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This chapter explains the methodology utilized in the current study. It begins with a description of the participants and the measurement instruments. Then it is followed by data collection, coding and scoring procedures. The chapter ends with an overview of the statistical analyses used.
The participants of the current study were around 50 male and female intermediate-level EFL learners, between the ages of 18 to 35, who enrolled in a private institute in Isfahan province of Iran. Participants at this level would have sufficient English skills to engage in discussions with their interlocutors, but would still have considerable potential for linguistic development. Most of the participants were university students or graduate students. They have studied TopNotch books by Pearson Education for about six terms. Each term consists of 25 sessions, six hours a week. The participants were studying TopNotch 3 at the time of research. They filled an informed consent form before participating in the study. They have been selected based on a language proficiency test and they were placed into two groups according to their gender, male versus female. Afterwards they formed pairs:
Male-Male pairs (five pairs);
Male-Female pairs (five pairs);
Female-Female pairs (five pairs).
In order to accomplish the two main objectives of this study (to identify relationships between the learners' gender and the way that they scaffold their struggling partners and to analyze the complexity, accuracy, and fluency of written outputs) a mixed-method approach was used which included both qualitative and quantitative research method approaches.
3.2.1. Language Placement Test
To shape homogeneous groups, the first task that participants were asked to carry out was a Language Placement Test (LPT). This is the main placement tool for all learners in the TopNotch instructional programs offered by Pearson Education Publication. It measures the English language proficiency of applicants. It generally addresses four language skills: speaking, listening, reading, and general English and each part included authentic and real world materials. In part I, the test taker was required to complete 3 listening tasks including 10 multiple-choice questions in 15 minutes. In part II, the test taker was required to complete 2 reading tasks including 10 multiple-choice questions in 30 minutes. In part III, the test taker was required to answer to 120 multiple-choice questions in 50 minutes. Totally, the test included 140 questions which lasted for 95 minutes.
In the speaking section of the test, which is very crucial in the future performances of the participants in the oral tasks of the study, the researcher asked one of his colleague to help him. Each time two of the participants were asked to perform the tasks in the test. While one of the examiners directed students' attention to the tasks, the other one scored the interlocutors in areas such as
3.2.2. Treatment Tasks
Based on task-based studies of language teaching, interaction, scaffolding, and the discourse of interaction four tasks with the same degree of complexity and difficulty were chosen.
The participants were given a depiction of the human body's blood circulation system, showing the routes by which blood circulates from the heart through body and goes back to the heart. They were asked to describe the process by which blood goes from the heart to head and upper limbs, and to the rest of body, through the arteries, and then how it returns to the heart through the veins.
The participants were given a letter from a parent to a friend. In this letter the parents are worried about their daughter because she refuses to do anything they tell her and she is very rude to them. Also, she has become friendly with a girl they don't like. She mentions that they don't trust her anymore because she is always lying to them. The participants were required to discuss their ideas, and then agree on four best advices to the parents.
The participants were to imagine that one of them is a judge, and the other a doctor who was supposed to be a murderer. The doctor gave an overdose to an 85-year-old woman because she was dying painfully from cancer. The woman herself had asked for the overdose. The woman's family has accused the doctor of murder. There were four decisions to be made. For each decision, they had to decide for how long to send the accused to prison. The maximum was real life sentence, the minimum was three months. They could also set her/him free.
3.3. Data Collection Procedure
The EPT particularly focuses on the following language activities (sub-skills):
Listening: Understanding native speakers interaction, listening to announcements and instructions, listening as a member of a live audience
Reading: Reading correspondence, reading for orientation, reading for information and argument, reading instructions
The test taker had a test booklet and two answer sheets: one for the writing part, where the participant was required to complete the writing task, and an optical mark reader answer sheet, where s/he was required to answer the multiple choice questions in the listening and reading parts. After scoring the test, participants who score between one standard deviation below the mean (-1SD) and one standard deviation above the mean (+1SD) were chosen as the participants of the study.
During the third session participants were asked to carry out a problem-solving task in which participants explored the effects of the problem in hand and the possible causes in pairs. They shared personal views or experiences. After brainstorming participants were asked to write up their proposal in draft form. At the last stage they finalized and delivered the target task.
At the fourth session participants performed a story telling task. They were given some pictures. They should put them in order and write a story about them. They performed the given sequences of the tasks in the specified time limit that is about 2 hours. While participants were doing the task, all peer interactions were audio recorded with the participants' consent and were then transcribed for analysis. In cases where the participants of the study sometimes used Persian in their interactions to ask and explain points, all Persian utterances were translated and transcribed into English.
3.4. Data Analysis
In order to measure production of the participants, all the narratives produced were coded by the researcher. The accuracy of written production were measured by calculating the number of error-free clauses as a percentage of the total number of clauses (Error-free C-units ratio (EFCU/CU)). Syntactic complexity were measured by the number of clauses divided by the number of T-units (C/T). Lexical complexity were coded through the percentage of lexical to function words (L/F). Fluency were measured through the calculation of dysfluencies and length of text (TXL). Hyphenated words are counted as one word. The quantitative data obtained were processed, classified and analyzed by SPSS software package.
The audio recorded dialogues of the pairs were transcribed. Ohta's (2001) list of seven scaffolding types were used as a framework to analyze the data.
Types of Scaffolding Methods (when interlocutor is struggling):
Waiting: One partner gives the other, even when struggling, time to complete an L2 utterance without making any contribution.
Prompting: Partner repeats the syllable or word just uttered, helping the interlocutor to continue.
Co-construction: Partner contributes an item (syllable, word, phrase, etc.) that works towards completion of the utterance.
Explaining: Partner explains in L1.
Additional Methods (when interlocutor makes an error):
Initiating repair: Partner indicates that the preceding utterance is somehow problematic, for example saying "huh?" This provides an opportunity for the interlocutor to consider the utterance and self-correct.
Providing repair: Partner initiates and carries out repair.
Asking the teacher: Partner notices the interlocutor's error and asks the teacher about it.
The qualitative data were summarized and coded in order to let some patterns emerge and then it was interpreted by the researcher.
Finally, the performance and the scaffolding patterns of the three groups (low-low, low-high, and high-high) were compared to determine whether there is any relationship between aptitude, learners' performance and scaffolding.