A Study on Strategy Instruction and EFL Learners' Writing Skill

Giti Mousapour Negari
2011 International Journal of English Linguistics  
Writing in a second or foreign language seems to be the most difficult language skill for language learners to acquire in academic contexts. While explicit instruction of strategies is not a usual practice in foreign language classrooms, it could be beneficial for language learners. The present study aims at investigating the effect of concept mapping strategy on EFL learners' writing performance. To this end, sixty Iranian students at the intermediate level of language proficiency participated
more » ... ciency participated in the study. Their language proficiency was determined by Michigan Test of English Language Proficiency. The results of the Analysis of Covariance revealed that the instruction of concept mapping strategy had a positive effect on EFL learners' writing achievements. The findings have some pedagogical implications for teaching language skills and designing strategy-based syllabus leading to successful language performance. Writing is a complicated process which involves a number of cognitive and metacognitive activities, for instance; brainstorming, planning, outlining, organizing, drafting, and revising. Cognitive aspects of writing have received a particular attention, as investigators have attempted to understand the thought processes underlying the compositions of students (Flower & Hayes, 1981) . According to Omaggio Hadley (1993), writing requires composing, which implies the ability either to tell or retell pieces of information in the form of narratives or description, or to transform information into new texts, as in expository or argumentative writing. Therefore, it is best viewed as a continuum of activities that range from the more mechanical or formal aspects of writing down on the one end to the more complex act of composing on the other end. A substantial body of research suggests that training students to use language learning strategies can help them become better language learners. Early research on "good language learners" (Naiman, Fröhlich, Stern, & Todesco, 1996) suggested a number of learning strategies that successful students employ when they learn a second or a foreign language. A study of O' Malley and Chamot (1990) suggested that effective L2/FL learners are aware of the learning strategies they use and why they use them. Meaningful learning according to Ausubel's (2000) theory occurs when students intentionally attempt to integrate new knowledge with existing knowledge. A learner who attempts to integrate knowledge has a more extensive network of knowledge and therefore more retrieval paths. Richards, Platt, and Platt (1992) presented a specific definition of strategy training and outlined three different approaches: "[It is] training in the use of learning strategies in order to improve a learner's effectiveness. A number of approaches to strategy training are used including: 1) Explicit or direct training: learners are given information about the value and purpose of particular strategies, taught how to use them and how to monitor their own use of the strategies. 2) Embedded strategy training: the strategies to be taught are not taught explicitly but are embedded in the regular content of an academic subject area, such as reading, math or science. 3) Combination strategy training: explicit strategy training is followed by embedded training" (p. 355). Learning to write is difficult especially for those writing in a second or a foreign language in academic contexts since they do not know enough about how to generate ideas for writing. As effective writing is considered to be a problem for EFL learners, a need is felt to find out some ways of teaching that can help learners improve their writing performance. The main purpose of this study is to investigate the effectiveness of explicit instruction of strategies, namely concept mapping, on EFL learners' writing improvement. Review of the related literature Teaching writing skill in a second or a foreign language has passed different trends, each of which has had benefits and shortcomings. Process-writing arose in the late 1960s and the early 1970s in reaction to the dominance of a product-centered pedagogy. According to Fujieda (2006) , this trend resulted from process-based research in L1 composition. It was considered to be important in that it brought meaningfulness to learners who www.ccsenet.org/ijel Published by Canadian Center of Science and Education 303 Results and Discussion The major question addressed in this study was whether the use of concept mapping strategy would improve EFL students' writing achievement at the intermediate level of language proficiency. Initially, descriptive statistics for the subjects' performances on writing tests were computed. Table 1 summarizes basic descriptive statistics including means and standard deviations of pretest and posttest scores on writing achievement tests of the two groups. (Table 1) A comparison of mean scores of the experimental group and the control group on posttests shows that the participants in the experimental group outperformed on post essay writing tests in comparison with the control group. In other words, the learners' performances in the control group were lower than the experimental group. To explore the significant differences in the performances of the two groups, an ANCOVA on Post writing achievement scores by group (experimental vs. control), using Pre writing achievement scores as a covariate, was run. The results of the ANCOVA (F = 100.92, p = .000 < .05) indicated that the difference between the two groups is meaningful. In other words, it shows that there is a significant difference in the posttest scores between the two groups. (Table 2) The results of the present study indicated that the explicit instruction of concept mapping strategy which led to its application by the learners, significantly affected the learners' writing performances. The findings proved that explicit instruction of strategies that led to the student's awareness was effective in the students' writing tasks. The emphasis on the processes of writing in a second or foreign language, despite the challenges against process writing, will lessen the complexity and the difficulty of the writing tasks both for learners and teachers. The finding of the present study is consistent with the findings of Zipprich (1995) and Peresich, Meadows, and Sinatra (1990), which provided evidence for the positive effects of concept mapping strategy on academic writing. The findings also support Schunk's (1998) claim holding that students who believe they are learning a useful strategy are apt to feel efficacious about improving their writing. Freeman (2002) provides an explanation for the effect of concept mapping strategy on the writing process. Freeman states that human minds have the ability to create conceptual objections from the concrete to abstract by the process of mapping from past to present. The ability to create multiple mappings of mental spaces enables us to construct new conceptualizations of the world and create abstract thoughts in the world. Another possible explanation for the positive effect of concept mapping strategy on the learners' writing achievement is provided by Cicognani (2000) , holding that by the visual representation of keywords on a map, a learner is able to refine language and vocabulary, identify the key issues, organize these key issues into a meaningful chart, and reuse the map in the future with a reasonable success. The learners do not get lost; they have a referring map to which they can come back to review previous steps and to organize the new information. Conclusion and Implications As the study proved the application of concept mapping strategy by the learners, through the explicit instruction of the strategy, can help them improve their writing performance. Through concept mapping, students can easily understand and organize their thoughts in pictorial representations. In other words, graphical representation of ideas increases the students' conceptual understanding which in turn helps them organize their ideas. The study reveals the effectiveness of concept mapping technique for the students' writing tasks which supports what Atkinson (2003) stated, "...by advocating a post-process approach to L2 writing I do not intend to suggest that process pedagogy should necessarily be replaced in any wholesale way in the L2 writing classroom (p. 10)." Atkinson further stated in the post-process "we seek to highlight the rich, multifocal nature of the field" and "go beyond now-traditional views of L2 writing research and teaching" (p.12). The paper has some implications for language teaching and learning. The students can become better learners if they become more aware of their learning processes and then decide to act on that awareness. Teachers may increase their students' confidence in writing by familiarizing them with the concept mapping strategy. Likewise, the paper has some implications for syllabus design. Concept-based teaching can teach students to classify and to reinforce the students' creativity and self-awareness. Not only is this way of teaching useful for writing but also enhances students' sense of retention, understanding, problem-solving ability and classroom performance. Hence, it will be very useful for teaching other skills too. Although the present study suggests that the strategy of concept mapping is beneficial to university students, there are areas that need to be studied further. One area for further research is integrating learning strategies into classroom instruction. The teacher may provide some models for applying various strategies in different skills. Another area for doing more research is to conduct such studies with a variety of language students, including school-aged students and students with different educational backgrounds. Applying the concept mapping strategy is neither the only way nor the best way to improve students' writing skill. There are many methodological issues which need to be explored in order to improve the process described www.ccsenet.org/ijel
doi:10.5539/ijel.v1n2p299 fatcat:4ktw7pxcsbcyznfore2ihq3dm4