Volume 1 (2010) Issue 1 - Article Momtaz / Garner
Tab. 1: Independent samples t-test for Test 1
An independent-samples t-test was carried out to compare the reading comprehension scores on text 1 for the two classes involved in the study. There was a statistically significant difference in scores for class 1 (M = 6.01, SD =1.77) and class 2 (M = 3.87, SD = 1.81), (sig. . .001).
Tab. 2: Independent samples t-test for Test 2
An independent-samples t-test was carried out to compare the reading comprehension scores on text 2 for the two classes involved in the study. There was a statistically significant difference in scores for class 1 (M = 5.37, SD =2.28) and class 2 (M = 7.25, SD = 1.82), (sig . . . 01)
Tab. 3: Independent samples t-test for Test 3
An independent-samples t-test was carried out to compare the reading comprehension scores on text 3 for the two classes involved in the study. There was a difference between the means of the two classes as follows, but this difference was not statistically significant. Class 1 (M = 5.84, SD =2.39) and class 2 (M = 6.40, SD = 2.17), (sig. . .47).
Tab. 4: Independent samples t-test for Test 4
An independent-samples t-test was carried out to compare the reading comprehension scores on text 4 for the two classes involved in the study. There was a statistically significant difference in scores for class 1 (M = 7.12, SD =1.58) and class 2 (M = 4.11, SD = 2.42), (sig. . .000).
4.2 Processes Leading to Greater Comprehension
Qualitative methods were employed to answer the question which processes lead to greater comprehension. Group interactions during collaborative reading were tape-recorded (two groups in each session) and transcribed so as to identify the processes of collaborative reading. In the seventh week of the study, ten participants, selected at random from the two classes, were interviewed concerning their feelings and attitudes towards the two modes of reading.
4.2.1 Class Discussions
The transcripts of students’ collaborative interactions were analysed carefully, and it was revealed that students, in their attempt to comprehend the texts, were engaged in various types of processes. Students’ utterances were labelled preliminarily. These labels were then discussed, modified and eventually consolidated into five major categories: brainstorming, summarising, paraphrasing, using meta-linguistic utterances, and using interaction management utterances. In addition, other minor processes were identified, such as making positive/negative claim to understand, eliciting confirmation, and confirming. It should be noted that the utterances made in Farsi were translated into English and are italicised in the following data.
Brainstorming was manifested in a number of ways. First, a student made an initial text-interpreting utterance (TIU, initial). Then, other students made other types of text-interpreting utterances, such as convergent expanding text-interpreting utterances, confirming text-interpreting utterances, and divergent text-interpreting utterances. Sometimes text-interpreting utterances included those which asked for explanation, utterances explaining something and utterances in the form of questions and answers.
Transcript 3.2, Paragraph 5
3.2. A: He wants to emphasize the colour of white here…unfortunately, he forgets that crayon. TIU (initial)
3.2. C: The most important colour for painting on a brown paper is white. TIU (convergent, expanding)
3.2. B: Yes, because this is very visible. TIU (convergent, expanding)
3.2. C: So what it wants to show? TIU (asking for explanation)
3.2. B: It wants to show the importance of white colour on brown paper. TIU (explaining)
In most cases, the groups involved in the collaborative reading, while applying the ‘get-the-gist’ strategy, attempted to summarise the texts paragraph by paragraph, and it was the recorder’s duty to make a written record of the summary of the paragraphs already agreed by all members of the group. The summary was supposed to include the main idea(s) of the paragraphs.
Transcript 1.1, Paragraph (4)
1.1. B: [probably to the reporter]
The children from middle classes are more independent than the children from rich families.
In their attempts to interpret the texts, the students sometimes resorted to paraphrasing which took the form of either rephrasing the ideas presented by other students or pure paraphrasing of the original sentences contained in the text.
Transcript 2.1, Paragraph (3)
2.1. A: In spite of this, nine days after the first burglary she suffered from the second burglary.
2.1. B: It means that the second burglary happened nine days after the first.
126.96.36.199 Meta-Linguistic Utterances
One noticeable phenomenon, observed to a great extent in the students’ interactions, was the use of meta-linguistic utterances, which included activities such as asking for the meaning of unknown lexical items, providing definitions from the dictionary or by participants, asking about the word’s part of speech, etc. This phenomenon discloses the fact that students draw on each other’s linguistic knowledge to comprehend the texts.
Transcript 1.1, Paragraph (3)
1.1. C: What does ‘rely on’ mean?
1.1. B: /tekye kardan / [Farsi equivalent]
1.1. A: Inspire means?
1.1. B: It is a verb…
1.1. B: It means encourage.
1.1. A: Monarchy means?
1.1. B: /saltanati/ [Farsi equivalent]
1.1. C: Their (line 5) refers to what?
1.1. B: “Their” refers to multimillionaires.
188.8.131.52 Interaction Management Utterances
As mentioned before, each group had a leader, a recorder (or reporter) and two or more collaborators. To play their roles appropriately, every student had to make use of certain interaction management utterances. The leader of the group was supposed to be the most active person in this respect.
Transcript 4.2, Paragraph (5)
4.2.B: [to the others] Read to this point.
4.2. C: Let’s read to the end.
4.2. C: Forget about the details.
4.2. B: Translate the last part.
4.2 A: [probably to the reporter] Read to us what you have written.
184.108.40.206 Other Utterance Types
Most of the transcripts contained utterances with other communicative functions, such as making positive/negative claim to understand, eliciting confirmation and confirming. These, however, were fairly infrequent, and appeared to play little if any part in students’ developing understanding of the text.
Transcript 3.1, Paragraph (1)
3.1. C: Wrap-up means summarise. It doesn’t make sense here. (Negative claim to understand)
Transcript 1.2, Paragraph (1)
1.2. B: Is it right? (Eliciting confirmation)
1.2. A: Yes, that’s it. It is correct. (Confirming)
4.2.2 The Interviews
The recorded interviews, held in Farsi, were transcribed verbatim and analysed. In the analysis process, attempts were made to identify and group together the co-occurring and similar statements under some general categories. Eventually, six dominant but overlapping themes emerged from the interviews:
A number of interviewees commented that collaborative reading provided them with an enjoyable and relaxed learning environment, thus leading to the removal of affective filters. One interviewee said,
In collaborative reading, students’ anxiety is reduced and students develop more self-confidence.
A major factor was that through collaboration, they could have access to multiple perspectives, which in turn made learning more effective for them. One of the interviewees said,
A few of the students believed that what made learning fun was the mere fact of social interaction in the group discussions. Others stressed the efficiency of collaborative reading, especially with regard to saving time and energy. One student said,
Some interviewees felt that collaborative reading developed their lexical knowledge and reinforced other language skills, particularly listening comprehension and speaking.
Almost all of the interviewees expressed a positive attitude towards collaborative reading, but some also pointed out its potential limitations. For example, some interviewees felt they needed more time for reading strategy training and more practice in applying the strategies. A few of them also pointed out that they were able to concentrate better on the text during their private reading.
5. Discussion and Conclusions
The results of this study suggest that students reading collaboratively consistently outperform students reading privately. The effects of collaborative reading appear to be salient in enhancing the reading comprehension ability of Iranian EFL university students. These findings corroborate those of Chang (1995) that the average scores of students in cooperative learning were about two points higher than those of students in a traditional teacher-oriented English reading class.
The gains of the collaborative readers can be grouped under the following categories:
(1) the increase of student talk in the collaborative reading context
(2) the supportive and communicative learning available in collaborative reading context, and
(3) the presence of interactive processes in the collaborative reading context naturally stimulating the students’ cognitive, linguistic, and social abilities.
In a collaborative learning context, students were able to maximize the level of their peer interactions, which was an essential feature of learning when the learners were in the action of interacting with people in their environment and in cooperation with their peers (Vygotsky 1978). Students in collaborative reading groups had more opportunities to interact with their peers and, therefore, they had more chances to be corrected by their peers whenever they made mistakes. Collaborative reading created natural, interactive contexts in which students were engaged in interactive processes such as brainstorming, listening to one another, asking questions, eliciting self-disclosure, making reflexive comments, eliciting confirmation, asking for explanation, clarifying issues, collective summarising of paragraphs, and collective paraphrasing of the utterances. Such frequent interaction among students increased the amount of student talk and student participation in the classroom, which, in turn, played a role in developing the students’ encyclopedic and linguistic knowledge. The private readers, on the other hand, were deprived of these interactive processes.
In the collaborative reading class, students had opportunities to receive feedback and modelling from their peers. According to Vygotsky (1978), an essential feature of learning is that it awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the learner is in the action of interacting with people in his or her environment and in collaboration with his or her peers. Therefore, when it comes to collaborative reading comprehension, the authenticity of the environment and the affinity between the participants are essential elements to make the learner feel part of this environment. These elements are absent in private reading. Much of the value of collaborative reading, in effect, lie in the way that group activities encourage students to engage in such high-level cognitive skills as analysing, explaining, synthesizing, and elaborating.
Our study provides some evidence that collaborative learning can be effectively implemented in a reading comprehension class with Iranian university students who are majoring in English as a foreign language. It also gives evidence to the potential impact collaborative learning can have on students’ development of linguistic and encyclopedic knowledge. The linguistic knowledge in this research is interpreted in terms of lexical knowledge and knowledge of the grammatical structures. The encyclopedic knowledge is interpreted in terms of the concepts and the overall purpose or meaning contained in the texts.
Our study had some limitations. Firstly, the participants were restricted to two classes comprising 36 university students. With such a small sample of students it is difficult to generalize the results to other populations. Further studies on more student participants implementing collaborative reading in more classes are recommended in order to generate more evidence on the effects of collaborative reading. Secondly, students received direct instruction on specific reading comprehension strategies for only one session. As some of the students noted in the interviews, they needed more time for strategy training. Thirdly, the students experienced collaborative reading for only two sessions, which cannot be considered enough as the students need more practice to implement the reading comprehension strategies.
Despite these limitations, we believe that the findings are sufficiently clear to suggest that collaborative reading has an important place in the EFL classroom, and that this approach to language teaching would repay further research in a variety of institutional and cultural contexts.
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University of Aberdeen (UK)
School of Language and Literature
Dr. Marc Garner
University of Aberdeen (UK)
School of Language and Literature