Hong Kong students are found less motivated and less ready to learn English autonomously; they relied heavily on their teachers to decide what to learn and how to learn in each lesson. (Chan, Spratt & Humphrey, 2002). Like many English teachers in Hong Kong, the teachers at Kit Sam Lam Bing Yim Secondary School wish to strengthen student engagement in learning English too. It is hoped that through participating in this project, the teachers would be equipped with the knowledge and skill to help their students to shoulder more responsibility in learning English and speak more confidently in the classroom.
Having been introduced to and convinced of the benefits of discovery learning, which fosters acquiring knowledge from active hands-on participation instead of lectures (Dewey, 1997; Piaget, 1954, 1973), School Development Officer (SDO) of QSIP and teachers worked together to redesign the learning and teaching process based on such a pedagogical model. In the design of classroom activities, priority was placed on providing students with the opportunities to create, integrate, and generalize knowledge through exploring and problem-solving (Bicknell-Holmes & Hoffman, 2000). Students are encouraged to think, ask questions, hypothesize, cooperate and collaborate with others during the learning process and develop confidence in learning English more autonomously.
Level: Secondary 3
Topic: Film Reviews
- Adjustable learning content
- Enhance learning interest and prior knowledge
- Tiered learning materials
- Contingent scaffolding
1. Adjustable teaching content
- Rewrite learning objectives using student-friendly language, make them as explicit as possible
2. Enhance learning interest and prior knowledge
- Connect what students already know with new knowledge
- Write questions to steer students learning and facilitate knowledge construction
For example: Before assigning students to read and learn about the text-type features of a film review, the teacher made use of students’ experience of reading (even writing) restaurant reviews to stimulate students to discover the purpose, audience and the content of a restaurant review.
After recalling students’ knowledge of a restaurant review, students were invited to (1) predict the components of a film review, (2) assess their prediction by reading two films reviews, (3) generalize the components came across, (4) discuss their findings with their classmates and (5) present the knowledge they gained.
3. Tiered learning materials
- The same task aiming at practising discovery learning was assigned to students of both the upper (A, B) and lower (C, D) divisions using differentiated materials
Reading materials for the lower divisions:
1 review from textbook + 1 review of a recent and popular film adapted from authentic materials displaying only the basic text features written with simple compound sentences and low-level vocabulary.
Reading materials for the upper divisions:
1 review from textbook + 1 review of a recent and popular film adapted from authentic materials displaying the key text features written with a wider range of sentence patterns and high-level vocabulary.
Students were invited to read 2 film reviews to discover the text type features on their own instead of passively receiving the information from their teachers.
4. Contingent scaffolding
- Assisting students in coping with the speaking tasks by ensuring they have sufficient language knowledge to present their thoughts and discovery verbally
- Enrich students’ knowledge of film words. Invite students to tell the names, films, genres, cast and crews using movie posters
- Provide useful expressions, common phrases and speech models to build students’ confidence to speak
For example, the students were taught explicitly what to say to justify a common feature located in the two film reviews.
In general, student participation in class increased when the learning process was specially designed to empower the students to read, think, ask questions, hypothesize and collaborate with others. New knowledge was better retained.
The students were discussing their findings before presenting the knowledge they discovered.
The students had mixed feelings about discovery learning. On the one hand, some students felt anxious about shouldering more learning responsibilities on their own. On the other hand, most of the students felt a considerable sense of achievement learning with the materials carefully designed to facilitate knowledge discovery and presentation. The system of “Value practice! Value mistakes!” was therefore emphasized during the process of learning and teaching:
- Value practice: Avoid urging students to complete a task or disclosing the answers too soon
- Value mistakes: Students’ mistakes reveal their learning problems/ misunderstanding. Teachers should value mistakes, and so should the students! Tell students NOT to rub off their first trial. Guide students to write down NOT JUST the correct answers, but ‘skill notes’ that explain how to get the right answers
Under the system of “Value practice! Value mistakes!”, it was hoped that every student could have experienced some sense of success during the lessons, especially when an imperfect answer is viewed as a sign of student effort, even a learning resource. It is believed that this is one of the ways how students’ confidence in learning English is boosted, and hopefully, such a little sense of success would stimulate them to seek further success.
A student was able to identify the target film review components though failed to presented it using the right words. Her engagement and effort should be rated highly!
Chan, V., Spratt, M., & Humphreys, G. (2002). Autonomous language learning: Hong Kong tertiary students’ attitudes and behaviours. Evaluation and Research Education, 16(1), 1-18.
Bicknell-Holmes, T., & Hoffman, P. (2000). Engage, Elicit, Experience, Explore: Applying Discovery Learning to Library Instruction.
Dewey, J. (1997). Democracy and education. New York: Simon and Schuster. (Original work published 1916)
Piaget, J. (1954). Construction of reality in the child. New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, J. (1973). To understand is to invent. New York: Grossman.