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Making English Remedial Instruction Work for Low-Achieving Students: An Empirical Study

Making English Remedial Instruction Work for Low-Achieving Students: An Empirical Study
Chiu-Ping Huang Department of Applied Foreign Languages Lunghwa University of Science and Technology chiuping@mail.lhu.edu.tw Abstract
The purpose of the study is to examine the effects of an English remedial instruction on low-achieving students using a self-developed English textbook and with the intervention of teaching assistants. Participants were 30 low English proficiency students, who attended a five-week intensive English remedial course. Data were collected through the assessment of grammar and vocabulary, and a questionnaire. A paired t test using the Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) was conducted to analyze the pre- and post-tests and the survey data. The results of this study show that this English remedial instruction is effective and beneficial to low English achievers as students made a significant progress in grammar and vocabulary learning and they self-perceived improvement in their overall English competence. The self-developed textbook met students needs and the intervention of teaching assistants was effective in terms of assisting their pronunciation and fluency. Ultimately, students learning motivation was moderately enhanced. EFL teachers can teach effectively for low-achieving students by designing suitable materials and involving teaching assistants and perhaps applying some alternative innovative approaches.

Keywords: remedial instruction, low- achieving students, teaching assistant I. Introduction

Under the trend of globalization, English has become the international language that links the whole world together. For an individual, having adequate English competence is not only the basic requirement for pursuing careers or job promotions, but also a means of obtaining latest knowledge and expanding horizons. For a nation, the English competence of its people has a great influence to its competitive advantage. The importance of English has received great attention from the government of Taiwan and a variety of projects have been supported to enhance students' English abilities, especially university students. One of the main goals in the 2005-2008 Education Policies issued by the Ministry of Education (MOE) is to promote the passing rates of English proficiency tests in technological universities. To comply with the policy and to enhance students competitiveness in their future career or study, Lunghwa University of Science and Technology (LHU) started to implement the graduation threshold of 167


English competency in 2006, which specified that the non-English major students should pass one of the standardized English proficiency tests equivalent to the General English Proficiency Test (GEPT) elementary level, while the English major students the GEPT intermediate level. Setting up the graduation threshold of English competency is a great challenge to the schools administrators as well as English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers. This is because the majority of students at technological universities come from vocational high schools, where professional skills are much more emphasized than English language training. These students take two hours of English class every week, which is believed to be the main reason that leads to their weak English competence (Hong, 2009). After attending universities, they face the problem of passing one of the English proficiency tests to fulfill the graduation requirement and they also realize the importance of English competence on their future careers. However, many of the students, especially the low proficiency students, expressed that although they would like to enhance their English level, they could not find an effective way to do so. Even though the course of Freshman English caters to different levels of students, the limited class time and the large number of students in class make it difficult to serve individual needs. Further, the textbooks designed for college students are far beyond the low achieving students level. Thus, some of the students are unable to comprehend the materials in class and even end up giving up the learning opportunities. To ensure these students not to be left behind, additional support such as remedial instruction is necessary and effective (Sheu, Hsu, & Wang, 2007; Yu, 2008). The goal of remedial instruction is to provide low-achieving students with more chances to reinforce the basic knowledge in common subjects so that they can meet minimum academic standards. With the financial support of the MOE, LHU started to provide English remedial courses in 2006. After implementing the courses, problems such as the appropriateness of the teaching materials, big class size, and the psychological barriers students brought to the class emerged. Teachers of the Department of Applied Foreign Languages started to think about how to tailor instruction to students needs. The first thing they came up with was to develop teaching materials suitable for the low English proficiency students. To examine the appropriateness of the self-developed English textbook (Jan et al., 2009) and to find out effective pedagogical approaches to work with the low-achieving students, the author conducted a study in the summer of 2009. The purpose of this study aims to explore the effects of an English remedial instruction on low-achieving students English performance. In this remedial course, a self-developed textbook was employed to teach low-achieving students with the intervention of teaching assistants to cater for students individual learning needs. Based on the purpose of this study, four research questions are addressed: 1. Does this English remedial instruction improve students basic English skills? 2. What are students perceptions toward the self-developed textbook designed specifically for low English achievers? 168

Making English Remedial Instruction Work for Low-Achieving Students: An Empirical Study

3. Does this English remedial instruction enhance students learning motivation? 4. What are students perceptions toward the intervention of the teaching assistants?

2. Literature review
2.1 Definition of remedial instruction Basically, remedial instruction is a type of clinical teaching. It is a spiral process of assessmentinstructionre-assessment (Tseng, 2008, p.9). The subjects are targeted at low achievement learners, or under-prepared students. After the teacher diagnoses students learning difficulties, a remedial course will be designed in accordance with students needs. And then the teacher takes initiative in offering the instruction, and an evaluation will be conducted during and after the implementation of the remedial instruction to examine the actual effectiveness of the course. Minor adjustments would be made based on the results of the evaluation to ensure that students are able to catch up in regular classes. 2.2 The need for remedial instruction Remedial instruction is designed to help students who fall behind academically to catch up to a desired level. It has become an indispensable component of higher education in countries such as the United States, Canada, or Japan (Zhang, Shou, & Ishino, 2008, p.331). As universities are more available to high school graduates, the demand for students basic academic abilities has been lowered in admission. After entering the universities, some of the students encounter great difficulties comprehending lectures as they lack the required academic knowledge to manage college-level work (Attewell, Lavin, Domina, & Levey, 2006). Thus, remedial programs are provided to help these students compensate for the insufficient learning in previous academic settings so that they can gain the skills necessary to complete college-level courses and academic programs successfully (Weissman, Silk, & Bulakowski, 1997, cited in Zhai & Skerl, 2001, p.1). 2.3 Types of remedial programs Remedial programs are usually offered during normal school hours; however, more and more schools offer after-school and summer-school programs. Programs implemented after school or in summer are reported to be more successful as students do not have to miss the normal classroom instruction while attending the remedial course (Allington & Bennett, 2009). In addition, the intensive program can bring students up to speed quickly. Based on the teaching materials and curriculum design, remedial programs include the following types: compensatory program, supplemental program, tutorial program, adaptive program, basic skills program, and learning strategies training program (Tu, 1993). The compensatory program provides necessary services to at-risk students who are from disadvantaged backgrounds to help them overcome learning problems and increase academic achievement. It also requires the involvement of school staff and parents (Chang, 2001). The supplemental program is a support program that aims to help students master content-oriented materials, improve study skills or test-taking strategies tailored to the specific needs of a class. As for the tutorial program, Niedermeyer and Ellis (1971) maintained that when learning 169


tasks require a great deal of practice, trained tutors can be effective (p.400). The higher-achieving tutors can offer extra explanation and practices to the underachieving students and meanwhile reduce teachers workload. In the adaptive program, the teacher uses alternative instructional strategies and resources to meet the learning needs of individual students for them to effectively master basic skills in academic subjects (Wang, 1980). The teacher could choose different teaching materials or even compile materials that appeal to students' interest and learning level. Alternative evaluation methods, rather than traditional paper and pencil tests, could be used to measure students achievement. In the basic skills program, the instruction focuses on teaching students to acquire the basic skills required in certain subjects so that they can academically prepare for college-level work. With respect to the learning strategies training program, it aims to help students become more effective and efficient learners by teaching them thinking, learning and self-management strategies. 2.4 Empirical studies related to remedial instruction In the United States, remedial education has maintained a constant presence at colleges and universities. It is estimated that 98% of 2-year public colleges and 80% of 4-year public institutions offered remedial courses (Boyer, Butner, & Smith, 2007). Several studies examining the remedial programs demonstrated their positive effects on students success in college. Zhai & Skerl (2001) investigated the impact of remedial English courses on students college-level coursework performance and persistence. Students whose SAT verbal scores or performance on a placement test did not reach the required level would be placed in a remedial composition course. The results indicated that the remedial course prepared students effectively for regular English classes and supported students' overall academic success as measured by retention and graduation rates. Aragon (2004) examined the influence of a community college remedial writing course on academic performance. The results showed that the participants had significantly higher cumulative grade point averages and higher English 101 grades than those nonparticipants. Leake & Lesik (2007) used the regression discontinuity design to examine the impact of remedial English programs on first-year success in college. The programs focused on teaching sentence and paragraph formation and the development of the coherent essay. The result demonstrated that English remedial program could increase first-year GPA. Students who were assigned to the remedial program obtained higher GPA compared to equivalent students who did not participate in the program. Providing remedial courses are prevalent among elementary and junior high schools in Taiwan. In recent years; however, it has received increasing attention in higher education, too. A study conducted by Lin and Su (2003) showed that 72.8% of the technological university students think English remedial courses are necessary, and an overwhelming 92% of students believe that the remedial courses will be able to improve their English proficiency and learning attitude. Sheu, Hsu, & Wang (2007) examined the effects of an English remedial course on low proficiency first-year students. The eight-week course focused on pronunciation, basic grammar, and analysis of sentence structure. Results showed that the experimental group performed significantly better in the final exam, compared with the 170

Making English Remedial Instruction Work for Low-Achieving Students: An Empirical Study

control group. The experimental group self-reported an improvement in their basic skills in English and had highly positive attitudes toward the remedial course. Also, their motivation and confidence were enhanced. Huang (2009) investigated the possibility of applying task-based method to implement English remedial instruction in normal class hours. The content of the remedial instruction consisted of basic vocabulary, grammar, and eight reading articles for self-studying. The participants were four classes of freshmen at a technological university. Results indicated that those who participated in the remedial course obtained higher scores on the reading and listening sections of GEPT elementary level and their learning motivation was promoted. Except for the in-class instruction, there are web-based remedial programs. Yu (2008) designed an online remedial course for 487 low level freshmen at a university. These students were required to engage in online learning for 2-3 hours per week. The content consisted of grammar, reading, listening, and sentence pattern practice. Other than that, there was one teaching assistant (TA) assigned to each class to review the students learning process and hold a face-to-face meeting to assist those who needed individual help. The results showed that the participants had positive attitude toward the program. They made great progress on their final English grades. Seventy percent of them suggested that the program should be offered to help the freshmen on English learning and 71% of them expressed that the TAs were able to provide proper support. Findings of the previous studies showed the demands and effectiveness of providing remedial instruction to students with limited academic skills. It is desirable to implement a well-designed remedial course for the struggling students to work at the level they are truly on. Hopefully, they can acquire the skills and subsequently complete their degrees successfully.

3. Method
3.1 Participants The participants in this study were 30 non-English major students (6 females, 24 males) at LHU. The main reason for these students to attend this course was that they had failed their regular English class. And none of them have passed the graduation threshold of English competency. 3.2 Instruments Both pre-course tests and post-course tests on grammar and vocabulary were held and the same sets of questions were used in order to find out the improvement of students performance. The question types on the grammar pre- and post-tests included sentence pattern identification, multiple choice, sentence rewriting, and mistake correction. For the vocabulary pre- and post-tests, there were one hundred test questions, including dictation, translation from English to Chinese and Chinese to English, and filling in the missing words to complete sentences. A self-report questionnaire consisting of 30 questions measured on a five point Likert scale was used to explore the effectiveness of the remedial instruction on improving students 171


basic English skills (questions 1-14), students perceptions toward the self-developed English textbooks (questions 15-18), the enhancement of English learning motivation (questions 19-24), and the intervention of the teaching assistants (questions 25-30). 3.3 Implementation This study employed a pedagogical approach that combined three types of remedial instruction: the basic skills instruction (teaching the basic element of language: vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation), the adaptive instruction (using the self-developed materials), and the tutoring instruction (having three TAs to tutor students). Students met two days a week, four hours a day. The total instructional time was 36 hours. 3.3.1. The basic skills instruction In each meeting, two hours were allocated to grammar study, one hour to reading, and one hour to pronunciation practice and vocabulary study. Grammar lessons. The time allotted to grammar lessons was longer than the other two lessons reading and pronunciation and vocabulary. The reason behind this design is that grammar serves as a crucial part of English learning for these students. Often times, incorrect grammar may result in misunderstanding or inability to convey ones true thoughts. Therefore, more time was allocated to strengthen and develop students grammatical foundation. Hopefully, students could become familiar with basic grammar rules and further apply them to analyze and translate sentences and express themselves clearly. Practice opportunities were provided in class with mechanical, meaningful, and communicative drill activities to avoid rote learning which usually leads to loss of interest among students and ineffectiveness of the lessons. Pronunciation lessons. The pronunciation lessons aim to help students acquire phonics skills and to raise their phonological awareness. Students were taught letter-sound correspondences, synthesis and segmentation. In addition, K. K. phonetic symbols, word stress, sentence stress, and intonation were also emphasized. Students learned to apply the phonics rules to pronounce or spell out the words. They practice pronunciation through pronouncing words and reading the texts in groups and individually. With the help of the TAs, students could receive immediate feedback if mispronunciation happened. Vocabulary lessons. The time spent on vocabulary study was about 20 minutes each meeting. First, the teacher briefly referred to the phonics rules and showed students to use the rules and patterns to decode or encode words. Next students repeated the words after the TAs again and again in groups. Then they read the words individually to the TAs who would correct the mispronounced words. These activities aimed to help students get better word retention as they had to memorize 100 words each time they came to class and took a quiz. It was hoped that the intensive word study could expand students vocabulary size within a short time and served as a scaffold for comprehension. Reading lessons. Three articles, from Global Eyes, Book 1, (published by Live ABC) The amazing koala, Basketball fever, and Chien-Ming Wang: A humble hero, were selected for their high interest level. Reasons for implementing reading lessons were to reinforce 172

Making English Remedial Instruction Work for Low-Achieving Students: An Empirical Study

students' grammar knowledge and to build fluency. Students were encouraged to apply the learned grammar rules to analyze the sentence structures in the articles and further translate the sentences by themselves. Activities such as substitution drills and sentence making were used to help students master sentence patterns. In addition, repeated reading was employed to let students apply the phonics skills to new texts and eventually develop reading fluency. In the present study, three short selections from each reading text were marked off for practice. Each section is about 50-60 words. First, students repeated after teacher modeling. Then under the guidance of the TAs, students read the selection several times in groups until they could read with a degree of automaticity. After that, each student read the selection to a TA, who gave immediate feedback on mispronunciation or intonation. After students had mastered one passage, they went on to the next section. In doing so, students could practice their pronunciation and fluency in English, and they would be able to comprehend and memorize the contents better as well. Also, being able to read fluently made students feel successful and empowered. 3.3.2 The self-developed textbook The textbook developed by teachers of the Department of Applied Foreign Languages of LHU is made up of twenty units, designed specifically for low English achievers to build up basic English skills. Each unit contains three parts: grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. The grammar part consists of grammar explanations followed by exercise practice so that students can master the grammar they are learning. The pronunciation section focuses on phonics instruction to help students learn to read the printed words, spell when hearing the sound and also increase vocabulary retention. With regard to the vocabulary part, each unit has about fifty to sixty words from the basic 1200 word list, followed by exercises to help students acquire the basic vocabulary. A CD is accompanied to allow students to strengthen pronunciation and vocabulary learning. 3.3.3 The teaching assistants In addition to the course instructor, three TAs majoring in English were assigned to be responsible for one-to-one or small group tutoring. These TAs were selected because of their overall academic performance (average overall scores must be over 80), good command of English (pass GEPT intermediate level), and having English teaching knowledge and techniques. It was hoped that they could act as a better support to help students and fulfill their needs of extra tutoring, while minimizing the pressures students might feel when speaking with the instructor or asking questions during classes. To ensure that these TAs fulfill their duties, the instructor met with them before the course began to let them know what their roles were in the class and what they needed to do. The teaching materials were given in advance so that they could prepare and be able to guide students learning or answer any questions students might have. The three TAs arrived an hour prior to class time to tutor individual students and answer questions, and they continued to stay in the classroom to help pronunciation and fluency training and answer students problems on grammar while doing the practice activities. 173


3.4 Data Analysis The reliability of the questionnaire was confirmed by a Cronbachs alpha coefficient of 0.96, so the questionnaire proved to be a valid instrument. A paired t test using the Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS) Window version 13.0 was conducted to analyze the preand post-tests and the survey data. The pre- and post-tests involve testing the progress of vocabulary and grammar. Descriptive statistics such as mean, standard deviation, frequency and percentage will be reported.

4. Results and discussion

Research question 1 will be answered through the results of the grammar and vocabulary pre- / post-tests as well as the results of the questionnaire with regard to students' perspectives toward the improvement of their basic English skills. Research questions 2, 3, and 4 will be answered based on the results of the questionnaire from items 15 to 30. 4. 1Research question 1: Does this English remedial instruction improve students basic English skills? 4.1.1 Results of the grammar and vocabulary pre-/post-tests To examine if students scores before and after the remedial instruction were statistically significant, paired t test was conducted to analyze the test results. The results of the paired t test (shown in Table 1) indicate significant differences between the grammar pre-test and post-test (p=0.000) and between the vocabulary pre-test and post-test (p=0.000). Students progress can be seen from the statistics presented in Table 2. The mean of the grammar post-test score (M=64.17) is higher than that of the pre-test score (M=20.83). The mean of the vocabulary test score after the remedial instruction (M=42.43) is higher than before the instruction (M=18). The result shows a significantly great level of progress. Table 1 Results of Paired t Test
Paired Differences 95% Confidence Interval of the Difference Std. Deviation 12.890 Std. Error Mean 2.353 Sig. (2-tailed) .000***

Mean Grammar pre-test/ post-test Vocabulary pre-test/ post-test -43.333

Lower -48.147

Upper -38.520

t -18.413

df 29









*p0.05 **p0.01 ***p0.001


Making English Remedial Instruction Work for Low-Achieving Students: An Empirical Study

Table 2 Mean Scores and Standard Deviations of Grammar and Vocabulary Test Results before and after the Remedial Instruction
Mean Grammar Grammar pre-test Grammar post-test Vocabulary Vocabulary pre-test Vocabulary post-test 20.83 64.17 18.00 42.43 N 30 30 30 30 Std. Deviation 12.720 12.906 16.171 19.939 Std. Error Mean 2.322 2.356 2.953 3.640

As mentioned above, the question types on both grammar and vocabulary tests were not just multiple choice questions. Students had to write and correct sentences and spell out words to demonstrate that they really internalized what theyve learned instead of mere guessing. Most of the low achieving students were afraid to ask questions in front of others and their problems were often neglected. In the present study, the teacher encouraged students to ask questions and gave enough time for them to reflect and practice what theyve learned. Besides, the quiz given after completing each grammar unit also helped the teacher identify students learning difficulties. Being able to receive individual attention and obtain immediate feedback is essential to their effective learning. The results prove that this five-week intensive remedial instruction is beneficial to low-achieving students and can significantly improve their vocabulary and grammar performance. 4.1.2 Students perspectives toward the improvement of their basic English skills Overall, students were positive toward the improvement of their basic English skills. Most students (79.3%) agreed that this remedial course helped improve their overall English competence (item 1). Examining the results of the questionnaire, it was found that students were most satisfied with grammar study, which resulted in the higher percentage of 86.2%, followed by a considered high percentage of satisfaction of 72.4% in both vocabulary study and pronunciation study. The results of each individual section will be discussed further in detail below. Grammar Study. Table 3 shows that in the grammar study section, there is an overwhelmingly 93.1% of students who agreed that the instructor clarified some confusing grammatical concepts for them. Most students agreed that the grammar lessons helped them understand the rules of sentence structures (86.25%) and improve their grammatical concepts (85.9%). In addition, it helped them understand the reading texts (82.8%), and allowed them to understand how to form correct English sentences (82.7%). In the grammar lessons, various activities were arranged for students to apply grammar rules in real contexts, rather than just sitting there listening to the lectures. Being able to move around the classroom and communicate with classmates prevent the issue of having only single sided input by the instructor and students losing their concentration during class. Moreover, it also strengthens their grammatical concepts and activates their memory. Thus, it is important for teachers to create a learner-centered environment so that students could 175


actively engage in the learning process and result in positive production. Table 3 The Results of Grammar Study
Item Strongly agree 1. This remedial course helped improve my overall English 41.4% 44.8% 13.8% 0% Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree 0%

competence. 2. The grammar lessons helped me improve my grammatical concepts. 3. The instructor clarified my 48.3% 44.8% 6.9% 0% 0% 41.4% 44.8% 13.8% 0% 0%

confusion on some grammatical concepts. 4. The grammar lessons helped me understand the rules of sentence structures. 5. The grammar lessons helped me comprehend the reading texts. 6. The grammar lessons helped me understand how to form correct English sentences. 37.9% 44.8% 17.2% 0% 0% 27.6% 55.2% 17.2% 0% 0% 37.9% 48.3% 13.8% 0% 0%

Vocabulary study. As seen from Table 4, most students agreed that putting effort on memorizing vocabulary helped them improve their English proficiency (75.9%). And a similar high percentage of students agreed that it helped them expand their vocabulary size (75.8%), followed by a slightly lower percentage of students who thought having the vocabulary knowledge helped them comprehend the reading texts (65.5%). The results indicate that intensive vocabulary study can effectively expand students basic vocabulary size within a short time and that having adequate vocabulary knowledge can improve English performance. Though some students expressed that they did not have much time memorizing the words due to summer part-time jobs or the words to memorize were too many and it was easy to confuse some words with others. Despite the complaints from students, the test scores still showed that many of the students indeed worked hard trying to improve their English proficiency. The low-achieving students are often thought to show less intended efforts in learning. But the results revealed that given systematic guidance, these students would work hard trying to achieve the goal. Teachers of remedial class should not underestimate low-achieving students potential in language learning. Setting up enabling goals with supportive attitude toward students can make a difference for them. 176

Making English Remedial Instruction Work for Low-Achieving Students: An Empirical Study

Table 4 The Results of Vocabulary Study

Item 7. Memorizing vocabulary helped me expand my vocabulary size. 8. It helped me comprehend the reading texts. 9. It helped me improve my English proficiency. 34.5% 41.4% 24.1% 0% 0% 31% 34.5% 31% 3.4% 0% Strongly agree 24.1% 51.7% 20.7% 3.4% Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree 0%

Pronunciation study. Table 5 shows the results of the pronunciation study. Most of the students agreed that repeated reading helped them improve their pronunciation (82.7%), improve reading fluency (79.3%), and be more confident to read in front of others (62.1%). Students also agreed that learning phonics helped them effectively memorize vocabulary (72.4%), and learning K. K. phonetic symbols helped them pronounce correctly (65.5%). From classroom observation, it was found that students were very concentrated and pleasant while practicing the pronunciation. And due to options of group and individual practices, some students who were hesitant or uncomfortable to read in front of others at the beginning were able to read without fear afterwards. The results indicate that except teaching phonics rules, repeated reading plays a vital role in improving pronunciation and fluency. This result is in line with Staudts suggestion (2009) that combining phonics training with repeated reading would likely maximize the students chances to become fluent readers (p.144). The method of integrating word recognition, accuracy, and fluency brought students a more enjoyable learning experience and effective output. Table 5 The Results of Pronunciation Study
Item 10. Repeated reading helped me improve my pronunciation. 11. Repeated reading helped me improve my reading fluency. 12. Repeated reading helped me be more confident to read in front of others. 13. Learning phonics helped me memorize vocabulary. 14. Learning K.K. phonetic symbols helped me pronounce correctly. 37.9% 27.6% 34.5% 0% 0% 31% 41.4% 27.6% 0% 0% 34.5% 27.6% 34.5% 0% 0% 48.3% 31% 20.7% 0% 0% Strongly agree 51.7% 31% 17.2% 0% Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree 0%



4.2 Research question 2: What are students perceptions toward the self-developed textbook designed specifically for low English achievers? Overall, students were satisfied with the self-developed textbook (shown in Table 6). There were 79.3% of students who agreed that the textbook gave clear explanation on grammar rules and the contents met their needs, 68.9% of the students agreed that the difficulty level of the textbook was appropriate, and 65.5% of the students agreed the layout of the textbook was easy and comfortable to read. The commercial textbooks used in previous remedial courses at LHU were grammar books with comprehensive content. However, the teachers were often behind schedule and must rush to finish, which often frustrated both teachers and students. Hence, while developing the textbook, the teacher writers tried to include proper amount of the content for the basic and important concepts to be finished within four hours for each unit. Except for the explanation of the basic concepts, students have enough time for classroom activities, reflection, and doing exercises. In this way, students would not complain about the inaccessibility of the textbook. The results reveal the importance of designing a suitable textbook to meet students learning level and needs, which in turn can contribute to a successful learning experience. Table 6 Students Views on the Self-developed Textbook
Item 15. The difficulty level of the Strongly agree 24.1% 31% 24.1% 31% 44.8% 48.3% 41.4% 48.3% 31% 20.7% 34.5% 17.2% 0% 0% 0% 3.4% self-developed textbook is appropriate. 16. The textbook gives clear explanation on grammar rules. 17. The layout of the textbook is easy and comfortable to read. 18. The contents of the textbook meet my needs. 0% 0% 0% Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree 0%

4.3 Research Question 3: Does this English remedial instruction enhance students learning motivation? The average percentage of agreement in this section is 48.5%, which is much lower than the other three sections. However, the results from Table 7 show that over half of the students agreed they became more confident and more likely to speak English after attending this program (58.6%), they were likely to continue improving their English proficiency in the future (51.7%) and they would put more efforts in learning English (51.7%). Some findings that are worthy highlighting are nearly half of the students chose the neutral response on almost every statement in this section except item 24. Up to 65.6% of the students chose the neutral response on item 21: I would be self-motivated to learn English after attending this 178

Making English Remedial Instruction Work for Low-Achieving Students: An Empirical Study

program, 58.6% on item 19: I am willing to spend more time learning English in the future, 44.8% on items 20 and 23: I would like to continue improving my English proficiency and I will put more efforts in learning English. The results that nearly half of the students chose the neutral responses imply that these students were reluctant to express their opinions and thus gave an evasive answer. The findings revealed that most of the students were still passive learners when it came to English learning. The result is contrary to Sheu, Hsu, and Wangs study (2007), in which up to 87%-91% of students expressed enhancement in English learning motivation, interest and confidence after an eight week remedial course. The most likely explanation is that the participants in their study joined the program voluntarily, which implies that students desire to learn is a key factor to high learning motivation. As the authors put it, strong motivation, positive self-efficacy, and effective learning efforts ...lead to increased academic improvement and the feelings of progress, which in turn enhance motivation and facilitate further effort (p.28). The students in the present study took the remedial course to fulfill English requirement; they did not come to the class out of their own willingness to improve English. Also, the duration of the remedial course may be another influencing factor. As it was a five-week intensive course, students attended the course four hours each meeting and took quizzes each time. The tight schedule was sure to cause pressure and anxiety for some students, which in turn would decrease their learning motivation. Though students English learning motivation was somewhat promoted during the learning process, how to help increase and sustain it is an issue that deserves further exploration. Table 7 Results of Learning Motivation
Item 19. I am willing to spend more time learning English in the future after attending this program. 20. I would like to continue improving my English proficiency after attending this program. 21. I would be self-motivated to learn English after attending this program. 22. I would be more likely to speak English after attending this program. 23. I will put more efforts in learning English after attending this program. 24. I feel more confident after attending this program. 17.2% 41.4% 24.1% 13.8% 3.4% 13.8% 37.9% 44.8% 3.4% 0% 24.1% 34.5% 41.4% 0% 0% 10.3% 17.2% 65.5% 6.9% 0% 20.7% 31% 44.8% 3.4% 0% Strongly agree 13.8% 27.6% 58.6% 0.% Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree 0%



4.4 Research question 4: What are students perceptions toward the intervention of the teaching assistants? Students were very satisfied with the help of these TAs (see Table 8). Almost all of the students agreed that TAs helped them pronounce correctly (93.1%) or speak more fluently (89.7%). And most students also agreed that this type of remedial program should include TAs to help students with their learning (86.2%). Students thought that TAs were helpful throughout the course (86.2%) and they also helped decrease pressure of learning (79.3%). Other than that, TAs also helped students clarify grammatical concepts (72.4%). The teaching assistants received the second highest satisfaction rate. The results prove that the intervention of the TAs is effective on students learning. Students were most satisfied with the pronunciation assistance, which met the original expectation of having TAs to help correct pronunciation. As each TA was responsible for ten students, there were more opportunities for students to read and practice and their mistakes in pronunciation could be corrected timely. When interviewed, students expressed that they felt more comfortable and less pressured when interacting with TAs who were their fellow students. Besides, their questions and confusions could be instantly answered, which prevented them from feeling frustrated. The results indicate that for the low proficiency students, more individual guidance and immediate feedback can contribute positively to their language learning. The positive attitude toward the TAs is in agreement with Yus (2008) results. Table 8 Students Views on TAs
Item Strongly agree 25. TAs explanations helped me clarify grammatical concepts. 26. TAs helped me pronounce correctly. 27. TAs helped me read more fluently. 28. TAs helped me decrease the learning pressure. 29. TAs fulfilled their assisting purposes completely. 30. I think this type of programs ought to include TAs to help students. 34.5% 51.7% 10.3% 0% 0% 27.6% 51.7% 20.7% 0% 0% 27.6% 51.7% 20.7% 0% 0% 27.6% 62.1% 10.3% 0% 0% 31% 62.1% 6.9% 0% 0% 20.7% 51.7% 27.6% 0% Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly disagree 0%

5. Limitations and implications


Making English Remedial Instruction Work for Low-Achieving Students: An Empirical Study

5.1 Limitations The total instructional time for this remedial course was 36 hours. If the English proficiency of all students were to be improved significantly as a whole, long term and continuous support is essential. Future research should focus on implementing a longer course to examine the effectiveness of the remedial instruction. In addition, this remedial course was in summer, a time when most of the students had summer jobs, but taking few or no other courses. What will the results be if the course is given in the regular semester? Future research may investigate the impact of time on the effectiveness of remedial courses. 5.2 Implications Some pedagogical implications can be drawn from the findings of this study. First, teachers of remedial class should take into account selecting or even self-compiling suitable teaching materials to give students opportunities for effective and successful learning performance. Second, a more learner-centered environment is suggested for students to actively participate in classroom activities. The more practice opportunities, the better their performance will be. Teachers should design a variety of activities to optimize students learning. Third, the teaching assistants play an important role in this remedial instruction. It is suggested that more TAs should be recruited to involve in remedial instruction to give individual guidance and also reduce the workload of teachers. Fourth, low achieving students usually lack motivation and confidence and tend to be passive learners. Teachers should make effort to elevate and sustain students' learning motivation by employing innovative teaching techniques and creating a low anxiety and pleasant learning environment.

6. Conclusion
The findings of this study prove that this model for English remedial instruction is effective and beneficial to low English achievers. Students made substantial gains in grammar and vocabulary and they also self-perceived improvement in their overall English competence. The self-developed textbook met students needs and learning level. The TA intervention was effective in terms of assisting students pronunciation and fluency. With regard to students' learning motivation, the results revealed that students motivation was moderately enhanced. Based on the results, we can conclude that this model of remedial instruction combined with developing suitable learning materials, teaching the necessary English skills and having TAs as tutors works effectively to improve low-achieving students English performance. Remedial education is a common problem that many universities have to face at this moment. Enhancing the effects of remedial instruction is a major issue of concern. The empirical study provides a feasible approach for implementing remedial instruction. It is hoped that EFL teachers could put more efforts on the issue as the percentage of low-achievers of English learning at technological universities is not low. A well-designed course with teachers encouragement and supportive attitude may help students elevate their English proficiency to survive in a college learning environment and be prepared for the upcoming social challenges after they complete their collegiate education. 181


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Making English Remedial Instruction Work for Low-Achieving Students: An Empirical Study

SPSS t (paired t test)