With the recent changes in the UAE educational environment, new opportunities have opened for female learners. Simultaneously, the importance of knowledge acquisition as a tool for succeeding in a multinational environment has grown. Therefore, there is a need to introduce innovative approaches allowing a female teacher to address the needs of her learners and promote the active acquisition of the appropriate skills. Cooperative learning, in general, and peer assessment, in particular, must be viewed as the means of reinforcing the process of the relevant knowledge and skills acquisition.
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An overview of the UAE female public school environment has shown that students can be motivated to a considerable degree with the introduction of peer-assessment-related techniques. Furthermore, the concept of self-directed learning, as well as a significant amount of independence, can be introduced into the target environment. Thus, the use of peer-assessment techniques has a strikingly positive effect on learners’ performance and, therefore, should be incorporated into the curriculum as a part of the learning process.
Background: Specifics and Characteristics of the Learning Environment
Recent changes in the UAE education policies and cultural environment have contributed to a rapid increase in the number of female learners in the UAE educational institutions (Saqr & Tennant 2016). Consequently, the necessity to meet the unique needs of the target population has emerged.
When considering the issues faced by the identified demographic, one must mention the motivation rates first. The significance of family life, the rigid position of a woman in the UAE society, as well as other cultural factors, can be viewed as a possible impediment to the development of female UAE students as learners. Therefore, the creation of the environment in which extensive support not only from teachers to learners but also among students is created is crucial (Yousef 2016).
Additionally, academic independence must be promoted among UAE female students as an important concept. It is crucial that, after graduation, the identified demographic should be capable of continuing their personal and professional development as learners. In other words, the principles of lifelong and self-directed learning must be promoted to female UAE students.
Goals and Objectives: Efficacy of Peer Assessment and Correction Techniques
The study is aimed at exploring the effects that correction techniques and especially the use of per assessment have on the performance of female students in English and Maths, i.e., the acquisition of the relevant knowledge and skills, as well as the ability to engage in the communication process. It is expected that the study will show that the use of per assessment strategies has consistently positive outcomes.
The goals of the paper also include observing the changes in the learning style of the target demographic. Particularly, the learners will be evaluated based on the presence of self-directed learning tendencies. It is assumed that the adoption of peer-assessment techniques will contribute to the enhancement of independence levels among the participants and, therefore, will compel them to train the relevant English and mathematics skills on their own.
Furthermore, the paper pursues the goal of observing learners in the specified environment and determining the patterns that they develop as far as their behaviour and knowledge and skills acquisition are concerned. It is important to understand how students develop the necessary habits and skills so that a well thought out approach could be designed to meet their needs in a manner as efficient as possible. Finally, the obstacles that female UAE students face when studying English and mathematics will be outlined.
Literature Review: ESL Female Learners in UAE
Female Students and the Associated Issues
Making sure that all students are provided with an opportunity to receive knowledge and skills so that they could advance in contemporary society is a pressing need in the modern education environment. Despite the progress that has been made so far in promoting equality in all domains of people’s lives, gender issues remain a concern in a number of areas, education being one of them. The development of the specified problem is also fuelled by cultural specifics of certain states, UAE being one of them. Specifically, one must bear in mind that the idea of inclusiveness has only recently been promoted in the specified environment (Saqr & Tennant 2016). Therefore, female students may face significant obstacles when attempting to receiving the education of the required quality.
A recent study indicates that there is also a significant difference in the learning styles adopted by male and female students in the UAE academic environment (Yousef 2016). Particularly, the research results point to the propensity among female learners to adopt balanced ACT-REF, moderate reflective, and strong reflective learning styles in the context of most UAE public schools (Yousef 2016). The specified characteristic of the target population implies that girls and women studying in the UAE schools and colleges will require the use of teaching strategies aimed at encouraging them to participate in group discussions and helping them cooperate with each other successfully.
Therefore, female students in the UAE educational environment may require extensive support from not only teachers but also their family members and peers. Particularly, the assistance of classmates should be brought up as one of the foundational tools for managing the lack of motivation among female students in the UAE educational setting. Indeed, studies point to the fact that the identified issue remains a problem in the contemporary UAE educational environment and that assistance of fellow students may help female students believe in themselves as competent and successful learners: “parental support, peer support and pride from others in the wider society” (Engin & McKeown 2016, p. 5) affects the students’ performance and, therefore, the success of skill and knowledge acquisition to a considerable degree (Engin & McKeown 2016).
Indeed, there are strong indications that female learners in the UAE have a rather poor image of themselves as students: “Females who are from poor economic background parents have low self-esteem as well as feel inferiority” (Atinaf & Petros 2016, p. 2). Without the support of family members, girls and women in the UAE have to provide extensive assistance to each other so that more opportunities for them to acquire the relevant knowledge and skills could be created. Therefore, it is crucial that female learners should be taught to offer peer support to each other in the context of the contemporary UAE educational setting.
ESL UAE Female Students: Challenges and Opportunities
As stressed above, there is currently an issue with the engagement of female students in group activities (Engin & McKeown 2016). While the identified problem may be minor for other subjects, this is a huge impediment in learning English and mathematics seeing how a significant part of activities is devoted to oral communication and, therefore, requires working in pairs and groups to build a dialogue (Ismail & Shaban 2017). Therefore, peer support should be viewed as an essential step toward promoting the identified type of activities and compelling the target population to engage in them.
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Much to the credit of modern UAE educators, learning English and mathematics is currently viewed as an important step toward helping female students grow as learners and engage in academic activities successfully (Engin & McKeown 2016). In other words, the languages no longer viewed as a thing in itself but, instead, is considered to be a tool for the further successful continuation of studying: “English in the UAE today is gaining more importance as it was recently introduced as the medium of instruction for science and math in elementary schools in the emirate of Abu-Dhabi and a few selected schools in other emirates” (Ismail & Shaban 2017, p. 117).
Peer Assessment and Correction Strategies and Their Effects
Peer assessment and correction as a part of cooperative learning is one of the latest trends in ESL (Tadesse & Gillies 2015). While the very concept of peer evaluation as a part of the learning process and a tool for helping learners to acquire the relevant skills is nothing new, it still provides a rather decent foundation for building awareness, motivation, and confidence in learners (Lai & Hwang 2015).
The concept of cooperative learning (CL) is typically defined as a set of educational strategies that are aimed at creating opportunities for learners to have social and academic experiences (Lai & Hwang 2015). Apart from encouraging learners to support each other, cooperative learning can be viewed as the tool for helping students avoid accepting the compliance culture (Tadesse & Gillies 2015). The identified effect of using CL is especially important in the context of the UAE environment, where female learners often have to deal with the lack of support r, in the worst-case scenario, uninhibited discouragement form the family members (Lai & Hwang 2015). Therefore, “increasing teaching effectiveness via creating opportunities for wider coverage of content, sharing teaching responsibilities with the students, and integration of ideas and concepts” (Tadesse & Gillies 2015, p. 12) can be expected as the primary outcome of applying the CL-based strategies to the environment of the UAE educational institutions.
Peer assessment (PA) is one of the tools that belong to the array of CL strategies. PA can be defined as the activity in the course of which learners evaluate their fellow students’ work based on the standards and criteria set by the teacher (Lai & Hwang 2015). The use of PA strategies is quite efficient in boosting learners’ confidence and engaging them in the learning process; as a result, their motivation levels rise to a considerable extent (Lai & Hwang 2015).
One must admit that the concept of peer assessment as a part of the CL framework has its problems. For instance, a recent study disclosed the propensity among learners to single out not the skills and knowledge that teachers considered essential but the ones on which they spent the greatest amount of time and effort while studying:
Via interviewing the students and teachers, it was found that the teachers tended to give higher ratings because they thought that the stage property was not critical in such informal performances. On the other hand, the students spent much time preparing the stage property, and hence they considered it to be a very important dimension. (Hsia, Huang, & Hwang 2015, p. 15)
On the one hand, the identified discrepancy can be viewed as the argument against the use of peer-assessment in the educational setting. On the other hand, the observed phenomenon may also show that the students were not instructed properly and had a wrong idea of what is considered essential in the target area. In other words, there is a threat that the use of PA may lead to students getting the wrong idea about what should be considered as important in the identified area. At this point, though, one must mention that setting the learners’ priorities straight is the responsibility of a teacher (Lai & Hwang 2015). Therefore, as long as the learners are provided with clear and detailed explanations about the goals of the course, the issues that need to be addressed, and the aspects to which they should pay attention, PA is bound to have an admittedly positive effect on the learners’ performance. Therefore, the research outcomes also stress the significance of an elaborate teaching strategy as the tool for scaffolding learners through the PA process. On the other hand, the adoption of the PA strategy has proven to be one of the most successful tools for boosting learners’ confidence (Lai & Hwang, 2015).
Seeing that there was no need to quantify the research results, the use of qualitative research design was considered appropriate. Particularly, phenomenology as the study of peer assessment as a teaching strategy was adopted to identify the changes in the students’ academic behaviour and their perception of the learning process. Thus, the links between the learners’ motivation, their concept of learning, and the introduction of PA techniques into the Saudi Arabian educational setting could be evaluated.
To gather the relevant information that was further used in the analysis, the setting of a local all-female UAE school was chosen. Five groups of 20-26 female learners aged 14-17 were asked to engage in the study. A total of 97 people agreed to take part in the study, of which 95 provided their informed consent. 64 students out of the identified population belonged to the upper class, whereas 33 characterised themselves as middle-class citizens.
The information was gathered through observations of the target population in the school setting. Particularly, their interactions with their teachers and each other during lessons were viewed as the primary source of the relevant data. Particularly, the propensity toward a specific type of behaviour among female learners, as well as the way in which they engaged in interactions with each other, their enthusiasm during the PA activities, etc., were observed and documented accordingly.
After the relevant data had been collected, it was coded based on the set of concepts that characterised the retrieved information in the most appropriate manner. For instance, the codes such as “independence,” “motivation,” “engagement,” etc., were used to determine the changes in the students’ behaviour after the introduction of PA techniques.
The data was analyzed by considering the tendencies in the communication between learners and teachers, as well as among students themselves. Particularly, the observations served as the foundation for understanding the specific ways in which the development of the learners occurred. Furthermore, the role of PA in the identified process was studied closely.
A scrupulous observation of the UAE female students’ behaviour before the introduction of PA into the classroom environment showed that there used to be a consistent lack of enthusiasm among female learners. The learners displayed little to no enthusiasm about engaging in active communication using the English language, as well as acquiring the relevant math skills. It would be wrong to claim that the students were unwilling to learn the subject and acquire the necessary skills; however, they clearly lacked the motivation that could spark the further individual learning process and, therefore, compel them to view the language as part and parcel of communication. As Table 1 below shows, the overall tendencies observed among female UAE students during English and math classes boiled down to learning the required rules by heart without the proper insight into the nature of the language and the role that it plays in the contemporary global environment.
Table 1. Tendencies Among Female Learners Before the Introduction of PA
|Tendency||Description||Number of times observed (out of 60 lessons)|
|Lack of engagement||The students show no willingness to participate by raising their hands, engaging in conversations, being active during group discussions, etc.||247|
|Fear||The students are afraid of engaging in active communication because they are afraid of making a mistake||352|
|Indifference||The students are not concerned with their academic progress||181|
|Skills training||The students develop their skills at a fast pace||213|
|Lack of awareness||The students do not know the significance of acquiring the relevant skills, as well as their personal problems and strengths||75|
|Lack of responsibility||The students fail to complete the assignments fully and on time.||215|
|Lack of cooperation||The students are unwilling to engage in group discussions and projects||105|
|Lack of support||The students are unwilling to provide emotional and academic support to each other by helping each other with difficult topics, lack of speaking practice, etc.||109|
Therefore, the motivation levels can be deemed as fairly low before the introduction of PA techniques. A closer look at the development of the students’ attitude toward the process of learning English and math will show that the promotion of peer support through PA has had a tangible effect. Particularly, the learners seem to have become more engaged in the learning process (see Table 2).
Table 2. Tendencies Among Female Learners After the Introduction of PA
|Tendency||Description||Number of times observed (out of 60 lessons)|
|Engagement||The students show their willingness to participate by raising their hands, engaging in conversations, being active during group discussions, etc.||164|
|Independence||The students show a propensity to locating the relevant information on their own and searching for the available resources||49|
|Knowledge acquisition||The results of formative assessments among the learners are at least 75%||195|
|Skills training||The students develop their skills at a fast pace||213|
|Awareness||The students know the significance of acquiring the relevant skills, as well as their personal problems and strengths||143|
|Responsibility||The students complete the assignments fully and on time.||224|
|Cooperation||The students are willing to engage in group discussions and projects||119|
|Support||The students are willing to provide emotional and academic support to each other by helping each other with difficult topics, lack of speaking practice, etc.||148|
Discussion: Peer Assessment and Correction as the Tool for Improving Female UAE Students’ Outcomes
A closer look at the data collected before and after the introduction of PA into the environment of the UAE female school in question will show that there has been a significant increase in the engagement levels. The identified tendency is crucial to promote a different and more responsible approach toward learning. Furthermore, responsibility and independence levels have risen among the students significantly.
The issue of cooperation and support needs to be brought up as well. As stressed above, there has been a significant lack of peer support throughout the learning process before the use of PA strategies. The introduction of the PA approach, however, seems to have changed the situation significantly, with the number of instances in which students assisted each other rising to 148 cases. Therefore, it can be assumed that the use of CL, in general, and PA, in particular, must be viewed as an important tool in enhancing the process of English and math skills acquisition among UAE female students.
Conclusion and Recommendations: How the Learning and Teaching Processes Can Be Improved
Promoting engagement and increasing motivation rates among the UAE female learners is a challenging task when it comes to addressing the issue of learning English and math. Because of the lack of support from family members and the UAE society, female students lack engagement. The introduction of P should be viewed as a tool for boosting their engagement rates.
It is recommended that teachers should place emphasis on cooperation among learners. The identified objects can be achieved by stressing the need to engage in meaningful communication with each other. Thus, female UAE students will feel empowered to not only learn the basics of English, mathematics, and other subjects, but also continue their studying as independent and responsible learners.
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