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Articles for Teachers

ESL students feel very anxious when doing reading comprehension tests - Part 2
By:Nellie Deutsch

A Journal Article Critique

My action research problem statement is that many of my ESL students feel very anxious when doing reading comprehension tests. As part of my literature review, I chose to critique a research article by Mokhtari Kouider and Ravi Sheorey on how to improve English as a second language (ESL) reading comprehension of academic materials and textbooks. The research is called Measuring ESL students' awareness of reading strategies. The article appeared in the Journal of Developmental Education in the spring edition of 2002.

The authors provide background information about their previous work with a similar research development instrument called Metacognitive Awareness of Reading Strategies Inventory (MARSI). They explain their rationale for modifying MARSI as a measuring tool for native speakers of English, to suit ESL students. They call the new tool Survey of Reading Strategies (SORS).
The problem statement is only hinted at. It is not specifically mentioned. This is what I understood from my reading of the research article: Do the strategies ESL students claim to use when reading, help them understand the material better or do they need to learn other reading strategies? The research sets out to prove that a certain survey measuring tool is useful for both ESL students and teachers. Kouider and Sheorey state that by taking the SORS survey ESL students can become aware of strategies they could use to help them gain a better understand of the reading material. Similarly teachers can learn about their students' incorrect reading strategies so they can be used "in helping their ESL students increase metacognitive awareness and become thoughtful, constructively responsive, and strategic readers" (Kouider and Sheorey, 2002, p. 2). This knowledge may provide teachers with teaching material for their ESL reading classes. The researchers set out to help ESL learners and teachers become aware of and learn how to use the strategies of skilled readers.The writers state their objectives as an "[intent] to measure adolescent and adult ESL students' metacognitive awareness and perceived use of reading strategies while reading academic materials such as textbooks" (Mokhatari et al, 2002, p. 2).

The researchers document their problem by means of a survey called SORS. The authors do not give a full background picture of the population that took the survey. The researchers only state the number of participants in the native English speakers' MARSI study. They do not mention the number of participants in the ESL SORS study. However the authors do mention a previous research in which they "aimed at examining the differences in metacognitive awareness and perceived strategy use among ESL (n=152) and US (n=150) college students"(Mokhatari et al, 2002, p. 5). Here they indicate their findings that there is a connection between "lower levels of awareness and strategy use when reading academic material" Mokhatari et al, 2002, p. 5. The measuring tool is "administered individually or to groups of ESL students" (Mokhatari et al, 2002, p. 5). They use a "5-point Likert scale…after each statement. The methods used are "fairly easy to read and administer" (Mokhatari et al, 2002, p. 5). The total time it may take is 10 to 12 minutes. The students are given direction and category explanations. Scoring is "done by the students themselves" (Mokhatari et al, 2002, p. 5). Teachers and students can view the results. This would help them take the necessary action to improve ESL reading strategies.

I find the literature review very comprehensive and persuasive. Mokhatari and Sheorey present their paper in a very convincing way by citing others in the right places. I like the fact that the citations are smoothly incorporated into the body of the paper. According to the authors, "SORS provides a convenient tool for assisting teachers in addressing the academic reading needs of adolescent and adult ESL students"(Mokhatari et al, 2002, p. 5). They then go on to persuade us that "These findings are consistent with prior research which has shown that awareness-and-use-of-reading-strategies are positively related to superior reading comprehension and successful learning among native speakers (Alexander & Jetton, 2002 Pressley, 2000)" (Mokhatari et al, 2002, p. 5). Besides being persuasive, the outcome of the survey is geared towards immediate action. The students work out their own scores right away. They can compare their scores with a table indicating where they stand. This means that they are able to take action almost immediately. Once they add up their scores, the students become aware of their shortcomings. They can decide to take a course on how to learn these reading skill strategies. Teachers can similarly learn about their students' lack of reading skills. This can provide teachers with a better understanding of how to plan their reading comprehension lessons.

"SORS is a self-report measure" Mokhatari et al, 2002, p. 6). It is the students' opoinion on what strategy they use while reading ESL material. They may not actually know that much about themselves to be ready to answer such questions. What they believe they should do is not what they do in a real life situation, when they read (Mokhatari et al, 2002, p.5). The authors of the study indicated this as a limitation to using SORS. Another limitation of the survey measure is that it is just one measure of assessing students' ESL reading comprehension. A full picture must include other assessment tools. The authors claim that there is need for a "qualitative methodology [which would include] observation and in-depth interviews" Mokhatari et al, 2002, p. 6). I agree with this statement. I think a quantitative study on student reading strategies is not sufficient evidence. A qualitative study would be a great addition to test the writers' hypothesis.

In my opinion this study of measuring ESl students' awareness of reading strategies is inconclusive. Most of the study was based on a previous assumption made by the authors that skilled native speakers used certain reading strategies for an understanding of the reading material. Eventhough Mokhatari and Sheorey claim to have come up with a different survery that would suit the ESL population, I am not convinced that students can become aware of relevant strategies by being asked if they use them. The fact that they don't use them doesn't necessarily mean they are unskilled readers. Perhaps there are better ESL reading strategies that can be useful for ESL learners that are not included in the survey. The variables included in the survey and considered good reading strategies were originally documented by native English speakers. Does that make them good reading strategies for ESL students? I would like to see a different study done. I suggest doing a similar study, which was done on native speakers of English, on ESL students. I would like to find out what excellent skilled ESL readers use as reading strategies when confronted with authentic English academic material. I would start with a qualitative study by interviewing the skilled ESL readers to find out what reading strategies they used. Later I would add my findings to Mokhatari and Sheorey's SORS measurement tool survey.

Mokhtari, K., & Sheorkey, R., (2002). Measuring ESL students' awareness of reading strategies. Journal of Developmental Education, 25(3), 2-8.

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