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«The Effect of Explicit Instruction of Textual Discourse Markers on Saudi EFL Learners’ Reading Comprehension Abdulaziz Ali Al-Qahtani1 School of ...»

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1) Will explicit instruction in DMs positively influence EFL learners’ reading comprehension?

2) Is there a significant relationship between the EFL learners’ recognition of discourse markers and their reading comprehension?

This study contributes to an understanding of the role played by explicit instruction in DMs in reading classes of low-proficiency EFL learners, through an exploration of the effect of DMs on the development of their reading comprehension. It also attempts to identify the relationship between EFL learners’ recognition level of DMs and their reading comprehension performance. The results of this study may therefore be of benefit in second-language reading instruction if they convince course designers and EFL instructors of the importance of DMs in the L2 classroom.

www.ccsenet.org/elt English Language Teaching Vol. 8, No. 4; 2015 Following this introduction, the methodological approach adopted in this study will be presented. The major research instruments (the language proficiency test, the reading comprehension test, and the DM test) are identified and the procedures followed in collecting and analysing data are stated. Key results from an analysis of the research data are presented and discussed along with implications and recommendations for future research.

2. Methods

2.1 Participants The participants of the present study included 70 Saudi male third-grade secondary students between the ages of 16 and 17 from the Taif Directorate of Education who had been studying English language for the past six years in public schools. To ensure the homogeneity of the participants, the TOEFL Junior Standard Test was administered, and the students participating in the study were randomly assigned into a control and an experimental group. Both groups were taught by the same teacher.

2.2 Instruments and Materials 2.2.1 Language Proficiency Test The TOEFL Junior Standard Test was used in this study to identify the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) level of the students to make sure that both groups were homogenous and that no significant differences existed between them with regard to their language proficiency prior to the planned intervention. The scores were also mapped to CEFR levels to help in understanding students’ English proficiency levels. The TOEFL Junior Standard Test is intended for students ages 11+ and is often used for classroom placement purposes. The two-hour test consists of 126 items testing three areas: listening comprehension (42 items), reading comprehension (42 items), and language form and meaning (42 items). This test was administered at the beginning of the term; results showed that the students’ proficiency levels were between levels A1 and A2 on the CEFR. The scores did not show any significant differences between the two groups.

2.2.2 Reading Comprehension Test The reading comprehension sections of two TELC (The European Language Certificates) test forms were used to assess students’ general reading comprehension abilities before and after the intervention. The TELC test was used because it offers language tests that are especially designed for the A1 and A2 levels of foreign language learners. It was used to examine whether the DM instructional treatment had any effect on general reading comprehension ability.

Each test form had a total of 12 matching items based on three reading passages. The answers were scored as either correct or incorrect with a total achievable score of 24. The internal consistency reliability coefficients (Cronbach’s alpha) for Forms A and B based on students’ performances on the pretest were found to be 0.80 and

0.83 respectively.

2.2.3 DMs Test Two forms of DM tests based on Hyland and Tse’s (2004) model were administered: the first one as pre-test to evaluate the homogeneity of the two participating groups and the second as post-test in order to compare the two

groups after the intervention. The DMs used in the DMs tests are:

in addition, furthermore, however, yet, but, and, thus, firstly, secondly, then, after that, finally, to conclude, my purpose is to, because, so, consequently, noted above, see figure, in part 2, according to, X states, namely, e.g., such as, for example, in other words, might, perhaps, possible, about, in fact, definitely, clearly, unfortunately, I agree, surprisingly, consider, note that, you can see, I, we,my, and our.

Fifty multiple-choice items were developed for these DMs. Fifty sentences from authentic texts of the appropriate level of difficulty were selected. Each sentence had one DM removed and four choices of DMs provided to students to fill in the gap. These items were piloted at another secondary school and an item analysis was performed. Henning’s (1987) facility and discriminability indices were used to verify the appropriacy of each item. According to these indices, items with an item facility ranging from 0.33 to 0.67 and an item discrimination of 0.67 and above were considered appropriate. Thirty of the items had the appropriate item facility and item discrimination and five of the remaining items had some minor problems that were addressed.

These thirty-five items made up the final form of the DMs test.

2.2.4 Classroom Materials Students in the experimental group were given training sessions on DMs, which involved hand-outs and an www.ccsenet.org/elt English Language Teaching Vol. 8, No. 4; 2015 exercise book to develop students’ awareness and appropriate use of different categories of DMs in selected samples of reading passages. In an attempt to deal with the “Hawthorne Effect” (The claim that participants change their behaviour whenever they are being observed or included in a study), a few of these handouts were also given to the control group.

2.3 Procedure Initially, the TOEFL Junior Standard Test was administered to determine the language proficiency level of the participating classes. This was followed by assigning the participating students to control and experimental groups. Before the intervention programme, the pretests for reading comprehension and DMs were administered to both the experimental and control groups. The learners in the experimental group were introduced to the treatment programme, which involved eight sessions of DM instruction. In each session, they were familiarised with some types of DMs, which were explicitly taught through specially designed activities and training exercises.

No explicit DM instruction was introduced to the control group participants. They were only given a few of the designed activities as they worked through their usual reading classes. After the intervention, in order to see the effect of the DM instruction on students’ reading comprehension, participants in both groups were given post-tests in reading comprehension and DMs. By comparing the results obtained from the two groups, the researcher intended to investigate whether any significant difference existed between the performance of the experimental group and the control group after receiving DM instruction.

3. Results In this section, a description of the statistical analyses of the data obtained in the present study is presented. First, a descriptive statistics method was used to determine the proficiency level of the participants. Then, a paired-samples t-test was performed to compare the performance of the participants in the experimental group on the pre- and post-tests. An independent-samples t-test was used to compare the pretest scores of both groups. To identify any significant difference between the experimental and control groups, an independent-samples t-test was run. Finally, to determine whether there was a relationship between learners’ knowledge of DMs and their reading comprehension, a correlation analysis between their scores in the reading comprehension and DMs tests was done.

3.1 Administering the TOEFL Junior Standard Test The TOEFL Junior Standard Test, consisting of three sections (listening comprehension, reading comprehension, and language form and meaning) was administered to two classes made up of 70 Saudi male third-grade secondary students from the Taif Directorate of Education assigned to an experimental group or a control group.

The descriptive statistics of this test are shown in Table 1.

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3.2 Administering the Reading Comprehension Pretest The reading comprehension test (TELC) was also administered to the above-mentioned classes. The scores of the participants in reading comprehension in the pretest were analysed separately to ensure that the two groups were similar in terms of their reading ability before the intervention. The descriptive statistics of this test are shown in Table 2.

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An independent-samples t-test was run to check the homogeneity of the two groups and to compare reading comprehension scores before the intervention programme. As shown in Table 4, there was no significant difference in the scores of the control group (M = 13.40, SD = 5.897) and the experimental group (M = 12.80, SD = 5.944; t (86) =.081, p =.936, two-tailed).

The magnitude of the differences in the means (mean difference =.114, 95% CI:

-2.71 to 2.93) was very small (eta squared =.006).

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3.4 Checking the Normality of DM Pretest Scores and Homogeneity of the Two Groups To assess the normality of the distribution of the DM pretest scores, a normality test (the Kolmogorov-Smirnovtest) was carried out as shown in Table 5. The non-significant result (sig. value of.187) indicated normality.

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An independent-samples t-test was run to compare the DM pretest scores before the intervention for the control and the experimental groups. As shown in Table 6, there was no significant difference between scores for the control group (M = 18.54, SD = 6.070) and the experimental group (M = 17.83, SD = 5.943; t (86) =.497, p =.620, two-tailed).

The magnitude of the differences in the means (mean difference =.714, 95% CI:

-2.151 to 3.580) was very small (eta squared =.003).

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3.5 The Effect of Explicit Instruction of DMs on EFL Learners’ Reading Comprehension An independent-samples t-test comparing the mean scores for the reading comprehension post-test of the two groups was carried out after the intervention programme. Table 7 shows that the Levene sig. value was 0. 00, which is more than 0.05 level of significance. This meant that the variances of the two groups could not be www.ccsenet.org/elt English Language Teaching Vol. 8, No. 4; 2015 assumed to be equal. The table also shows that there was a significant difference, in favour of the experimental group, between the scores for control group (M = 16.03, SD = 4.90) and the experimental group (M = 20.83, SD = 2.68; t (40) = -7.05, p =.000, two-tailed). The effect size was calculated to measure the magnitude of the differences between the two groups. Based on Cohen’s (1988) guidelines, the effect size (mean difference =.866, 95% CI:

-7,865 to -4.363) was very large (eta squared =.422).

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Moreover, a paired-samples t-test was conducted to evaluate the impact of the intervention on students’ scores on the reading comprehension test. There was a statistically significant increase in reading comprehension test scores from Time 1 (M = 15.5, SD = 3.8) to Time 2 (M = 20.8, SD = 2.6), t (34) = 11.73, p = 0.005 (two-tailed).

The mean increase in reading comprehension scores was -5.257 with a 95% confidence interval ranging from

-6.167 to -4.347. The eta squared statistic (.80) indicated a large effect size. These results suggest that explicit instruction in DMs really can have a positive influence on EFL learners’ reading comprehension ability.

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Thus, the significant and positive results of the experimental group, compared to the control group, in the reading comprehension post-test can be attributed to the explicit instruction in DMs, which was only introduced to the experimental group during the eight-session intervention programme.

3.6 The Relationship between the EFL Learners’ Recognition of DMs and Their Reading Comprehension Level A correlation analysis was run to verify whether there was a relationship between students’ level of knowledge of DMs and their performance in reading comprehension. The relationship between perceived knowledge of DMs (as measured by the DM test) and perceived reading comprehension ability (as measured by the reading comprehension test) was investigated using a Pearson correlation coefficient. Preliminary analyses were performed to ensure no violation of the assumptions of normality, linearity, and homoscedasticity. As Table 9 indicates, there was a strong positive correlation between the two variables, r (68) =.68, n = 70, p =.0005, with high levels of perceived knowledge of DMs associated with higher levels of perceived reading comprehension.

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insufficient to support the development of their language skills, especially reading. Recurrent reports (e.g., Al-Mansour & Al-Shorman, 2011; Al Abik, 2014; Alsamadani, 2011) have shown that Saudi EFL learners perform poorly on reading comprehension tasks, indicating the necessity for improving their reading skills. Since these studies were generally descriptive in nature, the current study attempted to fill the gap by providing empirical data, particular to the Saudi EFL context, based on an intervention programme to familiarise Saudi EFL learners with the most frequently used DMs and develop their reading comprehension skills. This study hypothesised that explicit DM instruction can have a significant positive influence on Saudi EFL learners’ reading comprehension and that there is a significant positive relationship between Saudi EFL learners’ knowledge of DMs and their reading comprehension skills. To test these hypotheses, two forms of tests in both DMs and reading comprehension were developed and administered to two complete classes with a total of 70 Saudi male third-grade secondary students before and after the intervention programme. A correlation analysis was carried out to determine the relationship between learners’ knowledge of DMs and their reading comprehension performance.

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