The Effect of Explicit Instruction on English Majors’ Strategic Knowledge

Aug. 31, 2016

Dr. Rachel Segev Miller is a lecturer at Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology, and the Arts, and at The School of Professional Development at the MOFET Institute, Israel. Her major research interests are cognition, learning, reading and writing processes in L1 and L2.

Reading is probably the most common mode of learning in school and in institutions of higher education. Reading in English has become especially important with the emergence of English as a global language. One would have, therefore, expected the colleges of education in Israel to invest in the preparation of English teachers to teach reading.
However, surveys carried out by the researcher since the mid 90’s (e.g., Segev Miller, 2003, in preparation) among Israeli English teachers and English majors at one university and two colleges of education in the larger Tel Aviv area, have indicated that very little emphasis was put in these institutions on reading comprehension instruction.

The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effect of the explicit instruction the researcher provided 35 EFL majors enrolled in her 2014 course on “Research into reading processes”. The questions which the study set out to answer were:
(1) Which strategies did the subjects know before the course?
(2) Which strategies did the subjects use while performing the reading task assigned at the end of the course?
(3) How did the subjects evaluate their learning in the course?

The instruments used to collect the data were:
(1) Questionnaires administered at the beginning and end of the course;
(2) Explicit instruction in the elicitation and analysis of think-aloud protocols (Cohen, 2011);
(3) The products of the final task:
The subjects’ analyses of their own think-aloud protocols of reading, and the summaries they were required to write while or after the reading of the text assigned.

Some of the findings were:
The subjects reported knowing very few strategies – an average of 2.68 (SD 3.89).
However, in performing the task assigned at the end of the course the subjects used altogether 24 strategies, with an average of 9.43 strategies (SD 3.71). This was by far an improvement on their initial average.

During the course they acquired both declarative knowledge (reading strategies and the terminology for them) and procedural knowledge (how to use these). In particular, they learnt which strategies are crucial for reading comprehension, namely the metacognitive strategies, of which they initially reported only one, and made use of these with relatively high frequencies: Evaluating (26.59%; and cf. to 2.04% in their initial report), planning, revising, and task representing.

These findings are in line with the findings of my previous intervention studies (e.g., Segev Miller, 2004, 2011, 2016), which have indicated a significant improvement in the quality of both their processes and products. However, the subjects in the present study were also required to assess their learning in the course. The findings indicated that the course had a significant effect on their strategic and pedagogical knowledge, their evolving conceptions of the reading process and of themselves as readers, and consequently on their self-efficacy and motivation to teach reading to their future students and to promote their learning.

The subjects described their learning using a variety of metaphors. The most frequent ones were the journey of discovery (60% of the subjects) and the process of growing (25%). Both metaphors have often been indicated by research of learning metaphors in second language acquisition (e.g., Farjami, 2012).

Some of the subjects boldly leveled their criticism against their department in particular and the colleges of education in general, which do not prepare them to teach reading. It is precisely these institutions which should understand, as the recent McKinsey report (Barber & Mourshed, 2007:16) argued, that “the only way to improve outcomes is to improve instruction.” This can be achieved only by more appropriate preparation programs as well as by continuous professional development.

Future research may investigate the extent to which the subjects of the present study have implemented their new knowledge in their teaching. Since all school learning involves reading, it would be appropriate to start the instruction of reading strategies, both cognitive and metacognitive, at an early age (Epstein, 2008), both in the learners’ L1 – Hebrew and in their L2 – English (Segev Miller, 1994). It is also hoped that these future teachers will bring about the changes sorely called for in the curriculum.

Barber, M., & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top? McKinsey & Company.
Cohen, A. D. (2011). Strategies in learning and using a second language. Harlow, UK: Pearson Education.
Epstein, A. S. (2008). An early start on thinking. Educational Leadership, 65 (5), 38-42.
Farjami, H. (2012). EFL learners’ metaphors and images about foreign language learning. Studies in Second Language Learning and Teaching, (1), 93-109.
Segev Miller, R. (1994). Replanning the EFL reading course: A theoretical rationale. ISRATESOL Newsletter, 10, 3-6.
Segev Miller, R. (2003). What’s new about questions? ETAI Forum, XIV, 26-29.
Segev Miller, R. (2004). Writing-from-sources: The effect of explicit instruction on college students’ processes and products. L1 – Educational Studies in Language and Literature, 4 (1), 5-33.
Segev Miller, R. (2011). Education graduates’ self-study of summarizing processes and products. Paper presented at the 4th Annual International Conference on Philosophy, Literatures, and Linguistics, ATINER – Athens Institute for Education and Research (July 11-14, Athens, Greece).
Segev Miller, R. (2016). The effect of explicit instruction on M.Teach graduates’ summarizing processes and products. Paper presented at the 3rd International Conference on Academic Writing (June 27-28, 2016, The MOFET Institute, Tel Aviv).
Segev Miller, R. (in preparation). Teaching reading strategies: From theory to practice. Tel Aviv: The MOFET Institute.

Updated: Aug. 31, 2016