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Improving Written Language and Exploring Attitudes towards Learning English in Primary Age ESL Learners in Brunei Darussalam

This research was conducted in the small sultanate of Brunei Darussalam on the island of Borneo where the researcher was working as an English language teacher at a government primary school. Although the majority of students’ first language is Bruneian Malay, English is also an important component of the Bruneian curriculum, and is taught from new entrant level. From Year 1, Mathematics and Science are also taught in English and students sit Cambridge University examinations in these three subjects at secondary school. As these are examinations for native speakers, a high standard of English is necessary for academic success. The main goals in this research were to investigate whether a journal writing programme would improve the English writing of primary students and to suggest to what extent their differing attitudes towards learning English affect success in writing tasks. The research used the context of a case study of ten students in Years 4, 5 and 6 participating in a weekly journal writing programme to focus on four aims: • to document any changes or improvements in students’ written English over the course of ten months through a comparison of writing samples at the beginning and end of the programme; • to observe any changes in student attitudes towards the writing programme and their relationship with the teacher; • to ascertain basic attitudes or challenges towards learning and using English at school and at home; • to suggest any connection between the findings for the above aims and actual academic achievement in end of year English examinations. A mixed-methods approach was used for this research which collected five different types of data and was conducted in two parts. A background context for the study was first established by surveying peers from the same school about their attitudes towards English and any challenges they face. School examination results were also studied. A range of data was then collected from the case study students which included their own survey responses, examination results, written journal entries and classroom observations by the teacher. A major finding of this research study was the significantly improved deeper writing features exhibited in the journal writing entries. Students’ sense of audience, personal voice, and quality of vocabulary improved far more than would be expected from normal writing maturation in this timeframe. There is evidence of a high degree of student engagement during journal writing, often due to personally motivating topics. The opportunity to share ideas through written dialogue with their teacher resulted in the development of strong teacher student relationships. Findings surrounding the issues of modeling correct language in context, code switching to enhance understanding of new language and the explicit teaching of vocabulary are also examined. This research provides several other significant findings. There is strong evidence primary age students at all ability levels value English and would like to improve their academic results. Differences in gender were discovered with more boys than girls finding writing the most difficult English skill. Boys were also more likely to fail examinations. Interesting data is provided about the feedback teachers provide writers, and a major finding was that classroom English tasks were not able to be completed successfully by approximately half of all students. There are interesting findings about the strong beliefs students hold on being taught the other core subjects of Mathematics and Science using the English language. Finally, this research makes an important contribution to understanding how young learners’ attitudes towards a second or subsequent language affect their ability to do the task and to eventual task success or failure. A major implication for educators from this research is that many students are likely to highly benefit from a differentiated English programme in primary school which supports the varied learning needs of all students. Although this research was conducted in Brunei, many of the findings may also be applicable to ESL teaching programmes in other parts of Asia and around the world at a time of strong international interest and growth in English second language teaching.
Type of thesis
Dallas, H. (2013). Improving Written Language and Exploring Attitudes towards Learning English in Primary Age ESL Learners in Brunei Darussalam (Thesis, Master of Education (MEd)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8445
University of Waikato
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