Purpose of different levels of proficiency on learning

Purpose of the study

Based on the gaps which have been mentioned, and by adding
this point that all these variables have been investigated in different studies
one by one, not altogether in a single article, this study intends to examine
the effects of different levels of proficiency on learning conjunctions during
symmetrical and asymmetrical convergent tasks in a MALL context. By coding
their language related episodes, this study will consider both qualitative and
quantitative aspects.

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Specifically, due to paradoxical of findings of previous
studies, this research intends to examine the effects of proficiency
differences of learners on characteristics of LREs, such as frequency and
outcome. It will also investigate the effects of proficiency levels on learning
English conjunctions in these two tasks.

Adopting the technology-oriented approach, this study will
attempt to familiarize Iranian students to interact even outside the classroom
in mobile-assisted language learning environment, and analyze their attitude
toward this collaboration.

 

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Theoretical framework

 

In opposition to Krashen’s view, Swain (1985) stated that comprehensible
input is not sufficient, and highlighted the role of output for learning to
take place. She claimed
that output helps learners to move from semantic to syntactic processing.
Furthermpre, it prepares
opportunities for collaboration with others. Based on sociocultural theory, which is related to
Vygotsky (1978), knowledge is constructed through interaction. Within this theory, a child’s cognitive development is
formed by interacting with more knowledgeable people such as parents, teachers,
and even peers (McCafferty, 1994). Although the main emphasis of Vygotsky was on children, Van Lier
(1996) stated that this theory is also suitable for both expert-novice as well
as equal-ability groupings. Therefore, the idea that peer-peer interaction can lead to
learning has been developed. This kind of dialogic interaction is called collaborative
dialogue in which “learners engage in problem solving and knowledge building”
(swain, 2000, p. 102). Through collaborative dialogue, learners
scaffold each other reciprocally during the process of interaction. It can be
feasible by engaging learners in collaborative tasks, which require them to
negotiate meaning and participate in meaningful communication. In other words,
collaborative tasks provide full opportunities for both input and output, which
have paramount significance in language learning. Learners with the same and
different proficiency levels can develop a shared responsibility over final
outcome of the task. During their joint-interaction they will produce
language-related episodes (LREs), which indicate improvement in language
learning (Ewald, 2005; Swain & Lapkin, 2002). Swain and Lapkin (1998)
have described LRE as “any part of the dialogue where the students talk about
the language they are producing, question their language use, or correct
themselves or others” (p. 326). My study is related to sociocultural theory, by
focusing on joint interaction between peers. They will collaborate by providing
collaborative dialogues, and mutual scaffolding.

Limitations

There will not be any random
selection, since I am going to choose students from intact    classes.
Therefore, the results may not be generalizable.
My sample in this study will be
limited to students of institutions not universities or schools.
This study will be conducted for
high and low intermediate learners. Therefore, it cannot be generalized to
other levels of proficiency. (More limitations may be announced during the
study)

 

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Participants

 The participants will be 36 intermediate
students. Their age range will be between 15 and 25. This study will be carried
out in three institutions in Gorgan, and the participants will be invited from
intact classes. The element of language proficiency will be considered through
an English proficiency test to classify students into 18 pairs. By classifying
them according to this feature, each learner will be assigned to one of three types of dyads: a
dyad containing two higher proficiency learners (H–H); a dyad containing one
higher proficiency and one lower proficiency learner (H–L); or a dyad
containing two lower proficiency learners (L–L). Half of these participants
will perform symmetrical and the other half will be
given asymmetrical convergent tasks.

Table 1. Demographics of
participants

              Task                 proficiency         

Symmetrical
convergent task

Asymmetrical
convergent task

       High-high

          3pairs

        3pairs

        High-low

          3pairs

        3pairs

        Low-low

          3pairs

        3pairs

          Total

          9pairs

         9pairs

 

Instruments

   A variety of instruments will be
used to fulfill the objectives of this thesis:

a)     
Oxford placement test: It is an English language
proficiency test, which will be administered to assign learners into
intermediate with mixed proficiency levels (high-high, high-low, and low-low). The
test will evaluate overall ability of learners in grammar, vocabulary, reading,
writing, speaking, and listening. This classification based on (OPT) has been
used to stimulate negotiation of meaning between interlocutors (Iwashita,
2001).

b)     
Grammaticality judgment test (GJT): In order to
evaluate their knowledge of conjunctions, a grammaticality judgment test will
be designed for pre and post-test. This test consists of
40 items. 20 items will assess English conjunctions, while the other
non-targeted half will be distractors. They will evaluate knowledge of other
grammatical structures. Only the results of 20 targeted items will be used for
further analysis. The time limit will be almost one hour.

c)     
Moodle (a mobile App): I have created a Moodle account
as a teacher through which learners can be added to collaborate in this
learning-centered atmosphere. They can share-ideas and engage in the
construction of knowledge (Cole & Foster, 2007). In fact, Moodle is an open
course management system. It has both website and application, the use of which
has a lot of advantages. It provides an easy way for teachers to share
materials by uploading photos, PDFs, articles, and power points, so learners
can have access whenever they want. By having text-based chats, online
discussions will be generated. Since, they can think before answering, more
thoughtful responses will be created. Another important
feature of this application is online quizzes which can be graded by teacher.
Thus, rapid feedback can be provided to evaluate their comprehension of
materials. These grades can be recorded in an online course book which gives
students up-to-date information about their performances. It
will also encourage peer interaction, which increases motivation of learners.
Based on the above-mentioned features, eighteen chat rooms will be created, and each pair will try
to carry out the assigned tasks. Their collaborative dialogues will be
automatically recorded and retrieved by the teacher for further analysis.

d)    
Dictogloss as a
symmetrical convergent task: In a convergent task, each pair collaborates to
achieve the task goal, and learners in a pair have equal information to solve
the problem. Dictogloss will be used in this study as a symmetrical convergent
task. An authentic text, which is replete with English conjunctions, will be
read twice to the learners. Since we are not in the classroom environment, I
will read the stories myself, and record them, then the recorded voices will be
sent to them via Moodle. Both learners in a pair will be provided with the
whole story equally. For the first time, students should just listen, but for
the second time, they can take notes of the key words that can be helpful in
reproducing the original text. Then, the pairs will collaborate in chat room
and combine what they have written down to reproduce the original version of
the text. The authentic text for dictogloss task will be adapted from an
intermediate grammar book. Several changes of the text may be necessary,
because the aim of the task should be grammatical conjunctions. Learners will
produce language-related episodes, while they discuss grammatical features
during this task, which will be analyzed.

e)     
Picture-cued as an asymmetrical convergent task: in an
asymmetrical convergent task, one of the learners is provided with more
information than the other. I want to know whether this extra information will
lead to initiative in collaboration or not. The stories which are going to be
used here are exactly the same as dictogloss task. However, this group of
learners will not be provided with voices. In other words, several related
pictures with appropriate conjunctions will be sent to them. One learner in
each pair will be provided with more pictures than the other. After that, they
should try to fabricate a story by collaboration. Their sentences should be
connected to each other by appropriate use of conjunctions.

f)      
Attitude
questionnaire about MALL: As a pre and post-task survey, learners should
complete an attitude questionnaire. Thus, their perspectives toward online
learning via mobile will be revealed. The aim is to see whether their attitude
changes during the study or not. A questionnaire with five-point scale
questions (from strongly agree to strongly disagree) will be administered to
elicit their attitudes towards MALL environment. This questionnaire will be taken
from an article by Al-Fahad (2009). Some changes may be needed.