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English for Specific Purposes World (ESP World)

English for Specific Purposes World

ISSN 1682-3257

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 5.1 Interview Results and Interpretation

Two sets of data were collected, and each analysed separately. One set consisted of the reading strategies of the learners and the other, the difficulties they encounter during reading. Both sets of data were analysed qualitatively by the writer identifying, extracting and then grouping them according to topic. (Thematic categories.)

The strategies were analysed for similarities and differences; such analysis resulted in the coding and definition of each example of strategy use under various categories. By analyzing the interviews, the researchers were gaining insights into the processes of silent reading. It was found that the strategies that emerged could be grouped into three categories: cognitive, metacognitive and strategies that could be classed as social.

In order to evaluate the responses obtained the writers chose to make use of the key areas identified and to group together responses relating to these topics. In an effort to maintain anonymity of respondents the researchers changed names and omitted details, which would lead to identification.

Question 1

How do you read the academic texts? Which are the processes you follow?

Regarding the first question, the students appeared to be able to articulate their reading processes reasonably fully. In general terms it is clear that certain high frequency strategies can be found in all fifteen interviews, whereas strategies with a low incidence in one group are likely to occur infrequently in the other group also. This is not surprising. More precisely, some strategies like using titles/headings, sub-headings, reading opening, closing sentence of each paragraph, underlining, skimming, scanning, finding key-words occurred with greater frequency than others. The most frequently found strategy used is using titles/headings, sub-headings. Seven of the fifteen students declared that they use titles/headings, sub-headings to facilitate understanding of the text. Some others read the first line in every paragraph to get an idea of how the ideas progress, then go back and read from the beginning. Two of them declare that they try to make sense of the whole by breaking it into more manageable and more meaningful parts.

Question 2

Which steps do you follow to identify the main idea of an academic text?

Concerning the second question, only one student used the introduction or preface to determine the dominant themes presented in the text with the greatest number using titles/headings, sub-headings(eleven references), reading opening, closing sentence of each paragraph(twelve references), underlining (nine references), note-taking. Moreover, three of the fifteen interviewees declared that they usually read pre-reading questions, if there are any, as they are extremely useful for the text comprehension.

Question 3

Which steps do you follow to identify specific information?

Scanning involves reading quickly to locate specific information and to focus on the most interesting or relevant points to read in detail. This allows students to become familiar with the scope of the material and will make it easier to identify the main points as they are presented. While scanning, eight students stated that they usually underline the most important points. Five respondents identified key- words that guided them to determine the content focus of the text and contribute to their understanding of the topic. Four of them used the note-taking strategy and only two people responded positively to graphs and diagrams in order to facilitate understanding of the text.

Question 4

What do you do when you find a difficult word in a text (that you do not know the meaning)?

Concerning the fourth question, the responses strongly indicate that 14 of the 15 students use words surrounding an unknown word (context clues) to guess its meaning. It is worth mentioning 11 students reliance on looking the word up in a dictionary rather than on guessing it although some of them state they use a dictionary whenever the word is considered important or appears more than once in the text. Moreover, eight respondents declared that they divided an unknown word into parts to make it comprehensible, and three students skip unfamiliar words they considered unimportant. It is significant to point out that one interviewee associated a word with a known one in order to determine meaning and another student tried to guess a new word by identifying it with a word in first language or another foreign language (Italian or French).

Question 5

How can you work out the meaning of paragraph where you find some difficulties?

On the basis of the responses in this interview question, the most frequently used strategies are translation and contextualisation . 6 students claim that they put a phrase into a meaningful situation or context to assist comprehension, besides 6 students wrote down words or ideas in Greek as an aid to understanding the text. Four of them recognized what is important and not important and could skip these words or information. Clarifying is another strategy used by two readers who asked for clarification when something was not understood. Two students used the re-reading strategy, thus when the going got difficult, they slowed down and reread sections to facilitate the comprehension. One student declared that when she got stuck, she contemplated why that particular place was difficult and how she might break through the block. It is significant that only one interviewee stated that he collaborated with peers to share information or to check comprehension.

Question 6

What usually makes an academic text difficult (to understand)?

In this question, students noted problems they had with specific vocabulary (13 references), long sentences/complicated structure (4 references) and general vocabulary (4 references).

Question 7

What do you find most difficult when you read a passage:

Get the main idea, b) extract details, c) make inferences, d) pinpoint authors point of view draw conclusions.

In this question, students were asked to grade the four processes in terms of difficulty. The majority of respondents (9 in number) encountered difficulties in extracting the authors point of view that is, in answering questions in their own words: what is the author talking about? what does the author want me to get out of this? and drawing conclusions about the text in terms of theme or interpretation of the text. In addition, 7 students declare difficulties in locating specific information and details about the content and 6 in inferring, giving a logical guess based on the facts or evidence presented using prior knowledge.

Question 8

How could you help another student that would find some difficulties in reading a text?

The feedback from this question has shown that readers suggest the utilization of a great armoury of strategies focusing, mainly on underlining, note-taking, skipping unimportant words/points and reading quickly to locate some interesting points. It is important to mention that one of the readers appear to suggest a sound-centred model of reading.

Question 9

Which of the following steps do you mostly follow in order to comprehend a text?

o       You read quickly to find the main ideas

o       You try to find the main idea and the ideas that support it

o       You read word by word

o       You usually underline the important points

o       You take notes

According to the data, underlining is the most frequently used strategy (12 instances). Moreover, eleven readers skim through the text looking for parts which provide information about the main ideas, meanwhile, only six of the students read quickly to get the gist of a section and then stop to read important points in greater detail. It is significant that four of the readers appear sometimes to possess a word-centred model of reading and four students declared that they do not follow word-by-word reading because it is time-consuming and sometimes causes confusion. Only three respondents preferred note-taking while reading.

Question 10

While reading an academic text

o       You activate background knowledge

o       You compare and contrast to L1 knowledge

o       You check your understanding as you read by self-questioning

o       You translate from L2 to L1

o       You repeat the same idea again and again

o       You keep notes

o       You collaborate with peers

Fourteen (14) out of fifteen (15) students declared that they draw upon prior knowledge, schema-experience about topics to facilitate comprehension. They connect new knowledge and what is already known. Students appear to be recycling on translating into Greek as a frequently used strategy (13 instances). Two students declared: I usually translate into Greek, although it is a mistake (strategy evaluation). .A significant proportion (11 students) indicated a preference for sharing information and checking comprehension with peers. The same proportion declared that they used the ask myself strategy (self-evaluative elaboration). Some students (7 in number) applied pre-existing L1 linguistic knowledge and used L1 reading strategies to facilitate reading (prior strategy elaboration). Students appeared to show less preference to note-taking strategy. Precisely, one student mentions I dont make notes, although it is an important strategy (strategy evaluation).Only two readers attempt to avoid breakdowns or interruptions in reading and to keep the meaning of the text in mind while reading.

Question 11

What do you usually do while reading?

o       You skip the unknown words (not essential)

o       You pay attention to connectives

o       You look for words phrases that give you clue to the meaning

o       You guess the meaning of a word from the context

o       You divide the words into parts

Question 11 allows subjects to categorize their responses, for example, in terms of importance, in terms of whether they use or not the five strategies. On the basis of the responses to this question, 13 respondents declared that they used connectors to identify continuing ideas. Moreover, 13 readers guessed the general meaning of a word or part by using context clues, ten of them divide an unknown word into parts to make it comprehensible and seven students skipped unfamiliar words they considered unimportant. They declared that they do no usually look up words in the dictionary because it is time-consuming.

Question 12

Which strategies would you like to improve? Why?

In general, the students are positively disposed to reading in English. They claim not to encounter too many difficulties and noted problems they have with:

Scanning (8 respondents)

Skimming (4 respondents)

Note-taking (5 respondents)

Guessing from context (3 respondents)

Pointing out the main idea (1 respondent)

(Summarizing 11 respondents). The majority of the readers declared that they would like to improve the ability to organize and restate information, to rephrase the content using different words.

The subjects interviews generated a volume of data about the types and range of strategies used, as well as the difficulties they faced during reading. One of the expectations of the present study was that differences would be apparent in the strategy use among the various groups and that strategy use would reflect and account for differences in L2 proficiency.

The interviews provided sufficient detail to enable 367 instances of strategy use to be identified, which represents an average of 24.5 examples of strategy use for each of the subjects. A complete list of the reading strategies found in the study, their classification and definition, is presented in Appendix B. 24 different types of strategy use could be identified (graph I,App.B) and 9 different strategy-points that cause problems and difficulties to students could be pinpointed (graph II,App.B). Identifying a problem may not always lead these readers to the utilization of an appropriate repair strategy in order to find an effective solution to such breakdowns, as part of them are less successful at solving problems encountered. Through the studyexamples of 24 different strategies (employed) were identified. None of the subjects reported using all types of strategy.

It was possible to classify these strategies under the headings provided in much of the previous research as being either metacognitive, cognitive or social strategies (graph III,App.B ). The classification and definition schemes that emerged from such studies (Olshavsky 1976 / 77, Hosenfeld 1977, Naiman et al. 1978, Rubin 1981, Chamot 1987, and various studies reported in OMalley and Chamot 1990) provided a framework for the descriptions reported here, but where it was felt necessary to add or modify such categories and definitions in the light of the preset research this was done.

Metacognitive strategies were classified as belonging to four main general categories (planning strategies, monitoring strategies, strategy evaluation and problem identification strategies). The metacognitive strategies that were featured more frequently(Problem Identification and planning strategies) here involve executive thinking about the reading process, planning for reading, and awareness of the goals of the reading task that precede tackling the text. They suggest that some readers are goal oriented, are more aware that reading tasks can demand different outcomes and therefore may require different approaches, and such subjects appreciate that the readers active participation, in the reading process will affect the success of a reading activity. On the other hand, such metacognitive strategies as Ability Evaluation, Strategy Evaluation account for only 9 instances of all metacognitive use among them.

In addition 2 types of strategy that could be classed as social or affective were found.The relative unimportance of social strategies in the overall picture can be demonstrated by the fact that 5 subjects utilized none of these during the study; furthermore the asking for clarification strategy was not represented by more than 2 occurrences. On the basis of these results it was decided that social strategies were not reported in sufficient detail to warrant further examination;

Regarding the cognitive strategies a wide range of frequency was reported. There were different cognitive strategies; certain of these could be placed into a more general grouping (elaboration encompassed four different types of strategy, comprehension monitoring three types , inference two, contextualization, textual markers.).

Certain strategies occurred with greater regularity than others. The most frequently found cognitive strategies were contextualization and underlining. Along with note-taking and textual markers strategies these accounted for a great portion (135 instances) of the cognitive strategy use. The first two of these were represented in the interviews of all 15 subjects. Such cognitive strategies askeeping the main idea in mind and looking at graphs / diagrams on the other hand, account for only 7 instances of the cognitive use.

Moreover, Note taking, Annotation of the Text, and Summarisation are strategies that recall requirements of academic reading, and the task set for the subjects in this study. The 3 types of Elaboration strategy that some students utilized more frequently than some others are also characterized by meaning oriented reading approach, an appreciation that there must be new knowledge within existing knowledge frameworks and can modify such frameworks. The reader, in short, incorporates and integrates new information within an existing schema, a schema of world knowledge and a schema of reading processes.

5.3 Questionnaire Results and Interpretation

The responses of the students questionnaires were recorded into three broader categories for the purpose of analysis (always, sometimes, never). Associations between students use of strategies and the following variables: (language proficiency, department, and gender) were checked via one way analysis of variance. Significance levels were set of p<0,5.

The Reading strategy questionnaire has provided detailed information about which strategies the students think they are using and perhaps more importantly which ones they are not using. It suggests that certain reading strategies need to be promoted through classroom activities while some of the more often used but unproductive strategies such as translation and dictionary use ought to be discouraged.

A. The processes students follow when reading an academic text in English.

A1) reading inbroad phrases

38,5% of the participants reported that they always read in broad phrases, 42% sometimes and only 19,5% never uses this way of reading.

A2) keeping the meaning of the text in mind

Responses to this question indicated that 38.7% of the respondents always prefer to maintain main meaning line, meanwhile 48.2% (stating sometimes) of the total number of subjects attempt to avoid breakdown in reading, and to keep the meaning of the text in mind while reading, and using this information to make predictions.

A3) underlining important parts of the text

The results suggested that the majority of these students scored the underlining strategy as a frequent one. More precisely, 38.7% declared they always do it, 48.2% sometimes, and the minority of the subjects (13.1%) declared that they never follow this strategy.

A4) Scanning

The results of A4 question which deals with the scanning strategy indicated that the majority of the subjects scan the entire reading text, then focus on the most interesting or relevant parts to read in detail (59.8% declared sometimes and 27.2% always).

A5) making inferences

Concerning this strategy, a considerable number of respondents (62.1% sometimes and 18.3% always) use information in the text to fill in missing information (inferencing at meaning level) and to make predictions(inferencing for prediction).

A6) looking for authors purpose

According to the data, a large number of students (32.9%) claimed that they never look for authors purpose while reading the text, that is they do not answer such questions in their own words as what is the author talking about? what does the author want me to get out of this?

A7) trying to find the main idea and the ideas that support it

The results shown on table 10 indicated that students generally try to find the main idea and the ideas that support it very frequently. 53.9% declared always and 37.7% stated sometimes.

A8) Skimming

It is worth mentioning the students tendency toward the skimming strategy to get an overview of the content and organization of the text. Concisely, 61.5% of the total number of the students marked always, only a small proportion of respondents (11.8%) declared never.

A10) Reading word by word process

Part of the students responses showed some misapprehensions about the reading process and asked of awareness in relation to reading strategies, as a great number of the subjects perceived the reading as a word by word process. (38.5% always, 48.2% sometimes).

B) While reading the text

B1) activating their background knowledge

For the majority of students, the results showed a major preference for drawing on prior knowledge and past experience to infer the appropriate meaning. The results indicated that participants frequently use their schemata. That is, readers have schemata and experience about topics, which create expectations when reading these texts. (64.3% always and 29.8% sometimes).

B2) checking their understanding by self questioning

Students appear to show little preference for this metacognitive strategy. Evidence showed that only 20.2% of the total number of respondents declared they always use self questioning strategy while reading a text in order to check or verify his / her comprehension or performance of the task during reading.

B3) comparing and contrasting to L1 knowledge

A great number of students frequently (30.1% always, 51.2% sometimes) apply language rules of L1 and pre existing L1 linguistic knowledge to facilitate comprehension of the text.

B4) using contextual clues to predict

Regarding this metacognitive strategy, it is worth mentioning respondents tendency: the students in their vast majority (61.4% always and 33.1% sometimes) prefer predicting the (meaning) context of the text by using clues. Moreover, using their existing schemata, readers make predictions about what they read.

B5) they think in L1 and then translate into L2

It is remarkable that a significant number of respondents (52.4% sometimes, 31.5% always) declared that they think in L1 and then translate in L2 , they write down key words and ideas in Greek, using Greek as an aid to understanding the text.

B6) repeating the main idea over and over

According to the results, the students appeared to follow the negative strategy repeating the main idea over and over frequently. A considerable number of respondents (53.8%) declared using it sometimes and smaller proportion 28.4%) always.

B7) Taking notes summarizing

Both summarizing, identifying the main ideas and restating them in their own words, and note taking are especially helpful strategies for understanding the context and structure of a reading selection. They are considered positive strategies. A great number of the respondents (47.3%) declared that they never make a summary of the information presented in the text and a large proportion of subjects (24.9%) never write down key words and ideas in abbreviated form and 47.3%) of the total number declared that they used this strategy sometimes.

B8) cooperating with the peers

For the majority of respondents, the data showed a minor preference for the frequent use of the social strategy cooperating with the peers. A significant proportion (32%) never use this strategy and only 10.7% of the subject indicated a preference for working with peers to share information or to check comprehension.

C) In order to make reading easier, the students showed preference for the following procedures:

The results indicated that the most frequently cited strategies were:

a)      Looking for words phrases that give clues (79.6% always, 17.4% sometimes). Consequently, the vast majority of subjects preferred identifying the key words / phrases which contributed to their understanding of the topic

b)      Reading the headings / titles. (62.7% always, 32.5% sometimes)

c)      Guessing the unknown words from the context (57.4% always, 40.2% sometimes)

d)      Reading the subheadings / subtitles (52.4% always, 41.1% sometimes)

The two least frequently used strategies were:

a) Decoding of the unknown words (dividing the words into parts to make them comprehensible) (never 31.4%)

b) Skipping the unknown words that are considered not essential.

D) When finding difficulties while reading, students made reference to the use of the following strategies:

The results indicated that the students appear to have multiple reading strategy use in order to overcome various difficulties.

The data show the students positive attitude towards trying to find clues from the context to understand the unknown words or difficult sentences. A significant number of students prefer slowing down and rereading sections that they do not understand. Moreover, a number of respondents showed a major preference for asking for clarification that is for asking peers or the instructor for explanation or clarification of the material read. However, a great number of students appeared to be relying on translating into Greek and looking up words in a dictionary as frequently used strategies.

More precisely, the data indicate that the most frequently cited strategies used were:

o       Finding clues from the context (71.9% always, 26.3% sometimes)

o       Re-reading of the difficult segments (55.7% always 40.7% sometimes)

o       Looking up the unknown words (56.9% always, 35.3% sometimes)

o       Asking for clarification (36.9% always, 53% sometimes)

o       Translating word for word into Greek (32.6% always, 43.7% sometimes)

Of these most frequently used strategies, three are considered positive strategies. Only two negative strategies were among the five most frequently used ones. (a. looking up the words in a dictionary, b. translating word for word in Greek).

E) Reading texts

The result indicated that thestudents were generally satisfied with the texts used for reading comprehension in the classroom. They found them of an average difficulty. Concerning the degree of difficulty a number of respondents found the texts difficult (very much 7.8%, difficult enough 38%), however the majority found them of average difficulty.

F) Degree of difficulty

Regarding the reading skills difficulties, the frequency distribution of the data indicated the following:

--Understanding details (14.5% very much, 33.3% enough)

-- Recognizing the authors purpose (13.3% very much, 23.6% enough)

The majority of students ranked understanding details and making inferences of average difficulty.

G) Importance of strategies

It is worth mentioning that although a great proportion of the subjects (47.3%) stated that they never make a summary of the information presented in the text, a large proportion of students ranked summarizing second in importance. Extracting the general idea of texts was ranked first for the majority of the respondents.

H) Ranking of the necessity of improving strategies

It is significant to mention the strategies the students stated they need to improve, in the last open form question of the questionnaire. The following graph presents the frequencies of these strategies.

In the case of most of the strategies outlined in this study, the frequent use of a range of strategies clearly differentiates more proficient L2 students from the less proficient ones. While the emergence of clear and significant differences in strategy use between the two groups of subjects is important, it must be noted that there were very many similarities too. Where statistically significant differences were found to exist between the groups of subjects, strategies that are characteristic of reading proficiency are likely to be revealed.

More precisely, when applying statistical analysis to questions of group A (appendix C), the responses proved to be statistically significant. In other words, they were valid and reliable at level 5%.

The results show highly significant differences between the proficient and less proficient L2 students in the frequency with which they used the positive strategies.

X2=6.729, df 2, p<. 005 (p=. 002)

Reading in broad phrases, keeping the meaning in mind and underlining are strategies which were utilized significantly more by the students who declared higher L2 proficiency level.

The results show no significant differences between the students of both departments (Primary and Early childhood Education) in the frequency with which they used the positive strategies.

A factorial analysis of the results revealed the questions of B group to be statistically significant, at the 1% level, between groups of different L2 competence level. X2=3.064, df 2, p<.010. Activating background knowledge, summarizing, note taking are strategies, which were utilized significantly more by the students who declared higher L2 competence level.

Moreover, regarding the degree of difficulty of the texts there are significant differences among the students of different language competence level.

X2= 25.015, df6, p<. 005 (p=. 002)

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