Investigation of Tunisian Geography Teachers
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The purpose of this study was to investigate some Tunisian geography teachers'/researchers' reading of research articles (RA) in English in their field, in particular their use of metadiscourse and the factors that might affect this use. A combination of quantitative and qualitative methods addressed the purposes of this study. Two major reasons have motivated the choice of this topic: theoretical and contextual.
Theoretical Justifications Of The Study
A good number of studies have highlighted the facilitative role that metadiscourse plays in reading comprehension (e.g. Camiciottoli, 2003). Metadiscourse is defined, in the present study, as “self-reflective linguistic material referring to the evolving text and to the writer and to the imagined reader of that text (Hyland and Tse, 2004, p. 156). In defining reading comprehension, I adopted the componential interactive approach (e.g. Grabe, 2008). According to this approach, readers are active participants who actively take knowledge, connect it to previously assimilated knowledge and make it theirs by constructing their own interpretation. They develop, modify and even reflect on all or some of the ideas displayed in the text.
Research has shown that second language (SL) and foreign language (FL) reading comprehension process is highly complex (Grabe, 2008; Koda, 2007; Sheng, 2000). Indeed, a wide range of variables intervene in the process: linguistic, metalinguistic, cognitive, metacognitive, social and psychological (Koda, 2005; Pressley, 2006; Rapp et al., 2007). Researchers reported the difficulty to clearly understand the exact degree of the contribution of each variable to the final product. All aspects of the reader variables interact with one another and interact with textual and contextual factors (e.g. Dhieb-Henia, 2003).
Different models have been proposed in the literature in order to take account of these factors (the Top-down approach, the Bottom-up approach, the Interactive approach) (Grabe, 2008). Also, there has been a debate among SL reading researchers about whether SL reading is a language problem or a reading problem (Alderson, 1984, Bernhardt and Kamil, 1995; Grabe, 1991; Khaldieh, 2001). Some researchers contended that some SL linguistic knowledge threshold was necessary in order to get first language (L1) reading knowledge to engage and first language reading strategies to transfer (Cummins' (1979) threshold level of language proficiency and Clarke's (1978) linguistic ceiling). Others argued that reading difficulties in a SL can be caused by a 'deficient' reading ability in general, or can be caused by a failing transfer of L1 reading ability to an FL (the linguistic interdependence hypothesis, or alternatively called the common underlying principle (Bernhardt & Kamil, 1995).
Reading in English for Academic purposes (EAP) is still a more complex process (Flowerdew and Peacock, 2001). EAP is concerned with the English required for specific academic purpose such as studying at universities and colleges, doing research or publishing papers. Based on the literature, the present study views EAP reading as the ability to read an EAP discourse as the product of a particular disciplinary culture (e.g., Swales, 2004). Daoud (1991, p. 6), for instance, recommended that non-native readers (of EAP) should acquire “those abilities which would allow them to recognize the existence of certain types of implicit presuppositional rhetorical information, abilities that the experienced native reader possesses". Studies in Contrastive Rhetoric (CR) have demonstrated that texts are shaped by their cultural origins even if they participate in international discourses such as those of the science disciplines (Burgess, 2002; Connor, 2004; Kaplan, 1966, 1987). Mauranen (1993) asserted that “science, or more widely, academic research, does not exist outside writing, and so we cannot represent it, or realize it, without being influenced by the variation in the writing cultures that carry it” (p. 4).
This suggests that the belief that scientific academic discourses merely transmit natural facts is debatable. Hyland (2005) argued that discourses "are never neutral but always engaged in that they realize the interests, the positions, the perspectives and the values of those who enact them" (p. 4). The RA, for instance, is a discourse written by a particular writer belonging to a particular scientific discourse community in the purpose of engaging an audience and persuading them of his/her findings (Adel, 2006; Hyland, 2005; Martin, 2004). Webber (1994) explained “scientists are writers who fight for their ideas to be accepted, recognized, and to be competitive and get their work published” (p. 257). The tendency of scientific writers to choose a particular range of rhetorical devices, might reveal their attempts to establish interpersonal relations, to interact with their audience and to express personal attitudes about the content of their texts and about their audience(s).
Metadiscourse is the linguistic system that enables writers to achieve these goals (Adel, 2006; Hyland, 2004; 2005; Martin, 2004). It represents some internal stylistic map whereby an external reality is created and conveyed. Metadiscourse also helps to perceive discourse as a social action between two parties, author(s) and audience, researchers and scientific communities; in other words, writers and readers are viewed as social agents and texts as a social enterprise in which writers do not only want their messages to be understood (an illocutionary effect), but also to be accepted (a perlocutionary effect) (Hyland, 2005). Hyland (2001, p. 550) argues “a central aspect of the writer-reader dialogue involves careful interpersonal negotiations in which writers seek to balance claims for the significance, originality, and truth of their work against the convictions of their readers”. The reader's ability to construct the writer-intended meaning, via metadiscourse, is one major key to a successful comprehension.
This idea of interaction was grounded in Halliday's (1985) metafunctional theory of language. Halliday (1985) argued that language is a 'system of meanings' and maintains that the writer needs to operate at three levels: the ideational, the textual and the interpersonal. On the ideational plane, the writer supplies information about the subject of the text and expands propositional content, on the interactive plane, he/she does not add propositional material, but helps readers organize, classify, interpret, evaluate, and react to such material.
Many researchers have attempted to investigate the contributions of metadiscourse to language teaching. 'However, most of the literature on metadiscourse has focused on the writing skill. The immense part of these studies has compared writers' use of metadiscourse across cultures and disciplines (Dahl, 2004; Hyland & TLe, 2004; Ifantidou, 2005; Lee, 2002; Perez & Macia, 2002; Steffensen & Cheng, 1996). Only a few studies have examined the role that this crucial part of discourse plays in reading comprehension skill.
There is still an opaque picture of the correlation between the recognition of metadiscourse markers and reading comprehension performance. Indeed, a good number of the studies conducted with native readers of English has yielded inconclusive results (e.g., Crismore and Vande Kopple, 1997; O'Keefe, 1988). While some researchers demonstrated the positive role of metadiscourse (e.g. Vande Kopple, 2002), other researchers concluded that metadiscourse did not have larger effects in their studies (e.g., Crismore, 1989).
Research on the interaction between SL reading and metadiscourse seems to be still in its infancy. The little research carried out has demonstrated the complexity of the entreprise (Camiciottoli, 2003; Daoud, 1991; Dhieb-Henia, 2003; Mustapha and Premalatha, 2001). In fact, research has shown that many factors could intervene in the reading process and hamper EAP readers from using metadiscourse, namely language proficiency, prior disciplinary knowledge and metacognitive strategies (e.g., Camiciottoli, 2003; Daoud, 1991; Dhieb-Henia, 2003). Language proficiency refers to the ability to understand technical and semi-technical language used by a particular academic discourse community. Metacognition is the awareness readers have of their own mental processes and the subsequent ability to monitor, regulate, and direct themselves to a desired end. Prior knowledge includes knowledge of the rhetorical conventions of the genre and the subject discipline. It has been also interesting to note that no study has investigated SL experts' use of metadiscourse when reading materials in their fields.
Local Justifications Of The Study
Reading RAs is a prerequisite for doing research, updating one's knowledge and ultimately publishing RAs. Publication is not optional or a matter of personal choice in Tunisia. The last reform of postgraduate studies has given prior importance to the number of published RAs (Labbassi, 2000). Therefore, researchers who would like to become visible in the international scientific community, have to read and write RAs in English, the international Lingua Frinca in the age of electronic communication. In fact, in Tunisia there are few specialised local journals. Labassi (2008, p. 4120 aptly put “reading and writing English have become unavoidable conditions for joining academic communities in almost all disciplines”. The Tunisian geographical society seems to be eager to integrate into the international geographic community. Indeed, the Tunisian Geographers Association, in collaboration with the International Geographical Union (IGU), managed to organise the 31st International Geographical Congress (IGC) in the country in 2008. Tunisia was the first Arab and African country to host the biggest appointment for geographers all over the world. Adding to that, there is a clear political intention to enhance English status in Tunisia. English is gaining ground over French, which has been until recently the principal language of modernity, as well as the dominant economic language. (Champagne, 2007; Labassi, 2009a, b; Tossa, 1995). The Tunisian government is aiming at creating an English-speaking workforce to enhance the prospects for successful integration into the global economy. Under the New Maitrise reform of 1998, English was introduced in the curriculum of all undergraduate students from all disciplines (Labassi, 2009 a). What is ironical, however, is that “potential researchers and professionals who have to read a literature, which is up to 90% in some disciplines in English, are not offered courses in English” (Labassi, 2009 a, p. 249).
However, while the literature abounds with arguments for and against the role that metadiscourse plays in reading comprehension, little research has been conducted to assess the reading practices of the Tunisian geography society.Therefore, the present research aims to fill in this gap and gain more insight into the reading practices of some Tunisian university teachers/researchers of geography; in particular it aims to assess the extent they use metadiscourse to facilitate their comprehension of RAs in English in their field and to find out about the variables that may hinder this use.
The main aims of the present research are three-fold: (1) to determine to what extent Tunisian geography faculty researchers use metadiscourse markers when reading research articles in English in their fields, (2) to assess whether this use facilitates their comprehension of research articles in English in their fields, (3) to find to what extent this use is related to the participants' proficiency in English, to text familiarity (defined in the present study in terms of both content and formal knowledge) and to their use of metacognitive reading strategies.
The present study addresses the following questions:
1. To what extent do Tunisian geography faculty researchers use metadiscourse markers when reading research articles in English in their fields?
2. To what extent does this use relate to their comprehension of research articles in English in their fields?
3. To what extent do their proficiency in English, discipline-related knowledge (content and genre) and metacognitive reading strategies contribute to their use of metadiscourse markers and comprehension of research articles in English in their fields?
Significance Of The Study
This study explored the use of metadiscourse by some Tunisian geography faculty when reading research articles in English in their disciplines. Theoretically, findings from the
study can help clarify the role metadiscourse plays in SL reading comprehension. The research into metadiscourse markers is useful in itself. It helps us have an insight into how writers interact with their readers to establish a reader-friendly atmosphere and to persuade them of their findings. Such information can add to our understanding of factors contributing to language pedagogy, in particular to the teaching of reading comprehension skill.
At the practical level, information from this study can be useful for making decisions about organizing training sessions to university teachers/researchers to introduce them to the rhetorical conventions of academic genres, namely the research article and to the rhetorical importance of metadiscourse. They should be made aware of the facilitative role of metadiscourse markers when reading academic materials in English. Metadiscourse markers should be taught explicitly in EAP reading comprehension classes as a means to enhance the researchers' reading comprehension ability.
This thesis consists of six chapters. The first chapter describes the background of the research and the context in which the research was conducted. The second chapter comprises two sections: the first is a review of research into the nature of foreign language reading. The second section provides a descriptive account of what metadiscourse is, then explores the studies conducted on the effects of metadiscourse, reviews a few taxonomies on metadiscourse and ends with a description of the taxonomy to be adopted in the present study. Research questions are presented after the discussions of these reviews. Chapter three concerns the methodological decisions taken for this research. It describes how the participants were selected, how the material and instruments were piloted, and which materials and instruments were finally used. It provides as well an account of how the main study was conducted and how the data were analysed. Chapter four reports the findings of the present study. Chapter five discusses the key findings from this study and highlights their implications for the area of EAP. The contributions and limitations of this research and suggestions for future research are presented in chapter six.
The previous chapter introduced the context for this research. This chapter clarifies the two central variables underlying the present study, namely EAP reading comprehension and metadiscourse use. It can be divided into three parts. In the first part, I will focus on the reading variable. Since foreign language reading modeling has been strongly influenced by first language reading theories, I will first discuss four different approaches to reading in a first language, I will then explain how they have been adopted in and adapted for a foreign language reading context. Next, I will elaborate on theoretical concepts particular to reading in English for academic purposes (being the focus of the present study) and I will draw attention to studies that investigated the interaction between reading in English for Academic purposes and language proficiency, background knowledge and reading strategies. This part aims at underscoring the complexity of the EAP reading process and the need to account for the many factors intervening in it. In the second part, I will introduce the second variable of the present study, metadiscouse. I will first try to define the concept and then provide an overview of its main assumptions and classifications to highlight the confusion surrounding the term and emphasize its benefits to EAP readers, and last I will detail Hyland's (2005) taxonomy, the theoretical framework within which the present study is conducted. In the last part I will review some empirical studies that have investigated the interaction between metadiscourse and EAP reading. This part will also draw attention to the scarcity of research in this area.
Understanding the processes involved in reading comprehension is a prerequisite to select reliable and valid research instruments. Alderson (2000) stated “if we are not able to define what we mean by the ‘ability to read', it will be difficult to devise means of assessing such abilities” (p. 49). Likewise, Hogan (2004, p. 1) maintained
The real question we are asking when we look at assessing reading is: What distinguishes a good reader from a poor reader? Implicit in this question is an even more fundamental question: What are we doing when we read?” Assessment is an attempt to answer the first question, but if we cannot at least try to answer the second, we do not know what we are assessing, and any measure or description of reading proficiency we suggest is meaningless.
Thus, in what follows I will first attempt to define the construct of reading comprehension, and then present a number of models that provide a framework for organizing and explaining the nature of reading comprehension. I will give due prominence, however, to the issues specific to reading in EAP dwelling upon the complex cognitive processes that EAP readers go through when they read. I will try to show how certain variables such as linguistic proficiency, background knowledge and reading strategies interact with reading comprehension process.
Definition Of The Construct Of Reading Comprehension
Reading comprehension has often been a subject of controversy among teachers and scholars. Kintsch (1998, p. 2) stated “the terms understanding and comprehension are not scientific terms but are commonsense expressions. As with other such expressions, their meaning is fuzzy and imprecise”. In defining the construct of reading comprehension, I adopted Kintsch's (1998) theory of human text comprehension, as it is a “widely-recognized” theory of text comprehension and as it has “consistently defined the research agenda for the field of text comprehension” (Grabe, 2008, p. 3).
The concepts of ‘Comprehension' and ‘Understanding' are used interchangeably in the present study as “a matter of linguistic variation” following Kintsch. ‘Comprehension' is to be understood in relation to ‘perception' and ‘problem solving'. Both ‘perception' and ‘understanding' involve unconscious and automatic processes. They “can each be described as a process of constraint satisfaction” (p. 3). They differ, however, in that ‘understanding' should result in an action, be it “an overt action in the environment or a mental event” (p. 3). Kintsch (1998, p. 2) stated “understand is used when the relationship between some object and its context is at issue or when action is required”. As for the ‘problem solving' process, it is more complex and involves more demand on cognitive resources. It is an action readers resort to when they fail to understand something. Kintsch (1998) maintained “perception and understanding are the processes people normally use; when an impasse develops in perception or understanding, they resort to problem solving as a repair process” (p. 3).
Reading is the process in which the reader sequentially deals with letters, words and sentences. It was defined by Sheng (2000, p. 2) as “the process of recognition, interpretation, and perception of written or printed material”. Comprehension, on the other hand, involves the ability of the reader to grasp and interpret the meaning of written material, and to reason about cognitive processes that lead to understanding. In other words, it not only covers cognitive understanding of the materials at both surface and deep structure levels, but also the reader's reactions to the content. Sheng (2000, p. 2) maintained “it is a more complex psychological process and includes in addition to linguistic factors (phonological, morphological, syntactic, and semantic elements), cognitive and emotional factors”. In sum, the process of reading deals with language forms while the process of comprehension, the end product, deals with language content.
The term ‘reading comprehension' can, in some respects, be considered a complex construct, as highlighted by numerous reading researchers (Carrell, 1988; Grabe, 1991; Kintsch, 1998; de Beaugrande, 1981). According to Brumfit (1980), reading comprehension is a complex activity covering “a combination of perceptual, linguistic and cognitive abilities” (p. 3). It is a constructive thinking process which “involves application, analysis, evaluation and imagination” (Taylor, 1984, p.391). Grabe (2008) attributed the complexity of the reading comprehension process to the multiple purposes of reading and the complex cognitive processes involved. In the present study, reading is viewed as a process of communication between a writer and a reader and this communication will be incomplete unless it is affected by the reader's evaluation and appreciation. In fact, both the reader and the writer contribute to the reading process.
Despite the uniqueness of second language reading processes (Geva and Wang, 2001; Koda, 2007), second language reading has drawn extensively on first language reading research. Different models have been adopted and adapted based on a variety of L1 reading theories. Below is a review of these theories.
Reading Theories In A First Language
A reading model provides an imagined representation of the reading process. It provides ways to represent a theory and explain what reading involves and how reading works based on available evidence. Goldman, et al., (2007) explained “the term model refers specifically to a representation of the psychological processes that comprise a component or set of components involved in human text comprehension” (p. 27). According to Samuels (1994), a good theoretical model has three characteristics: it summarizes a considerable amount of information discovered in the past; it helps explain and make more understandable what is happening in the present, and it allows one to make predictions about the future (p. 816). Researchers, however, are somehow cautious about the comprehensibility of the model because of its inability to account for all the available evidence that exists. Dhieb-Henia (2002) warned that the models are not "always backed up by sufficient empirical evidence to validate (them)" (p. 18). In the same fashion, Grabe (2008) argued “to assert that a model must be an accurate synthesis, (...) is problematic”. Thus, these researchers recommend that we consider these models as a possible representation of the reading process, rather than absolute models. They nonetheless stress the key role that these models play in “synthesizing information and establishing central claims” (Grabe, 2008, p. 84).
Reviewing the literature, four major approaches have been proposed in an attempt to understand the reading process. The major distinction between the approaches is the emphasis given to text-based variables such as vocabulary, syntax, and grammatical structure and reader-based variables such as the reader's background knowledge, cognitive development, strategy use, interest, and purpose (Lally, 1998). The following sections review these approaches and discuss them with reference to the specific context of the present study.
The Bottom-Up Approach
The concept of decoding is central to what is usually called the bottom-up
approach to reading. The term 'bottom-up' originated in perception psychology, where it is used to signify the processing of external stimuli (Mulder, 1996). In reading
research, the term is not always used in a consistent manner and has drifted away from the original meaning it had in perception psychology. Nevertheless, the term always focuses on what are called lower order processes, i.e. decoding ability and word recognition ability (Mulder, 1996). These abilities are believed to form the key to
proficient reading. In other words, the reader perceives every letter, organizes the perceived letters into words, and then organizes the words into phrases, clauses and sentences. Meaning, at any level, (e.g. word or phrase), is accessed only once processing at previous (e.g. lower) levels has been completed (Carrell, 1988). The argument is that bottom-up processing requires a literal or fundamental understanding of the language. Carrell (1993, p. 2) maintained
Reading (is) viewed primarily as a decoding process of reconstructing the author's intended meaning via recognizing the printed letters and words, and building up a meaning for a text from the smallest textual units at the bottom (letters and words) to larger and larger units at the top (phrases, clauses, intersentential linkages.
Advocates of this theory argue that successful reading comprehension of a text relies heavily on an efficient application of bottom-up processes. The best known representative of this type of approach is Gough's (1972) model. The model is summarised by Urquhart and Weir as follows:
T]he reader begins with letters, which are recognized by a SCANNER. The information thus gained is passed to a DECODER, which converts the string of letters into a string of systematic phonemes. This string is then passed to a LIBRARIAN, where with the help of the LEXICON, it is recognized as a word. The reader then fixates on the next word, and
proceeds in the same way until all the words in a sentence have been processed, at which point they proceed to a component called MERLIN, in which syntactic and semantic rules operate to assign a meaning to the sentence. ... The final stage is that of the Vocal System, where the reader utters orally what has first been accessed through print. (Urquhart &Weir, 1998: 40)
The decoding approach, however, has been viewed by many as inadequate. According to Eskey (1973), the approach underestimates the contribution of the reader. The reader, according to this approach, does not read the text through a self-determined, predefined perspective or goal, but rather lets the text itself (and therefore its author) determine the reading process (Urquhart & Weir, 1998). The approach fails to recognize that readers utilize their expectations about the text based on their knowledge of language and how it works. Similarly, Carrell (1984) stated that this view assumes a rather passive view of reading. Grabe (2008) stated “we know that such an extreme view of reading is not accurate, and no current model of reading depicts reading as a pure bottom-up process” (p. 89). Criticism of the bottom-up theory has given impetus to the Top- down theory.
The Top-Down Approach
Whereas the bottom-up approach gives incoming information a central place in the reading process, the top-down approach focuses on the knowledge a reader already possesses. It stresses what are called higher order cognitive processes. The top-down theory posits a non-linear view of the reading process, i.e. from higher levels of processing, and proceeds to use the lower levels selectively. It assumes that readers interrogate the text rather than process it completely. They get meaning by comparing their expectations to a sample of information from the text. The proponents of this theory argue that reader's experience and background knowledge is essential for understanding a text.
Grabe (2008) explained “top-down models assume that the reader actively controls the comprehension process, directed by reader goals, expectations, and strategic processing” (p. 89). Carrell (1993, p. 4) stated
In the top-down view of second language reading, not only is the reader an active participant in the reading process, but everything in the reader's prior experience or background knowledge plays a significant role in the process. In this view, not only is the reader's prior linguistic knowledge (“linguistic” schemata) and level of proficiency in the second language important, but the reader's prior background knowledge of the content area of the text (“content” schemata) as well as of the rhetorical structure of the text (“formal” schemata) are also important.
According to this view, the reader's background knowledge may compensate for certain syntactic and lexical deficiencies. Readers start with their background knowledge (whole text) and make predictions about the text, and then verify their predictions by using text data (words) in the text (Urquhart & Cyril, 1998). Clarke and Silberstein (1977, p.136-137) stated that “more information is contributed by the reader than by the print on the page, that is, readers understand what they read because they are able to take the stimulus beyond its graphic representation”. The most frequently cited representative of this approach is Goodman's (1976) top-down model. He defined reading as a process of verifying hypotheses — hypotheses that are based on knowledge which the reader possesses. His model, also called the guessing game theory, is summarised by Bossers as follows:
According to Goodman, the reading process consisted of sampling and selecting cues, on the basis of which an interpretation is predicted or guessed, which is subsequently tested against the semantic context, and then confirmed or rejected as the reader processes further language, and so on. These stages of the process were called 'features of the reading process' or 'effective strategies' or 'effective reading behaviour' alternatively. (Bossers,1992:10).
A very influential theory that is usually discussed in relation to the top-down
perspective is that of schema theory. The prior knowledge gained through experiences, stored in one's mind and activated when readers encounter new information is referred to in the literature as schemata (Carrell, 1980; Widdowson, 1983).
Schema theory, which comes from cognitive psychology, owes much to the work of Bartlett (Rumelhart, 1981) and Piaget (Orasanu and Penny, 1986). Schemata, the plural form of schema, also called ‘building blocks of cognition' (Rumelhart, 1981, p. 3), refer to “abstract knowledge structure (s) stored in memory” (Garner, 1987, p. 4). They are defined as the mental framework that helps the learner organize knowledge, direct perception and attention, and guide recall (Bruming, 1995), as cognitive constructs which allow for the organization of information in long-term memory (Widdowson,1983) and as the underlying connections that allow new experience and information to be aligned with previous knowledge ( McCarthy ,1991).
Within the framework of schema theory, reading comprehension is no longer a linear, text-driven process, but is the process of the interpretation of new information, and the assimilation and accommodation of this information into memory structures or schemata (Anderson & Pearson, 1984). Schemata are not static entities, however, but are continually constructed and reconstructed through the processes of assimilation and accommodation. In other words, a comprehension of a text involves activation of relevant schemata, which are initiated as a result of ‘bottom-up observation', and proceeds through a constant process of testing the activated schemata, evaluating their suitability, and refining or discarding them (Rumelhart, (1984, pp. 3, 6). Rumelhart (1981, p. 4) stated “according to schema theories, all knowledge is packed into units … (which) are the schemata. Embedded in these packets of knowledge, in addition to the knowledge itself, is information about how this knowledge is to be used”. The schemata or old information which “provide general “ideational scaffolding” for new information” (Garner, 1987, p. 7) are activated to make new incoming information comprehensible. According to Alderson (2000, p. 17) schemata act as ‘filters' for new information. Grabe (1991, p. 390) stated that schema theory has been an extremely useful notion for describing how prior knowledge is integrated in memory and used in higher-level memory processes”.
Three different types of schemata are distinguished in the literature: linguistic schema, formal schema and content schema Carrell (1983). Linguistic or language schema refers to readers' existing language proficiency in terms of vocabulary, grammar and idioms. According to Alderson (2000, p. 80), linguistic knowledge includes “phonological, orthographic, morphological, syntactic, and semantic information”. These schemata are needed to recognize words and how they fit together in a sentence. Readers, may via repeated exposure, be able to generalize a pattern or guess the meaning of a word, which may not have initially been part of their linguistic schema. Without linguistic schemata, it is impossible for the reader to decode and comprehend a text.
Formal schema, often known as textual schema, includes “discourse-level knowledge, including …text organization and cohesion, text types and associated conventions, as well as metalinguistic knowledge” Alderson (2000, p. 80). It can include knowledge of different text types and genres, and also of their organization, language structures, vocabulary, and level of formality/register differently. Schooling and culture play the largest role in providing a reader with a knowledge base of formal schemata (Singhal, 1998).
Content schema refers to a reader's background or world knowledge (Carrell and Eisterhold, 1983; Carrell, Pharis, and Liberto, 1989). Content schema provides information that aids in the interpretation of meaning. That is, readers attempt to match content schemata with text information. As the reader does this, he/she builds a mental concept for the meaning of the text. This concept is constructed partially out of information previously known and partially by the new information presented in the text. The processes of building and refining mental concepts of meaning allow comprehension to occur (Armbruster, 1986).
Despite its importance, the schema theory has some shortcomings. the literature does not mention where these schemata originate from and/or how they are acquired. Alderson (2000) pointed out that schema theory does not clarify how completely new information is dealt with (e.g. how similarities between old and new information are detected). The main shortcoming of a top-down approach is that it is impossible to see how a reader can begin by engaging the text as a whole, then proceed to paragraphs, then to individual sentences, ending with single letters. In other words, this process (background knowledge, then paragraphs, then sentences, then single letters) may not represent what really happens (Alderson, 2000).
Urquhart and Weir (1998, p. 70) also listed different reasons 'for believing that schemata are not very useful in reading research'. They signal the problematic relationship between the main characteristics of schemata: on the one hand schemata are necessarily pre-existing and pre-structured, but on the other hand schemata should be instantly adaptable, instantly activated and acquired for schema theory to be successful. They criticized the fact that schemata were rarely described in detail: it was not clear what exactly a schema comprised. The view of reading as an interactive process has been considered as “a typical compromise solution” (Grabe, 2008) and is explored in the following section.
The Interactive Theory
This theory considers comprehension as drawing upon both top-down and bottom-processes. The claim is that bottom-up processing influences top-down processes, and vice versa. In fact, the two approaches tend to be compensatory. If ottom-up skills are weak, there is the risk of misunderstanding the basic meaning from which top-down skills are built. On the other hand, if top-down skills are ignored, learners become passive readers, and do not develop the analytical skills important to good readers. Dubin and Bucina (1991, p. 197) posited “the two processes, bottom-up and top-down, are complementary; one is not able to function properly without the other”. Likewise, Grabe (2008) argued “readers most definitely are not either top-down or bottom-up readers. Instead, readers are, of necessity, always both bottom-up and top-down readers” (p. 56).
According to this interactive approach to reading, the balance between the complex interactions of different types of information activating various skills varies with text, reader and purpose (Alderson, 2000). In the same vein, Grabe (1991) maintained that the term ‘interactive' refers to three different conceptions: First, the interaction that occurs between the reader and the text whereby the reader constructs meaning based on the knowledge drawn from the text and the existing background knowledge the reader has; Second, the interactivity occurring simultaneously between many component skills that results in reading comprehension; Third, the textual interaction that is the interaction between various linguistic dimensions within the text that together underline a text as such rather than a series of unconnected sentences. Therefore, Grabe (1991) asserted that from an interactive approach, the reading process is seen “as a kind of dialogue between the reader and the text” (p. 350) involving “both an array of low-level rapid, automatic identification skills and an array of higher-level comprehension interpretation skills” (p. 383). In the literature on process models one approach is often cited as representative of interactive approaches: Rumelhart's (1970) interactive Model. The model is interactive in that there is no hierarchy in the activation of processes or absolute direction in the interplay of different information resources.
Limitations associated with interactive process models concern first the nature of the interaction. Existing interactive models have not been able to give a full account of how and when (particular) interactions take place exactly. They are limited to explaining the results of the interaction. In a recent publication, Grabe (2008) criticized interactive models on the ground that little empirical evidence supports their assumptions. He argued (p. 90):
Research demonstrates that (a) fluent readers do not wait for context information to support automatic word-recognition processes; (b) inferences do not impact automatic word-recognition processes; and (c) eye-movement patterns follow consistent and fairly automatic processes; they are not usually under the conscious direction of the reader during fluent reading.
Grabe (2008) supported instead restricted interactive models. The latter are hybrid models that combine two important features of the major theories of reading comprehension: (1) the interaction of information sources and (2) restrictions on these interactions. In other words, the more automatic the reading process at the bottom-up level is, the less influential the top-down level is. Grabe (2008) stated “restricted interactive models are primarily bottom-up driven with respect to automatic processing (word recognition, syntactic parsing, proposition formation). At the same time, automatic processing may require interaction among processes and resources within a given component skill level.” (p. 90).
A second, related criticism to the interactive approach is that they do not clarify the relative importance of the different sources of information involved in the interaction (Bossers, 1992). This lack of explicitness of the interaction gives way to innumerable possible variations of the interaction. Interactive views, therefore, seem to contribute “rather superficially to the unraveling” of the process of reading. There was more advocacy for componential interactive approaches (e.g. Grabe, 2008).
The Componential Theory
A componential theory of reading “attempts to identify a set of functionally defined information processing systems or components which, in interaction with one another, accomplish the more complex performance—in this case, reading with comprehension” (Frederiksen, 1981, p. 5). This definition may hint that readers could differ depending on the degree of interaction among these components. Indeed, the interaction of these components may explain individual differences and reading difficulties. Frederiksen (1981, p. 7) explained “a skilled reader possesses many, highly automated components, while a less skilled reader has a smaller number of such components, and those may be quantitatively less automated”. Likewise, Gibson and Levin (1975, p. 454) suggested “there are as many reading processes as there are people who read, things to read, and goals to be served”.
A model that would be a good example of such an approach is the Interactive-Compensatory model (ICM) presented by Stanovich (1980, 1986, 2000). The model stipulates that whenever a weakness or lack in knowledge or skills is encountered which inhibits or distorts reading comprehension, it is compensated by other knowledge resources or skills. Stanovich (1986) explained “deficiencies at any level in the processing hierarchy can be compensated for by a greater use of information from other levels and that this compensation takes place irrespective of the level of the deficient process” (p. 49). A deficit in any particular process will result in a greater reliance on other knowledge sources, regardless of their level in the processing hierarchy. In other words, the model suggests that effective reading depends on the dynamic interrelationship among existing knowledge; it is possible for most learners to compensate for weaknesses in one area using strengths in other areas. For example, a lack of vocabulary knowledge may be compensated by far-reaching knowledge of the topic of the text.
The ICM was developed primarily to explain developmental and individual differences in the use of content to facilitate word recognition during reading. It theorizes on the differences in individuals' reading abilities. That is to say, poor readers use contextual information to compensate for weak word recognition skills, a contextual facilitation of word perception strategy; good readers who read with ease and in an automatic fashion consider less often this strategy. Contextual facilitation or facilitation of word perception is useful only to poor readers to compensate for their difficulties in decoding. Good readers perceive words using data-driven strategies saving cognitive capacity for comprehension monitoring.
The ICM includes five main components: cognitive abilities, an organized knowledge base, strategies, metacognition, and motivational beliefs. Cognitive abilities refer to one's general capacity to read. The knowledge base refers to organized, domain-specific knowledge and general knowledge in long-term memory. Strategies refer to procedures that enable readers to solve specific problems. Metacognition includes knowledge about oneself as a learner, and how to regulate one's learning. Motivation refers to beliefs about one's ability to successfully perform a task,as well as one's goals for performing a task. Knowledge and regulatory skills such as strategies and metacognition are combined into one overarching module because of the close relationship among these three components.This model has been adopted by many researchers (Carrell, 1993; Rumelhart, 1980; Sanford and Garrod, 1981; Van Dijk and Kintsch, 1983).
Anderson et al. (1982) posited that “comprehension of a message entails drawing information from both the message and the internal schemata until sets are reconciled as a single schema or message" (p.187). Similarly, Dubin and Bucina (1991) stated “the two processes, bottom–up and top–down, are complementary; one is not able to function properly without the other” (p. 197).
In the first section, I gave a brief insight into the major reading theories in the first language reading process, as they have strongly informed SL reading research (the latter will be reviewed in the following section). The major conclusion to be drawn is that reading is conceived, by most current researchers, as an interactive cognitive process in which readers interact with the text, the writer and other contextual variables (e.g. Barnett, 1989; Grabe, 2008; Hudson, 1998; Koda, 2007; Paran, 1994). The level of reading comprehension of the text is determined among others by how well the reader variables (knowledge of the topic, foreign language abilities, awareness of the reading process) interact with the text variables (text type, structure, syntax, and vocabulary) (Hosenfeld, 1979). Reading is a complex activity. Indeed, Alderson and Urquhart (1984, p. xxvii) maintained
…the study of reading must be interdisciplinary. If the ability involves so many aspects of language, cognition, life and learning, then no one academic discipline can claim to have the correct view of what is crucial in reading: linguistics certainly not, probably not even applied linguistics. Cognitive and educational psychologists are clearly centrally involved; sociology and sociolinguistics, information theory, the study of communication systems and doubtless other disciplines all bear upon an adequate study of reading.
This view of reading is adopted in the present study. But as the participants in the present study are EAP readers, it is important at this stage to shed light on SL reading research and in particular on EAP reading.
SL Reading Comprehension Theories
SL/FL theories of reading were based primarily on the principles of the bottom-up, the top-down and the interactive approaches. Following the bottom-up approach, some researchers claimed that decoding was the key to FL reading and that FL readers were faced with problems similar to beginning technical reading. Indeed, the studies were unidimensional in nature. The areas of investigation were: text structure (e.g., Ross, 1994); syntax (e.g., Berkemeyer, 1994) and word knowledge (e.g., Laufer & Hadar, 1997). These studies identified an insufficient speed and accuracy in L2 decoding as the main obstacle to proficient L2 reading. This approach was questioned by many because the reading comprehension process was mainly hindered by a lack of SL vocabulary knowledge rather than by poor decoding. The graphic input is usually processed correctly while reading in an SL, but no meaning can be assigned to what is read, thus hindering the efficiency of the reading process (e.g., Bernhardt, 2005).
With regard to the top-down approach, empirical studies using Goodman's (1971) guessing game theory yielded problematic results (Bhatia, 1984; Clarke, 1979, 1980; Connor, 1981). They argued that Goodman's approach could only partially explain their results. For example, Goodman's theory did not account for the fact that the advantage good L1 readers had over poor L1 readers was not found reflected in SL reading (Clarke,1979) and it did not account for the slower SL reading speed found in skilled bilinguals (Segalowitz, 1986). Further objections against top-down approaches were based on studies that indicated that poor SL readers also do a lot of guesswork while reading (while this is characteristic of proficient reading according to Goodman's theory) and that people reading in an SL need extensive vocabulary knowledge in that language in order to read with comprehension (Bossers, 1992).
The view of SL reading as interactive was adopted by a good number of researchers(Bernhardt, 1986; Carrell, Devine & Eskey, 1988). Reading is regarded an interactive process wherein the reader variables (interest level in the text, purpose for reading the text, knowledge of the topic, foreign language abilities, awareness of the reading process, and level of willingness to take risks) interact with the text variables (text type, structure, syntax, and vocabulary) (Hosenfeld, 1979). Bernhardt (1991) developed a model in an attempt to capture in a comprehensive manner the variables in the second language reading process.
However, it was only since the mid 1980s that researchers increasingly have showed interest in adult reading and in second or foreign language reading (Alderson, 1984). They found out that there are numerous other variables (of unequal and variable importance) that can influence how second language readers go about trying to understand an academic text and how successful these efforts would be. Bernhardt (2005) maintained “it was clear that the variables involved (in FL reading) are significantly more complicated than the set involved in general L1 reading” (p. 135). When the reader has different conventions or assumptions from the writer of a given text, the contract breaks down and comprehension can suffer. Eskey (1986) further explained that the mismatch of the conventions or assumptions between the reader and writer might be because of different culture values:
The literate second language reader is a product of a culture which may have very different ideas about reading from those that the unwary teacher takes for granted. Such a student may have completely different conceptions of what reading is, how it should be done, and what it normally is used for from those of the teacher in what might be called the standard amercian academic setting (p.4)
Therefore, the researchers have denounced the application of L1 to SL reading research. Bernhardt (2005), for example, criticized “the slavish replication of studies conducted in first language” (p. 133) and “the overadoption of Schema Theory” (p. 134). Weber (1991) maintained that SL reading research has been “derivative and nonoriginal”. Bernhardt (2005) gave the example of Carrell's (1983) study which replicated the famous “washing clothes passage” and “balloon serenade” used in Bransford and Johnson (1973) with English as a second language. Bernhardt (2005) argued that first and second language reading processes have different underlying dimensions. She stated “the mere existence of a first-language renders the second language reading process considerably different from the first-language reading process because of the nature of the nature of information stored in memory” (p. 112).
A new debate emerged among SL reading researchers about whether second language reading is a language problem or a reading problem (Alderson, 1984, Bernhardt and Kamil, 1995; Grabe, 1991; Khaldieh, 2001). Coleman (1971) reported that lexical complexity of texts account for 80% of the variance in SL reading comprehension, implying that the higher one's degree of lexical knowledge, the higher the degree of comprehension. Schoonen et al. (1998, p. 87) brought evidence that “foreign language vocabulary is the best predictor of FL reading comprehension” (p. 89). One's knowledge of discourse and text structure has also been reported to affect reading comprehension. For example, understanding coherence, or superficially non-existent relations between sentences, is a determining factor in reading comprehension (Taylor, 1985, p. 2).
This debate has been translated into two hypotheses dominating the field: the linguistic threshold hypothesis and the linguistic interdependence hypothesis. They have provided the frame work for many empirical studies. The linguistic threshold hypothesis, also known as the short-circuit hypothesis, stated that: “In order to read in a second language, a level of second language linguistic ability must first be achieved” (Bernhardt & Kamil, 1995, p. 17). According to this hypothesis, problematic reading in an SL was caused by a language problem — more precisely, inadequate knowledge of that language. What exactly the term 'language knowledge' embodies differs considerably: some considered it to be inadequate knowledge of vocabulary, others stated it to be inadequate knowledge of grammar, and others also stated that a strong interaction between both vocabulary and grammatical knowledge was necessary (Ulijn & Salager-Meyer, 1998).
A concept related to this hypothesis is that of linguistic ceiling. This concept was first formulated by Clarke (1979). In a 'weaker' interpretation, it was stated that 'below a certain threshold in SL proficiency, comprehension processes which were used by readers in L1 could not be used as effectively in SL reading' (Ulijn & Salager-Meyer, 1998, p. 82). In a 'stronger' interpretation, it was stated that 'a certain threshold level of SL language knowledge is necessary before LI reading ability transfers to L2 reading' (Yamashita, 2002, p. 81). Both interpretations share the idea that a certain level of language knowledge needs to be reached before understanding can take place. Berhardt (1986) and Koda (1987) demonstrated that a given amount of SL grammatical/linguistic knowledge was necessary in order to get L1 reading knowledge to engage and L1 reading strategies to transfer. Bossers (1991) stated that the students who are strategic readers in their first languages may be inhibited to transfer L1 strategies into L2 because of L2 proficiency problems. He (1991) maintained
Poor foreign language reading is due to reading strategies in the first language not being employed in the foreign language, due to inadequate knowledge of the foreign language. Good first language-readers will read well in the foreign language once they have passed a threshold of foreign language ability. (p. 47)
Although not always considered as different from the above description and related to the 'stronger' interpretation of the language threshold , Alderson (1984) discussed what he calls a modification of the linguistic threshold hypothesis. This modification states that SL reading problems are caused by a lack of transfer of L1 reading strategies to reading in an SL due to an inadequate knowledge of the SL. SL language competence, in this view, is a prerequisite for the transfer of strategies across languages. Usually this modification is referred to by the second name under which the hypothesis is known, i.e. the short-circuit hypothesis. Bossers (1992) stated that this hypothesis is only relevant for good L1 readers, defined as those who efficiently use high level processes (strategies), since weak LI readers have nothing to transfer to the SL. Good LI readers' SL reading process can be 'short-circuited' by a lack of (or insufficient) SL language knowledge (relevant to a particular text) or by slow and inaccurate lexical processing, leaving little capacity for higher level processing (inhibiting transfer of reading strategies).
Opponents of the linguistic threshold hypothesis warn of the 'trap' of the threshold concept — i.e. an absolute linguistic level, valid for all tasks and all subjects (Urquhart & Weir, 1998). They argued that the language threshold depends on a number of factors. These include task demand, cognitive development, and level of background knowledge. Mulder (1996) called the strict adherence to the language threshold concept too narrow (reading as an exponent of language knowledge rather than a creative meaning reconstruction process), even though she recognized the importance of vocabulary knowledge to FL reading. Although many researchers did not seem to strictly adhere to this hypothesis (e.g. Alderson, 1984), they did recognize the existence of some kind of threshold: [S]ome threshold does, (...), appear to be necessary before other abilities, like one's firstlanguage reading ability, can be brought to bear upon the task of reading in a foreign language. (Alderson, 1984, p. 19)
The second hypothesis dominating the discussion on FL reading is the linguistic interdependence hypothesis, or alternatively called the common underlying principle (Bernhardt & Kamil, 1995). This hypothesis stated that LI reading abilities (strategy use) transfer to reading in an FL. Underlying is the idea that '[r]eading performance in a second language is largely shared with reading ability in a first language' (Bernhardt & Kamil, 1995, p. 1718). This hypothesis is associated with the view that failing sL reading comprehension is a reading problem. Reading difficulties in an FL can be caused by a 'deficient' reading ability in general (thus in the LI as well), or can be caused by a failing transfer of LI reading ability to an FL. This second part, poor FL reading caused by a problematic transfer of LI reading ability, has mainly been supported by studies from bilingualism. Cummins (1979), doing research on bilingual children's performance in an educational context, introduced the concept of Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). Based on his findings, he stated that there is one single underlying dimension which directs our CALP and therefore, CALP underlies language proficiency in whatever language.
SL reading is, currently, most often seen as a balanced combination of the above mentioned approaches (e.g. Grabe, 2008). Comprehensive models that can account for all SL variables are missing in the literature though. Indeed, the research in the 1980s and 1990s tried to capture a “holistic depiction” of the interaction of variables in the second language reading process, but there has been no consensus about a ‘satisfactory' integrated model of these variables (Bernhardt, 2005, p. 136). Most of the researchers applied L1 reading models such as Stanovich's interactive compensatory model to the FL context. Bernhardt (2005) commented on Stanovich's (1980) model as one that 'captures the current knowledge base regarding literacy knowledge, language knowledge with particular emphasis on vocabulary, and dimensions under investigation, but not yet explained.' (Bernhardt, 2005, p 140). The only model reported to have been designed especially for FL reading contexts is Bernhardt's(1991 and 2000). Grabe (2008) stated “in L2 reading research, only one general descriptive model of reading has been proposed (Bernhardt, 1991, 2000)”. Bernhardt (2000) proposed a three-dimensional compensatory model, which she considered an improvement on her former model (1991) for the conceptualisation of the multi-dimensional process of reading. The model “illustrates that knowledge sources are not additive, but rather operate synchronically, interactively and synergistically” (Bernhardt, 2005, p. 141). The model was, however, criticized on the ground that it was “somewhat vague in its specification of component abilities and in its implications for reading development” (Grabe, 2008, p. 104).
In a later study Bernhardt (2005), advanced what she called the requirements for a comprehensive model of FL reading: 1) 'acknowledge the significant contribution of first language reading ability to second language comprehension', 2) 'enable a conceptualization of comprehension as consisting of different elements and influences', 3) 'concede that in the reading of cognate languages there is no such thing as "no knowledge" if the reader is already literate and, at the same time, admit that when switching to non-cognate languages, the threshold is set at a very different point', and 4) 'encompass a consideration of unexplained variance in individual performance and after considerable time in learning'(Bernhardt, 2005, pp. 138-139).
This limited development in the field of foreign language reading research may be attributed to the complexity of SL reading comprehension process. Indeed, SL readers invoke a unique set of constraints. Reading in English for Academic purposes is, however, more demanding and more challenging for those who are educated in their native languages and have different cultures and educational systems. Flowerdew and Peacock (2001) explained
EAP reading involves a number of specific difficulties. The registers/genres of different disciplines are different from those of ‘general English'. Students may do well in ‘reading lessons' in general English, but have difficulty in reading in their subject areas. Also the aims are different: reading narrative may be fro enjoyment alone, but in subject areas students often read to perform some task- to learn about something, get information, learn how to do something or draw material for argument (p. 185).
Reading In English For Academic Purposes (Eap)
I start this section by explaining what EAP is. EAP is concerned with the English required for specific academic purpose such as studying at universities and colleges, doing research or publishing papers. EAP reading is unique in several ways. First, the materials are read within a specific academic setting. The academic setting is characterized by a particular academic culture and a particular disciplinary culture and those involved are expected to be (come) academically literate. Academic culture concerns the values, roles, assumptions, attitudes, patterns of behavior, etc. in that setting. Disciplinary culture concerns the theories, concepts, norms and terms of a particular academic discipline (Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001). Operating successfully within the academic setting is usually linked to an understanding of the academic culture and discipline. Johns (1997, p. 2), in defining, academic literacy argues that literacy involves 'ways of knowing particular content, languages, and practices', that it includes 'strategies for understanding, discussing, organizing, and producing texts' and that '(i)t relates to the social context in which a discourse is produced and the roles and communities of text readers and writers' (Johns, 1997: 2). In essence, she says, '(w)hat this term does is integrate into one concept the many and varied social, historical, and cognitive influences on readers and writers as they attempt to process and produce texts' (Johns, 1997: 2). Braine (2002), calls good reading and writing skills, research skills and knowledge of one's chosen field of study only 'the foundation' for becoming academically literate.
Many researchers have noticed that difficulties SL readers face when reading academic texts are not necessarily due to insufficient SL proficiency. Rather, those difficulties relate to the specific characteristics of academic genres. Spiro and Taylor (1987) maintained that texts that are markedly different in type make distinct demands upon readers' knowledge and expectations about reading, and have important consequences for cognitive processing. Similarly, Flowerdew and Peacock (2001) observed that “each academic discipline differs in its ways of arguing for a particular point of view, interpreting data, considering different sides of an argument and drawing conclusions” (P. 187). Thus, comprehension should be seen in the large context of the discipline community (Meyers, 1991). Swales (1990) introduced the concept of genre. He considered a genre a “class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purposes” (p. 58). These shared communicative purposes are recognized by the expert members of a discourse community and turn out to be the rationale for a genre. As a result, the schematic structure of the discourse and the participating members' choice of content and style are under the influence of the rationale embedded in a genre. Bhatia (1993, p. 15) added that there are restrictions on the vocabulary, grammar and discourse structure o
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