Scholarly article on topic 'The Impact of the Generic Features of Tasks on L2 Learners’ Written Production'

The Impact of the Generic Features of Tasks on L2 Learners’ Written Production Academic research paper on "Psychology"

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{"Task-based Language Teaching and Learning" / Accuracy / Fluency / Complexity / Genre}

Abstract of research paper on Psychology, author of scientific article — Asghar Salimi, Ali Shafaei, Davud Kuhi

Abstract A growing body of research in the past decade has been devoted to the investigation of various aspects of taskbased language teaching (Ellis, 2003, 2005; Foster & Skehan, 1996, 1999; Skehan & Foster, 1999; Tavakoli & Foster, 2008; Rahimpour, 1999, 2008, 2010; Salimi and Yusefi, 2009, Salimi et al., 2011; Dadashpour, 2011). A review of the studies conducted on tasks revealed that there is a gap in literature on the effects of generic features of tasks on learners’ performance. The present study aims at investigating the effect of generic features of tasks on L2 learners’ written performance in EFL context. The participants of the study were 30 intermediate learners of English as a foreign language. The participants were asked to perform on three tasks with different generic features. Their written performance on the tasks was analyzed according to the measures introduced by Ellis, 2008. T-test was employed as the statistical means of analysis. The findings revealed that generic features of task didn’t have a significant effect on accuracy, fluency, and complexity of L2 learners’ written performance. The study carries significant implications for SLA researchers and language teachers.

Academic research paper on topic "The Impact of the Generic Features of Tasks on L2 Learners’ Written Production"

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Social and Behavioral Sciences

Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 46 (2012) 653 - 662

WCES 2012

The impact of the generic features of tasks on L2 learners' written

production

Asghar Salimi a *, Ali Shafaei b, Davud Kuhi c

aPayam Nour university Shahindej Branch, Shahindej, West Azerbaijan, Iran bIslamic Azad University, Maragheh Branch, Maragheh,East Azerbaijan, Iran _c Islamic Azad University, Maragheh Branch, Maragheh, East Azerbaijan, Iran_

Abstract

A growing body of research in the past decade has been devoted to the investigation of various aspects of task-based language teaching (Ellis, 2003, 2005; Foster & Skehan, 1996, 1999; Skehan & Foster, 1999; Tavakoli & Foster, 2008; Rahimpour, 1999, 2008, 2010; Salimi & Yousefi, 2009, Salimi & Dadashpour, 2011; Dadashpour, 2011). A review of the studies conducted on tasks revealed that there is a gap in literature on the effects of generic features of tasks on learners' performance. The present study aims at investigating the effect of generic features of tasks on L2 learners' written performance in EFL context. The participants of the study were 30 intermediate learners of English as a foreign language. The participants were asked to perform on three tasks with different generic features. Their written performance on the tasks was analyzed according to the measures introduced by Ellis, 2008. T-test was employed as the statistical means of analysis. The findings revealed that generic features of task didn't have a significant effect on accuracy, fluency, and complexity of L2 learners' written performance. The study carries significant implications for SLA researchers and language teachers.

© 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Huseyin Uzunboylu Keywords: Task-based Language Teaching and Learning, Accuracy, Fluency, Complexity, Genre

1. Introduction

Recently task-based language teaching and learning has attracted many SLA researchers, testers, teachers, and syllabus designers' attention and consequently a lot of studies have been conducted in the field (Ellis, 2003, 2005; Foster & Skehan, 1996, 1999; Skehan & Foster, 1999; Tavakoli & Foster, 2008). Task-based approaches to second language teaching focus on the ability of a learner to perform target-like tasks without any explicit teaching of grammatical rules (Rahimpour, 2008). Task-based L2 performance is an interesting subject in itself and worthy of empirical investigation, but as tasks are widely used in language teaching and language exams, learning more about their impact might have practical value (Tavakoli & Foster, 2008).

Genre analysis has attracted so much attention since the early 1980. Genre, which has traditionally been a literary concept, has recently become a popular framework for analyzing the form and rhetorical function of non-literary discourse (Hyland, 2002). Linguistics and language teachers have tried to apply genre-centered-approaches to the analysis of written and spoken discourse in order to provide satisfactory models and descriptions for academic and

* Asghar Salimi. Tel.: +0098-914-380-2607 E-mail address: Asgharsalimi356@gmail.com

ELSEVIER

1877-0428 © 2012 Published by Elsevier Ltd. Selection and/or peer review under responsibility of Prof. Dr. Huseyin Uzunboylu doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.05.178

scientific text and also help non-native speaker students to enhance their ability of understanding and proper production of text (Dudley- Evans, 1986). Swales (1990) asserted that genre analysis essentially is based on two central assumptions. First, the feature of a similar group of text depends on the social context of their creation and use. Second, those features can be described in a way that relates a text to other texts like it. Hyland (2003) introduced three broad, overlapping schools of genre theory: New Rhetoric approach, ESP approach, and Sydney School. From among these three approaches to genre, the present study is based on the ESP approach since it is more linguistic than the others.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Task-based language teaching

Task-based language teaching and learning has become an important area of research in second language research. Many scholars and researcher have investigated different aspects of TBLT (Ellis 2003, 2005, 2009; Foster & Skehan 1996, 1999; Long 1985, 2007; Robinson 1995, 2001, 2007; Rahimpour 1997, 2002, 2008, 2010, 2011). According to Rahimpour (2010)TBLT focuses on the ability to perform a task or activity without explicit instruction of language forms. It is also argued by many SLA researchers that TBLT creates more favorable condition for the development of SL (Long & Crooks 1992; Robinson 1995, 2001; Rahimpour 1997, 2007, 2008, 2010).Ellis (2009) defines TBLT as:

An approach for teaching second or foreign language that seems to engage learners in interactionally authentic language use language by getting learners to perform a series of tasks. This approach aims to enable learners to acquire a new language system as well as to proceduralize their existing knowledge. In other words, this approach tries to force L2 learners to use their own linguistic resources to learn a new language

2.2. Task Studies

Several studies have been conducted to investigate the effects of different aspects task and task characteristics on L2 learners' oral and written performance (Crooks 1989; Bygate, 1996; Foster & Skehan, 1996; Skehan & Foster, 1999; Yuan & Ellis, 2003; Tavakoli & Skehan, 2005; Rahimpour, 2007, 2008; Dadashpour, 2011; Salimi & Dadashpour, 2011). Skehan & Foster (1999) investigated the effects of task structure and processing load on L2 learners' performance on a narrative retelling task. The results of the collected data showed that the structured task generated more fluent speech in all four conditions. The complexity of language was influenced by processing load; greater complexity was attained when a non-simultaneous condition (fourth condition) was involved. For accuracy, neither task nor condition showed significant effects. Tavakoli & Skehan (2005) conducted a study in which they explored the influence of planning time conditions, task structure and language proficiency on task performance. Results indicated that the structured tasks generated more accurate and more fluent language than the unstructured tasks. Rahimpour (2007) studied the effect of task complexity on L2 learners' oral performance. The results showed that there-and-then task (complex task) led to more accuracy while here-and-now task (simple task) led to more complexity. In terms of fluency, here-and-now task led to more fluency than there-and-then task.

2.3. Genre analysis

The last decade has seen increasing attention to the notion of genre and its application in language teaching and learning. This interest has been driven by a dual purpose. The first is a desire to understand the relationship between language and its context of sue. That is, how individuals use language to orient to and interpret particular communicative situations and the way these uses change over time. The second is to employ this knowledge in the service of language and literacy education. This second purpose both complements research in New Literacy Studies, which regard literacy as social practice (Barton & Hamilton, 1998; Gee, 1996), and encourages us to explore language and pedagogies in ways that move beyond narrowly conceived formal and cognitivist paradigms (Hyland, 2002). According to Bhatia (2002) genre analysis can be viewed from two different perspectives: it may be seen as a reflection of complex realities of the world of institutionalized communication, or it may be seen as a

pedagogically effective and convenient tool for the design of language teaching programs, often situated within simulated contexts of classroom activities. Genre analysis has always been a multi-disciplinary activity attracting attention not only from linguists (both applied and computational), discourse analysts, communication experts and rhetoricians, but also from sociologists, cognitive scientists, translators, advertisers, and plain English campaigners.

2.3.1. Schools of genre

Hyland (2003) introduced three broad, overlapping schools or approaches of genre theory: a) The New Rhetoric Approach, b) Sydney School, c) ESP Approach. The ESP approach to genre is more linguistic in orientation and sees genre as a class of structured communicative events employed by specific discourse communities whose members share broad social purposes. These purposes are the rationale of a genre and help to shape the ways it is structured and the choices of content and style it makes available. This approach steers between these two views. Like the New Rhetoricians, it employs Bakhtinian notions of intertextuality and dialogism, but it also draws heavily on Systemic Functional understanding of text structure and, more sparingly, on Vygotskian principles of pedagogy. In fact, with its emphasis on communicative purpose and the formal properties of texts, the ESP approach might be seen as an application of SFL (Bloor, 1998), although it lacks a systemic model of language and does not make extensive use of a satisfied, metafunctional grammar. Genre here comprises a class of structured communicative events employed by specific discourse communities whose members share broad communicative purposes (Swales, 1990). These purposes are the rationale of genre and help to shape the way it is structured and the choices of content and style it makes available (Hyland, 2002).

2.3.2. Definition of genre

Swales (1990) offered a definition of genre from ESP approach. He defined genre as:

A genre comprises a class of communicative events, the members of which share some set of communicative purposes. These purposes are recognized by the expert members of the parent discourse community, and thereby constitute the rationale for the genre. This rationale shapes the schematic structure of the

discourse and influences and constraints choice of content and style.....In

addition to purpose, exemplars of genre exhibit various patterns of similarity in terms of structure, style, content, and intended audience....The genre names inherited and produced by discourse communities and imported by others constitute valuable ethnographic communications, but typically need validation (Swales, 1990, p: 58).

3. Research

On the basis of the above literature review, the following research question and hypotheses were addressed in this study:

3.1. Research question: What is the impact of generic features of task on L2 learners' written production?

3.2. Research hypotheses:

3.2.1. H0: There is no significant difference between generic features of task and L2 learners' accuracy, fluency, and complexity in written production.

3.2.3. H1: Generic features of narrative task would lead to more accuracy in L2 learners' written production than the generic features of cause/effect task.

3.2.3. H2: Generic features of descriptive task would lead to more accuracy in L2 learners' written production than the generic features of narrative task.

3.2.3. H3: Generic features of narrative task would lead to more fluency in L2 learners' written production than the generic features of cause/effect task.

3.2.4. H4: Generic features of cause/effect task would lead to more complexity in L2 learners' written production than the generic features of narrative task.

3.2. Participants

The Participants of the study were 30 English language learners. They were both male and female and they were studying English at Iran National Language Institute in Miyandoab, West Azerbaijan, Iran. They aged between 17 and 30. To ensure about their homogeneity and their proficiency level, a pre-test was administered to the students of the intermediate level. The participants of this study were selected randomly on the basis of their performance on the pre-test.

3.3. Materials

In task studies carried out so far, the most frequent and common task used in the studies has been the narrative task (Foster & Skehan, 1996; Skehan & Foster, 1999). According to Tavakoli & Skehan (2005) narrative tasks refer to those stories based on a sequenced set of picture prompts which are given to participants to elicit language performance. In this study narrative task was used along with descriptive and cause/effect task to fulfill the purpose of this study. The tasks were chosen because they have different generic features. Attempts were made to find those picture series which were clear enough and had a suitable length, weren't too challenging for the learners at intermediate proficiency level, and were interesting and culturally familiar for the participants. Finally, the task used in the study was chosen as the data collection instrument because it mostly fit the purpose of this study and it could be used for the three tasks with generic features, i.e., narrative, descriptive, and cause/effect tasks.

3.4. Procedure

To collect the written data, the participants were asked to perform the tasks as following. First, they were asked to perform the narrative task. They were asked to look at the picture and write the story of the pictures. Then, they were asked to perform the second task, descriptive task. At this phase, they were asked to describe the pictures. They participants were asked to write a description of what they saw in the pictures. Finally, they were asked to perform the third task, cause/effect task. The researcher asked them some questions about the pictures and the participants answered them on a piece of paper. The collected written data were analyzed in terms of accuracy, fluency, and complexity measures introduced by Ellis (2008). Accuracy measure was error-free T-units per T-units (Dadashpour, 2011, Salimi et al. 2011). Fluency measure was words per T-units (Dadashpour, 2011). Complexity measure was S-nodes per T-units (Dadashpour, 2011).

4. Results

The collected written data from the participants were measured according to three elements of written production namely accuracy, fluency, and complexity. In order to test the hypotheses of the study and find the way the generic features of task affect L2 learners' written production in terms of accuracy, fluency, and complexity, the raw scores of the participants were fed into computer software SPSS (version 16) for more analysis. T-test was employed to compare the means of the raw scores between 2 groups.

Asghar Salimi et al. /Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 46 (2012) 653 - 662 4. 1. Comparison of the means of accuracy in narrative and cause/effect task

Table 4.1 shows the mean differences between accuracy of L2 learners' written production cause/effect task.

Table4.1.The means of L2 learners' accuracy in narrative and cause/effect task

Group N Mean Std. Deviation

Accuracy Narrative 30 0.4287 0.18825

Cause/Effect 30 0.3563 0.15144

According to table 4.1, the mean of accuracy of L2 learners' written production in narrative task is 0.42 and in cause /effect task is 0.35. Thus, the accuracy of L2 learners' written production in narrative task would not be greater than cause/effect task.

Table 4.2The result of independent samples test of mean of accuracy in narrative and cause/effect task

Levene's Test for Equality T-test for Equality of Means _of Variances_

F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed)

Accuracy Equal Variances 2.251 0.139 1.640 58 0.106

assumed

Equal variances 1.640 55.455 0.107 not assumed

According to the independent T-test employed to compare the means of accuracy of L2 learners' written production and the data from table 4.2 at level of significance 0.10 greater than 0.05 T= 1.64. Therefore, the null hypothesis is accepted. That is, the mean of 12 learners' written production in terms of accuracy is not different between narrative and cause/effect tasks.

0,42 1

0,35 ^

Narrative Cause/Effect

Figure 4.1 Comparison of the means of accuracy in narrative and cause/effect tasks

Figure 4.1 clearly shows the difference between the means of accuracy of L2 learners' written production in

narrative and cause/effect tasks.

4.2. Comparison of the means of accuracy in descriptive and narrative task

Table 4.3 presents the means of L2 learners' written production in descriptive and narrative task.

Table4.3.The means of L2 learners' accuracy in descriptive and narrative task

in narrative and

N Mean Std. Deviation

Accuracy Descriptive 30 0.4527 0.17370

Narrative 30 0.4287 0.18825

According to table 4.1, the mean of accuracy of L2 learners' written production in descriptive task is 0.45 and in narrative task is 0.42. Thus, the accuracy of L2 learners' written production in descriptive task would not be greater than narrative task.

Table 4.4.The result of independent samples test of mean of accuracy in descriptive and narrative task

Levene's Test for Equality T-test for Equality of Means

of Variances

F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed)

Accuracy Equal Variances 0.544 0.464 0.513 58 0.610

assumed

Equal variances 0.513 57.629 0.610

not assumed

According to the independent T-test employed to compare the means of accuracy of L2 learners' written production and the data from table 4.4 at level of significance 0.61 greater than 0.05 T= 0.51. Therefore, the null hypothesis is accepted. That is, the mean of 12 learners' written production in terms of accuracy is not different between descriptive and narrative tasks.

0,45 1 m

Descriptive Narrative

Figure 4.2.Comparison of the means of accuracy in descriptive and narrative tasks

Figure 4.2 clearly represents the difference between the mean of L2 learners' accuracy in descriptive and narrative tasks.

4. 3. Comparison of the mean offluency in narrative and cause/effect task

Table 4.5 clearly shows the means of L2 learners' written production in terms of fluency in narrative and cause/effect task.

Table4.5.The means of L2 learners' fluency in narrative and cause/effect task

Group Fluency Narrative

Cause/Effect

N 30 30

Mean 87.4033 89.8183

Std. Deviation 18.21603 17.66381

According to table 4.5, the mean of fluency of L2 learners' written production in narrative task is 87.40 and in cause /effect task is 89.81. Thus, the fluency of L2 learners' written production in narrative task would not be greater than cause/effect task.

Table 4.6.The result of independent samples test of mean of fluency in narrative and cause/effect task

Levene's Test for Equality T-test for Equality of Means _of Variances_

F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed)

Fluency Equal Variances 0.300 0.586 -0.521 58 0.604

assumed

Equal variances -0.521 57.945 0.604

not assumed

According to the independent T-test employed to compare the means of fluency of L2 learners' written production and the data from table 4.6 at level of significance 0.60 greater than 0.05 T= 0.52. Therefore, the null hypothesis is accepted. That is, the mean of 12 learners' written production in terms of fluency is not different between descriptive and narrative tasks.

Narrative Cause/Effect

Figure 4.3. Comparison of the means of fluency in narrative and cause/effect tasks

Figure 4.3 clearly represents the difference between the mean of L2 learners' fluency in narrative and cause/effect tasks.

4.4. Comparison of the mean of complexity in cause/effect and narrative task

Table 4.7 clearly shows the means of L2 learners' written production in terms of complexity in narrative and cause/effect tasks.

Table4.7. The mean of L2 learners' complexity in cause/effect and narrative task

Group N Mean Std. Deviation

Complexity Cause/Effect 30 38.6840 3.96053

Narrative 30 38.7867 3.86347

According to table 4.7 the mean of complexity of L2 learners' written production in cause/effect task is 38.68 and in narrative task is 38.78. Thus, the complexity of L2 learners' written production in cause/effect task would not be greater than narrative task.

Asghar Salimi et al. / Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 46 (2012) 653 - 662 Table 4.8. The result of independent samples test of mean of complexity in cause/effect and narrative task

Complexity Equal Variances assumed

Equal variances not assumed

Levene's Test for Equality T-test for Equality of Means

of Variances

F Sig. t df Sig. (2-tailed)

0.372 0.544 -0.102 58 0.919

-0.102 57.964 0.919

According to the independent T-test employed to compare the means of complexity of L2 learners' written production and the data from table 4.8 at level of significance 0.91 greater than 0.05 T= 0.10. Therefore, the null hypothesis is accepted. That is, the mean of 12 learners' written production in terms of complexity is not different between cause/effect and narrative tasks.

38,68 ^ 38,78 1

Cause/Effect Narrative

Figure 4.4. Comparison of the means of complexity in cause/effect and narrative tasks

Figure 4.4 clearly represents the difference between the mean of L2 learners' complexity in cause/effect and narrative tasks.

5. Discussion

Regarding the effects of generic features of task on L2 learners' written production in terms of accuracy, the results of this study showed that generic features of task did not have a significant effect on L2 learners' written accuracy. The findings of the in terms of accuracy are in line with the findings of the study conducted by Skehan & Foster (1999) and Rahimpour & Mehrang (2010). However, the findings of this study are in contrast with the findings of the studies like Iwashita, et al. (2001) and Tavakoli & Skehan (2005). Skehan and Foster (1999) found out that accuracy of the performance is affected by task structure only if learners have the opportunity to engage in some kind of pre-task activity prior to task performance. As a result, it can be concluded that task structure had no effect on the accuracy of the performance in the current study because the participants were not involved in any kind of pre-task activities before they performed the tasks.

Considering the effect of generic features of task on L2 learners' written production in terms of fluency, the results of the data analysis revealed that there was no significant difference between generic features of task and L2 learners' written production in terms of fluency. The finding of the present study in terms of fluency is consistent

with Iwashita et al. (2001), Tavakoli & Foster (2008), and Rahimpour & Mehrang (2010). However, the finding of the present study in terms of fluency ran against the findings of studies such as (Foster & Skehan, 1996, 1997; Skehan & Foster, 1999; Tavakoli & Skehan, 2005) who reported that task structure led to the production of more fluent language.

Regarding the complexity of 12 learners' written production and the effect of generic features of task on this domain of written production, the findings of the study indicated that generic features of task did not have a significant effect on 12 learners' written production in terms of complexity. The findings of the present study in terms of complexity of written production are in line with the findings of the research conducted by Skehan & Foster (1999), Tavakoli & Foster (2008), and Rahimpour & Mehrang (2010) who found that task structure has no effect on L2 learners' oral performance in terms of complexity. The findings of this study in terms of complexity; however, ran against the findings of studies done by researchers like Tavakoli & Skehan (2005).

The lack of difference between accuracy, fluency, and complexity are attributedv to lack of proficiency level of learners, individual learner differences, and the lack of learners' knowledge about different modes of development or genres of the task.

6. Pedagogical implications

The findings carry some implications for second language acquisition (SLA) researchers, language teachers, and syllabus designers. As mentioned earlier, one of the major issues regarding task-based language teaching and learning is to find out how learners allocate attention between the competing goals of fluency, accuracy and complexity and therefore, establish a balance between these performance areas. So, the findings make it possible for a teacher or more importantly for a syllabus designer to design sequences of instructional activities that alternate attention to each of the areas so that the goal of balanced development can be obtained. Furthermore, the major problem that task-based language teaching suffers from is determining criteria for grading and sequencing tasks (Long & Crooks, 1992; Robinson, 2003). To solve this problem, Robinson (2003) argues that empirical research should be conducted to find out the factors affecting task difficulty. Thus, the results of the present study can be used as an empirical basis to select, grade and sequence tasks within task-based syllabi and testing.

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