Magic WH-Questions and their Effect on L2 Oral Performance of EFL Learners

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1 Magic WH-Questions and their Effect on L2 Oral Performance of EFL Learners Seyed Jalal Abdolmanafi-Rokni & Neda Karimi English Department, Golestan University, Iran Abstract This mixed methods study investigated the effect of wh-question type of graphic organizer as a learning tool on helping university students to organize their thoughts and to improve their speaking skill. Fifty five learners from two classes at a pre-intermediate level of proficiency were randomly assigned to one experimental and one control group. To the experimental group, the graphic organizer was described and illustrated with examples of Fishbone Diagram for eight sessions, while the control group just received a placebo. The two groups were administered a pre-test and a post-test. T-tests of dependent and independent samples were carried out to find the significant differences within the groups and across the groups. The findings displayed that the introduction of the diagram produced positive results on students speaking proficiency and their ability to orally present the completed diagram. Further, the findings revealed that the graphic organizer was helpful in allowing the students to organize their thoughts after answering wh-questions by using graphic organizers. For the qualitative part of the study, the participants from the experimental group were administered a questionnaire. They commented that the use of the graphic organizer enhanced the instructional process and they came to believe that it had some effect on their students speaking scores. Keywords: wh-questions, speaking skill, learning strategies, graphic organizers Introduction Language in particular and knowledge of language in general is the defining characteristic of a human being (Nunan, 1999). As human beings have the ability to use one s first and at least one 111

2 other language, it is considered as one of the defining characteristics of the educated individual. Further, Ellis (1997) points out that in the era of technological inventions communication among people has expanded beyond their local speech communities. Brown (1994) specifically maintains that speaking is an interactive process of constructing meaning and it involves producing, receiving and processing information whose form and meaning are dependent on the context in which it occurs. That also includes the participants, their experiences, the purposes for speaking and the physical environment, being often spontaneous, open-ended, and evolving. Speaking has been regarded by many scholars (e.g., Levelt, 1989; Levelt et al., 2000) as a highly demanding and complex cognitive skill that involves several different mechanisms. Little research has been done on productive skills, such as oral performance or writing. Only few studies dealt with strategies employed in speaking and listening. On the other hand, Graphic Organizers (GOs) as a language learning strategy can be applied as a specific format for learning, remembering, and organizing concepts learned linguistically or culturally through the target language (ACTFL, 1999). Heinze-Fry and Novak (1990) described how using graphic organizers facilitate meaningful learning: Concepts are not isolated, but rather connected together, showing interrelationships. Cross links are particularly powerful connections, which form a web of relevant concepts, enhancing their anchorage and stability in cognitive structure (p. 463). GOs are useful tools in language learning. They can help learners to organize thoughts. By using maps, story webs, and plot relationship charts, readers can visualize their thinking in concrete terms. According to Teele (2004), GOs can help students store information into longterm memory and give them a visual image of the story. GOs, as illustrated by Drapeau (1998), can be used to enhance students thinking skills through brainstorming, developing new ideas, joining parts to have the whole, drawing sequence, analyzing causes and effects. 112

3 As learners in foreign language contexts such as Iran do not have many opportunities to use foreign language communicatively outside of classrooms, they have to rely primarily on formal language classes to increase their foreign language skills, including their speaking skill. In the present study the need was felt through this preliminary empirical investigation to ascertain if foreign language learners could improve their speaking skill through the use of GOs. The effect of the GOs on the speech performance of L2 learners exposed to an instructional treatment was investigated. The experimental group was pre- and post-tested so as to allow the analysis of the effectiveness of the treatment. Finally, the results were also compared to those obtained by a control group. Research Questions 1. Does wh-question type of graphic organizer lead to more fluent language use (fluency) by Iranian pre-intermediate EFL learners? 2. Does wh-question type of graphic organizer lead to more accurate language use (accuracy) by Iranian pre-intermediate EFL learners? 3. Do Iranian pre-intermediate EFL learners perceive using wh-type of graphic organizer as leading to more learning and improvement in speaking? Background One way to help students to master the strategies such as modeling, thinking aloud, inferring, summarizing, making connections, questioning, and predicting (Block & Israel, 2005) is by using a GO. Moreover, GOs are tools to help students to construct meaning (Blachowicz & Ogle, 2001). The use of GOs help students to understand the comprehension of stories (Wittrock, 1992) as they aid in the process of organizing thoughts while focusing on specific speaking strategies. GOs have long been applied as a learning tool in the science fields and have increasingly proved their usefulness in the area of second language learning (Jiang & Grabe, 2007). Bromley et al. (1999) defined a GO as a visual representation of knowledge that structures information by arranging important aspects of a concept or topic into a pattern using labels (p. 14). 113

4 GOs have been called by a variety of other names, such as semantic map, visual organizer, structured overview, story web, mind map (Bromley et al., 1999), semantic feature analysis, cognitive map, framed outline, semantic feature analysis (Kim et al., 2004), semantic web, spider map, Venn diagram, timeline, T-List, flow chart, story map, and charts of various kinds (Chamot et al., 1998). GOs are flexible and endless in application. Many GOs show different aspects of an issue or problem globally or specifically for the teacher to address. Since many GOs use short words or phrases, they seem to be useful for different kinds of learners, including English language learners at pre-intermediate level of proficiency (Marzano et al., 2001). The use of GOs is supported by schema theory, which posits that new information must be linked to ideas in existing schema, or pre-existing knowledge (Novak, 1998). Ausubel (1968) advocates that meaningful learning is an essential factor that occurs when new information is connected to the learners prior knowledge structures. He pointed out how important preexisting knowledge is for meaningful learning. Further, he states that the most important single factor influencing learning is what the learner already knows (p. iv). On the basis of this belief, he developed the idea of advance organizers to promote meaningful learning through the better integration of new knowledge with prior knowledge. In his experiments, the advance organizer was a very short piece of reading material related to the topic the participants were going to read about later. It was used to help students who had problems with reading skill by connecting prior and new knowledge. As GOs consist of a visual display and students do not need to read much compared with the advance organizers that Ausubel (1968) developed, the idea of GOs was introduced. Thus, GOs can be useful tools in relating new knowledge to pre-existing knowledge, and learners can take advantage of processing both written and visual information. Robinson (1998) outlines the cognitive underpinnings of the use of GOs: (1) Selective attention: Students pay attention to the information in the GO; (2) Schema theory: A GO activates the pre-existing knowledge of the 114

5 learner; (3) Conjoint retention: Information is encoded both verbally and spatially for retention; (4) Visual argument/computational efficiency: Seeing ideas and concepts especially help with the retention of words. GOs are thus considered theoretically effective instructional devices. GOs are a successful device for meaningful learning, and they can also be the basis of an effective learning strategy. The use of GOs supports learning according to learning theory, as learners construct knowledge by integrating new knowledge with previous knowledge when using GOs (e.g., Monroe, 1998). Although most of the studies on GOs have been focused on L1 learning in the L1 setting, few studies have been carried out on English learners in EFL or ESL settings (Jiang & Grabe, 2007). Tang (1992) has found that GOs improved reading comprehension of seventh grade ESL students, and Ruhe (1996) has demonstrated the effectiveness of GOs with listening activities when conducting research on ESL students in Canadian university. Also, Jiang and Grabe (2007) have found significant improvement of reading comprehension in their study of 340 Chinese L1 university EFL students after receiving instruction with GOs. Those researchers showed that GOs help L2 language learners to increase their comprehension of visual and aural input. According to Bromley et al. (1995), GOs can help students focus on what is important because they highlight key concepts and vocabulary, and the relationships among them. GOs are tools for organizing information. Ausubel (1968) proposes that the human mind organizes and stores information in a series of Networks. They are visual depictions that resemble networks and allow students to add or modify their background knowledge by seeing the connections and contradictions between existing knowledge and new information. GOs are tools for understanding information and relationships. Furthermore, Vygotsky (1962) believes that GOs serve as mental tools to help the students understand and retain important information and relationships. Sorenson (1991) also declares 115

6 that GOs provide an optional way of depicting knowledge and understanding. So it is particularly beneficial for students who have difficulty with expressing relationship among parts of concepts in written word. GOs can be used as tools for self-learning. Students who use GOs in the classroom develop their ability to use them independently as study tools for note taking, planning, presentation, and review (Dunston, 1992). Moreover, GOs are beneficial to students learning inside and beyond classrooms. It is also to be noted that GOs create a suitable platform for rich instruction and deep processing by making linguistic information available as interactive schema (Sökmen, 1997). GOs typically include a variety of information displayed in nodes (such as boxes, and ovals); this can allow learners to process various types of information, including the properties of words (i.e., meaning, usage, part of speech, and associations) without being overwhelmed cognitively. Key information is isolated in GOs and the relationships among each piece of information are clearly shown with a visual display and text; this approach can facilitate comprehension as the organization of the information is clear (Bromley et al., 1995). So, words are assumed to be better retained in long-term memory after such processing. Methodology Research Design The present study was done in order to explore the effect of wh-question type of GO on Iranian pre-intermediate EFL learners oral performance regarding accuracy and fluency. The design was of the quasi-experimental type with a between-groups design. The independent variable was the instruction of wh-question type of GO. The dependent variable was learners oral performance which was assessed considering the two analytic measures of fluency and accuracy. Participants 116

7 Sixty four first year university learners were selected from two classes in an institute in Gorgan, Iran during the academic year They were female students ranging from 18 to 23 who voluntarily consented to cooperate. First, an Oxford Placement Test (OPT) was administered in order to homogenize the two groups. Later, the two classes were randomly assigned to two groups of experimental and control (23 learners in the control group and 22 in the experimental one). Instrumentation Background Questionnaire In order to elicit subjective information of participants, a background questionnaire was developed by the investigators. It covered issues such as the participants age, gender, and first language status. Oxford Placement Test In order to be assured of the homogeneity of the control and experimental groups in terms of English language proficiency, the researchers administered a test of quick placement test of oxford, on a similar group of 20 students before the pre-test. It consisted of 40 multiple-choice items in parts of grammar and vocabulary. The time allotted was 40 minutes. The reliability of the test was met through the KR-21 formula (0.82). Speaking Test The participants in both experimental and control groups took a pre- and post-test interview consisting of 10 questions. The researchers transcribed the interviews and then they rated them on the basis of accuracy and fluency. Questionnaire In this study, the survey questionnaire consisted of open-ended survey questions to investigate participant s perception of the usefulness of GO on oral production, and the level of their motivation while using wh-question type of GOs. Two open-ended survey questions were also conducted asking students to briefly write about what they personally felt and thought about the questions items. The questionnaires were written both in English and in Persian and the students were permitted to write the statements in Persian, too. 117

8 Treatment The training activity lasted for eight sessions and took place after the pre-test. The participants capacity to improve their proficiency in speaking through GOs was the goal and focus of this training. The training materials included the dialogs from eight lessons of the book Interchange (intro) by Jack C. Richard (2005) and a graphic lesson plan by answering the whquestions through GOs as well as practice activities. During the instruction, the participants were provided with a conversation, and one of the researchers started motivating the students through the use of a fishbone diagram. She helped the students to organize their thoughts in a simple, visual way so that they were able to explore many aspects or effects of a complex topic. The treatment included two activities: graphic wh-question tasks and graphic creation tasks. The participants read a given conversation in three minutes before answering the wh-questions of the graphic provided for the speaking. There was time for the whole class to check and correct on the task at the end and to speak about that conversation by the use of the answers to all those questions. For the second activity, participants listened and read another conversation and drew a GO for that conversation. Procedure The purpose of the speaking test was to assess the participants' speaking skill before and after the implementation of the instructional program in order to detect the effect of wh-question type of GO on the participants' speaking skill. The participants were pre- and post-tested orally and tape-recorded. Finally, at the conclusion of the eighth week of the study the questionnaire was also distributed to the participants to gather some information about the perception of the usefulness of wh-question type of GOs. Data Analysis Each interview was transcribed and the transcripts were coded on the basis of fluency and accuracy. An independent-samples t-test was run in order to compare the oral performance of learners in control and experimental groups. Inter-rater reliability coefficients were determined 118

9 on all categories by the two raters independently. Inter-rater reliability was above 78% on all measures. The recorded audios was analyzed by the two researchers. Results In response to the research questions, a series of t-tests were carried out on each dependent variable in order to determine for which measures differences reached significance. The minimum alpha for confirmation of the research hypothesis was.05. The mean scores and standard deviations of the accuracy and fluency of the control and experimental groups are displayed in Table 1. The mean scores for the two measures are higher in the experimental group showing that the participants in the experimental group outperformed the ones in the control group. Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for Wh-Question Type of Graphic Organizer and Accuracy- Fluency Group Statistics Group N Mean Std. Deviation Std. Error Mean Accuracy Fluency The result of the t-test, as shown in Table 2, shows that there is a statistically significant difference (p<.05) between the control and experimental group with regards to accuracy and fluency. The means of the two measures are more in the experimental group, showing that the instruction of wh-question type of GO resulted in more accurate and fluent oral production. Table 2. Independent Samples T-Test between Wh-Question Type of Graphic Organizer and Accuracy-Fluency Independent Samples T-Test Levene's Test for Equality of Variances t-test for Equality of Means F Sig. T Df Sig. (2- tailed) Mean Difference 95% Confidence Std. Error Interval of the Difference Difference 119

10 accuracy2 fluency2 Equal variances assumed Equal variances not assumed Equal variances assumed Equal variances not assumed Lower Upper In sum, analyzing the results from the experimental and the control groups with regard to the effect of strategy instruction on the accuracy and fluency of oral performance, it can be concluded that the instruction of wh-question type of GO benefited the two characteristics of responses. Discussion The practical nature of the wh-question type of GO was meant to improve the L2 oral production of pre-intermediate learners, and they were chosen to be used as an instructional strategy familiar to classroom teachers. To determine whether using wh-question type of GO had any effect on students accurate and fluent oral production, this study was designed to be used on a consistent basis in the specific areas of oral production development. This study used an explanatory, mixed-methods design. The primary method of analysis was quantitative. Moreover, the participants responded to questionnaires which comprised the qualitative phase of the study. The students in the experimental group were given two open-ended survey question items to assess students perceptions of the usefulness of GO on oral production, and the level of their motivation while using wh-question type of GOs. The open-ended survey questions were conducted asking students to briefly write about what they personally felt and thought about the questions items. Item 1 I was able to better organize my information by using graphic 120

11 organizers. Do you agree or disagree with the statements? Please briefly describe why you agree or not. And item 2 Were you comfortable using the GO? Why? were intended to investigate students perspectives of the usefulness of GO on oral production. The result of the answers to the questionnaires showed that, the use of the graphic organizer seemed to be excitedly received by students in organizing information, and its effect on their oral production. This study concluded that graphic organizers can help the students in making sense of putting information, and they can also assist them to make effective gains in oral production. The participants in the experimental group performed significantly better than the ones in the control group who simply read and listened to the dialogs before discussing and speaking about the conversations. When the WH Fish diagram was introduced to the students in experimental group, it was noticed that the students were encouraged as they were listening and actively involved in the speaking activities planned for them. In the control group the intention to encourage the students for speaking did not occur. But, in the experimental group throughout the GO activity, the participants discussions were carried out in English. They took turns answering the wh-questions, and each partner took part in the discussion equally. The participants talked most of the time when engaging with the task of GO. According to Tsubaki (2012), tasks that are more challenging are more beneficial as they require more thought and, in some cases, more interaction. Tsubaki also argued that deep processing is based on cognitively and motivationally stimulating tasks that present a challenge to the learners. The findings of the present study provide information about the usefulness of wh-question type of GOs on oral production of the students. There are also further confirmations from the results of the previous studies which conclude that GOs, in particular, have significant effects on other language skills such as reading comprehension. The finding of the present study is in congruent with the one conducted by Jacqueline Martin (2006) who showed that the more opportunities 121

12 there are to students, the more learning occurs. Jacqueline Martin (2006) also concluded that the students using WH Fish diagram enjoyed the reading activities. Moreover, it was found that students need to be taught with different kinds of learning tools to improve their learning process. Further, Louisot-Mesopotanese (2009) in her study about the effects of GOs on improving the reading comprehension reported that most students enjoyed the organizers after reading a story, and all students were excited when they were introduced to each graphic organizer. It was found that it would be beneficial to use graphic organizers in all subjects because GOs can be a way to guide students to effectively understand the stories they read. Also, Louisot- Mesopotanese concluded that graphic organizers were helpful in allowing the students to organize their thoughts after reading a story. Moreover, the finding of the present study is in line with that of Vaughn and Edmonds (2006) who concluded that a student could show connections between ideas and concepts by using a graphic organizer in order to improve comprehension. Conclusion Most students are facing with the unacceptable outcome of English language learning in Iran. So, most EFL teachers are concerned about students incomplete performances despite their high attempts to enable them to communicate in English in language classrooms. To increase foreign language proficiency, the researchers have provided GOs in wh-questions as an instruction to help students become proficient speakers. Based on the findings, teachers can use GOs as an instructional strategy, especially in speaking classes. However, it is essential for teachers to consider the length of the GO instructions as well as the types of GOs for effective instructional results. As teachers, it is our duty to provide a 122

13 variety of educational experiences so that the students can be directed to relate what they are learning and apply the lessons to their lives later. Further, the use of questioning techniques by GOs can help learners initiate language, and answering questions can provide a continued interaction helping learners to improve their speaking. This study has found evidence that GOs are effective for developing learners speaking skill. In the present study, it was also found that the group with graphic skills performed better than the control group in oral performance. This finding has supported previous studies showing that GOs assisted students in extracting information and answering factual and inferential questions faster due to their spatial representation (Robinson & Skinner, 1996). GOs can be used to help the students to express their thoughts in an organized and visual way. In this study the students produced wh-questions such as who, when, where, why, and how about a topic of a conversation in each unit. As Richards and Renandya (2002) stipulate, students may become more motivated to interpret the topic and its text by answering the string of magic wh-questions before productive skills such as speaking and writing. In the present study, the use of GOs aided students in selecting particular information from an article or dialog to answer the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how. It also helped the students to review what they already know, and make it possible for them to monitor their comprehension of the topic. References American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. (1999). ACTFL performance guidelines for K-12 learners. Yonkers, NY: ACTFL. Ausubel, D.P. (1968). Educational psychology: A cognitive view. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 123

14 Blachowicz, C. & Ogle, D. (2001). Reading comprehension: Strategies for independent learners. New York: The Guilford Press. Block, C.C. & Israel, S.E. (2005). Reading first and beyond: The complete guide for teachers and literacy coaches. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Bromley, K., Irwin-DeVitis, L., & Modlo, M. (1995). Graphic organizers: Visual strategies for active learning. New York, NY: Scholastic. Bromley, K., Irwin-DeVitis, L., & Modlo, M. (1999). 50 graphic organizers for reading, writing and more. New York, NY: Scholastic. Brown, D. (1994). Teaching by principles. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Regent. Chamot, A.U., Barnhardt, S., El-Dinary, P.B., & Robbins, J. (1998). The learning strategies handbook. Cambridge, UK: Longman. Drapeau, P. (1998). Great teaching with graphic organizers: Lessons and fun-shaped templates that motivate kids of all learning styles. New York: Scholastic Professional Books. Dunston, P.J. (1992). A critique of graphic organizer research. Reading Research & Instruction, 32(2), Ellis, N. (1997). Vocabulary Acquisition: Word Structure, Collocation, Word-Class and Meaning. In N. Schmitt, & M. McCarthy, (Eds.), Vocabulary: Description, acquisition and pedagogy (pp ). Cambridge: Cambridge United Press. Heinze-Fry, J.A. & Novak, J.D. (1990). Concept mapping brings long-term movement toward meaningful learning. Science Education, 74, Jiang, X. & Grabe, W. (2007). Graphic organizers in reading instruction: Research findings and issues. Reading in a Foreign Language, 19(1), Kim, A., Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., & Wei, S. (2004). A synthesis of research on graphic organizers and their effect on reading comprehension for students with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 37, Levelt, W.J.M. (1989). Speaking: From intention to articulation. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Levelt, W.J.M., Roelofs, A., Meyer, A.S. (2000). A theory of lexical access in speech production. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 22,

15 Louisot-Mesopotanese, N. (2009). The effects of graphic organizers on improving the reading comprehension of second grade students. Unpublished MA thesis, Caldwell College. UMI Number: Marzano, R.J., Pickering, D.J., & Pollock, J.E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Researchbased strategies for increased student achievement. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development. Martin, J. (2006). Fishy story. Jurnal Penyelidikan Tindakan Tahun, 1, Monroe, E.E. (1998). Using graphic organizers to teach vocabulary: Does available research inform mathematics instruction? Education, 118(4), Novak, J.D. (1998). Learning, creating, and using knowledge: Concept maps as facilitative tools in schools and corporations. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Nunan, D. (1999). Second language teaching and learning. Boston: Thomson/Heinle. Richards, J.C. (2005). Interchange intro (3 rd ed.). Cambridge: CUP. Richards, J.C. & Renandya, W.A. (2002). Methodology in Language Teaching: An Anthology of Current Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Robinson, M.D. (1998). Running from William James bear: A review of pre attentive mechanisms and their contributions to emotional experience. Cognition and Emotion, 12, Robinson, D.H. & Skinner, C.H. (1996). Why Organizers facilitate search processes: Fewer words or computationally efficient indexing? Contemporary Educational Psychology, 21, Ruhe, V. (1996). Graphics and listening comprehension. TESL Canada Journal, 14(1), Sökmen, A.J. (1997). Current trends in teaching second language vocabulary. In N. Schmitt & M. McCarthy (Eds.), Vocabulary: Description, acquisition, and pedagogy (pp ). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Sorenson, S. (1991). Working with special students in English language arts. TRIED, ED , Bloomington, IN: ERICC learning house on Reading and Communication Skills. Tang, G. (1992). The effect of graphic representation of knowledge structures on ESL reading comprehension. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 14,

16 Teele, S. (2004). Overcoming barricades to reading a multiple intelligences approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Tsubaki, M. (2012). Vocabulary learning with graphic organizers in the EFL environment: Inquiry into the involvement load hypothesis. Education dissertation, Temple University, United States. Retrieved March 15, 2012, from ProQuest Digital Dissertations database. UMI Vaughn, S. & Edmonds, M. (2006). Reading comprehension for older readers. Intervention in School and Clinic, 41(3), Vygotsky, L.S. (1962). Thought and language. (E. Hanfmann & G. Vakar, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press. Wittrock, M.C. (1992). Generative learning processes of the brain. Educational Psychologist, 27(4),

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