH Vol. 5. No. 6. November, 2013 M. Szczepaniak, H. Pathan, N. Soomro. A study of teaching listening to intermediate learners. International Journal of  Academic Research Part B; 2013; 5(6), 207-212. DOI:  10.7813/2075-4124.2013/5-6/B.33 A STUDY OF TEACHING LISTENING TO INTERMEDIATE LEARNERS Marta Szczepaniak 1 , Dr. Habibullah Pathan 2 *, Niaz Soomro 3   1 PhD Scholar, University of Edinburgh (UK)   2  Assistant Professor and Director (I/C) ELDC, Mehran University of Engineering and Technology Jamshoro (PAKISTAN)   3 PhD Scholar, University of Glasgow (UK)   *Corresponding author:  pathanhabibullah@yahoo.com DOI:  10.7813/2075-4124.2013/5-6/B.33  ABSTRACT This paper contains two parts. The first part covers definitions of listening, purposes of listening, types of istening, models of listening, and reasons of teaching listening, principles behind the teaching of listening, meta- cognitive behavior and comprehension. These theories and principles have been linked systematically to the data collected from a class observation conducted at an intermediate college in the UK. Whereas, the part 2 briefs the lesson plan of teaching listening at Intermediate Level with a rationale as to why it has been designed the way it is. This study aims to discuss the issue of ‘teaching listening comprehension’ to intermediate students and to see the relationship between comprehension and potential achievement. The study is based on the qualitatice method of classroom observation by observing the listening lesson, and analysing the lesson plans for teaching listenin. The theories covering the topic of teaching listening comprehension and the results of this study indicate that the sooner the English language teachers realize how to teach comprehension instead of purely testing their students, the better results in English learning their students will achieve. Key words:  Foreign Language Learning, Listening Instruction, Listening Comprehension 1. INTRODUCTION/BACKGROUND Listening is a skill which is classified by foreign language methodologists as a ‘receptive skill’. As Rost (1994, p. 139) emphasizes, although foreign languages have been taught for centuries, almost no or only little attention was paid to this language skill in the past. The area of listening was neglected for long or even forgotten by experts in the field of foreign language teaching. Fortunately, the view of perceiving listening has changed over the past hundred years and nowadays the real importance of this language skill is highly valued in the second language classroom. Listening in a second language is seen as a complex and active process in which a listener has to do several actions to be successful in comprehension. Tinkler (1980, p.29) divides the listening comprehension process further into different sub-skills (actions). Further, Vandergrift (1999, p.168) presents some of these actions as: discriminating between sounds, understanding vocabulary and particular grammatical structures, interpreting stress and intonation, finally, recalling and gathering all information which was heard before. All those actions cause that listening seems to be difficult and confusing as it demands a great deal of mental activity of learners. On the other hand, second language learning cannot exist without this skill because almost half of human communication time is purely dedicated to listening. Consequently, listening plays a significant role in a daily life. Listening is the skill worth particular attention as citing Gary’s statement (Gary, 1975 cited in Vandergrift, 1999, p.168) it facilitates language learning and makes the process of learning more natural. What is more, as Rost (1994, p.141) depicts, listening provides input for the learners and invoking Krashen’s Input Hypothesis without understandable input the process of language learning (language acquisition) could not begin. Listening has also the psychological advantage. In other words, if learners are not forced to speak, but they go through the so-called ‘silent period’ they do not feel intimidated or embarrassed, they feel relaxed and can be completely focused on developing listening skill. Vandergrift (1999, p.169) also argues that good achievement in listening and comprehension motivates students for further learning as they gain their own sense of success. Finally, listening activities can also serve as a great means of introducing new language forms such: grammar, vocabulary or interaction patterns. Listening as such is a wide area with many issues and problems uncovered or vague. This is why; this paper specifically focuses the problem of teaching listening comprehension to intermediate students because the proper comprehension decides on the potential achievement of language learners in the field of successful communication. However, before the issue of teaching comprehension and its principles are discussed, it is worth looking at the way in which information in a listening task is processed, perceived and explained. This aspect is extremely crucial for teachers who want to teach listening comprehension effectively. As Flowerdew and Miller    208 | PART B . SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES www.ijar.eu   INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL of ACADEMIC RESEARCH Vol. 5. No. 6. November, 2013 (1999, p. 24) state there are three main theories (models) of the listening process: the bottom-up model, the top-down model and the interactive model. Purpose of the Study This paper aims to investigate the issue of teaching listening comprehension to intermediate students and to see the relationship between comprehension and potential achievement of language learners. Review of the Relevant Literature The ‘bottom-up’ model was the first to develop. This model’s main assumption states that when listeners work on understanding of what they hear, they start with the smallest units like individual sounds or phonemes. Next, they combine phonemes into words, phrases, clauses and end with sentences (Flowerdew and Miller, 1999, p.24). At a further level, the sets of sentences create ideas and concepts, and the message is decoded by a listener.  Another theory of the listening process is called the ‘top-down’ model. The model assumes the usage of the previous contextual listener’s knowledge in the process of building understanding (Flowerdew and Miller, 1999, p. 25). In other words, listeners apply contextual knowledge to interpret utterances they are exposed to. The pre-established patterns which are used or as Tannen (Tannen, 1979, cited in Flowerdew and Miller, 1999, p.25) names them ‘structures of expectation’ are perceived in different ways, and they are individually determined by the learner. The terms for further describing the ‘structures of expectation’ that occur interchangeably are known as: schema, script, and frame. In practice, as studies show, if a listener is familiar with the subject matter or the text type he/she is going to hear, his/her level of comprehension is higher than the people who have never encountered similar topic or text and thus may not make any predictions. The important thing in the top-down model is that the process is purpose-driven so listeners bring exactly the expectations back needed for a particular purpose. The last model presenting the theory of the listening process is the ‘integrative model’. Flowerdew and Miller (1999, p.26) explain that it combines the bottom-up and the top-down processing. The parallel processing integrates phonological, semantic, syntactic and pragmatic information and builds comprehension of the listening task. The awareness of the listening processes is extremely crucial for the teachers who want to teach their students how to listen with comprehension, instead of purely testing their answers. Field (1998, p.111) emphasizes that many teachers are so product-oriented while implementing listening tasks in the classroom that they measure their students’ success on the basis of the number of correct responses given. Such an approach may be completely wrong as a teacher only concentrates on ‘outcomes of listening’ but not on the ‘process of listening’. In practice, this leads to deepening learners’ problems with comprehension of L2 and discouraging them from further language learning as well. Field (1998, p.112) claims that what teacher should do is focusing on listeners’ weaknesses and dealing with those issues. The solution for training and teaching listening comprehension is to look at every listening task undertaken in the classroom as a ‘process’ rather than as a ‘product’. However, Sheerin (1987, p.126) suggests that teaching listening requires from teachers better organization of a lesson in areas such as adequate preparation, adequate support and the provision of appropriate tasks. Moreover, the teacher has to arrange his/her action with respect to learning strategies (O’Malley, et al. 1989, p.422). There are two types of learning strategies which L2 learners regularly use that are cognitive and metacognitive strategies. According to Vandergrift (1999, p.170), cognitive strategies apply the specific techniques to the listening task. Precisely, O’Malley, et al. (1989, p. 423) subcategorize the cognitive strategies as rehearsal (repeating the names of things, which were heard in the listening process), organization (it allows learners for grouping information to improve comprehension), and elaboration (using previously described in the top-down model prior knowledge). Metacognitive strategies include learners’ thinking about their learning process and learners’ control of learning by planning, monitoring and evaluating their learning activity. Vandergrift (1999, p.170) invoking O’Malley’s, et al.  (1989) research result claims that the proper development of metacognitive and cognitive strategies enhances listening comprehension and students’ performance in learning L2.  Another example supporting Vandergrift’s statement is the study which was carried out by Thompson and Rubin (1996, cited in Vandergrift, 1999, p.171). In this study, the researchers examined the effects of metacognitive and cognitive strategy instruction on listening comprehension among university students in Russia. The results of the study revealed that learners who received strategy instruction achieved higher performance than the group of students whose listening comprehension was not supported by systematic instructions. The important question for teaching listening comprehension is how those metacognitive theories and research results can be used to improve the teaching situation in the real classroom, so actually how to implement the statements and theories in practice. Vandergrift (1999, p.171) suggests developing metastrategic awareness by exposing students to any oral text which is heard in a language different than English. On the basis of the text students can try to guess what the text is about and think how they know it. Such an activity develops selective attention. Underwood (1989, p. 30ff) suggests incorporating pre-listening, while-listening and post-listening activities as these stages promote respectively the acquisition of planning, monitoring and evaluating. As Underwood (1989, p. 31f) emphasizes that the pre-listening stage enables students to prepare themselves for what they will hear in a moment. The successful pre-listening stage assumes the establishment of the topic and the clarification of the purpose of a listening activity. By making predictions what the listening task is about students to activate    Baku, Azerbaijan| 209   INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL of ACADEMIC RESEARCH Vol. 5. No. 6. November, 2013 their schemata in order to evoke the previous contextual knowledge. If students need it, the proper cultural information should be given to them in this stage as well to comprehend the listening task correctly. The proper pre-listening activities for intermediate learners could be describing pictures, making list of possible ideas or suggestions, completing part of a chart, predicting/speculating in a form of class discussion, reading an extract of text which is relevant. According to Underwood (1989, p. 45), the while-listening stage enables students to develop the skill of obtaining information from spoken language and self-monitor their comprehension process. As Mohammed (2005, p. 25) emphasizes, the amount of writing while listening should be limited to a minimum as the main goal is listening comprehension and not written production. Some of the intermediate while-listening activities proposed by Underwood (1989, p.49) are: arranging items in pattern, following a route, chart completion, using listing, gap-filling, multiple-choice questions, true/false. The other more general activities as offered by Mohammed (2005, p.25f) are: searching for specific clues to meaning and listening for a gist. The post-listening stage focuses on evaluation of listening comprehension. In the case of ineffective learners, the teacher should draw attention to peculiar parts of the listening text, which are significant for completing the task and at this moment discuss the important points with learners. As Underwood (1989, p.74) shows, this stage can also serve as an extension of something done in the two previous stages. In this aspect, different skills can be integrated successfully as nowadays there is a tendency to incorporate other three skills in the post-listening phase. The range of post-listening tasks appropriate for intermediate learners is the following: problem-solving or discussion-making, role-play, written work, interpreting the listening. It is also worth mentioning that according to Field (1998, p.112) and Underwood (1989, p.78), the post-listening stage can be much longer than the pre-listening stage which is often ‘top-heavy’ and takes a huge amount of precious time. Sheerin (1987, p.127) proposes the enrichment of the while-listening stage by supplementing visual support in the form of graphs, maps, pictures, diagrams. An interesting option for intermediate learners is the usage of transcripts, as they allow listeners to go back after the initial listening, recalls the information heard and completes the task (ibid.). Wilson (2003) suggested an interesting option by which he describes as ‘discovery learning' which is connected with perceptual processing, consequently, the bottom-up model. The bottom-up model is important because it is an effective tool for teaching listening comprehension. The word recognition has been undervalued and forgotten as the primacy has been given to top-down processing. According to this model, listeners of L2 do not rely on contextual guesswork, but they should focus on what they really hear and what was said (p.335). Previously, teaching listening comprehension completely rejected dictation, the main approach of the bottom-up model. In consequence, dictogloss which is the reconstruction of the text heard has also been omitted. This technique enables listeners to go through the process of listening deeply by focusing on meaning. Dictogloss makes the process of listening more text-focused as students can compare the differences between the text reconstructed by them and the srcinal one. The task in which students are asked to listen to the short recording without note-taking, they self-asses their comprehension level, then they listen to it again. They try to reconstruct the text in groups, finally; they compare the reconstructed text with the srcinal one. As the author shows the aim of comparing those two texts is to discover students’ main problems in listening comprehension and influence listeners to identify their own problems and errors (Wilson 2003, p.336). An Account of the Classroom Observation and Discussion  As it is discussed above, there is a great importance of teaching listening comprehension to all learners, no matter what their age or level of the second language is. The theories covering the topic of teaching listening comprehension and the results of research prove that the sooner English language teachers will realize how to teach comprehension instead of purely testing their students, the better results in English learning their students will achieve. The following part of this work presents an account of the experience from the lessons observed. Here, we describe the lessons briefly and focus on their goals following by the structure of lessons with reference to already presented general principles of teaching listening comprehension. The first lesson observed was actually the continuation of some already covered listening material in an intermediate class. The lesson was organized to ensure students’ listening comprehension, and the main topic covered was social cohesion. It started with checking students’ homework, and then the students listened to the first part of the listening task connected with the issue of social cohesion. Although the first part was done during the previous lesson, students listened to it again as to remind them of the topic. The general principles of teaching listening comprehension were another setting of the topic and activating students’ schemata. Next, the students were asked to look at the box which contained key words from the already listened first part of listening, and they were expected to put those words into a text. While they were dealing with it, the teacher monitored their work intensively. That activity could follow the assumption of the post-listening stage as it checked how much students remembered and understood from what they were exposed to. The task was to complete a summary. When the students completed their task, the teacher switched on the tape again so they were able to check/compare and assess their answers. Evaluation of learners’ own performance is one of the main goals of the post-listening stage as discussed by Underwood (1989). When the students self-checked and corrected their summaries, they were asked to read the sentences one by one, and the main emphasis was put on proper pronunciation, the teacher also elicited the meaning of words from the students to assess their actual comprehension and the knowledge of particular words. Next, the teacher moved to the next (new) part of the listening task. First, there was the pre-listening stage in the form of a pair, later all group discussions. Students were asked to identify what the common features of society and culture    210 | PART B . SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES www.ijar.eu   INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL of ACADEMIC RESEARCH Vol. 5. No. 6. November, 2013 are. The aim was to set the topic, activate schemata (Underwood, 1989). During the first listening of the second part; students only numbered the features that occurred in order taken from the box.  After listening practice, teacher asked the students whether the listening was difficult or easy. Then, the stage of students’ own evaluation began during which the teacher asked about particular vocabulary items and elicited meaning from students. Students also discussed in pairs and tried to recall what was said, in particular, about key words such, e.g. education, language, and trade. The teacher monitored them. Finally, students compared their answers with each other by giving a short description of some key words. The last stage was listening to the part again and checking how correct they were. This sequence was typical to that of O’Malley’s et al.  (1989) discussion, which describes metacognitive and cognitive strategies in which students monitor, recall, organize, decode and evaluate their process of listening. In the extended part of post-listening, the students were asked to compare the aspects of social cohesion in the UK, which they were exposed to with their national social norms (as this group was multinational). That raised their cultural awareness. Further, they were asked to do fill-in-blanks activity and complete a text with one suitable word on the basis of what was heard and said about. Finally, they checked their conjectures with the tape. In our opinion, it was perfectly prepared and organized lesson, which followed the general principles of teaching listening comprehension. The second lesson served as an example of the integrated skills lessons. The learners were adults coming from different countries and social background. The only oral input was teacher’s talk and there was no teaching listening comprehension as such. The main aim of the lesson was practicing reading. However, in the pre-reading stage, the teacher exercised students in correct pronunciation of former US presidents, which set the topic, but the teacher did not pre-teach vocabulary, which seemed to be indispensable for beginners to comprehend the text (Berne, 1995, p.316). Personally, we could not notice any cognitive or metacognitive strategies implemented.  As far as we do not have much teaching experience, we would like to point out that during our teaching practice with intermediate learners, we always tried to teach listening instead of testing it. What is more, we have always considered listening comprehension to be an extremely crucial part in the process of teaching or learning English (Rost, 1994). In the part of pre-listening we always pay much attention to setting the topic, activating students’ schemata and evoking their prior contextual knowledge as these actions foster metacognitive, cognitive strategies and top-down processing (Flowerdew and Miller, 1999) and (Underwood, 1989). Mostly, we choose describing pictures, mind map or/and brainstorming (making predictions) as these are always proper for intermediate students (ibid.). 2. APPLICATION OF TEACHING LISTENING COMPREHENSION The main focus of the second part of this study is to present the outline of the lesson to present the applications of teaching listening comprehension to intermediate learners. As the previous part mentioned, the problem of teaching listening comprehension instead of testing students has always been the crucial issue among language methodologists and real practitioners in the English language teaching in recent years. As the above-mentioned outcomes depict, much has been done towards the improvement of teaching English learners how to listen through the impact of metacognitive, cognitive strategies and the proper understanding and implementation of the listening processes (models) (O’Malley et    al  ., 1989). The conscious usage of different strategies facilitates listeners’ learning in general and enables students to achieve the success in the listening process faster and easier (Rost, 1994). However, it is not always that theory and real classroom practice are so perfectly unified, and this is shown ahead on the basis of the lesson plan which was presented by us with respect to previously described principles of teaching listening comprehension. At first, the aims of the lesson are presented, then the selection of materials. Exercises will be discussed, and the sequence of events will be shown. The last stage of this work is dedicated to the other classmates’ feedback on the implemented lesson plan regarding its merits and vices and the personal suggestions for further practice and teaching development. Discussion on the Lessons Designed The main aim of the lesson was to present how teaching listening comprehension can be implemented effectively on the basis of listening techniques. The other purpose was to guide students on their way to become successful, autonomous listeners by using metacognitive strategies effectively. The topic which was chosen seemed to be interesting and positively associated by the majority of students. The title was: Holiday. The exercises which were used consisted of the combination of integrated skills, as there is a tendency to link all four skills nowadays. The first exercise which was used was describing pictures, which were connected with the topic of the lesson. Through such an activity, students were given the proper amount of time to prepare themselves for the topic of the listening task. What is more, after giving a brief description their task was to guess the topic of the lesson on the basis of common features of all pictures. As it was presented in the first part making predictions is one of the metacognitive techniques, which occurs before the stage of listening so in warm-up part. It is worth pointing that all those actions taken by students were aimed at activating students schemata, prior contextual learner's knowledge, which followed the top-down model of the listening process (Flowerdew and Miller, 1999). The next activity which preceded the while-listening stage was aimed at setting the exact topic of the listening activity students were going to listen to. The teacher outlined very briefly what the story was about and asked students to work in pairs and try to predict what could have happened to a boy named Brad, who went for a    Baku, Azerbaijan| 211   INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL of ACADEMIC RESEARCH Vol. 5. No. 6. November, 2013 summer camp. Making a list of things that students might hear in the listening part developed students’ metacognitive strategies (Underwood, 1989).  A pair work is always a good solution as students are willing to take part in the activity, they communicate with each other, and they improve their speaking skills while working on preparation for a listening task. The pair work was followed by a whole group discussion in which students exchanged their opinions, choices and predictions. The last activity which was done by the teacher right before the while-listening section was brief pre-teaching or revising of vocabulary items, which could be problematic, confusing, and they would disrupt the listening comprehension. However, the teacher did not give the meaning of words on her own but focused on eliciting it from students. The while-listening part was divided into two listening sections. The first listening phase was for getting a gist, general orientation in the content of the listening. There was a smooth transition between the pre-listening part in which students prepared provisional lists of things to which they could be exposed and the listening stage in which they were asked to choose and tick from the list given to them real things, which happened to a boy. Such an approach enabled students to work on their own metacognitive strategy of efficient and comprehensible listening (Anderson and Lynch, 1988). After the first listening, the teacher checked the answers with students and asked how they liked the story. Then, the teacher led the students towards more specific listening, so listening for specific information. The activity which was given to students had a form of multiple-choice test, so according to Underwood (1989, p.49) one of the most frequently chosen while-listening types of exercises. Students listened to the boy’s story twice, so they were given enough time to deal with the listening part and possible answers given to them.  Again as it was presented above every student could choose his/her own individual way of monitoring the correct answer. The task could be achieved by strategies of facilitating listening to such as listening to everything, which was said carefully (directed attention), concentrating on the parts in which an answer is given (selective attention) or looking for clues, key words in the passage (inferencing) (Goh and Taib, 2006). At the end of that part the teacher checked students’ answers. Following Underwood’s (1989, p.74) statement, the post-listening task served as an extension of the while-listening stage when considering its topic. The first activity of that stage was to work in pairs as it did not intimidate them and write eight sentences, which would constitute a short summary of the story to which students were exposed. On the basis of that the teacher could also evaluate the actual level of students' listening comprehension as giving answers in the multiple-choice task could be partly a guessing game (Underwood, 1989). Some pairs read their sentences aloud and shared their knowledge with other classmates. Next, the listening material was used for a group discussion during which students were asked to say something about their last holidays, whether they liked it or not and why it was so. In that case the listening material stimulated further learners’ work in the classroom (Mohammed, 2005). Students were also given a chance for personalization by telling their own stories and experiences, and it has been extremely important in general teaching of a foreign language. While students were having a discussion, the teacher monitored them all the time. The last post-listening exercise done in class was a role-play which was based on the general topic of the lesson: holiday and which improved students’ communicative skills (Saricoban, 1999 and Underwood, 1989). Students worked in groups (four in each). One person was a travel agent, while the others were holidaymakers, who wanted to go for holidays together, but they had totally different expectations. They were asked to have a discussion and try to reach a compromise. The materials for that exercise were supplied by the teacher. The teacher monitored students all the time and at the end students were asked to say and justify which option they chose and why. The lesson finished with assigning homework to students. Students were asked to surf the Internet or browse through other media sources and find a place of their dream holiday. For the next time, they were expected to bring the picture of the place with a short description of it and justify why that one was their favorite. The lesson which was presented in detail above has a set of its advantages and disadvantages as it was noticed by people gathered around the issues of English language teaching. As some people emphasized the lesson plan was very well-organized and students could gain a significant improvement when it comes to the matter of teaching listening comprehension to intermediate learners. As some people stated the topic and the variety of tasks were extremely interesting and motivating students for further work and attention during the lesson. They also appreciated the fact that teaching listening comprehension as such was skillfully integrated with writing and speaking. Much attention was paid to the usage of nearly authentic materials which were supplied by the teacher in the role-play which took place in the follow-up stage. There was a focus on the pictures which in the opinion of some people were used very effectively in the pre-listening stage as to activate students’ schemata. People noticed the implementation of metacognitive strategies in the lesson plan, especially in the pre-listening stage, and they approved the fact the learners were able to work on their own ways of listening. They also noticed the smooth transition between the pre-listening and the while-listening stage. However, some suggestions for improvement were also given as to make the lesson of teaching listening comprehension better. First of all, some people were afraid of the aspect of time to implement all students’ and teacher’ actions in the period of forty-five minutes. We must admit that such a sequence requires from the teacher and students a great deal of effort and motivation. Although we have not had a great teaching practice so far, we have to say that we was able to put similar course of exercises within the predicted amount of time, but still it is worth considering proper time management and not overloading the lesson.
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