Volume 9 (2018) Issue 2 - Article Ouhamiche & Ziad
JLLT Volume 9 (2018) Issue 2.pdf

Journal of Linguistics and Language Teaching

Volume 9 (2018) Issue 2 (PDF)

An Investigation on Free Voluntary Reading of a Group of EFL Students and their Beliefs about its Impact on their Writing Performance


Ghania Ouahmiche (Oran, Algeria) & Khalid Ziad (Oran, Algeria)


Abstract

Research on the benefits of free voluntary reading in EFL settings has been in the ascendant following the numerous reports documenting the power of reading voluntarily in helping students reach satisfactory levels of target language proficiency, especially writing skills which are widely considered as a source of trouble for many EFL students. From this perspective, our study examines the FVR habits of a group of EFL university students as well as their beliefs concerning the efficiency of reading voluntarily to enhance their writing development. The main results of the study reveal that despite students’ inconstant Free Voluntary Reading habits, they hold positive beliefs about its efficiency in enhancing writing development specifically in terms of content enrichment rather than form correctness.

Keywords: Free voluntary reading, reading habit, writing performance, habit


1 Introduction

Throughout the past few decades, the focus on free natural reading as a precursor to overall language proficiency has resulted in a considerable amount of research, especially in ESL and EFL settings, where a constant search for efficient pedagogical teaching practices is of high importance. In fact, this seems to be evident in the various terms that have been given to this kind of reading: extensive reading, silent sustained reading, recreational reading, extracurricular reading, flood book approach, pleasure reading and free voluntary reading (Krashen 2004, Day & Bamford 1998, Elley & Mangubhai, 1983). Despite the rich variety of names, they approximately converge to the same concept: reading is viewed as a stable activity that is mostly pursued at leisure and over extended periods, with relatively simple materials stimulating interest and meaningfulness (Krashen 1982, 2004, Day & Bamford 1998, Renandya & Jacobs 2002, Grabe 2009, Nuttall 1982).

Of the numerous features that characterize this kind of reading (Day & Bamford 1998), there are two which appear to be central, especially for students who seek to maximize their chances to form a reading habit within out-of-classroom contexts: (a) The amount of the comprehensible and interesting material to be read, and (b) the period of consistent exposure to this material (Renandya 2007). Although there is a natural tendency for language learners to engage, even lightly, in various forms of Free Voluntary Reading (henceforth FVR), reluctance to read extensively is often claimed to be endemic among large groups of them. Probably hardly anyhere else can this state of affairs be observed than in the context of EFL students (Day & Bamford 2000). Similar to native language users, EFL students’ reading habits have generally been studied with reference to different parameters.


2 Literature Review

2.1 EFL Reading Habits

In a pioneer study in which the reading habits of a group of ESL students at a US university were examied, Sheorey & Mokhtari focused on

the types of materials read, the volume of reading done, the perceptions of the subjects’ reading ability, the subjects’ perceived weaknesses in reading, and their perceptions of needed improvements in their reading skills. (Sheorey & Mokhtari 1994: 50)

In this study, the authors highlighted the differences resulting from these indicators with regards to English language proficiency (high vs. low) and academic level (undergraduate vs. postgraduate). Similarly, other studies in which this issue was addressed (Akarsu & Darıyemez 2014, Iftanti 2012, Lone 2011, Oguz, Yildiz & Hayirsever 2009, Ögeyik & Akyay, 2009) identified factors which ranged over the amount of time spent doing FVR, the number and types of materials read, as well as students' attitudes and beliefs about reading practice and efficiency. These factors were further analyzed in relation to variables such as gender, ethnicity, socio-economic situation, educational level of parents, to name just a few. Research which takes this path is mostly meant to explore children’s, adolescents’ and adults’ reading practices and to see if the latter follow any predictable patterns.

For the reading practice to be incremental, leading to a patterned behaviour, it should be experienced on a regular basis. In this context, Worthy rightly states:

Giving students access to reading materials is critically important in promoting voluntary reading. (Worthy 1996: 483)

Moreover, Krashen (1993) affirms that the choice of the reading material plays a crucial role in this regard. Nuttal (1982: 131) suggests four main criteria for choosing FVR materials: short, appealing, varied and easy. Graded readers which are “books written for learners of English using limited lexis and syntax” (Hill 2008: 185) can be an encouraging starting point, especially at beginning and intermediate levels. Their use is rather frequent in EFL settings despite the controversy about the issue of language simplification (Day & Bamford 1998). Once students attain a threshold level that allows them to read authentic materials, they can naturally select to read what is published for L1 readership. At this juncture, they may turn to an abundance of reading materials like magazines, classics, newspapers, comics, fiction and non-fiction prose, books and encyclopedias. These are sought, most conveniently, in public or academic libraries which offer students a haven for a rewarding reading experience (Bordonaro 2011). Even if libraries do not cater for all learners’ reading interests and preferences, or if the number of titles is insufficient, access to reading materials can be increased through other alternatives. With the advent of information technology, electronic books and digitalized texts have become easily available to learners. The Internet is also a viable option which is, as Arnold maintains, “the most likely source of materials for L2 pleasure reading outside the classroom context” (Arnold 2009: 364). The Internet may not always be readily available for all EFL students, however, opportunities for connection are increasingly offered at least in academic institutions. Thus, students’ engagement in FVR can be made much more accessible.


2.2 Benefits of Free Voluntary Reading in an EFL Context

Due to the prevailing view that FVR might be a panacea to many of EFL learners’ problems (as broadly claimed by the advocates of this approach) and in the hope of achieving further success and improvement towards EFL proficiency, many researchers and educators turned to setting up various instructional FVR programmes (Horst 2005, Renandya & Jacobs 2002, Davis 1995). Initially, the established programmes capitalized on learners’ reading skills development at various levels. In most of these studies, results have reportedly come as expected at the outset of the experiments: participants’ reading comprehension abilities, their reading speed and motivation as well as their attitudes towards reading were significantly fostered after the treatment (Elley & Mangubhai 1983, Robb & Susser 1989, Crawford Camiciottoli 2001, Lai 1993, Bell 2001, Yamashita 2008, Iwahori 2008, Krashen 2011). Despite some notable methodological flaws in the research design of several of the aforementioned studies, such as test reliability, sample size and inadequate reporting of necessary information (Waring 2001), the outcomes of FVR interventions in general were reported as being expansively favourable for other language aspects (Constantino, Lee, Cho & Krashen 1997, Krashen 2004) in addition to learners’ reading skill development.

Incidental vocabulary acquisition is a key issue that is often debated when highlighting the advantages of FVR with reference to immediate linguistic proficiency. In this respect, Hudson contends that

There is general agreement that much second language vocabulary learning occurs incidentally through extensive reading, rather than explicit vocabulary instruction. (Hudson 2007: 245)

With regards to EFL settings, there are several studies which support this view (Wodinsky & Nation 1988, Day, Omura & Hiramatsu 1991, Nation & Wang 1999, Daskalovska 2014). In a recent study, Suk (2017) investigated the impact of a 15-week extensive programme on the reading comprehension, reading rate and vocabulary acquisition of 171 Korean EFL students. Following a controlled methodological design, the results of this empirical study indicated that the two experimental groups, which received extensive reading instruction in addition to an intensive reading course, significantly outperformed the two control groups, which just dealt with intensive reading instruction, in all three measures: reading comprehension, reading rate and vocabulary acquisition.

Constantino (1994) reported on the benefits of pleasure reading in terms of linguistic gains and reading ability for a group of EFL (non-English major) students who enrolled in some US universities to pursue their postgraduate studies. She stated that pleasure reading appeared to have affected the students in two ways: They acquired more grammar and vocabulary while also making their reading a more global activity. (Constantino 1994: 505)

In a similar vein, Mason & Krashen (1997) conducted an experiment with two EFL groups in a Japanese University to investigate the impact of FVR on students’ overall development in the target language. To this end, the researchers chose to work with failing students (they called them 'retakers') as an experimental group who were required to read at least 50 graded readers over a whole semester. The comparison group, which consisted of good students, carried on with the ordinary traditional method. Although the experimental group subjects scored poorly in a cloze test before the treatment, the results of the posttest (the same cloze test) showed that they had made more significant progress in comparison with the control group subjects. Locating these results in their overall context, the researchers explain that

the clear gains made by the experimental group are quite consistent with the previous reports of the positive effects of extensive reading on second language acquirers. (Mason & Krashen 1997: 93).

A major aspect that has attracted attention among numerous EFL researchers is the relationship between FVR and writing proficiency. Understandably, reading and writing skills do share numerous commonalities at either the linguistic or cognitive level (Hudson 2007, Fitzgerald & Shanahan 2000), which offers a direct incentive to examine their subtle interconnections even within L1 contexts. However, the quest for the nature of this connection seems to have been fuelled by the urgent need to present a conceptual model which demystifies the intricacies of literacy development (Abu-Akel 1997), especially in second and foreign language settings where the interference of first language literacy skills is quite common. Although the relationship between these two skills is by no means one-directional (Grabe 2003), it has long been dogmatically accepted that the amount of reading done by learners influences both the quality and quantity of their writing products.

In a literature review about the benefits of FVR, Krashen as cited in (Renandya & Jacobs 2002: 300) concluded that writing development through FVR seems to be well grounded. It is worth noting that Krashen’s sensible conclusion goes in harmony with the read-to-write relationship in which writing proficiency is viewed as a complex process that is triggered concurrently with the immersion in a rich reading experience (Smith 1983). Relying on this background, which mirrors the principles of the comprehensible input hypothesis (Krashen 1983), numerous studies were, in different settings and with various learner age groups, conducted to statistically measure the real impact of FVR on writing or the strength of association between these two skills. The results obtained were not always consistent with the theoretical rationale as reported in some studies (Yamashita 2008). Nevertheless, empirical evidence is not strong enough to refute or underestimate the usefulness and relationship of FVR to writing enhancement.

Janopoulos (1986), for example, conducted a correlational study to investigate the relationship between the amount of pleasure reading and L2 writing proficiency. Working with a sample of 79 ESL university students, he found a significant positive correlation (.76) between these two variables, explaining that “heavy L2 pleasure readers in this study were more likely to be proficient in L2 writing than subjects who were not heavy L2 readers” (Janopoulos 1986: 766).

In a similar but more detailed correlational study, Gradman and Hanania (1991) threw light on the factors which are more contributive to EFL students’ language proficiency within a specific learning background. They examined the relationship between students’ achievement scores (as achieved on TOEFL) and a set of variables that are envisaged to influence their level. Among the 44 background variables considered, the researchers found a significant positive correlation, though of moderate strength, between extracurricular reading done by the learners and the results achieved in the writing section of the TOEFL score. More interestingly, the results of the multiple regression analysis indicated that extracurricular reading exerted a prominent influence on students’ achievement levels and accounted for much of the variance within their TOEFL scores. Focusing on a notorious textual aspect of writing, Polak & Krashen (1988) took interest in the relationship between FVR and learners' spelling ability among a group of ESL university students. The results of their tripartite study revealed the existence of a significant negative correlation. Despite the moderate magnitude of the correlation coefficients, the findings suggested that the rate of making spelling errors decreases among those students who reported doing more FVR. The results of correlational studies, however, are not indicative of any cause-effect relationship. To demonstrate this causality, researchers often resort to other methodologies like quasi-experimental designs.

Departing from the clear relevance of Krashen’s input comprehensible hypothesis to linguistic proficiency in L2, Tudor & Hafiz (1989) aimed at the assessment of the effect of extensive reading on the reading and writing abilities of a group of ESL students. Throughout the programme, which lasted 12 weeks, the subjects of the experimental group were provided with a large number of interesting graded readers and were asked to present an oral report about the amount of reading done. Participants in the two matched control groups, however, did not receive this treatment. In congruence with the aim of the study, all participants sat for a pretest and posttest in reading and writing abilities. The results clearly pointed out to the crucial influence of extensive reading on students’ L2 linguistic proficiency, especially on their writing skills, where the gains were significantly observed. Likewise, Lai (1993) examined the impact of a four-week FVR programme on ESL learners’ reading and writing skills in Hong Kong secondary schools. Of the three groups taking part in this experiment, one group was required to write an essay about a specific topic before and after the treatment, which included reading a set of graded readers and some short passages. The subjects’ compositions were analyzed using an assessment procedure that targeted the frequency of surface and structural mistake occurrence as well as an overall impressionistic judgment about the quality of writing. Opting for a repeated-measure research design, the comparison of the pretreatment and posttreatment mean scores of the students’ written compositions indicated that there was a significant improvement in both the quality and quantity of their writing. This improvement, however, was achieved just with students who already possessed a threshold level in their general English proficiency. In spite of the relatively short period of the study and the absence of a control group against which this improvement would be gauged, the findings seem to highlight the ostensible positive effect of FVR on students' writing development.

To gain more insights about the role of FVR in enhancing students' EFL writing composition abilities, Tsang (1996) conducted a comparative study of the effects of two different instructional environments (one input-based and the other one output-based) on students’ writing performance at four grade levels. Within each level, students were randomly assigned to three groups: two experimental groups and one control group. During the 24-week period of the study, all students received regular instruction in addition to one of the following treatment conditions: doing extensive reading in their free time (experimental group 1); extra writing practice through assignments (experimental group 2) and mathematics instruction (control group). Instructive comparison of students’ post-scores between the three groups and across the four grades showed that the extensive reading programme was significantly more effective than the other two with regards to all aspects of writing measured, especially language use and content. As such, Tsang maintained that this conclusion stands as further corroborative evidence for Krashen’s Input Hypothesis in general as well as for research that suggests the usefulness of FVR to the enhancement of EFL writing competence in particular.


3 The Study

In view of the findings presented thus far, the present study was designed to explore by means of a survey the FVR habits of a conveniently selected sample of Algerian EFL university students who were then in their third year of graduate studies. Special attention was given to the time these students spent reading voluntarily and their reading preferences. Moreover, the study aimed at spotting light on the sampled subjects’ beliefs and perceptions about the usefulness of FVR in enhancing their writing proficiency development. In addition, it was concerned with putting the accent on the relationship of these beliefs to students’ FVR frequency as evidenced in the amount of time they devoted to this activity. The fact that we chose the writing skill was motivated by two main reasons. First, the integral interrelationship between L2 reading and writing has a direct bearing on EFL students’ literacy development. The influence of L1 literacy experiences cannot be denied, but the amount of recreational reading cannot be downplayed either. Second, EFL teachers in Algerian higher education institutions often exhort their students to seriously engage in non-academic reading (in addition to the assigned reading in regular courses) as a feasible way to develop their writing abilities, which usually represent a benchmark for the assessment of their overall language level. Promoting this practice of extracurricular reading was meant to help students to make substantial progress, particularly those who generally encounter serious difficulties all along the process of learning how to write acceptable essays. Judging by the conditions of this instructional setting, it is deemed important to examine students’ beliefs about the usefulness of doing FVR to improve their proficiency level and overcome their weaknesses in writing.


3.1 Subjects and Setting

The subjects of the present study were 135 Algerian third-year EFL students from two departments of English at two universities that are geographically close to each other (Northeastern Algeria). Both departments were established approximately in the same period and generally receive students with a similar linguistic and cultural background. The number of students from the first department (Mila University Centre) was 65, and from the second (Jijel University) was 70. Their age ranged from 19 to 29 (M= 20.8; SD = 1.45). The subjects were 113 females and 22 males, and the majority of them had presumably reached an intermediate level of English proficiency. It is worth mentioning that students at English departments take a compulsory writing course during their three years of graduate studies. The writing curriculum at this level is rather broad and covers different areas of writing instruction. While the first-year course focuses in the main on mechanical and linguistic aspects of the writing act, second and third-year courses target essay types, issues of development and organization as well as a brief introduction to some writing genres like poetry, fiction and academic prose. In addition to the lectures and practice in tutorials, students often take on assignments as homework. Teacher and peer feedback on students’ writing performance is heavily relied upon during the process of writing development.


3.2 Survey Design and Administration

The collection of data about students' reading habits and beliefs was commonly conducted through a self-reported questionnaire which was considered as the most feasible instrument in survey research, especially when soliciting information from large groups of respondents (Brown 2001). To make the questionnaire fit for the purposes of the study, it was divided into four parts. Part one (Q1-Q4) elicited students’ background information (namely, identification number, gender, age and pre-tertiary education streaming). Part two (Q5-Q12) inquired about their FVR habits and preferences. It mainly targeted the frequency of FVR in L1 and / or L2, perceived students' level of reading comprehension in English, the amount of time spent on voluntary English reading, the types of materials they preferred while engaging in FVR (novels, books, newspapers and magazines, encyclopedias) and their chances to have access to them. Part three (Q13-Q21) examined students' beliefs about the usefulness of practising FVR in the improvement of their writing performance. The subjects' beliefs were measured on a five-point Likert scale, alternately ranging from 'strongly agree' to 'strongly disagree' in one item type and 'strongly disagree' to 'strongly agree' in the another. It was believed that opting for this alternation would keep students more alert while reacting to the statements. Part four (Q 22) contained one optional question for further comments relevant to this research, but the answers to this question were not reported in the analysis of the results of the present study.

Most of the questionnaire items in Part Two were constructed by drawing on previous similar studies which dealt with recreational reading habits and preferences in L1, L2 and FL settings (Chen 2007, Gallik 1999, Sheorey & Mokhtari 1994, Crawford Camiciottoli 2001). The items in Part Three, however, were, following the general framework of learner belief systems research, written in compliance with the ethos of the Algerian EFL writing classes at tertiary level, where free reading is often called upon to raise standards in students’ writing. In order to check both face and content validity of the questionnaire, a preliminary version was submitted to three EFL university teachers of writing, who provided some feedback and constructive suggestions. The final version of the questionnare was produced based on this collected feedback as well as the recommendations and guidelines given by Brown (2001).

As the aim of this questionnaire was to allow students to self-report their reading practices, preferences and reading efficiency beliefs, its administration was approached with caution. While providing their answers, student respondents might mistakenly have claimed what they actually did not do or believe in. Brown (2001) explains that this behaviour is common with ‘prestige questions’. He further elucidates that

when asked, some people will claim that they read more than they do, or that they study more than is true … because that is the prestigious way to answer. (Brown 2001: 51)

Hence, the truthfulness of their responses is at stake. Admittedly, this thorny issue is frequently signaled in social research studies that examine self-esteem-sensitive phenomena in which respondents claim what is ‘socially desirable’ instead of what is real (Van de Mortel 2008).

To account for this perennial problem in this study, the questionnaire was submitted to students shortly after the beginning of the first semester (fall) during the academic year 2016 / 2017. Third-year students’ schedule at this specific time of the year is not busy given that they are generally provided with ample time for assignments and required course readings. In addition, examinations are still ahead of time at this period, which keeps most students’ evaluation anxiety relatively low. In such circumstances, it was hoped that the respondents’ self-reports and beliefs would be much closer to genuineness. Moreover, as this research is related to writing acquisition and development through reading, the task of circulating the questionnaire was entrusted to three fellow EFL oral-expression teachers since the important issue of connections between reading and writing is rarely evoked in such courses. As mentioned earlier, Algerian EFL university writing teachers strongly encourage students to engage in non-academic recreational reading in order to improve different aspects of their writing ability. So questionnaire completion under the supervision of these teachers can be negatively influenced in the sense that students may possibly opt for answers that improve their self-image or reflect prevailing views in their writing curriculum as ‘politeness or courtesy’ behaviour (Iarossi 2006).

To check questionnaire reliability, it was given again to only one portion of the same respondents (a group of 32 students in the department of English at Mila University Centre, which represents 23% of the sample) three weeks after the first administration. This method, which is known as repeated-surveys reliability (Brown 2001), was meant to measure the degree of agreement between students’ answers on two different occasions. The computed coefficient of agreement (.91) indicated that this instrument was reliable. Also, it was deemed appropriate to measure the internal-consistency reliability of the third part of the questionnaire, which focused on students’ beliefs. To that end, Cronbach alpha was calculated, resulting in a value of .87. This value suggested that this 9-item subsection of the questionnaire was of high internal consistency.


3.3 Data Analysis

The responses collected from the questionnaire were coded numerically in order to make them more amenable to statistical analysis using the software package SPSS 20.0. Although the questionnaire features three different item formats: alternative-answer questions (9 items), checklist questions (2 items), completion questions (2 items) and Likert-scale questions (9 items), every effort was made to follow a principled scoring system. To get an overview about reading frequency in L1 and / or L2, students were rated on a scale with four points ('frequently', 'occasionally', 'rarely' and 'almost never'). The highest score (4) was allocated to the first-degree adverb and the lowest score (1) to the last one. By this token, students’ perceived comprehension level in English was scored, assigning 4 to a ‘very good’ and 1 to a ‘poor’ level of reading comprehension.

For the sake of measuring the amount of time spent in FVR, researchers set different time frames which are principally related to the nature of the research questions and the specificities of the investigated samples or their setting. In this study, students were asked to report the time they devoted to FVR on a weekly basis, providing them with the following time frames to select from: '0 hour', 'less than 1 hour', '2- 3 hours', '4- 6 hours', and 'more than 6 hours'. To get more insightful responses, they were further asked if they engaged in FVR more often in vacations than they did during class time.

The Likert scale items, which serve to measure the extent to which the student respondents hold positive or negative beliefs about the impact of practicing FVR on their writing performance, were scored using the aforementioned method. The 'strongly agree' option was assigned five points whereas the 'strongly disagree’ option was given one point. The neutral midposition was awarded three points. As such, the more positive the students’ beliefs are, the higher these beliefs will be scored on the scale. To explore whether the items clustered around specific latent constructs, a principal components analysis was performed.


4 Results

4.1 Amount of Time Devoted to FVR

In reporting the amount of time that students spent doing FVR, we followed the common tendency in research, investigating reading habits and practices. In fact, reference to time represents an adequate standard for capturing the frequency of occurrence of the students’ free reading behaviour. The time frames suggested in our study were specifically tailored to reflect the reading habits of EFL university students in an Algerian context. For example, the inclusion of the '0-hour' category stood as a cutoff point between students who engage in FVR and those who do not at all. Although this option is rarely reported in similar studies, our bleak picture about EFL Algerian students’ reading practice justified its addition.

Table1 shows students’ responses concerning the amount of time they spent per week, doing voluntary reading:

Tab.1: The Amount of Time Students Spent in FVR on a Weekly Basis


As expected, nearly two thirds of the sample reported doing some FVR, though the majority did not seem to be committed readers.


4.2 Reading Interests and Preferences

To gain more insights about students' reading habits, it was essential to spotlight on the nature and types of materials preferred for FVR. Students were asked to identify the most interesting reading material from a given set of items. Although more than one choice was theoretically aplicable in this regard, the selection of just one item presumably contributed to a more focused view of students’ free reading preferences. The respondents’ reading interests and preferences are summarized in Table 2:

Tab. 2: Students’ FVR Reading Preferences


As their reading interests and preferences were clearly linked to their access to and availability of materials, students were asked about their use of library facilities as well as electronic devices such computers and smartphones while doing voluntary reading. Unexpectedly, approximately half of the students in the sample (46.7%) did not consider the university library as an appropriate place for recreational reading. Moreover, the majority of them (48.9%) claimed that reading materials were not easily accessible. Concerning the issue of either printed or electronic materials, most students (38.5%) preferred reading digital materials, 26.7% favoured hard copies and 34.8% maintained that they liked both. The electronic devices students reported to use for reading digital materials are displayed in Table 3:

Tab. 3: Electronic Devices Preferred by Students to Engage in FVR


To indicate the respective electronic devices, students were allowed to tick more than one option. Laptop and smartphone proved to be the most popular devices among students for experiencing leisure reading.


4.3 Reported FVR Time and Perceived Reading Comprehension Abilities

The meaning-based orientation of FVR programmes and experiences is a key determinant of the importance of students’ reading comprehension abilities - either measured or perceived. Evidently, the meaning-making process that lies at the heart of this type of reading both influences and gets affected by the practice of and persistence in reading voluntarily (Guthrie 2004: 4). To discern the association between the sampled students’ reported FVR time and their perceived reading comprehension abilities, the collected data were analyzed using the Spearman rank order coefficient as a statistical test. The results of the correlation between these two variables are presented in Table 4:

Tab. 4: Correlation between Perceived Reading Comprehension Ability and Reported Time of FVR


The Spearman coefficient shows that there is a significant correlation between the two ranked variables (Rho (133) = 0.44, p < 0.01), indicating that the higher students self-rated their reading comprehension abilities on the scale, the more time they reported reading voluntarily. For example, the two students who reported that they did not engage in FVR at all judged their reading comprehension abilities as being poor. Alternatively, the results of enthusiastic readers, i.e. those reading voluntarily several times per week, are better, as illustrated in the following bar chart:

Fig. 1: Perceived Reading Comprehension Ability and the Amount of Reported Time Spent on FVR


What to be seems discordant with the overall view, however, is that the fact there are students who reported more than four hours of voluntary reading, yet rating their reading comprehension abilities as 'average'.


4.4 Students’ Beliefs about FVR Reading Efficiency

To reach a broad understanding of the results concerning students’ beliefs about FVR reading efficiency with reference to their writing proficiency, a principal-components analysis was performed on the nine items, using orthogonal rotation (varimax). Before submitting this part of the questionnaire to factor analysis, it was necessary to check the sample size and correlation between variables. The Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin measure of sampling adequacy was fairly high (KMO =.82). According to Field (2009), this value is acceptable since as he explained:

A value close to 1 indicates that patterns of correlations are relatively compact and so factor analysis should yield distinct and reliable factors. (Field 2009: 647)

Also, checking the anti-image correlation matrix revealed that the KMO values for all individual variables were >.72, which exceeds the minimum acceptable statistic .5 (Field 2009: 640). Bartlett’s test of sphericity was highly significant (2 (363) = 785.95, p < .001), suggesting that all coefficients in the correlation matrix were different from zero. On the basis of these two criteria, a factor analysis was run with all the items. Factor loadings after rotation are shown in Table 5:

Tab. 5: Summary of Exploratory Factor Analysis Results for FVR Efficiency Beliefs


The initial analysis resulted in a two-component solution by adopting Kaiser’s criterion of eigenvalues greater than 1.0. The accuracy of this method of extraction was determined based on the average of communalities which approximates the value .70. The two factors explained 68.84% of the total variance. Actually, our decision to retain just these two components was corroborated by the visual inspection of the scree plot results. The items that loaded highly on the first factor revolved around issues of content in writing. Hence, this factor was described as ‘content-related’. The questions which clustered on the second factor were mainly related to usage and form; therefore, they were grouped under the name ‘form-related component’. Since the factors retained seem to be independent, there was no need to conduct a factor analysis again using oblique rotation. In fact, the output of the factor transformation matrix suggests that the two factors are completely unrelated, given that the computed statistics above and below the diagonal were identical:

Tab. 6: Descriptive Characteristics of the Two Extracted Factors


As regards the results of the table above, it can be noted that the data collected about students’ beliefs are not normally distributed. This is fairly apparent in both the value of the mean which indicates that the students’ overall belief seems to be inclining towards agreement, and the skewness coefficient which suggests a severe negative skewness in content-related items and moderate negative skewness in form-related ones.

Since the present study is partly concerned with the relationship between students’ FVR habits and their reading efficiency beliefs with reference to their writing performance, the correlation between these two variables was measured through the computation of the Spearman rank order coefficient rs, which is an appropriate test for data lacking normal distribution. The correlation was run separately between the variable denoting the amount of time per week students devoted for FVR and the two dimensions of the belief scale. The results of the correlations are shown in Tables 7 and 8, respectively:

Spearman's rho

Reported Time of FVR per week

FVR efficiency beliefs about writing content

Correlation Coefficient

Sig. (2-tailed)

N

Correlation Coefficient

Sig. (2-tailed)

N

Reported Time of FVR per week

1,000

.

135

,232**

,007

135

FVR efficiency beliefs about writing content

,232**

,007

135

1,000

.

135

**. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).

Tab. 7: Correlation between Students’ Reported Time of FVR and their Beliefs about FVR Efficiency in Enhancing Writing Content

Tab. 8: Correlation between Students’ Reported Time of FVR and their Beliefs about FVR Efficiency in Enhancing Writing Form

The results of the association between the amount of time spent on FVR per week and students’ FVR efficiency beliefs about their writing performance with regards to form and content are both positively significant, albeit with a little power of strength. As shown in the table above, in the correlation with form (Rho (133) = .21, p <.05), however, for the association with content, the calculated value is slightly bigger (Rho (133) = .23, p <.01).

In order to get a clearer picture about the relationship between students’ reading habits as evinced in the time they spent reading voluntarily, and their beliefs about the efficiency of their FVR practices in the writing performance, it was necessary to further examine the data using the Pearson chi-square test. The scale variables under investigation were collapsed and transformed into nominal variables, which subsume five categories. The two variables related to students’ beliefs which originally contained five options on the Likert scale are modified to include just three categories: beliefs of low, moderate and high magnitude. As for the second variable, two categories of readers were created (unenthusiastic and enthusiastic ones), based on the time frames provided. Students who reported no recreational reading or less frequent reading than one to three hours per week were considered unenthusiastic readers. More specifically, this category incorporates both struggling and reluctant readers. As for the students who reportedly undertook more than four hours of FVR, they were assigned to the enthusiastic group.

Our test results test revealed a significant association between the commitment to undertaking FVR on a regular basis and the magnitude of students’ reading efficiency beliefs concerning the content-related aspect of writing (2(2) = 9.26, p <.05). Enthusiastic readers were more likely to hold strong beliefs about the positive contribution of FVR to improve the content of their writing than were unenthusiastic readers. In contrast to this pattern, however, there was no association between students’ FVR practices and how strongly they believed in the influence of FVR to ameliorate the form-related aspect of writing. The Pearson chi-square test was not significant (2(2) = 1.32, p>.05) here.


5 Discussion

This present study was designed with two main objectives in view. First, it set out to explore the recreational reading habits and preferences of third-year EFL students at two Algerian universities. Moreover, it aimed at the examination of these students’ beliefs concerning the efficiency of FVR in enhancing their writing performance. While the first objective is not uncommon in L2 and FL reading research, the second one seems to be a relatively unexplored area in reading pedagogy studies.

Interestingly, the main results of this study were roughly in line with some general trends described in previous research. First, the finding that the majority of the respondents (43%) reported doing FVR between one to three hours per week matched our expectations, given that this time frame seems flexibly reflective of students’ reading accomplishments even during rigid schedules. Since the number of students who reported engaging in FVR for more than three hours is relatively large (42 students, 31.1%) on account of the small sample. The average time spent by the sample students reading voluntarily can be comparable to that reported in some similar studies (e.g. Gallik 1999 and Iftanti 2012). It is worth noting that during their academic year students are required to read academic materials which often provoke anxiety. In such circumstances, the pendulum of reading practice swings predominantly to the assigned reading tasks, which may possibly cause the amount of time devoted to FVR to shrink considerably. Actually, when asked whether more ample time (during vacations for example) would contribute to an increased engagement in FVR, the majority of students (80%) chose an affirmative answer.

Although lack of time is a weak argument to account for recreational reading reluctance (Crawford Camiciottoli 2001), the unavailability of interesting reading materials or the discomfort felt in places designated for reading may well prove to be a serious obstacle in the way of forming a regular reading habit. From the latter perspective, a large portion of the students surveyed (79.63%) seemed to have a negative attitude towards university libraries, which many FVR advocates consider as fundamentally important, at least at the beginning stages of the recreational reading process. Some students even wrote unrequested comments, describing the library as being permanently noisy, which makes it a difficult choice for these intermediate students who need focus and concentration more than anything else. In addition to this, only 42.22% of the students acknowledged the easy accessibility of their preferred reading materials in the libraries. The relative majority (48.88%), however, claimed that access to their preferred materials was not easy. In emphasizing the important role of reading materials, Day & Bramford (1998) borrowed the metaphor of ‘the lure and the ladder’. In their own words,

In extensive reading, the lure is the interesting and attractive material designed to hook the students and reel them in. The ladder is the wide range of materials, from easy to challenging, that allows the students to progress upward in small steps as their reading fluency develops. (Day & Bramford 1998: 96-97)

Indeed, the gloomy picture that students depicted of university libraries seems reasonably consistent with their heavy reliance on modern electronic devices to engage in FVR as well as their reading preferences. Although these electronic devices contribute to the creation of virtual libraries and reading spaces, especially with the phenomenal spread of the Internet, their constant use may inhibit successful reading experiences ('getting hooked') since they facilitate connection with the outside world, which negatively impacts upon concentration and smooth understanding.

The significant relationship between the reading comprehension ability perceived by students and their reported time of FVR conduced to a richer picture of students’ reading skills. Although the value of the computed coefficient seems to represent a relationship of moderate strength (Cronk 2008: 44), this result stands in accordance with much empirical evidence within EFL reading research, which has documented the positive impact of FVR on students’ reading comprehension abilities (e.g. Suk 2017, Iwahori 2008, Elley & Mangubhai 1983, Mason & Krashen 1997, Robb & Susser 1989). Furthermore, self-efficacy research seems to substantiate this subtle linkage. According to Pajares (2003: 141),

Judgments of personal efficacy affect what students do by influencing the choices they make, [and] the effort they expend (Pajares 2003: 141)

This entails that students who often indulge in FVR tend to hold strong beliefs in their reading comprehension abilities. Of course, there are some discrepancies in this respect, given that there is a substantial difference between the perceived and actual ability. However, a negative conjectural view about one’s reading comprehension ability will always breed reluctance and avoidance to develop regular reading habits. In such situations, students’ actual reading comprehension abilities may well become more limited due to the scant exposure to reading materials. Concerning the ostensible inconsistencies in students’ answers, they can be attributed to an idealized or trivial conception of their reading comprehension ability. Although in the present study, we presumed that the majority of students were relatively aware of the complex nature of reading comprehension, the existence of a few exaggerated views was expected. Some students were disinclined to fairly estimate their reading comprehension level because they believed that good comprehension abilities implied a penetrating understanding of every detail. On the other hand, some others fell in the trap of overrating their own abilities despite their problems in figuring out basic linguistic and ideational meanings in texts.

Overall, the data about the correlation between students’ reported time of FVR and their beliefs about the efficiency of reading practices in improving their writing abilities suggest that there is a weak adherence to the principle of ‘read-to-write’ relationship reported by Smith (1983) and repeatedly defended by Krashen (1982, 1983, 2004, 2011). The detailed scrutiny of the correlation, however, revealed that enthusiastic readers were more favourably disposed towards the efficiency of FVR in boosting the content-related aspect of writing than the unenthusiastic ones. This finding suggests that the more students engage in free reading, the more likely they will view it as a resource for content enrichment rather than a means for mastering the formal features of writing. Actually, it is highly probable that more enthusiastic readers may well be more proficient in the target language, which made them take this position.

Although some previous studies have documented the positive effect of FVR on some linguistic aspects of writing (Mason & Krashen 1997, Polak & Krashen 1988, Lai 1993, Tudor & Hafiz 1989), the majority of the students surveyed in this study held uncertain views in this regard. This position, which stands against the prevalent trend, is also reported by Kirin who stated that

the overall finding from the three statistical computations [in her study] do not support the assertion that a higher exposure to language input leads to an improvement in writing ability of EFL readers. (Kirin 2017: 299)

There are several reasons which might account for this discrepancy. The fragmentary FVR experiences of the majority of students may have proved insufficient for them to notice any potential linguistic improvement. Also, it is highly possible that most of the students in our sample are analytic learners who prefer to learn through direct or explicit instruction. Thus, the acquisition of form for them necessitates conscious manipulation of the input, as is the case with intensive reading. Another possible reason is that students might find it more appealing to focus on content instead of allowing more time to absorb the intricacies of grammar, spelling and structure.


5.1 Pedagogical Implications

Despite the fact that the present study is not one of a large scale, we can tentatively draw some pedagogical implications from the findings discussed above.

First, to help EFL students develop a more stable reading habit, it is conceivable to create more alternatives for experiencing FVR. In case it is practically difficult to regularly devote some of the class time for doing FVR (due to the long mandated curriculum for example), EFL teachers can organize trips to the library (Krashen 2011), in which they guide and motivate their students, especially struggling readers who often try to avoid reading when left alone. For example, teachers might intervene in assisting students with low reading comprehension abilities to choose the materials that suit their level. According to Guthrie,

students’ growth in reading comprehension is substantially influenced by the amount of their engaged reading. (Guthrie 2004: 4)

This engagement evolves from sustaining their interest in reading and nurturing a good relationship with whatever reading materials are available. Another feasible scheme could be to esablish reading circles at a more local level like the English department, for example. These circles can be created according to students’ reading preferences and proficiency levels in order to facilitate the exchange of and the discussion about reading materials, which, in turn, can make reading a more rewarding experience (Momtaz & Garner 2010).

Second, the enhancement of students’ self-perceptions about their reading comprehension abilities can contribute to raising their reading self-efficacy. Thus, students who read sporadically or who are easily disrupted by difficult words can venture in much longer reading experiences.

Finally, it seems that enticing students to read voluntarily with the perspective of correcting their linguistic defects is a complex matter. As mentioned earlier, there are numerous studies which described substantial benefits that could derive from indulging in FVR. However, EFL teachers’ glowing recommendations might have an adverse effect or push students to experience FVR as a passing fad. To avoid such an undesirable situation, teachers should play a more positive role by being models for their students. Gambrell (1996) explains that teachers can be viewed as reading models “when they share their own reading experiences with students and emphasize how reading enhances and enriches their lives” (Gambrell 1996: 20).


5.2 Limitations of the Study

In spite of the interesting insights that can be gained from this study, a mention of its shortcomings is worthwhile.

First, the notorious issue of sample representativeness can hardly go unnoticed in our study, particularly if compared with some of the aforementioned studies. Certainly, a larger sample would have increased more variability among the respondents, which, in turn, might have resulted in lesser bias caused by underrepresentation.

Second, the results obtained from the self-reporting questionnaire could be biased by limitations inherent in this research instrument. The use of this tool to track students’ FVR habits was really convenient in many ways; nevertheless, employing more reliable methods like the time-diary survey (Day & Bamford 1998: 87) could have produced even more illuminating findings. Concerning this point, Mokhtari, Reichard & Gardner insist that

These methods are (…) more likely to produce more complete and accurate findings than traditional surveys asking for recollections of reading activities during large blocks of time. (Reichard & Gardner 2009: 618)

Admittedly, it is often difficult to remember how much time students spend doing free reading especially nowadays that they are constantly shifting between a multitude of competing leisure activities such as browsing the Internet, watching movies and playing video games to mention but a few. Furthermore, as the investigation of belief systems is not an easy matter, eliciting further data through interviews, for example, would have been even more revealing, especially for students whose answers cannot be recorded in a simple Likert scale item.


6 Conclusion

In conclusion, the present study has reconsidered the issue of reading-writing relationships in an EFL setting from the perspective of students’ beliefs. Although the interconnection between reading and writing has been thoroughly debated in the previous couple of years, the available evidence has not yet established a profound understanding of the nature of this relationship. Unlike prior correlational studies which relied on test scores as a measure of students’ reading and writing abilities, this small-scale study highlighted the relevance of students’ beliefs and perceptions in this field. It is true that the use of grades as a representation of students' ability yields substantial results. However, we can safely estimate that paying attention to students’ beliefs is highly relevant since it contributes to the understanding of the bigger picture. We cannot claim that the reading habits and beliefs of students in this study are typical of students in similar instructional settings. However, the main findings are insightful concerning the current state of the FVR habits of EFL tertiary students as well as their perceptions about the efficiency of FVR as an alternative scheme by means of which their writing ability can be enhanced.


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Authors:

Dr. Ghania Ouahmiche

Associate Professor

University of Oran 1

Oran

Algeria

Email: ghaniaouahmiche@gmail.com


Khalid Ziad

Assistant Professor

A. Boussouf University Centre

University of Oran 2

Oran

Algeria

Email: k.ziad@centre-univ-mila.dz