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Effect of Collaborative Strategy on Secondary Schools Students’ Achievement on Written Essays in English Language

collaborative strategy- Abstract

This study investigated the Effects of Collaborative Instructional Strategy on Students’ Achievement on Written Essay in Abakaliki Urban. The general purpose of the study was to determine the effects of collaborative instructional strategy on the achievement of students in written essay. The population of the study included all the senior secondary school two (SS 2) students in Abakaliki Urban in Ebonyi State. There are sixty one (61) public secondary schools in Abakaliki urban with total number of (6,797) senior secondary two (SS 2) students (Abakaliki Zonal Education Board, 2014). The sample of the study comprised of 330 SS II students in six co-educational secondary schools in Abakaliki Urban of Ebonyi State. The study used quasi-experimental study of pretest, posttest non equivalent control group design. The collaborative strategy was assigned the experimental group while the lecture method was assigned to the control group. The English Essay writing Achievement Test (EEAT) was used for data collection. Mean and standard deviation were used to answer research questions while analysis of covariance ANCOVA was used to test the hypotheses at 0.05 level of significance. Results show that students in collaborative strategies group performed better than those in lecture method group. The female students performed slightly better than the male students. However, male and female students in the collaborative group performed better than male and female students in the lecture method. The result also showed that there is no interaction effect of teaching method and gender on students’ achievement. Test of significance shows that there is significant difference in the mean achievement of students taught using collaborative strategy and those taught with lecture method. There was no significant difference in the mean achievement of male and female students when taught with collaborative or lecture method. There was no significance interaction effect of teaching methods and gender on students’ achievement in written essay.



1.1 Background to the Study

          English language is a second language to many nations colonized by the whites, but has reached a high global position which other languages have not. The history of the English language in Nigeria can be traced back to the colonial era. It was then a language of high status of great importance. It has since then continued to enjoy a very high status within the Nigerian society, fifty five years after independence. As it stands now, it has become an international language. Since it has gained access into all aspects of life including, science, technology, international relations policy-making and administrative records. Widdowso (2000) states that it is practically used in publishing many learning resources globally because of its relevance and equally a subject that appears in the school curriculum in most parts of the world.

          The importance of English language cannot be overemphasized looking at its dominance in Nigeria. Notwithstanding the Nigerian multilingual situation, the English language is one of the core subjects in the secondary school curriculum. The role it plays, in the teaching-learning process in schools right from the primary to tertiary levels makes it very paramount to the academic success of the students .Examinations  are conducted in English, textbooks recommended for students in every subject (except the mother tongue) are all written in English language. Aliyu (2004) in support of the above assertation states that English language enjoys a lot of prestige as a language over and above other Nigeria languages.

          Baldesh (2004) attests that good education should equip its products to communicate adequately, expressing their opinions, emotions, thoughts, attitudes, clearly in an organized manner. Agwu (2002) in his support on the importance of English language comments that our country might not function properly without adequate skill in English language. Still on the importance of English language, Ubahakwe (1979) commends the significant role English language has played in our secondary schools, our society, and has remained the official language for the elite. Kanno, Onwukwe & Maduabum (2002) observe that though, there is a welcome trend in the development of indigenous Nigerian language, English language will remain a functional national language in future. Aliyu (2004) states emphatically that:

English is in effect, the second language of Nigeria, essential for success in the educational process and in others areas of national life. It is not surprising therefore; that so much attention and resources have been and continue to be, devoted to its teaching in Nigeria schools, and it is likely to continue for many years.(P :33)

          Ibe (2010) states that English language is part of student’s environment and therefore should be gripped by students in SSS not only for examination purpose but for total competence in future endeavors. No wonder some scholars having seen the importance of English language in Nigeria attest that it is the lifeblood of the whole educational system and life success in Nigeria as a whole (Afolayan, 1984). Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004) buttresses the importance of English language that virtually all human official activities revolve around   English   language. Therefore, English language is very important to life.

Good teaching of English language more especially in the English as a second language (ESL) environment requires the effective teaching of the complex interrelated skills, listening, speaking, reading and writing. The Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) syllabus clearly  categorized  English language into five; comprehension, lexis and structure, summary, essay and letter writing and oral English of which a good knowledge of  the first three enhance the performance in the essay writing and oral English.

The word essay is derived from the French infinitive essayer meaning “to try” or “to attempt”. In English, essay first meant “a trial” or “an attempt” and still an alternative meaning. The first Frenchman Micheal de montaigne (1533-1592) was the first to describe his work as essays. He used the term to characterize the attempt to put his “thoughts in writing, (Osiamro, 1990).

          Essay is a short piece of writing given to students. It is a part of a course of study in English language (Oxford Advance Learner’s Dictionary, 2005). Agwu and Nweke (2000) assert that the organization and arrangement of ideas in a logical and sequential order to make a complete meaning is called an essay. Thus essay must have a topic or subject matter which is developed in paragraphs with a coherent start or introduction, a well arranged body and a short conclusion. Essay and letter writing skills are very important in the whole language development and learning it is expressing and long lasting than speaking and often less understanding by learners. Essay writing is the ultimate of language skills and determines to a great extent the success of students in both internal and external examinations.

Ghaith (2006) sees essay writing as a complex process that allows writers to explore thoughts and ideas and make them visible and concrete. It is therefore necessary that continuous efforts be made at enhancing the teaching and learning of essay writing among learners of English language. Looking at the importance, writing well is not just an option but a necessity. Otagburuagu (2002) stating the importance of essay writing observes that it has common influence on humanity because it is a common tool of spreading information. However, essay writing is of different types of argumentative, narrative, expository, descriptive and expository.

            Narrative essay is defined in different ways by different people. Oba (2005) defines narrative essay as relating to a number of events or narrating a story and it is used as means of explaining an idea when anecdote is introduced. However, narrative essay is just telling a story which gives account to the reader. In a writers’ point of view, this story telling goes beyond having a beginning, middle and the end but must have a plot which should carry and develop throughout the story. This plot should be filled with major happenings of a story which will together give it a point or them. In a nutshell, narrative is a story writing about a personal experience.      

            Narrative essay provides human interest, trigger our curiosity and bring us close to the storyteller. It provides entertainment, it also provide insights by helping individual to discover values, explore, options and examine motives it link people together by sharing history. Narrative also gives psychological healing. A good narrative must involve reading in the story, arrange events in sequential order, include detailed, observations of people, places and happenings. It should also be told in writers point view. Narrative should be written in first person e.g ‘s’ however third persons, also be used, it relies on concrete, sensory details. It should also include the solving setting, character, climax and ending.

            Descriptive essay is a kind of essay that give the student the chance to desire a person, place, object, emotion experience situation etc. It allows the student to point the picture of what he has in mind in words. It also enable the student to illustrate something with words using the five senses Agwu (2000) states that descriptive essay does not stress on action but particular qualities of characteristic thus for a student to describe, he must be a good observer and can carefully select the detail at what one describing. To write a descriptive essay, one must take time to brainstorm, use clear and concise language, choose vivid language, use your senses, know what you are thinking, leave the reader with a clear impression and be organized.

            According to Obah (2005), he states that exposition means explanation, an “exposing” of information and ideas. Decker in Obaj (2005) states that exposition is non meant to convince or persuade but to explain Obah (2006:225) further defines exposition as its primary function is not to tell a story or relate a happening although exposition often uses narration as on out of many techniques. Its primary function is not to create vivid pictures for the reader although description too may at times be a valuable technique of expositions. The primary function of exposition is not to convince or persuade… but the primary function of exposition itself is merely to explain”.

Looking at the above explanation one can say that expository essay combines the qualities of all the other types of essay. It investigates an idea, evaluate evidence, expound on ideas and also set argument about that idea in clear and concise manner. The aim of an expository essay is to explain a topic analogical and straightforward manner using some words like explain: “define” etc.

            Argumentative essay is a kind of essay that expects the students to investigate a topic, collect, generate and evaluate evidence and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner (Anikam, 1999). A writer is expected in an argumentative essay to defend a position on a topic using evidence from personal experience, literature, historical examples and research to support any point made. According to Anasi (2005) argumentative essay as a passage mainly devotes to arguing out an issue, ideally looking at both sides and lastly coring to a rational and logical conclusion. Basiong (2004) states that argumentative essay aims at persuading the reader to accept the writers point at view.

          Globally, essay writing is a predictor of academic success and a basic requirement for participation in civic life and economy. Secondary school graduates are unable to write good essay at the basic levels required by colleges or employers (Salami, 2007). In addition, every school day, 7,000 young people drop out of high school, many of them because they lack the basic literacy, (Alliance for Excellence Education,(AEE),2001).

Good essay writing skills are required for students to pass at credit level     in the West African School Certificate Examination. Essay writing takes the highest of the total marks, followed by comprehension II, summary, lexis and structure and test of orals respectively in the examination. It is therefore necessary that continuous efforts be made at enhancing the teaching and learning of essay writing skills among students to meet the growing demand of the secondary school curriculum (Kamil, 2003; Snow & Biancorosa, 2003).

          Nigeria is not an exception to the above trend.  In the national curriculum for senior secondary school English, FRN( 2004) states that the curriculum is designed, to achieve a high level of proficiency in the Nigerian students use of English language in preparing students for tertiary and vocational education for the world of work after leaving school. However, this dream cannot come true without achieving competency in the art of writing. Unfortunately, Nigerian students are far below this expectation in mastering the skills of written English. This has generated serious alarm for educators, parents and English teachers in particular.

          Jowitt (2001) states that from the statistics of results published by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) since the end of the Nigerian civil war, there has been constant failure in the performance of students in English language. Banjo (2001) observes that there is general feeling of dissatisfaction with the level of proficiency in English among the products both in secondary and tertiary institutions.

          Based on the separate research findings of Maduabum (2002) and Agwu (2002), there is still poor performance from our students of English in the West African School Certificate Examination and National Examination Council as measured by these bodies, 2009-2013.

Table 1: Shows percentage passes by grades for GCE English O/L (2009-2013)

Year Period Number sat Total: A1-C6 Total: P7-D8 Fail: F9
2009 May/June 45312 29.0 19.0 42.0
  Nov./Dec. 28516 26.0 47.0 27.0
2010 May/June 45115 37.0 28.0 35.0
  Nov./Dec. 32223 33.0 47.0 20.0
2011 May/June 588460 21.06 44.23 34.71
  Nov./Dec. 453377 17.58 73.24 9.18
2012 May/June 632544 13.14 55.82 31.04
  Nov./Dec. 441132 40.06 58.83 1.11
2013 May/June 636113 17.20 42.97 39.83
  Nov./Dec. 396640 47.09 45.12 7.79

   Source: WAEC Headquarters, Lagos (2013)               

          For the period of ten years, as reviewed by Maduabum (2002), there was no year that up to 50% of students who sat for the examination got grades 1-6 which is a prerequisite for higher education.

          In the same vain, Agwu (2002) presented two tables to show the poor performance in English for three years, 2011-2013.

Table 2: Shows a 3-year percentage performance of candidates in English

Subject % Of passes at credit (1-6) % Of failure (F9)
Year 2011 2012 2013 2011 2012 2013
English language 8.47 9.71 10.81 65.33 64.91 64.18

          The two tables show that within the three years of review (2011-2013) there was never a time up to 30% of the candidates who sat for the examination passed at credit level 1-6. One may be forced to ask what could have been the cause of this? Could it be that the strategy used by the teachers in teaching these students is ineffective or the students were not studious? 

          Research outcomes in the area of effective strategies for teaching writing abound, ranging from within and outside Nigeria Obi-Okoye (1991), Lawal (1995) Essex (1996), Janienne 2007, Jibowo (2009) and Morris (2009). Collins and Sommers (1985) were concerned with the development of effective strategies for teaching students how to write good essays. Such strategies has received widespread acceptance by researchers, educators and teachers. Obi Okoye (1991), Durvamaku-Dim and Duruaku-Dim, (2006), and Jibowo (2009) tried out the use of learner’s errors in teaching composition and creative writing. In recent times, the works of Janienne (2007) and Morris (2009) have added more literature in the strategies of teaching essay writing skills. Some teachers use conventional method of teaching in secondary schools which affects students’ performance and attitude. This is because this method is teacher centered and discourages active students’ participation (Otagburuagu, 2002). This does not give students chance to think, form basic concept, plan or even write coherently. In fact, essay writing is an aspect of English language that has been mostly neglected especially in senior secondary schools where under whatever circumstance, it is supposed to be the proper stage to develop and sharpen the skills of writing. According to Otagburuagu (2002), experiences and researchers have shown that writing skills are often the most neglected and the most badly taught by teachers. This also affects the achievement of students in essay writing. The instructional strategy used by a teacher can also influence student’s attitude negatively or positively depending on how it is applied in teaching process. Byrne (1991), Akinbela 2009;  Akende (2002) in support of this state that poor method of teaching leads to students’ poor achievement in English especially in essay writing.

          Educational research findings like physical strength, language and ability shows that gender also plays an important role in students’ achievement. Shaycoff (1999) states that boys seem to acquire significantly more information than girls in such areas as Mathematics, Physical Science, Electricity and Electronics as well as Mechanics while girls’ have significantly higher score gain than boys in interactive, grammar, memory for word, spelling and Home economics information, Jane (2002); Eze (2008) are of the view that girls develop better attitude to language and communication and in essay writing in particular and this leads to better achievement.

          With the above discussion, there is no doubt that there is poor performance of students in English language especially in the aspect of essay writing generally and Ebonyi state is not an exception. This is traced to poor method of teaching. This has also given rise to debate on the right method to be used. A method that will enable the students to acquire and imbibe proper skills in essay writing .A method that will be students and activity-based and will remedy the conventional teaching method. That is why the researcher has raised the collaborative strategy as a possible remedy.

          These methods is innovative and learner based to equip students with effective writing  skills that will make them become better writers. It will also help the students to move from known to unknown while the students contribute, the teacher modifies and moderate.

          According to Cohen (1986), collaborative method enables the students to dialogue and examine different perspectives that make students to dialogue and examine different perspectives that make students become knowledgeable, strategic, self determined and emphatic. This takes care of large collaborative learning classes in a situation where there are insufficient number of teachers. In collaborative class, students are divided into smaller groups while the teacher encourages active participation and healthy interaction among students.

          Since there is a saying that “two good heads are better than one”, collaborative method have a good advantage over the traditional method. It focuses on collective knowledge and things of the group and encourages students-students and teacher-student interaction, thus making student more relaxed and the task more real. No wonder, Akinsola (2007) points out that students learn faster when the teaching is skewed toward them and that is when they are allowed to participate and make contribution.

          This strategy would enable students not only to perform better in English language but for general academic success.        Collaborative technique is actually derived from a broad term of communicative language teaching (collaborative learning) approach. The communicative language teaching is an umbrella term used for a variety of approaches involving joint intellectual effort by students, or students and teachers together. The collaborative technique is under the heading of collaborative learning approach because this technique absorbs the characteristics of the approach.

          In this technique, students usually work in groups of two or more, mutually searching for understanding, solutions or meanings or creating a product (Smith & MacGregor, 2008); collaborative which refers to writing or other projects (Glencoe, 2011) and it is an essential component of contextual teaching and learning (Tolinson, 2010). Nunan (2012) terms collaboration as constructive and shared understanding in a second language classroom. The students in the collaborative conditions are significantly more pleased with their writing than other subjects where they worked independently. In this case, can collaborative technique be a solution in motivating students in essay writing process as well as improving their writing proficiency in the use of English language. It also helps them to work in pairs to produce co-authored paragraphs and well thought out written essays.

          Another treatment level in this study is the lecture method. The philosophy behind a lecture method is that the knowledge the teacher has can be passed on to students. A lecture method resembles a demonstration method in the sense that a great number of points can be covered within a short time, and students tend to be passive listeners while the teacher does the talking (Agwu, 2002). This may explain why the method has been criticized as a teacher-centred method. One advantage, however of the lecture method is that it can be presented to a large audience. This method will be used as the control treatment in this study.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

          Poor performance of Nigerian students in English Language in Senior School Certificate Examination has generally remained unchanged. It has raised a lot of eyebrow on education as confirmed by WAEC Examiners Reports (2009-2013). This problem could be traced to poor knowledge and lack of progress in written essay, weighing the importance of English language in total academic success. The poor knowledge could be attributed to the use of old methods of teaching written essay as Morris (2009) suggests that there are usually four main causes for lack of progress in essay writing in a second language situation; namely, inadequate preparation for the writing, having to write without collaborative learning purpose, not having the right kind of help to show exactly how to improve the writing, and being given unsuitable subjects to write. These therefore make student to write poor/bad essay through the use of poor instructional strategy.

Judging from the importance of English language in Nigerian, the problem of the present study was to find out if collaborative instructional strategy would be more facilitating for students than the lecture method in written essay.

1.3 Purpose of the Study

          The general purpose of this study was to determine the effects of collaborative instructional strategy on the achievement of students in written essay. Specifically, the study intend to determine the;

i.        effect of collaborative instructional strategy on senior secondary school students achievement in written essay.

ii.       effect of collaborative instructional strategy and lecture method on the achievement of male and female student in written essay

iii.      interaction effect of collaborative instructional strategy to lecture method and gender on senior secondary school students’ achievement in written essay

1.4 Significance of the Study

          The results of this research will be important to different groups of people: students, teachers, textbook writers, researchers, curriculum planners and academic institution in our society in the following ways:      

          It will help the students make the problems they encounter in written essay a thing of the past. This is because when the right method is used in teaching the students essay writing, it will arouse the interest of students in writing essay and it is what you think and write on your own on like the old method which dwells more in coping. It will also create a good relationship among students and with their teachers thus create a good environment for teaching and learning process.  

          The findings of this research will help the teachers of English language to expose to the students their problem areas and also be in a better position to know the best instructional strategy for best result. This work will also expose the advantages of collaborative method over conventional method. Teacher in contact with this work will surely drop the old method and adopt this method to improve the teaching learning process.  This will make teaching and teaching of essay writing to become a fun for him.

This result will be very important to textbook writers developers, as these strategies when applied will not only boost the quality of their output but will also spur the education ministries to recommend such work for use by both students and teachers. This makes essay writing teaching essay for the teacher and the problems students encounter in essay writing a thing of the past.

          The result of this research will also be of much importance to researchers and other scholars because it will expose them to other strategies of writing essay.

          It will also expose various problem areas of the learner to curriculum planners and various syllabuses designers, which will enable them make amends to meet the learners’ abilities.

          This work is relevant to the academic institutions for academic remedial and developmental purpose of English language program in a second language situation.

1.5 Scope of the Study

          This study was delimited to the effects of collaborative strategy on secondary school students’ achievement in written essay. The study was restricted to Abakaliki urban of Abakaliki Education Zone of Ebonyi State. This study also considered variable like gender of students in its execution. The subjects of this study were SS – 2 students.

1.6 Research Questions

          The following research questions were designed to guide the study:

1.       What is the mean achievement of senior secondary school students in written essay when taught with collaborative strategy and when taught with lecture method?

2.       What is the mean achievement of male and female senior secondary school students when taught written essay with collaborative strategy and when taught with lecture method?

3.       What is the interaction effect of the teaching methods and gender on students’ achievement in written essay?

1.7 Hypotheses

The following null hypotheses were tested at 0.05 level of significance:

Ho1:   There is no significant difference in the mean achievement of senior secondary school students in written essay when taught with collaborative strategy and lecture method.

Ho3:   There is no significant difference in the mean achievement of male and female senior secondary school students when taught essay writing with the collaborative strategy and when taught with lecture method.

Ho3:   There is no significant interaction effect of teaching strategies and gender on students’ achievement in written essay.


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