Scholarly article on topic 'Enhancing Reading Comprehension of Expository Texts in English among Students with Learning Disabilities: Main Findings'

Enhancing Reading Comprehension of Expository Texts in English among Students with Learning Disabilities: Main Findings Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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{"Intervention program" / "second language" / "academic reading comprehension" / "learning disabilities" / "learning strategies" / "Concrete thinking" / "Self- perception"}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Yardena Menachem

Abstract This study is a mixed method action research. It examined whether an intervention program which focused on a concrete approach to reading had enhanced the learners’ reading comprehension achievements and their academic self-efficacy consequently. The participants are 40 young adult students with learning disabilities. It showed a significant improvement in reading comprehension achievements among most learners although the rate of change among the weaker readers was slightly greater. Similarly, learners’ academic self-efficacy was significantly higher at the end of the intervention program. The researcher concluded that a longer period was required to maximize the potential of this intervention program.

Academic research paper on topic "Enhancing Reading Comprehension of Expository Texts in English among Students with Learning Disabilities: Main Findings"

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ELSEVIER Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 209 (2015) 303 - 309

Social and Behavioral Sciences

International conference "Education, Reflection, Development", ERD 2015, 3-4 July 2015,

Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Enhancing Reading Comprehension of Expository Texts in English among Students with Learning Disabilities: Main Findings

a "Doctoral School "Education, Reflection, DevelopmentBabes-Bolyai University Cluj-Napoca, 7 Sindicatelor Street, Cluj-Napoca, 400015,

Romania

This study is a mixed method action research. It examined whether an intervention program which focused on a concrete approach to reading had enhanced the learners' reading comprehension achievements and their academic self-efficacy consequently. The participants are 40 young adult students with learning disabilities. It showed a significant improvement in reading comprehension achievements among most learners although the rate of change among the weaker readers was slightly greater. Similarly, learners' academic self-efficacy was significantly higher at the end of the intervention program. The researcher concluded that a longer period was required to maximize the potential of this intervention program.

© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-reviewunderresponsibilityofthe ScientificCommitteeofERD2015

Keywords:: Intervention program ; second language ; academic reading comprehension ; learning disabilities ; learning strategies ; Concrete thinking ; Self- perception

1. Literature review

Reading comprehension difficulties which emanate from learning disabilities among learners who suffer from ADD (Attention deficit Disorder) or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are attributed mainly to their

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +972522342157. E-mail address: yardihovmena@gmail.com

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license

(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Committee of ERD 2015

doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.11.238

Yardena Menachema*

Abstract

difficulties related to executive functioning, like planning, organizing, maintaining focus, and persisting in tasks. Generally, they demonstrate inability to work maturely, independently and consistently (Leons et al., 2009). In worse cases, there is even a difficulty in task initiation, as observed by the researcher of this study.

A thorough observation of the conduct of students with learning disabilities (hereinafter: LD) throughout the years shows that they all seem to be able to process information but they do it inefficiently resulting in a difficulty in activating abstract thinking levels in L2 reading context. Gersten et al. (2001) contend that since reading involves language abstractions it is important to understand the nature of the reading comprehension problems of LD's and adopt reading approaches accordingly. For instance, in a research conducted on Iranian medical students (Jahromi, 2014) who had to cope with extensive reading of texts in English, it was found that applying "bottom up" strategies such as skimming and scanning, improved the reading comprehension achievements (hereinafter: RCA) of both high and low capable readers.

Another problem LD's demonstrate is their disbelief in their academic ability, low self- efficacy, (Bandura, 2006) especially in L2 context, which may be developed due to their negative self-perception as learners. According to Dewck (1999) the development of self- efficacy is affected by different ability conceptions-entity versus incremental. Unlike incremental theorists, entity theorists believe that smartness and intelligence are fixed and therefore rarely make an effort to overcome their problems. Besides that, being diagnosed as "learning disabled" often mistakenly implies a limited intelligential potential. Hence, one of the aims of the intervention program (hereinafter IP) is to weaken these potential feelings while trying to improve students' academic reading competence.

It is important to note that research shows that time in itself, allotted to reading, doesn't have a significant effect on learners' RCA. In a year-long reading intervention program (Wanzek, 2011) during which middle school students with identified learning disabilities received daily 50-min reading sessions, no significant differences were found between the group that received the intervention program to the one that didn't, regarding passage comprehension. This emphasizes the need to focus on explicit, conscious and concrete strategic reading as much as possible.

To overcome these difficulties, the IP tries to increase learners' RCA by imposing Mediated Learning Experiences (Feurstien, 2004). It mediates between the learners and expository texts in a second language (hereinafter L2) to improve not only their RCA but also their academic self- efficacy (hereinafter ASE). It lays a systematic concrete thinking 'track' that forces the learners to demonstrate active, accurate and consistent behavior (Galperin, 2010; Zohar, 2013) which is practiced through metacognitive activities (Flavell,1992).

Specifically, learners are provided with strategies to decode expository texts, trying mainly to grasp their main ideas vs. their supporting details, their purpose and their general mood. This is done by stimulating concrete thinking skills; marking specific items in a text, some of which are known in advance, and following systematic procedures to regulate their thinking. These strategies, at the starting point, require learners to activate their sight sense to locate meaningful details and their touch sense to mark them to maintain attention; what makes it manageable for all students and triggers higher levels of thinking such as analyzing and synthesizing (Bloom's taxonomy, 1956). This encourages task persistence, which is even more important than the knowledge of learning strategies (Gersten, 2001), what eventually increases the learners chance to achieve text understanding.

Indeed, concreteness is the main vehicle of the IP and around which self-regulation (Nash-Ditzel, 2010) is evolved and abstract thinking is triggered. In fact, self- regulation seems crucial for LD's who need to compensate for their limited schema (Zhang, 2005) and other deficits typical of their learning disabilities. In addition, self-regulation caters to learners' feelings and hopes (Schwartzer, 2009) since it gradually builds up feelings of control and progress.

Although the principles of the IP resemble well known theories and didactics, some lacunae still exist in the field of L2 among students with learning disabilities. First, no study, so far, in the field of reading comprehension in English as a second language (hereinafter ESL) has explicitly articulated the importance of activating concrete thinking levels as a prerequisite to abstract thinking for LD students. A similar approach is adopted by Galperin (2010) but he focuses on processes of thinking mainly in the disciplines of mathematics and basic reading. Second, although the extant literature acknowledges the role of SE in learning, only few studies have been directed towards the development of SE in this field (Raoofi et al., 2012). Third, only little attention has been given to the perceptions of many subgroups in the field of foreign language learning, such as ESL (Wesely, 2012).

2. Research Questions

• What is the contribution of the IP to students reading comprehension achievements?

• What is the contribution of the IP to students' academic self- efficacy?

3. Methodology

3.1. Participants

The participants are 40 males and females, LD students at the age of 19- 28 (mean age= 23.11, SD = 1.95) divided into two groups of 20 participants each (3 and 4 credit courses) who failed or didn't do the Israeli national English matriculation exam and take a preparatory course in a pre- academic school for this exam. Most participants are females (65.5% as opposed to males 32.5%), were born in Israel (57.5% as opposed to 40% in Ethiopia and 2.5% in Russia) and their native language is Hebrew( 55% as opposed to 27.5% Amharic, 15% both Hebrew and Amharic and 2.5% Russian).

3.2. Research approach

This study follows the method of an action research. Having an insider researcher, this study enables an in-depth understanding of the processes the readers have to go through to improve their L2 reading competence and building a matching framework for students to follow (Norton, 2009). Also, it offers concrete actions to assist the readers when confronted with various challenging reading tasks (Elliott, 1991) while the methodology checks whether their matching concrete actions resolve their problems. In addition, the study explores these issues while operating a triangulated mixed method paradigm (Onwuegbuzie and Burke, 2006). Since the progress participants have made is measured by quantitative data, it mainly employs deductive, quantitative tools in the form of questionnaires. The interviews1, however, are the inductive, qualitative tool which provides verbal descriptions of this specific population to examine the consistency of the questionnaires' data (See Research tools, appendix A).

3.3. Findings

The IP had a significant effect on both participants RCA and their ASE. With regard to the first research question about the contribution of the IP to students' reading comprehension skills, Z- tests for differences of proportions were performed to detect differences between the pre- and post- intervention phases.

The first test regarding awareness to reading strategies showed that 99% of the participants were aware of reading strategies at the end of the IP as opposed to only 55% at the beginning of the IP. Hence, the difference in the rate of awareness between the pre- and post- intervention phases was significant (Z<=5.48; p<0.001)

The second test indicated that 92.5% of the participants used the reading strategies which were taught during the IP as opposed to 35% at the beginning of the IP. The difference in the rate of strategy usage between the pre- and post- intervention phases was significant (Z<=6.67; p<0.001).

The third test indicates that 82.5% of the participants managed to complete the exam as opposed to 57.5% at the beginning of the IP. The difference in the rate of exam completion between the pre- and post- intervention phases was significant (Z<=2.53; p<0.001).

The forth test, Wilcoxon signed-rank test, which checked the differences between the positive ranking and the negative ranking (4 point Likert scale) regarding the question about the main idea of the text, indicated significant differences between them (p value = 0.001; Z<=-4.794).

1 The findings of the content analysis of the interviews will be presented in a prospective article.

Paired t- test also detected significant differences in the frequency of using the following specific reading strategies, which were measured on a 7 point Likert scale:

• Locating numbers and capital letters (4.47; SD= 2.25 post intervention compared to 1.30; SD= 1.14 pre-intervention, p<0.01, t=-8.92)

• Translating from right to left to locate noun phrases (4.88; SD= 1.98 post- intervention compared to 1.80; SD= 1.68 pre- intervention, p<0.01, t=-8.79)

• Looking up words in the dictionary according to parts of speech (4.45; SD= 2.21 post- intervention compared to 1.15; SD= .95 pre- intervention, p<0.01, t=-9.35).

In addition, the test average score of the pre- mid- and post- reading comprehension exam reflected the differences between these phases relating to both 3 and 4 credit courses (See appendix B). An Analysis of variance indicated the following:

• The effect of the timing of the reading comprehension exam was significant (p=0.000 F = 118.71)

• The effect of the number of credits on the participants' reading comprehension exam was close to significant (F=3.89; p =0.056)

• The interaction effect between the timing of the reading comprehension exam and the number of credits was not significant (F=2.62; p=0.098)

With regard to the second research question about the contribution of the IP to students' ASE, t- test for paired samples indicated that there was a significant difference between the post- and the pre- intervention phases in the way the participants perceived their ability in ESL academic reading (5.15; SD= .92 compared to 4.09; SD= .97 respectively, p<0.01, t =-6.50) (See appendix C).

4. Discussion

This study was aimed to check whether the IP improved the RCA and the ASE of ESL students with learning disabilities. The findings show that the students demonstrated improvement in both RCA and ASE following 13 weeks of training with the IP. There has occurred a growth in the number of participants who have become aware of reading comprehension strategies and in the number of participants who employed such strategies- the former has nearly doubled while the latter has nearly tripled. Therefore, an increase in the rate of success in the reading comprehension test makes sense (Jahromi, 2014). However, the rate of success which has nearly doubled among the 4 pointers was slightly greater among the 3 pointers. One explanation could be that the weaker the students, the greater need they have to compensate for their difficulties and therefore depend on the strategies more often, what increases their RCA and explains the gap between the groups. But this speculation needs to be tested on a larger scale research to check for significant differences among the groups.

An analysis of the differences in usage level among the various concrete strategies shows a difference in the frequency of their usage although they are all supposed to be relatively easy being concrete. The most common strategies of translation, key words extraction and main idea vs. example identification are those which require the lowest order of thinking. For example, locating numbers and capital letters or translating from right to left which is about locating noun phrases according to a fixed list of syntactic clues; verb conjugation, prepositions etc., known in advance, were more frequent than looking up words in the dictionary according to parts of speech. This is probably because the latter requires an internalization of terms such as noun, adjective, verb and adverb which are language abstractions difficult to be grasped by LD students (Gersten et al, 2001). This difference not only emphasizes the vitality of operating concrete means to enhance understanding but also the necessity to make them easy to apply (Galperin, 2010). But this finding should be checked for significant differences on a larger scale research.

In addition, when the participants were asked to describe what the text was about having to use their own words only (they were not allowed to copy or translate any of the text sentences), they did it 7 times more successfully than in the pre intervention phase. This finding is congruent with the significance of the differences between the grades of the pre- mid- and post- tests which reflect an increase in the RCA of the participants. Furthermore, the same time

was allotted to the reading comprehension test pre and post intervention and still more participants managed to complete the exam comparing to the pre- intervention phase. These findings showed that pace (Macalister, 2011) and task persistence (Gersten et al., 2001) among participants were also greater in the post intervention phase. These variables can also be complementary indicators to the reading comprehension test scores which showed an increase in students RCA.

With regard to the second research question about the contribution of the IP to students' ASE, the study demonstrated a significant improvement in the way the participants perceived their academic abilities. However, when the rate of change between the two phases regarding specific questions was compared, a greater improvement was found concerning the questions that explicitly addressed their ability in academic reading comparing to the one that asked about their ability to succeed in tests in general. It can be speculated that the participants felt that they mainly went through a process of text understanding rather than focusing on their ability to succeed in tests in general. Again, this should be further researched on a larger scale.

5. Conclusions

This study demonstrates that the IP had a profound effect on the participants' academic reading competence as well as on their ASE. The educational implications from these results are multi- faceted. First, using concrete means to improve reading comprehension is an important vehicle in the process of thinking. Second, the results provide evidence that students with learning disabilities can self- regulate their reading employing concrete reading strategies. Third, witnessing an increase in task persistence, a secondary benefit (improvement in RCA is the major benefit), may, in itself, suggest that concrete thinking skills can raise learners ASE motivating learners to persist in their tasks. Forth, the fact that the IP enables learners to cope with academic reading in as little as 16 weeks (comparing to the years spent in high school, for example) may imply that the initiating stages of reading must activate concrete thinking levels and that this activation allows higher levels of thinking. Fifth, in spite of the significant improvements in both learners' RCE and ASE and their related improvements in pace and task persistence, further research should be dedicated to the exploration of innovative effective ways of enriching vocabulary, making an extensive effort on improving learners' ability to decode the meaning of different kinds of sentence structures and so on. But these may be easier to apply in much longer intervention programs and on smaller groups.

All in all, the findings of the present study, related to the participants RCA resulting from the application of the reading comprehension strategies produced some evidence, in concert with previous studies (Zhang, 2005; Jahromi, 2014; Gersten, 2001; Nash-Ditzel, 2010; Galperin, 2010; Feuerstein, R., Rand, Y., Hoffman, M. and Miller, R., 2004), that lend further support to pedagogical initiatives that have incorporated strategy instruction in second/foreign-language contexts.

6. Contribution to knowledge

The present study contributes to the extant literature of L2 academic reading comprehension among LD students by offering some theoretical and practical knowledge both to the education field and to the language learning one. It provides some insights as to what teachers should or should not do when trying to assist their students manage with the requirements of academic studies on the whole together with specifically focusing on ways to approach reading comprehension in L2 among LD's. Also, since the IP tries to provide a solution for the weaknesses students have while processing thinking and the human thinking characteristics are presumably universal, it can be applied in other subjects studied at school as well as in other countries where English is taught as a second or foreign language. As we live in a global village, speaking and reading English is a major force in facilitating communication between individuals and groups of different nations. My hope is that the IP will serve to enhance English language acquisition.

Appendix A. Tools of Research

Research phases Research aims Population Research tools Data analysis

Pre & Post Intervention To check the change in the level of the participants' self- efficacy 40 participants Self- efficacy questionnaire (adapted from Chemers et al.,2001) quantitative; paired t- test

Pre, Mid & Post Intervention To check the change in the level of the participants' reading comprehension achievements 40 participants Reading comprehension test (Approved by The Ministry of Education, Israel) quantitative; analysis of variance

Pre & Post intervention To check the change in the level of the participants' strategy usage. 40 participants Strategy usage questionnaire (constructed according to the basic features of the IP reading strategies. quantitative; paired t- test & Z- tests for differences of proportions

Post- intervention To check the consistency of the findings of the quantitative tools 29 participants *Semi- structured interview Qualitative; content analysis (Shkedi, 2011)

Appendix B. Test average score- a comparison between pre intervention, mid-term test and post intervention, overall sample and division to 3 and 4 credit courses (only significant differences)

100 90 80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0

Pre-intervention Mid-term

^^»Total sample credit

Post-intervention

credit

Appendix C. Average of agreement with the statements of SE- opinions about academic reading- a comparison between pre and post intervention (only significant differences)

I know what to focus I know what I should I am good at Academic reading can on to understand do to perform well on understanding improve my English new reading passages tests academic texts in

English

Pre-intervention (4.09)

Post-intervention (5.15)

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