EFFECTS OF COMMUNICATIVE APPROACH TO TEACHING ENGLISH TENSES ON STUDENTS’ ABILITY TO WRITE SCIENTIFIC
REPORTS IN PLATEAU STATE POLYTECHNIC, NIGERIA
JESSICA ATONG PINTA
BA Ed., M.Ed. (Jos)
A thesis in the Department of ARTS EDUCATION,
Faculty of Education,
Submitted to the School of Postgraduate Studies,
University of Jos, in partial fulfilment of the
requirements for the award of the degree of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY in ENGLISH
LANGUAGE EDUCATION of the
UNIVERSITY OF JOS
The inability of students to use tenses appropriately and the important role tenses play in scientific writing necessitated the need for this study. In this regard, the study investigated the effects of communicative approach to teaching English tenses on students’ ability to write scientific reports in Plateau State Polytechnic. The objectives of the study were to determine the extent to which the students would able to use appropriate tenses to write scientific reports and present scientific information in the passive voice and to find out if teaching them using the communicative approach would improve their ability to use appropriate tenses. Four research questions and eight hypotheses guided the study. Population of the study was 896 National Diploma One (ND1) students of the School of Science and Technology and School of Engineering of Plateau State Polytechnic in the 2013/2014 academic session. A sample of 104 students was drawn from seven out of the thirteen departments in the two schools. Pre-test Post-test experimental research design was used to carry out the study. A test known as the English Tenses Achievement Test (ETAT) was used for data collection. The validity of the instrument was determined by four experts. For reliability, the instrument was subjected to a pilot test. Using the Split Half Reliability method, results obtained were correlated using the Cronbach alpha statistical method. Reliability index of the instrument was 0.86. Percentage, mean scores and t-test were used in analysing data collected. The results of the study showed that the students had a low ability to use appropriate tenses to write scientific reports and present scientific information in the passive voice. However, the students’ ability improved significantly with Communicative Language Teaching as they recorded a mean score of 81 in their ability to use appropriate tenses to write scientific reports as opposed to an initial mean score of 46. On ability to present scientific information in the passive voice, the students obtained a mean score of 15 in the Pre-test and 33 in the Post-test. These findings are significant and demonstrate that there are challenges in learning the perfect tenses and the passive voice. It was recommended that English tenses should not be taught in isolation but within a communicative context to provide meaning. Also, while teaching individual tenses, other related tenses should be introduced in order to show similarity and contrast.
1.1 BACKGROUND TO THE STUDY
Students of science and technology are engaged in carrying out different tasks using language. They among others, describe experimental procedures, events, processes, or objects. They are equally engaged in reporting results and conclusions of experiments. The critical language element that is used to convey these tasks is the verb. The verb is what makes the sense of a sentence complete and it has tense and voice as its property.
In addition to the tasks the students are engaged in carrying out using language, scientific writings or technical reports follow a specific format meant to present information that is clear, accurate, concise and factual. In particular, science and technology reports are characterized by exactness, precision impersonal use of language and brevity. For this reason, the students need to be able to use language elements that will not only help them carry out their various tasks, but also help them in presenting information that is clear, exact and impersonal.
Among the language elements that express exactness particularly of time sense and impersonal use of language, are tense and the passive voice. Tense and voice go hand in hand and are dominant features of the English verb which is an obligatory element in a sentence. In addition, tenses are grammatical items that are needed in order to master different text types (Richards, 2006). Besides, the simple present, the simple past and present perfect account for approximately 80 percent of the verb tense used in academic writing (Writing Center 2014). In addition, tense choice is the communicative repertoire of scientific writers which they use to create and communicate information and which is responsive to the rhetorical demands of communicating about science (Liddicoat, 2004). Tenses identified as commonly used in science and technology are simple present and simple past tense.
In science and technology, the actor is not as important as the situation or the thing being acted upon as such, the passive voice is predominantly used. Wrong use of tenses and voice can create ambiguity. This is unacceptable and can trigger serious reactions or even criticisms. This is because tenses have both temporal and rhetoric functions as such, a reader of a scientific write up or a listener of scientific discourse can infer context from the way tenses are used. Without a proper understanding of how to use the tenses, information will be presented wrongly and there will be difficulty in distinguishing between an author’s own opinion and what is accepted in scientific knowledge as universal truth.
Despite the demand for students to properly master the use of tenses and the passive voice, students have, according to research (Murthy, 2007) and practical classroom experience of the researcher, continued to demonstrate difficulty in the use of tenses both in the active and passive voice. This is not unconnected with ambivalent rule application in the use of tenses. Difficulty encountered is also because of the various morphological forms of the English verb which renders some as regular and others as irregular (Aje, 2009). In the case of the passive voice, problems arise because of the subversion of the normal reader expectation that fits the common English order of subject, verb and object (Murthy, 2007). In addition to this, is poor teaching methodology (Aje, 2009).
Demonstrating an understanding of the use of tenses or the passive voice is not enough for the students to develop fluency in a language. However, developing students’ mastery of language elements that the students encounter difficulty in using can contribute to the overall development of language. What the students need to be able to do with language elements is to know how, when, where, why to use them and which one to use at particular instances.
Consequently, channelling language instruction to meet the need of the students will be of immense benefit to them. This is in line with the aim of the Use of English course in Nigerian polytechnics as spelt out by the National Board for Technical Education. The National Curriculum of the Use of English course in Nigerian polytechnics explained that the course is meant to have the learners use the language in meaningful communication. This is what communicative competence is all about.
The language course for students of polytechnics is meant to provide the students with necessary skills which will enable them to cope with the challenges of their courses and be able to use grammar items in their everyday communication (NBTE, 2004). However, from the course syllabus, tenses and other language items are supposed to be taught communicatively based on the goal of the language class but there is inconsistency between the approach being used and the course syllabus. This is in addition to the fact that the language course syllabus is general and does not address specific needs of the students.
Achieving communicative competence is the aim of every language instruction no matter the approach used in the instruction. This then implies that language taught using the Communicative Approach and other approaches like the Structural Approach is expected to develop the communicative competence of the learners. It is therefore of great importance to language teaching pedagogy that ways of developing communicative competence in the students regardless of the language element being taught should be sought and adopted for use in the classroom. This is not to say that there is a single approach that is considered most appropriate, as all approaches have a place in language teaching and learning pedagogy.
The Communicative Approach is considered for use in this study because it is one of the language teaching approaches that emerged as a result of criticisms of the traditional and structural approaches which were earlier used. In addition, studies have shown that the Communicative Approach sees language learning as holistic as such, knowledge of grammatical system as well as performance is necessary (DeKeyser, 2001). Also, proponents of the Communicative Approach say that it has been discovered to be an innovative approach in developing language skills in students in both English as a second language (ESL) and English as a foreign language (EFL) settings (Incecay & Incecay, 2009; Xiao, 2011).
Though the Communicative Approach is basically a fluency development approach, competence in the use of tenses and the passive voice which is an accuracy skill plays an important role in the overall communication process. Teachers have observed that communication especially in a second language is difficult for students with low grammatical competence even though they are equally quick to observe that higher grammatical competence does not necessarily guarantee better communication in the target language (Lee & Wang, 2002). Moreover, research is inconclusive as to whether the Communicative Approach is more effective than other approaches, especially in the teaching of tenses in relation to scientific report writing, hence the need for more investigation.