Selecting ELL Textbooks: A Content Analysis of L2 Learning Strategies

Jeffrey T LaBelle
2010 Journal of Language Teaching and Research  
Although middle school teachers use a variety of ELL textbooks, many lack effective criteria to critically select materials that represent a wide range of L2 learning strategies. This study analyzed the illustrated and written content of 33 ELL textbooks to determine the range of L2 learning strategies represented. The researchers chose an intentional, convenience sample from each textbook to form the corpus they analyzed. They sought to answer the question: To what extent do middle school ELL
more » ... exts depict frequency and variation of language learning strategies in illustrations and written texts? To measure the content, the researchers developed a coding instrument to track how frequently each of 15 language learning strategies was portrayed. They concluded that 6 of the 33 textbooks had a good to excellent range of L2 learning strategies in both illustrated and written representation. The study provides recommendations for teachers regarding selection of ELL textbooks appropriate for their students along with a sample coding instrument for their use. Index Terms-Learning strategies, English language learners, content analysis, ELL textbooks, English language teaching JOURNAL OF LANGUAGE TEACHING AND RESEARCH © 2010 ACADEMY PUBLISHER 359 To achieve this type of harmony, ELL teachers not only will need to know their students' learning strategies, but also which L2 learning strategies are depicted in the textbooks they use. With this information, instructors can better develop an instructional methodology that will improve student performance and L2 learning outcomes by including a wider range and more complementary balance of language learning strategies. Most recently Oxford (in press) and Cohen and Macaro (2007) have developed other approaches to language learning strategies that view them not from the perspective of their function, but rather recognize the ways in which the differences between types is blurred. They refer to the multiplicity of strategies that can be in use concurrently, as well as the ways in which strategies interplay with one another to form the over all L2 learner strategy. Furthermore, in the practical realm any single strategy may take on one of these functions for a short time and then suddenly take on another within seconds. In short, a strategy's function might indeed be a moving target. So, just what are these language learning strategies? Oxford (2001a) provided a fairly reasonable operational definition: "L2 learning strategies are specific behaviors or thought processes that students use to enhance their own L2 learning" (p. 362). However, her analysis of the types of L2 learning strategies was rather complex. Oxford (2001a) cited six major groups of L2 learning strategies: cognitive, metacognitive, memory-related, compensatory, affective, and social (pp. 364-365). In yet another publication, Oxford (2001b) attempted to clarify that these six groups are not so distinct due to variations on the part of the learner: Major varieties of language learning strategies are cognitive, mnemonic, metacognitive, compensatory (for speaking and writing), affective and social. Theoretical distinctions can be made among these six types; however, the boundaries are fuzzy, particularly since learners sometimes employ more than one strategy at a time. (p. 167) Approaching L2 learning strategies from another perspective, we might note that a number of researchers have discovered that, as L2 proficiency increases, so also does strategy use (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990; Oxford, 1996) . "If strategy use and language proficiency are related, how can we improve learners' strategy use? Strategy instruction offers interesting possibilities" (Oxford, 2001b, p. 170). I would add: so too does the choice of and content of resource materials. For this very reason, the current study sought to identify content which exhibited illustrated or written indicators of certain language learning strategies. These indicators provide the range of context and content that reflect the variety of student language learning strategies. Teachers would do well to choose those texts which they judge most appropriately fit the language learning strategies in their particular social contexts. Ellis (2004) pointed this out quite succinctly in setting forth the basic tenets of an individual difference theory for language learners: The theory will need to acknowledge the situated nature of L2 learning. That is, it must reflect the fact that the role of the individual learner factors is influenced by the specific setting in which learning takes place and the kinds of tasks learners are asked to perform in the L2. (pp. 546-547) In short, L2 language learners are influenced by four key factors: ethnicity, situational context, language learning strategies, and instructional approaches. On another note, Oxford (2001b, pp. 170-171) cites eight different factors that influence strategy use: motivation, language learning environment, learning style and personality type, gender, culture or national origin, career orientation, age, and nature of the language task. A given learning strategy is neither good nor bad; it is necessarily neutral until it is considered in the student's context. A strategy is useful under these conditions: (a) the strategy relates well to the L2 task at hand, (b) the strategy fits the particular student's learning style preferences to one degree or another, and (c) the student employs the strategy effectively and links it with other relevant strategies. (Ehrman, Leaver, & Oxford, 2003, p. 315) In fact, motivation, the first factor that Oxford (2001b) noted as having an influence on strategy use, became a central focus of a recent volume edited by Dörnyei and Ushioda (2009). In this latest study, motivation is perceived as a crucial element in the development of a L2 self-identity. Strengthening the student's self-identity can, in turn, bolster the achievement of learning outcomes. Drawing from strategy systems developed by Oxford (1990) and Chamot (1990) , Dörnyei (2005) proposes the following typology. Caution should be exercised when using these types, since a great deal of shifting can occur between these them with regard to the exact same strategy,. One example would be when deciding when or how to break into a conversation so as not to be excluding from the discussion. This kind of strategy might apply to all four types or functions categorized here. 1. Cognitive strategies, involving the manipulation or transformation of the learning materials/input (e.g., repetition, summarizing, using images). 2. Metacognitive strategies, involving higher-order strategies aimed at analyzing, monitoring, evaluating, planning, and organizing one's own learning process. 3. Social strategies, involving interpersonal behaviors aimed at increasing the amount of L2 communication and practice the learner undertakes (e.g., initiating interaction with native speakers, cooperating with peers). 4. Affective strategies, involving taking control of the emotional (affective) conditions and experiences that shape one's subjective involvement in learning. (p. 100) From the preceding review of literature, we can see the great variation in L2 learning strategies. Nevertheless, the research coincides on several key concepts that affect the present study. These are quite readily summarized in Dörnyei's (2005) four categories as just delineated: cognitive, metacognitive, social, and affective strategies. Further, JOURNAL OF LANGUAGE TEACHING AND RESEARCH
doi:10.4304/jltr.1.4.358-369 fatcat:3lbsmtjfsrhyro4saph52em2fu