It's just a word : CALL, French verbs and mixed-ability pupils

Metcalfe, Peter Anthony (1997). It's just a word : CALL, French verbs and mixed-ability pupils. PhD thesis The Open University.

Abstract

This thesis follows the trail of a perennial problem in the written work of pupils studying GCSE French, and suggests a CALL solution. The motivation for the research lies in the decline of grammatical accuracy, particularly in verb use, in the French produced by mixed-ability pupils and university students alike.Theories of language acquisition are assessed and a limited amount of guidance emerges. French GCSE Examiners' Reports then provide a firm foundation for research with their suggestion that the rise in oral work has affected written standards. A review of the literature reveals a wide range of barriers to verb learning. These can be classified as linguistic, psycholinguistic and pedagogic.One of the most impenetrable barriers is the redundancy of many verb endings. Empirical evidence from written and interview data is presented to show the startling kinds of misconceptions held by many pupils about verbs,and the complex of systems learners devise to solve problems.

The thesis then proposes an explicit grammar-teaching approach based on principles of pedagogical grammar. Current Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) approaches to verb teaching offer admirable formal practice for able pupils but do not cater for the difficulties experienced by less able learners, who may therefore be disenfranchised. Detailed proposals are given for the creation of 'mixed-ability CALL' for verb learning, followed by a description of the design and production processes of three new programs aimed at less able pupils. Further empirical work is undertaken with GCSE pupils in order to assess the effects of tutorial, game and 'cognitive' CALL approaches. The quantitative data show that written performance can improve after using these programs. However, the most striking result of CALL intervention is the transformation of weak pupils' spoken metalanguage from restricted grammatical expression to accurate verb articulation within a short space of time.

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