Processes and strategies

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Although the cognitive strategies are collectively referred to as processes, processes and strategies are distinctly different concepts. According to Gagne, Yekovich & Yekovich (1993, p_) processes are usually seen as the higher-level latent variables that relate to the individual stages of mental activity seen in models of human information processing (e.g., comprehending, storing and retrieving of information from memory. Strategies on the other hand are specific, observable forms of language learning, use or test-taking behaviours such as inferencing and revising ( ). They are the techniques (Bialystok,1990) or tactics (Seliger, 1984) that learners invoke in language learning, use or testing. In the present study, processes are the higher order, individual latent variables underlying strategy use. As they “control” the way humans process information (Gagne, Yekovich & Yekovich, 1993), they may span tasks, speech acts, language learning, use and test situations.
Strategies like inferencing and revising, in contrast, may be specific to tasks, speech acts, language learning, use and test situations and can either be observed directly or be accessed with the right probes, like questionnaire items. Operationally, each process is measured by one or more strategies. For example, the comprehending process is measured by translating, inferencing and clarifying strategies. Each strategy, in turn, is measured by two or more questionnaire items designed to allow test-takers to report on their strategy use (Clarence, 2004).
[A distinction is also made between “cognitive” and “metacognitive” strategy use. Most language learning strategies researchers and educational psychologists agree that cognitive strategy use involves the strategies learners employ directly on the task at hand, while metacognitive strategy use is seen as the cumulative effect of the higher order thinking or “control” processes (Gagne, Yekovich & Yekovich, 1993) that exert a control function over the entire language learning, use and test-taking process (O'Malley & Chamot, 1990; Oxford, 1990; Purpura, 1999; Rubin, 1981; Wenden, 1986). Cognitive strategies and the knowledge they draw on are thus located in the information system in memory, available for use by metacognitive strategies (Phakiti, 2003). Brown, Bransford, Ferrara and Campione (1983) defined metacognitive strategies operationally as self-management strategies that learners use to oversee and manage their cognitive goals, whether that be in the context of language acquisition, language use or language testing (Purpura, 1996). In short, metacognitive strategies may be seen as strategies that span multiple tasks, even subject areas (Shraw, 1998), whereas cognitive strategies may be encapsulated within a subject area (Phakiti, 2003). In a language test context, cognitive strategy use may be seen as directly and positively related to test performance, while metacognitive strategy use, as a separate category of cognition, exerts an executive influence over cognitive strategy use to affect the final product (Purpura, 1997, 1998, 1999). Operationally, while cognitive strategy use in writing involves strategies like “inferencing” and “clarifying and verifying” and includes test-takers' manipulation of their language and topical knowledge (Bachman & Palmer, 1996) to solve the given task, metacognitive stategy use involves “thinking about cognition” or “thinking about thinking.”

Whilst much has been discussed on cognitive writing strategies in general, there has been little attention given to more specific issues such as the pervasive conflating [what is this???] of terms in the L2 writing strategy. A review of the literature suggests that little effort has been made to distinguish the processes and strategies involving the L2 writing strategy. In particular, in Malaysia the use of cognitive and metacognitive strategy to understand L2 learners writing strategies has received little attention from language researchers. Given this gap in the literature, the present study adopts the distinctions made by learner strategies researchers and educational psychologists between processes and strategies, on the one hand and cognitive strategy use and metacognitive strategy use on the other.


2.1.1 Cognitive Strategy

The study of cognitive models in L2 strategy use has been influenced by the work of several cognitive psychologists who have investigated how humans process information. Information processing theory examines the thinking processes associated with learning and remembering (Clarence, 2004). These processes involve routing information from an individual's immediate awareness into his or her long-term memory. One of the most widely accepted theories is Atkinson and Shiffrin's (1968) “stage theory” model, which attributes a major role to subject-controlled processes, such as encoding and retrieving and postulates separate stages for sensory, working and long-term memory. In their model, information is processed in a serial, sequential manner as it moves from one stage in the memory system to the next. Gagne, Yekovich and Yekovich's (1993) model of human information of processing includes both the cognitive stages of input storage and retrieval and the metacognitive function of system management. It further postulates that each of these cognitive activities in the process is regulated by a set of metacognitive or ‘control' processes.
In the field of L1 writing, which L2 writing researchers draw and build on, the first cognitive model of writing was proposed by Flower and Hayes (1980). It is called a cognitive model because, unlike previous models of frameworks, it focused on the mental activities involved in writing. They described writing in terms of the task environment, which includes
( 1 ) the writing task and the text produced so far; ( 2 ) the writer's long-term memory, which includes knowledge of audience, topic and stored writing plans and ( 3 ) the writer's writing strategies. These strategies include planning (a metacognitive strategy in the context of the current study), translating thought into text and revising (the last two are both cognitive strategies in the present study). In Flower and Hayes' model, all these components interact in a nonlinear, dynamic, recursive and purposeful manner to deal with the demands of the task and the task situation (Gagne, 1985). Gagne provides a helpful illustration; writing may start with a brief period of pre-planning, followed by a writing phase in which all the strategies of planning, translating (i.e., transforming thought into text) and reviewing are used. However, plans made before writing may be revised or elaborated after reviewing the text written so far. Detailed plans for achieving cohesion and coherence may be made during writing rather than before and reviewing may begin even before writing starts, as when one thinks of an idea, evaluates it and modifies it. Reviewing typically continues throughout writing, as a writer frequently stops to reread and evaluate what has been written to that point.
Hayes (1996) updated the original Flower and Hayes (1980) framework to incorporate the writer's motivation and affect and the contribution of memory processes; both short-term memory (i.e., working memory, a resource that is drawn on both for storing information and for carrying out cognitive processes) and long-term memory. Knowledge of task schema (knowledge specifying how to carry out a particular task) and audience (what to write and how to write it) is stored in long-term memory. In the context of an extended writing task, this knowledge is achieved by short-term memory, which acts as a probe. Short-term memory is seen as a crucial but limited capacity system that is called upon to play a regulatory role whenever a task demands sustained effort (Gathercole & Baddeley, 1993). Short-term memory regulates by inhibiting some schemas and activating others, retrieving information from long-term memory and generally solving problems and making decisions.
Many processes and strategies have thus been observed and reported in the fields of cognitive psychology and writing in the L1 and the theories and frameworks generated have contributed to L2 writing research and strategy use studies. One of the cognitive processes associated with language use in an L2 writing test setting is sometimes referred to as the “comprehending” process (Purpura, 1997, 1998, 1999). This process relates to the comprehension of input (or prompt, in the context of a writing test) and plays a crucial role in test situations, the test-taker can only fulfill the task if he or she comprehends what is required. Another process is retrieving information from the memory in order to produce the text to complete the writing task. These two processes are each measured by one or more strategies. For example, an L2 test-taker's comprehension of a writing prompt may be hindered by the generality (or specificity) of the prompt, its phrasing, the unfamiliarity or foreignness of the content required by the topic and the organizational and linguistic requirements imposed. One of the first steps a test-taker takes is to transform a “teacher-initiated” (or test designer-initiated) topic into a “self-initiated” one (Weaver, 1973). Weaver was referring specifically to L1 writers. An L2 test-taker might invoke one or more strategies to comprehend the prompt. For example, the test-taker might translate key words into his or her L1, thereby transforming the task into something he or she can respond to meaningfully.


Translating is a well-documented strategy in language learner strategies literature. For example, O'Malley and Chamot (1987) called translating or using the first language as a base for understanding or producing the second language, as a cognitive strategy for language learning. Purpura (1999) cited “understanding by translating from one language to another” as a cognitive strategy for learning new words and materials and taking tests in the L2 (p. 51).
Another strategy that helps learners explicate the task and its requirements on a writing test is inferencing. Inferencing is a strategy “by which new information is derived from old” (Hayes, 1996. P.21). In L2 writing test situations, the ability to extend available information is obviously advantageous. O'Malley and Chamot (1987) defined inferencing or using available information to guess meanings of new items, predict outcomes or fill in missing information as a strategy for language learning. In the present study, inferencing is the strategy test-takers invoke to understand task requirements. It includes guessing meanings of words and filling gaps in information using one's schema, as well as contextual clues available in the instructions.
Related to translating and inferencing in that it helps the L2 writer understand the L2 material, information or prompt is what learner strategies researchers usually categorize as the clarifying or verifying strategy. Many see clarifying or verifying as a communication strategy (O'Malley & Chamot, 1987; Oxford, 1990), as it usually involves the learner seeking out a teacher or another native speaker for repetition, paraphrasing, explanation or examples. However, clarifying or verifying may also occur without a more knowledgeable “other”. The L2 learner may also ask questions of oneself. This is particularly true in a test situation. For example, L2 learners can ask questions of themselves to clarify information or to confirm if their understanding of the information or prompt is correct (Purpura, 1999; Rubin, 1989). For instance, in a test-taking situation, such a strategy will translate into questions addressed to the self like, “Do I understand? Am I interpreting the task correctly?”
Some cognitive strategies relate to retrieving relevant knowledge from the informational structures in long-term memory, where knowledge of task, topic, audience, language and genre is stored (Hayes, 1996). Successful invoking of prior experiences and knowledge enhances the learner's ability to comprehend and fulfill the requirements of a given task. For example, Purpura's (1999) Learning Strategies Questionnaires included “making connections between what is already known and what is about to be learned, remembered or used” (p.51) as a “linking with prior knowledge” strategy. In the present study, such a strategy is called “invoking prior knowledge.” It involves invoking one's topical, linguistic and procedural knowledge and experience to fulfill the writing task.

Writing Strategy

Another L2 writing strategy relates to organizing information for writing. When test-takers probe the knowledge systems in long-term memory for relevant information, they may retrieve ideas that are so well-developed that they can be used immediately. In language learner strategies literature, the act of structuring ideas and information for writing is often called “note-taking” or noting the main idea, important points, outline or a summary of information (O'Malley & Chamot, 1987). This strategy is referred to as “organizing information” in the present study and includes steps test-takers take to remind themselves of ideas to include in the writing in order to fulfill the writing task. In order to organize information for composing, test-takers may underline or highlight key words in the prompt, write short notes and make graphic representation of ideas. Once the information is organized and the test-taker is satisfied with the informational structure, he or she will start composing the essay.
Actually, composing the essay is another strategy, the strategy of transforming an elaborate, abstract or even nonverbal representation of meaning into a formal linguistic representation, couched in the particular conventions of the discourse community the writer hopes to address (Odell & Goswami, 1982; Perfetti & McCutchen, 1987; Witte, 1987). Composing goes beyond the more mechanical or formal aspects of putting pen to paper. Although the term “composing” has been adopted for the present study, it has been given different names. Flower and Hayes (1981) use “translating”; Arndt (1987) uses “memory searching”; Witte (1987) and Witte & Cherry (1994) call it “generating pretext” and Perl (1979) and Raimes (1985) call it “rehearsing”.
As the text is being composed, it is sometimes reviewed by the writer, who may revise the written text following this review. Revising is a cognitive strategy that calls upon the writer's stored knowledge of writing conventions, linguistic and nonlinguistic knowledge and what Sommers (1981) refers to as applying learned rules. Some studies have found revising to be a strategy used more frequently by proficient writers (Rose, 1980; Sommers, 1980). Others have found that the quantity of revision does not always predict better quality texts (Bridwell, 1980; Faigley & Witte, 1981; Sommers, 1981). Yet, others found differences in revising between skilled and unskilled writers. For example, Flower (1981) reported that “experienced writers rework their papers again and again. Novice writers correct the spelling” (p.62). Silva (1993) has also observed that less proficient learners primarily focus on grammatical correction, while spending less time rereading and reflecting on their written texts. Sommers (19810 has found that unskilled writers, by paying too much attention to learned forms and rules and neglecting the larger goals for the whole piece of writing, actually worsen the quality of their writing when they revise. The key to successful revision thus appears to be the metacognitive knowledge or ability to detect weaknesses, the procedural strategies for dealing with them and the rewriting strategies for improving the text (Hayes et al., 1987).
The above processes and strategies relate directly to a writing task and exert a direct impact on the finished product. They represent cognitive processes like comprehending the task and retrieving information from the memory to fulfill the task. They also include cognitive strategies like translating, inferencing, clarifying and invoking prior knowledge, organizing information, composing and revising.