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Author(s)

Consciousness-raising tasks for second language grammar


instruction: effects on average ability secondarystudents

Chan, Shiu-yip, Simon.; .

Citation

Issued Date

URL

Rights

2012

http://hdl.handle.net/10722/167182

The author retains all proprietary rights, (such as patent rights)


and the right to use in future works.

Abstract of thesis entitled

Consciousness-Raising Tasks For Second Language Grammar Instruction: Effects on


Average Ability Secondary Students

Submitted by
CHAN SHIU YIP, SIMON ( )

For the Degree of Doctor of Education


in the Faculty of Education
at the University of Hong Kong

Within the framework of task-based language teaching, various types of tasks have been
proposed, yet in English as foreign language classroom contexts where learners exposure to
target language input is often limited, the adoption of form-focused tasks seems to receive much
credit. Although the potential academic gains brought forth by such tasks have been studied in
some previous quantitative research, the call for investigations into those tasks from a learner
perspective remains warranted.
In this study I investigated the use of grammatical consciousness -raising (C-R) tasks as an
inductive approach to grammar pedagogy in an EFL classroom from a learner perspective. While
performing such tasks the informants, who were a class of secondary level English as foreign
language learners, made discoveries about the targeted grammar items based on contextualized

examples provided. In the study I first examined the extent to which adopting C-R tasks
impacted on the informants learning of English grammar through pretests and posttests. Second,
I elicited their perceptions of C -R tasks through a questionnaire and two semi-structured
interviews. Third, with the think-aloud protocols method I studied the informants engagement
with the grammar items presented through either C-R tasks or deductive explanation. The
findings revealed that the majority of the informants were able to develop grammatical
understanding through performing C -R tasks. They tended to respond positively to and show
deep engagement with the grammar items presented though such tasks as well. To enhance the
perceived effectiveness of such tasks and thus to maximize the effect of grammar teaching, I
concluded by suggesting the need for teachers to make the learners fully aware of the nature of
and rationale behind C-R tasks and to investigate whether and how such tasks can be integrated
with other methodological options in realizing effective grammar instruction in their own
contexts.

Declarations
I declare that this thesis represents my own work, except where due acknowledgement is made,
and that it has not been previously included in a thesis, dissertation or report submitted to this
University or to any other institutions for a degree, diploma or other qualifications.

Signed
..
Chan Shiu Yip, Simon ()

Acknowledgements
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all who have supported my completion
of this thesis.
My deepest thank goes to Dr David Carless, my supervisor, who has provided me with
tremendous support and guidance throughout the whole research journey and even up to the
present moment. He shows an extremely high degree of expertise and professionalism in
supervising this study, and his advice in maintaining a balance between my full- time work and
part-time study and in how I can make the best use of time to accomplish both is particularly
helpful. I would like to take this opportunity to show my greatest appreciation for his patience,
thoughtfulness and valuable feedback. I would also like to thank Prof Stephen Andrews and Dr
Anthony Tong for offering me valuable advice and guidance at the beginning stages of this
research.
Appreciation also goes to the staff of the Office of Research, Faculty of Education, who have
provided help at different stages of the conduct of the study. In addition, I would like to express
my thanks to the principal and teachers of my former secondary school for allowing me to
conduct this study in their school context, and the whole class of my former students who
participated in the study voluntarily. Although their names cannot be revealed, without their
input, this thesis would not have been possible.
Last but not least, I am deeply indebted to my family. Many thanks for their support and
understanding.

ii

Table of Contents
Page
Declarations

Acknowledgements

ii

Table of Contents

iii

List of Figures

vii

List of Tables

viii

Chapter 1
1.1
1.2
1.3
1.4
1.5

2.3
2.4

2.5

Background of the study


Objectives of the study
Research questions of the present study
Definition of key concepts
Organization of the thesis

Chapter 2
2.1
2.2

Introduction

1
4
5
6
9

Literature Review

11

Introduction
Development of approaches to grammar instruction
2.2.1
Structural era
2.2.2
Zero grammar position and communicative language teaching
2.2.3
Focus on form and new ways of focus on forms
Development of English language teaching in the Hong Kong context
2.3.1
ELT in Hong Kong schools from 1980s onwards
2.3.2 Applicability of the consciousness-raising approach
General principles of grammar pedagogy
2.4.1
Content of instruction
2.4.2
Extensive Vs. intensive grammar teaching
2.4.3
Form-meaning connections
2.4.4
Lexical and grammatical syllabi
Consciousness-raising tasks
2.5.1
What are consciousness-raising tasks?
2.5.1.1
Consciousness
2.5.1.2
Consciousness-raising
2.5.1.3
Consciousness-raising featured in tasks
iii

11
11
12
14
19
22
22
27
28
28
30
32
34
36
36
36
41
44

2.5.2

2.6

2.7
2.8
2.9
2.10

Justifications for consciousness-raising tasks


46
2.5.2.1
Discovery learning mode
46
2.5.2.2
Interactive mode
50
2.5.2.3
Choosing grammar as task content
53
2.5.3
C-R tasks in previous SLA studies
55
Inductive grammar learning and teaching
58
2.6.1
Inductive Vs. deductive instruction
58
2.6.2
Chronological development of relevant research
59
2.6.2.1
Origin of studies comparing the two types of teaching approaches 60
2.6.2.2
Research development from 1980s onwards
61
2.6.3
Research supporting deductive approaches
63
2.6.4
Research criticizing deductive approaches
64
2.6.5
Research supporting inductive approaches
65
2.6.6
Research criticizing inductive approaches
68
2.6.7
Findings of studies comparing the two approaches
69
Points to note while interpreting research results
70
Niche for further research
71
Theoretical framework of the present study
74
Conclusion
75

Chapter 3
3.1
3.2

3.3
3.4

3.5
3.6

Research Design

77

Introduction
Methodological framework of the present study
3.2.1 Rationale underlying the present study
3.2.2 The researcher background
3.2.3 Elaborating on the methodological framework adopted
Informants and research setting
Methods of Data Collection
3.4.1
Specific Means of Data Collection
3.4.1.1
Tests
3.4.1.2
Questionnaire and semi-structured interviews
3.4.1.3
Think-aloud protocols
3.4.2
Implementation procedures
3.4.2.1 Pretesting
3.4.2.2
Conduct of consciousness-raising tasks
3.4.2.3
Posttesting
3.4.2.4
Questionnaire survey and semi-structured interview
3.4.2.5
Generation of think-aloud protocol reports
Piloting Work
Data Analysis
3.6.1
Quantitative data
3.6.2
Qualitative data
iv

77
77
77
79
81
82
83
84
84
86
87
90
90
90
92
92
93
93
96
96
97

3.7
3.8
3.9

Ethical concerns
Limitations and potential problems
Conclusion

Chapter 4

100
100
103

Overview of Findings and Discussion Chapters

104

Findings and Discussion: Impact of C-R Tasks on Grammar Learning

105

4.1
4.2
4.3
4.4
4.5
4.6
4.7

105
105
109
112
116
119
122

Introduction
Results in pretests
Results in immediate posttests
Results in delayed posttests
Informants overall progress in tests
Range in standardized scores
Conclusion

Chapter 5
5.1
5.2

5.3

5.4

5.5

Findings and Discussion: Informants Perceptions of C-R Tasks

Introduction
Level of cognitive engagement
5.2.1
Following lesson progress
5.2.2
Awareness of learning progresses and memory sustainability
5.2.3
Negative responses
Perceived strengths and weaknesses of C-R tasks
5.3.1
Systematic development of grammatical knowledge
5.3.2
Learners expectations on grammar learning
5.3.3
Usefulness of example sentences
5.3.4
Interest level of the C-R tasks
5.3.5
Motivation in learning grammar
5.3.6
Confidence in learning grammar through C-R tasks
Comparison between C-R tasks and past learning experience
5.4.1
Perceived differences in teachers teaching
5.4.2
Perceived differences in grammar learning
5.4.3
Relative suitability of the C-R tasks for learning grammar
Conclusion

123
123
124
124
126
129
130
132
137
140
143
146
149
153
154
157
159
161

Chapter 6 Findings and Discussion: Informants Engagement with Targeted Grammar Items 162
6.1
6.2

Introduction
Individual informants think-aloud protocol reports
6.2.1
First high-achieving informantLouis
v

162
162
163

6.3
6.4

6.2.2
Second high-achieving informantYeddy
6.2.3
First low-achieving informantApple
6.2.4
Second low-achieving informantKen
Comparison between the four informants think-aloud reports
6.3.1
Similarities in the four informants think-aloud protocol reports
6.3.2
Differences among the four informants think-aloud protocol reports
Conclusion

Chapter 7
7.1
7.2

7.3
7.4
7.5
7.6

Conclusion and Implications

215

Summary of the studys findings


Implications from the findings of the study
7.2.1
Implications for theory
7.2.2
Reflections on the research methodology for the study
7.2.3
Implications for teaching and learning
Significance of the study
Issues concerning L2 pedagogy
7.4.1
C-R tasks as a means to integrate grammar and reading
7.4.2
Role of L1 in L2 classrooms
Recommendations for further research
Final words

References
Appendix
Appendix
Appendix
Appendix

1
2
3
4

Appendix 5
Appendix 6

173
184
195
205
205
209
213

215
217
217
219
224
227
230
230
231
233
237
239

Pretests and posttests on the two targeted grammar items


Questionnaire of the study
Interview form for the focused group interviews
Grammar practice tasks for generating think-aloud protocol reports
from informants
Task sheets for the two cycles of C-R tasks
Reading texts for the two cycles of C-R tasks

vi

252
264
266
268
273
287

List of Figures
Page
Chapter 4
Figure 4.1

Distribution of standardized pretest scores for conditional type 2

106

Figure 4.2

Distribution of standardized pretest scores for defining relative clauses

106

Figure 4.3

Distribution of standardized immediate posttest scores for conditional type 2

109

Figure 4.4

Distribution of standardized immediate posttest scores for defining relative


clauses

109

Figure 4.5

Distribution of standardized delayed posttest scores for conditional type 2

113

Figure 4.6

Distribution of standardized delayed posttest scores for defining relative


clauses

113

vii

List of Tables
Page
Chapter 3
Table 3.1

Background of the school to which the informants belong

82

Table 3.2

Coding system for cognitive strategies identified in the informants


think-aloud protocol reports

98

Chapter 4
Table 4.1

Descriptive statistics of pretest results for conditional type 2

106

Table 4.2

Descriptive statistics of pretest results for defining relative clauses

107

Table 4.3

Descriptive statistics of immediate posttest results for conditional type 2

110

Table 4.4

Descriptive statistics of immediate posttest results for defining relative clauses 110

Table 4.5

Descriptive statistics of delayed posttest results for conditional type 2

113

Table 4.6

Descriptive statistics of delayed posttest results for defining relative clauses

114

Table 4.7

Descriptive statistics of the results in the three tests for conditional type 2

116

Table 4.8

Descriptive statistics of the results in the three tests for defining relative
clauses

116

Chapter 5
Table 5.1

Distribution of informants responses to questionnaire items regarding level of 124


cognitive involvement

Table 5.2

Distribution of informants responses to questionnaire items regarding their


perceived strengths and weaknesses of C-R tasks

131

Table 5.3

Distribution of informants responses to questionnaire items comparing C-R


tasks with past grammar learning experience

154

viii

Chapter 6
Table 6.1

Results of the first high-achieving informant in the three grammar practice


tasks for generating think-aloud protocols

Table 6.2

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first high-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on conditional type 2

164-165

Table 6.3

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first high-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on defining relative clauses

166-167

Table 6.4

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first high-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on reported speech

167-168

Table 6.5

Overall Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first high-achieving


Informant while attempting the three grammar practice tasks

169

Table 6.6

Results of the second high-achieving informant in the three grammar


practice tasks for generating think-aloud protocols

174

Table 6.7

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second high-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on conditional type 2

175-177

Table 6.8

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second high-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on defining relative clauses

177-179

Table 6.9

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second high-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on reported speech

179-180

Table 6.10

Overall Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second high-achieving


informant while attempting the three grammar practice tasks

180-181

Table 6.11

Results of the first low-achieving informant in the three grammar practice 184-185
tasks for generating think-aloud protocols

Table 6.12

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first low-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on conditional type 2

185-187

Table 6.13

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first low-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on defining relative clauses

187- 188

Table 6.14

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first low-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on reported speech

189-190

ix

163

Table 6.15

Overall Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first low-achieving


informant while attempting the three grammar practice tasks

190

Table 6.16

Results of the second low-achieving informant in the three grammar


practice tasks for generating think-aloud protocols

195

Table 6.17

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second low-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on conditional type 2

196-198

Table 6.18

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second low-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on defining relative clauses

198-199

Table 6.19

Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second low-achieving informant


while completing the grammar practice task on reported speech

200

Table 6.20

Overall Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second low-achieving


informant while attempting the three grammar practice tasks

201

Chapter 1
Introduction
1.1 Background of the study
In many English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classrooms worldwide,
grammar constitutes a major component of the course content, despite the popularity
of meaning- focused communicative and task-based pedagogic approaches. In the
Hong Kong secondary teaching context, the official English language curriculum is
set based on the task-based language teaching (TBLT) principles (Curriculum
Development Council, 1999), in which grammar is a means to an end (of developing
communicative competence), rather than being an end in itself (ibid: 50). This
resonates with the models of communicative competence as advocated in the second
language acquisition (SLA) literature (e.g. Canale and Swain,1980), in which
grammatical competence is classified as one necessary but not sufficient component
of communicative competence. In reality, however, many teachers still adopt a
transmission and examination-driven model of teaching (Chow & Mok-Cheung, 2004)
and they organize their lessons mainly by extended explanation and practice drills on
the forms (particularly grammatical structures) of the language while paying little
attention to the meaning aspects (Andrews, 2003).
The amount of time teachers have spent on teaching grammar, however, is not

necessarily justified by the gains in grammatical proficiency on the part of their


learners. For instance, the examiner s reports on public examinations at the secondary
level over the past few years (e.g. Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment
Authority, 2011) have repeatedly pinpointed the candidates grammatical mistakes and
lack of range of grammatical patterns as an evident problem, particularly among the
weaker learners. Apparently this indicates a gap between what is taught and what is
learnt (Nunan, 1995). In the school which I was serving, likewise, I often found my
learners struggling with my own grammar explanation and a number of them did not
show any major improvements in terms of grammar in their own language
productions, both spoken and written, even after having been in my grammar class for
one or more school terms.
In view of the fact that the various grammar teaching methodologies which
have been proposed in the SLA field lie on a continuum between the two ends of
deductive and inductive approaches (Thornbury, 1999), I examined my original
grammar pedagogy and planned the present study for investigating a promising
methodological alternative. While my original teaching was mainly conducted
through a deductive approach, in which the lessons have been dominated by
teacher-fronted explanation on grammar rules and follow-up grammar practice
exercises, many of my past learners did not seem to adequately acquire the grammar

items targeted in my lessons. Furthermore, based on my personal judgment, many of


those students showed a passive learning attitude, and some often complained that the
lessons were boring.
Motivated by such observations, I decided to carry out this action research
study on exploring the possibility of adopting an inductive counterpart for conducting
my grammar lessons. In a review of the SLA literature discussing those approaches, I
discovered a prevalence of grammatical consciousness-raising (C-R) tasks which
stress the learners making inductive discovery of grammatical information through
guided exposure to enriched language input (e.g. R. Ellis, 1991, 2003; Fotos, 1994,
1998, 2002; Fotos and Ellis, 1991).
In fact, the choice of C-R tasks as the focus of the present study, in addition
to it being an inductive pedagogic approach, is also motivated by its strong emphasis
on communication among the learners using the target language (TL) and the
organization of grammar activities in the form of communicative language tasks, both
of which being important aspects of the TBLT principles advocated in the SLA field
and the official English Language curriculum mentioned above. As noted by Eckerth
(2008b), within the TBLT framework, form- focused tasks (to which C-R tasks belong)
are advocated to direct learners attention to specific L2 forms while they are
communicating in the L2 (p. 120). In this sense, I hoped to align my grammar

teaching more closely with both theoretically sound pedagogic approaches and the
official curriculum.
1.2 Objectives of the study
In view of the above, the present study aims specifically to examine the effects
of adopting inductive C-R tasks for teaching English grammar to my particular group
of junior secondary learners of average academic ability. Such effects are to be
determined from three perspectives:
1.

Learners gain, if any, in mastering the grammar items targeted in such tasks, as
approximated by their scores in pre- and post-teaching achievement tests;

2.

Learners perceptions of and attitudes towards learning second language (L2)


grammar through performing those tasks, as elicited through a questionnaire
survey and two follow-up semi-structured interviews; and

3.

Learners patterns of cognitive engagement in processing grammar items


acquired through performing C-R tasks and those through my previous deductive
teaching, as elicited through think-aloud protocols with selected learners of the
group.
Actually, when I first set out to conduct this study, I was originally planning to

have a direct comparison between the effects of a deductive explanation approach and
the inductive C-R tasks as discrete approaches to grammar pedagogy. However, I

decided to select the latter approach as the main focus of the study in the end, as I was
aware of the potential ethical threat that I would keep adopting a pedagogic approach
(i.e. a deductive approach) which I already thought was not effective in teaching
grammar to my own students just for the sake of collecting data for my own research.
Despite that, one would agree that the effects of different pedagogic approaches
are relative rather than absolute in nature. Hence, while the focus of the study is
primarily on inductive C-R tasks, comparison is made to my previous deductive
teaching where appropriate. With this study I hope to develop a deeper understanding
of the needs of the specific group of learners, and those alike, in terms of learning L2
grammar, so as to make more informed pedagogic decisions in my present and future
grammar teaching.
1.3 Research questions of the present study
In light of the above objectives, the following research questions are to be specifically
addressed in the present study:
1. To what extent does adopting consciousness-raising (C-R) tasks impact on the
learning of English grammar by a group of average-achieving secondary learners?
2. What are those learners attitudes towards and perceptions of the C-R tasks as a
means for the learning of English grammar?

3. How do those learners engage in conventional grammar practice tasks1 in which


the grammar items concerned have been presented using either C-R tasks or a
deductive approach?
1.4 Definitions of key concepts
Since the present study focuses on the use of inductive C-R tasks for the
teaching of L2 grammar, it is worth defining the two notions of grammar and C-R
tasks at the beginning of this thesis so as to further contextualize the whole study and
to facilitate interpreting its findings. To begin with, I would like to adopt both a
product and process view of grammar in this study. For the former, grammar of a
language (as opposed to general structural properties of all human languages as in
Noam Chomskys notion of Universal Grammar) is defined as a conventional system
of rules for making and putting together the expressions (e.g. sentences and phrases)
that belong to the language (Hurford, 1994: 87). Grammar is therefore regarded as a
set of facts about the language. For the latter, grammar is like a process, whereby
shades of meaning are mapped on to basic ideas (Thornbury, 2001 : 1). In other words,
grammar is a verb describing the linguistic procedures we carry out to make our
meaning more precise.
As for C-R tasks, I adopt the definition suggested by R. Ellis (1994), one of the

Grammar Practice Tasks, instead of other tasks, were selected because they are the most frequent
type of tasks that the learners have to do while learning grammar in the English lessons of the school.
6

first who propose such an approach for L2 grammar pedagogy. According to him, a
C-R task as a pedagogic activity where the learners are provided with L2 data in
some form and required to perform some operation on or with it, the purpose of which
is to arrive at an explicit understanding of some linguistic property or properties of the
TL (p. 160). R. Ellis (2003) then points out two distinguishing features of such tasks.
First, they are different from meaning-focused tasks in which learners are expected to
implicitly acquire grammatical structures through exposure and/or production of the
TL. C-R tasks, on the other hand, cater to learners explicit learning of certain selected
grammatical structures and how such structures work. Second, they are different from
traditional grammar exercises in the sense that learners are not required to use the
selected structures. They are just expected to talk meaningfully about those
structures (ibid: 162). It is under this line of argument that he argues that the
taskness of a C-R tasks lies not in the grammatical item that is the focus of the task
but rather in the talk that learners are engaged in order to achieve an outcome to the
task (ibid: 163).
In addition to the above, it is worth briefly discussing the two grammar items
targeted in the studyconditional type 2 and defining relative clauses, since they
constitute the content of the C-R tasks. To begin with, conditional type 2, which is
also known as second, hypothetical or unreal conditional (Parrot, 2000: 233), is

used to speculate about something that is (or that we perceive to be) impossible or
contrary to the fact (ibid: 233-234). There are two clauses in a conditional type 2
sentence, the subordinate if-clause with the structure if + past simple, and the main
clause with the structure would + bare infinitive. When the if-clause comes before
the main clause, the two clauses are usually separated by a comma (or a pause in
speaking). If the sentence starts with the main clause, the two clauses are not
separated by any punctuation mark or pause. For example,
If I knew the truth, I would let her go.
I would let her go if I knew the truth.
On the other hand, a defining relative clause, according to Parrot (2000),
provides the identity of something or someone that has usually already been specified
in the sentence. The use of it may allow combining clauses or sentences without
repeating things as well. The clause, which may often be introduced by a relative
pronoun like who, which, and that, immediately follows that thing or person and
the two are not separated by a comma or a pause. For example,
Peter is the man (whom) I was talking to last night.
Tokyo is the city (that) we always want to visit again.
In this study, I choose conditional type 2 and defining relative clauses as the
grammar items targeted in the C-R tasks because they were among the most difficult

items to have been mastered by my previous cohorts of students at the same level in
the same school as the informants, yet both of them were included in the schools
grammar syllabus for that particular level those students were at. In particular, the
students found it difficult to comprehend the core meanings expressed by the two
grammar items, i.e. the hypothetical (unreal) meaning of conditional type 2 and the
defining function of defining relative clauses. I therefore hoped to investigate
whether my teaching on these two grammar items could be enhanced by adopting the
inductive C-R approach.
1.5 Organization of the thesis
There are seven chapters in this thesis. In this first chapter I have provided an
overview of the background of the study together with its objectives and the specific
research questions. It then states the three research questions of the study, and defines
two notions central to the study: grammar and C-R tasks. Chapter 2 comprises the
literature review on L2 pedagogy, grammar instruction approaches, and specifically
C-R tasks. Chapter 3 is the methodology chapter discussing the theoretical and
methodological frameworks and the research context of the study, as well as the
specific methods of data collection and analysis. Chapters 4-6 are the findings and
discussion chapters reporting and discussing the findings regarding the three research
questions respectively. Finally, Chapter 7 concludes the thesis by stating the

significance of the study and drawing implications for both future research and
pedagogy.

10

Chapter 2
Literature Review
2.1 Introduction
This chapter aims to review previous work in the second language acquisition
(SLA) field investigating the notion of consciousness-raising (C-R) as an approach to
second language (L2) grammar instruction. It begins with a historical overview of the
major developments in L2 grammar instruction in the past decades, including a brief
report of the case in Hong Kong schools. It then identifies some of the themes that are
currently advocated in the latest developments, and suggest how the C-R approach
addresses such themes. This is followed by an in-depth discussion of the C-R
approach in general, and of the C-R tasks in particular. Specifically there is a
discussion on one of the defining features of the approach, namely, the inductive
mode of learning and teaching, which is presented in the form of a contrast with the
deductive counterpart as is realized in the traditional Presentation-Practice-Production
(PPP) approach. Finally, some implications for further research that can be drawn
from the review are identified and the chapter concludes by stating the specific
research questions of the present study.
2.2 Development of approaches to grammar instruction
For decades, approaches to second and foreign language instruction, and to

11

grammar instruction in particular, have been a topic for heated debate in the education
systems worldwide, and such approaches have been metaphorically, and perhaps
validly, described by some researchers and theorists as existing along a swinging
pendulum. Swan (2005), for example, makes the following comment:
Dissatisfaction with the results we are obtaining (which, second language learning
being what it is, will always be relatively unsatisfactory) leads us regularly to reject
existing practices in favour of more promising- looking alternatives, announcing yet
another paradigm shift as we do so. (p. 397).
In this section, several of those major teaching approaches, and the paradigm shifts
leading to and following them, are briefly discussed, and some of the commonly
discussed themes regarding grammar instruction are then to be identified.
2.2.1 Structural era
Traditionally, language instruction was characterized by systematic presentation
and /or practice of grammar in one form or another (Nunan, 2000). GrammarTranslation, for instance, presented first grammar rules and next extensive exercises
involving translating sentences into and out of the learners first language (L1) in
which those rules are realized. The Direct Method, on the other hand, focused on
spoken rather than written language, but it still followed a grammatical syllabus. As a
successor of the Grammar-Translation method, Audiolingualism, drawing its

12

theoretical support from behavourist psychology, stressed the formation of right


habits through learners repetitive drills of grammatical patterns so as to avoid
making grammatical errors. That is, instead of explicitly analyzing various language
forms, learners were required to repeatedly imitate and memorize such forms with the
hope of achieving their automatic production without errors. As Brookes (1960)
famously put it, error like sin is to be avoided at all costs. According to that
Audiolingualism convention, despite the fact that application of grammatical rules
was considered to have no value, the language syllabus still comprised a graded list
of sentence patterns, which, although not necessarily labeled as such, were
grammatical in origin (Thornbury, 1999: 21).
In fact, all these relatively older approaches can be categorized under what Long
and Robinson (1998) call Focus on Forms (FoFs), according to which discrete
grammatical forms are selected and presented in isolated manner (DeKeyser, 1998;
Doughty & Varela, 1998; Long, 2000, Nassaji & Fotos, 2004). That said, FoFs
approaches still exert their influences at present, as one of its forms, namely
Presentation-Practice-Production (PPP), is still commonly practised in the foreign
language instruction contexts across the globe.
While being supported by research that has investigated direct intervention in
interlanguage development (R. Ellis, 2005a), FoFs approaches have been the target of

13

many critics in the past two decades. Skehan (1996), for instance, commented that
the belief that a precise focus on a particular form leads to learning and
automatizationno longer carries much credibility in linguistics or psychology (p.
36). Ellis, Basturkmen and Loewen (2002), likewise, argue that there is much less
evidence to show that FoFs instruction results in learning that enables learners to
perform the targeted form in free production than in learning as measured by
discrete-point language tests (p.421) (also discussed in Norris and Ortega, 2000).
Myles (2004) provides a possible explanation for this, as she finds that, during FoFs
instruction, learners are as likely practicing rote-memorizing as internalizing abstract
rules.
2.2.2 Zero grammar position and communicative language teaching
The significance of grammar in the language curriculum discussed above,
whether explicit instruction or implicit drills of which was involved, was then under
serious challenges when, in the late 1950s, Noam Chomsky put forward his notion of
Universal Grammar and his influential claim that language ability was innate rather
than accumulated habitually.
Along his line of argument, Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell advocate the
Natural Approach (Krashen and Terrell, 1983) which, instead of providing any formal
grammar instruction which he thinks does not lead to any real acquisition, stresses

14

exposing learners to abundant amounts of comprehensible input. Krashen believes


that such exposure would gradually trigger the learners innate learning mechanism
and, in turn, results in genuine language acquisition. According to him, conscious
learning is to be distinguished from subconscious acquisition, in the sense that
only the learning is subjected to explicit instruction, and that whereas learning
results in what is only applicable in language productions where the learner exerts a
certain degree of control, e.g. while doing language exercises, only acquisition
contributes to the competence that is required to produce spontaneous communicative
exchanges. This view, and the total ignorance of form-focused instruction it implies,
has been however under serious doubts in the SLA literature (e.g. R. Ellis, 2002,
2006a; Fotos, 1994, 1998, 2002; Richards, 2002). Particularly, as R. Ellis (2006a)
notes, explicit instruction contributes to both acquired and learned knowledge, and,
without any focus on language forms, learners run the risk of fossilization
(Thornbury, 1999: 24), i.e. remaining at a stable level of proficiency no matter what
type of and how much instruction they receive.
In the late 1970s, the prominence of the Natural Approach, together with that of
sociolinguistics, motivated the development of Communicative Language Teaching
(CLT). Howatt (2004) distinguished the strong version of that approach from its weak
version. Regarding the role of grammar in the curriculum, while the strong version

15

denied such a role completely, the weak version considered grammar as a means to
the end of successful communication on the part of the learners, rather than as an end
in itself. In both versions, the significance of grammar instruction was downplayed.
Canale and Swain (1980), for example, argued that grammatical knowledge was only
one component of what they called communicative competence, and that, ultimately,
language learners were to use such knowledge to achieve communicative goals in a
socially appropriate manner. To date, CLT is still supposed to govern the language
curriculum in schools in many parts of the world, although it, or at least its strong
form, is often adopted in name but not implemented in practice, especially in the
Eastern societies (Carless, 2004; Evans, 1996; Gatbonton & Segalowitz, 2005). One
possible explanation for such phenomenon may be that CLT values
learner-centeredness and expressions of personal meanings rather than those of the
culture to which the learners belong, which arguably derive from Western
epistemology (Thornbury, 1999).
In fact, the above distinction between the strong and weak forms remains in the
launch of the Task-based Learning and Teaching (TBLT), a major offspring of the
CLT approach (e.g., Skehan, 1996). In the strong form, explicit grammar explanation
and practices are discouraged, and learners are expected to acquire the language
purely through engaging in meaning focused communication. Krashen (1993), for

16

example, criticizes grammar instruction as producing only peripheral and fragile


effects (p.725). As mentioned, according to his Monitor Hypothesis, explicit
grammatical knowledge accessed during controlled language comprehension and use
will never turn into implicit knowledge needed for the free, uncontrolled counterparts
(Krashen, 1999).
Taking a slightly different perspective, R. Ellis (2003) argues against mechanical
grammatical drills as well. To him, both the linguistic and the situational contexts of
any occasions of using a language are important for language learners, and such drills
decontextualize the grammar items and thus fail to result in any changes in long term
memory. Instead, to acquire the items, he proposes manipulating the design features
of language tasks, so that learners can be encouraged to attend to form in the context
of meaning- making (p. 320).
Despite the above, there have even been more robust critics of the strong version
of TBLT, the most common one being targeted at the way that language is learnt, i.e.
solely through communication in the target language (TL). Chan and Li (2002), for
instance, point out that erroneous structures present in meaning- focused interactions
seldom impede such interactions, and are thus often go unnoticed (p. 27). In similar
vein, Foster (1998) finds that, instead of negotiating and solving the language-related
communication problems emerged during task performance, learners typically bypass

17

those problems, and Seedhouse (1999) warns that interaction in a typical TBLT
classroom may just constitute a particularly narrow and restricted variety of
communication (p. 155). In this sense the provision of comprehensible input to the
learners, which allows their bypassing the need to be precise in language forms, may
just inhibit rather than facilitate language acquisition (Long, 1996; White, 1987).
Taking a more extreme position, Swan (2005), referring to the experience of those
learning a language successfully through a traditional grammar-based approach,
claims that the online claim put forward by TBLT (i.e. learning a language at the same
time as interacting with others) is seriously counterintuitive (p.379).
While not completely denying the value of meaning- focused communications in
authentic contexts, Larsen-Freeman (2003) describes the mere existence of such
communications in language classrooms as suffering a reflex fallacy, arguing that
language teachers should maximize learning by creating optimal conditions,
including supplementing such communications with explicit grammar instruction.
Similarly, drawing from their extensive experience in conducting French immersion
programmes, Swain and Lapkin (2000, 2001) argue that long-term exposure to
meaningful input does not necessarily lead learners to achieve accuracy in certain
grammatical forms. Batstone and Ellis (2009), in addition, argue that when learners
get too engaged with conveying and comprehending meaning during

18

meaning- focused interaction, they may fail to notice the grammar focus that the
teacher wants to draw their attention to (also observed in Mackey et al., 2000). It is
under this logic that a weak form of TBLT has been advocated alternatively to the
strong counterpart, in which grammar instruction accompanying communicative
activities is not only allowed but also desirable, although such instruction is often
dressed up in functional labels (Thornbury, 1999: 22).
2.2.3 Focus on form and new ways of focus on forms
As discussed above, there has been ever growing dissatisfaction with the
effectiveness of the strong form of TBLT in the SLA field, and some explicit focus on
language forms is now widely advocated in the literature (Nassaji & Fotos, 2004).
Notwithstanding, this does not mean a return to the traditional behaviourist model
which has been to a large extent discredited (Long & Robinson, 1998; Schmidt, 1994).
Instead, the notion focus on form (FoF) has been widely advocated (e.g., DeKeyser,
1998; Long, 2000; Doughty & Varela, 1998; Long & Robinson, 1998). Long (1996)
defines FoF as learners attending to language as object during a general
meaning-oriented activity (p.429), and contrasts it with focus on forms (FoFs) as
realized in the discrete treatments of individual language items in traditional
approaches.
The rationale underlying FoF instruction is that learners capacity to process the

19

L2 is to different degrees limited and this causes difficulty in their simultaneously


attending to both meaning and form of the language emergent from any piece of
communication. As a result, they generally would prioritize meaning over form when
performing a communicative activity (Van Patten, 1990; Ellis, Basturkmen, &
Loewen, 2002; Skehan, 1999). To remedy the problem, it is suggested that some
explicit measures be taken to draw learners attention occasionally on grammar items,
especially those problematic ones inhibiting the communication effectiveness, during
such activities. As Doughty (2001) comments, the factor that distinguishes focus on
form from other pedagogical approaches is the requirement that focus on form
involves learners briefly and perhaps simultaneously attending to form, meaning and
use during one cognitive event (p.211).
Despite the popularity of FoF instruction in the SLA field, there has not yet been
an unanimous consensus on the effectiveness of its sole use across all contexts. As
Richards (2002) observes, while providing a promising alternative to traditional FoFs
approaches, the combination of meaning- focused communicative tasks with ad hoc
FoF intervention by the teacher providing corrective feedback on errors that arise
during completion of such tasks may not be sufficient to achieve acceptable levels of
grammatical accuracy in second language learning (p. 48). In fact, he doubts the
appropriateness of the proposition that, regardless of the learners stage of acquisition,

20

focus on grammar should always be integrated into the communicative tasks rather
than standing alone as discrete activities isolated from meaningful communication.
Skehan (1996) also expresses a similar concern, and suggests that learners
attention be focused on only one of the three main goals of complexity, accuracy and
fluency at different stages of the teaching process, the former two of which relating to
language forms. Likewise, Willis (1996) proposes treating the language form at the
post-task stage, and R. Ellis (2003) acknowledges the possibility of integrating FoF
and FoFs instruction as he coins the new term task-supported language teaching to
describe an approach in which learners are first presented declaratively particular
language forms (i.e. FoFs) and then to engage in communicative tasks of which the
aim is to provide opportunities for them to practice such forms and to receive
feedback on their practice (i.e. FoF).
In a sense, what has been reported above seems to suggest recognition of the
value of at least some FoFs instruction; however, with advances in SLA theories and
practices in the past decades, one would expect innovations to emerge. Fotos (1998),
for instance, notes the growing concern that a return to grammar instruction should
not lead to a revival of old days of language teachingtraditional grammar-based
syllabuses, pattern drills and the like (p. 301). Arguably, one of the most popular and
empirically testified innovations would be the use of C-R tasks, in which learners are

21

guided to solve grammatical problems interactively. This task-based approach to


teaching grammar was first suggested by R. Ellis (1991), and such positive effects of
that particular approach as promoting learners awareness of the form-meaning
mappings have been further assured in later studies (e.g. Fotos, 1994, 2002).
2.3 Development of English language teaching in the Hong Kong context
Drawing on Andrewss (1999) comprehensive account of the historical
development of English language teaching (ELT) in Hong Kong, this section aims to
relate the previous survey of the development of grammar instruction in the SLA field
worldwide to the Hong Kong secondary school context.
2.3.1 ELT in Hong Kong schools from 1980s onwards
In response to a generally perceived decline in English standards among Hong
Kong students in the late 1970s (e.g. Evans, 1996; Yu, 1979), the Government sought
advice from Ray Tongue, a British Council language specialist who was a firm
advocate of the communicative approach (Bickley, 1987: 207). To Tongue, both the
Grammar-Translation approach as widely practiced in classrooms at that time and the
Oral-Structural approach as officially promoted by the Government were undesirable,
because they failed to arouse sufficient attention being paid to the language functions
and the purposes for which language was being used on the part of the learners (ibid.).
Resulting from that, and reflecting on the corresponding development in language

22

pedagogy in Europe (Evans, 1996), the official promotion of the Oral-Structural


approach was replaced by that of CLT in the early 1980s. Such a shift was first
documented at the curriculum level in the 1981 English syllabus for Primary 1-6
(Curriculum Development Committee, 1981), which then influenced the1983 English
syllabus for Forms 1-5 (Curriculum Development Committee, 1983) as well, since its
design was conceived as a continuous whole for the eleven years from Lower
Primary to Form Five (Andrews, 1999: 61). Even though these two syllabi were
primarily communicatively oriented, they did not rule out explicit teaching of
grammar. Instead, equal emphasis was said to be placed on English as a medium of
communication and as a formal, linguistic system, and communicative
effectivenessreceive[d] as much attention as the production of correct English
sentences (Curriculum Development Committee, 1983: 15).
Like the ones previously advocated, the communicative approach attracted
criticisms in the territory. Etherton (1981), for instance, questioned the
appropriateness of the approach for the large number of learners of mixed ability and
interests (cited in Evans, 1997: 40). Despite that, the communicative syllabus was
still officially launched at the primary level between 1984 and 1985, and at the
secondary level between 1986 and 1988 (Andrews, 1999).
In practice, nevertheless, the progress of applying communicative principles in

23

classrooms was not satisfactory. It was found that grammar still dominated language
classrooms in which old techniques for presenting and practicing structures [were]
largely retained (Evans, 1996: 33), although there was usually a new component in
methodology designed to provide a communicative dimension to English lessons
(ibid.). Such a view was further echoed by the 1994 report of the Education
Commissions Working Group on language proficiency, in which many schools were
claimed to have still not embraced the communicative approach, preferring to
concentrate on the formal features of the language at the expense of encouraging
students to use the language (Education Commission, 1994: 25). Evans (1997) added
that the instructional practices of many English teachers in Hong Kong secondary
schools were still dominated by explicit grammar teaching.
Further to its promotion of the communicative approach, the Government
launched a Target-Oriented Curriculum (TOC) at the primary level in 1994, and a new
syllabus for secondary schools in 1999, both of which share a lot of the TBLT
principles (2.2.2 and 2.2.3 above). In addition, over the following years, the
Curriculum Development Council has published a number of guidelines and resource
packages supporting the implementation of a task-based curriculum at schools, with
the hope that English language pedagogy in local secondary classrooms would
become meaning- focused rather than form/grammar- focused.

24

Despite all those curriculum documents, guidelines and resources, the


implementation of a task-based curriculum in the local context still seems to be very
challenging. Clark et al. (1999) finds in their large-scale survey of TOC that teachers
generally encounter difficulties interpreting and implementing tasks, that they have
common misunderstandings about the tasks, that they rarely implement tasks fulfilling
the TOC definition in their classrooms, and that more than half of them still prefer the
traditional form-focused approaches to the meaning- focused TBLT approach.
In a survey on beliefs of 17 local secondary school teachers about grammar
pedagogy, in addition, Andrews (2003) comments that although there is unanimous
consensus among all the subjects that students need grammar primarily for
communicative purposes (p. 370), the impact of CLT principles on their classroom
practice is fairly superficial (p. 368), and a focus on meaning rather than on form in
their syllabus is usually found only in the form of spoken practice activities during
oral lessons. Similarly, Chow and Mok-Cheung (2004) find out that many language
classrooms in Hong Kong at present are still transmission-oriented and
examination-driven, in the sense that teachers expect their learners to learn through a
transmission and knowledge accumulation learning style.
One possible source of such relatively negative teacher reactions may be the
fairly strong nature (Skehan, 1996) of the official task-based curriculum, in which

25

communicative tasks compose the major step of language teaching and grammar
teaching is only seen as a means to an end (Curriculum Development Council, 2002:
97). Such an approach, when compared to its predecessors as discussed previously in
the present historical review, marks a significant conflict with the way these teachers
learnt the language. Having been educated through the more traditional approaches
which focus on deductive teaching of grammar and which result in their present
language proficiency, it would seem less than likely for them to question the values of
such approaches in their own teaching practice on one hand, and to replace them with
a completely different approach which adopts a new, if not an alien, concept of tasks
as the focus and treats grammar learning as solely a contributing factor to or even a
spontaneous result of successfully carrying out such tasks on the other.
As Carless (1999) rightly argues, teachers own experience as learners
significantly shapes their attitudes towards pedagogic approaches. With this concept
in mind, and the possible classroom discipline problems brought forth by the strong
TBLT approach (e.g. Carless, 2004), one would agree that such a strong version of
TBLT (as discussed in 2.2.2 above) may not be compatible with the local school
culture (Carless, 2004; Littlewood, 2007), and that it could be more sensible for the
Government to advocate a weaker version of TBLT with a stronger emphasis on
language forms (Ellis, 2003; Skehan, 1996, 1999) if it is to expect its more extensive

26

and deep-rooted growth in local schools.


2.3.2 Applicability of the consciousness-raising approach
From the above historical survey of the development of ELT in Hong Kong, it is
found that, despite the various approaches advocated by the Government at different
times in history and how different such approaches are from the traditional
Grammar-Translation approach, explicit grammar instruction has always formed a
significant component of what goes on in language classrooms. On one hand, this
phenomenon synchronizes with the claim made in various educational innovation
theories that curriculum mandates often are not consistent with classroom practices
(e.g. Fullan, 1999; Markee, 1997). On the other hand, in view of the fact that explicit
form-focused instruction has been a deep-rooted dominating norm in the history of
ELT in Hong Kong, such instruction has mainly taken the form of deductive teacher
explanation. In his teacher belief survey on grammar pedagogy, for example, Andrews
(2003) identified such explanation followed by assigning practice exercises as the
dominant approach practiced by the majority of his subjects. One could therefore
argue that the adoption of an inductive C-R approach (2.5.1 below) to language
teaching in the real classroom, although sharing an explicit focus on grammar with
such norm, is not necessarily less challenging than any of the previous proposals to
reform the ELT practice discussed in this section.

27

2.4 General principles of grammar pedagogy


After a brief historical overview of the past major L2 teaching approaches, this
section attempts to portray some of the commonly discussed themes regarding
grammar instruction. Totally four such themes are identified, which in one way or
another is relevant to the use of C-R tasks as a grammar instruction approach, but
which have not been adequately studied in the local context.
2.4.1 Content of instruction
As discussed in 2.2.3 above, the value of explicit grammar instruction is to a
large extent recognized (cf. Doughty and Williams, 1998), although there may not yet
be a consensus on the most desirable mode of delivering such instruction (Spada and
Lightbown, 1999). Given the limited amount of time in any grammar instructional
programmes, one would, in addition to the mode, also be concerned with the content
selected for such instruction. As Swan (2005) rightly notes, normal time constraints
can be very constraining indeed (p. 393). This being the case, the coverage problem
becomes acute (Fotos, 2002: 139). In view of this, Swan (2005) argues for the need
of careful selection and prioritizing, proactive syllabus design, and concentrated
engagement with a limited range of high-priority language elements (p. 393-4).
In the SLA field, however, it seems that there has not yet been a set of commonly
agreed criteria for determining the coverage of grammar programmes. R. Ellis (2002)

28

quotes several studies to suggest that formal instruction directed at more complex and
difficult grammatical structures produces little effect on performance in learners
spontaneous language use. He therefore proposes that grammar instruction be directed
at relatively simple grammatical rules, since such rules do not require the mastery of
complex processing operations as discussed in Pienemann (1984) (p. 20). Eisenstein
Ebswoth and Schweers (1997), likewise, observe that formal teaching can accelerate
learning of the grammatical forms when the forms are easy to learn. On the other hand,
as informed by Long (1996), Svalberg (2005) claims items chosen for instruction
should be those whose encodings were difficult for the students to perceive, seldom
available in their classroom input, or lacking in transparency with their function or
meaning (p.344).
Also, while Eisenstein Ebswoth and Schweers (1997) point out that explicit
instruction should be focused on those grammar items in the TL which are so close to
their counterparts in the learners L1 that it can be difficult for those learners to
discern the differences between the two, Brender (2001) virtually argues for the
opposite, that it may be even more important for instruction to cover grammatical
structures that do not exist in learners L1, so as to promote a better understanding of
those structures.
In fact, this issue of content coverage is relevant to any grammar instructional

29

approaches, and the inductive C-R approach is no exception. The criteria for selecting
grammar items for inductive pedagogic approaches are further discussed in 2.6.5 and
2.6.6 below.
2.4.2 Extensive Vs. intensive grammar teaching
The debate on whether grammar should be taught intensively (with instruction
focusing on a single grammatical structure over a sustained period of time) or
extensively (instruction covering a whole range of structures within a short time
period) lies essentially on a similar plane as that between FoFs and FoF discussed in
2.2.3 above. While grammar instruction is often perceived as entailing the former
rather than the latter approach (R. Ellis, 2006a), there is theoretical and empirical
support for both in the SLA field.
To begin with, a breakdown of the whole grammar system of a language and the
subsequent intensive treatment of each constituent is said to comply with
skill-building theories (e.g., DeKeyser, 1998, 2001), according to which learners
build up their language skill first by developing systematically the declarative
knowledge regarding those constituent grammar items, based on which they can then
proceduralize or automatize such knowledge gradually for use in their own
language productions. As Johnson (1996) notes, a view of language as skill is
persuasive, insightful, and useful for language teachers (p. 38). In fact, there have

30

been growing numbers of studies demonstrating that when problematic grammatical


structures are taught intensively learners generally acquire them (R. Ellis, 2002).
On the contrary, there is also support for the extensive approach. According to
the teachability hypothesis (Pienemann, 1984, 1989), learners are able to learn
grammatical forms if and only if they are psycholinguisitcally ready to acquire them.
In other words, they have their own inborn sequences for acquiring those forms.
Thus, despite the findings of some studies (e.g. Spada & Lightbown, 1999) which
indicate possible ways of intervening those sequences through intensive instruction,
it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a teacher to decide on a particular
instructional sequence that matches the internal readiness of all the individual
learners in his or her class, given the discrepancies in the developmental stages of
those learners. In addition, some theorists (e.g. Larsen-Freeman, 2003; Nunan, 2000)
speculate that there are interactions between grammar structures and thus that they
are not to be learnt in isolation. In view of this, along the TBLT convention,
extensive corrective feedback is often proposed for providing occasional focus in
language form while the communicative tasks are in progress, and studies of such
feedback (e.g. Batstone & Ellis, 2009; Lyster & Ranta, 1997; Ellis, Batsurkmen, &
Loewen, 2002) demonstrate that in typical communicative lessons a wide variety of
grammatical forms are addressed incidentally.

31

Based on the above, one would agree that there is a need for grammar instruction
to comprise both intensive and extensive approaches. While the C-R tasks cater
mainly for the former approach as they each have their own grammatical foci
(2.5.1.3 below), one should, therefore, be aware of how those tasks are best
complemented with other pedagogical activities in which grammar is treated
extensively (i.e. FoF activities discussed in 2.2.3 above).
2.4.3 Form-meaning connections
Unlike the previous debate on extensive and intensive grammar teaching, there
seems to be a general consensus on the recognition of the need to cater for both form
and meaning in any contemporary attempts to describe grammar, and, in turn, in any
grammar instruction. As Swan (2005) strongly argues, only by integrating form- and
meaning- focused approachescan teachers maximize their chances of successfully
teaching all those aspects of language that learners most need to master. (p. 396).
Similarly, Van Patten, Williams and Rott (2004) emphasize that establishing
connections between form and meaning is a fundamental aspect of language
acquisition. Considering the issue from a slightly different perspective,
Larsen-Freeman (2003) comments that it is insufficient to say that grammar is solely
about accuracy of form, since it relates to the two other important aspects of
meaningfulness and appropriateness as well (p. 14).

32

This consensus is well supported by SLA theories, the most evident of which
being that of processing instruction (Van Patten, 1996, 2002, 2004). In this approach,
initial explicit instruction focusing on the form of the target structures is followed by a
series of input processing tasks that aim at promoting learners comprehension of the
meaning expressed by those structures. Such tasks have been suggested to help
learners create form-meaning connections in the input they receive and hence process
grammar for meaning (Nassaji & Fotos, 2004: 132), rather than taking short cuts
which by-pass the grammar (Batstone & Ellis, 2009: 196).
In addition, explorations on the form-meaning relationships on the part of
learners are supported by implicit learning theories. Arguing that language learning is
essentially implicit in nature, N. Ellis (2002), for instance, describes the process
involved as the slow acquisition of form-function mappings and the regularities
therein (p. 175). According to Nassaji and Fotos (2004), this stance is also supported
by such cognitive psychologists as DeKeyser (2001), Doughty (2001) and Robinson
(2001).
In fact, as discussed in 2.5.2 below, the stress on both form and meaning is well
reflected in the C-R approach, in which, like processing instruction mentioned above,
learners are guided to process the given contextualized input containing examples of
the targeted grammar items and arrive at generalizations regarding both form and

33

meaning of those structures. It is through such guided processing of the form and
meaning aspects which allows the learners to gradually develop their understanding of
those grammar items in context.
2.4.4 Lexical and grammatical syllabi
As Swan (2005) notes, many language teachers, especially those teaching foreign
languages, regard grammatical knowledge as essential for learners at all levels,
elementary ones included (cf. R. Ellis, 2006a). It is therefore not uncommon for
grammatical syllabi of one kind or another to be followed right from the beginning
levels of language programmes across the world. Swan (2005) justifies such practice
by the speculation that it is unlikely for learners to focus on linguistic features during
communicative activities, i.e., FoF, if they lack a basic grammar foundation.
Some researchers, however, take an opposite view, claiming that early
interlanguage development is typically agrammatical (R. Ellis, 2002, 2005a, 2006a;
Perdue & Klein, 1993; Willis, 1996). According to this position, learners learn a
language first by memorizing prefabricated lexical chunks and next retrieving those
chunks for communicative purposes (R. Ellis, 2006a; Larsen-Freeman, 2003). It is
only at a later developmental stage that such learners begin to internalize and
restructure the rote-learned lexical sequences (Myles et al., 1998, 1999; Myles, 2004),
and grammar rules begin to emerge in their mind. During such internalization process,

34

learners need to unpack the memorized chunks and transform them into
structure-based knowledge while using the particular grammar items, and they often
show deterioration in the accuracy of their use. This explains the existence of such
phenomena observed in SLA research as backsliding (cf. Larsen-Freeman, 2003)
and U-shaped course of development (cf. Pienemann, 1984, 1989).
Indeed, this synchronizes with a process view of grammar (e.g. Larsen-Freeman,
2003), and, in turn, the now increasingly popular notion of grammaticiziation
(Thornbury, 2001). According to that notion, the progress from lexis to grammar is
not one in which one system is simply replaced by another. As Thornbury (2001) puts,
it is more a case of mapping grammar onto words (p. 9).
In this sense, an explicit syllabus for grammar instruction should be applicable
only to learners with a reasonably substantial lexical base (R. Ellis, 2002), and such a
view is shared by advocates the C-R approach. As previously mentioned, a typical
C-R activity starts with guiding learners to process the context of use of the targeted
structure in the input for some grammatical information regarding that structure, and
one important aspect of such context processing would be that of the vocabulary
present. It is therefore implied that learners must have developed an adequate
knowledge base of the TL lexis before they can be engaged with the C-R tasks, as
such a base will actively be drawn during their acquisition of new grammatical

35

knowledge.
2.5 Consciousness-raising tasks
With the context provided in the general overview of the nature and role of
explicit grammar instruction above, this section attempts to specify the main theme of
the present studyC-R tasks. First, the notions of consciousness, C-R and C-R tasks
and how they are interpreted by SLA researchers are investigated, which are then
followed by a discussion on the justifications of the use of that approach.
2.5.1 What are consciousness-raising tasks?
As White (1982) validly points out, conflicts of opinions in scientific discussions
are often due as much to terminological vagueness as to substantive disagreement
(cited in Schmidt, 1990: 131). With a view to providing a comprehensive description
of C-R tasks, therefore, the specific question of what C-R tasks are is attempted at
three levels. First, there is a brief discussion of the term consciousness, followed by
that of consciousness-raising and finally of consciousness-raising tasks.
2.5.1.1 Consciousness
To begin with, the first level of consciousness can be a problematic one, since
there has not seemed to be a simple and straight forward definition of it in the SLA
literature. Reviewing studies in the cognitive psychology field, Schmidt (1990)
distinguishes three senses of the term: awareness, intention and knowledge. He further

36

describes it as comprising the three levels of perceiving, noticing and understanding.


Kihlstrom (1984), on the other hand, states that consciousness is essentially the same
as short-term memory, whereas R. Ellis (1994) defines the concept as the formulation
of certain kinds of cognitive representation of how a target feature works on the part
of the learners (p.643).
To reach a more focused definition of the term and to be consistent with the C-R
view of L2 acquisition in this study, one possible solution would be to work
backwards from the more commonly agreed definition of C-R. According to
Rutherford and Sharwood-Smith (1985), two important pioneers advocating the
approach, the term C-R refers to the drawing of learners attention to the formal
properties of language. Thus, the concept consciousness may arguably be defined as
learners existing attention to those formal properties. However, as seen in Schmidts
(1990) discussion mentioned above, the layman term attention does not seem to
satisfy the SLA researchers, and it is largely expressed under the labels of noticing
and awareness instead (e.g., Fotos, 2002; Lynch, 2001; Robinson, 1997).
In fact, several researchers have discussed the relationship between the three
notions of consciousness, noticing and awareness. In Schmidts (1990) three
senses of consciousness listed above, the first sense is named awareness, which
he comments as commonly equated with consciousness in both common usage

37

and theoretical treatments of the topic (p.131). He then embraces noticing as one of
the three levels of awareness. Brender (2001) also directly addresses the relationship
between the three terms by describing awareness as an offspring of consciousness,
as well as the stepchild of the offshoot noticing (p.6). James (1992), alternatively,
distinguishes between the raising of awareness and that of consciousness by
commenting that the former involves what the learners already know while the latter
entails the creation of new knowledge. However, as Svalberg (2005) rightly argues,
this distinction can be very difficult to realize empirically, since the exact state of [the
learners] knowledge is not usually known (p.171). In the present study, following
Svalbergs argument, no such distinction is made and the concept of C-R concerns
both existing and new knowledge.
From the above, it can be found that notion noticing is central to the discussion
of consciousness and of C-R by researchers from both the cognitive psychology and
the SLA fields. In view of this, such a notion deserves further explorations.
In the SLA literature, researchers seem to show a consensus on the facilitative
effect of noticing in L2 acquisition (Egi, 2004). Schmidt (1994), for instance, argues
that there is no learning without noticing. Likewise, Lynch (2001) states that noticing
is an essential component of successful language learning; Batstone (1994) describes
noticing as the gateway to subsequent learning; and Gass (1988), McLaughlin

38

(1987) , Rutherford (1987) and Sharwood-Smith (1981) assert that noticing is the first
stage of language processing and acquisition. More specifically, in his noticing
hypothesis, Schmidt (1995) states that what learners notice in input is what becomes
intake for learning (p.20), and R. Ellis (1994, 1997a) holds the same position, adding
that such intake would then be available for subsequent processing and integration
into the learners interlanguage system.
Despite this, the idea that noticing is a prerequisite for intake remains yet to be
unanimously accepted (R. Ellis, 2005a; Swan, 2005). Among those casting doubts on
it (e.g. Tomlin and Villa, 1994; Cross, 2002), Truscott (1998) provides a detailed
criticism, as he concludes that the foundations of the [noticing] hypothesis in
cognitive psychology are weak and that the hypothesis is not based on any rational
theory of language (p. 104). According to Truscott, noticing is necessary only for the
acquisition of explicit metalinguistic knowledge but not for the development of the
now extensively advocated notion of communicative competence, a term originally
coined by Dell Hymes in 1966. This synchronizes with Krashens (1982) well-known
distinction between conscious learning and unconscious acquisition. In addition, both
Swan (2005) and Williams (2005) provide some evidence (from logical deduction and
empirical research respectively) suggesting the possibility of some learning without
noticing. In fact, even Schmidt revised his noticing hypothesis in his 2001 paper,

39

acknowledging such a possibility. However, he still argues that more attention results
in more learning (p.30).
Apart from whether noticing is a necessary condition for L2 acquisition, another
dimension of the debate lies in whether it is a sufficient condition. As noted by
Doughty and Williams (1998) and Swan (2005), interpretations of this vary widely in
the SLA field. Nassaji and Fotos (2004), for example, describe noticing as a
necessary but not the only condition for acquisition to result (p. 133). According to
Schmidts (1995) and R. Elliss (1994, 1997a) models of acquisition mentioned above,
noticing composes only the first stage of acquisitionfacilitating the transformation
of input into intake, the latter of which being subject to further processing. R. Ellis
(2003) adopts the concept of restructuring (McLaughlin, 1990) to account for such
processing, which involves the unpacking of formulaic speech, as learners move
from exemplar-based representations to more rule-based representations (p. 145).
Batstone (1994) expresses a similar view, proposing that for effective learning of
grammar, learners have to, in addition to noticing grammar, act on it, building it into
their working hypothesis about how grammar is structured (p.59).
In view of the above, one would consider that the specific role of noticing in L2
acquisition seems not to be commonly agreed. Arguably, one tentative conclusion to
be drawn is that while noticing does not necessarily guarantee intake, a C-R view of

40

language acquisition assumes it to be the first step (Svalberg, 2005: 180).


2.5.1.2 Consciousness-raising
As mentioned in the previous section, Rutherford and Sharwood-Smith (1985)
provided an apparently simple definition of C-Rthe drawing of learners attention to
the formal properties of a language. Nonetheless, like the concept of consciousness,
the exact nature of such attention drawing seems difficult to define (Brender, 2001;
Eisentein Ebsworth & Schweers, 1997), and SLA researchers have been exploring
several dimensions.
To begin with, there have been varying opinions concerning whether C-R should
be methodically confined to inductive instruction. While such researchers as
Mohamed (2004) and Sharwood-Smith (1986) stress that traditional deductive
instruction is one type of C-R, Svalberg (2005) argues that C-R activities have come
to be associated with a learner-centered classroom and thus are likely to be inductive
(p.176). This narrower interpretation of C-R seems to be shared by most other SLA
researchers in recent years (e.g. Brender, 2001; R. Ellis, 2002, 2003; Fotos, 2002;
Hedge, 2000; Nassaji & Fotos 2004; Richards, 2002), and it is for this reason that the
same interpretation would be adopted for the present study.
Despite the above, the implementation of the inductive C-R approach does not
necessarily preclude deductive instruction, as Fotos (2002) suggests two ways of

41

integrating the two: formal deductive grammar instruction either preceding or


following the inductive C-R tasks. Of the two, she prefers the former option, and she
adds that pre-task instruction functions as an Advance Organizer (Ausubel, Novak,
and Hanesian, 1978) which activates learners previously developed knowledge and
facilitates the subsequent establishment of form-meaning relationships (p.152).
Apart from the inductive-deductive distinction, another dimension of the debate
regarding C-R would be the target level of consciousness on the part of the learners
that C-R instruction should aim at. Schmidt (1990), for example, identifies three
levels of consciousness/awareness (2.5.1.1 above): perception, noticing and
understanding. In elaborating his noticing hypothesis, Schmidt (2001) suggests that
grammar instruction through the C-R approach should aim at learners noticing of
the surface features or examples at a very low level of abstraction, and that more
in-depth understanding of the structural properties of the grammar items are to be
acquired through subsequent unconscious induction (p.5). This view is shared by
Richards (2002) and Svalberg (2005), and Richards (2002) distinguishes C-R from
implicit instruction by stating that while both involve drawing learners attention to a
target grammar item, it is only in implicit instruction which learners have to induce
the rule or system underlying its use (p. 40).
For many other theorists (e.g. Batstone, 1994; Chan & Li, 2002; R. Ellis, 1994;

42

2002, 2003; Fotos, 1994, 1998, 2002; Fotos and Ellis, 1991; Hedge, 2000; Nassaji &
Fotos, 2004), however, C-R instruction involves promoting learners active mental
manipulation of the targeted grammar items and their subsequent discovery of rules
governing the use and structure of those items. To them, C-R aims at the level of
understanding (R. Ellis, 2003: 162) rather than just noticing in Schmidts terms.
In fact, this discrepancy in the perceived level of consciousness brings forth a
third dimension of the debatewhether C-R caters to explicit or implicit learning,
which captures much of the awareness and noticing debate in the cognitive
psychology field as well (e.g. Logan, 1992; N. Ellis, 1993; Paradis, 1994; Robinson,
1995; cited in Brender, 2001). For those who regard C-R as targeting the level of
noticing, learners learn mainly through implicit structuring and restructuring
(McLaughlin, 1990) of what has been noticed. This is obviously reflected in the
unconscious induction in Schmidts (2001) quote above. For the others who regard
C-R as targeting the level of understanding, explicit knowledge about the grammar
rules is considered to be important for the learners L2 acquisition, and C-R thus
caters primarily to explicit learning (R. Ellis, 2003: 162).
For the present study, the explicit learning interpretation of C-R which targets
at the level of understanding is adopted. This is because in the specific context in
which the present study is conducted, English tends more to be a foreign language

43

than a second language, as learners have very limited exposure to the language
outside class. As research often suggests, in those situations learners usually learn
better if there is explicit teacher instruction on the individual grammar items, rather
than exposing them to those items as in the implicit approach (e.g. Chan & Li, 2002;
Fotos, 2002).
2.5.1.3 Consciousness-raising featured in tasks
The idea of realizing C-R in the form of communicative tasks was first proposed
by R. Ellis (1991), and the idea has subsequently been discussed quite extensively by
Rod Ellis and Sandra Fotos (e.g. R. Ellis, 1994, 1997a, 2002, 2003; Fotos, 1994, 1998,
2002; Fotos and Ellis, 1991; Nassaji & Fotos, 2004).
Following the model of C-R tasks as proposed R. Ellis (1991), a C-R task is
divided into several stages. The first one is an orientation to the selected grammar
item and the following steps. Such an orientation could be considered as an advance
organizer (2.5.1.2 above), serving two purposes: to activate [learners] previous
formal knowledge regarding the particular grammar item and to lessen the diversion
of attentional resources away from processing the enhanced input in the next stage
(Fotos, 1998: 305).
The next stage is a reading activity in which learners are to interact with a text
illustrating the use of the selected grammar item in two ways, first comprehending the

44

text and grasping its meaning and second identifying instances of the targeted item in
the text. This is then followed by an analytic stage which requires the learners to
unscramble the words in those instances so as to develop and test hypotheses
regarding the grammar rule that is operating (Fotos, 2002: 147). This is not only
achieved individually, but the learners are to be engaged in meaning- focused
interaction (Fotos, 2002: 144), discussing the results of their respective analysis with
each other.
In this sense, the learners are expected to engage themselves with both reading
and grammar simultaneously, which has been advocated in the SLA literature.
Knutson (1997), for example, notes that recent reading research points to the benefits
of working with [reading] texts for the purpose of drawing students attention to
formal features of written language (p. 52), which reflects a top-down model of
reading (Barnett, 1989). Kelley (2001), on the other hand, suggests that when we
teach reading, we must continue to teach grammar, which provides the underlying
structure, the tree upon which the students can hang all the other bits of knowledge
they accumulate along the way (p. 135).
Finally, any misunderstanding or incomplete understanding on the part of the
learners are to be clarified through additional information, description, explanation
and/or examples (Brender, 2001: 6), and learners are then provided with such other

45

consolidation activities as posttests and further readings with multiple embeddings of


the target structure (Fotos, 2002: 146).
In the present study, the C-R tasks on the two targeted grammar items are
designed primarily based on the above model as suggested by Rod Ellis and Sandra
Fotos. Justifications for such a design and specific procedures involved will be
provided in 2.5.2 and 3.4.2.2 respectively.
2.5.2 Justifications for consciousness-raising tasks
Following the above discussion on the nature of C-R tasks, it is worth exploring
how the use of such tasks complies with contemporary SLA theories. This is
attempted in three dimensions: justifications of the discovery learning mode, the
interactive mode, and the choice of grammar as task content in C-R tasks.
2.5.2.1 Discovery learning mode
To begin with, the requirement on learners inductive discovery of explicit
knowledge while performing the C-R tasks is consistent with several notions put
forward in the field, among which the language awareness movement (e.g. Bolitho
et al., 2003; Donmall-Hicks, 1997; James, 1999) is the most directly related. Those
advocating the movement are strongly convinced that learners who actively seek to
analyze and describe language accurately are more likely to be effective users of that
language than those who do not, and that the major focus of such analysis and

46

descriptions should be on explicit rather than implicit knowledge about that language
(Andrews, 2006). That may partly explain why Bolitho et al. (2003), for instance,
claim that language awareness approaches are essentially inductive (2003:254).
Similarly, in his argument on the weak interface position (R. Ellis, 1993), R.
Ellis (2005a) justifies the use of C-R tasks by stressing the importance of learners
actively discovering explicit knowledge regarding the form and meaning of the
targeted grammar items. According to that interface position, explicit knowledge
discovered can be converted into implicit knowledge if the learner is ready to acquire
the targeted feature, and such conversion results from priming a number of key
acquisitional processes, in particular noticing and noticing the gap (Schmidt, 1990)
(R. Ellis, 2006a: 97). In other words, explicit knowledge of a grammatical structure
that learners discover after performing a C-R task is likely to facilitate their attending
to that structure in future meaning- focused language encounters and their carrying out
further cognitive discovery in it and comparison between what they observe in the
input and their own output. These in turn result in their acquisition of implicit
knowledge of the structure (i.e. the structure is internalized for the learners future
use). Under the same line of argument, Hung (2000) advocates the use of grammatical
C-R targeting learners acquisition of explicit knowledge of L2 grammar as a means
to facilitating learners ultimate constructing their internal grammars, which he

47

claims constitutes the aim of L2 grammar-teaching.


In fact, the close link between explicit and implicit knowledge is supported by
empirical research as well. Scheffler and Cinciata (2011), for instance, conclude from
their study investigating L2 English learners implicit grammatical knowledge (as
exhibited in their spontaneous spoken productions) and explicit counterpart (elicited
through making them identify grammar items concerned and provide relevant
grammar rules) that there were only few grammar items that learners know only
implicitly but not explicitly. R. Ellis (2006b), in addition, argues with evidence that
both explicit and implicit knowledge are accessed when one is involved in real time
L2 communication.
In addition, the discovery learning mode of C-R tasks receives support from
skill-building theories as well (2.4.2 above). Drawing on such theories, Johnson (1996)
comments that instruction involving hints and demonstrations (i.e. providing
information about grammatical structures through examples) can be more effective in
developing the skills for establishing the type of declarative (explicit) knowledge that
can be converted to procedural (implicit) knowledge than elaborate, abstract, and
precise explanation (p.108-9). Arguing from a more macroscopic perspective, R. Ellis
(2002) points out the learner-training function of the discovery teaching approach, in
which learners, while completing those tasks, can develop the skills needed to

48

analyze language data for themselves and so build their own explicit grammars of
English (p.31).
Finally, support for the discovery approach in C-R tasks is found in
psychological literature as well. The notion of problem-solving discussed in such
literature (e.g. Bourke, 1996), for instance, provides the means through which C-R
tasks cater for discovery learning (R. Ellis, 2003), in the belief that what learners can
find out for themselves while solving a grammar problem is better remembered than
what they are simply told (p. 163). Such discovery process is also believed to
promote greater depth of processing and engagement on the part of the learners,
which directly result in more significant learning (Batstone & Ellis, 2009; Craik and
Lockhart, 1972; Larsen-Freeman, 2003).
Particularly, novice L2 learners are often claimed to show a low level of
tolerance of ambiguity (e.g. Oxford & Ehrman, 1992), in the sense that they often get
stuck with the vague and unsecure understanding they have developed at a certain
learning stage and are not willing to move up to the next stage until they have cleared
up their understanding. A high level of the informants awareness of their own
progress resulting from such deeper cognitive processing and engagement, therefore,
can serve a significant role in relieving their unsecure feelings about any ambiguities
they come across in their language learning journey.

49

In addition, the heightened awareness on the part of the language learners can
help them to validly form positive yet achievable expectations on what they can have
finally attained after performing the whole C-R task sequences. According to the
notion of self-fulfilling prophecy effect (e.g. Biggs, 1995), such expectations, if
appropriately synchronized and reinforced by the ones conveyed by the teacher can
act in a way which predicts (or prophesy) subsequent events (ibid: 23), and in turn
result in favourable learning outcomes.
Apart from the theoretical support discussed above, there has also been extensive
empirical support for C-Rs discovery learning mode in SLA studies. This is discussed
in detail in 2.6 below, and is contrasted with that for deductive pedagogic approaches.
2.5.2.2 Interactive mode
The interactive nature of the C-R tasks is well supported by two influential SLA
theories. To start with, according to the interaction hypothesis (Long, 1996),
interaction promotes acquisition if learners are engaged in negotiating for meaning,
particularly in occurrences of communication breakdowns. In the case of C-R tasks,
learners are expected to negotiate the various aspects of grammatical information
regarding the targeted grammar items. Such negotiations arising help to make input
comprehensible, provide corrective feedback, and push learners to modify their own
output in uptake (R. Ellis, 2005a: 219).

50

In addition, the Vygotskys sociocultural theory (1978, 1986) states that


knowledge is social in nature and that it is constructed through what he calls a
scaffolding process, which is referred to as an interaction process where a
knowledgeable participant can create supportive conditions in which the novice can
participate, and extend his or her current skills and knowledge to higher levels of
competence (Donato, 1994: 40). To Vygotsky, scaffolding is a function of
collaboration of and interactions among both the knowledgeable participant and the
novice operating within the novices zone of proximal development (ZPD), which he
defines as the distance between the actual development level as determined by
independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined
through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable
peers (Vygotsky, 1978: 86). It is hoped that, through the interaction brought forth by
performing the C-R tasks, learners can scaffold each other in terms of grammatical
understanding and, in turn, that the ZPDs of each of them can be stretched.
Apart from developing grammatical understanding, one would expect that
learners would enhance their L2 speaking proficiency through engaging themselves in
interacting with each other during the C-R task performance. In the context of L2
classrooms where learners share the same L1, however, there can be two factors
affecting the pedagogic benefits that interaction generated by the C-R tasks can bring

51

forth to the learners.


First, it is natural for them to conduct such talk in the L1 rather than the TL. The
use of L1 in L2 classrooms has been a controversial issue for decades. Krashen (1993),
in advocating the naturalistic approach to L2 acquisition, argues that such acquisition
results merely from learners extensive exposure to comprehensible TL input, and
hence that the use of L1 should be minimized. Recently there have been more
researchers arguing for the value of such use nevertheless. Nation (2003), for example,
lists four reasons for allowing/promoting learners L1 use in L2 tasks, namely it is
more natural, easier, communicatively effective, and less likely to cause
embarrassment for them to interact in L1 while they are attempting such tasks.
Butzkamm (2003), on the other hand, lists a range of functions possibly served by L1
use in a L2 classroom, including presenting grammatical rules and communicating on
learners errors. In the context of C-R tasks, Scott and Fuente (2008) conclude that
learners use of L1 while performing such tasks seems to be a natural strategy which
may reduce cognitive overload, sustain collaborative interaction, and foster the
development of metalinguistic terminology. It was based on these pedagogical
benefits which made me allow the informants L1 use in their performance of C-R
tasks in the present study.
In short, while there seems not yet to be a consensus on the desirability of

52

learners use of L1 while interacting on the meaning and form of the targeted
grammar items with each other, SLA literature does point out the value of such
interactions, as expected during their completion the C-R tasks, in promoting their
grammatical understanding.
Second, there can be the concern on the amount of interaction generated by C-R
tasks. Being form-focused tasks lacking situational authenticity (Bachman and
Palmer, 1996) in the sense that they focus on knowledge about the targeted language
items rather than meanings usually communicated in real-life contexts and thus do not
necessarily reflect the way those items are used in such contexts (or in real-operating
conditions (Johnson, 1996)), such tasks may not elicit as much interaction among
learners as meaning- focused counterparts. There have, however, been evidence from
research (e.g. Eckerth, 2009; Foster, 1998) suggesting that both task types can
stimulate comparable amount of speech production and negotiation in part of learners
concerned.
2.5.2.3 Choosing grammar as task content
Over the years, the choice of grammar items as the content of C-R tasks has
aroused criticism among those SLA researchers who advocate a purely
communicative TBLT approach as characterized by analyzing learners real-world
needs for communicative functions in the TL. Long (1991), for example, suggests that

53

a focus on a specific grammatical form, no matter through traditional instruction or


task performance, is not likely to promote restructuring of the learners interlanguage
system.
Fotos (2002), however, argues that there are two inherent characteristics in
English as a foreign language (EFL) situation that make the form-focused tasks more
desirable than the meaning-centered counterparts. First, owing to the extremely
limited access to communicative TL both inside and outside the classroom, EFL
learners are unlikely to receive sufficient communicative input to allow them to
acquire TL forms in an uninstructed manner. Second, unlike the English as a second
language (ESL) learners, EFL learners often have such needs of learning the TL as
passing the various internal and external examinations for better career or study
prospects. In that sense, their real-world needs involve mastery of grammatical
structures that will be tested and the attainment of accuracy in their use. (Fotos, 2002:
139).
In fact, Fotos (1994) points out three specific merits of choosing grammar as the
task content. First, to many teachers who have been used to conducting form-focused
instruction, engaging the learners with the form and meaning of the grammar items
constitutes serious task material, in contrast to the apparently trivial nature of
many communicative tasks (p. 326). The choosing of grammar items as the content in

54

C-R tasks, therefore, may foster more positive attitudes towards the TBLT approach
among those teachers, which, as research shows (e.g. Svalberg, 2005; Carless, 2004),
may in turn motivate their implementing such an approach in their classrooms.
Second, having a grammar item as task content requires learners to attend to both the
form and meaning aspects of that item in the TL input in order to solve the task. This
helps alleviate the problem of total avoidance of TL interaction during task
performance, which is often the case among learners who share the same L1 (Fotos,
1994, 2002). Third, compared to that of meaning-focused tasks, task performance in
C-R tasks can be relatively easier to assess through pre- and posttests on the
particular grammar structure (Fotos, 1994: 326).
2.5.3 C-R tasks in previous SLA studies
In the SLA field, there have been studies investigating C-R tasks exhibiting and
integrating the above features, though they mainly focus on the tertiary language
learning context rather than the secondary context as in the present study. Fotos
(1994), for instance, is one of the earlier studies systematically investigating C-R
tasks with 160 Japanese university EFL learners. The study set out to compare how
C-R tasks compared to teacher-fronted deductive grammar explanation in terms of
proficiency gains of the targeted grammar items and to meaning- focused
communicative tasks in terms of amount of L2 negotiations during the learners task

55

performance. In the three cycles of C-R tasks of the study, the learners were to
discover collaboratively in groups of four rules governing the use of three grammar
items concerned with sentence structures in English, namely adverb placement,
indirect object placement, and relative clauses. Those items were found to be
problematic for the target learners. During the task performance, the learners followed
the instructions given in a task sheet, and they were first to complete an
information-gap stage when they asked and answered some questions showing the use
of the targeted grammar items in a decontextualized manner. They then were to
exchange their comments about grammar rules concerned and finally to reach a
consensus of those rules. Fotos concluded from the results that C-R tasks promoted
comparable proficiency gains in the three grammar items as teacher-fronted classes,
and such gains were durable even after two weeks had passed (p. 343). She also
observed that learners were producing comparable amounts of L2 negotiations while
performing formed-focused C-R tasks and meaning- focused counterparts. She
therefore recommended C-R tasks for teachers to conduct grammar instruction in their
supposedly communicative classrooms.
Mohamed (2004) is another SLA study on C-R tasks. She studied how 51 ESL
university students in New Zealand perceived what she called inductive and deductive
C-R tasks as approaches to grammar pedagogy. Her inductive C-R tasks conformed to

56

the features discussed in 2.5.2.1-2.5.2.3 above. As in Fotos (1994), there were three
rounds of C-R tasks in the study, each focusing on one grammar item: relative clauses,
negative adverbs and ergative verbs. In the inductive C-R tasks of her study, the
learners were asked to work in pairs and to first conduct an information-gap activity
reading aloud some grammatical and agrammatical decontextualized example
sentences to their partners and then to come up with some rules governing the use of
the targeted grammar items. Finally they were asked to produce some sentences
displaying those rules. Mohamed found that the learners did not have a strong
preference to either inductive or deductive C-R tasks, and their performance in either
task type was not affected by their own language proficiency. She therefore concluded
both task types could be effective tools that teachers could bring to their grammar
classrooms.
In fact, as discussed in 3.4.2.2 below, the design of C-R tasks in the present study
were informed by these two studies, except that, in view of the importance of
contextualization in language teaching (2.2.2 above), contextualized instead of
decontextualized examples were used and, in view of awareness-raising instead of
accurate production being the goals of C-R (1.4 above), the informants were not asked
to produce sentences displaying the targeted grammar items at the final stage.

57

2.6 Inductive grammar learning and teaching


Following the above discussion on the central theme of the present
studygrammatical C-R tasksand the theoretical justifications for their use in the
language classroom, this section elaborates on one of the defining characteristics of
those tasksthe inductive mode of learning and teaching. Such a characteristic is
worth further discussing because, arguably, it is that teaching mode that marks the
most significant contrast between the C-R tasks in this study and many other
approaches to L2 grammar instruction, especially deductive ones like PPP that are still
widely adopted in the Hong Kong context (Carless, 2004). In view of this, the
following discussion is presented in the form of a comparison between inductive and
deductive instructional approaches. Specifically, in order to complement the
theoretical justifications for the C-R tasks in 2.5.2 above, the discussion focuses on
the empirical studies supporting both approaches, before which their respective
definitions are provided.
2.6.1 Inductive Vs. deductive instruction
To begin with there exist discrepancies between research studies adopting the
inductive / deductive dichotomy in terms of their respective definitions of such two
methodological options. In analyzing those studies, for instance, Decoo (1996)
identifies a total of four modalities of induction according to such criteria as the

58

level of consciousness and the nature of the materials to which learners are exposed.
With a view to establishing a consistent framework for comparing those studies,
therefore, the respective definitions of the two approaches need to be stated in
advance.
As adapted from Shaffer (1989) and Thornbury (1999), inductive approaches to
grammar instruction are defined in this study as processes in which learners attention
is focused on consciously analyzing a number of examples given so as to discover the
underlying grammatical rule governing the use of a particular structure in those
examples. This fits loosely with what DeKeyser (1998) describes as Cognitive Code
and what Decoo (1996) describes as Modality B, namely conscious induction as
guided discovery. Contrasting to that, deductive approaches to grammar instruction
are defined as learners receiving teachers explanation of the concerned grammatical
rule first, which is then followed by their analyzing and / or practicing the application
of such a rule in the examples or exercises provided (Thornbury, 1999). This fits with
Decoos (1996) Modality A, namely actual deduction.
2.6.2 Chronological development of relevant research
Following the above definitions of inductive and deductive approaches, this
section reports SLA studies investigating them in the past decades.

59

2.6.2.1 Origin of studies comparing the two types of teaching approaches


In fact, the debate between inductive and deductive approaches to teaching
grammar has been a heated topic in SLA research field for several decades. This
debate was originated in the studies comparing the deductive Grammar-Translation
and the inductive Audiolingual approaches in the 1960s (Thornbury, 1999), and
those studies failed to reveal which approach was more effective (R. Ellis, 1998). In
the 1970s, there was a flurry of such studies, and Fischer (1979) provided a summary
of them. Among those studies, it was generally found that deductive approaches were
more effective in promoting grammar learning. One should however treat such results
with caution for two reasons. First, as Shaffer (1989) pointed out, inductive
approaches were viewed at that time as merely a habit formation process as in the
Audiolingual approach. Explicit grammatical information and the cognitive learning
of it were not involved, which differed greatly from the currently prevalent
interpretation in which learners cognitive interactions with such information is
emphasized, as in the C-R tasks focused in the present study. Second, as R. Ellis
(1998) comments, many of those studies were small-scale, and some were even not
supported by direct empirical evidence (e.g. Hammerly, 1975 and Fischer, 1979), thus
resulting in a threat to the internal validity of the results.

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2.6.2.2 Research development from 1980s onwards


From the 1980s onwards, in light of research in cognitive psychology (e.g. Reber,
1989), studies comparing inductive and deductive teaching approaches have been
extensively conducted. The majority of them show a preference for deductive
approaches. For example, Robert DeKeyser conducted this type of study in two
successive years (1994, 1995), and concluded that explicit teaching is superior to
having students induce the rules for themselves (1995: 399). Also, the results in
Erlam (2003) revealed the effectiveness of deductive language instruction in a
teacher-centered classroom language learning environment with school-age learners
(p. 257). However, in interpreting the results of these studies, one should take into
account the following potential limitations.
First, the inductive treatment in these studies often excluded teachers feedback
of any form (e.g. DeKeyser, 1994, 1995). Hence, if students had been allowed to
refine their inductively acquired grammatical information with the teachers and / or
fellow learners feedback, a better accuracy in their thus internalized rules may have
resulted. Shaffer (1989), for instance, identified the same limitation in her own study,
as she claimed that students formulating their own ideas without help from others
inhibited the success that inductive approaches would have in a normal classroom
learning situation (p. 400). This may provide further support for the collaborative and

61

interactive nature of the C-R tasks as discussed in 2.5.2.2 above.


That said, one should still be aware of the fact that feedback from teachers also
takes either inductive or deductive form. In studying the relative effectiveness of these
two types of feedback, Nagata (1997) concluded that rule-driven deductive feedback
was more effective in promoting students learning of target language structures than
example-driven inductive feedback, especially if those structures were relatively
complex and the corresponding grammatical rules were not salient in light of a small
number of examples (p. 530).
Second, in some of those studies, artificial languages (e.g. the created miniature
linguistic system in DeKeyser (1994, 1995)) were chosen for investigations, and
many of them were conducted under highly controlled experimental conditions. One
may thus doubt the generalizability of the results of such studies to the dominant L2
acquisition process of acquiring existing human languages spoken by people of
particular cultures in authentic classroom situations. For instance, the complicated
nature of those existing languages (which may not be fully able to be presented
through deductive explanation) and of the classroom dynamics may not have been
fully reflected in those studies. In fact, even DeKeyser himself acknowledged that the
more complex prototypicality patterns in his studies were better learnt inductively
(1995: 398).

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2.6.3 Research supporting deductive approaches


Despite the above, DeKeysers assertion of the effectiveness of deductive
approaches to grammar instruction should not be denied. In fact, his position is
supported by a number of other studies, like Doughty (1990), Williams (1995), and
Robinson (1996), which all show that deductively taught students outperform their
inductive counterparts in grammaticality judgment tests. It should, nonetheless, be
noted that in all the three studies, posttests are only administered immediately after
the teaching treatment, thus the long-term effects of instruction adopting the two
approaches (in terms of students retention of what they had acquired during the
instruction period) are not examined.
Unlike the above researchers, Fotos and Ellis (1991) and the follow-up study
Fotos (1994) do address the issue of longer-term effects, and the results generated
show that both the inductive C-R tasks and the deductive approach in their studies
function equally well in the short term, but the deductive approach outperforms
slightly in the longer term. Similarly, in Erlam (2003), students retention of the
acquired knowledge is investigated by means of a second posttest administered in the
sixth week after the instruction treatment. The results of this study are even more
definite, as the deductive group of learners outperform their inductive counterparts
significantly in both the immediate and delayed posttests on both comprehension and

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production aspects.
2.6.4 Research criticizing deductive approaches
While the studies reported above may provide support for deductive approaches
in terms of their better long-term effects, the students enhanced retention of the
acquired grammatical knowledge may just reflect a problem of those approaches. As
Shaffer (1989) points out, when given the grammar rules deductively by the teachers,
learners may simply memorize such rules without any attempt to comprehend and
internalize them cognitively. In order to justify this, Shaffer quotes a proposition by
Jean Piaget, one of the worlds most influential cognitive psychologists ever, that rote
memory cannot be equated with comprehension (p. 395). Even if the learners do
develop an understanding of those rules, such an understanding is often bound to be
superficial (p. 396, 400).
In fact, this problem of learners low level of cognitive involvement in deductive
lessons is also confirmed by the subjects oral responses in DeKeyser (1995). While
the majority of the inductive subjects of that study report that they suspected the
existence of grammar rules and tried to figure them out during the teaching period,
half of the deductive subjects admit that they did not think about grammar in that
period (p. 398).
Apart from the above, Shaffer (1989) also criticizes deductive approaches as

64

showing a tendency towards emphasizing grammar (i.e. language form) at the


expense of meaning, and towards promoting passive student participation (p. 395).
These critics are echoed by Herron and Tomasello (1992), who remark that beginning
every lesson with [the provision of] a rule may deprive students of the opportunity to
develop their own powers of linguistic observation and construction (p. 716).
However, one would doubt the validity of these criticisms, as it is obvious that both
the teaching focus (whether on meaning, on form, or on form-meaning mappings,
2.4.3 above) and student participation are also subject to such factors independent of
the inductive-deductive divide as nature of tasks that teachers set for the students. In
other words, the above problems are not inherently linked with deductive approaches.
In the task-based curriculum currently implemented in Hong Kong, for instance,
while the focus is on engaging learners in carrying out meaning- focused
communicative tasks, teachers are in fact encouraged to select and discuss with the
learners grammar items needed to enable them to carry out such tasks (Curriculum
Development Council, 1999, 2000), and deductive approaches are definitely one
possible option to achieve this.
2.6.5 Research supporting inductive approaches
Although the majority of the studies reviewed above tend to favor deductive
approaches, there have also been a few studies revealing the superiority of inductive

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approaches. Shaffer (1989) is one such study. Her study demonstrates that inductive
instruction is as effective as the deductive option even for difficult grammatical
structures regardless of the language ability of the students (p. 401). In fact, Shaffer
(1989) argues in discussing the results of her study that the weak students benefit
slightly more from the inductive teaching than students with higher abilities. This
provides empirical evidence arguing against the widespread perception that inductive
approaches work only for simple structures (e.g. DeKeyser, 1995; Omaggio, 1986,
cited in Nagata, 1997) and for the academically able students (e.g. Anderson, 1993;
DeKeyser, 1995). However, as Herron and Tomasello (1992) rightly point out, there
are several very basic design flaws in Shaffers study which favor the inductive
treatment (p. 709), and one should thus be cautious in interpreting her results. First,
the students were not randomly assigned to the inductive and deductive treatments.
Second, the students in the inductive treatment were given more examples than those
in the deductive treatment. Thirdly, any student in the inductive treatment who could
not verbalize the rule before taking a test on it was eliminated from analysis (p. 709).
In their own study, nevertheless, Herron and Tomasello (1992) also discover that what
they call guided instruction composed of conscious hypothesis forming and testing
(similar processes to those involved in the inductive C-R tasks) is more effective than
deductive approaches in teaching certain grammatical structures to beginning foreign

66

language students (p. 713, 715).


In addition, both Shaffer (1989) and DeKeyser (1995) conclude from their
respective results that the learners receiving inductive instruction often hypothesize
the existence of the underlying rules governing the grammar items they are learning
and thus make a cognitive effort to identify those rules. Such cognitive processing, as
one would expect, is conducive to their developing a deeper understanding of the
grammar items (as opposed to the superficial one often perceived to be developed by
learners taught deductively as discussed above), which in turn contributes to their
application of those items in various receptive (e.g. in reading and listening
comprehension) and productive (e.g. in writing and speaking outputs) situations.
If this observation is valid among other language learners in general, one would
assume that inductive approaches are more welcomed by those learners exhibiting an
analytically-oriented learning style. In fact, this is confirmed in the qualitative
analysis in Mohamed (2004), who finds that, among her participants, it is those
analytical ones who respond to the inductive C-R tasks in her study more positively.
There are, however, other SLA researchers (e.g. Skehan, 1989; Weatherford, 1997)
who suggest the opposite, in that inductive approaches suit those exhibiting a holistic
learning style more, and analytical learners prefer learning through deductive
approaches instead.

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2.6.6 Research criticizing inductive approaches


As discussed above, the majority of the SLA studies generally regard inductive
approaches as being less effective than deductive approaches in promoting learners
acquisition of second language grammar. Among the different criticisms, the approach
is often claimed to be suitable only for high aptitude learners learning simple
grammatical rules (e.g., Anderson, 1993). In summarizing several relevant studies,
Nagata (1997) discusses another limitation of inductive approachessalience of the
rules in light of the examples provided. According to him, in order for inductive
teaching to work, the grammar rules concerned, no matter whether simple or complex
in nature, must be salient in the examples given. Such salience, as Batstone and Ellis
(2009) argue, is not necessarily established by having a high frequency of occurrence
of the grammar items concerned in the input to which learners are exposed,
particularly if those items are neither represented in their interlanguage nor present in
their L1. In discussing the limitations of inductive C-R tasks, R. Ellis (2003) also
points out that learners need sufficient proficiency to talk metalingually about the
target feature and, if they lack this, they may not be able to benefit to the same degree
from a C-R task (p. 165).
In interpreting the results of these studies, one should be cautious that the
inductive treatment in many of those studies excludes a cognitive rule searching and

68

active hypothesis testing on the part of the learners (Herron & Tomasello, 1992),
which does not synchronize with the present trend of advocating conscious instruction
discussed in 2.6.1 above. With the students active cognitive processing of the
grammatical information in meaningful contexts, the results of such studies may be
significantly different.
2.6.7 Findings of studies comparing the two approaches
In short, previous empirical research investigating the relative effectiveness of
inductive and deductive approaches to grammar instruction has suggested
inconclusive results. Although the majority of such studies show a preference for
deductive approaches, there have been discrepancies in terms of their respective
inductive treatments, many of which do not involve students cognitive interactions
with the grammar item to be learnt. This obviously does not conform to the conscious
mode of instruction generally advocated in the SLA field at present.
In addition, as Burgess and Etherington (2002) rightly point out, instead of
viewing the two approaches as opposing methods, they should be regarded as
points on a continuum of options (p. 440). Indeed, it has been suggested by several
researchers (e.g., Decoo, 1996, Nagata, 1997) that the two methods are often realized
in the teaching process as complementary, rather than contradictory, to each other.
Thus, apart from investigating which of the two options is more effective, one may

69

find it insightful to study how best to integrate both of them in any particular teaching
context so as to maximize the effectiveness of instruction.
2.7 Points to note while interpreting research results
Apart from what has been discussed above, there are a few points that need to be
considered in generalizing the results of the studies reviewed above to the Hong Kong
secondary classroom context. First, most of those studies were conducted in the
Western societies. In view of the potential cultural differences between those societies
and their counterparts in the East (e.g. in students dominant learning styles), one may
find it difficult to apply those research findings in the Eastern teaching and learning
contexts.
Second, the subjects in all but two (Shaffer, 1989 and Herron & Tomasello, 1992)
such studies are adult second language learners. The applicability of the findings to
younger learners, therefore, is in doubt, since age has long been a debatable factor
determining L2 acquisition success in the research field (Birdsong, 1999).
Finally, one should also note the languages being investigated in those studies
and their relationship, if any, with the learners L1 while determining the value of the
research results. As languages are different in nature and complexity, the results of a
study investigating one particular language may not be comparable with those of
another study investigating another language even for the same type of learners.

70

Particularly, it has been suggested that the similarity, or the otherwise, between the
learners L1 and the TL does affect the relative effectiveness of inductive and
deductive teaching approaches (e.g., Decoo, 1996). A study investigating the learning
of English by a group of French learners, for example, may generate very different
results from one in which every aspect is kept the same, except that a group of
Chinese subjects are chosen instead.
2.8 Niche for further research
In view of the literature reviewed above, one would agree that the use of C-R
tasks as an inductive approach to teaching L2 grammar is an important notion has
great potential in enhancing the quality of L2 (grammar) teaching, provided it is
well-informed by research studies. There are, however, several aspects regarding that
topic that are still subject to further research. To begin with, many of the studies
reviewed above are of the experimental or the quasi-experimental type, in which the
subjects receive grammar teaching under highly controlled conditions. Indeed the
same observation is made in various reviews of studies investigating the different
approaches to grammar instruction (e.g. Norris & Ortega, 2001). It is thus desirable if
more light is shed on the dynamics of grammar learning and teaching in classroom
contexts. Particularly, in view of the unique nature of the FL classroom contexts, it
has long been pointed out that a direct transfer from the SLA research context to FL

71

teaching is unwise (e.g. Decoo, 1996; K nings and Hopkins, 1986; Williams, 1995).
Furthermore, being essentially built on a scientific way of inquiring the
research topic, such experimental studies seldom take into consideration factors like
individual learner differences. As Erlam (2003) notes, the relative effectiveness of
different grammar teaching approaches is mediated by individual differences among
the learners. Experimental research focusing on gains in grammatical understanding
on the part of the learners as an overall group, therefore, is to be complemented by
qualitative studies with individual learner differences being addressed. Particularly,
considering the unique nature of the dynamics in each classroom, it is advisable for
individual teachers to carry out action research investigating the value of the C-R
approach in their own teaching contexts.
Moreover, as also commented by Mohammed (2004), many studies in C-R
and in comparing approaches to grammar pedagogy do not take into consideration the
learners voice. As one would expect, learners naturally learn better if they respond
positively to the pedagogic approach the teacher adopts. In the case of C-R tasks,
therefore, one could expect more favourable learning outcomes on the part of the
learners if they think they can cope with the requirements of such tasks and if they
find it an appropriate way to learn L2 grammar through performing them.
In addition, as stated above, most of the reviewed studies are conducted in the

72

Western culture. One would hence agree that more research investigating grammatical
C-R tasks be conducted in the other parts of the world, especially in Asian societies
where the number of L2 / FL language learners is growing rapidly with their economy
and the spread of globalization.
Finally, although think-aloud protocols have been generally regarded as a useful
means to eliciting peoples cognitive processes, there have been few studies on C-R or
C-R tasks making use of such a research method. Scott and Fuente (2008) is one
exception. However, in that study, instead of using their participants stimulated recall
reports to study their engagement with the grammar items targeted in the C-R tasks
and thus to draw conclusion about the grammar learning that can possibly result from
that, those reports were solely used to address their main research focus on the role
that the participants L1 plays in their completing L2 C-R tasks.
In view of the above, teachers grammar teaching using C-R tasks can be
informed by studies done in different classroom contexts, with the dynamics of real
classrooms acknowledged and the learners perceptions of those tasks considered
while determining their appropriateness in any given contexts. Ideally those studies
are best conducted by teachers in their own context, possibly using the action research
approach and varied research methods, so that they can apply their understanding of
the context and of the learners (and the culture where they come from) while

73

interpreting the data collected.


2.9 Theoretical framework of the present study
The inductive C-R tasks targeted in this study differ from deductive approaches
that are conventionally adopted to teach English grammar in the territory ( as
observed by Chan & Li, 2002) mainly in terms of the channel and sequence through
which learners access examples or positive evidence (Trahey & White,1993)
showing the use of the targeted grammar items and other information regarding the
form and meaning of those items. In the inductive C-T tasks, the learners are first
engaged with the meanings conveyed by the contextualized examples. Next, they are
to discover, step-by-step, the prescribed set of grammatical rules. While making such
discoveries, the learners need to refer back to those examples and, with the teachers
or the peers feedback pointing out any misinterpretations (i.e. negative evidence
(Trahey & White, 1993)), to do some simple analysis on them, i.e. from examples to
rules. A typical deductive approach, on the contrary, starts with the teachers explicit
explanation of the grammatical rules. Next, the teacher presents the examples which
are often in the form of discrete sentences and elaborates on the realization of such
rules in those examples, i.e. from rules to examples.
Furthermore, as is indicated in 2.5.2.1 and 2.6.6 above, it seems that, in order for
grammar instruction, regardless of whatever approach is adopted, to be effective,

74

teachers have to make their learners cognitively and consciously process the grammar
items concerned. In view of this, an attempt was made in the present study to
investigate and compare the informants patterns of cognitive engagement while they
were accomplishing grammar practice tasks in which the grammar items concerned
have been presented using either an inductive or a deductive approach (third research
question).
2.10 Conclusion
This chapter reviews literature related to the use of C-R tasks as an approach to
L2 grammar instruction. To situate such an approach in the SLA field, the chapter first
attempts to construct a brief historical overview of the development of explicit
grammar instruction, both internationally and in Hong Kong, its significance and the
forms it takes, which is then followed by an identification of some themes regarding
such instruction commonly discussed in the field. Throughout such discussion,
relevance to C-R in general and C-R tasks in particular is drawn. Next, theoretical
justifications for C-R and C-R tasks are discussed. Following that is a discussion on
the empirical studies both supporting and criticizing the inductive mode of learning
and teaching, which is central to the C-R tasks. To achieve a clearer contrast with the
deductive mode as evident in other grammar instruction approaches, research
evidence both supporting and criticizing that mode is included as well. Finally, the

75

niche for further research the theoretical framework of the present study is identified.

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Chapter 3
Research Design
3.1 Introduction
In this chapter, I report the research methodology and the specific research
methods of my study in three stages. First, I discuss the theoretical and
methodological frameworks guiding the study. Second I introduce the informants and
the research context. Third I elaborate on the specific methods of data collection and
data analysis, together with the ethical concerns and limitations in the research design.
3.2 Methodological framework of the present study
In this section, I introduce the theoretical and methodological frameworks for the
present study. The principal inquiry approach governing this study is the action
research approach, which is, by its nature, problem-focused (Nunan, 1992; Wallace,
1998). The rationale behind selecting this inquiry approach to studying grammar
instruction, the major problem identified in my previous teaching and the
improvement on which this study is expected to shed light, as well as my personal
background thus need to be stated in the first hand.
3.2.1 Rationale underlying the present study
As stated, the present study proposes to study the effects of adopting grammatical
C-R tasks using an action research approach. Action research methodology was

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chosen as it is believed to be the most appropriate one for me to explore, on a personal


level, the feasibility and desirability of adopting those tasks to promote second
language (L2) grammar acquisition of the target students, who were of average
academic ability and intermediate English proficiency. The generalizability of the
results to other teaching contexts (Nunan, 1992), on the other hand, is not as much my
concern.
Also, grammar, instead of such other components as the four major language
skills of listening, reading, speaking and writing, was selected to be the teaching focus
in this study so as to achieve consistency and comparability of results with previous
research studying C-R tasks (.g. Fotos & Ellis 1991; Fotos, 1994). In addition,
grammar is generally regarded as closely interwoven with all other elements of
language use (Thornbury, 1999), and it tends to occupy the largest amount of teaching
time in my secondary English lessons. Researching this area, thus, may shed light on
the teaching of other elements as well.
Finally, in view of the complementary nature of quantitative and qualitative data
in understanding a given research problem (Nunan, 1992; Seliger & Shohamy, 1989;
Wallace, 1998), a mixed-method research paradigm was adopted for the present study,
in the sense that both quantitative and qualitative research methods were made use of
in collecting and analyzing the data of the study. It is believed that different methods

78

of both the quantitative and qualitative conventions were needed to address the
individual research questions. First, the gains in terms of the students learning of the
targeted grammar items after performing the C-R tasks (i.e. first research question)
were determined through the use of quantitative pretests and posttests, as in such
previous studies as Fotos and Ellis (1991) and Fotos (1994). Second, the students
perceptions of and attitudes towards those tasks (i.e. second research question) were
elicited through qualitative questionnaires and interviews, as in Mohamed (2004) and
Svalberg (2005). Third, as suggested by SLA work on research methods (e.g. Camps,
2003; Egi, 2004; Gass & Mackey, 2000), learners cognitive patterns (in this case their
cognitive engagement in the grammar practice tasks, i.e. third research question) were
portrayed through the use of qualitative think-aloud protocols.
3.2.2 The researcher background
In view of the action research format of this study, some background information
about me and the research context needs to be stated.
To begin with, my own acquisition of L2 (English) grammar started with a process
of conscious learning through a deductive approach in teacher-fronted primary and
secondary classrooms. This in turn resulted in my belief that such an approach was
feasible, if not desirable. After my secondary study, I did my bachelor degree in
English language education at a local university, during which I developed a higher

79

level of both subject-matter and pedagogical awareness, and I was exposed to various
grammar teaching options.
Since graduation, I was teaching English in the same secondary school for six
years, throughout which time I was responsible for classes of Secondary 3 (Year 9)
average achievers. In my previous grammar teaching to those students, I mainly
adopted a deductive approach, which was also typical of the teaching among the other
English teachers in the school. Disappointingly, while that approach seemed to work
for some students, there were many others, especially the lower-achieving ones in
those classes, who did not seem to correctly utilize or retain the grammar items taught.
In fact, as reviewed in Chapter 2 above, the limitations of such an approach have well
been documented in the SLA literature as well, and, among others, it is said to have
emphasized form at the expense of meaning and promoted passive student
participation (e.g. Shaffer, 1989; Herron & Tomasello, 1992).
With a hope of improving this situation, I would like to explore the effect of an
alternative approach on my students, so as to better inform my future pedagogical
decisions. Among the various alternatives suggested in the SLA field, I finally chose
C-R tasks mainly because I consider that, owing to their very limited exposure to the
language outside class, my students tend to learn English more as a foreign than a
second language, and that, in such situation, C-R tasks are often suggested to be

80

especially suitable for promoting grammar acquisition (e.g. Fotos, 1998; Rutherford,
1987; Rutherford and Sharwood-Smith, 1985).
3.2.3 Elaborating on the methodological framework adopted
In addition to the above, I would like to further specify the action research
framework adopted for conducting the study.
To begin with, rather than a collaborative approach, I adopt an individual
approach, i.e. no other teachers and/or researchers are directly involved in researching
my own teaching. Such an approach is said to be less professionally risky and more
easily implemented (Wallace, 1998:39), and it allowed me to have more flexibility in
the research design.
Second, with regard to collecting quantitative and qualitative data, I mainly
followed the sequence that Wallace (1998) suggests: first collecting the quantitative
hard data, i.e. the informants gains in understanding of the chosen grammar items
(through pretests and posttests), then looking inward into their attitudes and
perceptions of the C-R tasks and their cognitive patterns in processing the grammar
items taught through those tasks and those taught deductively by collecting the
relevant qualitative introspective / mentalist data (through a questionnaire, a
semi-structured interview and concurrent think-aloud protocol reports) (1998:39).
Third, as is the case in most other action research studies, this study does not aim

81

at producing generalizable findings, i.e. achieving a high external validity. The


interference with normal classroom situations were hence kept to a minimum, and,
apart from the consistent use of an inductive C-R approach, virtually no other
variables were specifically controlled.
Fourth, in view of the typical cyclic nature of action research (Wallace, 1998)
and the informants lack of familiarity with the C-R tasks, I implemented the C-R
tasks in two cycles. Each cycle focused on one grammar item, and such two-cycle
format was designed in such a way that the first cycle served to provide further
insights for refining the research setup for the second cycle, and that the informants
were expected to gradually familiarize themselves with the C-R task format over time.
3.3 Informants and research setting
This study was conducted in a secondary school in which I had served for five
years. Some background information about this school is provided in Table 3.1 below:
Table 3.1 Background of the school to which the informants belong
Levels Offered:
Ability Level of Learners:

Secondary 1-7 (Years 7-13)


Average

Medium of Instruction:

Chinese

Student Population:
Number of English teachers:

Around 900
12 (including one Native English
Speaking Teacher)

History:

More than 40 years

Number of English Lessons per eight-day Nine (each lasting for 50 minutes)
Cycle:

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The informants involved were a class of 41 Secondary 3 learners (Year 9,


approximately 13 years of age) in that school. All of them were local Chinese
teenagers who had had at least eight years experience of learning English in formal
primary and secondary classrooms characterized by teacher-fronted explanation. Most
of them shared similar working-class socioeconomic backgrounds and many had been
classmates/schoolmates since primary school. Still there existed differences between
the high-achievers and low-achievers in terms of their academic results and target
language proficiency. Despite such discrepancies, with regard to the fact the 41
informants concerned were streamed into the same class according to their academic
ability, all of them were considered as average academic achievers in this study.
3.4 Methods of Data Collection
As mentioned above, the quantitative data (the informants level of mastery of the
grammar items concerned) in this study were collected through corresponding pretests
and posttests and the qualitative data through four different means. While I collected
the informants perceptions of the C-R tasks through a questionnaire and a
semi-structured group interview, their patterns of cognitive engagement in processing
the taught grammar items were elicited by concurrent think-aloud protocols and a
follow-up individual interview with me. In the following, details of these specific
means of data collection, including the instruments used, are described, which is

83

followed by an account of the sequence of the procedures actually taken.


3.4.1 Specific means of data collection
In this section I report the specific means of data collection for answering the
three research questions of the present study.
3.4.1.1 Tests
For this study I set two sets of achievement tests, each focusing on one of the two
grammar items targetedconditional type 2 and defining relative clauses. Each set
was comprised of a pretest, an immediate posttest, and a delayed posttest (see
Appendix 1 for the two sets of tests). Each test paper within each set was made up of
cloze and grammaticality judgment questions, which were typical of the other
occasions of grammar assessment that the informants had previously taken. For the
cloze questions in the tests for conditional sentences, for example, there was a verb in
the bare infinitive form provided immediately after each blank (in bracket), and the
informants were to first decide which of the two types of conditionals (i.e. type 1 that
was taught deductively in the school term before the data collection of this study and
type 2 targeted in the C-R tasks of this study) should be used in the sentence to which
each blank belonged, and then form the appropriate verb group for that particular
blank from the bare infinitive given. Questions presented were in both discrete
sentence and contextualized paragraph formats, so as to determine the learners

84

awareness of the grammar item concerned at both levels. For the grammaticality
judgment questions, the informants were presented ten discrete sentences showing the
use of the targeted grammar item and they were to decide which of the ten were
grammatical, in terms of both meaning and form. Basically all the three pretest and
posttests in each set were comprised of the same questions, yet the order in which
they appeared was different. This allowed establishing what McMillan (2000) calls
equivalence estimate of reliability (p. 139). According to him, a measure of
equivalence is obtained by correlating two forms of the same test and is often used
in research in achievement when both a pretest and a posttest are administered
(2000:139).
To ensure the appropriateness of the tests, I had invited the other two English
teachers teaching students of the same form as the informant class and the subject
panel head of the school to review them prior to their administration, and made slight
modifications regarding some lexical items according to their comments. The tests
were then piloted with one other class of Secondary 3 students with similar overall
academic ability in the same school before the study commenced. In order to
determine the existence and magnitude of any maturational effects or test practice
effects, however, I provided no teaching of the grammar items for the pilot class
between the pretest and posttests. Unlike the observation in Norris & Ortega (2000,

85

2001) who speculate that up to 18% of change observed over the course of an
investigation may be due to factors such as maturational effects or test practice
effects (p.203), there were not observable signs of such effects.
3.4.1.2 Questionnaire and semi-structured interviews
As Seliger and Shohamy (1989) observe, there is always the need of achieving
triangulation in SLA research. With a view to enhancing the internal validity of the
study, triangulation in the collection of the qualitative data regarding the informants
perceptions of the C-R tasks were achieved through a questionnaire survey and two
focused-group interviews. All the 41 informants were asked to complete a
questionnaire [Appendix 2], which consisted of three sections of five point
Likert-type attitude scale items (Karavas-Doukas, 1996), each with five options
showing different degrees of agreement to the statement in each item. These were
then followed by the final section of four open-ended questions eliciting more
extended opinions on the C-R tasks. For sake of the low-achieving informants, I first
invited them to identify any difficult words or expressions that might hinder their
comprehension of the items concerned, and explained all such words and expressions
before I actually asked them to complete the questionnaire. Also, I answered any
further questions about the content of the questionnaire during their completion stage.
After collecting the questionnaire from the class, I invited four high-achieving and

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four low-achieving informants (selected according to their results in the English


language assessments throughout the school term prior to the study) to attend two
focused-group interviews respectively, during which their results in the pretest and the
immediate posttest and their responses in the questionnaire were referred to. Each
interview was organized in a group rather than an individual format in the hope that
the interaction between the informants brought to light views which might not have
been elicited in one-to-one interviews (Fortune, 1992:169). To facilitate the conduct
of the interview and recording field notes, an interview form consisting of seven
open-ended questions was set [Appendix 3].
3.4.1.3 Think-aloud protocols
To investigate the informants cognitive engagement with the grammar items
taught through either the inductive C-R tasks or through deductive teacher
explanation prior to the study, I invited four informants to produce concurrent
think-aloud reports during their completion of practice tasks on those grammar items.
There were totally three grammar practice tasks [Appendix 4] that the four informants
completed on an individual basis, one on each of the two grammar items targeted in
the present study and another one on the grammar item reported speech which I had
previously taught the informant class through deductive explanation. Two of the
participating informants were high-achieving English learners and the other two being

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low-achieving counterparts (selected based on the same criterion as in that for the
focused group interviews). This think-aloud data collection was administered in three
stages.
Stage one was a training stage. First, I guided the two high-achieving and two
low-achieving English learners, with demonstrations, to perform two talk-aloud
protocols while doing simple arithmetic calculations (like 3 + 4 X 4) and solving
anagrams, which were not related in any sense to the main think-aloud reports. Such
talk-aloud training tasks, for which the information is already linguistically
encoded (Brown and Rodgers, 2002:55), allow learners to focus on reporting their
cognitive processes without worrying about, e.g., the technical terms needed to
represent concepts involved. This constitutes what Ericsson and Simon (1984, 1993)
call level-one reporting, which, according to them, is a necessary bridging measure
for the reporters to proceed to the level-two think-aloud reporting, for which the
heeded information is no longer linguistically encoded.
At stage two, there was a progression from level-one talk-aloud to level-two
think-aloud reporting on the part of the four participating informants. I first explained
to them the specific requirements of three grammar practice tasks and in producing
the think-aloud reports while completing those tasks. Next, I guided them to practise
thinking-aloud on two other grammar items than the ones selected for the present

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study. Then, each of the four informants took turns in completing the three grammar
practice tasks, one at a time, and they were requested to report on their thinking
process throughout the process. During such reporting process, I set up a video
camera, in addition to an audio one, to note any paralinguistic features for better
interpreting the protocol reports, and, in line with what Ericsson and Simon (1993)
suggest, I verbally reminded the informants to keep voicing out their mind whenever
there was a silence of 10 seconds or more.
To minimize the influences of the two possible sources of errors in using think
aloud protocols in data collection, namely reactivity (the effects of the verbalizing act
on the informants task performance) and verticality (possible distortion from the
informants original thought process so as to fulfill the researchers expectations on
the informants), I followed Egis (2004) advice while giving instructions for this stage.
First, to tackle the former, I asked the informants to verbalize only attended-to
information (p.245), without any reasoning and elaboration. Second, to tackle
verticality, I stressed that the informants report their thoughts as though they were
talking to themselves rather than to me in an interactive mode (p. 250).
Finally, at stage three, I conducted follow-up individual interviews with each of
the four informants, during which I first let them watch the video recording their
performance in the three think-aloud reports, and asked them to comment respectively

89

on what they were attending to at different stages of each report and to state any
perceived differences between the three. Finally, I shared with them my own
observations of any similarities and differences among the reports and I sought for
their confirmation and/or clarification of such observations. This served to triangulate
with my subsequent analysis of the transcriptions of the protocol reports.
3.4.2 Implementation procedures
In this section I report the details regarding the procedures of administering the
above means of data collection as well as those of the C-R tasks of the present study
in chronological sequence.
3.4.2.1 Pretesting
To begin with, I administered the two pretests the day before I asked the
informants to perform the C-R tasks for the respective grammar items. Those
informants had not been informed of the tests in advance so as to ensure that they had
not done any prior revision. Each pretest lasted for about 20 minutes, during which I
encouraged the informants to fill in as many blanks as they could. Furthermore, I told
them that such tests would not have any influences on their school assessment so as to
minimize their stress and chances of cheating.
3.4.2.2 Conduct of consciousness-raising tasks
The day after each of the two pretests, I guided the informants through

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performing the C-R task on the respective grammar item with the use of a set of task
sheets [Appendix 5]. Each C-R task lasted for two double-lesson periods
(approximately one hour and forty minutes), before which the informants had not
been informed of their results in the pretest.
Adapting from previous discussion on C-R tasks in Chapter 2, I structured such
tasks in several stages in the present study. The first stage was a brief orientation to
the targeted grammar item and the task itself, during which I presented the name of
that grammar item together with a couple of example sentences showing its use, and
conveyed my expectations to the informants on how they were going to perform the
task. Next, there was a reading activity in which the learners were to read a text
[Appendix 6] illustrating the use of the grammar item and to interact with it in two
ways, first comprehending the text and grasping its meaning (in the format of a
comprehension exercise) and second identifying instances of the targeted item in the
text. Keywords in such instances were highlighted in, e.g., bold and italics to make
the use of the grammar items more salient and noticeable to the learners during the
reading process (Nagata, 1997). This was then followed by an analytic stage which
required the learners to unscramble the words in those instances so as to develop and
test hypotheses regarding the grammar rule that was operating (Fotos, 2002: 147).
This was not only achieved individually, but the learners were engaged in

91

meaning- focused interaction (ibid: 144), discussing the results of their respective
analysis with each other. To initiate such interaction, an information-gap activity was
included at the beginning of this analysis stage. Finally, I clarified any
misunderstanding or incomplete understanding on the part of the learners by
providing additional information, description, explanation and examples (cf. Brender,
2001), and the learners then completed a brief consolidation exercise with multiple
embeddings of the target structure (Fotos, 2002: 146).
3.4.2.3 Posttesting
One day after each C-R task, all the informants took the immediate posttest for
the respective grammar item, which aimed at evaluating their ability in applying what
they had acquired about that item during the previous C-R task. Four weeks after the
immediate posttest, those informants took a delayed posttest.
3.4.2.4 Questionnaire survey and semi-structured interview
On the next day after the second immediate posttest, I asked all the informants to
fill in the questionnaire, and I invited the eight selected informants (four
high-achieving and four low-achieving) to attend the two semi-structured interviews
according to their academic ability respectively held one week afterwards. Each
interview lasted for 45 minutes.

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3.4.2.5 Generation of think-aloud protocol reports


Based on the three stages discussed in 3.4.1.3, I invited the two selected
high-achieving English learners and two low-achieving counterparts to participate in
this part of the study. The training stage for all the four as a group were composed of
three one-hour sessions organized within the week after the second C-R task cycle.
Then, in the following week, each informant produced all together three individual
concurrent think-aloud protocol reports when they completed the three grammar
practice tasks in which the grammar items concerned had respectively been taught
through the two C-R tasks and the deductive approach. As for the sequence of
completion, all the four informants performed the two tasks targeting items targeted in
the C-R tasks, i.e. conditional type 2 and defining relative clauses before that targeting
the deductively taught reported speech. Without a time-limit set, the duration of each
report varied from five to15 minutes. Finally, there were a 15 minute follow- up
individual interview with each of the four informants immediately after their final
report was produced.
3.5 Piloting work
Owing to various pragmatic constraints, most notably the availability of
informants, I had not been able to conduct a full-scale pilot study before the present
study. However, I had been able to pilot the complete cycle of the C-R task on

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conditional type two with another class of average ability Secondary 3 (Level 9)
students in the same school as the target informants and a class of high-achieving
Secondary 1 (Level 7) learners in an elite school. In addition, as reported in 3.4.1.1
above, I piloted all the pretests and posttests for both the two targeted grammar items
with a class of Secondary 3 learners in the target school and there were no
maturational effects noticed.
During the two rounds of piloting the C-R task cycle, I encountered a number of
problems, and the most serious one was the difficulty in getting the informants talk
about the targeted grammar item while performing the C-R task. As suggested by SLA
literature on C-R tasks (e.g. Mohamed, 2004; Fotos, 2002), one of the merits of
implementing the C-R tasks is that they provide opportunities for engaging learners in
meaning- focused discussion about the targeted grammar item in the target language,
and, according to the principle of Longs (1996) interaction hypothesis (discussed in
2.5.2.2), through such negotiated interaction on the targeted item, its acquisition is
expected to be facilitated. However, what happened among the two groups of
informants involved in the piloting work was that, although they were asked to form
small groups of four among themselves and were arranged to sit with their group
members facing each other, there was little interaction within the groups. Instead,
many of the informants tended to approach the discovery job individually, working on

94

the task sheet on their own. In view of that, I suggest that the awareness raising
potential of that particular C-R task could and should have been further developed.
To tackle the problem, I made two changes to the original design of the task
sheets, resulting in the version in Appendix 5. First, I provided less guidance in the
guiding questions (e.g. by reducing the number of guiding questions) so as to make
them cognitively more challenging and thus to create a need for the informants to seek
help from their peers while performing the C-R tasks. Second, as in Mohamed (2004),
I included an information gap section in the task sheets (resulting in two sets of task
sheets, A and B, for each grammar item). Studies in task-based language learning and
teaching (e.g. Fotos, 1994) suggest that the inclusion of information gaps effectively
promotes interaction among learners, because of their intrinsic motive to fill them
with the information held by the others.
Apart from the above, another problem that seemed to have hindered the
informants performance in the C-R task at the piloting stage was their lack of
understanding of some vocabulary in the reading text leading to the task. To minimize
its influence on the informants reading process, I paraphrased the original texts for
both cycles of the C-R tasks in the main study by eliminating the difficult words or
phrases suggested by the informants at the piloting stage.

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3.6 Data analysis


In this section, I report on the analysis of the various sources of data collected in
the present study.
3.6.1 Quantitative data
The main source of quantitative data in this study was the informants results in
the pretests and the posttests. To determine their level of mastery of the two grammar
items after performing the respective C-R tasks, the results of the two sets of tests,
which consisted of different numbers of questions, should be made comparable. To
achieve that, I conducted simple descriptive statistical calculations. First, the result of
each informant in each test was expressed in terms of a standardized score, which was
calculated by dividing the number of questions that the informant answered accurately
in a given test by the total number of questions in that test multiplied by 100. For
instance, for an informant who answered five questions accurately in the pretest on
defining relative clauses which was composed of 25 questions, the standardized score
of that learner in that test was 20 (5/25X100). Next, I calculated and compared the
mean of the standardized scores of all the 41 informants in each test. A higher value of
that mean in the immediate posttest and delayed posttest on a grammar item than in
the corresponding pretest, therefore, indicated a general gain in the informants
mastery of that item after their performing the C-R task. In addition, I calculated the

96

standard deviation and the range of the informants standardized scores in each test to
show the distribution pattern and thus the representativeness of the mean value.
3.6.2 Qualitative data
Qualitative data in the present study include the informants responses in the
questionnaire and the semi-structured interviews regarding their perceptions of the
C-R tasks and the think-aloud reports showing their cognitive engagement with the
grammar items presented to them through either the C-R tasks or deductive
explanation.
For the former, after collecting the questionnaire from the informants, the
number of each of the five responses to every Likert-type item was tallied so as to
compute the informant groups relative degree of agreement to those items. Their
responses to the open-ended items of the questionnaire, on the other hand, were
analyzed in the same way as those collected in the semi-structured interviews which I
first transcribed and translated from Chinese to English. For both types of data, I first
browsed through all the responses and then identified some common themes for
classification. Next, based on such themes, I classified the data gathered twice, and
checked for the intra-rater reliability between the two rounds of classification exercise.
After that I compared the findings obtained with those obtained from the Likert-type
items of the questionnaire, and presented my preliminarily analysis to some of the

97

informants to seek for their confirmation.


For the think-aloud data, before analyzing the four informants patterns of
cognitive engagement during the three grammar practice tasks, I first transcribed all
the audio and video data recording their think-aloud reports. As is pointed out by
McDonough & McDonough (1997), in many cases of analyzing think-aloud data, the
coding categories have been elevated under the general heading of strategies (p.
198). I therefore read through the transcriptions of all the think-aloud reports of the
four informants and identified all types of cognitive strategies exhibited in those
reports. From such identification and with reference to the classification system I
developed for my masters level thesis I compiled a strategy classification system and
used it to code each individual informants use of cognitive strategies while
performing each grammar practice task. The specific strategies in the coding system
are elaborated in Table 3.2 below.
Table 3.2 Coding system for cognitive strategies identified in the informants
think-aloud protocol reports
Strategy
Reading for gist

Descriptions
Reading either the initial instructions or the whole text in
the task sheet to get a general understanding of the task
nature before attempting the task

Seeking teachers

Asking the teacher for explanation of certain words,

explanation

phrases, clauses or even the task instructions in the


informants L1

Summarizing task

Summarizing explicitly (in L1) the nature of the task,

requirement

involving its purpose, genre etc.


98

Self checking and

Checking the grammatical accuracy of the sentence that

correction

the informant produced and making modifications to it if


found necessary

Analyzing examples

Looking into the examples given in the task sheet,


searching for the transformations done from the relevant
part(s) of the prompt on the task sheet and thus trying to
grasp what the informants are expected to do in the
specific tasks.

Analyzing meaning of

Analyzing the prompt provided for each question of the

the prompt

task and working out the meaning that the completed


sentence in the question is expected to express

Attempting questions

Directly generating the answers without any reported

by internalized
knowledge

cognitive processing or any time pause for non-reported


processing

Segmental syntactic

Attempting the questions by first dividing the relevant

analysis

part(s) of the prompt into segments in the form of clauses


or phrases and then transforming such segments into the
desired forms one after another.

Identifying targeted
grammar item

Identifying the grammar item being tested in the grammar


practice task

Summarizing
grammatical

Summarizing explicitly what the informant knew about the


structure and the meaning of the targeted grammar item

information of the
targeted structure
Recalling past learning

Recalling from memory what the informant did while

experience

learning the targeted grammar item and trying to apply that

Following syntactic

experience in tackling the new grammar practice task


Following the syntactic structure of a previous sentence

structure in previous

showing the use of the targeted grammar item in order to

sentences

produce a new sentence with new information but the same


structure

After coding the transcribed reports according to the above system, the
frequencies and varieties of strategies adopted by each informant in each of the three
grammar practice tasks were recorded, counted and analyzed, with each informant
being treated as an individual case.
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3.7 Ethical issues


As McDonough and McDonough (1997) rightly argue, whether disclosing what
a given study is about to the subjects / participants / informants involved is a difficult
ethical question (p. 167). On the one hand, disclosing too many details to them may
have induced them to form their own expectations on how they should act and act
correspondingly, leading to the well-known Hawthorne effect (McDonough and
McDonough, 1997) threatening the internal validity of the findings. On the other
hand, hiding all such details may violate a teachers professional ethics and
discourage the development of the currently advocated learner-centeredness (e.g.
Nunan, 1995). To keep a balance between these, I first asked the informants, their
parents, and the principal of the school to sign a consent form which briefly
introduced the aims of the study and how the informants were expected to participate
in it. After collecting the consent form, I guaranteed the informants that their
performance in any parts of the study would by no means affect their results in the
school assessment. Then at the beginning of each stage reported in 3.4.2 above, I
provided the informants with an oral description of how they were expected to
participate at that stage and how the stages were related to each other.
3.8 Limitations and potential problems
There were three possible limitations to the trustworthiness of the findings of the

100

present study, and the first concerned my dual role as the researcher of the study and
the teacher of the informants. On the one hand, this allowed me to make use of my
relationship with and understanding of them in designing and engaging them with the
C-R tasks and interpreting the findings of the present study. On the other hand, having
built up mutual trust with me as their teacher, the informants may have interpreted my
introduction of the C-R tasks as a methodological approach which I thought would be
appropriate for them, and, for solidarity sake, they may thus have shown more
positive responses than what they really thought in the questionnaire and the
interviews. This can be particularly the case in Confucian cultures like Hong Kong
when learners are generally expected to show respect to their teachers. In addressing
this potential problem, I stressed both before the questionnaire-filling and interview
sessions the importance of obtaining their true reflections on their experience in
performing the C-R tasks.
Second, it was difficult to completely isolate deductive and inductive teaching
approaches in the C-R tasks of the present study. For instance, deductive teaching
does not necessarily lead to deductive learning (Decoo, 1996; MacWhinney, 1997),
since learners may find their teachers rule explanation confusing, and have to rely on
their own inductive learning of the particular grammar item from the examples
provided after such explanation. Under the same line of argument, learners being

101

taught inductively may eventually rely on the teachers and/or other learners
deductive explanation to learn the grammar item if they do not manage to do so
through making grammar discoveries on their own. In this sense, while the C-R tasks
in the present study were designed following an inductive teaching approach, their
implementation may have involved a certain degree of deductive explanation. This
partly accounts for why the study sets out to focus specifically on C-R tasks and does
not aim at directly comparing the effectiveness of a deductive and an inductive
approach and the informants perceptions of the two.
Third, since the informants level of mastery of the selected grammar items were
only tested by cloze and grammaticality judgment test items, one may validly argue
that such assessment was not comprehensive. For instance, the informants use of the
targeted grammar items in their own language productions was not covered in the preand posttests. As Norris and Ortega (2001) rightly argue, [learning] outcome
measures selected for assessing the impact of instructional treatments do lead to
substantially different observations of instructional effectiveness (p. 203). In the
context of the present study, the two types of test items were selected so as to achieve
some sort of consistency with how grammar was usually assessed in the target school,
and to thus let both the learners and myself judge on the learning outcomes of the C-R
tasks in the same way as in their previous grammar learning.

102

3.9 Conclusion
This chapter elaborates on the methodological domain of the present study. It
first introduces the theoretical and methodological framework of the study, and the
specific methods of data collection and analysis, together with the piloting work
conducted prior to the main study. It then discusses the ethical concerns and, finally,
limitations of the study.

103

Chapter 4
Overview of Findings and Discussion Chapters
With a view to answering the three research questions of the present study, the
following three chapters present and analyze the findings from three perspectives.
First, to study the impact of adopting the C-R tasks on the informant groups learning
of English grammar, i.e. research question 1, Chapter 4 reports and discusses the
groups results in the pretests and the posttests, with a view to determining whether,
and to what extent, they can grasp the targeted grammar items through performing
those C-R tasks. Second, to elicit the informants attitudes towards and perceptions of
the C-R tasks as a means to learning English grammar, i.e. research question 2,
Chapter 5 discusses their responses to the questions in both the questionnaire and the
semi-structured interviews. Third, to examine how the informants engage cognitively
in conventional grammar practice tasks in which the grammar items concerned have
been presented using either the inductive C-R tasks or a deductive approach, i.e.
research question 3, Chapter 6 examines the think-aloud reports that four invited
informants produced while completing those grammar practice tasks.

104

Findings and Discussion: Impact of C-R tasks on Grammar Learning


4.1 Introduction
In this chapter, I present and analyze the informant groups results in the
grammar pretests and posttests. For sake of clear presentation, I group each of the
corresponding pre- and posttests for the two grammar items in the same sub-section,
in which I first summarize the results and then discuss the major findings. Since the
number of informants taking each test (n=41) only slightly exceeds the minimum
sample size for any useful statistical analysis of 30 as stated in research methodology
literature (e.g. Cohen and Manion, 1994), I only apply descriptive statistics in my
analysis of such results. In addition, to facilitate the comparison of the informants
results in the different tests, I standardize the individual scores in all such tests, with
100 being the highest standardized score (indicating that all answers in the test being
correct) and 0 being the lowest (indicating all answers being incorrect).
4.2 Results in pretests
Figures 4.1 and 4.2 below report the distribution of the results of the 41
informants in the pretest for the two targeted grammar items respectively.

105

Figure 4.1 Distribution of standardized pretest scores for conditional type 2

12
10
8
6

no. of
informants

4
2
0
0-9.9

10.0-19.9

20.0-29.9

30.0-39.9

40.0-49.9

50.0-59.9

60.0-69.9

70.0-79.9

80.0-89.9 90.0-100.0

Standardized Scores

Figure 4.2 Distribution of standardized pretest scores for defining relative clauses

14
12
10
8
6

no. of
informants

4
2
0
0-9.9

10.0-19.9

20.0-29.9

30.0-39.9

40.0-49.9

50.0-59.9

60.0-69.9

70.0-79.9

80.0-89.9 90.0-100.0

Standardized Scores

Tables 4.1 and 4.2 below show the descriptive statistics of the informants results in
the two pretests:
Table 4.1 Descriptive statistics of pretest results for conditional type 2
Highest

Lowest

Standardized
Score Attained

Standardized
Score Attained

74.1

7.4

Range

66.7

Mean

Standard

standardized
Score

Deviation

37.6

16.3

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Table 4.2 Descriptive statistics of pretest results for defining relative clauses
Highest

Lowest

Standardized

Range

Mean

Standard

Standardized

standardized

Deviation

Score Attained

Score Attained

Score

84.0

84.0

23.5

16.8

Tables 4.1 and 4.2 above showed that the majority of the informants were able to
answer some of the items correctly in both pretests, and a few were able to get more
than 50 out of 100 standardized scores. This might indicate that the informants had
developed a certain degree of understanding of the two targeted grammar items even
before they performed the C-R tasks. This phenomenon of learners existing
knowledge of the grammar items prior to the study commenced was also noticed in
such work reviewed in chapter 2 above as DeKeyser (1994), and was known as the
floor effect.
The informants prior knowledge of the targeted grammar items, in fact, could
have arisen from two sources. First, as some of the informants remembered, both
items had been taught by their English teachers at previous levels of study. Second, in
view of the high frequency of occurrence of the two targeted grammar items in
everyday English use, it was likely that the informants had been exposed to sentences
showing their use in their everyday encounters of the English language. Such
exposure could have resulted in what N. Ellis (2002) calls implicit learning of the
targeted structures on the part of the informants (2.4.3 above), which in turn could
107

have enabled them to master those structures subconsciously.


From the two pretests, I also noticed that, in general, the informant group
performed better in the one on conditional type 2 (with mean standardized score being
37.6) than the one on defining relative clauses (with mean standardized score being
23.5). On the one hand, this phenomenon was consistent with the informants
perceived difficulties in learning the two items, as all eight informants attending the
semi-structured interviews revealed that they found it harder to learn the latter than
the former, in the sense that the logical relationship between the subordinate clause
and the main clause in a conditional sentence was perceived far clearer than that in a
sentence with a defining relative clause. On the other hand, such a discrepancy in
informants performance in the two posttests may partly be accounted for by the
differences in the setup of the two tests. While the informants had to fill in each blank
in the first two sections of the pretest on conditional type 2 with only one verb group,
they were required to do so with one whole clause in the other pretest on defining
relative clauses, which might in turn result in higher likeliness of mistakes being
made.
In short, the informants performance in the two pretests suggested that, while
most of them were not proficient in the use of the two targeted grammar items, they
had already developed a certain level of understanding of such items before they

108

performed the C-R tasks in this study. In this sense, the focus of the present study may
need a qualification. Rather than studying the use of grammatical C-R tasks for
teaching the informants two grammar items that were completely new to them, this
study actually investigated the use of such tasks for consolidating the informants
understanding of two grammar items that they had formally or informally been
exposed to but had not yet mastered at a satisfactory level.
4.3 Results in immediate posttests
Figures 4.3 and 4.4 below report the distribution of the results of the 41
informants in the immediate posttest for the two targeted grammar items respectively.

Figure 4.3 Distribution of standardized immediate posttest scores for conditional type 2

16
14
12
10
8

no. of
informants

6
4
2
0
0-9.9

10.0-19.9

20.0-29.9

30.0-39.9

40.0-49.9

50.0-59.9

60.0-69.9

70.0-79.9

80.0-89.9 90.0-100.0

Standardized Scores

Figure 4.4 Distribution of standardized immediate posttest scores for defining relative
clauses

12
10
8
6
no. of
informants

4
2
0
0-9.9

10.0-19.9

20.0-29.9

30.0-39.9

40.0-49.9

50.0-59.9

60.0-69.9

70.0-79.9

80.0-89.9 90.0-100.0

109
andardized Scores

St

Tables 4.3 and 4.4 below show the descriptive statistics of the informants results in
the two immediate posttests:
Table 4.3 Descriptive statistics of immediate posttest results for conditional type 2
Highest
Standardized

Lowest
Standardized

Score Attained

Score Attained

92.6

14.8

Range

Mean
standardized

Standard
Deviation

Score
77.8

66.6

15.1

Table 4.4 Descriptive statistics of immediate posttest results for defining relative
clauses
Highest
Standardized

Lowest
Standardized

Score Attained

Score Attained

96.0

8.0

Range

Mean
standardized

Standard
Deviation

Score
88.0

64.2

19.0

Comparing Tables 4.3 and 4.4 with Tables 4.1 and 4.2 respectively in the
previous section, one would notice that the informants generally performed better in
the immediate posttests than in the respective pretests, with an increase in the mean
standardized scores from 37.6 in the pretest to 66.6 in the immediate posttest
(increased by 77.1%) for conditional type 2 and from 23.5 in the pretest to 64.2 in the
immediate posttest (increased by 173.2%) for defining relative clauses. This indicated
that the majority of the informants did gain some understanding of the two targeted
grammar items after performing the inductive C-R tasks. On the one hand, such gains
would be expected after receiving some sort of grammar instruction. On the other

110

hand, they marked a clear contrast with the findings of those studies reviewed in
Chapter 2 which showed very limited effectiveness of inductive grammar instruction,
e.g. DeKeyser (1994, 1995), Erlam (2003) and Robinson (1996).
One should however note that there exists a significant difference between the
inductive instruction in those studies and the design of the C-R tasks in this study. As
has been pointed out in 2.6.2.2, the former often excluded teacher feedback of any
form throughout the instruction. At the different stages of the students performing the
C-R tasks of the present study, however, I actively provided feedback, both to
individual informants and to the whole class, pinpointing on the extent to which they
could discover the form and meaning of the targeted grammar items from the
examples provided. Batstone and Ellis (2009) argue that providing such feedback
concerning the correctness or incorrectness of the learners language choices is
important for motivating them to construct linkage between new language forms and
given meanings expressed by such forms. As will be elaborated in 5.1 below, such
feedback was regarded by the informants to contribute to their better learning in two
ways. First, it ensured their mastery of a particular stage of discovery before they
moved onto the next stage, which in turn contributed to their perceiving the whole
learning and teaching process being more systematically organized. Second, it
allowed me, as the teacher, to better monitor individual informants learning progress

111

and to thus offer individualized help accordingly.


Despite the above, after tracing the individual learners changes in mean
standardized scores, I noted that a small number of the informants did not show a
significant increase in standardized scores, as shown in the value of the lowest
standardized scores in the two immediate posttests (14.8 and 8.0 out of 100 for
conditional type 2 and defining relative clauses respectively). Such learners,
according to my knowledge of the group, were the ones who lacked motivation and
confidence in learning the target language and in particular its grammar, and did not
seem to have developed an understanding of the two targeted grammar items after
performing the C-R tasks. This is furthered discussed in 4.6 below.
In short, the increases in the mean standardized scores of the informant group in
the two immediate posttests over the respective pretests indicated that the majority of
them had developed a certain level of understanding of the two targeted grammar
items after performing the inductive C-R tasks.

There were, however, a small

number of them who seemed not to have developed such an understanding.


4.4 Results in delayed posttests
Figures 4.5 and 4.6 below report the distribution of the results of the 41
informants in the delayed posttest for the two targeted grammar items respectively.

112

Figure 4.5 Distribution of standardized delayed posttest scores for conditional type 2

14
12
10
8
no. of
informants

6
4
2
0
0-9.9

10.0-19.9

20.0-29.9

30.0-39.9

40.0-49.9

50.0-59.9

60.0-69.9

70.0-79.9

80.0-89.9 90.0-100.0

Standardized Scores

Figure 4.6 Distribution of standardized delayed posttest scores for defining relative
clauses

12
10
8
6
no. of
informants

4
2
0
0-9.9

10.0-19.9

20.0-29.9

30.0-39.9

40.0-49.9

50.0-59.9

60.0-69.9

70.0-79.9

80.0-89.9 90.0-100.0

Standardized Scores

Tables 4.5 and 4.6 below show the descriptive statistics of the informants results in
the two delayed posttests:
Table 4.5 Descriptive statistics of delayed posttest results for conditional type 2
Highest

Lowest

Standardized
Score Attained

Standardized
Score Attained

92.6

7.4

Range

85.2

Mean

Standard

standardized
Score

Deviation

59.0

18.7

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Table 4.6 Descriptive statistics of delayed posttest results for defining relative clauses
Highest

Lowest

Standardized

Range

Mean

Standard

Standardized

standardized

Deviation

Score Attained

Score Attained

Score

100.0

8.0

92.0

56.9

20.3

Comparing Tables 4.5 and 4.6 with Tables 4.3 and 4.4 respectively in the
previous section, I noticed a drop in the mean standardized scores in the two delayed
posttests. Given the comparability in the form and items of the immediate and delayed
posttests, such a drop indicated that the mastery of the targeted grammar items on the
part of the majority of the informants deteriorated over the four weeks time after they
performed the C-R tasks. On the one hand, owing to such factors as the learners
limited memory span and the potential difficulties of the targeted grammar items that I
had long perceived for learners at such levels, I was not surprised by such
deterioration. On the other hand, since I did not administer a delayed posttest on other
grammar items that I taught previously to the informant group through other
approaches, I could not reach any precise comments on the pace and scale of such
deterioration in the present study when compared to my previous teaching.
Despite this, the informants responses in both the questionnaire survey and the
semi-structured interviews might provide some support for the use of C-R tasks in this
respect. As for the questionnaire, 23 (56%) out of the total of 41 informants stated that
they still remembered what they had learnt through performing the C-R tasks even
114

two months after they performed the first cycle of C-R task on conditional sentences.
Likewise, in the two semi-structured interviews, both groups of high-achieving and
low-achieving interviewees thought that the grammatical information acquired
through the C-R tasks was more likely to be retained in their memory than that
acquired through my previous teaching, as the following quote from one
high-achieving interviewee illustrates:
While participating in the [C-R] learning activities, we had to spend more time and
make a greater effort in finding the answers to the questions you asked. So, obviously,
we would learn things more deeply.
Such comment was consistent with R. Elliss

(2003) observation that what learners

find out for themselves while solving a grammar problem is better remembered than
what they are simply told (p. 163) (2.5.2.1 above), which in turn provided some
empirical support for the use of inductive C-R tasks for grammar instruction.
In short, the majority of learners showed a deterioration in mastery of the
targeted grammar items in the delayed posttests administered four weeks after they
performed the C-R tasks for the respective grammar items. There were informants,
however, who revealed in both the questionnaire and semi-structured interviews that
such deterioration was relatively slower and smaller in magnitude when compared to
my previous grammar teaching adopting other methodological approaches.

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4.5 Informants overall progress in tests


Tables 4.7 and 4.8 below summarize the informants statistics across the three
tests for the two targeted grammar items respectively.
Table 4.7 Descriptive statistics of the results in the three tests for conditional type 2
Highest

Lowest

Standardized
Score

Standardized
Score Attained

Range

Mean

Standard

standardized
Score

Deviation

Attained
Pretest
Immediate
Posttest
Delayed
Posttest

74.1

7.4

66.7

37.6

16.3

92.6

14.8

77.8

66.6

15.1

92.6

7.4

85.2

59.0

18.7

Table 4.8 Descriptive statistics of the results in the three tests for defining relative
clauses
Highest

Lowest

Standardized
Score

Standardized
Score Attained

Range

Mean

Standard

standardized
Score

Deviation

Attained
Pretest
Immediate
Posttest
Delayed
Posttest

84.0

84.0

23.5

16.8

96.0

8.0

88.0

64.2

19.0

100.0

8.0

92.0

56.9

20.3

A comparison of the mean standardized scores in the three tests for both
grammar items indicated that the informant group did make progresses in their
understanding of the items immediately after they performed the C-R tasks (as

116

discussed in 4.3). Although there was then evidence of a drop of such progresses after
a four weeks elapse (4.4), the informants mean standardized scores in the two
delayed posttests were still higher than those in the respective pretests (by 56.9% in
the case of conditional type 2 and 142.1% in the case of defining relative clauses). In
fact, such a drop may partly be accounted for by the backsliding phenomenon (cf.
Larsen-Freeman, 2003) as discussed in 2.4.4 above, and might reflect a restructuring
process regarding understanding of the particular grammar items on the part of the
informants before they developed a full mastery of such items. From these, I would
speculate that the C-R tasks can be an effective methodological option for teaching
the two targeted grammatical items which, according to my experience, were difficult
to teach deductively to learners similar to the informants.
This finding comes in line with those from other recent studies on C-R tasks.
Eckerth (2008a), for instance, shows how such tasks promote learners understanding
of the interaction among form, meaning and context by means of fostering such
favourable processes on the part of the learners as activation of previous knowledge,
hypothesis building and testing, and comparison between input and their own
interlanguage output, and learner-learner scaffolding (see 5.3.1 below).
In evaluating the above learning outcomes of the C-R tasks, however, one should
also take into account the fact that the tests in this study provided evidence of what

117

the informants knew about the targeted grammar items only when they were
consciously focused on those items during the time-period assigned but not that when
they were involved in spontaneous meaning- focused interactions. Thus, they could be
said to mainly test the informants explicit rather than implicit knowledge. Indeed, as
R. Ellis (2003) suggests (2.5.1.2 above), C-R caters primarily to explicit learning (p.
162). While it has been argued that language instruction should focus on explicit
rather than implicit knowledge since the former is not subject to the same
developmental constraints as the latter (R. Ellis, 2005b: 216), we, as language
teachers, often perceive our learners acquisition of the latter which enables them to
make effective use of the grammar items subconsciously in real communicative
situations as our ultimate goal (cf. R. Ellis, 2005a). In this regard, one should note that
while there has been strong theoretical support that explicit knowledge can be
converted directly to or facilitate the acquisition of implicit knowledge (e.g. R. Elliss
weak interface position reviewed in 2.5.2.1), owing to problems of measurement,
there have been no published studies testifying those claims (R. Ellis, 2006a).

After

all, the potential of the C-R tasks in promoting the learners uptake of implicit
grammatical knowledge is yet to be determined. Despite this, the fact that C-R tasks
help learners develop their explicit knowledge may already suggest their value in
promoting learners competence in engaging in real time L2 communication, since

118

there is now evidence (e.g. R. Ellis, 2006b) suggesting that not only implicit
knowledge of the language but also the explicit counterpart are involved in such
communication.
4.6 Range in standardized scores
Despite the fact that there were obvious increases in the mean standardized
scores in both the immediate and delayed posttests for both grammar items when
compared to the respective pretests, I also noticed from Tables 4.7 and 4.8 above that
there was a wide range of standardized scores in all the tests. This suggested that the
learning outcomes of performing the C-R tasks could vary greatly among the
individual informants. Indeed, while the majority of the informants (27 out of the total
of 41) consistently showed higher standardized scores in the posttests than in the
pretests, there were a few informants who scored similarly in all the tests. While I
assumed that those who were consistently at the high end of the score distribution to
have mastered the targeted grammar items even before they performed the C-R tasks,
the remaining ones who were consistently at the middle or low range could have been
said to have shown no observable improvement in their mastery of the targeted
grammar items. Possibly this might reveal a sign of fossilization (2.2.2 above) in
grammar proficiency on the part of those learners.
On the one hand, one could speculate that some informants hardly benefited

119

from performing the inductive C-R tasks in this study (4.3 above) and thus that the
deductive approaches to grammar instruction might suit them better. In that regard,
while suggesting a potential of the C-R tasks in promoting learners acquisition of the
targeted grammar items, the increase in the informants mean standardized test scores
did not allow me to refute the effectiveness of the deductive approaches, as this study
did not include an investigation into such approaches for direct comparison. Indeed,
even among the studies reviewed in Chapter 2 which showed relative advantages of
inductive over deductive grammar instruction (e.g. Fotos, 1994; Shaffer, 1989), it was
often found that such advantages are only to a small extent. Shaffer (1989), for
instance, commented that although the test results tended to favour the inductive
approaches, such a tendency was minimal (p. 399).
On the other hand, as discussed in 4.5 above, such phenomenon might to a
certain extent result from the limitations of the tests which catered to elicit mainly the
informants explicit rather than implicit knowledge. In other words, while it was
evident that a few informants in this study did not benefit much from performing the
C-R tasks in developing their explicit understanding of the targeted grammar items,
based on the differences between the nature of explicit and implicit knowledge, one
could not deny the possibility of some implicit learning on the part of those
informants.

120

In addition, through engaging themselves with grammar content while


performing C-R tasks, learners may develop gains in their overall grammar
proficiency in general, and in other non-targeted grammar items in particular. Eckerth
(2008b), for instance, observes that collaborative C-R tasks can contribute
considerably to the articulation, reasoning, and negotiation of L2 hypothesis that lay
outside the actual structural focus of the tasks (p.133), processes which one would
speculate can rarely be found to be performed by learners in teacher-fronted
classrooms where the teacher directs their attention to the targeted grammar items
throughout the lesson.
In fact, one may even argue that learners learning of non-targeted grammar
items from their performance of C-R tasks would remain more substantial and stable
in their memory than that of the targeted items, since the former often arises from
their internal felt-needs and thus triggers learner-generated attention to form
(Williams, 2001). In this sense, the C-R approach to grammar pedagogy can be said to
address Pienemanns teachability hypothesis as discussed in 2.4.2 above, taking into
account learners psycholinguistic readiness while teaching L2 grammar. Batstone and
Ellis (2009), in discussing what they call the awareness principle, also emphasize
the need to acknowledge such learner-generated attention to form in language
pedagogy. According to them, language features that are not represented in learners

121

current interlanguage may not be attended to no matter how frequent those features
exist in the input (p. 197).
Despite the above, one cannot deny the possibility that, for some informants,
neither an inductive C-R nor a deductive approach to grammar teaching works
effectively, since, as Swan (2005) rightly argues, the success of all grammar teaching
approaches are subject to such circumstantial factors as the learners motivation and
class size. As shown in Chapters 5 and 6 below, there existed students in the
informant group who were completely lacking interest and confidence in learning the
TL. They, being placed in a large class of 41 students, could constitute what Swan
classifies as an unfavorable context in which no approaches work as they are
supposed to (2005: 386-7). Fortunately, the test results reported above suggested that
those informants were relatively small in number.
4.7 Conclusion
In this chapter, I have reported and analyzed the informant groups scores in
the pretests and the posttests on the two targeted grammar items of this study. The test
results showed that the majority of the informants did increase their mastery of those
grammar items after performing the inductive C-R tasks. There were, however, a
small number of them who failed to show such improvement.

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Chapter 5
Findings and Discussion: Informants Perceptions of C-R tasks
5.1 Introduction
In this chapter, I report and analyze the questionnaire and the semi-structured
interview data of the present study, both of which target the informant groups
perceptions of the C-R tasks. For claritys sake, I organize the analysis in three
perspectives which correspond to the first three sections of the questionnaire, namely
level of cognitive involvement, perceived strengths and weaknesses of the C-R tasks,
and comparison between the C-R tasks and the past grammar learning experience
during English lessons. Discussion on the last section of open-ended questions of the
questionnaire was excluded since the majority of the informants either left the section
empty or provided very brief answers to those questions. Of the total 41 informants,
there were 26 (63.4%) of them who left all the open-ended questions in the last
section of the questionnaire empty. Among the remaining ones who answered those
questions, they usually gave such brief responses as interesting or useful for the
question on the strengths of the C-R tasks, and, at the other extreme, boring or
wasting time for the question on their weaknesses.
For each of the three perspectives, I first present the descriptive statistics of the
responses to the corresponding questionnaire items and next analyze such responses

123

together with those gathered from the semi-structured interviews.


5.2 Level of cognitive engagement
Table 5.1 below shows the distribution of the informants responses to the
three questionnaire items regarding their level of cognitive engagement while
performing the C-R tasks.
Table 5.1 Distribution of informants responses to questionnaire items regarding level
of cognitive involvement
Strongly

Statements
It was easy for me to follow
teachers teaching and I always

Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Agree

Number of
informants

knew what he talked about/ asked Percentage


us to do during the lessons

Strongly
Disagree

21

19.5%

51.2%

19.5%

7.3%

2.4%

16

12

7.3%

39.0%

29.3%

17.1%

7.3%

I was always clear what I was

Number of

learning at different stages of the


lessons.

informants

Now I still remember what Ive

Number of

18

been taught (when to use the


targeted items and their

informants
Percentage

12.2%

43.8%

14.6%

19.5%

9.8%

Percentage

structures).
5.2.1 Following lesson progress
To begin with, in responding to the first statement regarding the ease of
following the teaching steps, 29 (70.7%) informants strongly agreed or agreed, and
four (9.7%) informants disagreed or strongly disagreed. There were also eight (19.5%)
informants who opted for a neutral response. The high percentage of agreement was
confirmed by the interview data. During the semi-structured interviews, I asked the

124

two groups of informants to recall the major stages that they had gone through while
performing the C-R tasks and they managed to identify all the key stages as reported
in 2.5.1.3 above.
One factor contributing to this positive finding could be that I deliberately
broke down the C-R tasks in this study into several steps, with labels Step 1, Step 2
etc. used in the organization of the contents of the task sheets [Appendix 5]. As the
interview data revealed, the informants generally found this kind of explicit
structuring and signposting useful for them to make sense of their lesson activities.
The following comment from one of the interviewees in the low-achieving
focus group, interestingly, reflected a potential discrepancy as perceived by the
informants between the way I organized the presentation of grammatical information
in my previous deductive teaching and that in the C-R tasks of the present study:
In the past, you (the teacher) presented the whole set of grammatical information all
at one go, which could sometimes be too demanding for usYou couldnt tell
whether we really understood them before you moved on to some new teaching... This
time it was far clearer for me to work out what I was expected to learn and to do.
Originally I perceived that I organized grammatical information while adopting the
two approaches in similar ways, in the sense that, even in my deductive teaching prior
to this study, I was also conscious about the amount of information I was presenting at

125

each stage, so as not to over-burden the students, and I usually asked questions to
elicit the students understanding at the transition points between the stages. The
above comment suggested a perception gap between the teacher and at least some of
the learners, which might in turn have contributed to those learners finding it easier
to follow my teaching conducted through the C-R approach than through the
deductive approaches. The existence of perception gaps between teachers and learners,
in fact, is not uncommon in the domain of grammar pedagogy. For instance, while
many learners share the expectation on teachers teaching grammar rules in an explicit
and traditional way (e.g. Borg, 1999), Burgess and Etherington (2002) find in their
survey among university English teachers that those teachers are well disposed to a
Focus-on-Form approach characterized by integrating grammar with the use of
authentic texts and real-life tasks (2.2.3) above.
5.2.2 Awareness of learning progress and memory sustainability
Specifically, the informants conscious engagement with the targeted grammar
items that the C-R tasks in this study aroused, if any, might have helped bridge such a
perception gap, and may thus have resulted in more positive responses to the second
and the third statements in the questionnaire. For the second statement concerning the
informants awareness of what they were learning at different stages of the lesson, 19
(46.3%) informants strongly agreed or agreed with it (even with the strong claim

126

connoted with the adverb always), 10 (24.4%) of them disagreed or strongly


disagreed with it, and 12 (29.3%) opted for a neutral position. In the two
semi-structured interviews all the eight informants expressed that they were both
generally aware of and actively participating in the different stages of lesson
progression. One example of such expression was evident in the interviewees quote
in 5.2.1 above, i.e., This time it was far clearer for me to work out what I was
expected to learn and to do.
For the third statement concerning the extent to which the informants still
remembered what they had learnt after they had completed the C-R tasks, the
responses were essentially positive as well. 23 (56.0%) informants strongly agreed or
agreed with the statement, 12 (29.3%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with it, and 6
(14.6%) showed a neutral response. During the interviews I asked the two groups of
informants to collaboratively report what they knew about the two targeted grammar
items, and, with some on-spot brief hints provided by me, they were able to come up
with summaries concerning the structure and use of those items that were similar to
the ones synthesized at the end of the C-R tasks (as stated in the task sheets in
Appendix 5). Out of the total of eight interviewees, there was only one from the
low-achieving group who appeared not to be able to participate in such joint reporting
process.

127

As advocates of the language awareness movement suggest (2.5.2.1 above),


through explicitly seeking to analyze and describe language (as in the C-R tasks of the
present study), learners are likely to develop a high level of awareness of their own
learning progress, which in turn contributes significantly to their final learning
outcomes (cf. Larsen-Freeman, 2003). In addition, such outcomes are usually better
remembered than what they are simply told (R. Ellis, 2003:163). This may explain
the gains in the informants mean standardized scores in the different posttests over
the corresponding pretests of this study (4.3 and 4.4 above)
In addition, a high level of awareness of learning progress on the part of the
informants might place them in a better position to form positive yet realistic
expectations on what they could finally attain after performing C-R tasks. Through
self-fulfilling prophecy effect (Biggs, 1995; 2.5.2.1 above), such expectations, when
appropriately synchronized and reinforced by the ones conveyed by the teacher
through, e.g., feedback on their achievement (4.3 above), could validly predict
favourable learning outcomes on the part of the informants. Particularly, in view of
the fact that psychological literature often suggest that young L2 learners usually
show a low level of tolerance of ambiguity (e.g. Oxford & Ehrman, 1992), to the
informants of the present study a high level of awareness of learning progress at
various stages of the C-R tasks could serve a significant role in relieving their

128

unsecure feelings about any ambiguities they came across while making the grammar
discoveries. This in turn helped sustain their motivation in making those discoveries.
The following report from one interviewee in the high-achieving group seemed to
support this deduction:
Everything seemed not clear at the beginning. There was just too much I didnt
know One thing I like learning through this (the C-R) approach is that, unlike in
your previous teaching, I felt more secure about the process of developing my
understanding of the targeted grammar item. I could see a path in sorting things out.
Interestingly, while this informant perceived C-R tasks as more secure than
deductive teacher explanation, there were some others who perceived just the opposite,
as will be reported in 5.4.3 below. Apparently, such a psychological attribute needs to
be addressed by grammar teachers regardless of the pedagogical approach they adopt.
5.2.3 Negative responses
Despite the above discussion, I was also aware that there existed a number of
informants who responded negatively to the first three statements in the questionnaire,
and some of these informants were among those who did not show improved
understanding of the targeted grammar items (in terms of the test scores) after
performing the C-R tasks (4.3 and 4.6 above). One of these informants in the
low-achieving group made the following remark during the semi-structured interview:

129

In fact I dont see any major differences between what I did during the lesson
activities (the C-R tasks) with what I used to do in the pastI saw some of the groups
trying hard to find the answers to your questions (those on the task sheets guiding
their grammar discovery), but we didnt think thats meaningful at all. We knew youd
give out the answers anyway, so we just waited for your explanation.
On the one hand, this report highlighted the need for me as the teacher to make sure
that the learners understand the rationale behind completing the steps of the C-R tasks
and to give sufficient individualized attention to the different groups during such
completion. On the other hand, it made me notice that the notion of C-R tasks and the
idea of learners making collaborative grammar discovery are not necessarily
welcomed by different types of learners (the implications of which to be discussed in
5.3 below), and that one cannot assume all the learners, especially the passive ones, to
take up an active role while performing those tasks. Hopefully, the attitude of those
learners would change over repeated exposure to such tasks.
5.3 Perceived strengths and weaknesses of C-R tasks
Table 5.2 below shows the distribution of the informants responses to the
seven questionnaire items regarding their perceptions of the present studys grammar
teaching programme consisting of the C-R tasks.

130

Table 5.2 Distribution of informants responses to questionnaire items regarding their


perceived strengths and weaknesses of C-R tasks

Statements

Strongly

Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Agree

Strongly
Disagree

The teaching programme was organized in a

15

13

way that allowed me to build up knowledge


gradually and systematically.

14.6%

36.6%

31.7%

12.2%

4.9%

11

15

9.8%
1

26.8%
5

36.6%
16

12.2%
12

14.6%
7

2.4%

12.2%

39.0%

29.3%

17.1%

The examples given in the programme helped


me learn.

10
24.4%

21
51.2%

4
9.8%

3
7.3%

3
7.3%

The teaching programme was interesting and I


enjoyed learning in this way.

22

19.5%

53.7%

4.9%

9.8%

12.2%

The programme was set in a way that fulfilled


my expectations of language learning.
The teacher did not demand too much from me.

The teaching programme motivated me to learn

13

13

grammar rules.

4.9%

17.1%

31.7%

31.7%

14.6%

I am confident in learning grammar well if the


teacher continues to use this approach to teach.

4
9.8%

6
14.6%

11
26.8%

14
34.1%

6
14.6%

It can be found that the informants responses in this section of the


questionnaire were more diverse than those in the first section. To a certain extent,
such varied responses suggested significant individual differences among the
informants perceptions of the inductive C-R tasks, and were consistent with those
studies reviewed in Chapter 2 which showed non-conclusive results regarding the
relative appropriateness of adopting the inductive and deductive approaches to
grammar instruction for learners of different ability levels and learning styles (2.6.7
above).

131

5.3.1 Systematic development of grammatical knowledge


To begin with, in responding to the first statement in this section, 21 (51.2%)
informants strongly agreed or agreed that they could build up knowledge of the
targeted grammar items gradually and systematically through performing the C-R
tasks. There were seven (17.1%) informants who disagreed or strongly disagreed with
that statement, and 13 (31.7%) who chose the neutral option.
During the semi-structured interviews I tried to elicit what the informants
thought had contributed to the perceived systematic manner, or the otherwise, in their
developing grammatical understanding while performing the C-R tasks. Two possible
factors were then identified, and the first was the explicit staging and signposting in
the lesson activities as discussed in 5.2.1 above. What may be worth mentioning
additionally is that, while the four high-achieving interviewees found it useful to
break down the grammar discovery process into several stages, to the four
low-achieving counterparts such an arrangement brought forth an additional
psychological drive that could be important in sustaining their motivation in
completing the C-R tasks. This is illustrated in the following quote from one such
interviewee:
Its just like playing a PS3 or NDS game, where you clear off one stage and then
challenge the next. This time we answered the questions in the task sheets and cleared

132

off the stages one by one.


As this particular comparison suggests, to the relatively weaker learners who may be
less competent in making multi- faceted discoveries involving the form-meaning
mappings of the targeted grammar items, the setting of mini-discoveries, each
focusing on one single aspect concerning first the form, then the meaning and the
context of use of those grammar items, would be more manageable and more likely to
promote a sense of satisfaction on the part of the learners. Such staged processing of
grammatical information is similar to that proposed in Van Pattens (1996, 2002, 2004)
processing instruction approach mentioned in 2.4.3 above, in the sense that learners
attention are drawn to making new discoveries about grammar with the help of the
linguistic cues provided at stages (in the form of the guiding questions in the C-R task
sheets in this case). This in turn prevents them from taking short cuts which by-pass
the grammar (Batstone & Ellis, 2009: 196), and is said to facilitate their processing
grammar for meaning, in addition to form, as well (Nassaji & Fotos, 2004: 132).
Furthermore, the idea of setting a manageable language focus for each
teaching step resonates with the TBLT proposals suggested by such researchers as
Skehan (1996) and Richards (2002) discussed in 2.2.3 above, who express concerns
about the cognitive demands on the part of language learners if they are to cater to
both language forms and meanings simultaneously during a language task and thus

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suggest treating each of them separately before the learners synthesize everything in a
final communicative task. It is also consistent with the skill-building theories (e.g.,
DeKeyser, 1998, 2001) which claim that learners learn the grammar of a language
first by developing its declarative knowledge through intensive teaching activities
focusing on separate constituents broken down from the whole grammar system
before they can proceduralize such knowledge and turn it into a form available for
automatic use in communicative situations (2.4.2 above).
Apart from explicit staging and signposting, a second factor that could have
helped the informants develop their grammatical understanding systematically was
the provision of feedback from not only the teacher but also their peers at various
points during their completion of the C-R tasks (4.3 above), as was illustrated in the
following quote by one interviewee from the high-achieving group:
I didnt realize that we could help each other out [in terms of learning English
grammar]. I thought we were equally weak, but we argued on the answersIt turned
out that we could get most answers correct in the end.
The pedagogical benefits brought forth by such peer feedback is extensively
found in the SLA literature. Obviously, the arguments (or perhaps debates is a better
term) served to provide valuable opportunities for that particular informant and his
group members to scaffold (Vygotsky, 1978, 1986) each others understanding of the

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targeted grammar items. Donato (1994, 2004), for example, finds that peers who are
at a similar level of linguistic development as the learners appear quite capable and
skillful at providing the type of scaffold help (1994: 52) that is typically found in
such expert- novice interaction as parent-child and teacher-student interaction as well
noted in SLA literature. Through sharing their respective incomplete knowledge about
the TL, these learners are found to be able to accomplish collaboratively form-focused
problem-solving tasks that they cannot tackle on their own.
Through discussing the grammatical information regarding those items (even
though in the learners L1 rather than the TL, see 2.5.2.2 above), the group also
fulfilled R. Elliss (2003) description of the rationale behind the C-R tasks, in the
sense that the learners were engaged in form-focused talk in order to achieve an
outcome to the task (p. 163). Such form-focused interaction, even though lacking in
situational authenticity (Bachman and Palmer, 1996) discussed in 2.5.2.2 above, can
still serve the function of drawing learners attention to those items and thus
complement meaning focused interaction where learners focus most of their attention
on communicating meaning and thus, as observed by Batstone and Ellis (2009), fail to
notice the grammar items in their contexts of use.
Furthermore, the very act of engaging learners actively in providing timely
and formative feedback to their peers is consistent with the latest development of

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innovations in the language assessment field (Wiliam et al., 2004), and such feedback
mechanism, if administered properly, can serve a feedforward function conducive to
learners further learning (Carless, 2007), i.e. the learners act on the feedback that they
receive to improve their future learning.
Despite the above, I must admit that scaffolding and peer feedback were not
equally successfully conducted among all the groups during their performing the C-R
tasks. According to my observation, around one-third of the informants did not
interact with their group members at all once they completed the information gap
activity on the task sheets. They were then continuing to read their task sheets and
trying to answer the questions on the sheets individually on their own. It was only
after my repeated encouragement did they begin to interact and share their findings of
the discoveries with each other, which marks a contrast with such previous studies
mentioned in 2.5.2.2 above as Eckerth (2009) and Foster (1998) which find out that
form-focused tasks can stimulate much interaction among learners (even as much as
that generated by meaning- focused counterparts).
In fact, this phenomenon was particularly evident among the weak learners, and
from the interview with the low-achieving group, I found that they were reluctant to
talk with each other about the targeted grammar items mainly because they had had
very little such experience throughout their prior learning. In their typical classroom

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culture, they were usually assigned individual tasks to be completed on their own
within a time period, during which any interactions among themselves were
discouraged. This, together with the possible embarrassment of making mistakes in
front of their peers, led to the perception that they did not regard collaborative
learning as a useful learning strategy at all. In order to make those learners develop
some successful learning experience through the interactive approach which is an
important feature of the C-R tasks (2.5.2.2 above), it is advisable not only to provide
them with more exposure to such activities, but also to provide them with relevant
training so as to equip them with the specific skills involved (see e.g. Carless, 2007).
5.3.2 Learners expectations on grammar learning
As for the second and third statements regarding the informants expectations on
learning English grammar, the responses were relatively more diverse. When asked
whether the C-R tasks were set in a way that fulfilled their expectations of language
learning, 15 (36.6%) informants strongly agreed or agreed with that statement, 11
(26.8%) disagreed or strongly disagreed, and 15 (36.6%) gave a neutral response. In
terms of the demand from the teacher, the responses were even more negative, with
only six (14.6%) informants thought that the teacher was not being too demanding
while they were completing the C-R tasks, 19 (46.4%) had the opposite perception,
and 16 (39.0%) were neutral.

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Initially when I was trying to interpret the above figures, I was wondering
whether there was a relationship between the informants ability levels and their
responses to the two statements, i.e. whether or not there was a tendency for the
high-ability learners or the low-ability counterparts to perceive that the C-R tasks
fulfilled their learning expectations or were too demanding. R. Ellis (2003), for
example, points out that learners need sufficient proficiency to talk metalingually
about the target feature and, if they lack this, they may not be able to benefit to the
same degree from a C-R task (p. 165). However, data from the semi-structured
interviews did not confirm such a speculation, as I found, coincidentally, that while
there was one member from both the high-ability and low-ability interviewee cohorts
who expressed that the inductive C-R tasks fulfilled their expectations on learning
grammar more than deductive teacher explanation for learning English grammar,
there was another member who just stated the opposite. With the small number of
interviewees in total, after all, I could neither confirm nor refute such a relationship.
In fact, there was little evidence from past SLA studies in this respect, since,
past studies which claimed a relationship between the relative effects of the deductive
and inductive teaching approaches and the learners ability levels were usually
quantitative ones investigating such effects by means of grammar tests instead of
directly looking into the domain of learner expectations. Even among those studies

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there have been inconclusive results. As reviewed in 2.6 above, although there were
relatively more studies like DeKeyser (1994, 1995) and Anderson (1993, cited in
Nagata, 1997) which conclude that the inductive approaches work far better with the
academically able learners and thus that the less able ones should be taught through
the deductive approaches, there were still studies like Shaffer (1989) which argued for
the opposite, claiming that the effect of the inductive approaches is even more evident
with low ability learners.
Apart from ability levels, another factor that could possibly influence the
informants responses to the two questionnaire statements regarding learning
expectations was their learning style. It was found from the semi-structured interviews
that both informants who strongly indicated that the C-R tasks fulfilled their learning
expectations (one from the high-achieving group, the other from the low-achieving
group) were both fond of and used to adopting an explicit analysis learning strategy,
as illustrated in the following quote from the high-achieving interviewee:
Doing the [C-R] tasks allowed me to treat grammar learning like learning
MathematicsI worked out the steps one by one.
On the other hand, the two interviewees who expressed that the C-R tasks did not
conform to their learning expectations, while there was no direct evidence showing
their being holistic learners, seemed not to prefer doing language analysis, as one of

139

them (from the high-ability group) illustrated as below:


I dont see the point of doing so much analysis of the grammar itemsThey [the
C-R tasks] just put some additional burdens on us. I prefer being explained the
grammar rules as in the past.
To a certain extent, this particular quote may account for the relatively high
percentage of informants perceiving the C-R tasks as being too demanding as reported
above as well.
In fact, the above observation appears to resonate with Mohameds (2004)
finding, which states that inductive C-R tasks generally are more welcomed by
analytically-oriented learners. One should, however, be aware of the apparently
contradictory claim made by such other studies as Weatherford (1997), Skehan (1989)
and Fortune (1992) that inductive tasks actually suit learners exhibiting a holistic style
more (2.6.5 above).
5.3.3 Usefulness of example sentences
As for the questionnaire item eliciting the extent to which the informants thought
the example sentences provided in the C-R tasks helped them learn the grammar items
concerned, the responses were quite positive, with 31 (75.6%) informants strongly
agreeing or agreeing with that statement, six (14.6%) disagreeing. The remaining four
(9.8%) informants showed a neutral position. The high level of agreement to this

140

particular item was confirmed by the interview data, as all the eight interviewees from
both the high and low-achieving groups unanimously regarded the examples as
highly useful (a term suggested by one interviewee from the high-achieving group).
To better understand what had contributed to the informants perceived
usefulness of the example sentences, I asked the two interviewee groups to describe
the good features that were exhibited in those sentences. I was then able to identify
two commonly mentioned features, the first of which concerned contextualization. As
was introduced in 3.4.2.2 above, in the C-R tasks of this study, the learners were to
comprehend texts in which examples showing the use of the targeted grammar items
were embedded before they did explicit analysis on the form and meaning of those
items. According to the interviewees, both the situational context, i.e. the choice of a
daily-life topic and a genre with which they were familiar, and the linguistic context,
i.e. the vocabulary and sentence patterns used, of the texts were appropriate for
guiding their making grammar discoveries during the C-R tasks, as can be illustrated
in the following quote from a low-ability interviewee:
This time the examples are far clearer than in the pastI understand most of the
words and can make guesses about the meanings of the sentences from their
surrounding sentences.
To a great extent this finding echoes the importance of contextualization in presenting

141

examples of language items, which has been widely advocated in the SLA field. R.
Ellis (2003), for instance, contends that both the linguistic and the situational contexts
are essential for any occasions of using a language (2.2.2 above), and stresses the
desirability of setting language learning tasks in which learners are encouraged to
attend to form in the context of meaning-making (p. 320).
In addition to contextualization, another feature that may have made the example
sentences more useful to the learners was the highlighting of those sentences in the
texts so as to facilitate their identification. As stated in 3.4.2.2, the keywords or the
whole clauses showing the use of the targeted grammar items in the reading texts
were presented in both bolded and italic fonts, and before the informants were asked
to do any analysis regarding those grammar items, they were asked to identify and
underline all those examples. Data from the semi-structured interviews revealed that
the informants generally welcomed such highlighting, as the following quote from a
high-achieving interviewee suggests:
Frankly, even if you hadnt done any highlighting, I could still have spotted them
(the examples) out, but its good that you made the keywords thicker. That saved
some time, and this would be useful if you gave us longer texts with more example
sentences embedded.
In other words, the highlighting and the learners identification of the examples

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of use of the targeted grammar items may serve to make those items more salient (cf.
Bolitho et al., 2003, Nagata, 1997) in the contexts in which they were embedded, and
may in turn promote the learners noticing of such items. As discussed in 2.5.1.1 and
2.6.6 above, this may then facilitate the learners find[ing] out the rules underlying
the target sentences (Nagata, 1997: 521) through completing the C-R tasks.
In addition, as Batstone and Ellis (2009) argue, grammatical features which are not
represented in the learners current interlanguage and not present in their L1 may not
be spontaneously attended to by them no matter how frequent they occur in the input.
For those items, such highlighting and identification on the part of the learners play an
indispensible rather than merely a facilitating role in guiding them to construct an
explicit rule to account for form-meaning mapping (ibid:198), which is the core
purpose of C-R tasks.
In fact, while acknowledging the value of the above two features regarding the
presentation of examples in this study, one should note that both of them are not
confined to the C-R approach. In other words, both contextualization and increasing
salience by means of visual highlighting could be applicable to or even advisable for
those who adopt other inductive and deductive approaches to teaching L2 grammar.
5.3.4 Interest level of the C-R tasks
As for the questionnaire item asking whether the informants thought the C-R

143

tasks in this study were interesting and whether they enjoyed learning grammar
through such tasks, the responses were encouraging. 30 (73.2%) of them strongly
agreed or agreed with that statement, nine (22.0%) of them disagreed or strongly
disagreed with it, and two (4.9%) showed a neutral response.
To make better sense of this finding, I tried to elicit what had contributed to the
interest level of the C-R tasks as perceived by the informants in both semi-structured
interviews. I found out that, to many of the interviewees, such interest level was
linked to the sense of satisfaction that the informants had developed through
successfully tackling the cognitive challenges in the C-R tasks. Totally six out of the
eight interviewees mentioned that aspect in the interviews, and the following reply to
that particular elicitation from one of the interviewees in the high-achieving group
well illustrates this point:
Its the challenges that I liked the best. At first we were just given examplesFrom
understanding and analyzing those examples we began to understand the grammar
points. I like taking those challenges.
This finding seems to agree with what has been put forward in the relevant
SLA field, especially those under the notion of need-achievement in the
psycholinguistic literature. Oxford and Shearin (1994), for instance, talk about a
virtuous circle conducive to learners L2 acquisition through manipulating the

144

challenge levels of the learning tasks. According to them, although good performance
in previous learning tasks can in itself serve as a reward for learners showing an
achievement orientation and thus motivate them to sustain their effort in future tasks,
even better task performance can be expected by the teachers making their (the
learners) tasks more challenging and autonomous. Under this line of argument, if the
C-R tasks in the present study were set at a level if cognitive challenge that was
optimal for the particular group of learners, one could expect not only positive learner
dispositions towards those tasks but also better learning outcomes. The obvious
challenge, however, lies in how one could determine such a somewhat arbitrary level
at the task planning stage, which can further be complicated by the need to cater to the
varying language proficiencies within the same learner group.
In addition to the above, other factors as identified by a small number of
interviewees that might have made the C-R tasks interesting to them include the
integration of grammar instruction with that of the other major language skills (e.g.
reading at the beginning stage and speaking during the collaborative discovery stage),
the opportunities for the informants to talk and work with their peers on language
forms rather than having extensive drills on them, more active learner participation in
the learning process, and, simply, the novelty brought forth by the new task type. As
discussed in Chapter 2, these factors are essentially considered as promoting learners

145

L2 acquisition in the SLA literature. Particularly, the limitations of grammar teaching


characterized solely by meaning-focused tasks or mechanical drills and thus the
desirability for creating opportunities for learners form-focused interactions have
been advocated by such researchers as Batstone and Ellis (2009), Foster (1998), R.
Ellis (2003) and Seedhouse (1999) (2.2.2 above).
5.3.5 Motivation in learning grammar
The questionnaire item concerning whether the C-R tasks in themselves
motivated the informants to learn grammar yielded responses that were far less
satisfactory than the previous item on the interest level of the C-R tasks. There were
only nine (22.0%) informants who strongly agreed or agreed with that statement, 19
(46.3%) disagreed or strongly disagreed with it, and 13 (31.7%) opted for a neutral
position.
To better understand the informants somewhat unexpected responses to this
particular item (given the positive ones to the items discussed in 5.3.1-5.3.4 above), I
elicited their attitudes towards learning the TL grammar in general in the
semi-structured interviews. The following comments from two interviewees in the
high-achieving group (extracted from their collaborative answer to that elicitation),
which seemed to represent the perceptions of the majority of the other interviewees
from both groups as well, may provide a possible explanation:

146

Interviewee 1: Grammar learning is not funTo me grammar lessons are one of the
most boring lessons. I dont like them.
Interviewee 2: But grammar is important. We have to learn grammar or we cant do
writing, speaking, listening or reading.
Interviewee 1: Yes, but theres more to learning English. We need to do more.
Interviewee 2: Thats right though.
When asked what she meant by the phrase need to do more, Interviewee 1
elaborated on that as practices in productive and receptive language use, like listening
comprehension and essay writing practices.
To a certain extent the above responses reflected a somewhat complicated
attitude towards the learning of TL grammar on the part of the particular informants.
On the one hand, they seemed not to be interested in learning grammar in its own
right because it was not fun or even boring. In that sense one would assume that
they did not have much intrinsic motivation in doing so. On the other hand, they still
regarded grammar as an important component to master in their learning of the TL, as
it penetrates through all aspects of language use and is important in examinations (a
point raised by Interviewee 2). Thus, one could expect a certain level of extrinsic
motivation developed among them. Still the informants also fully acknowledged the
importance of such other aspects of language learning as the development of fluency

147

and of the four major skills and the limitations of focusing their effort solely on
grammar, which might thus have undermined their extrinsic motivation in learning the
TL grammar.
To a certain extent, it might be this complicated interplay between the
informants perceived interest and importance of learning grammar versus those of the
other aspects of the TL, and the relative degree of realization of each of these factors
in any given individuals, that exerted significant influence on the overall level of
motivation to learn the TL grammar on the part of the individual informants. In fact,
data from the semi-structured interviews seemed to suggest that, to some informants
(regardless of their ability level), such influence could be so powerful that their
motivation in grammar learning remained relatively stable, irrespective of the
approach through which the learning was conducted (i.e. no matter through
performing the C-R tasks or receiving deductive explanation). This may partly explain
why although the C-R tasks were perceived by the majority of informants as both an
effective and interesting way to learn the TL grammar (as indicated in the
questionnaire responses discussed in 5.3.1-5.3.3 and 5.3.4 respectively), they did not
necessarily increase their motivation in doing so. This was especially true among
those informants showing a low level of motivation to learn the TL grammar, as is
illustrated by the following quote from an interviewee in the low-achieving group:

148

Learning grammar is meaningless to me. I dont think I will be motivated in learning


grammar no matter what teaching approach the teacher adopts.
An implication that can be drawn from this finding can be that, to increase
his/her learners motivation in learning grammar, a teacher needs to fully
acknowledge and address the relationship between grammar and the other domains of
the TL that are perceived to be important by their learners while designing their
language programmes. Indeed, the need to integrate the teaching of grammar as well
as those other domains of the TL has well been justified in the SLA literature. As
discussed in 2.2.3 above, various SLA researchers (e.g. R. Ellis, 2003; Skehan, 1996;
Willis, 1996) have been proposing different models of integrating form-focused
instruction targeting accuracy and complexity of language use, in which grammar
plays a crucial part, with meaning- focused counterpart targeting such other aspects as
fluency and ability to express ideas effectively in the TL. Particularly, Swan (2005)
rightly argues that only by integrating form- and meaning- focused approachescan
teachers maximize their chances of successfully teaching all those aspects of language
that learners most need to master. (p. 396, 2.4.3 above).
5.3.6 Confidence in learning grammar through C-R tasks
Like the informants responses to the previous questionnaire item, those to the
last item in the second section of the questionnaire, which elicited whether they were

149

confident in leaning the TL grammar through the C-R tasks, were also not
encouraging. There were only 10 (24.4%) informants strongly agreeing or agreeing
with that statement, 20 (48.7%) of them disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with it,
and 11 (26.8%) showing a neutral response.
During the interviews, I asked the informants who claimed that they were not
confident in learning grammar through C-T tasks to suggest possible reasons for that,
and the most common reason was their unfamiliarity with the C-R approach, as shown
in the following quote from a low-achieving interviewee:
What we did [while performing the C-R tasks] was completely new, and its so
different from what we usually doI needed to learn a lot of new things together.
This unfamiliarity with the C-R approach was either suggested or confirmed by five
interviewees from both groups as a reason for their lack of confidence in learning
through that approach. A related reason to this was their extensive experience in and
perceived effectiveness of learning grammar through a deductive approach, as
suggested by the following quote from another low-achieving interviewee:
I dont think theres anything wrong with the old (deductive) approachI memorize
the grammar rules, do practices, and can then get the right answers in tests and
exams.
In view of the learning background of this particular group of learners (3.3

150

above), one would not be surprised by the above responses. On the one hand, the
inductive C-R tasks might have increased the interest level of learning grammar as
perceived by the informants because of the cognitive challenges and/or simply the
novelty they brought forth to the learning process (5.3.4 above). On the other hand,
learning through the C-R approach might just mean moving the informants beyond
their psychological comfort zone, i.e. their past familiar deductive grammar learning
experience with which they sensed a certain level of success, into a new way of
learning without any past records of success. In fact, the interview data suggested that
the respective confidence level of the low-achieving informants appeared to be lower
than that of the high-achieving counterparts, which, according to the self-fulfilling
prophecy effect (Biggs, 1995) mentioned in 5.2.2 above, might in turn adversely
affect the learning outcomes on the part of those learners.

It may be under this line

of argument that some SLA researchers (e.g. Anderson, 1993; DeKeyser, 1994, 1995)
claim that the inductive approaches to grammar instruction suit only the academically
able learners.
In addition to the above, there were two other features of the C-R tasks that may
have lowered the level of confidence in learning the TL grammar on the part of the
informants. The first feature concerned the source of grammatical information, as is
revealed in the following quote from a low-achieving interviewee:

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In the past, you (the teacher) told us the [grammar] rules. They should be accurate.
This time we had to find out the rules on our own. I think they may be less accurate.
Its safer to learn the rules given by you.
This quote seems to reveal a lack of sense of security on the part of the particular
interviewee, and possibly some others, in having to work out the grammatical
information on their own, as contrasted to their past experience of receiving such
information transmitted by the teacher. While acknowledging the possible influence
of that on the learners confidence in learning the TL grammar, one should also be
aware of the nature of learning from those informants perspective. What seems to be
implied in this quote and the one immediately above is that the particular learners
concerned viewed learning grammar as merely memorizing the descriptive grammar
rules, which is not considered as genuine learning by many SLA researchers. Shaffer
(1989), for instance, rightly points out that such memorization may not necessarily
entail comprehension of those rules (2.6.4 above).
Unlike the previous feature, another one as pointed out by the interviewees
concerned not the effectiveness of the C-R tasks in promoting learners acquisition of
the targeted grammar items, but rather the practicality of covering a grammar syllabus
by implementing such tasks. This is well reflected by the following remark from a
high-achieving interviewee:

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We spent a lot of time on learning just one single grammar itemI dont think you
(the teacher) can teach all the items [in the school syllabus] if you always ask us to
talk and answer the questions [in the task sheets for the C-R tasks].
It is beyond denial that it takes a longer period to cover a given grammar item through
the C-R approach than deductive explanation. As discussed in 2.4.1, the time
constraints facing language teachers can be very constraining indeed (Swan, 2005:
393). Similarly, Fotos (2002) comments on the need to tackle the coverage problem.
To achieve that, while it may be advisable for teachers to engage their learners with
only a limited range of high-priority language elements in a concentrated manner in
order to establish a core linguistic repertoire on the part of those learners (Swan,
2005: 393), they, at the same time, may need to consider integrating the use of the
C-R tasks with those less time-consuming methodological alternatives for covering
their grammar syllabus in a well-informed way.
5.4 Comparison between C-R tasks and past learning experience
Table 5.3 below shows the distribution of the informants responses to the four
questionnaire items regarding how they compared the present studys grammar
teaching programme consisting of C-R tasks and their past grammar learning
experience.

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Table 5.3 Distribution of informants responses to questionnaire items comparing C-R


tasks with past grammar learning experience

Statements

Strongly

Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Agree

In the programme, the teacher taught the

Strongly
Disagree

19

grammar items very differently from his usual


teaching.

22.0%

46.3%

12.2%

19.5%

0%

The exercises that I had to complete during the

18

12

programme were different from those that the


teacher usually gave.

2.4%

12.2%

12.2%

43.8%

29.3%

With this kind of programme, I think I would

12

10

12.2%

29.3%

17.1%

24.4%

17.1%

learn English grammar in a way which is very


different from that in the other English lessons.
Generally speaking, I find the teaching
programme suits me more in learning English
grammar.

13

10

19.5%

31.7%

24.4%

9.8%

14.6%

This table shows that the informants generally perceived differences between
the teachers teaching through C-R tasks in the present study and through deductive
explanation in their previous encounters, but not necessarily in the way they mastered
the grammar items through the two approaches. Also, the majority of them regarded
the C-R tasks as a more appropriate methodological approach to handling grammar
teaching.
5.4.1 Perceived differences in teachers teaching
To begin with, there were 28 (68.3%) informants who strongly agreed or
agreed with the statement that the teacher conducted his teaching differently through
the two approaches, with only eight (19.5%) informants disagreeing with it. There
were also five (12.2%) neutral responses to that questionnaire item. For the next item
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claiming the exercises that the informants had to complete under the two approaches
to be different, on the contrary, the percentage of agreement was much lower. Only six
(14.6%) informants strongly agreed or agreed with it, 30 (73.1%) informants
disagreed or strongly disagreed with it, and five (12.2%) opted for a neutral position.
Actually, these two sets of figures were largely expected if one takes into account
my original planning of the C-R tasks. In view of the nature and rationale behind such
tasks as discussed in 2.5 above, I did expect that grammar teaching following the C-R
approach to be considerably different from my previous deductive explanation. On the
other hand, in order to let the informants get some sense of psychological security
while participating in learning activities with which they were unfamiliar, I
deliberately set the initial reading comprehension exercises and the final grammar
exercises (3.4.2.2 above) in formats that were similar to those that the informants
were used to be doing.
During the semi-structured interviews, I tried to elicit what the informants
thought were the features distinguishing the C-R tasks from my previous deductive
grammar teaching, and whether such features of the C-R tasks were conducive to their
grammar learning. Not surprisingly, among all the eight interviewees in both the
high-achieving and low-achieving groups, the most readily identified feature was that,
in the C-R approach, the grammatical information involved was discovered by the

155

learners themselves rather than transmitted by the teacher, which they generally
thought would be beneficial to their mastering the targeted grammar items.
A second feature as suggested in both interviewee groups was the
opportunities created for the informants to talk and work collaboratively with their
peers. The effectiveness of such collaboration, however, seemed to vary among the
different informant groups: While some interviewees reported that they enjoyed such
chances to talk with their group members and solve the grammar problems together,
there were also others who said that not much collaboration was in effect, and they
would prefer individual work instead. Indeed, as discussed in 5.3.1 above, my
observation of the informants performing the C-R tasks also confirmed the latter
perception on the part of some informants, as, resulting from the class culture, roughly
one-third of them actually treated the C-R tasks as another individual rather than
collaborative activity type at the initial stage, which in turn led to very limited
interaction and scaffolding among the group members.
In fact, the above findings appeared to resonate with those in Mohamed (2004),
one of the few studies that investigated learners perceptions of the C-R tasks.
Participants in that study also commented on the above two distinguishing features,
and while they were generally approved of rule discovery as a particularly good
characteristic, only a small number of them noted pair work to be a positive feature

156

(p.232).
5.4.2 Perceived differences in grammar learning
Despite the fact that the informants generally regarded grammar teaching
through the C-R tasks and deductive explanation to be different, they did not
necessarily perceive the same differences between learning the TL grammar through
the two approaches. While there were 17 (41.5%) informants strongly agreeing or
agreeing with the corresponding statement in the questionnaire (i.e. claiming that they
perceived learning grammar through the two approaches to be different), there were
also 17 (41.5%) informants who disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement.
The number of neutral responses was seven (17.1%).
During the semi-structured interviews, I spotted two informants (both from the
low-achieving interviewee group) who thought learning the TL grammar through the
C-R approach to be no different from that through deductive explanation, and the
respective justification for such a view from these two interviewees actually varied
considerably:
Actually I didnt participate much during the [C-R] lessons. I was just day-dreaming.
I knew you were going to tell us everything in the end. I just waited for your
explanation as usual.
I think the [lesson] activities were different. You used new methods in teaching us

157

grammar. However, after we completed the [C-R] tasks during the lessons, I still did
my revision of the handouts in the same way as in the past. I read through everything
and tried to memorize the rules.
To a large extent, the first justification reiterated the point made by the same
interviewee in the quote in 5.2.3 above, which suggested that the C-R tasks in this
study did not arouse a satisfactory level of cognitive engagement with the targeted
grammar items on the part of some informants, especially those adopting an
avoidance attitude towards performing such tasks.
The second justification, on the other hand, may suggest some interesting
insights into that informants (and possibly some other informants) conception of
learning in general, and of grammar learning in particular. Unlike the one making the
previous justification, this informant revealed in the semi-structured interview that he
did participate in and complete the C-R tasks with his group members. It seemed,
however, that he referred the learning process mainly to revision after lesson rather
than participating in lesson activities prepared by the teacher, and thus that variations
in the lesson activities did not influence his learning process essentially. As a language
teacher myself, I obviously hope that the lesson activities I have prepared for my
learners to exert an influence on their learning process in a way that helps making it
more efficient and effective. What seems to be suggested by that particular

158

informants comment, however, may be that the C-R tasks were not able to motivate
him to engage in learning the targeted grammar items (even though he claimed to
have completed all the steps involved). It may also reveal a gap between teacher and
learner conception, existing in not only the dimension of what is taught and learnt in
terms of the TL grammar as has widely been discussed in the SLA literature (e.g.
Nunan, 1995), but also in the dimension of how grammar is and should be taught and
learnt. One way that may help bridging this gap would be the teachers signaling to
his/her learners explicitly the pathways through which they are expected to grasp the
targeted grammar item(s) while participating in the lesson activities, by means of such
techniques as the advance organizer discussed in 2.5.1.2 above. For instance, at the
beginning of each stage of the C-R task performance, the teacher can brief the
students on the rationale behind completing that particular stage and how that stage
are connected with the previous and following ones, so that the students will
understand more thoroughly the process through which they are guided to engage
with the targeted grammar items.
5.4.3 Relative suitability of the C-R tasks for learning grammar
For the final Likert-scale item in the questionnaire concerning whether the
informants found it more suitable to learn the TL grammar through the C-R tasks in
this study than through deductive explanation, the responses varied (though there was

159

still a tendency towards the positive end). While there were 21 (51.2%) informants
strongly agreeing or agreeing with that statement, there were still ten (24.4%) others
who disagreed or strongly disagreed with it, and ten (24.4%) opted for the neutral
position.
During the semi-structured interviews I asked the two interviewee groups to state
the reasons for their perceived suitability, or the otherwise, of the C-R tasks and found,
not surprisingly, that their reasons were generally consistent with what has been
reported regarding the informants perceived strengths and weaknesses of such tasks
in 5.3 above. For those who claimed relative suitability of the tasks, learning grammar
through the C-R approach appeared to be more systematic and less boring, and their
memory of the grammatical information acquired seemed to be more sustainable. For
the others who thought deductive explanation constituted a more suitable
methodological approach, on the other hand, learning grammar through performing
the C-R tasks could be psychologically insecure, as they had to discover the
grammatical information on their own rather than receiving it from the teacher.
Overall, the informants responses to this questionnaire item seemed to reiterate the
point made earlier in various sections that one size (i.e. no matter the C-R tasks or
deductive explanation) does not fit all.

160

5.5 Conclusion
In this chapter I have discussed the informants attitudes towards and
perceptions of the C-R tasks through reporting and analyzing data gathered from the
questionnaire and the semi-structured interviews of the present study. It seemed that
the majority of the informants responded positively to such tasks, and they were both
engaged with the targeted grammar items and aware of their own learning progress
while performing them. The extent to which the individual informants were motivated
to learn grammar, and that to which they were confident in doing so successfully,
through performing the C-R tasks varied considerably however, and the data seemed
to suggest that different methodological approaches to teaching grammar suit different
learners, rather than one single approach suits all learners.

161

Chapter 6
Findings and Discussion: Informants Engagement with Targeted
Grammar Items
6.1 Introduction
In this chapter, I discuss two high- and two low-achieving informants pattern
of cognitive engagement with the targeted grammar items presented through an
inductive C-R approach or a deductive approach. To achieve that, I present and
analyze the think-aloud protocol data of those four informants performing two
grammar practice tasks in which the grammar items concerned were presented using
the inductive C-R tasks (i.e. conditional type 2 and defining relative clauses, hereafter
C-R presented tasks) and another grammar practice task in which the grammar item
concerned was presented using a deductive approach (i.e. reported speech, hereafter
deductively presented task).
I conduct this analysis in two stages. First, I consider each informant as an
individual case, and compare his/her cognitive process, with reference to his/her use
of cognitive strategies, in attempting the two types of tasks. At this stage, I include
translations of the informants responses to questions asked during the individual
follow-up interviews for illustrative purpose where appropriate. Second, I identify the
notable similarities and differences between the patterns of strategy use of the four
informants while attempting the two types of tasks.
6.2 Individual informants think-aloud protocol reports
In this section I present and discuss the think-aloud reports that each of the two
high-achieving and the two low-achieving informants produced while their attempting
the two types of grammar practice tasks as four individual cases.
162

6.2.1 First high-achieving informantLouis


Louis (pseudonym) was one of the most high-achieving English learners in the
class according to past assessment results. Having been his English teacher for one
and a half years prior to the study, I regarded him as active, eager to learn, and was
very conscious of his good academic performance. Table 6.1 below shows his results
in the three grammar practice tasks used for generating the think-aloud protocols.
Table 6.1 Results of the first high-achieving informant in the three grammar
practice tasks for generating think-aloud protocols
Question in
the Grammar
Practice
Tasks

C-R Presented Tasks


Conditional Type 2

Defining Relative
Clauses

Deductively
Presented Task
Reported Speech

Accuracy of Answer
Question 3
Question 4

Inaccurate
Accurate

Accurate
Accurate

Accurate
Accurate

Question 5

Accurate

Inaccurate

Accurate

Question 6
Question 7

Accurate
Accurate

Accurate
Accurate

Accurate
Inaccurate

Question 8

Accurate

Accurate

Accurate

Total
Number of

Five

Five

Five

Accurate
Answers
Among the two C-R presented and the one deductively presented tasks in this study,
he was the one showing the highest percentage of accuracy, with five out of six
answers being accurate in all the three tasks.
The think-aloud reports that Louis produced while he was attempting the three

163

grammar practice tasks were examined and all his uses of cognitive strategies were
identified and illustrated in chronological order in Tables 6.2 -6.4 below:
Table 6.2 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first high-achieving informant while
completing the grammar practice task on conditional type 2
Section of
the Task
being
Focused
on
Task
rubrics

Reading for
gist

Reading aloud the task rubrics to understand the task


requirements

Questions
1&2

Analyzing
examples

Reading aloud the first two example sentences once,


matching the relevant parts of the sentences to those in
the prompt by pointing his pen to the prompt while
reading aloud the whole sentences
Identifying the grammar item being tested to be
if-sentences

Whole
task
Not
applicable

Not
applicable
Questions
1 and 2

Strategy

Identifying
targeted
grammar item
Summarizing
grammatical
information of
the targeted
structure
Recalling past
learning
experience
Analyzing
examples

Question 3 Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Question 3 Following
syntactic
structure in
previous
sentences
Question 4 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Question 5 Segmental

How the Strategy was Applied

Summarizing from memory details of the if-sentences

Linking the given task to his experience in discovering


the conditional type 2 together with his peers
Revisiting the examples, trying to determine whether
there were meaning differences between the two
syntactic structures of conditional type 2
Determining conditional type 2 rather than type 1
should be used and the causal relationship between the
two parts of the prompt
Following the syntactic structure of one of the two
examples (and thus mistakenly choosing the type 2
structure), and reading out the answer directly with
changes made to the prompt in the same way as in the
previous example (e.g. get would get)
First identifying the first verb group cut as the one in
the if-clause, next deciding that verb cut should be in
past simple tense, then deciding that the verb in the
second part of the prompt to be in would + bare
infinitive structure, and finally uttering the correct
answer, with the addition of a comma in the right place
First identifying the first verb group recycle as the one
164

syntactic
analysis

Question 5 Self checking


and correction
Question 5 Segmental
syntactic
analysis
Question 6 Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Question 6 Self checking
and correction
Question 7 Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Question 7 Following
syntactic
structure in
previous
sentences
Question 8 Seeking
teachers
explanation
Question 8 Seeking
teachers
explanation
Question 8 Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Questions Following
3 and 8
syntactic
structure in
previous
sentences
Question 8 Self checking
and correction

in the if-clause, next deciding that verb recycle should


be in past simple tense, then deciding that the verb in
the second part of the prompt to be in would + bare
infinitive structure, and finally uttering the full
sentence, with the addition of a comma in the right
place
Realizing that the previous answer was wrong and
rephrasing it in conditional type 1
Changing the two verb groups of the original sentence
to fit the conditional type1 structure
Determining conditional type 1 rather than type 2
should be used and the causal relationship between the
two parts of the prompt
Self correcting the verb group in the if-clause to make it
conform to the type 1 structure
Determining the condition in the prompt is a possible
one
Pointing at the previous answer, following the syntactic
structure of the conditional sentence and uttering the
answer directly
Asking the teacher for explanation of the word illegal
Asking the teacher for explanation of the word ban

Determining the condition in the prompt is an


impossible one and thus the sentence should be in
conditional type 2 structure
Pointing at his answer to Question 3, following the
syntactic structure of the conditional sentence and
uttering the answer directly
Checking his own spelling of the verb banned

165

Table 6.3 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first high-achieving informant while
completing the grammar practice task on defining relative clauses
Section of
the Task
being
Focused
on
Task
rubrics
Whole task

Not
applicable
Questions
1 and 2
Question 3

Strategy

Reading for
gist

Reading aloud the task rubrics to understand the task


requirements

Summarizing
task
requirement
Identifying
targeted
grammar item
Analyzing
examples
Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Identifying the email genre of the text and what needs


to be filled in the blanks

Question 3

Self checking
and correction

Question 4

Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Question 4

Question 5

Question 5

Questions
4 and 5
Question 4

How the Strategy was Applied

Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Self checking
and correction

Identifying the grammar item targeted being relative


clauses
Analyzing the content of the first two blanks which
are provided as examples of the task
First identifying the need to transform be into the
past simple form, which was inaccurate,
next choosing which as the head word of the relative
clause, then directly copying the second part of the
prompt to form the complete relative clause
Deciding that the relative pronoun who instead of
which should be used since the clause was
qualifying the personal object Aunt Helena
Identifying Ivy Leung to be qualified by the relative
clause
First choosing who as the head word of the relative
clause, next identifying the need to transform be into
the present simple form, which was inaccurate, then
directly copying the second part of the prompt to form
the complete relative clause
Identifying short stories as non-living
First choosing which as the head word of the relative
clause, next identifying the need to transform the verb
be into the past simple form (inaccurately in singular
form), then directly copying the second part of the
prompt to form the complete relative clause
Wondering why the relative clause in the blank for
Question 4 was in present simple while that in the
blank for Question 5 was in past simple
Determining that both the relative clauses in
Questions 4 and 5 were referring to the past and thus
past simple should be used in the fourth blank
166

Question 6

Question 6

Question 6

Question 6

Question 7

Question 7

Question 8

Question 8

Question 8

Seeking
teachers
explanation
Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Following
syntactic
structure in
previous
sentences
Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Following
syntactic
structure in
previous
sentences
Analyzing
meaning of
the prompt
Following
syntactic
structure in
previous
sentences
Self checking
and correction

Asking the teacher for explanation of the word


published
Identifying the story being non-living

Wondering why the verb group in the main clause of


the sentence is is in present simple
Pointing at his answer to Question 5, following the
syntactic structure of the relative clause and uttering
the answer directly
Identifying big uncle to be qualified by the relative
clause
Pointing at his answer to Question 6, following the
syntactic structure of the relative clause and uttering
the answer directly
Identifying the photos to be qualified by the relative
clause being non-living
Pointing at his answer to Question 7, following the
syntactic structure of the relative clause and uttering
the answer directly but ungrammatically in singular
verb form
Identifying the problem in subject-verb agreement of
the relative clause and correcting it

Table 6.4 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first high-achieving informant while
completing the grammar practice task on reported speech
Section of
the Task
being
Focused
on
Task
rubrics
Questions
1 and 2
Question 3

Strategy

Reading for
gist
Analyzing
examples
Analyzing
meaning of the

How the Strategy was Applied

Reading aloud the task rubrics to understand the task


requirements
Analyzing the content of the first two blanks which
are provided as examples of the task, matching the
information in the blanks with that in the prompt
Extracting the information from the prompt for
completing the sentence in reported speech
167

Question 3

prompt
Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Question 4

Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Question 5

Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Question 6

Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Question 7

Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Question 7

Self checking
and correction

Question 8

Segmental
syntactic
analysis

First using the word that to start the reported clause


(leaving out the object pronoun her), next
identifying the need to transform am into the past
simple form, then deciding that no change was
needed for the remaining components of the verb
group (i.e. going to be), and finally uttering the
complete reported clause
First adding said and that, next changing I to
he as the subject of the reported clause, then
changing am meeting into the past continuous form,
next changing tonight to that night, and finally
forming the complete clause with all the above
changes made
First adding said and that, next deciding to keep
they in its original form, then changing the verb
group want into the past simple form, then
changing me to him, and finally forming the
complete sentence with all the above changes made
First adding said and that, next deciding to keep
their in its original form, then changing isnt into
the past simple form, and finally forming the
complete sentence with all the above changes made
First adding also said and that, next deciding to
change into past simple,
then forming the complete sentence with the above
changes made
Identifying the structural problem in the past tense
verb group didnt worry and changing it to not to
worry
First adding said and that, next changing I to
he and you to her, then changing am not going
to make into the past form, and finally forming the
complete sentence with the above changes made

Table 6.5 below summarizes the overall patterns of Louiss cognitive strategy use
while attempting the three grammar practice tasks.

168

Table 6.5 Overall Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first high-achieving
informant while attempting the three grammar practice tasks
Strategies identified:

Frequency of Application:
Task on
Conditional

Task on
Defining

Task on
Reported

type 2

Relative
Clauses

Speech

Reading for gist

Seeking teachers explanation


Summarizing task requirement

2
0

1
1

0
0

Self checking and correction

Analyzing examples
Analyzing meaning of the prompt

2
4

1
7

1
1

Attempting questions by internalized

Segmental syntactic analysis

Identifying targeted grammar item

Summarizing grammatical information


of the targeted structure

Recalling past learning experience

Following syntactic structure in previous


sentences

21

21

10

knowledge

Total:

When Louis approached the three grammar practice tasks, he consistently


began with reading the task rubrics for gist, and then analyzed the examples. In the
follow-up interview, Louis revealed the value of these two strategies:
Its important to know exactly what I need to do in a task, and I always spend time
reading the first two lines (the rubrics)Sometimes Ive difficulties understanding
those lines, because of my own English proficiency, and at that time reading the
examples is very helpful. Even if I understand the English instructions, still reading
169

the examples can confirm my understanding.


From the above quote, it can be found that Louis regarded the two strategies of
reading for gist and analyzing examples as complementary to each other, and that
understanding the task requirements is essential to him before attempting the
individual items. In fact, for each of the two C-R presented tasks, he adopted two
other strategies for familiarizing himself with either the targeted grammar item and/or
the situational context of the task before analyzing the individual items. In the case of
the task on conditional type 2, from his initial analysis of the examples, Louis
identified the grammar item targeted in the task (the if-sentences in his words), and
next summarized his own understanding of that item (Table 6.2 above). To help
himself complete such a summary, he explicitly recalled his experience of performing
the corresponding C-R task of the present study as well. In the case of the task on
defining relative clauses, Louis summarized his interpretation of the task requirements
and, like above, identified the targeted grammar item before he analyzed the two
examples(Table 6.3 above). Interestingly, these additional strategies were absent
from Louiss think-aloud report for the deductively presented task, and he provided
the following explanation for that observation:
I think thats because Ive had deeper understanding of the grammar items targeted in
the first two [C-R presented] tasks than that in the last [deductively presented] task.

170

Weve spent more time studying the former and, of course, weve learnt them better.
Louiss weaker understanding of the deductively presented grammar item, however,
may also be partly accounted for by the fact that such an item was taught by the
teacher of the informant group three months before the groups performing the C-R
tasks for the two targeted grammar items of the present study. What seems to be
assured, nevertheless, is the potential of the C-R tasks in promoting this particular
strong learners acquisition of grammatical understanding of the targeted item and his
active engagement with such understanding in his later language encounters.
Another difference in Louiss cognitive strategy use across the two types of
grammar practice tasks laid in his relative higher frequency of adopting the two
strategies analyzing meaning of the prompt and self checking and correction in the
two C-R presented tasks than in the deductively presented task. For the former
strategy, the frequency counts in the task on conditional type 2 and that on defining
relative clauses were four and seven respectively, whereas that in the task on reported
speech was one. For the latter strategy, the respective frequency counts in these three
tasks were three, three and one. While analyzing meaning of the prompt is regarded as
important in a learners grammar acquisition in the sense that it allows him/her to
integrate the form and meaning aspects of the targeted structure and thus conforms to
the features of the focus on form approach which is currently extensively advocated

171

in the SLA field (2.2.3 above), self checking and correction is also a desirable strategy
to be acquired and practiced by language learners as it allows them to monitor their
own language learning and language use processes. In fact, as seen in Tables 6.2 to
6.4 above, each use of the two strategies helped Louis in improving his accuracy in all
the three grammar practice tasks. With only one single use of each of these two
strategies while attempting the deductively presented task, on the contrary, Louis
adopted the strategy segmental syntactic analysis consistently while attempting each
item in that task. In such application, Louis managed to articulate the desired syntactic
structure in the majority of his answers to the six items, but arguably, as shown in the
description Table 6.4, he did not pay much attention to the meaning aspect of the
targeted grammar item.
In the follow-up interview, Louis provided the following comment about his
use of the three strategies discussed above:
I agree that I tended to adopt a sort of more mechanical approach while doing the
[deductively presented] taskI think this might just reflect how Id learnt that item. I
didnt focus much on meaning when I learnt reported speech. As for the two previous
tasks, I think the grammar items targeted are richer in meaning, and I have to deal
with the meaning aspects more.
When asked further what he meant by richer in meaning, Louis did not provide a

172

concrete definition. Instead, he insisted that he wouldnt have adopted the syntactic
analysis strategy while attempting the two C-R presented tasks even if he had been to
do so for a second time, since that would have led to a loss of the essential meaning
contents. Whether and to what extent Louiss perceptions of the two types of grammar
practice tasks, and more precisely the grammar items involved, were shaped by the
approach to which such items had previously been presented to him (i.e. through a
C-R and a deductive approach) was beyond the scope of the interview, but would
constitute an interesting area for further investigation.
Finally, Louis also showed a big discrepancy in the total frequency count of
strategy use in the two types of grammar practice tasks, with the count being 21 in
both the two C-R presented tasks and ten in the deductively presented task. While he
showed the same level of accuracy across all the three tasks (five out of six answers
being accurate), therefore, Id still argue that he showed a deeper level of engagement
with the targeted grammar items while attempting the former task type, which might
in turn result from the C-R approach through which those items had been presented.
6.2.2 Second high-achieving informantYeddy
Yeddy (pseudonym) was another high-achieving English learner in the class
according to past assessment results. My impression as her English teacher for one
year prior to the study was that she was active and eager to learn, but was sometimes

173

inpatient and she occasionally made careless mistakes. Table 6.6 below shows her
results in the three grammar practice tasks used for generating the think-aloud
protocols.
Table 6.6 Results of the second high-achieving informant in the three grammar
practice tasks for generating think-aloud protocols
Question in
the Grammar
Practice

C-R Presented Tasks


Conditional Type 2

Tasks

Defining Relative

Deductively
Presented Task
Reported Speech

Clauses
Accuracy of Answer

Question 3

Accurate

Inaccurate

Inaccurate

Question 4

Accurate

Inaccurate

Accurate

Question 5

Accurate

Accurate

Accurate

Question 6

Accurate

Accurate

Accurate

Question 7

Accurate

Accurate

Inaccurate

Question 8

Inaccurate

Accurate

Accurate

Five

Four

Four

Total
Number of
Accurate
Answers

Among the three grammar practice tasks, she did slightly better in the one on
conditional type 2 (five out of six answers being accurate) than those on defining
relative clauses and reported speech (four out of six answers being accurate).
The think-aloud reports that Yeddy produced while she was attempting the
three grammar practice tasks were examined and all her uses of cognitive strategies
were identified and illustrated in chronological order in Tables 6.7 -6.9 below:

174

Table 6.7 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second high-achieving informant
while completing the grammar practice task on conditional type 2
Section of
the Task
being
Focused
on
Question 3

Strategy

Seeking

How the Strategy was Applied

Asking the teacher for meaning of reduce

teachers
explanation
Question 3

Analyzing

Determining the causal relationship between the two

meaning of the

parts of the prompt

prompt
Question 3

Following

Pointing at the first example, following its syntactic

syntactic

structure (and thus mistakenly choosing the type 2

structure in
previous

structure) and forming the conditional sentence for


Question 3 accordingly

Questions

sentences
Analyzing

Comparing the syntactic structure of the two examples

1 and 2

examples

provided, trying to determine whether there were


differences in meaning between the two syntactic
structures of conditional type 2

Question 4

Analyzing

Determining the causal relationship between the two

meaning of the
prompt

parts of the prompt

Seeking

Asking the teacher whether theres a need to use both

applicable

teachers
explanation

of the two syntactic structures exemplified in the two


examples

Question 4

Following
syntactic

Following the syntactic structure of the previous


conditional sentence in Question 3 and reading out the

structure in

answer for Question 4 directly

Not

previous
sentences
Questions

Analyzing

Revisiting the two examples provided, comparing the

1 and 2

examples

two syntactic structures of conditional type 2 again

Question 5

Following

Pointing at the second example, following its syntactic

syntactic

structure (and thus mistakenly choosing the type 2

structure in

structure) and reading out the answer accordingly


175

previous
Question 6

sentences
Following

Following the syntactic structure of the previous

syntactic

conditional statement in Question 5 and reading out

structure in
previous

the answer for Question 6 directly

sentences
Not
applicable

Recalling past
learning

Trying to recall the structure of conditional sentences


from the previous experience of performing C-R tasks

experience

on that grammar item

Not

Summarizing

Summarizing the uses of the two types of conditional

applicable

grammatical

sentences

information of
the targeted
structure
Question 3

Analyzing
meaning of the

Revisiting the prompt for Question 3, determining the


condition in the prompt is a possible one

prompt
Question 3

Self checking
and correction

Restructuring the conditional sentence in type 1


structure

Question 4

Analyzing
meaning of the

Revisiting the prompt for Question 4, determining the


condition in the prompt is an impossible one

prompt
Question 4

Self checking
and correction

Deciding to keep the original answer in conditional


type 1 structure

Question 5

Analyzing

Revisiting the prompt for Question 5, determining the

meaning of the
prompt

condition in the prompt is a possible one

Question 5

Self checking

Rephrasing the conditional sentence in type 1 structure

Question 6

and correction
Analyzing

Revisiting the prompt for Question 6, determining the

meaning of the

condition in the prompt is a possible one

prompt
Question 6

Self checking

Rephrasing the conditional sentence in type 1 structure

and correction
Question 7

Seeking
teachers

Asking the teacher for the explanation of using both


sides of the paper

explanation
176

Question 7

Question 7

Analyzing

Determining that the condition in the prompt is a

meaning of the
prompt

possible one

Attempting

Directly generating the answer in conditional type 1

questions by
internalized

structure without any reported processing and any time


pause

knowledge
Question 8

Seeking
teachers

Asking the teacher for the explanation of ban illegal


logging

explanation
Question 8

Question 8

Analyzing

Mistakenly considering the condition in the prompt as

meaning of the

a possible one

prompt
Attempting

Directly generating the answer in conditional type 1

questions by

structure without any reported processing and any time

internalized
knowledge

pause

Table 6.8 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second high-achieving informant
while completing the grammar practice task on defining relative clauses
Section of
the Task
being
Focused
on
Questions

Strategy

How the Strategy was Applied

Analyzing

Analyzing the content of the first examples of the task,

1 and 2

examples

identifying the content required for each of the two


blanks

Task

Reading for

rubrics

gist

Not

Identifying

applicable

targeted
grammar item

in the task

Not

Summarizing

Recalling from memory the structure of the which

applicable

grammatical

clauses

Skimming through the task rubrics in target language


Identifying which clauses as the grammar item tested

information of
the targeted
structure
177

Question 3

Segmental

First choosing who as the head word of the relative

syntactic
analysis

clause, next identifying the need to transform be into


the past simple form, which was inaccurate, then
directly copying the second part of the prompt to

Lines
between
Questions

Seeking

complete the complete relative clause


Asking the teacher for explanation of flight

teachers
explanation

3 and 4
Question 4

Seeking
teachers

Asking the teacher for clarification of where Stanley


is

explanation
Question 4

Segmental
syntactic

First choosing who as the head word of the relative


clause next identifying the need to transform be into

analysis

the present simple form, which was inaccurate, then


directly copying the second part of the prompt to
complete the relative clause

Question 4

Questions
1 and 2

Self checking

Wondering whether the verb group in the relative

and correction

clause should be in past simple or present simple tense

Analyzing
examples

Analyzing the tense of the verb groups in the relative


and main clauses of the two examples and deciding to
keep the original answer to Question 4

Question 5

Segmental

First mistakenly choosing who as the head word of

syntactic

the relative clause, next transforming the verb group

analysis

be into the past simple form, then directly copying


the second part of the prompt to complete the relative
clause

Question 6

Segmental
syntactic

First choosing which as the head word of the relative


clause, next transforming the verb group win into the

analysis

past simple form, then directly copying the second part


of the prompt to complete the relative clause

Question 5

Question 7

Self checking

Determining that the referents of the relative pronoun

and correction

in Questions 4 and 5 were the same and thus the same


relative pronoun which should be used

Attempting

Directly generating the relative clause without any

questions by
internalized

reported processing or time pause

178

knowledge
Question 7
Lines
between
Questions

Self checking
and correction

Noticing that the verb group in the relative clause


should be in past simple tense

Seeking

Asking the teacher for explanation of attached

teachers
explanation

7 and 8
Question 8

Attempting
questions by

Directly generating the relative clause without any


reported processing or time pause

internalized
knowledge
Table 6.9 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second high-achieving informant
while completing the grammar practice task on reported speech
Section of
the Task
being
Focused
on
Question 3

Question 3

Strategy

How the Strategy was Applied

Analyzing

Extracting the information from the prompt for

meaning of the
prompt

completing the sentence in reported speech

Segmental

First changing you in the main clause to him

syntactic
analysis

(where it should be her), next keeping that in the


original position, then changing I in the reported
clause to he, then transforming the verb group am
going to be into the past form to complete the
sentence

Question 4

Segmental

First changing am meeting to past continuous form,

syntactic
analysis

next deciding to keep the names of the two people


Roger and James in their original form,
then changing tonight to that night to complete the
sentence

Question 5

Analyzing

Wondering why there are the words he also before

meaning of the

the blank

prompt

179

Question 5

Question 6

Question 6

Question 7

Question 7

Question 8

Segmental

First adding said and that, next changing want

syntactic
analysis

into the past simple form, then changing me to him


to complete the sentence

Seeking

Asking the teacher for explanation of the reason why

teachers
explanation

the noun phrase their business agrees with the


singular verb form is

Segmental

First adding said and that, next changing isnt

syntactic
analysis

into the past simple form, then copying the rest of the
sentence in the prompt to complete the sentence

Seeking

Asking the teacher for explanation of how the

teachers
explanation

imperative structure in the prompt can be converted


to reported speech

Segmental

First adding said (instead of the correct one told

syntactic

with the object pronoun her) and that, next

analysis

changing dont worry into the past form to complete

Segmental

the sentence
First adding said and that, then changing I to

syntactic

he, next transforming am not going to make into to

analysis

the past form, next changing you to her to


complete the sentence

Table 6.10 below summarizes the overall patterns of Yeddys cognitive strategy
use while attempting the three grammar practice tasks
Table 6.10 Overall Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second high-achieving
informant while attempting the three grammar practice tasks
Strategies identified:

Frequency of Application:
Task on

Task on

Task on

Conditional
type 2

Defining
Relative

Reported
Speech

Clauses
Reading for gist

Seeking teachers explanation

Summarizing task requirement

Self checking and correction

Analyzing examples

Analyzing meaning of the prompt

2
180

Attempting questions by internalized

knowledge
Segmental syntactic analysis

Identifying targeted grammar item

Summarizing grammatical information


of the targeted structure

Recalling past learning experience

Following syntactic structure in previous


sentences

26

17

10

Total:

Like Louis, Yeddy showed her ability in conducting some general analysis of
the task requirement and of the targeted grammar item before tackling the individual
items of the grammar practice tasks. She, however, adopted the corresponding
strategies (reading for gist, identifying targeted grammar item and summarizing
grammatical information of the targeted structure) only in the task on defining relative
clauses (Table 6.8 above). In both the other C-R presented task on conditional type 2
and the deductively presented task on reported speech, she began by directly
analyzing meaning of the prompt for the first item. When asked to comment on the
value of such general analysis, she gave the following reply:
I think such analysis would only be useful if I am not familiar with the grammar item
testedThis was the case in the second task [on defining relative clause]. By doing
such analysis I then felt more secure about getting the right answers.
When I then asked whether there was a relationship with the C-R approach through
which the targeted grammar item had been introduced, she agreed so.

181

In fact even for the first task [on conditional type 2], in which I originally thought
itd be okay for me to tackle the items directly, I realized that I had to go back to study
the examples after answering the first item.
On the one hand, Yeddys comments above synchronized with the negative
perceptions of the C-R tasks in promoting grammatical understanding as expressed by
a minority of the informants in this study (as discussed in 5.2.3 above), which in turn
suggested a need for the teacher to acknowledge and help those learners get through
that insecure feeling. On the other hand, to compensate for that insecure perception
learners may make more frequent use of such strategies as analyzing examples and
meaning of the prompt, which in themselves are desirable to be mastered and
practised by the learners. In Yeddys case, she adopted the strategy analyzing meaning
of the prompt for eight times in the C-R presented task on conditional type 2 (Table
6.7 above), versus the two times in the deductively presented task on reported speech
(Table 6.9 above) . For the strategy analyzing examples, Yeddy did that twice in both
C-R presented tasks but not even once while completing the deductively presented
task. Similarly, she adopted the self checking and correction strategy for three to four
times in the two C-R presented tasks, but not for once in the deductively presented
task. These together might suggest that she was more engaged with the targeted
grammar item when that item had been presented though a C-R approach rather than a

182

deductive approach.
In addition to the above, there is one strategy that was found to be adopted
solely by Yeddy but not the other three informantsattempting questions by
internalized knowledge. While attempting the last two items of both C-R presented
tasks, Yeddy did not appear to have done any explicit analysis of the targeted
grammatical structure before verbalizing the answers directly, and three out of those
four answers thus produced were accurate (Tables 6.7 and 6.8 above). This
observation might suggest that she had partially internalized the grammatical
knowledge concerned and was able to make use of such knowledge in her language
production. On the contrary, the use of this strategy was absent throughout her
completion of the deductively presented task, which may result from the argument
made by such researchers as Myles (2004) and Shaffer (1989) that deductive
approaches to grammar instruction encourages memorizing rather than internalizing
grammar rules (2.2.1 and 2.6.4 above).
One should note, however, that internalization, and the related process of
restructuring, of grammatical information can be highly complicated cognitive
processes (McLaughlin, 1990; R. Ellis, 2003) and thus that it may be dangerous to
deny any potential of the deductive approaches in promoting those processes. Even
Yeddy herself revealed in the follow-up interview that she was not sure whether the

183

adoption of that strategy in the C-R presented tasks but not the deductively presented
task was related to the specific approach through which the grammar item concerned
had been presented.
Finally, Yeddy showed a higher frequency of strategy use in the two C-R
presented tasks (26 and 17 counts in the tasks on conditional type 2 and defining
relative clauses respectively) than in the deductively presented task (10 counts).
6.2.3 First low-achieving informantApple
Apple (pseudonym) was a low-achieving English learner in the class
according to past assessment results. My impression as her former English teacher
was that she showed reasonably good attitude towards learning in general but was
particularly not interested in learning English. She often said that she was hopeless in
mastering the language. Table 6.11 below shows her results in the three grammar
practice tasks used for generating the think-aloud protocols.
Table 6.11 Results of the first low-achieving informant in the three grammar
practice tasks for generating think-aloud protocols
Question in

C-R Presented Tasks

the Grammar
Practice
Tasks

Deductively
Presented Task

Conditional Type 2

Defining Relative
Clauses

Reported Speech

Accuracy of Answer
Question 3

Inaccurate

Inaccurate

Accurate

Question 4

Accurate

Accurate

Inaccurate

Question 5

Inaccurate

Accurate

Accurate

Question 6

Inaccurate

Accurate

Accurate
184

Question 7

Inaccurate

Accurate

Inaccurate

Question 8

Accurate

Accurate

Inaccurate

Two

Five

Three

Total
Number of
Accurate
Answers

Among the three grammar practice tasks, she did poorly in both the one on
conditional type 2 (two out of six answers being accurate) and that on reported speech
(three out of six answers being accurate). However, she did well in the one on
defining relative clauses (five out of six answers being accurate).
The think-aloud reports that Apple produced while she was attempting the
three grammar practice tasks were examined and all her uses of cognitive strategies
were identified and illustrated in chronological order in Tables 6.12 -6.14 below:
Table 6.12 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first low-achieving informant while
completing the grammar practice task on conditional type 2
Section of
Strategy
the Task
being
Focused on
Task
Reading for
rubrics
gist
Task
rubrics

Seeking
teachers

How the Strategy was Applied

Chunking up the task rubrics with the hope of


understanding the task requirements
Asking the teacher for explanation of the word
structures in the rubrics

explanation
Task
rubrics

Seeking
teachers

Asking the teacher for explanation of the word


necessary in the rubrics

explanation
Task

Seeking

Asking the teacher for explanation of the whole

rubrics

teachers

rubrics of the task

explanation
185

Question 3

Following

Reading the first example, following its syntactic

syntactic
structure in

structure (and thus mistakenly choosing the type 2


structure) and forming the answer accordingly

previous
Question 4

sentences
Following

Following the syntactic structure of the conditional

syntactic
structure in

sentence in Question 3 and forming the answer


accordingly

previous
sentences
Questions

Seeking

Asking the teacher for explanation of the differences

1 and 2

teachers

between the two syntactic structures of the

explanation

conditional sentences in the two examples

Following

Pointing at Question 4, following the syntactic

syntactic

structure of the conditional sentence and forming the

structure in
previous

answer accordingly, yet leaving the verb group in the


if-clause (i.e. recycle) in present simple tense

Question 5

sentences
Question 6

Following
syntactic

Following the syntactic structure of the previous


conditional sentence in Question 5 and forming the

structure in
previous

answer directly

sentences
Question 7

Following
syntactic

Following the syntactic structure of the previous


conditional sentence in Question 6 and forming the

structure in

answer directly

previous
sentences
Question 8

Question 8

Following

Following the syntactic structure of the previous

syntactic
structure in

conditional sentence in Question 7 and forming the


answer directly, yet leaving the verb group in the

previous
sentences

if-clause (i.e. ban) in the present simple tense

Seeking

Asking the teacher for explanation of the phrase

teachers

illegal logging

explanation
Question 3

Self checking

Proofreading the conditional sentence in Question 3,

and correction

keeping the original type 2 structure


186

Question 4

Self checking

Proofreading the conditional sentence in Question 4,

Question 5

and correction
Self checking

keeping the original type 2 structure


Proofreading the conditional statement in Question

and correction

5, transforming the verb group in the if-clause into


the past simple form

Question 8

Self checking

Proofreading the conditional statement in Question

and correction

5, transforming the verb group in the if-clause into


the past simple form

Table 6.13 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first low-achieving informant while
completing the grammar practice task on defining relative clauses
Section of
the Task
being
Focused on
Task

Strategy

How the Strategy was Applied

Reading for

Chunking up the task rubrics with the hope of

rubrics

gist

understanding the task requirements

Task
rubrics

Seeking
teachers

Asking the teacher for explanation of the word


relative in the rubrics

explanation
Not
applicable

Summarizing
grammatical

Summarizing form memory the structure of relative


clauses

information of
the targeted
structure
Question 3

Segmental
syntactic

First choosing which as the head word of the


relative clause, next transforming be into the past

analysis

simple form, which was inaccurate, then directly


copying the second part of the prompt to form the
complete relative clause

Not

Seeking

Asking the teacher for explanation of the differences

applicable

teachers
explanation

among the various relative pronouns

Question 4

Segmental

First choosing which as the head word of the

syntactic
analysis

relative clause, next identifying the need to transform


be into the past simple form, which was inaccurate,
then directly copying the rest of the prompt to form
187

the complete relative clause


Question 5

Segmental
syntactic

First choosing which as the head word of the


relative clause and transforming be into the past

analysis

simple form, then directly copying the second part of


the prompt to form the complete relative clause

Question 6

Question 7

Question 8

Segmental

First choosing which as the head word of the

syntactic

relative clause, next transforming win into the past

analysis

simple form, then directly copying the second part of


the prompt to form the complete relative clause

Segmental
syntactic

First choosing which as the head word of the


relative clause, next transforming love into the past

analysis

simple form, and directly copying the second part of

Segmental

the prompt to form the complete relative clause


First choosing which as the head word of the

syntactic

relative clause, next transforming be taken into the

analysis

past simple form, and directly copying the second


part of the prompt to form the complete relative
clause

Not
applicable

Seeking
teachers

Asking the teacher for clarification of the situations


of using which and who as relative pronouns

explanation
Not

Summarizing

(Having received no answer to the previous question)

applicable

grammatical

summarizing from memory the uses of which and

information of
the targeted

who

structure
Question 3

Self checking
and correction

Determining that the relative pronoun Question 3


should be who instead of which

Question 4

Self checking

Determining that the relative pronoun Question 4

and correction

should be who instead of which

Self checking

Determining that the relative pronoun Question 7

and correction

should be who instead of which

Question 7

188

Table 6.14 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first low-achieving informant while
completing the grammar practice task on reported speech
Section of
the Task
being
Focused
on
Task

Strategy

Reading for gist

rubrics

How the Strategy was Applied

Chunking up the task rubrics with the hope of


understanding the task requirements

Question 3 Analyzing
meaning of the

Extracting the relevant information from the prompt


for completing the statement in reported speech

prompt
Whole
task

Seeking
teachers

Asking the teacher for further explanation of the


situational context of the task

explanation
Question 3 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

First changing you in the main clause to her , next


keeping the word that in the original position and
changing I in the prompt to he, then transforming
am going to be into the past form, and finally
uttering the complete reported clause

Question 4 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

First changing the verb group in the prompt from


present continuous to past continuous, next changing
tonight to now, where the required time
expression is that night, then forming the complete
sentence with a problematic time reference

Question 5 Analyzing
meaning of the
prompt
Question 5 Segmental
syntactic
analysis
Question 6 Segmental
syntactic
analysis
Question 7 Segmental

Sorting out why the subject of the sentence in the


prompt (i.e. They) is different from the one given
before the blank (i.e. He)
First adding said and that, next changing want
into the past simple form, then changing me to
him and to complete the sentence
First adding said and that, next changing isnt
into the past simple form and copying the rest of the
sentence in the prompt to complete the sentence
Changing dont worry into its past simple form and

syntactic

filling in the resulting verb group as the answer,

analysis

which distorted the original meaning of the sentence


in the prompt
189

Question 8 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

First adding said and that, then changing I to


he, next changing am not going to make to the
past form and copying the rest of the sentence in the
prompt (thus leaving the object pronoun you
unchanged)

Table 6.15 below summarizes the overall patterns of Apples cognitive strategy
use while attempting the three grammar practice tasks.
Table 6.15 Overall Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the first low-achieving
informant while attempting the three grammar practice tasks
Strategies identified:

Frequency of Application:
Task on

Task on

Task on

Conditional

Defining

Reported

type 2

Relative
Clauses

Speech

Reading for gist

Seeking teachers explanation

Summarizing task requirement

Self checking and correction

Analyzing examples

Analyzing meaning of the prompt

Attempting questions by internalized


knowledge

Segmental syntactic analysis

Identifying targeted grammar item


Summarizing grammatical information

0
0

0
2

0
0

Recalling past learning experience

Following syntactic structure in previous

16

15

10

of the targeted structure

sentences
Total:

From her think-aloud reports, I found that Apple tended to adopt a strategy
dominantly while attempting each of the three tasks. In both the C-R presented task

190

on defining relative clauses and the deductively presented task on reported speech,
she conducted segmental syntactic analysis once for generating her answer to each of
the six items (six times per task in total, Tables 6.13 and 6.14 above). In the other C-R
presented task on conditional type 2, however, she attempted each item by following
the syntactic structure in a previous sentence (six times in total, Table 6.12 above). In
the follow-up interview, Apple revealed that she originally would like to adopt the
syntactic analysis strategy in the task on conditional type 2 as well, and that she did
not do so because she was not confident in her understanding of that particular
grammar item even after she performed the corresponding C-R task of the present
study:
Ive forgotten almost everything regarding the structure. Actually, I did not
understand much about it during the lesson, and thus I had to follow the examples.
While this reply may explain her dominant use of the strategy following the syntactic
structure in previous sentences in that particular task, I was still curious about the case
of the other C-R presented task. Apparently she did not gain much grammatical
understanding in defining relative clauses after performing the corresponding C-R
task of the present study as well:
I tried doing [segmental syntactic] analysis of that grammar item because that
seemed to be easier to meI still did not know what was going on during your

191

teaching.
Apples perceptions towards the C-R tasks were even more negative than Yeddys as
discussed above, and she repeatedly expressed her preference for deductive grammar
explanation to an inductive C-R approach.
Actually, Apples lack of confidence in her understanding of the two targeted
grammar items of the present study was also reflected by the relatively higher
frequency of her seeking teachers explanation while completing the two C-R
presented tasks (five and three times in the tasks on conditional type 2 and defining
relative clauses respectively) than the deductively presented task (one time). Among
those five and three times of asking, she requested explicit explanation of certain
aspects of both targeted grammar items (e.g. the difference between the two possible
orders of the if-clause and the main clause in a conditional sentence (Table 6.12
above), and that between which and who as relative pronouns, Table 6.13 above),
and interestingly she continued to put forward those enquiries even if she knew she
would not get an answer from me as the teacher, as explained in her following quote
from the follow-up interview:
I knew you wouldnt answer those questions [regarding the targeted grammar items],
but I still kept asking just in case you did. It would be good even if you did that just
once or twiceActually, by asking those questions, I could at least identify what I

192

didnt understand, and I could make guesses then.


To Apple, therefore, seeking teachers explanation on the targeted grammar items
was both an active strategy to get such explanation and a compensation strategy to
help her organize her understanding of those items so as to allow her to make guesses
on what she had not understood even when she did not receive corresponding
explanation. Although she revealed later during the interview that she was not sure
whether those guesses were useful in helping her reach her answers to the items, they
at least provided her with an approach to tackling the two grammar practice tasks
concerned.
When asked why she did not adopt the same strategy in the deductively
presented task on reported speech, Apple replied that she was more familiar with the
grammar item concerned which made the use of that strategy unnecessary. The
accuracy of her answers in that task (three out of six answers being accurate),
however, did not seem to suggest that, especially if that was compared with her
performance in the C-R presented task on defining relative clauses (five out of six
answers being accurate).
Apart from seeking teachers explanation, another strategy that Apple only
adopted in the two C-R presented tasks but not the deductively presented task was self
checking and correction (four and three times in the tasks on conditional type 2 and

193

defining relative clauses respectively, Tables 6.12 and 6.13 above). Unlike the
previous two strong learners who adopted this strategy only when they realized
problems in their answers that they had produced, she deliberately proof-read her
answers after she completed the two tasks. When asked why she did so in the
follow-up interview, she related that measure to the experience she had had when she
was engaged in the C-R tasks of the present study:
I remember when you asked us to check our answers to the questions on the
handouts [of the C-R tasks, Appendix 5] with our classmates, I realized that many of
my original answers were wrong. Thats why I think Id need to check my answers [to
the grammar practice tasks] again and again this time.
I then asked why she didnt proof-read her answers in the deductively presented task,
and she said she had already done so silently and quickly.

Whether or not she could

do so in such an advanced manner, it was obvious that her experience in performing


the C-R tasks of this study increased her awareness level of her own grammatical
proficiency, and in turn induced her adopting the explicit self-checking strategy and
thus helped her correct her grammatical mistakes. In the grammar practice task on
defining relative clauses, for instance, Apple was able to turn two of her answers
grammatical after she proofread them.
Finally, like the two strong learners, Apple showed a higher frequency of

194

strategy use in the two C-R presented tasks (16 and 15 counts in the tasks on
conditional type 2 and defining relative clauses respectively) than in the deductively
presented task (10 counts).
6.2.4 Second low-achieving informantKen
Ken (pseudonym) was another low-achieving English learner according to his
past assessment results. He, however, had very serious attitude towards his studies and
he was eager to seek advice on learning English throughout the period when I was his
English teacher. He was keen on organizing his thoughts clearly before voicing them
out and that sometimes made him respond to others a bit slowly. Table 6.16 below
shows his results in the three grammar practice tasks used for generating the
think-aloud protocols.
Table 6.16 Results of the second low-achieving informant in the three
grammar practice tasks for generating think-aloud protocols
Question in the

C-R Presented Tasks

Grammar
Practice Tasks

Deductively
Presented Task

Conditional Type
2

Defining Relative
Clauses

Reported Speech

Accuracy of Answer
Question 3
Question 4

Inaccurate
Accurate

Inaccurate
Accurate

Accurate
Accurate

Question 5

Inaccurate

Inaccurate

Accurate

Question 6

Accurate

Accurate

Accurate

Question 7

Inaccurate

Accurate

Inaccurate

Question 8

Accurate

Inaccurate

Inaccurate

Three

Three

Four

Total Number of
Accurate
Answers

195

Among the three grammar practice tasks, Ken answered three items accurately (out of
a total of six) in the C-R presented tasks on both conditional type 2 and defining
relative clauses. His performance in the deductively presented task on reported speech
was slightly better, with four out of six answers being accurate.
The think-aloud reports that Ken produced while he was attempting the
three grammar practice tasks were examined and all his uses of cognitive strategies
were identified and illustrated in chronological order in Tables 6.17 -6.19 below:
Table 6.17 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second low-achieving informant
while completing the grammar practice task on conditional type 2
Section of
the Task
being
Focused
on
Task

Strategy

How the Strategy was Applied

Reading for

Reading the task rubrics repeatedly to work out the

rubrics

gist

task requirements

Task
rubrics

Seeking
teachers

Asking the teacher for explanation of the rubrics of


the task

explanation
Questions
1 and 2
Whole
task

Analyzing
examples

Reading aloud the first two example sentences,


matching the parts of the sentences to the relevant

Identifying

parts of the prompt


Identifying the sentences linked by if as the

targeted

grammar item being tested

grammar item
Question 3 Segmental

First deciding that the if-clause should be formed by

syntactic

the first part of the prompt and it should be in present

analysis

simple tense, then deciding that the verb in the second


part of the prompt to be in would + bare infinitive
structure and forming the complete sentence
accordingly (with ill-formed conditional structure)
196

Question 4 Analyzing
meaning of the
prompt
Question 4 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Identifying a casual relationship between the two


parts of the prompt for each question
First deciding that the if-clause should be formed by
the first part of the prompt and it should be in past
simple tense, next deciding that the verb in the second
part of the prompt to be in would + bare infinitive
structure and forming the complete sentence
accordingly

Not
Applicable

Summarizing
grammatical

Noting the interchangeable order of the if-clause and


the main clause in a conditional sentence

information of
the targeted
structure
Question 5 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

First deciding that the if-clause should be formed by


the first part of the prompt and it should be in present
simple tense, next deciding that the verb in the second
part of the prompt to be in would + bare infinitive
structure, thus forming a conditional sentence not
conforming to the required type 1 structure

Not
applicable

Summarizing
grammatical

Distinguishing between conditional type 1 and type 2


with reference to the modal verb used in the main

information of

clause (i.e. will and would)

the targeted
structure
Question 6 Analyzing
meaning of the
prompt
Question 6 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

Determining the condition in the prompt is a possible


one
First deciding that the if-clause should be formed by
the first part of the prompt for the sentence and it
should be in present simple tense, next deciding that
the verb in the second part of the prompt to be in will
+ bare infinitive structure and forming the complete
sentence accordingly

Question 7 Analyzing
meaning of the

Determining the condition in the prompt is a possible


one

prompt
Question 7 Segmental

First deciding that the if-clause should be formed by


197

syntactic

the first part of the prompt of the question and it

analysis

should be in present simple tense, next inaccurately


using the would + bare infinitive structure to form
the verb group in the main clause, thus giving an

Question 8 Seeking
teachers
explanation
Question 8 Analyzing
meaning of the
prompt
Question 8 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

inaccurate answer to the question


Asking the teacher for explanation of the word
illegal
Determining the condition in the prompt is an
impossible one
First deciding that the if-clause should be formed by
the first part of the prompt and it should be in past
simple tense, next inaccurately using the would + be
+ past participle structure to form the verb group in
the main clause, thus giving an inaccurate answer to
the question

Question 3 Self checking


and correction
Question 4 Self checking
and correction

Proofreading the conditional sentence in Question 3,


keeping its original structure (i.e. not identifying the
mistake in the verb group of the main clause)
Proofreading the conditional statement in Question 4,
keeping its type 1 structure

Table 6.18 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second low-achieving informant
while completing the grammar practice task on defining relative clauses
Section of
the Task
being
Focused
on
Task
rubrics
Task
rubrics

Strategy

How the Strategy was Applied

Reading for

Reading aloud the task rubrics in chunks to work out

gist

the task requirements

Identifying

Identifying defining relative clauses from the rubrics

targeted

as the grammar item being tested,

grammar item
Not
applicable

Recalling past

Recalling from memory what he did when he was

learning

performing the C-R task on the targeted structure

experience
198

Questions

Analyzing

Analyzing the two examples to identify the words used

1 and 2
Not

examples
Summarizing

to link the two clauses (i.e. the relative pronouns)


Summarizing his own understanding of the targeted

applicable

grammatical

grammar item

information of
the targeted
structure
Question 3 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

First choosing which as the head word of the relative


clause, then changing be into its past simple form
(instead of the required present perfect form) and
directly copying the rest of the prompt to form the
complete relative clause

Question 4 Segmental
syntactic
analysis
Question 5 Segmental

Not
applicable

First choosing who as the head word of the relative


clause, next identifying the need to transform be into
the past simple form, then directly copying the second
part of the prompt to form the complete relative clause
First choosing those as the head word of the relative

syntactic

clause, which is not grammatical, next changing be

analysis

into the past simple and copying the second part of the
prompt to form the complete relative clause

Seeking
teachers

Asking the teacher for explanation of whether there


should be a change in tense of the verb group in the

explanation

relative clause

Question 6 Segmental
syntactic
analysis
Question 7 Segmental

First choosing which as the head word of the relative


clause, next changing win into the past simple form,
then directly copying the second part of the prompt to
form the complete relative clause
First choosing who as the head word of the relative

syntactic

clause, next changing love into the past simple form,

analysis

and copying the second part of the prompt to form the


complete relative clause

Question 8 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

First choosing which as the head word of the relative


clause, next mistakenly changing be taken into the
past simple form, and copying the second part of the
prompt to form the complete relative clause

Question 8 Self checking


and correction

Reading his answers to Question 8 once briefly and


making no change to any of them

199

Table 6.19 Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second low-achieving informant
while completing the grammar practice task on reported speech
Section of
the Task
being
Focused
on
Task

Strategy

How the Strategy was Applied

Reading for

Reading aloud the task rubrics in chunks with the hope

rubrics

gist

of working out the task requirements

Whole
task

Seeking
teachers

Asking the teacher for explanation of the relationship


between the two people in the task context

explanation
Question 3 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

First changing you in the main clause to his wife,


next keeping that in the original position and changing
I in the that clause to he, then transforming am going
to be into the past form, and finally uttering the
complete sentence

Question 4 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

First adding said and that, next changing I to he as


the subject of the reported clause, then changing am
meeting into the past continuous form, and finally
changing tonight to that night and forming the answer
to the question

Question 5 Segmental
syntactic
analysis
Question 6 Segmental
syntactic
analysis
Question 7 Segmental
syntactic
analysis

First adding said and that, next changing want into


the past simple form, then changing me to him and
forming the answer to the question
First adding said and that, next deciding to keep
their in its original form, next changing isnt into the
past simple form and forming the answer to the question
First adding said (instead of the required told with the
object pronoun her) and that, next deciding not to
change the original expression dont worry in the
prompt, thus forming an agrammatical sentence as the
answer

Question 8 Segmental

First adding said and that, then changing I to he,

syntactic

next changing am not going to make to the past form,

analysis

and finally forming a complete sentence yet leaving the


object pronoun you unchanged and thus distorting the
original meaning
200

Table 6.20 below summarizes the overall patterns of Kens cognitive strategy use
while attempting the three grammar practice tasks
Table 6.20 Overall Pattern of cognitive strategy use of the second low-achieving
informant while attempting the three grammar practice tasks
Strategies identified:

Frequency of Application:
Task on

Task on

Task on

Conditional
type 2

Defining
Relative

Reported
Speech

Clauses
Reading for gist

Seeking teachers explanation

Summarizing task requirement

Self checking and correction

Analyzing examples

Analyzing meaning of the prompt

Attempting questions by internalized


knowledge

Segmental syntactic analysis

Identifying targeted grammar item

Summarizing grammatical information

0
0

1
0

0
0

19

13

of the targeted structure


Recalling past learning experience
Following syntactic structure in previous
sentences
Total:

Like Apple, Ken showed a preference of adopting the strategy segmental


syntactic analysis while attempting the three grammar practice tasks. In fact, he did
such analysis once for each of the six items in all the three tasks, although he was not
always able to reach a grammatical sentence accordingly. He was also aware of his
dominant use of this strategy, and in the follow-up interview he reported a major merit
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of it:
By breaking down the whole sentence into smaller parts and working on each part
independently, I could try my best to avoid making any mistakes in those partsI
dont think I can handle too much at one time.
Kens comment above highlighted the desirability of helping learners organize
their grammar processing in a systematic and manageable way. One way of achieving
that, as suggested by both questionnaire and semi-structured interview data of the
present study (5.3.1 above), is to carefully stage the grammar discoveries on the part
of the learners in the form of C-R tasks. When asked whether his experience of
carrying out the C-R tasks of the present study had enhanced his competence in
conducting such syntactic analysis, Ken thought there could be a direct relationship
between the two:
For example, in [the grammar practice task on] conditional sentences, I was basically
following the flow of the questions in the handout [for the corresponding C-R task],
first identifying the two parts of the sentence, then deciding which tense to use.
Although there was evidence from his think-aloud report (Table 6.17 above) that he
tended to overgeneralize the conditional type 2 structure while attempting the
grammar practice task, it was clear that the two stages of syntactic analysis that he
outlined above, and that he followed rather consistently in that practice task,

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conformed to the corresponding stages of focusing on meaning and on form in the


C-R tasks in this study. With this finding, one may speculate that the C-R tasks may
help enable and encourage some learners to carry out grammar analysis in their
language encounters, which may in turn promote a process view of grammar as
advocated by such theorists as Larsen-Freeman (2003) (2.4.4 above).
Actually, despite the same frequency count of the segmental syntactic analysis
strategy in Kens attempts in all the three grammar practice tasks (six counts), there
was one major difference regarding his use of such strategy across the two types of
practice tasks, in terms of its integration with other strategies. In all the three tasks,
Ken first tried to understand the situational context of the task through applying the
reading for gist strategy and, in the two tasks on conditional sentences and on reported
speech, seeking teachers explanation. Then, in the case of that deductively presented
task on reported speech, Ken directly turned to carrying out syntactic analysis of each
of the six items in the task (Table 6.19 above), thus resulting in a total strategy
frequency count of eight only. In the case of the two C-R presented tasks (Tables 6.17
and 6.18 above), however, he took such additional steps as analyzing examples,
identifying targeted grammar items, and summarizing grammatical information of
those items both prior to and during his syntactic analysis, and this resulted in relative
higher strategy frequency counts of 19 and 13 for the tasks on conditional type 2 and

203

defining relative clauses respectively.


Nevertheless, the facts that Ken managed to integrate his dominant segmental
syntactic analysis strategy with some other strategies and that he showed higher
frequencies of cognitive strategy use in the two C-R presented tasks over the
deductively presented task did not result in his better performance in the former tasks.
In fact, he got more accurate answers for the items in the deductively presented task
(four out of six) than in the two C-R presented tasks (three out of six). From the
following comment that Ken made during the interview, I could sense that he was
disappointed by that as well:
I was a bit surprised when I got the results [for the three grammar practice tasks. I
thought I was able to do the first two [C-R presented] tasks better, since I thought I
was more familiar with the grammar items concerned and I have done more [analysis]
on them.
On the one hand, it may not be fair to compare learners results in those three
tasks directly, since, in addition to the approach through which the grammar items
concerned were introduced, the difficulty levels of those tasks can have been affected
by such other factors as number of unknown lexical items and familiarity with the
context. On the other hand, teachers adopting the C-R approach to grammar teaching
must be prepared to handle possible negative feelings developed among those learners

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like Ken who have completed the C-R tasks and have thus carried out in-depth
analysis of the grammar items targeted but, in the end, got unsatisfied with their
results in the subsequent grammar practice tasks. One way to handle those feelings,
following the process view of grammar as discussed above, is to fully acknowledge
the learners accomplishment in conducting the grammar analysis in addition to, or in
some cases instead of, the degree to which the language thus generated by the learners
is grammatical.
6.3 Comparison between the four informants think-aloud protocol reports
Through comparing data from the think-aloud reports of the four informants
above, I discuss the similarities and differences identified in the patterns of cognitive
strategy use of the two high-achieving and the two low-achieving informants during
their completing the two types of grammar practice tasks.
6.3.1 Similarities in the four informants think-aloud protocol reports
To begin with, it seems that all the four informants, regardless of their ability
level, showed higher frequencies of adopting the cognitive strategies while attempting
the two C-R presented tasks than the deductively presented task.

As is clear from

the think-aloud reports of each informant, each single strategy use was relevant and
conducive to his/her completion of the corresponding grammar practice task. One
would, therefore, agree that a higher frequency of strategy use in one practice task

205

suggests a higher level of cognitive engagement with that task, and the grammar item
targeted at, on the part of the informant concerned. Under this line of argument, all the
four informants may have been more cognitively engaged with the two targeted
grammar items presented through the inductive C-R tasks of the present study than
that presented through a deductive approach under the context of completing grammar
practice tasks. This finding comes in line with the work of such theorists as Batstone
and Ellis (2009), Craik and Lockhart (1972), and Larsen-Freeman (2003), who have
advocated the discovery approach to learning based on the rationale that learners
discovery process promotes greater depth of processing of the set of information
being learnt, which in turn results in more substantial learning on the part of them
(2.5.2.1 above).
Batstone and Ellis (2009), for instance, argue that the inductive C-R approach
characterized by guided discovery of rules before their presentation involves greater
depth of processing than is the case with traditional deductive pedagogy (p. 198).
Such depth of processing results from learners intentional attention to specific
examplars of the grammatical feature which according to them may be essential for
the learning of such grammatical features as those which have no equivalents in the
learners L1 (p. 198). The relationship between level of cognitive engagement with
the learning object and amount of learning that results, in fact, has been convincingly

206

discussed in Schmidts noticing hypothesis as well (2.5.1.1 above). In his 2001 paper,
for instance, he argues that people learn about the things they attend to and do not
learn much about the things they do not attend to (p.30).
Another similarity among both the high- and low-achieving learners was their
likelihood to adopt the segmental syntactic analysis strategy in tackling the items in
the grammar practice tasks. Such strategy was found to have been extensively adopted
by all the four informants in the deductively presented task. As for the two C-R
presented tasks, there were also traces of its use, but in a less frequent manner among
the two high-achieving learners. When asked for the reason behind their preference
for that particular strategy in the follow-up interviews, all the four informants
attributed its use to their familiarity with it since they had been doing such analysis in
the past grammar practice tasks and exercises for long.
Whether or not there was a direct relationship between their adoption of such
strategy and their past exposure to grammar instruction which was dominantly
deductive in nature cannot be determined in the present study. Nevertheless, the fact
that the two high-achieving learners relied to a lesser degree on that strategy in the
two C-R presented tasks might suggest that the experience of those two learners in
performing the C-R tasks of the present study expanded their mental framework for
processing the targeted grammar items in their subsequent language encounters,

207

which would be particularly beneficial in facilitating their interpreting and expressing


meanings in authentic communicative situations when there is usually no time for
detailed syntactic analysis. One should, however, note that the two high-achieving
informants delivering the think-aloud reports may not be representative of the
situation of even learners of comparable academic ability, and that the reports from
the two low-achieving learners seemed to show that they still got stuck to the
syntactic analysis approach in processing the grammar items regardless of the
approach through which such items had been presented.
Finally, another strategy that was found to be commonly adopted by both the
high- and low-achieving learners mainly in the C-R presented tasks but rarely in the
deductively presented task is self checking and correction. From a teachers point of
view, the potential of the C-R tasks in promoting learners use of such strategy can be
encouraging, as it promotes learner autonomy. As discussed, however, the informants
checking their answers in the C-R presented tasks mainly resulted from their lack of
confidence in their grammatical understanding developed through the C-R tasks, and
such checking and the possible subsequent correction did not necessarily produce
more accurate answers to the items in the tasks. Despite this, from the interview data,
that strategy was regarded by all the four informants as a desirable measure to take in
order to enhance their performance in all sorts of grammar practice tasks, but they

208

also reported that they often found themselves lacking the skills needed to check
their work and to identify and correct their mistakes in an effective way. In addition to
exploring ways to motivate their learners to always self check their work, it would
thus be equally important for teachers to guide them through the checking process,
providing them with, e.g., the necessary language support and advice on tackling the
difficulties involved.
6.3.2 Differences among the four informants think-aloud protocol reports
Despite the above similarities, there were two major differences between the
patterns of cognitive strategy use of the high- and low-achieving informants identified
in their respective think-aloud reports. To start with, while the two low-achieving
informants tended to stick to one single strategy in answering the items in both the
C-R and deductively presented tasks (dominantly segmental syntactic analysis), the
high-achieving counterparts tended to show the use of a combination of different
strategies even within one task, resulting in both higher total frequency counts and
wider varieties of types of strategies adopted. As discussed above, the low-achieving
informants preference of the syntactic analysis strategy was mainly due to their
familiarity with it and the sense of security that it provided, and they seemed either
not to be ready or willing to try out new strategies unless they had to (as in Apples
case while her attempting the C-R presented task on conditional type 2).

209

As one should note, risk taking and tolerance of ambiguity are two important
attributes displayed by successful language learners (cf. Oxford and Ehrman, 1992),
and the two high-achieving informants going beyond their psychological comfort
zone and using different strategies in combination might contribute to their relatively
higher proficiency of the TL. In view of this, it may be advisable for teachers to help
their learners develop and to encourage them to make use of various strategies in
processing targeted grammar items in different language use situations. A starting
point of identifying such strategies can be analyzing the existing ones that are
successfully practiced by the learners themselves, especially the more successful ones,
through studying their think-aloud reports like the ones in the present study. In fact,
such learner strategy training (cf. Cohen, 1998; R. Ellis, 1997b; Oxford et al., 1990)
can be viewed as both facilitating and resulting from the adoption of a C-R approach
to language instruction, since, after all, through such an approach, learners are to
grasp the skills and strategies needed for carrying out their own language analysis and
for building their grammatical understanding through performing discovery tasks.
This corresponds to what R. Ellis (2002) refers to as the learner-training function of
a C-R teaching approach (2.5.2.1 above).
Apart from the above, another difference in cognitive strategy use between the
high- and low-achieving informants laid in their adoption of the seeking teachers

210

explanation strategy. While it was found that the total number of application of that
strategy differed among the individual informants independent of their ability level
(i.e. the low-achieving informants did not necessarily seek explanation from the
teacher for more times than the high-achieving counterparts), there were differences
identified in the contents being sought.
The two high-achieving informants, when seeking explanation during their
completing the grammar practice tasks, mainly asked for the meaning of the unknown
lexical items that they came across in the prompts of those tasks, which they had been
told in advance was the only type of questions that they could get explanation from
me as the teacher. It was interesting to find out from the follow- up interview with both
the informants that they thought they could still complete the items containing those
unknown words even without my explanation (by just manipulating the grammar
items targeted), and that they sought the explanation on those words just to help them
understand the meaning to be expressed better. In addition, I found that the two
high-achieving informants applied that particular strategy more frequently while
completing the two C-R presented tasks than the deductively presented task: Louis,
adopted the strategy twice and once while completing the two C-R presented tasks on
conditional type 2 and defining relative clauses respectively, but for zero time while
completing the deductively presented task on reported speech. Yeddy, the second

211

high-achieving informant, adopted the strategy for four, three and two times in those
three tasks respectively. These may confirm the observation made in 6.2.1 and 6.2.2
above that the two informants engagement with the meaning aspect of the targeted
grammar items could better be promoted if those items were presented through
inductive C-R tasks than a deductive approach.
On the other hand, the two low-achieving informants, while still asking for
explanation on the lexical items in the prompt for one or two times, showed a wider
range of concernson the targeted grammar items (e.g. the use of different relative
pronouns in the task on defining relative clauses (Table 6.13 above), on the contextual
information regarding the practice tasks (e.g. what was happening between the two
people over the phone in the task on reported speech (Table 6.19 above), or even on
the task requirement (e.g. elaborating the rubrics of the task on conditional type 2
(Table 6.17 above).
As discussed in 6.2.3 above, one reason for their keeping asking those
questions even after getting no reply from me as the teacher was that the questions in
themselves helped them identify what they did not know about the tasks and/or the
grammar items concerned, so that they could then make guesses, the effectiveness of
which being obviously questionable. This, on the other hand, possibly revealed a
characteristic of the weak learnersdependence on the teacher, and was particularly

212

evident when a comparison was made with how the two high-achieving informants
tried to seek the same information. By adopting such strategies as actively identifying
the targeted grammar items, summarizing the grammatical information and the task
requirement, and recalling past learning experience, those two more able learners, as
one would agree, were more independent and skilful than their low-achieving
counterparts at least under the context of completing the grammar practice tasks.
A clear implication from this, apart from the need to provide training on the
strategies concerned, is that teachers should explore ways to help their learners
develop learner independence. Specifically, in view of the discrepancies in strategy
use in attempting to get the necessary grammatical and contextual information
between the high- and low-achieving informants, one way to achieve that is to make
the learners aware of all the possible strategies available to them and guiding them
through selecting the most appropriate ones in a given situation. As Cohen (1998)
rightly points out, to facilitate language acquisition, learners, in addition to possessing
the strategies, must become more aware of the range of possible strategies that they
can consciously select during language learning and language use (p.65).
6.4 Conclusion
In this chapter I have compared four informants patterns of cognitive strategy
use while attempting grammar practice tasks in which the targeted grammar items

213

concerned had been presented through the inductive C-R tasks of the present study or
a deductive explanation approach. It was found that there were both similarities and
differences in terms of strategy use of the same informant across the two types of
tasks, and there were also similarities and differences in the high- and low-achieving
informants strategy use in those tasks. Not surprisingly, the high-achieving
informants showed more frequent and varied strategy use in both types of tasks. The
suggestion of providing adequate strategy training for the learners has been made
from the comparison, and the relationship between such training and teaching
grammar through the C-R tasks has been discussed as well.

214

Chapter 7
Conclusion and Implications
This final chapter concludes the present study from five perspectives. It begins
with a brief summary of the findings of this study with specific reference to the three
research questions (1.3 above), which is followed by a discussion on the implications
drawn from those findings. Next it states the significance of the study and identifies
two issues concerning L2 pedagogy arising from the data analysis. Finally it makes
recommendations for future research.
7.1 Summary of the studys findings
To begin with, in response to the first research question concerning the extent to
which the grammatical C-R tasks impacted on the informants grammar learning, test
results and data from the questionnaire suggested that the C-R tasks promoted
acquisition of explicit knowledge of the targeted grammar items on the part of the
majority of the informants. There were major differences between the informant
groups mean scores in the pretests and the immediate posttests on both targeted
grammar items, which suggested that the two cycles of C-R tasks did promote gains
in understanding of those items. The mean scores in the delayed posttests were also
higher than those in the respective pretests, indicating that such gains were to a large
extent retainable after four weeks time. The extent to which the C-R tasks promoted

215

learners acquisition of implicit knowledge of the targeted grammar items and whether
there are any possible gains (both explicit and implicit) in the non-targeted grammar
items, however, were beyond the scope of the present study.
Regarding the second research question concerning the informants perceptions
of the C-R tasks, I found that the majority of them were reasonably engaged with both
the steps of the tasks and the targeted grammar items. Many of them regarded the C-R
tasks as a systematic way to promote grammatical understanding and fulfilled their
expectations on grammar learning. There were fewer of them, however, who were
motivated by and confident in learning grammar through the C-R approach, possibly
resulting from their potentially contradictory view of English grammar as being both
boring yet an important aspect of the language to be mastered. While most of the
informants were aware of the differences between the inductive C-R tasks and the
deductive approach which I had been practicing, there were a small majority of them
who preferred learning grammar through the former. However, a number of them
thought deductive explanation still constitutes a more secure pedagogic approach as
grammatical information is provided by the teacher rather than discovered by
themselves.
As for the third research question concerning the informants engagement with
grammar items presented using either the C-R tasks or a deductive approach, both the

216

high and low ability informants seemed to have shown more frequent use of cognitive
strategies while completing the practice tasks on the grammar items presented through
the former approach, suggesting that they may have been more engaged with those
items than with the counterparts presented deductively. Specifically, the high ability
informants tended to put more focus on the meaning aspect of the grammar items
presented through C-R tasks, in addition to their form. The low-ability informants, on
the other hand, were mainly engaged with the form of grammar items presented
through both an inductive C-R approach and a deductive approach. They, not
surprisingly, showed less strategy use and less independence while attempting both
types of practice tasks. In view of the small number of informants producing the
think-aloud reports, one would be aware of the limitation in generalizing these
observations to other learner groups.
7.2 Implications from the findings of the study
This section discusses the reflections on and implications that can be drawn from
the findings of the study in three domains: theories of grammar and grammatical C-R,
research methodology and practice of grammar teaching in the L2 classroom context.
7.2.1 Implications for theory
To begin with, while previous studies reviewed in Chapter 2 have shown that
deductive and inductive approaches to grammar pedagogy are points on the same

217

methodological continuum (Burgess and Etherington, 2002) and are complementary


to rather than mutually exclusive from each other (e.g., Decoo, 1996; Nagata, 1997),
this study adds to such framework that the integration of the two can occur
spontaneously during the lesson, in addition to being planned in advance. While the
C-R tasks in this study were predominantly inductive in design, in the sense that the
informants were expected to discover grammatical information on their own, I have
realized that the feedback that they received from their peers and from me as the
teacher both during and after their discovery process had some similarities with
deductive explanation confirming, refining and/or modifying what they had
discovered. As reported in Chapter 5 above, such feedback, even though not
structured in the original teaching sequence, could play a significant role in promoting
the informants mastery of the targeted grammar items, especially for those who were
unable or reluctant to develop such mastery through engaging themselves in the C-R
tasks.
In addition, this study shows that the product view (i.e. viewing grammar as a
static set of knowledge, rules etc.) and the process view of grammar (i.e. applying the
set of knowledge in language use situations to make the meaning expression more
precise and concise) (2.4.4 above) are not necessarily in conflict with each other.
While completing the C-R tasks of this study, in order to achieve the ultimate goal of

218

understanding the form, meaning and use of the targeted grammar items (the
product), the informants were guided to go through the process of applying their
existing grammatical knowledge while communicating with each other. To prevent the
learners from using only the most basic grammatical structures (or just lexical phrases
or their L1) in conducting such communication and thus avoiding any use of the
targeted structures, which is possibly the case in meaning- focused tasks (R. Ellis,
2003), the form-focused C-R tasks draw the learners attention directly to those
structures by prescribing them to be the content of the communication. In other wo rds,
learners are communicating both through and on the structures to work out their
meaning in the contexts provided.
7.2.2 Reflections on the research methodology for the study
Generally speaking the adoption of the action research approach and the
selection of the specific quantitative and qualitative methods were adequate for
answering the three research questions of the study. To begin with, through the action
research design, I am being both the researcher and the teacher of the informants,
which allowed me to apply my understanding of not only the grammar items and
theoretical rationale behind C-R but also that of the learners, a major attribute of any
language-aware teachers (Andrews, 2007), while making pedagogic decisions
throughout the process of guiding the informants completion of the C-R tasks. For

219

instance, for some informants who were somehow not willing to express themselves
publicly in the TL and thus were reluctant to discuss with their groupmates during the
conduct of the C-R tasks, I encouraged them to answer the guiding questions on the
task sheets individually and checked their answers with the groupmates afterwards.
This in turn helped maximize the informants engagement with the targeted grammar
items and hopefully resulted in more thorough realization of the potential of the C-R
tasks.
Secondly, for the first research question, the informants gain in understanding of
the targeted grammar items after performing the C-R tasks was grasped through the
pretest and posttests. Items in those tests were set in simple language and in a format
already familiar to the informants, which I found facilitated their focusing their
attention on the targeted grammar items. One possible improvement for the items,
however, could be leaving the main verb groups in both the if-clause and the main
clause of the conditional sentences blank in the contextualized blank-filling section
(Exercise B), so that the informants would have to decide which type of conditional
they should use for each sentence from the context and to thus come up with the
required structure of the verb groups in the two clauses accordingly, rather than just
work out the verb group in the blanks from the counterpart provided in the other
clause.

220

Thirdly, for the second research question, I realized that the use of the
questionnaire and focused-group interviews for eliciting the informants perceptions
of the C-R tasks fulfilled the triangulation purpose as stated in Chapter 3 above, thus
enhancing the validity of the data collected. As expected, there was a high degree of
consistency between the data collected from the two sources. In fact, the sequence of
the questionnaire survey followed by the interviews helped to elicit more elaborated
perceptions of the informants as well. After analyzing data from the former, I found
myself able to develop an understanding of the informants perceptions. However,
there was not much indication as to why they perceived the C-R tasks the way they
did. It was only when I brought up those perceptions during the interviews and asked
the informants for possible sources of such perceptions did they seriously reflect on
them, and such reflections generated much revealing discussion among the members
in both focus groups, as shown in the quotes cited in Chapter 5 above. For informants
who were less able to articulate their ideas verbally, in addition, such discussion
allowed them to scaffold and clarify each others responses, thus resulting in more
in-depth insights into their perceptions of the C-R tasks.
Fourthly, for the third research question, the use of think-aloud protocols to elicit
the informants cognitive engagement with the targeted grammar items while doing
practice tasks was found to be feasible. With the prior training (reported in 3.4.1.3

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above) provided and with L1 allowed in producing their reports, I found that even the
low-achieving informants were able to verbalize their cognitive patterns while
engaging themselves with grammar. The think-aloud data of this study, in other words,
provide support for the claims of those researchers having experience in using this
data collection method (e.g. Egi, 2004; Ericsson and Simon, 1993) that there were no
observable signs of influence of reactivity and verticality on their reports (3.4.1.3
above). In addition, data from the follow-up individual interviews shed light on the
informants perceptions of the C-R tasks, thus providing a further opportunity for the
data collected from the questionnaire and the semi-structured interviews to be
triangulated. Yeddy, one of the high-achieving informants, for instance, revealed in
the post-think-aloud interview her insecure feeling of the grammatical understanding
developed though performing C-R tasks (6.2.2 above).
Furthermore, from the experience of using think-aloud protocols in this study I
have learnt that they may form a complementary means to grammar tests for studying
learners grammatical understanding and/or (sources of) their grammar problems.
While learners answers to items in grammar tests are often used for such purposes,
they are not without limitations. For instance, a certain learner can answer a certain
question in a test correctly just out of luck rather than understanding of the grammar
item concerned (especially for the closed test items). On the other hand, another

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learner who cannot answer the same question correctly may actually understand the
grammar item but was hindered by the lexical items appearing in the test item. While
producing think-aloud reports, however, learners read aloud their thinking process,
together with any problems they encounter while attempting the tests. This may allow
researchers to be more precise in determining the learners understanding of and
diagnosing their problems in what is to be learnt by them, and may in turn validate the
test results. From a pedagogical point of view, of course, teachers may also
understand their learners needs better and modifying their teaching accordingly
through analyzing the learners think-aloud protocol reports.
Despite the above benefits, I have also learnt from this study that learners are not
necessarily ready for and capable of producing think-aloud reports even with prior
training provided and with their use of L1 allowed. In my future attempts of using this
research method, I may devise a set of guiding questions (e.g. Whats on your mind
right now? What are you having problems in/looking at?). If I find that the informants
encounter difficulties in initiating the reporting process, I may ask those questions to
prompt them and may turn the initial stage an interactive one. During the conduct of
the reporting, if they find it difficult to sustain the report, I can advise them to ask
themselves any of those questions and include both the questions and answers in the
report. I hope that by doing this, the informants will be provided any necessary

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support for their reporting with my intervention minimized.


Overall speaking, from my experience of administering the chosen research
methods in the present study I have learnt the importance to remain flexible
throughout the data collection process, so that I can maintain a balance between the
informants needs arising during the process and obtaining as much relevant data as
possible. In addition, apart from the solidarity concern discussed in 3.8 above, when I
adopt the action research approach again in future, I should be even more cautious
about the possibility of the informants taking advantage of the fact that I am both the
researcher and their teacher and thus showing reliance on me while attempting any
language tasks which they are actually supposed to perform on their own, like the
instances of the two low-achieving informants seeking help from me while
completing the grammar practice tasks for generating the think-aloud reports. I should
explain the boundary between my dual roles and the rationale for not offering any
help which I am not supposed to clearly to the learners before I ask them to start
performing the language tasks.
7.2.3 Implications for teaching and learning
From the qualitative data of this study I have inferred some practical
concerns in the implementation of grammatical C-R tasks in the local classroom
context. First, for learners who are used to learning grammar deductively, the

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inductive discovery nature of the C-R tasks (2.5.2.1 above) can come in conflict with
their expectations on how English grammar can and should be learnt. Hence it is
crucial for the teacher to fully communicate with the learners their role in the C-R
cycle at the very beginning stage, by means of such strategies as the advance
organizer. For those learners who may feel insecure in discovering grammatical
information on their own rather than receiving it through explanation (as some of this
studys informants did), the teacher, instead of asking them to discover all aspects of
the targeted grammar items through C-R tasks, may consider integrating some
deductive explanation within the progression of those tasks, in the form of, e.g.,
feedback provided for checking the learners discoveries at various stages.
Second, as discussed in 5.3.6, one of the limitations of the inductive C-R
approach (noticed even by the informants) is that it can be more time-consuming to
teach a grammar item through it than through a deductive approach. On the one hand,
the extra time required in covering the grammar items may be justified by the
learners deeper understanding of and engagement with those items (as shown in the
discussion on the findings regarding all the three research questions above). On the
other hand, to create more capacity in time for including C-R tasks in the curriculum,
teachers may consider integrating grammar and other language items/skills in the C-R
cycle. In view of the perspective of viewing C-R as both a grammar and reading

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pedagogic approach (7.4.1 below), for instance, teachers may identify such reading
skill foci as reading for gist and for specific information for each C-R cycle, and have
the learners attention drawn to the development of them during the initial reading
stage.
Another possible way to achieve such integration is to build a writing focus in
the C-R cycle. This can be done through guiding the learners to identify typical
features of texts from common genres (e.g. in terms of format and formality) in a
similar way as they make grammatical discoveries from examples of the targeted
grammar items in those texts, so that they can apply their awareness of those genre
features when they are engaged in writing essays in those genres. Ultimately, having
provided more opportunities and guidance in facilitating the learners making
discoveries in various language aspects, teachers may help them grasp a set of C-R
skills which they can apply when they are exposed to contexts of target language use
both inside and outside classroom, thus triggering a sustainable learning process being
developed.
Third, as discussed in 5.3.1, a favourable feature of the C-R tasks that
contributed to the informants perception of systematic development of grammatical
understanding was the clear staging of the steps involved. In the conduct of
grammatical C-R tasks, such staging may help keeping the learners discovery process

226

focused and manageable. It, furthermore, highlights specifically the form and the
meaning aspects of the targeted grammar items that they have to pay attention to
when learning those items, and how those aspects are realized in the contextualized
examples provided to communicate meaning. Teachers, therefore, may consider
structuring the number, content and sequence of the stages of the C-R tasks carefully
according to the needs of their learners and the nature of the targeted grammar items.
Upon the completion of each stage, in addition, they may provide a brief wrap up of
what the focus of that particular stage is, and how this is to be linked up to the next. In
addition, teachers may regularly reflect on how their learners respond to the different
stages and supplement those which are not well completed by providing, e.g., some
deductive explanation on the grammar content concerned.
7.3 Significance of the study
This study has contributed to the SLA field in terms of further developing
understanding of theories of grammar pedagogy and of the learners perspective in
learning L2 grammar. At the theoretical level, both the informants gains in
understanding of the targeted grammar items and their generally positive attitude
towards the teaching approach revealed in various sources of data provide support for
the value of the use of grammatical C-R tasks as a way to promote TBLT in the Hong
Kong context. In view of the typical transmission-oriented and examination-driven

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context of Hong Kong classrooms (Chow & Mok-Cheung, 2004), where there are
usually a relatively large number of learners who are used to a transmission and
knowledge accumulation learning style, SLA researchers (e.g. Carless, 2004;
Littlewood, 2007) have found a strong meaning- focused version of TBLT not
compatible with the local school culture. With a strong focus on language forms, the
C-R tasks of the present study provide a clear task structure for the informants to
interact in the target language (together with their L1 Chinese) in order to achieve the
task outcome in the form of understanding of the form and use of the targeted
grammar items. I would, therefore, suggest that C-R tasks be part of the
methodological repertoire of Hong Kong teachers, who may consider them as an entry
point to incorporating TBLT in their own classrooms.
In addition, this study adds to R. Elliss (1994, 2003) framework of C-R
tasks (2.5.1.3 above) by pointing out that the operation that the learners perform on
or with the language data (1994: 160) can be done not only in a collaborative manner
through learners talking meaningfully about the targeted structures (2003: 162), but
also individually on their own. Even though both cycles of C-R tasks began with an
information-gap stage with the hope of generating more task-based talk among the
group members during the subsequent process of grammatical discoveries, there were
still some of them who preferred to make those discoveries on their own, virtually

228

without any interaction with others. While this might reflect the learning style of those
informants who preferred individual work, I noticed from the posttest results that their
understanding of the targeted grammar items was not necessarily weaker than that of
those who discussed their discoveries with one another. In that sense, learners
preference over individual or collaborative working mode should be respected.
From the learners perspective, this study points to the fact that even novice L2
learners can be aware of not only the subject matter they are learning, but also the
approach through which such learning is expected to take place. Furthermore, with
relevant experience they may be able to pinpoint the specific strengths and
weaknesses of the different approaches. To enhance the quality of teaching and
learning, therefore, it is advisable for teachers to promote the development of such
learner awareness and to ensure that the learners voice is taken into account when
making pedagogic decisions.
Apart from the above, this study also provides evidence for elaborating the
long-held perception that, to many local students, grammar plays a very important
part of English language learning. Even though some learners may not be interested at
all in learning the TL grammar and thus are not intrinsically motivated in doing so,
they still perceive its significance in both school and public examinations. It can be
the extrinsic motivation in doing well or at least satisfactorily in such examinations

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which drives them to grasp at least basic understanding of the commonly used
grammar items, which in turn may have some influence on how they respond to
different grammar teaching approaches.
In addition to providing relevant and authentic tasks for building the learners
general communicative competence, teachers of those learners may want to focus
their grammar pedagogy on drawing some explicit relevance between the grammar
tasks that they engage their learners in with those tasks they encounter in various
examinations. In view of the recent trend in the local examinations across primary and
secondary levels in which setting of the papers is based on the four macro language
skills and grammar, vocabulary, etc. are less likely to be directly tested, it may be
advisable for them to integrate grammar teaching into that of the four macro skills.
This synchronizes the same point made in 7.2.3 above.
7.4 Issues concerning L2 pedagogy
This section discusses two general issues concerning L2 pedagogy arising from
the findings of the present study. These issues, while not directly addressing the
research questions of the study, may concern L2 grammar teaching in many EFL
classrooms and may thus warrant further research.
7.4.1 C-R tasks as a means to integrate grammar and reading
As discussed in 2.5.1.3 above, SLA research has pinpointed the close

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relationship between reading and grammar in the development of L2 proficiency. This


study has shown that the grammatical C-R tasks constitute a methodological approach
which fully respects such relationship. As discussed in Chapter 3 above, when the
informants were engaged in the initial reading comprehension, they were making use
of their understanding of the grammar items (both those targeted and not targeted in
the C-R tasks) and lexical items found in the reading texts to construct meaning of
those texts and to answer the comprehension questions, which reflects a bottom-up
reading model found to be adopted by even advanced readers (cf. Barnett, 1989). At
the same time the informants were applying their understanding of the texts while
identifying the examples of the targeted grammar items and making discoveries about
their form and meaning, i.e. a top-down reading model (cf. Barnett, 1989). This
conforms to what Paesani (2005) describes as input-rich inductive grammar
instruction, which promotes learners viewing grammar as a coherent system of
contextualized language use rather than just combinations of isolated letters, words,
and phrases.
7.4.2 Role of L1 in L2 classrooms
As discussed in 2.5.2.2 above, it is natural for the learners who share the same
L1 to use it while interacting with each other even in an L2 classroom, despite the fact
that such use is not unanimously supported by SLA researchers. In the present study,

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the informants use of L1 was mainly found to serve two purposes. First, the majority
of them showed dominant use of the L1, coupled with those L2 terminologies on the
task sheets, while making discoveries about the targeted grammar items
collaboratively with their group members. This mixed-code interaction pattern, as
discussed in Chapter 5, served to scaffold each others discoveries and was thus
contributing to rather than having any destructive effects on their completion of the
tasks. I would have imagined that the interaction among the informants would come
in an even smaller quantity and depth if they had been prohibited from using any L1
while completing the C-R tasks. In fact, such mixed-code interaction, even though
not likely to promote better L2 speaking competence on the part of the informants,
still fulfills R. Elliss (2003) distinguishing feature of C-R tasks that learners talk
meaningfully about the targeted structures (p. 162; 2.5.1.3 above).
Second, from the think-aloud data (analyzed in Chapter 6 above) of the study, it
was found that some informants tended to use translation as a strategy while
attempting the grammar practice tasks, in the sense that they translated, or asked for
translation from the teacher of, the unknown words and phrases on the task sheets
from L2 to L1 while tackling the items concerned. In fact, the same strategy was
found to be employed by the majority of the informants when they attempted the
consolidation exercise at the final stage of both C-R tasks of the present study.

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In short, findings of this study tend to suggest a positive value of learners use of
L1 while they are engaged in an L2 form-focused task. Despite this, as one may
validly comment, the adoption of such translation strategy may not be feasible in
real-life interaction which often requires the participants to comprehend and produce
the TL to express their meaning without any delay and thus there is no time for any
translation. I would, therefore, reiterate that the goal of C-R tasks is to promote the
acquisition of explicit grammatical knowledge, and that such tasks should be
complemented by other meaning- focused counterparts which serve to help the
students internalize the knowledge and apply it in language interaction (cf. R. Elliss
(1993) weak interface position discussed in 2.5.2.1 above).
7.5 Recommendations for further research
Despite the contribution this study has made to the understanding of grammar
pedagogy in the local context, it has also raised some questions which are yet to be
answered by further studies. To begin with, one of the major findings of this study is
that the grammatical C-R tasks which are dominantly inductive in nature work at
different degrees of success with different learners. This, together with the
inconclusive results of previous studies (reviewed in 2.6 above) regarding the
appropriateness of adopting inductive versus deductive pedagogic approaches for
grammar items at different difficulty and salience levels and for learners at different

233

ability levels and of different learning styles, may suggest the desirability of school
teachers conducting action research investigating the effect of the C-R approach for
teaching the items in their own grammar syllabus to their own learners, the possible
combination of inductive and deductive elements within it, and the compatibility of
such an approach with the ones that they have been practicing. Specifically, attention
can be paid to how their learners perceive the different versions of C-R tasks so that
they can be well informed in constructing learner-centered grammar pedagogy in their
own contexts.
Furthermore, in view of the limited types of items in the pretests and posttests
of this study (3.7 above), a more comprehensive understanding of the learners
mastery of the targeted grammar items developed through performing the C-R tasks
can be attained by including such varied item formats as proof-reading and explaining
error corrections in a contextualized manner in the pre- and posttests in future studies
on grammatical C-R tasks. Such items, if displaying the typical use of the grammar
items targeted in the C-R tasks in context, resemble the situations in which the
learners are exposed to them in their daily language encounters. It is thus hoped that
over time the learners experience in engaging themselves with grammar in the C-R
tasks may help raising their corresponding awareness of it in real language use
situations , in such a way that the C-R process develops beyond the scope of grammar

234

lessons.
Furthermore, another domain in English language teaching in the local context
which can be informed by further research concerns how to appropriately integrate
grammar pedagogy and that of the four macro skills. At present it is common to
observe secondary school teachers treating the skills and grammar as if they were
independent entities which are to be catered for in separate lessons and they are often
assessed separately. The design of the C-R tasks in this study shows that such
integration can come in various forms. In addition to integrating grammar (a means to
an end) into skill-based training (the end), teachers may treat grammar an end in itself
and build in some skill-based elements within grammar-based activities. Empirical
research informing productive ways of achieving such integration should help not
only creating time and space for more communicative tasks to be included in the
English curriculum, but also conveying the important message to learners that the
various language aspects they are learning are closely related and complementary to
one another in authentic language use situations rather than as discrete systems to be
acquired and assessed separately.
Finally, while teachers use of L1 in L2 classrooms has been studied
extensively for the past few decades (e.g. Butzkamm, 2003; Schweers, 1999) and
many of them have pointed to its role in making grammatical explanation clear for the

235

target learners, the influences that learners own use of L1 on their learning an L2 in a
classroom context seems to be underexplored. Studies on such influences, both
positive and negative ones, would be particularly informative since, in Hong Kong,
the traditional teacher-centered pedagogy has been gradually replaced by
learner-centered CLT or TBLT where the amount of teacher-talk is expected to
diminish while that of learner-talk to increase significantly. Specifically, as has been
observed in this study, allowing the informants to use L1 seemed to have promoted
their deeper engagement with the communicative tasks, as those learners may
otherwise remain quiet during the collaborative work stages. In fact, in addition to
being a language medium facilitating the conduct of communicative tasks, L2
learners L1 can in itself be the subject matter of their L2 grammar learning. In recent
years there has been growing literature (e.g. Scheffler and Cinciata, 2011; Swan, 2007)
pointing to the potential contribution that L2 learners examining their L1 grammar
items can make when they are acquiring the L2 correspondents. As Swan (2007) puts
it, the existence of cross-language equivalents can substantially reduce the teaching
needed in some areas (p. 293). How such L1 and L2 grammar analogy can be
realized in the classroom context, therefore, is another area worth investing future
research efforts. In addition, while acknowledging the potential benefits the use of L1

236

can bring forth for learning the L2, strategies for maximizing the use of the latter in
the classroom still warrants further exploration (Littlewood, 2011).
7.6 Final words
In this chapter I have identified two issues concerning L2 pedagogy arisen out of
the data analysis of the study, and have drawn implications from the perspectives of
theory, research methodology and teaching and learning. In addition, I have discussed
the significance of the study and made recommendations for future research.
As a final synthesis of the study, I would like to reiterate two points. First, while
this study shows that C-R tasks promoted the informants understanding of the
targeted grammar items and were responded to quite positively by the majority of
them, they were not necessarily perceived as the best approach to grammar pedagogy
by all of them. The effects of such an approach may also vary according to the
grammar items targeted. Second, because of this complexity it is advisable for all
grammar teachers to investigate, at different degrees of depth, the effects of adopting
different methodological approaches for teaching their own grammar syllabi to their
own learners, so that they can be better informed while making pedagogic decisions
related to grammar teaching.
Possibly, an eclecticism involving an integration of C-R and other pedagogic
approaches as informed by such investigations would be the most desirable way to

237

handle this particular component of the language at the classroom level. Such
informed eclecticism, instead of deviating from the well-established approaches to
grammar pedagogy and thus defeating the good features of them, should be regarded
as liberating grammar instruction from the constraints inherent in each of those
approaches. After all, as Littlewood (2011) rightly argues, all contemporary language
teaching approaches are characterized by indefinability, and one would agree that
flexibility in adapting and integrating those approaches on the part of teachers is
crucial if they are to design methods appropriate to their own contexts but based on
principled reflection (ibid: 543).

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251

Appendix 1 Pretests and Posttests on the Two Targeted Grammar


Items
- Conditional Type 2Pretest

Exercise A
Complete the following conditional sentences with the correct form of the verbs in
brackets.
1
2

What would they do if it _______________ (rain) tomorrow?


If the Conservation Club _______________ (produce) a booklet, we will do
something different.

3
4

What would you do if your curtains _______________ (catch) fire?


If she _______________ (be) at home, she would answer the phone!

5
6

Would you tell your parents if you _______________(smoke)?


If he forgot his camera, he _______________ (buy) a new one.

They _______________ (not go) camping if they didnt have permission.

8
9

If we found a wallet in the street, we _______________ (take) it to the police.


Our boss will only go to Egypt if his wife _______________ (agree).

10 If I _______________ (be) thinner, I would buy those jeans.

Exercise B
Complete the conversation below with the correct form of the verbs in brackets.
Ken: I read the information about orang-utangs on the Conservation Club web site.
It was very interesting but we need to know more. If we invite Dr David Cam
to talk to us, he (1)_______________ (tell) us everything we need to know for
our research.
Mike: Yes, youre right. However, it would be even better if we (2)
_______________ (visit) the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
Ive never been to there!
Ken:

I have! Its amazing. If we

(3)

_______________ (ask for) permission, maybe

the principal will let us go.


Mike: I doubt it! If I (4) _______________ (be) you, I would ask Miss Lee first. If
we told her that we needed more information, she

(5)

_______________ (ask)

the principal for us.


Ken:

If we got the permission, our classmates

(6)

_______________ (want) to go
252

too.
Mike: Thats true! If everybody wanted to go, we

(7)

________ certainly ________

(get) the permission! Lets go and ask them!

Exercise C
Decide which of the following sentences are GRAMMATICAL (correct in terms of
grammar). Put a tick in the box beside the grammatical ones and a cross beside
the ungrammatical ones.
1. We would finish the survey today if we have more helpers.

2. If I were you, I would not use paper cups and plates.

3. If I were in the Government, I would encourage schools to organize a save

paper campaign.
4. If there were no trees in the rainforest, the orang-utangs

will have no place to live in.


5. I will not allow my students to use paper towels if I were the school principal.

6. You would understand the importance of trees if you were an orang-utang.

7. If everyone used handkerchiefs instead of tissues, we would save a lot of paper.

8. If I live near a rainforest, I would try my best to conserve the trees.

9. If the canteen did not have a take-away service, it would not need paper cups

or plates.
10. If I werent in a hurry, I will answer all the questions in the survey.

253

- Conditional Type 2Immediate Posttest

Exercise A
Complete the following conditional sentences with the correct form of the verbs in
brackets.
1
2

If I _______________ (be) thinner, I would buy those jeans.


What would they do if it _______________ (rain) tomorrow?

If he forgot his camera, he _______________ (buy) a new one.

4
5

They _______________ (not go) camping if they didnt have permission.


If she _______________ (be) at home, she would answer the phone!

6
7

If we found a wallet in the street, we _______________ (take) it to the police.


What would you do if your curtains _______________ (catch) fire?

Our boss will only go to Egypt if his wife _______________ (agree).

9 Would you tell your parents if you _______________(smoke)?


10 If the Conservation Club _______________ (produce) a booklet, we will do
something different.

Exercise B
Complete the conversation below with the correct form of the verbs in brackets.
Ken: I read the information about orang-utangs on the Conservation Club web site.
It was very interesting but we need to know more. If we invite Dr David Cam
to talk to us, he (1) _______________ (tell) us everything we need to know for
our research.
Mike: Yes, youre right. However, it would be even better if we (2)
_______________ (visit) the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
Ive never been to there!
Ken:

I have! Its amazing. If we

(3)

_______________ (ask for) permission, maybe

the principal will let us go.


Mike: I doubt it! If I (4) _______________ (be) you, I would ask Miss Lee first. If
we told her that we needed more information, she (5) _______________ (ask)
the principal for us.
Ken:

If we got the permission, our classmates

(6)

_______________ (want) to go

too.
Mike: Thats true! If everybody wanted to go, we

(7)

________ certainly ________

(get) the permission! Lets go and ask them!


254

Exercise C
Decide which of the following sentences are GRAMMATICAL (correct in terms of
grammar). Put a tick in the box beside the grammatical ones and a cross beside
the ungrammatical ones.
1. If I were you, I would not use paper cups and plates.

2. If everyone used handkerchiefs instead of tissues, we would save a lot of paper.

3. If there were no trees in the rainforest, the orang-utangs

will have no place to live in.


4. You would understand the importance of trees if you were an orang-utang.

5. If I live near a rainforest, I would try my best to conserve the trees.

6. I will not allow my students to use paper towels if I were the school principal.

7. If the canteen did not have a take-away service, it would not need paper cups

or plates.
8. If I werent in a hurry, I will answer all the questions in the survey.

9. If I were in the Government, I would encourage schools to organize a save

paper campaign.
10. We would finish the survey today if we have more helpers.

255

- Conditional Type 2Delayed Posttest

Exercise A
Complete the following conditional sentences with the correct form of the verbs in
brackets.
1
2

Our boss will only go to Egypt if his wife _______________ (agree).


If he forgot his camera, he _______________ (buy) a new one.

If I _______________ (be) thinner, I would buy those jeans.

If the Conservation Club _______________ (produce) a booklet, we will do


something different.

5
6

What would they do if it _______________ (rain) tomorrow?


They _______________ (not go) camping if they didnt have permission.

If she _______________ (be) at home, she would answer the phone!

8
9

If we found a wallet in the street, we _______________ (take) it to the police.


What would you do if your curtains _______________ (catch) fire?

10 Would you tell your parents if you _______________(smoke)?

Exercise B
Complete the conversation below with the correct form of the verbs in brackets.
Ken: I read the information about orang-utangs on the Conservation Club web site.
It was very interesting but we need to know more. If we invite Dr David Cam
to talk to us, he (1) _______________ (tell) us everything we need to know for
our research.
Mike: Yes, youre right. However, it would be even better if we (2)
_______________ (visit) the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens.
Ive never been to there!
Ken:

I have! Its amazing. If we

(3)

_______________ (ask for) permission, maybe

the principal will let us go.


Mike: I doubt it! If I (4) _______________ (be) you, I would ask Miss Lee first. If
we told her that we needed more information, she (5) _______________ (ask)
the principal for us.
Ken:

If we got the permission, our classmates

(6)

_______________ (want) to go

too.
Mike: Thats true! If everybody wanted to go, we

(7)

________ certainly ________

(get) the permission! Lets go and ask them!


256

Exercise C
Decide which of the following sentences are GRAMMATICAL (correct in terms of
grammar). Put a tick in the box beside the grammatical ones and a cross beside
the ungrammatical ones.

1. You would understand the importance of trees if you were an orang-utang.

2. If the canteen did not have a take-away service, it would not need paper cups

or plates.
3. If I were you, I would not use paper cups and plates.

4. If everyone used handkerchiefs instead of tissues, we would save a lot of paper.

5. If I live near a rainforest, I would try my best to conserve the trees.

6. If I werent in a hurry, I will answer all the questions in the survey.

7. If there were no trees in the rainforest, the orang-utangs will have no place to

live in.
8. I will not allow my students to use paper towels if I were the school principal.

9. We would finish the survey today if we have more helpers.

10. If I were in the Government, I would encourage schools to organize a save

paper campaign.

257

- Defining Relative ClausesPretest

Exercise A
Complete the sentences below with defining relative clauses. Use who, which or
that.
1. I read an article about a boy _________________________________________
(be kidnapped / last weekend).
2. The information _________________________________________________ (be
downloaded / from the Internet) was very important for our project.
3. The lady _______________________________________________________ (be
sitting / next to Mr White) is his American wife.
4. The athlete _______________________________________ (practise / running
every day) hopes to win a prize.
5. Mum is the one____________________________________________ (help / me
with my Maths homework).
6. It was our NET______________________________________________ (tell / us
about the trip to Australia).
7. Jim prefers strange designs ______________________________________ (use /
bright colours).

Exercise B
Complete the conversation below with defining relative clauses using the prompts in
brackets. Remember to use the correct form of the verbs.
Jane:

Tony:
Jane:
Tony:
Jane:
Tony:
Jane:

Tony:
Jane:

Have you heard from Antonella, the Italian student (1) __________________
__________________ (sit / behind us) in class last year? Do you remember
her?
Of course I do. Shes the one (2) ___________________________________
_____________ (win / beauty contest). I remember her very well!
Which beauty contest?
Come on! You remember it! Im talking about the one (3) _______________
_______________________ (be organised) to raise money for pandas.
Oh, yes! The Panda Beauty Contest! That was so silly.
Youre just jealous! She is the most beautiful girl (4) __________________
_________________________ (visit / our school ever)!
You arent serious, are you? You said exactly the same thing about the
French girl (5) ______________________________________ (come / to our
camp) last summer.
How can you remember every word (6) ______________________________
(be said / me)?
Its easy. You always say the same thing!

258

Tony:

Jane:

What about you? What did you tell me about the boy (7) ________________
_____________________ (be smiling / to you) in the shopping centre last
Saturday?
I dont really know! Im always joking about boys (8) __________________
____________________________ (be / handsome).

Exercise C
Decide which of the following sentences are GRAMMATICAL (correct in terms of
grammar). Put a tick in the box beside the grammatical ones and a cross beside
the ungrammatical ones.
1. Jason doesnt know anything about the fire that last night broke out.

2. This is the manager which is responsible for the coming event.

3. Last night I was about to eat the apple that had a worm inside.

4. The student who is always late is actually the leader of the group.

5. The police are still looking for the old lady who got lost last night.

6. The company who has doubled its profits in the previous year is run by him.

7. The teacher who is in charge of the activity has just left the school.

8. Have you read the traffic accident in Mong Kok that reported the article?

9. The students who has forgotten to bring back their textbook are punished by the
teacher.

10. The dog who bit the thief has been kept by the owner of the house for a few
years.

259

- Defining Relative ClausesImmediate Posttest

Exercise A
Complete the sentences below with defining relative clauses. Use who, which or
that.
1. The information _________________________________________________ (be
downloaded / from the Internet) was very important for our project.
2. I read an article about a boy _________________________________________.
(be kidnapped / last weekend)
3. The athlete _______________________________________ (practise / running
every day) hopes to win a prize .
4. Jim prefers strange designs ______________________________________. (use /
bright colours)
5. The lady _______________________________________________________ (be
sitting / next to Mr White) is his American wife.
6. Mum is the one____________________________________________. (help / me
with my Maths homework)
7. It was our NET______________________________________________. (tell /
us about the trip to Australia)

Exercise B
Jane:

Tony:
Jane:
Tony:
Jane:
Tony:
Jane:

Tony:
Jane:
Tony:

Have you heard from Antonella, the Italian student (1) __________________
__________________ (sit / behind us) in class last year? Do you remember
her?
Of course I do. Shes the one (2) ___________________________________
_____________ (win / beauty contest). I remember her very well!
Which beauty contest?
Come on! You remember it! Im talking about the one (3) _______________
_______________________ (be organised) to raise money for pandas.
Oh, yes! The Panda Beauty Contest! That was so silly.
Youre just jealous! She is the most beautiful girl (4) __________________
_________________________ (visit / our school ever)!
You arent serious, are you? You said exactly the same thing about the
French girl (5) ______________________________________ (come / to our
camp) last summer.
How can you remember every word (6) ______________________________
(be said / me)?
Its easy. You always say the same thing!
What about you? What did you tell me about the boy (7) ________________
_____________________ (be smiling / to you) in the shopping centre last
Saturday?

260

Jane:

I dont really know! Im always joking about boys (8) __________________


____________________________ (be / handsome).

Exercise C
Decide which of the following sentences are GRAMMATICAL (correct in terms of
grammar). Put a tick in the box beside the grammatical ones and a cross beside
the ungrammatical ones.
1. The police are still looking for the old lady who got lost last night.

2. Jason doesnt know anything about the fire that last night broke out.

3. The students who has forgotten to bring back their textbook are punished by the
teacher.

4. The dog who bit the thief has been kept by the owner of the house for a few
years.

5. Have you read the traffic accident in Mong Kok that reported the article?

6. This is the manager which is responsible for the coming event.

7. Last night I was about to eat the apple that had a worm inside.

8. The student who is always late is actually the leader of the group.

9. The teacher who is in charge of the activity has just left the school.

10. The company who has doubled its profits in the previous year is run by him.

261

- Defining Relative ClausesDelayed Posttest

Exercise A
Complete the sentences below with defining relative clauses. Use who, which or
that.
1. Mum is the one____________________________________________. (help / me
with my Maths homework)
2. The lady _______________________________________________________ (be
sitting / next to Mr White) is his American wife.
3. I read an article about a boy _________________________________________.
(be kidnapped / last weekend)
4. It was our NET______________________________________________. (tell /
us about the trip to Australia)
5. The athlete _______________________________________ (practise / running
every day) hopes to win a prize.
6. Jim prefers strange designs ______________________________________. (use /
bright colours)
7. The information _________________________________________________ (be
downloaded / from the Internet) was very important for our project.

Exercise B
Complete the conversation below with defining relative clauses using the prompts in
brackets. Remember to use the correct form of the verbs.
Jane:

Tony:
Jane:
Tony:
Jane:
Tony:
Jane:

Have you heard from Antonella, the Italian student (1) __________________
__________________ (sit / behind us) in class last year? Do you remember
her?
Of course I do. Shes the one (2) ___________________________________
_____________ (win / beauty contest). I remember her very well!
Which beauty contest?
Come on! You remember it! Im talking about the one (3) _______________
_______________________ (be organised) to raise money for pandas.
Oh, yes! The Panda Beauty Contest! That was so silly.
Youre just jealous! She is the most beautiful girl (4) __________________
_________________________ (visit / our school ever)!
You arent serious, are you? You said exactly the same thing about the
French girl (5) ______________________________________ (come / to our
camp) last summer.
262

Tony:
Jane:
Tony:

Jane:

How can you remember every word (6) ______________________________


(be said / me)?
Its easy. You always say the same thing!
What about you? What did you tell me about the boy (7) ________________
_____________________ (be smiling / to you) in the shopping centre last
Saturday?
I dont really know! Im always joking about boys (8) __________________
____________________________ (be / handsome).

Exercise C
Decide which of the following sentences are GRAMMATICAL (correct in terms of
grammar). Put a tick in the box beside the grammatical ones and a cross beside
the ungrammatical ones.
1. The student who is always late is actually the leader of the group.

2. Have you read the traffic accident in Mong Kok that reported the article?

3. Jason doesnt know anything about the fire that last night broke out.

4. The students who has forgotten to bring back their textbook are punished by the
teacher.

5. The teacher who is in charge of the activity has just left the school.

6. The dog who bit the thief has been kept by the owner of the house for a few
years.

7. The police are still looking for the old lady who got lost last night.

8. The company who has doubled its profits in the previous year is run by him.

9. This is the manager which is responsible for the coming event.

10. Last night I was about to eat the apple that had a worm inside.

263

Appendix 2 Questionnaire of the Study


Name:___________________

Class:_____________ Class no.:__________


Student Questionnaire

For the following statements about the teaching programme that you have come across, please put a tick in
one of the boxes to show your degree of agreement. All your answers will be used only for the analysis of this
study and they will not affect your results in any of the school assessment. Please be frank in answering them.

A.

Level of Cognitive Involvement:


S tatement

Strongly

Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Agree

Strongly
Disagree

It was easy for me to follow teachers teaching


and I always knew what he talked about/ asked
us to do during the lessons
I was always clear what I was learning at
different stages of the lessons.
Now I still remember what Ive been taught
(when to use the targeted items and their
structures).
B.

Perceived Strengths and Weaknesses of the Teaching Programme:


S tatement

Strongly
Agree

Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Strongly
Disagree

The teaching programme was organized in a


way that allowed me to build up knowledge
gradually and systematically.
The programme was set in a way that fulfilled
my expectations of language learning.
The teacher did not demand too much from me.
The examples given in the programme helped
me learn.
The teaching programme was interesting and I
enjoyed learning in this way.
The teaching programme motivated me to learn
grammar rules.
I am confident in learning grammar well if the
teacher continues to use this approach to teach.

264

C.

Comparison between the New Teaching Programme and Past Learning


Experience in English Lessons:
Statement

Strongly

Agree

Agree

Neutral

Disagree

Strongly
Disagree

In the programme, the teacher taught the


grammar items very differently from his usual
teaching.
The exercises that I had to complete during the
programme were different from those that the
teacher usually gave.
With this kind of programme, I think I would
learn English grammar in a way which is very
different from that in the other English lessons.
Generally speaking, I find the teaching
programme suits me more in learning English
grammar.
D. General Impression of the Programme
Overall speaking, what are the strengths of the teaching programme?
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________
What are the weaknesses of the programme?
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________
How do you think the teacher can improve the programme?
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________
___________________________________________________
What are your general comments of the programme?
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________
_________________________________________________________________________

265

Appendix 3 Interview Form for the Focused Group Interviews


1.

Does the teaching programme differ in any sense from the teachers previous
teaching?
Ts Previous teaching

New Programme

2. Are there any similarities?

3. What do you think are the strengths of the programme?

4. What do you think are the weaknesses of the programme?

266

5. How can the programme be improved?

6. Do you like learning grammar in this new way? Why or why not?

7. What are your overall comments of the programme?

Preference:
Deductive Approach

C-R

Deductive + C-R

267

Appendix 4 Grammar Practice Tasks for Generating Think-aloud


Protocol Reports from Informants
-

Hint
Remember

Task on Conditional Type 2

Complete the poster below using conditional structures and the information in
the table below. Add commas where necessary. The first two have been done for
you as examples.

to use

FACTS ABOUT PAPER

capital
letters
where
necessary.

Did you know ?


If there were no trees, we would have no paper

(1)

(2)

(3)

(4)

(5)

(6)

__________________________________________________________.

(7)

__________________________________________________________.

(8)

__________________________________________________________.

_ Our life would be difficult if we had no paper

______.

_________________________________________________________.

__________________________________________________________.

__________________________________________________________

268

HELP
(1)
(2)
(3)
(4)
(5)
(6)
(7)
(8)

Subject
there
we
we
our life
we
the forests
people
many animals
we
we
we
we
we
we
all governments
more trees

Verb Groups
be no trees
have no paper
have no paper
be difficult
not reduce the number of trees we cut down
get smaller and smaller
cut down all the trees
lose their home
recycle used paper
save more trees
use less paper
save money too
use both sides of the paper
help to save the environment
ban illegal logging completely
be saved

Answers:
1. If there were no trees, we would have no paper.
2. Our life would be difficult if we had no paper.
3. If we dont reduce the number of trees we cut down, the forests will get
smaller and smaller.
4. If we cut down all the trees, many animals would lose their home.
5. If we recycle used paper, we can save more trees.
6. If we use less paper, we will save money too.
7. If we use both sides of the paper, we will help to save the environment.
8. If all governments banned illegal logging completely, more trees would be
saved.

269

Task on Defining Relative Clauses


Benny is writing an e-mail message to his uncle. Complete each blank in the
e-mail message with a relative clause. (8 marks)
Dear Uncle Sam
Hi! Im sorry that I didnt have time to respond to your e-mail message
(1) which / that talked about your life back in England (talk / about your life back
in England). I had a lot of homework (2) which / that had to be finished by last
weekend (have to be finished / by last weekend). On Sunday, I also went to visit
Aunt Helena, (3)

(be / ill since you left). She

must be missing you.


I was worried when I heard that your flight back home was delayed because of
bad weather. Did you stopover at Tokyo for one night? If I were you, I would stay
there for a few days.
Do you remember Ivy Leung (4)
(be / your
neighbour in Stanley)? Well, I heard she recently wrote three short stories
(5)
(be / all about her growing up years in
Stanley). Among the three, the story (6)
(win
/ the first prize in a competition) is published in the South China Morning Post
today. In the story, she wrote about a big uncle (7)
(love to play / with her on the streets). Do you think the big uncle is you? I have
attached the story with this e-mail. Have a read.
Thanks for uploading the photos (8)
(be
taken / at your house in England) on your web page. The house looks really
comfortable! Well, Ive got to go now. Talk to you soon.
Benny

Answers:
1. which / that talked about your life back in England
2. which / that had to be finished by last weekend
3. who has been ill since you left
4. who was your neighbour in Stanley
5. which / that were all about her growing up years in Stanley
6. which / that won the first prize in a competition
7. who loved to play with her on the streets
8. which / that were taken at your house in England

270

Task on Reported Speech

Inspector Ko is investigating the murder of Mr Wong. Before Mr Wong died, he left a


message for his wife on their answering machine. Read the message and complete
Inspector Kos notes below.

Hi, Lisa. Are you still at work? Im calling to tell you that Im going to
be home late. Im meeting Roger and James for dinner tonight. They
want to borrow some money from me. Their business isnt doing very
well. Dont worry. Im not going to make any decisions without asking
you first. See you later.

Notes
Mr Wong (1) asked his wife if / whether she was still at work. Then
he (2) __ _ said (that) he was calling ___ to tell ( 3)
_____________________________________________ late. He ( 4)
_________________________________________________ for dinner
_______________. He also ( 5)
______________________________________________. He ( 6) ______________
_____________________________ very well. He ( 7)
_______________________________. He ( 8) _______________________________
_________________________________ first.

271

Answers:
1 asked his wife if / whether she was still at work
2

said (that) he was calling

her that he was going to be home

said (that) he was meeting Roger and James that night

said (that) they wanted to borrow some money from him

said (that) their business was not / wasnt doing

told his wife not to worry.

said (that) he was not / wasnt going to make any decisions without asking her

272

Appendix 5 Task Sheets for the Two Cycles of C-R Tasks


-

Conditional Type 2 (Set A)

The aim of the following activities is to raise your understanding of conditional type
two. To achieve this, you will have to carry out a few steps:
Step1:
Read the passage again. Underline all the sentences with the word if. Do this
individually. DONT TALK TO ANYONE YET.
Step2:
a. Look at the table below. The sentence(s) in the first column is/are example(s)
showing the correct usage of conditional type two. You need to work with your
partner to complete the table. Ask your partner to read out his/her sentences.
Listen carefully, then write them down in the appropriate column in your table.
b. Talk about the sentences. Why are the sentences in the second column incorrect?
Write down your explanation in the final column.
Correct

Incorrect

sentences
The verb _______ should

1. If you were me, what


would you do?
2.

3. If you had the money,

Explanation of incorrect

be used in the question.


I would not tell you the
answer even if I know

The verb _______ should


be used in the clause

it.

starting with the word if.


The verb _______ should

you would definitely

be used in the clause after

buy it as well.

the comma.

Step3:
Now go back to the passage. Among the sentences that you have underlined, find out
those which show conditional type two.
Step 4:
Based on the examples of conditional type two in both the passage and the above
table, discuss the structure of this type of sentences in groups of four. First, circle all
the verb groups in the examples showing conditional type two individually. Then,
discuss with your groupmates and complete the following speech bubbles:
273

Structure of Type Two Conditional:

The verb after the word if should be in :


present / past / future

simple / continuous
tense.

And the other verb should be in the form of :


would / will

bare-infinitive / to-infinitive / gerund (-ing)

Bare infinitives are the most basic verb


forms:
e.g.: do, go, run
No -s/-es

No -ed

If +____________ tense, __________________ + __________________

e.g.

If I had a million dollars, I would buy a Porsche.

274

Or
_________________+________________+ if+ ______________________ ( No ,)

I would buy a Porsche if I had a million dollars.


** Note that _______ is used instead of WAS for all persons: It, he, she, I etc.**
: If I ___________ you, I would study hard immediately. (But certainly I cannot be
you)
** Note that a comma is needed only when the word if is placed at the beginning of
a sentence.

Step 5:
Next, find out when we use conditional type two. Talk with your groupmates and
answer the following questions. Come up with a set of answers agreed by all of you,
and get ready to report back.
Use of Conditional Type Two:
a) How many actions are there in each of the above sentences with the word if ?
____________________________________________________________________
b) What is the relationship between the actions?
___________________________________________________________________
c) Are the actions immediately after if possible or impossible to happen?
___________________________________________________________________
d) Are the sentences showing true or imagined situations?
___________________________________________________________________

275

e) Are they past, present and/or future actions?


___________________________________________________________________
Conclusion:
Conditional Type Two is used to show actions that are possible/
impossible to happen (the one after the word if), and their reasons/
results. It refers to past/ present/ future actions.

Step 6:
Finally, do some exercises on conditional type two.
1. Is he late? What a pity! If he _____________(come) in time, we ___________(go)
to have lunch together.
2. I couldnt recall his name. If I _______(do), I _____________(greet) him
properly.
3. John broke his arm yesterday. If he ___________(join) the 4 X 100 class relay
today, Im sure our class ________________(win).

276

Conditional Type 2 (Set B)

The aim of the following activities is to raise your understanding of conditional type
two. To achieve this, you will have to carry out a few steps:
Step1:
Read the passage again. Underline all the sentences with the word if. Do this
individually. DONT TALK TO ANYONE YET.
Step2:
a. Look at the table below. The sentence(s) in the first column is/are example(s)
showing the correct usage of conditional type two. You need to work with your
partner to complete the table. Ask your partner to read out his/her sentences.
Listen carefully, then write them down in the appropriate column in your table.
b. Talk about the sentences. Why are the sentences in the second column incorrect?
Write down your explanation in the final column.
Correct
1.

Incorrect

Explanation of incorrect
sentences

If you were me, what

The verb _______ should

will you do?

be used in the question.

2. I would not tell you the

The verb _______ should

answer even if I knew it.

be used in the clause


starting with the word if.

3.

If you had the money,

The verb _______ should

you will definitely buy

be used in the clause after

it as well.

the comma.

Step3:
Now go back to the passage. Among the sentences that you have underlined, find out
those which show conditional type two.
Step 4:
Based on the examples of conditional type two in both the passage and the above
table, discuss the structure of this type of sentences in groups of four. First, circle all
the verb groups in the examples showing conditional type two individually. Then,
discuss with your groupmates and complete the following speech bubbles:
277

Structure of Type Two Conditional:

The verb after the word if should be in :


present / past / future

simple / continuous
tense.

And the other verb should be in the form of :


would / will

bare-infinitive / to-infinitive / gerund (-ing)

Bare infinitives are the most basic verb


forms:
e.g.: do, go, run

No -s/-es
No -ed

If +____________ tense, __________________ + __________________

e.g.

If I had a million dollars, I would buy a Porsche.

278

Or
_________________+________________+ if+ ______________________ ( No ,)

I would buy a Porsche if I had a million dollars.


** Note that _______ is used instead of WAS for all persons: It, he, she, I etc.**
: If I ___________ you, I would study hard immediately. (But certainly I cannot be
you)
** Note that a comma is needed only when the word if is placed at the beginning of
a sentence.

Step 5:
Next, find out when we use conditional type two. Talk with your groupmates and
answer the following questions. Come up with a set of answers agreed by all of you,
and get ready to report back.
Use of Conditional Type Two:
a) How many actions are there in each of the above sentences with the word if ?
____________________________________________________________________
b) What is the relationship between the actions?
___________________________________________________________________
c) Are the actions immediately after if possible or impossible to happen?
___________________________________________________________________

d) Are the sentences showing true or imagined situations?


___________________________________________________________________
279

e) Are they past, present and/or future actions?


___________________________________________________________________
Conclusion:
Conditional Type Two is used to show actions that are possible/
impossible to happen (the one after the word if), and their reasons/
results. It refers to past/ present/ future actions.

Step 6:
Finally, do some exercises on conditional type two.
1. Is he late? What a pity! If he _____________(come) in time, we ___________(go)
to have lunch together.
2. I couldnt recall his name. If I _______(do), I _____________(greet) him
properly.
3. John broke his arm yesterday. If he ___________(join) the 4 X 100 class relay
today, Im sure our class ________________(win).

280

Defining Relative Clauses (Set A)

The aim of the following activities is to raise your understanding of defining relative
clauses. To achieve this, you will have to carry out a few steps:
Step1:
Read the dialogue again. The words in italics form defining relative clauses.
Underline all the relative clauses within the dialogue. Do this individually. DONT
TALK TO ANYONE YET.
Step2:
a. Look at the table below. The sentence(s) in the first column is/are example(s)
showing the correct usage of defining relative clauses. You need to work with
your partner to complete the table. Ask your partner to read out his/her sentences.
Listen carefully and write them down in the appropriate column in your table.
Then, underline the relative clause in each correct sentence in the first column.
b. Talk about the sentences. Why are the sentences in the second column incorrect?
Write down your explanation in the final column.
Correct
1.

Incorrect

Explanation of incorrect

A nurse is a person that

sentences
The pronoun _______

looks after sick people

should be used in the

at hospitals.

relative clause.

2. Is this the book that was

The pronoun _______

published last year?

should be used in the


relative clause.

3.

We have to develop the

The pronoun _______

skills those enable us to

should be used in the

work smarter.

relative clause.

Step3:
Read all the defining relative clauses that you have identified in both the dialogue and
the above table again. Circle the noun group before each relative clause.
Step 4:
Based on the examples of defining relative clauses in both the dialogue and the above
table, discuss the structure of those clauses with your groupmates and complete the
281

following speech bubbles:


Structure of a Defining Relative Clause:

In the examples, each defining relative clause begins


with a pronoun. That pronoun refers back to the verb
group / noun group immediately before it. That
pronoun can be _______/_______/________.

We use the pronoun _______ when the noun group before it


(i.e. the circled ones in the examples) refers to a person. If it
refers to a thing, we use _______/_______ instead.

The pronoun acts as the subject / object of the clause.


Immediately after the pronoun is a verb group / noun
group, which may then be followed by some other
words to complete the clause.

i.e. Structure of a defining relative clause:


defining relative clause = _____/______/______ + verb / noun group (+ extra words)
*In writing, there is / is not a comma , or a dash between a defining relative
clause and the noun group before it.
Step 5:
Next, find out when we use defining relative clauses. Talk with your groupmates and
answer the following questions. Come up with a set of answers agreed by all of you,
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and get ready to report back.


Use of Defining Relative Clauses
a) There is a relationship between each of the noun groups that you have circled
and the defining relative clause which follows it. What is the relationship?
___________________________gives information about______________________.
b) Is the information optional? Why or why not?
___________________________________________________________________
c) What happens, in terms of meaning, if the noun group is taken away from the
sentence?
___________________________________________________________________
d) What happens, in terms of meaning, if the defining relative clause is taken away
from the sentence?
___________________________________________________________________
Conclusion:
A _________________________ gives optional / non-optional
information about ___________________ that comes before/ after
it. Neither the _________________ nor the __________________
can be taken away from the sentence.

Step 6:
Finally, do some exercises on defining relative clauses.
1) Here comes Mr. Lee. He is the alumnus _________________________________
(donate / a million dollars to our school).
2) Is this the shop ____________________________________ (start / its final sale
last week)?
3) The dog ___________________________(has / serious illnesses) died last night.

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Defining Relative Clauses (Set B)

The aim of the following activities is to raise your understanding of defining relative
clauses. To achieve this, you will have to carry out a few steps:
Step1:
Read the dialogue again. The words in italics form defining relative clauses.
Underline all the relative clauses within the dialogue. Do this individually. DONT
TALK TO ANYONE YET.
Step2:
a. Look at the table below. The sentence(s) in the first column is/are example(s)
showing the correct usage of defining relative clauses. You need to work with
your partner to complete the table. Ask your partner to read out his/her sentences.
Listen carefully and write them down in the appropriate column in your table.
Then, underline the relative clause in each correct sentence in the first column.
b. Talk about the sentences. Why are the sentences in the second column incorrect?
Write down your explanation in the final column.
Correct

Incorrect

1. A nurse is a person who


looks after sick people

The pronoun _______


should be used in the

at hospitals.
2.

3. We have to develop the


skills which enable us to
work smarter.

Explanation of incorrect
sentences

relative clause.
Is this the book what
was published last

The pronoun _______


should be used in the

year?

relative clause.
The pronoun _______
should be used in the
relative clause.

Step3:
Read all the defining relative clauses that you have identified in both the dialogue and
the above table again. Circle the noun group before each relative clause.
Step 4:
Based on the examples of defining relative clauses in both the dialogue and the
above table, discuss the structure of those clauses with your groupmates and complete
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the following speech bubbles:

Structure of a Defining Relative Clause:

In the examples, each defining relative clause begins


with a pronoun. That pronoun refers back to the verb
group / noun group immediately before it. That
pronoun can be _______/_______/________.

We use the pronoun _______ when the noun group before it


(i.e. the circled ones in the examples) refers to a person. If it
refers to a thing, we use _______/_______ instead.

The pronoun acts as the subject / object of the clause.


Immediately after the pronoun is a verb group / noun
group, which may then be followed by some other
words to complete the clause.

i.e. Structure of a defining relative clause:


defining relative clause = _____/______/______ + verb / noun group (+ extra words)
*In writing, there is / is not a comma , or a dash between a defining relative
clause and the noun group before it.

285

Step 5:
Next, find out when we use defining relative clauses. Talk with your groupmates and
answer the following questions. Come up with a set of answers agreed by all of you,
and get ready to report back.
Use of Defining Relative Clauses
a) There is a relationship between each of the noun groups that you have circled
and the defining relative clause which follows it. What is the relationship?
___________________________gives information about______________________.
b) Is the information optional? Why or why not?
___________________________________________________________________
c) What happens, in terms of meaning, if the noun group is taken away from the
sentence?
___________________________________________________________________
d) What happens, in terms of meaning, if the defining relative clause is taken away
from the sentence?
___________________________________________________________________
Conclusion:
A _________________________ gives optional / non-optional
information about ___________________ that comes before/ after
it. Neither the _________________ nor the __________________
can be taken away from the sentence.

Step 6:
Finally, do some exercises on defining relative clauses.
1. Here comes Mr. Lee. He is the alumnus _________________________________
(donate / a million dollars to our school).
2. Is this the shop ____________________________________ (start / its final sale
last week)?
3. The dog ___________________________(has / serious illnesses) died last night.
286

Appendix 6 Reading Texts for the Two Cycles of C-R Tasks


-

Text for the Task on Conditional Type 2

A. The Chairperson of the Conservation Club wants to start a Save Paper


Campaign. To increase interest in the campaign, he has posted some information
on the clubs notice board. Read the following:

Datu lives a happy life in the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical
Gardens with his three wives and three children. The family of
orang-utangs are happy because they have plenty of food to eat. They
also have a big cage and are safe from danger. Some people say that
their life is boring and that they should be returned to Borneo. However,
if they were taken back into the rainforest, they would probably die.
Every year, thousands of trees in the rainforests of Borneo are cut down. This
destructive practice is called logging. However, the trees are very important to
animals of the rainforests. For example, without trees, the orang-utangs have nothing
to eat and no shelter.
If humans continue to destroy the rainforest, the orang-utangs will be extinct in
20 years, said biologist Dr David Cam. If I were the Government, I would
make all logging illegal. Look at the forest. It is beautiful, isnt it? I
dont understand how people can be so thoughtless. If people were
more careful with the environment, the world would be a better place.
So, what can we do to save the rainforest and the orang-utangs?
One reason for logging is the demand for paper. If people stopped
using paper, there would be almost no logging. I know we cant
stop using paper completely but we can try to use less paper. Here
are some ideas for saving paper.
Dont use paper plates and cups.
Write on both sides of a piece of paper.
Put waste paper in a recycling bin.
Use recycled paper.
Try not to use too many tissues.
The Conservation Club is now preparing an information pack about the rainforest.
The pack will contain more articles about rainforests, poems about rainforest animals
and a questionnaire.
287

B. Some members of the club asked the chairperson to add some headings to the
article about logging. He has thought of seven ideas. Help him choose a good
heading for each of the four paragraphs. Write the paragraph number next to the
most suitable heading.

The happy family

Our clubs coming activities

Unhappy creatures

An experts opinion

The damage done by logging

The governments
importance of opinion
logging

Where orang-utangs are found in the world

C. Some other members of the club argue about the content of the article.
They do not agree with the attitude of the writer. Work out the attitude of
the writer to the following issues. Circle your answers.
1. Do you think the writer agrees with keeping some animals in cages?
Yes / No
2. Do you think the writer agrees with logging?
Yes / No
3. Do you think the writer supports the work of the scientists?
Yes / No

288

Text for the Task on Defining Relative Clauses


A. Three students were having a conversation during recess. Read the following
transcriptions of their conversation:

Have you read the story in Teen Age? asked Kelly.

Which story? asked Karen.


The one about the girl who has problems in making friends, replied Kelly.
No, I havent, hows the girl? asked Karen.
She is really lonely, and every time she is sad, she can only talk to the doll

which has accompanied her for years, replied Kelly.


Oh, poor her! By the way, Ive read an article about the Flowers Fair that is
being held at Victoria Park. It is fun! said Karen.
Ive read the article too. Which area of the fair do you like the best? asked
Tammy.

10

I like the one which has lots of roses. I dont remember the name, replied
Karen.
Its the Rose Garden. I like it too, but I think the one that Leon likes is even
more attractive, whispered Kelly.
Who is Leon? asked Tammy.

15

The one who wrote the article. There is a photo of him taken at the fair. He
is handsome and tall, laughed Karen.

289

B. Answer the following questions.


1. What is Teen Age?
A. a person
B. a magazine
C. a tour book
D. an organization
2. How does Karens feel about the girl who has difficulties in making friends?
A. annoyed
B. agreeing
C. indifferent
D. sympathetic
3. In line 7, the word her refers to ________________________________________.
4. In line 8, the word it refers to _________________________________________.
5.

According to the conversation, which of the following are true?


i.

Kelly and Karen have read the story on the girl who has difficulties in
making friends.

ii.

Kelly and Kammy have read the article on the Flowers Fair

iii. Kelly, Kammy, and Karen have all read Teen Age
A. i & ii
B. i & iii
C. ii & iii
D. iii & iv
6. In line 13, the word whispered suggested that Kelly was ________when she
mentioned Leon.
A. shy
B. calm
C. angry
D. happy

290