Dr Jennifer Sheokarah was overjoyed to finally graduate with her PhD in Education (Language and Media Studies) in which she focuses on how using an English Language Club (particularly entertaining, unconventional activities) can enhance the learning of English while empowering learners and encouraging them to take responsibility for their learning.
The study also aimed to alleviate anxiety related to learning English by establishing a comfortable environment that recognises learners’ interests.
‘I have always been academically inclined, wanting to get the most out of education. If there is more, I am motivated to achieve it. My thesis topic was inspired by my experiences as a past novice teacher. I wanted to make a difference in the school and empower my second language learners, which is why I decided on participatory action research.’
The study revealed that a comfortable environment that recognised learners’ interests and the use of relatable and engaging activities not only enhanced the learning of English by reducing anxiety, but empowered learners to be involved in making the necessary decisions for the betterment of their learning.
By the end of the study, participants were more conscious about their responsibility in their learning process. When they felt respected by their teacher and peers in the English Language Club (ELC), their fear of the language diminished, resulting in enhanced participation, giving learners a voice that was lacking in the classroom.
The study also showed the importance of critical reflection and dialogue in transforming learning. The use of entertaining activities, competition and prizes were effective in motivating learners, and served as efficient methods in developing learner responsibility.
Sheokarah’s thesis adds to the discourses on educational methods, critical pedagogy and participatory action research, and contributes to knowledge as the study provides a working model of the combination of critical pedagogy and elements of Krashen’s theory to enhance the learning of English.
Speaking about how she was able to maintain a work-life balance, Sheokarah said, ‘I am a busy-body. If I am idle, I am uncomfortable. I think this is my biggest strength – wanting to keep busy. I managed to balance my PhD, teach Grade 12 English and maintain family relationships quite well. It is important to know about taking breaks when necessary. If you do this, getting down to work won’t be a daunting task. I was dating too, and he is now my husband!’
Of her support system she said, ‘I cannot show my appreciation enough to my supervisor, family and friends for the support received during my PhD journey. I can say, however, that I will be eternally grateful to all those who have been rooting for me. I did it!’
She plans to use her findings to better her teaching. ‘I am happy to share my interventions with other teachers. A research associate opportunity has come up quickly after the announcement of my PhD, which I will reveal in time. The elation is inexplicable.’