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Prior Knowledge, Comprehension and the L2 User Ernesto Macaro University of Oxford.

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Presentation on theme: "Prior Knowledge, Comprehension and the L2 User Ernesto Macaro University of Oxford."— Presentation transcript:

1 Prior Knowledge, Comprehension and the L2 User Ernesto Macaro University of Oxford

2 Research evidence The latest research shows that drinking red wine results in a significant reduction in cardio-vascular related diseases (Bourgogne et. al. 2004) Therefore everyone should drink lots of red wine. Therefore everyone should drink lots of red wine. Research shows that high consumptions of alcohol lead to: alcohol dependency, cirrhosis of the liver, significantly high levels of marriage break-downs.

3 Research evidence A meta-analysis of SLA research shows that: Focus on form and focus on forms both lead to higher levels of language acquisition compared to “focus on meaning” (Norris and Ortega 2000 “Effectiveness of L2 instruction”) Therefore we should have focus on form designed second language learning. Focus on forms (and even consistent focus on form) lead to: neglect of skills development; poor vocabulary growth rates; de-motivation; significantly high levels of marriage break- downs.

4 Please listen to the following news item

5 News Report: Lotticks in Hotel! A Reading man who found lotticks and izzids in his supposedly furbustuous Caribbean hotel was awarded £459 in damages yesterday by a local magistrate. Paul Batters paid £1300 to Atlantic Pacific Tours in March 2000 for a “furbusty” holiday on the island of Martinique. The firm’s ancaps promised a furbusty hotel, free happaps from the airport, free use of the hotel’s gabonmang and beaches. However, on his arrival, Mr Batters found there was no one to meet him at the airport, the hotel room was infested with lotticks and izzids, and the gabonmang was completely flooded from the ninth hole onwards. Mr Batters successfully sued Atlantic Pacific Tours, who claimed that they had been organizing holidays on the island for 20 years and had never received any uptips.

6 Research evidence A systematic review shows that: Prior Knowledge of a topic helps listeners with comprehension. (Macaro et al 2005) Therefore language teachers should use texts which the students have prior knowledge of. Or should they? Lecturers should provide L2 users with the text of their lecture beforehand Or should they?

7 Research Evidence is like a second-hand car: You really need it to get around But you should really have a good look under the bonnet before buying it!

8 Prior Knowledge (schemata) Knowledge of the topic/area Rhetorical knowledge: structure; organization of the text/discourse; Context knowledge – a lecture; an interactive seminar

9 example Types of prior knowledge we might have of the topic: “ floods ” “schema” Global Specific event Personal Geographical lecture News report Personal account

10 Understanding Spoken Text Top-Down Processing: Application of PK perception parsing Bottom-up processing

11 Why the interest in Prior Knowledge? the most efficient comprehension is one where the listener uses the least amount of “surface information” from the text to achieve the maximum amount of meaning

12 Studies testing the facilitating effect of “familiar topic” Generally, if listener knew topic (personal or specific knowledge) they understood it better than if they did not know the topic However some caveats: PK sometimes led to wild guessing (or overextending) PK effect only strong in open-ended comprehension, not specific items PK only accounted for a small % of the variance in comprehension Markham and Latham (1987); Long (1990); Jensen & Hansen (1995)

13 Studies testing the facilitating effect of stimulating prior knowledge Topic not necessarily very familiar global knowledge stimulated Teacher presents students with advance organizer activities Mind mapping; statements or questions Generally, comprehension was facilitated No evidence of long-term effect on skill of listening – on strategy use Teichert (1996) Herron et al. (1998)

14 Studies: strategy use and successful listening often described as investigating “successful listeners versus unsuccessful” listeners Two hypotheses are tested here, 1. Learners of unequal listening proficiency use different strategies. 2. some learners of equal general proficiency might be adopting more effective listening strategies than others.

15 Testing Hypothesis 1 more effective listeners use PK to infer meaning rather than working it out from the text itself Less effective listeners use strategies such as listening out for single words, translating into L1, Hence claims for the superiority of top- down approaches O’Malley et al (1989); Vandergrift (1998); Chien and Wei (1998).

16 Studies testing hypothesis 2 No studies really testing this hypothesis but these two come near it. Chiang and Dunkel 1992 Tsui and Fullilove 1998

17 Chiang and Dunkel (1992) the importance of two factors in learners' ability to understanding spoken English language texts in lectures: 1. prior knowledge, operationalized as familiar or unfamiliar topic, 2. passage-dependent and passage- independent test items.

18 Chiang and Dunkel (1992) 360 students took the Comprehensive English Language Test and on the basis of their scores were divided into low and high listening proficiency groups. Students at each level were then randomly assigned to one of the four experimental conditions: familiar or unfamiliar topic of text; passage-dependent or passage-independent test items. Subjects in each group listened to one of the lectures recorded in one of the four conditions.

19 Chiang and Dunkel (1992) Results: Prior knowledge: Generally subjects scored higher when they listened to the familiar topic than the unfamiliar topic (predicted). There was no significant difference between HILP and LILP in this respect. However, the significant effect of prior knowledge only appeared on the subjects' performance on the text-independent items. This suggests that it did not help them with main ideas nor with specific details. However, the significant effect of prior knowledge only appeared on the subjects' performance on the text-independent items. This suggests that it did not help them with main ideas contained in the text nor with specific details.

20 Tsui and Fullilove (1998) Bottom-up or top-down processing as a discriminator of L2 listening performance. Applied Linguistics 19/4 Topic Is bottom-up processing (focusing on words and phrases in the text) more important than top-down processing (using the listener's prior knowledge and inferencing) in discriminating the listening performance of L2 learners.

21 Tsui and Fullilove (1998) Background Previous research has suggested that poor listeners spend too much time in bottom-up processes (local) rather than top-down (global) However, some researchers have suggested that what makes poor readers is their inability to recognize words rapidly and construct an accurate representation. Local skills have to be mastered to take much of the guesswork out of reading. Same for listening?

22 Tsui and Fullilove (1998) Method Investigated the performance of candidates in one section of a listening paper in large-scale public examinations in Hong Kong: “media items” – short texts simulations of news items or adverts. (English L2) Independent Variables: Question type: global or local (see examples) Schema type: (1) initial input is congruent with subsequent input (2) initial input is incongruent (refuted by) with the subsequent input (see examples) (2) initial input is incongruent (refuted by) with the subsequent input (see examples)

23 examples Local and Global questions A. Butterfly catching B. Bird Watching C. Travelling D. Kite Flying A. Tom Everly B. Bobby Walker C. Mike Harman D. Isabella O’Grady Matching and non-matching schema type A. A kitchen knife B. An oven timer C. A cleaning cloth D. A special dish A. the direction the wind was blowing B. the strong jets of water from the fire hoses C. the prompt call by residents to the fire services The quick action of the firemen

24 Tsui and Fullilove (1998) Sample: 177 test items taken by 20,000 candidates. 98 matching global questions; 20 non-matching; 49 matching local questions; 10 not matching Analysis: “mean criterion” = the mean scores in the entire paper of the candidates who chose those multiple choice options. An option with a “high mean criterion” was chosen by candidates who scored higher in the entire paper.

25 Tsui and Fullilove (1998) Results Consistently showed that (correct) items of non- matching schema type (i.e harder) yielded the higher mean criterion scores (i.e. were chosen by the most successful students) (predicted) No significant differences between local and global questions. (not predicted!) Mean criterion scores of non-matching schema type items among the global questions were significantly higher than those of the matching schema type among the global questions. (predicted) Mean criterion scores of non-matching schema type items among the local questions were significantly higher than those of matching schema type among the local questions. (not predicted!)

26 Tsui and Fullilove (1998) Conclusions and implications The biggest problem occurred with non- matching schema: listeners unable to process subsequent input which contradicted their initial schema. Either: they were weak at bottom-up processing or not combining strategies Learners need to be taught how to use prior knowledge to help understand but also they need to be reliant on rapid and accurate decoding. Most effective listeners combine top-down and bottom up strategies

27 Lectures and the L2 user Lectures will activate prior knowledge of some sort. Which kind? What kind of lectures: traditional; interactive; semi-interactive? Individual a variable? We need to understand why and when prior knowledge is leading to misunderstanding of lectures For a review on “academic listening” see: Flowerdew (1994)

28 Ruhe 1996 Enhanced lecture comprehension through the provision of an organizational graphic – a mind map similar to advance organizers. A sample of 103 students with mixed L1s were matched: “graphic provided” versus “no graphic provided”; and “vocabulary provided in lecture order” versus “vocabulary provided in non-lecture order”. “graphic provided” group scored higher than the control whilst there were no significant differences between the control and the two “vocabulary provided” conditions. In other words, all conditions except the control would have activated schemata but only the graphic revealed the organizational patterns of the lecture.

29 Use of metaphor in lectures (Littlemore 2001) Metaphor: “science is witchcraft” “science” is the topic of the metaphor “witchcraft” is the vehicle of the metaphor “the common ground” is what is shared by participants in the metaphor The common ground of metaphor is often culturally specific

30 Lectures include metaphor because: Metaphors are evaluative (usually negative) Metaphors label new concepts being introduced Metaphors allow the lecturer to be deliberately vague Metaphors provide frameworks for ideas Metaphors make language entertaining and memorable

31 Littlemore 2001 Method Bangladeshi students of “civil service reform” Researcher followed their lectures Students asked to note down difficult language in lectures 20 Students given 10 metaphors to interpret and to say how they had derived the meaning

32 Littlemore 2001 Findings Although lecturers varied in their use of metaphor it was always present somewhere Of 180 words judged difficult, 145 were metaphorical Most of the participants misinterpreted at least one of the metaphors in a way that seriously affected their understanding of the lecturer’s position/opinion. Participants wrongly used both schematic knowledge (PK & cultural background) and contextual knowledge about their course, to interpret the metaphor

33 Main findings of the review on PK There is a positive association between Prior Knowledge and listening comprehension Studies where Prior Knowledge was deliberately stimulated by the teacher (i.e. advanced organizer type studies) found that students’ short term listening comprehension performance was greater

34 PK review findings Prior Knowledge can be misused if it is not supported by later in-text information or if the listener is not listening out for possible contradicting information. The way in which Prior Knowledge is used as a comprehension strategy may vary depending on the learners L2 language proficiency. Lower proficiency learners likely to misuse prior knowledge more. (Previous research concluded it was a question of either use or non-use)

35 Implications (for teachers/test-constructors) Texts should be selected carefully by teachers to take into account both the facilitating and potential pitfalls of prior knowledge. Facilitating comprehension may engender motivation. Limiting exposure to texts where the topic is familiar to the listener, may lead to under-developing bottom-up processes crucial for confirming hypotheses generated. Tests should include questions which require understanding of information which may contradict a listener’s general knowledge of a topic.

36 Implications for lecturers/teachers of L2 users Lecturers should exercise caution in their use of metaphor Raise students’ awareness of metaphor use Perhaps provide mind-mapping activities at the beginning of a lecture Find out PK of students (global/specific/personal) Provide key words on slides to guide the understanding. Check understanding on schema-non-matching information

37 Implications for researchers More research on the different types of PK How does PK interact with different lecture types/styles Disentangle hypothesis 1 from hypothesis 2 To identify successful listening strategies, need to control for general proficiency and PK.

38 Lecture comprehension & L2 user Prior Knowledge (schemata) Mode of delivery How much is “given” beforehand L2 proficiency

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