Improving Students Teacher Interaction in the Classroom: An Action Research

Teacher-Students Interaction in the Nepali Medium English Classroom: An Action Research
1. BackgroundMost Nepalese students especially from the government aided schools are usually found to be quiet in the English classroom, as they have a little experience in classroom interaction with the teacher. Traditionally Nepalese classrooms are dominated by the lecture method that does not encourage students to participate in the classroom activities. The other reason behind the students’ inactivity is the poor English background and lack of exposure in English in the lower level. So, the teaching English with student interaction is quite challenging. This paper, employing action research, attempts to explore this problem and suggests some possible ways to create a more interactive classroom. This paper is divided into the following sections: (1)Background    (2) Introduction to Action Research     (3) Classroom Description (4) Problem Identification and Investigation   (5) Strategies/plan  (6) Plan Implementation (7) Outcome (8) Conclusion
2. Introduction to Action Research Action research is concerned with trying to improving one specific point in a teacher's technique in a particular classroom using empirical measurement. Richards, Platt & Platt (1992) have defined it as, “Teacher-initiated classroom research which seeks to increase the teacher's understanding of classroom teaching and learning and to bring about improvements in classroom practices. Action research typically involves small-scale investigate projects in the teacher's own classrooms.”
Action research is a reflective process of progressive problem solving led by individuals working with others in teams or as part of a "community of practice" to improve the way they address issues and solve problems. Action research is done simply by action, as the name suggests. Action research can also be undertaken by larger organizations or institutions, assisted or guided by professional researchers, with the aim to improving their strategies, practices, and knowledge of the environments within which they practice. As designers and stakeholders, researchers work with others to propose a new course of action to help their community improve its work practices (Center for Collaborative Action Research). Kurt Lewin, then a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, first coined the term “action research” in about 1944. In his 1946 paper “Action Research and Minority Problems” he described action research as “a comparative research on the conditions and effects of various forms of social action and research leading to social action” that uses “a spiral of steps, each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action, and fact-finding about the result of the action” (retrieved: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_research).According to Reason & Bradbury, Action research is an interactive inquiry process that balances problem solving actions implemented in a collaborative context with data-driven collaborative analysis or research to understand underlying causes enabling future predictions about personal and organizational change (2002). It is a reflective process that allows for inquiry and discussion as components of the “research.” Often, action research is a collaborative activity among colleagues searching for solutions to everyday, real problems experienced in schools, or looking for ways to improve instruction and increase student achievement. Within all the definitions of action research, there are four basic themes: empowerment of participants, collaboration through participation, acquisition of knowledge, and institutional change.Generally action research is a process in which there is an observer who collects data, and together with the teacher develops a plan to bring about the desired change, act on the plan, and then observe the effects of the plan in the classroom. 
3. Class DescriptionThe class observed was a group of 48 students at Koshi Saint James Higher Secondary School in Itahari. The level of the students in the class was upper-beginners or intermediate. The students were from the heterogeneous backgrounds in regard of their social, economic, cultural as well as cognitive aspects. Out of  48 students  The teacher was a student-teacher with several years teaching experience at secondary level. The goal of this required class is to teach the students reading and writing skills including listening when the teacher reads the passage aloud. 
4. Problem Identification and InvestigationThe students, as a class, don't respond voluntarily to the teacher's questions and do not participate in class discussions. Students also never ask the teacher questions outside one-on-one situations. Thus, the teacher receives little oral feedback. According to the teacher “Most of the class members sit looking straight ahead using minimal facial expressions, gestures and verbal utterances. What I want is for the students to be more demonstrative and more overtly communicative in their feedback. I want these behaviors: I want the students to ask questions, make comments and to respond with nods and shakes of the head, with sounds of agreement or sounds of understanding. Also, I want them to be both reactive and proactive.” 
Despite the teacher's several attempts, the students don't seem responsive and interested in the teaching as well. Few of them try to respond in Nepali in submissive manner. Very few of them seem attentive but cannot respond to the teacher's questions; neither they ask any questions to the teacher about anything. The teacher's class was first observed in the third week of the first term. In the first 25 minutes, the class went through an intermediate level reading passage. The students first listened to the teacher read and explain the text to the students with their books in their hands, then the students read the text silently themselves. Then the teacher asked them whether they understood anything, but nobody responded. Next 15 minutes, the teacher went through the text explaining the difficult word meanings to the students so that they could understand better and respond to him. He asked the following questions to them based on the text:T: Any questions? Do you understand everything?Ss: Š(no one responds)T: Okay, how many people were quarrelling?Ss: Š(no response)T: How many people were quarrelling?Ss: Š(no response)T: There were three. Three people. Were they friends or strangers?Ss: Š(no response)Š
The teacher asked a few other questions which also drew no response or reaction from the students. The students, then, had to write the answers of some questions about the text in their book according to the teacher's instruction. Most of the students seemed to have much trouble doing this, and if there were any questions, they readily seemed to ask  few things  the friends sitting next to them but didn't drew any meaningful result.
The following day the class was devoted to the work using the phrases and vocabulary from the text. The students didn't seem to enjoy this, and most tried to find the meanings of the words with little effort or no effort at all. The teacher circulated the room checking on the progress of each student but didn't see any progress in majority of them, rather their copies were found empty or they had done little with messy answers. The class atmosphere was boring, as most of them seemed silent and inactive. The students didn't ask any questions as they hadn't done any question-answers. Instead of answering the teacher's questions, they seemed to be whispering and smiling in their own personal matters. There was no eagerness and enthusiasm in the students. The teacher asked them to do the activities in the text repeatedly but one or two of them said that they didn't know the answers. The teacher said, “I want the students to be more demonstrative and more overtly communicative in their feedback. I want these behaviors: I want the students to ask me questions, make comments and to respond with nods and shakes of the head, with sounds of agreement or sounds of understanding. Also, I want them to be both reactive and proactive”. 5. Strategies/Plan After the preliminary investigation of the classroom, it was surfaced that the problem was quite serious and needed to be coped immediately. In order to make the class more interactive and participatory, certain hypotheses were made based on some scholars' empirical suggestions. The very first scholar was Jeremy Harmer whose findings and suggestions were taken as the rescue sources. According to him we need to establish an appropriate relationship with the students (2009). To clarify the relation of a teacher with students, Harmer has used a particular term 'rapport' which refers to the relationship the students have with the teacher and vice-versa. When there is a positive, enjoyable and respectful relationship between teacher and students, and students themselves, the environment for the interaction will be set up. According to Harmer (2009), successful interaction with students depends on following four characteristics: Recognizing students with their names: Students want their teacher to know who they are. They would like their teacher to know their names and characters. There is no easy way of remembering students’ names yet it is extremely important that we do so if good rapport is to be established. Listening to the students: Nothing demotivates the students more than when the teacher is dismissive or uninterested in what they have to say. Of course, no one can force us to be genuinely interested absolutely in everything and everyone, but it is part of teacher’s professional personality that we should be able to convince students that we’re listening to what they say with every sign of attention. Respecting the students: Correcting students is always a delicate event. If we are too critical, we risk demotivating them. Whichever method of correction we choose, and whoever we are working with, students need to know that we are treating them with respect, and not using mockery or sarcasm- or expressing despair at their efforts. Respect is vital, too, when we deal with any kind of problem behavious. Teachers who respect students do their best to see them in a positive light. They are not negative about their learners or in the way they deal with them in class. Being even-handed: What usually happens in the classroom is that many teachers react well to those who take part, are cheerful and cooperative, who take responsibility for their own learning, and do what is asked of them without complaint. Teachers seem less interested in those who are less forthcoming and prospective. In fact some students may not be quite extrovert or expressive. It is due to their shyness or their cultural or family backgrounds. Sometimes students are reluctant to take part overtly because of their language deficiency. In the light of these facts treating all students equally not only helps to establish and maintain rapport, but is also a mark of professionalism.  According to Mahmuda Yasmin Shaila and Beth Trudell, “To cope up the students’ inactivity and lack of interaction in the classroom, the best way the teacher may apply is to dividing the class into groups. When teachers design group work, they need to introduce the students the simple group work strategies, such as showing that they are listening to the speaker by making eye contact and nodding, and by saying such things as ‘What do you think?’ or ‘I like that idea’ in  between the discussions. These skills are simple but important, as they allow all students an opportunity to effectively participate in group discussion. To enhance the quality of discourse in group work, the teacher should, sometimes, move way from routine activities and exercises that filled time but did not encourage the students to become independent learners.  This entailed carefully choosing activities that can only be accomplished with collaboration and serious conversations, including comparing and contrasting information, summarizing readings, debating and argument essays, composing biographies and autobiographies, conducting interviews, and making presentation”( 2010).
6. Plan ImplementationOn the basis of techniques and skills mentioned above, the teacher was facilitated to adopt new environment to enhance the classroom interaction. First of all, the teacher decreased the intensity of the lecture in the classroom. Instead of the lecture method, he adopted the students centered method. For that he divided the class into the groups and instructed the students about the basic rules of the group work. The group work is the classroom activity which demands the students to involve in the discussion in finding the answers of the questions. Its basic norm is the discussion and collaboration. He, then, tried to remember the names of each student so that they could feel intimacy with the teacher. It took a whole week for him to remember their names successfully. As the teacher’s activities encouraging students’ participation got intensive, the classroom environment got more comfortable. He listened to the students’ minor queries with great importance so that they could feel that he was giving due attention to their problems. He never used oppressive and humiliating language in the classroom since the above plan was launched. Realizing the fact that a student is an independent, creative and talented individual, he provided them the creative environment to express his/her ideas naturally. In the group work he always encouraged the participation of each student for discussion respecting his/her self. 

7. OutcomeIn the eighth week of the term, the class was observed again. A lesson similar to the one in the third week was presented. In the beginning, the teacher read the text aloud, and then he began talking about the text explaining the difficult vocabulary. This went on for about twenty minutes and included general comprehension check questions such as 'do you understand?' and 'are you okay?' as well as specific questions about the text.Regarding general comprehension questions, most of the students nodded in response and a few answered 'yes' to these questions. And it was believed that they did, in fact, understand.With the specific questions, however, something unexpected happened. When the teacher asked a question, he was usually responded with confused-faced stares, as before. But when he moved closer, looked specifically at a student, or pair of students, and repeated the question, the students usually tried to answer. In general, it was noted, the instructor was paying much more attention to the students, moving closer to them, and looking at specific students and trying to make a better connection with them. Instead of asking questions with the feeling that they really weren't going to be answered anyway, as before, the teacher made a greater effort to communicate the questions, and acted as if he expected to get responses.Also, toward the end of the student teacher's talk on the text, two students, without being encouraged from the teacher, asked questions before the class. Although the questions were not related directly to the text, the fact that the questions were asked before the entire class was considered a breakthrough. 
8. Conclusion In the brief span between observations some remarkable improvements were seen. The students interacted with the teacher by nodding and showing gesture in approval; some answered the teacher's questions, and few, on their own initiation, even asked questions before the class several times. Many of them could raise simple questions on the difficult aspects of the text. In the course of discussion, the class seemed a bit noisier but the teacher showed amicable temperament to each student with cooperation and encouragement. On the whole the students became more interactive and initiative in the classroom activities. They seemed more confident and attentive in the subject matter. This action research was basically focused on the students’ improvement, but after having implemented the plan, the improvement on teacher’s performance became more distinct. The unanticipated result of the teacher becoming more concerned with the interaction was a pleasant surprise and contributed to the improvement of him himself. He became softer and friendlier with the students. In total the challenges of teaching English with interaction in the Nepali medium English classroom were covered optimistically. 

Reference
Poudel, Dinesh,2010.A personal interview.oral.Itahari.Nepal.September 20
Helgesen, M. & Brown, S. 1994. Active listening: Building skills for understanding. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. 
Reason, P. & Bradbury, H., (Ed.) 2001.Handbook of Action Research. Participative Inquiry and Practice. 1st Edition. London: Sage. 
Richards, J. C., Platt, J., & Platt, H. 1992. Dictionary of language teaching & applied linguistics (2nd ed.). Essex: Longman.
The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. V, No. 4, April 1999
a href="http://iteslj.org/">http://iteslj.org/ action_ research>
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 Mahmuda Yasmin Shaila and Beth Trudell. 2010. The English Teaching Forum journal,        Volume 48, Number 3,Harmer, Jeremy.2009.

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