THE EFFECT OF MULTIPLE TEXTS ON VOCABULARY ACQUISITION

Jeannette Watts
Department of Language Studies
Massey University at Wellington

Abstract

This study investigates the effect of reading multiple texts on incidental acquisition of vocabulary. Adult learners indicated their degree knowledge of target words prior to reading across three texts, taking notes in an information transfer task, then writing a paraphrased account of the texts. An immediate post-test of the target words was administered, and a delayed post-test was held one week later. Although considerable incremental gains were initially reported, much of these were not sustained throughout the week. The target vocabulary used in the writing task did not seem to be related to the gains made, but the extent to which the writer used new vocabulary generatively appears to have had an effect on certainty of knowledge.

Introduction

The importance of exposure to vocabulary in general as a means to its acquisition is widely recognised by teachers. This research focuses specifically on a read-to-write task, with particular attention to the relationship between increased vocabulary knowledge and the lexical overlap between the source texts, the use of target vocabulary in a note taking task and the extent of its use in a subsequent writing task. In doing so, it tests the assumption that such a task results in well encoded vocabulary which in turn is reflected in accurate retrieval of new word meanings.

  • Hence in regard to language acquisition this research is concerned with the issues of:
  • the incremental nature of gains in word knowledge
  • the effect of lexical overlap
  • the role of input
  • the value of text-responsible prose as output
  • the conditions for learning
  • the students' experience of the task

It is also concerned with the methodological issue of:

  • the sensitivity of tests to measure partial knowledge and incremental gains

Literature Review

The incremental nature of gains in word knowledge

Though classroom teachers have intuitively felt that reading is a rich source of incidental vocabulary growth, "strong experimental evidence does not seem to be available," (Nagy et al, 1985, p234). In recent years researchers in the field of second language acquisition have made efforts to provide such evidence.

Nagy et al (ibid, p251) began with their investigation aimed to determine if measurable knowledge about unfamiliar words was acquired while reading natural text. (The significance of this is that the number of occurrences of a word is not manipulated in any way). They made the important point that learning from context takes place at all levels of word knowledge, thus pointing to the fact that word learning is a gradual process, sometimes proceeding in small increments. If partial word knowledge of a word's meaning is gained from one or a small number of exposures, acquisition must be thought of as being cumulative and long-term. They suggest that approaches to vocabulary acquisition might be evaluated in terms of time spent per word learned.

The effect of lexical overlap

While Nagy et al believe that "substantial if partial" knowledge can be gained from even a single encounter of a word, other researchers found that repeated encounters with new words in context were required for students to construct meaning (Jenkins et al, 1994, p432). Elley's research also suggests that frequency of exposure is a key variable in vocabulary gain. The number of occurrences of a word correlated well (.43 and .60) with the gain score in each of his two experiments, leading him to write that:

Clearly, for new learning to occur the text must contain some vocabulary beyond the pupils' present understanding [...] and there should normally be more than one exposure to each word. (1989, p184)

The results of his study indicated that up to 40 percent gains in vocabulary were made by three readings of a story with only brief explanations of word meaning, demonstrating that attention to meaning rather than form can have an effect on vocabulary acquisition. Elley's findings are supported by a study of adult second language learners carried out by Ferris (Pitts et al, 1989, p271) in which gains in vocabulary were recorded as a result of reading Animal Farm. Such findings are echoed by Pitts et al, whose research confirmed that second language learners could acquire vocabulary incidentally from the reading of two chapters of A Clockwork Orange (ibid). The implication they see in their results is that second language learners should do a large amount of comprehensible reading.

The role of input

Lexical overlap is desirable but is it sufficient? Levy et al (1995) carried out seven experiments examining the influence of across-text transfer and found that the across-text effect seemed dependent entirely on meaning aspects of the representation, and conclude that:

Word overlap may play some role in recruiting memorial representations, but the facilitation in subsequent reading occurs only when there is content overlap as well (page 1184)

This is accounted for by the retrieval and strengthening of the representation within the memory when a second text is read. That is, new information is more easily understood when it is assimilated with already given information. This seems to support Logan's instance theory, in which:

the learning mechanism responsible for automaticity is "memory-retrieval", or more precisely, the accumulation of separate episodic traces with experience that produces a gradual transition from algorithmic (rule-based) processing to memory-based processing (Schmidt, 1992, p369)

In terms of retrieval of prior knowledge and construction of meaning of unknown words, the context has an effect, though some more so than others. By altering "inconsiderate" texts to

ones which provide rich information to facilitate meaning construction and word learning, Konopak found parallel increases in students' vocabulary learning and topic comprehension with the more considerate text. (1994, p431). This is in contrast to the findings of Nagy et al, mentioned earlier, who found vocabulary gains with text which was not contrived or unnaturally context-rich.

The role of text-responsible prose as output

Comprehensible input is clearly an essential aspect of acquisition, and so too is output. While the distinction between input and output is often associated with the distinction between receptive and productive knowledge, it might be more useful to consider the two types of knowledge as being measures of the degree of knowledge of a word. This point is made in Nation (1999, p20). Thus, output can be considered as demonstration of word knowledge at one end of the knowledge continuum.

Is production sufficient to lead to acquisition? According to Swain's output hypothesis (1985), production will aid acquisition only when the learner is pushed, that is, when the learner must grapple with linguistic forms in order to convey meaning. Output such as this is required when learners must explain any particular phenomenon with a degree of factual accuracy. Herein lies the value of text-responsible prose.

Text-responsible prose is produced by the writer, based on content acquired primarily from a source text. The writer is required to account for the text and is responsible for demonstrating an accurate understanding of its content. Learners must therefore engage and interact with the source text, which provides the opportunity "of engagement with serious and compelling subject matter" (Leki and Carson, 1997, p63).

Students' experience of read-to-write tasks

Students' engagement and experience of the task therefore is an important component of text-responsible prose. In their site-specific research Leki and Carson (ibid) examined the perceptions and experiences of adult students writing while drawing on three different sources of information: personal experience, using texts as a springboard for responses, and using texts as the source of content. Many respondents in this research found that the latter condition was facilitating because it lessened their need to produce their own ideas. The text also provided scaffolding for written assignments by means of vocabulary items, sentence structures, and rhetorical structures.

Reading to write in this manner implies that the reader constructs mental representations through interactions with the text. That is, readers create meaning by integrating content from source texts with already acquired knowledge. This process involves the operations of selecting, organising and connecting, which are all aspects of discourse synthesis (Spivey and King, 1989, p9). Discourse synthesis requires readers to read multiple texts on a given topic and synthesise them by selecting content, organising it and connecting it by providing links between related ideas derived from the multiple sources. Thus,

synthesis is an act of comprehending, in which the reader forms a mental representation from textual clues (Spivey and King, ibid, p 11)

Because the construction of meaning is affected by, amongst other things, the nature of the reading task, a read-to-write task ensures effort for full understanding will be made in order to produce a new text which contains accurate information. As Leki and Carson point out, writing tasks such as this correspond to the writing tasks required in academic courses (ibid, p55).

Conditions for learning

What is the explanation for vocabulary gains from tasks such as read-to-write? For acquisition to take place "the learner must attend subconsciously to the presence of a specific feature in the input" (Ellis, 1990, p190). Context which encourages the inferring of meaning allows the learner to attend to the aspect of meaning of a word. Such noticing of a specific feature of the input is a crucial condition for learning to occur. This is borne out in the case study carried out by Joe (1995), which looked at text-based tasks and incidental vocabulary learning. The existence within the tasks of the three learning conditions of attention, retrieval and generation contributed to the incremental vocabulary knowledge gains, particularly where the words were used generatively. The argument being presented here is that read-to-write tasks also provide these conditions: noticing or attending to aspects of word meaning, retrieving language in order to make notes, and generation of language in order to produce their own written account of the source texts.

The sensitivity of tests to measure partial knowledge and incremental gains

How is gain in vocabulary knowledge measured? According to Nagy et al:

the failure of many studies to demonstrate appreciable learning from context [...] lies in the insensitivity of the measures of word knowledge to small increments of learning (ibid, p23).

If each retrieval strengthens the connection between form and meaning, and if knowledge of a word's form and meaning is enhanced as a result of repeated meetings or deeper processing, then a sensitive vocabulary test must be employed to measure this. Joe et al (ibid, p1) make the point that without appropriately sensitive measures the relative strength of vocabulary learning interventions cannot be assessed. Insensitive measures can result when one measure in a sequence has an effect on another. The research design therefore must prevent this, for example by avoiding giving learners a word's form to recall its meaning before requiring them to retrieve its form. That is, productive knowledge should be tested before receptive knowledge (Joe et al, ibid, p7). They also comment that different vocabulary tests measure vocabulary knowledge with different degrees of sensitivity, and advise that experimental studies with pre- and post-tests should use the same test or test format in both. Without this, it will not be possible to know if differences in results are due to differences in degree of sensitivity.

In regard to receptive measures of vocabulary, according Baddely (Joe et al, 1990, p3) a common measure is to ask learners to indicate which of the listed words they have seen before. Recognition in this way is acceptable as a vocabulary measure because receptive knowledge of word forms is part of the knowledge needed to make the connection between form and meaning. Finally, in constructing a multiple choice test of receptive knowledge, a less sensitive test will result if the distractors are too close in form and meaning to the correct answers.

In terms of generating a word, productive retrieval is most realistically performed when used in a normal context, such as when undertaking a writing task. But the difficulty with this is that for vocabulary testing purposes it is not particularly sensitive because the word's non-occurrence may be either due to lack of knowledge or lack of opportunity to use it.

Research questions

In the light of these issues raised in the literature, the following research questions were asked:

Was there a relationship between the number of occurrences of the target word in the source texts and student output?

To what extent did the read-to-write task provide conditions necessary for learning to occur ? This implies asking:

    • How many target words were retrieved from learners’ memory or the text and encoded in students' notes?
    • How many target words were used in students' writing?

What was the extent of incremental gains in word knowledge? This implies asking how many of the target words were known (recognised):

    • prior to reading the texts?
    • immediately after the writing task?
    • a week later?

4. To what extent did the task facilitate output in the form of text-responsible prose? This implies surveying students about their experience of the texts as scaffolding for the written task by means of vocabulary items, sentence structures, and rhetorical structures.

The setting

The class in which this study was carried out was a tertiary level class of learners preparing for further study in an academic environment. An important focus of their course was very much on increasing the depth of knowledge of the University Word List, a list of nearly 800 word families of high frequency in academic texts (Xue and Nation, 1984). At the time of the research the approach was one of introducing the vocabulary and extending knowledge of it by way of specially written and manipulated texts. Thus it would be an advantage to establish the value of reading across authentic texts as an efficient means to strengthen vocabulary knowledge.

The students

Seventeen students (10 men and 7 women) participated in this research study. The majority (12) were from China, with 1 from Hong Kong, 2 from Serbia, 1 from Turkey, and 1 from Samoa. Their ages ranged from mid-20s to mid-50s, and all but one were recent arrivals to New Zealand. All were highly educated and qualified in a variety of professions, and as such were familiar with research methodology and aware of the need to respond earnestly. They were informed that the purpose of this task was to read the texts, take notes, and synthesise the information in a written account. Although they were not told of the particular focus on vocabulary acquisition, they were told in general terms that it was for research into writing, and their consent was requested. It was felt that this met ethical requirements without unduly influencing the nature of their writing.

While a small minority of the students aimed to build up their English language skills in order to go directly to work in their profession, the majority of them planned further study in their academic field. The course therefore included skills development in academic reading and writing, but the particular task of text synthesis had not been undertaken prior to this intervention task. This lack of familiarity may have had an impact on the outcome, as will be discussed later.

Data Gathering

Selection of texts

Three newspaper articles covering the handover of Hong Kong were selected. This topic was chosen because of its international significance, perhaps particularly so to the large number of students of Chinese ethnicity.

Text one was from Wellington's Evening Post, text two was from Wellington's Dominion, and text three was from The Guardian Weekly (Appendix 1). All three texts were left in their original form and were not contrived or manipulated in any way.

Text Analysis

The 3 texts and information transfer task were analysed for their vocabulary level. Words belonging to the University Word List were identified and from this list words were selected which had not yet been encountered in class activities. This amounted to a total of 19 target words.

Target word

Text 1

Text 2

Text 3 Task Total

administered/ive

1

1

1

0

3

aspect

0

1

0

0

1

assurance

1

0

1

1

3

civil

0

2

0

0

2

elaboration

0

1

0

0

1

embrace

1

0

0

0

1

enhanced

0

1

0

0

1

grant

1

0

0

0

1

hostility

0

0

1

0

1

policy

0

0

1

0

1

prosperity

1

0

0

0

1

province

0

0

1

0

1

psychologically

0

0

2

0

2

rebel

0

0

1

0

1

rejected

0

0

1

0

1

residents / -cy

4

1

0

1

6

retain

0

2

0

0

2

territory

3

1

0

0

4

transfer

0

1

0

1

2

Table 1 : Lexical overlap of target words

Pre-test of vocabulary

Completely prior to the intervention task, the students were asked how they would rate their knowledge of any given word. Together they established the following 4-point scale.

1.

I have never seen or heard this word before.

2.

I've met this word before and have a vague idea of its general meaning.

3.

I've met this word before and have a very clear idea of its meaning, but I couldn't use it in my speaking or writing.

4.

I know this word well and could use it in my speaking and writing.

The purpose of this 4 point scale was to measure incremental gains in word knowledge.

It was felt preferable to employ a scale derived from the students' perception and experience rather than others, such as the vocabulary Knowledge Scale developed by Wesche and Paribakht (1993. In Joe, 1995, p151).

The nineteen target words and five nonsense but morphemically plausible words were presented to the students for self assessment (Appendix 2). These non-words were included as a measure of the accuracy of learners’ responses: if they claimed knowledge of a non-word they would be overstating their vocabulary knowledge. (Nation, 1999, p341) They were not informed that the recognition test would be followed with a reading task.

In order to maintain a degree of sensitivity, and thus be able to measure gains in partial knowledge, it was important that the test did not provide any information about the meaning of the words, and so an objective test was not given at this stage.

Intervention task

Upon completion of the vocabulary pre-test the students were asked to perform the reading task, complete the information transfer exercise as the basis of their notes (Appendix 3). Students were asked to note the number of look backs they made when making notes, which was an attempt to measure if they were able to retrieve the vocabulary item from their short term memory or whether they retrieved it from the text. The final step was to use their notes to write a 300 word account of the handover of Hong Kong. They were instructed that they were to treat their reading of the newspaper articles in their normal manner. That is, they were encouraged to employ guessing strategies. There was very occasional use of English-only dictionaries where guessing strategies had been unsuccessful.

Immediate post-test

Following the writing task, the students were given the same vocabulary recognition test, although the items were in a different order. They were then asked to complete the questionnaire regarding their reaction to the task. (Appendix 4)

Delayed post-test

After one week the students performed a multi-choice test to assess their recognition of the target words. (Appendix 5) They then carried out the self assessment test for a third time.

Debriefing

Six selected students were interviewed about their performance in the tests.

Data Analysis

The results of the pre-test (A) were compared with results on their immediate post-test (B). The number and degree of increments and decreases were recorded. The same process was carried out a week later with the delayed post-test (C). Further to this, a comparison was made between perceived word knowledge and actual word knowledge of the 19 target words. The number of nonsense words claimed to be recognised was also recorded.

All students' notes and writing were analysed, and target words recorded. An analysis was made of the vocabulary used in the notes and writing of three students who reported their vocabulary knowledge had increased and of three students whose gains had been negligible. Comparisons were made between the vocabulary used and the vocabulary reported to have been strengthened.

In order to get an appreciation of how the read-to-write task had been experienced by the learners, the responses of these 6 case studies were considered in the light of changes in their vocabulary knowledge.

Results

Question 1 :Is there a relationship between the number of occurrences of a target word in the source texts and student output?

There does not appear to be a strong relationship between the number of occurrences in the texts and the number of times the word was used by the students. Even though there was content overlap as well as lexical overlap within the input, this did not result in a large amount of target vocabulary use. It is however important to remember at this point that the information transfer task was not specifically designed to force attention to target vocabulary.

As the graph below shows, for example, while 4 words occurred 1 time in the text and not at all in the writing, another word occurred 1 time in the text and 6 times in writing, while yet another word occurred 6 times in the text and 9 times in writing.

Occurences in Text

Figure 1 : Relationship between target word occurrence in texts and student writing

Question 2 : To what extent did the read-to-write task provide conditions necessary for learning to occur? This implies asking:

How many target words were encoded in students' notes?

How many target words were used in students' writing?

To get an indication of whether the word was retrieved from memory or from the source text, it was necessary to identify the number of times a student looked back at the text. This was the least satisfactory aspect of the study because three students forgot completely to note their look-backs, and a few reported forgetting some times and making a guess. So the numbers reported here are not very meaningful. Among the 14 students who remembered to note their look-backs, the number of look-backs ranged from 1 to 19, with the average number being 9.6 over the three texts.

Of the 19 target words, 11 different words were encoded in students' notes and 13 different words were used in their writing. But they were not necessarily used in both, as the following table shows:

Student

Words used in notes

Words used in writing

Number of words repeated

A

prosperity prosperity embrace assure retain(x2) residents

1

B

prosperity territory(x2) prosperity (x2) transfer retain

1

C

residents assure residents assure policy

2

D

prosperity (x2) prosperity territory policy

1

E

retain hostility territory enhanced hostility territory

2

F

embrace territory embrace transfer

1

G

prosperity (x3) prosperity

1

H

prosperity territory assurances

0

I

policy assurance residents territory residents (x3) territory civil

2

J

residents(x2) territory enhanced residents(x2) territory

2

K

prosperity assurance retain administrative

0

L

grant residents (x3) administrative resident (x2) administrative civil

2

M

assurance (x2) aspect

0

N

retain retain administrative

1

O

embrace territory didn't undertake writing task

0

P

prosperity (x2) assurance prosperity embrace transfer

1

Q

retain retain

1

Table 2 : Words used in notes and in writing

As Table 2 shows, eight writers repeated one word in their notes and writing, and five writers repeated two of the words in their notes and writing, while three writers did not overlap the target words at all. One writer felt the writing task was too difficult and did not attempt it.

Question 3: What was the extent of incremental gains in word knowledge? This implies asking what was the level of knowledge of the target words:

i) prior to reading the texts?

ii) immediately after the writing task?

iii) a week later?

The pre-test showed that most students had some degree of knowledge prior to the reading task, as shown in Table 3.

Level of knowledge

Target word

1

2

3

4

administer

0

3

7

7

aspect

2

0

7

8

assurance

1

2

5

9

civil

0

2

5

10

elaboration

7

6

4

0

embrace

1

7

5

4

enhanced

6

7

1

3

grant

1

3

6

7

hostility

2

10

4

1

policy

0

0

1

16

prosperity

3

5

3

6

province

1

2

7

7

psychologically

0

1

6

10

rebel

4

4

5

4

rejected

0

1

5

11

resident

1

0

0

16

retain

1

7

7

2

territory

2

5

4

6

transfer

0

0

2

15

Table 3 : Level of knowledge by student number (n=17) prior to the task

Because the test measured degrees of knowledge it was possible to measure partial knowledge and gradual increases which took place throughout the task.

These can be seen in the Table 4.

Immediate post-task level Delayed post-task level

1

2

3

4

1

2

3

4

Pre-

1

13

8

5

4

Pre-

1

13

7

7

3

task

2

7

34

19

5

task

2

14

23

21

7

level

3

2

8

43

31

level

3

1

12

42

29

4

0

3

9

131

4

1

5

33

105

Table 4: Instances of changes in knowledge as a result of the task

As the numbers on the diagonal show, the level of knowledge remained unchanged in a large number of cases. The numbers to the right of the diagonal show the increases and those to the left show the decreases. From this can be seen that there were 31 instances of increase from level 3 to level 4, of which 29 were sustained for the week.

Thus most increases at both post-tests were from 3Þ 4, (from a secure receptive knowledge to a productive knowledge), with a large number also from 2Þ 3 (from an insecure receptive knowledge to a more secure one). Given that a major goal of the learners on the course is transforming their receptive vocabulary into productive use, this is a gratifying result, though of course the decreases in knowledge need to be taken into account.

The measurement of gains and losses has been in terms of the students' awareness of their knowledge. But how reliable is their estimate? According to Meara ( Nation, 1999, p 341)) this test format produces a reliable, valid, and practical measure of second language vocabulary knowledge, providing that learners' scores are calculated by subtracting the proportion of non-words claimed to be known from the number of real words claimed to be known, and these results are shown in the third column in the table below. A multiple choice recognition test, which aimed to be sensitive by having dissimilar distractors, was administered immediately prior to the final post-test, and these results are in the fourth column.

Student

Identification

Real words reported to be recognised Real words minus claimed non-words Number of words actually recognised

A

19

15

12

B

19

15

11

C

19

16

14

D

19

15

13

E

19

16

12

F

19

14

12

G

19

16

15

H

18

13

12

I

18

13

10

J

17

14

7

K

17

13

12

L

17

16

11

M

17

16

11

N

16

12

10

O

15

13

8

P

14

13

12

Q

13

10

9

Table 5 : Discrepancy between reported knowledge and actual (receptive) knowledge

On average, students reported they recognised (that is, a level 2, 3 or 4 ) 6.1 words more than their test of receptive knowledge indicated. That is, they were unable to report accurately on their knowledge of 32.2% of the words. Only 1 student identified all nonsense words to be unknown on the pre-test, while 2 students identified all 5 nonsense words to be known to some extent. This suggests caution must be taken when making claims for the effectiveness of the intervention.

Question 4: To what extent did the task facilitate output in the form of text-responsible prose?

The students' response to the task was measured using the following 5-point scale, the content of which is derived from findings by Leki and Carson (1997).

very much

quite a lot

some

not much

none

Attention paid to producing correct information

2

6

7

1

0

Attention paid to linguistic accuracy

1

5

9

1

0

Assistance with vocabulary provided by the texts

1

6

8

1

0

Assistance with sentence structures provided by the texts

1

3

8

3

1

Assistance with organisation provided by the texts

0

2

9

5

0

very difficult

difficult

so-so

easy

very easy

Difficulty of writing in own words

1

5

7

3

0

Table 6 : Students' reactions to task

(N=16, because one student did not do the writing task)

This indicates that a slightly more attention was paid to producing correct information than to linguistic accuracy, and that the text was perceived to be more useful in providing assistance with vocabulary than with structures or organisation. By having to account for the content accuracy of their written output, learners had to engage in depth with the source text and grapple with linguistic forms to covey the intended meaning. Perhaps for this reason, most students did not find it easy to write in their own words.

How effective was the read-to-write task in facilitating vocabulary acquisition? As the graph in Figure 2 shows, there does not appear to be a strong relationship between the number of students reporting changes in knowledge of a word in the delayed post-test and the number of times it was used in writing. If a strong relationship existed the two measures would be more similar.

Differences in knowledge

Figure 2: The relationship between differences in knowledge of a word and its use in writing

Discussion of results

The overall picture serves to give the impression of the gradual if unsteady pathway towards vocabulary acquisition. When examining particular cases with a close-up lens this picture is reinforced. To do this, a closer scrutiny was made of the results of three students, identified as B, H and D, who reported a development in their knowledge of the target words (the "gainers"), and three, identified as J, E and C, who reported a relatively large number of declines (the "losers"). Of particular interest was the comparison between the words which had a sustained gain over the week and their occurrence in notes and writing. That is, did the use of words in notes and writing result in a sustained gain? Their reported gains and word usages were compared, and shown Table 7.

Student identification No. of gains made on immediate test No. of gains sustained till delayed test No. of sustained gains used in notes No. of sustained gains used in writing
"Gainers" B

6

3

1

0

H

5

2

1

0

D

4

3

0

0

"Losers" J

4

2

1

1

E

2

2

2

1

C

1

1

1

1

Table 7 : Comparison of knowledge gains and word usage.

Contrary to expectation the "gainers" used fewer of the sustained words in their notes and writing than did the "losers". In total, the "gainers" sustained 8 words but only 1 of them had been used in the notes and another in the writing, whereas the "losers" sustained 5 words, 4 of which were used in the notes and 3 in the writing. This suggests that those who made gains in their vocabulary knowledge did so despite not using the target words in their notes or writing.

This unexpected finding warranted further investigation, especially in the light of two teachers' subjective rating of the three "losers", according to which these three were clearly the strongest members of the class in terms of their vocabulary knowledge. Why did they not appear to gain by this read-to-write task?

A closer examination of the students' writing went some way to explaining this. Amongst the "losers" the previously unknown words were attempted . Their writing was more original than others, and by attempting to use the new words they became aware of their less-than- perfect knowledge of it, therefore rated their knowledge lower, that is as a 'loss'. On the other hand, the "gainers" did not use the target words, their writing was less original, less synthesised and more of a retranscription of the texts. By not making the "pushed" output their awareness and understanding of the word was not challenged in any way, and therefore they did not report a loss.

This is borne out by some of the comments made in the debrief interviews. Student J, who reported 5 decreases, said that:

I knew the main meaning of a word but when I saw it in the article I realised there was more than one meaning, so I felt less sure.

She also reported that she was able to guess the meaning of some of the words from the article, but wasn't sure if she was right or not. This lack of certainty was clear on her final post-test: of the 12 words incorrectly identified on the multiple choice test, she had reported a -1 decrease on 5 of them and continued to have no knowledge at all on one of them.

A similar experience was reported by Student C, who reported 8 decreases. He explained

I wasn't sure if I'd used some words in the correct way in my writing so I wasn't sure if I knew them or not

Of the 5 incorrectly identified words on the multiple choice test, he reported a decrease (from 3Þ 2) in 3 of them, indicating a less secure knowledge.

Student E also reported 8 decreases. One of these was with the word 'hostility', of which he initially rated his knowledge as a (4), used it in his notes and his writing, decreased his rating to a (3) but was not able to correctly recognise it in the multiple choice test. His use of it in his writing does not suggest a secure or confident knowledge of it. In his interview he commented that : "I thought the meaning I knew was the only meaning of that word"

These results, although not offering strong support for the effect of reading multiple texts on vocabulary acquisition, must be seen in the context of the particular read-to-write task and the group of students who undertook it. The information transfer task was not designed to force the use of particular target words, but rather one which would give a structure to the written account. Nor was there a high percentage of vocabulary overlap across the three source texts. Possibly gains would have been greater in a task which elicited more of the target vocabulary and used texts with a higher overlap.

Further to this, this was the first time this group of students had undertaken a text synthesis task. Perhaps with greater familiarity with this type of task, more students would have written texts containing more original writing, requiring deeper processing of the vocabulary and using it in a generative way.

Although on the surface this study appears to contradict other studies on the effect of multiple texts on vocabulary acquisition, it in fact merely supports studies which reveal the gradual, cumulative process of vocabulary acquisition. By putting the spotlight on the learners' fluctuating certainty about their knowledge of words it reinforces the notion of the gradual strengthening of awareness and cognition.

It also supports the findings by Joe (1995) discussed earlier. Of the six case studies here, the learners whose writing indicated merely a retrieval of information to re-tell (in written form) the original texts did not appear to have dealt with the target vocabulary in as deep a way as those whose writing was more original and suggested more generative processing, and therefore learning, had taken place.

The students' responses to the task adds support to findings of Leki and Carson (1997) in which students perceived the source text to be facilitative in terms of content, vocabulary items, sentence structures and rhetorical forms. That is, the text "functioned as scaffolding" (page 57). As mentioned earlier, this was the first time such a task had been undertaken, and in regard to text responsibility, it was interesting to note that one student asked: "What we write - does it have to be correct ?"

This type of task has benefits for academic reading, note taking skills, and writing in a way that attempts to deal with plagiarism. Intertwined through this is incidental acquisition and development of vocabulary. This occurs because the task provides the conditions of noticing, retrieval and generation which allow learning to take place. Furthermore the task provides opportunity for repeated meetings which strengthens the connection between a word's form and its meaning, possibly resulting in more complete knowledge.

If we accept the suggestion made by Nagy et al (1985, p251) that approaches to vocabulary acquisition be evaluated in terms of time spent per word then this task is a successful and effective one. It is efficient too, in that it provides sources of contextualised target vocabulary without the necessity of the time-consuming task of writing specially contrived texts.

Conclusion

This purpose of this classroom research was to assess the value of a read-to-write task as an opportunity to strengthen knowledge of academic vocabulary. According to the students' own assessment of their word knowledge, both gains and losses were made, and these were not always related to the extent of use in their notes and writing. In fact those who claimed to have gained in their knowledge made less use of the target vocabulary than did those who claimed to have decreased in their knowledge. An explanation for this was that the latter group actually attempted to use the words more generatively, in an original context, thereby becoming aware of the word in more depth and therefore appearing less confident in their knowledge of it.

The pre- and post-tests were all based on learners' own rating of their depth of understanding of the target words, and as the final objective test showed, there was a large discrepancy between actual knowledge and perceived knowledge. This was done in order to ensure increases in word knowledge ensued from the intervention task rather than exposure to the word's meaning in a test. As a result, it is not possible to make solid claims about measured increases in vocabulary. A future study could attempt to overcome this weakness by designing a cued-retrieval test in which the test-takers retrieve each of the target forms, such as by completing the word which is associated with the definition. Alternatively, in order to retain a sensitive scale to measure partial knowledge, a sensitive multiple-choice recognition test could be developed, in which different levels of difficulty and sensitivity would be incorporated into the three testing events.

Despite these weaknesses, the study shows the value and potential of this task as an efficient way of contributing to the incremental and partial gains made in the gradual process of vocabulary acquisition.

References

Elley, W.(1989) Vocabulary Acquisition from Listening to Stories. Reading Research Quarterly. 24(2) pp 174 - 187.

Ellis, R. (1990) Instructed Second Language Acquisition, Oxford: Blackwell.

Joe, A (1995) Text-Based Tasks and Incidental Vocabulary Learning. Second Language Research, 11 (2) pp149-158.

Joe, A., Nation, P. and Newton, J. (Nd) Sensitive Vocabulary Tests Unpublished paper. Victoria University of Wellington

Leki, I. and Carson, J. (1997) Completely Different Worlds: EAP and the Writing Experiences of ESL Students in University Courses. TESOL Quarterly, 31 (1) pp39-71.

Levy, B, et al (1995) Reading Fluency: Episodic Integration Across Texts. Journal of Experiemtal Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition. 21 (5) pp1169 - 1185.

Nagy, W., Herman, P., and Anderson,R. (1985) Learning Words from Context. Reading

Research Quarterly. 20(2) pp233- 253.

Nation, I.S.P. (1999) Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. ELI Occasional Publication 19. Victoria University of Wellington.

Pitts, M., White, H., and Krashen, S . (1989) Acquiring Second Language Vocabulary through Reading: a Replication of the Clockwork Orange Study Using Second Language Acquirers Reading in a Foreign Language. 5(2) pp 271 - 275.

Ruddell, M. (1994) Vocabulary Knowledge and Comprehension: a Comprehension-Process View of Complex Literacy Relationships" In Ruddell, Ruddell and Singer Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading, pp 414 - 445.

Ruddell, R., Ruddell, M., and Singer, H.(eds) (1994) Theoretical Models and Processes of Reading, Delaware: International Reading Association.

Schmidt, R. (1992) Psychological Mechanisms Underlying Second Language Fluency. Studies in Second Language Acquisition. 14, pp 357-385.

Spivey, N. and King, J.(1989) Readers as Writers Composing from Sources. Reading Research Quarterly, 24 (1) pp7 - 21.

Swain, M. (1985) Communicative Competence: Some Roles of Comprehensible Output in its Development. In Gass, S.and Madden, C. (eds) Input in Second Language Acquisition, Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Xue, Guoyi and Nation, I.S.P (1984) A University Word List Language Learning and Communication 3,(2) pp215 - 229

Appendices

Appendix 1 : Source texts

Text 1: Jiang snubs British legacy : Plunge into era of uncertainty

Hong Kong, one of the world's freest places, made its historic return to communist China today with Britain vowing not to desert the territory and Chinese President Jiang Zemin delivering a snub to its former colonial masters.

"Hong Kong's prosperity today, in the final analysis, has been built by Hong Kong compatriots," said Jiang.

"It is also inseparable from the development and support of the mainland."

Though the handover ceremony was marked by smiles and handshakes, Jiang's words provided an alternative to those of Prince Charles and the last governor Chris Patten, who spoke of Britain's pride in having provided the framework for Hong Kong's phenomenal success.

The unprecedented peaceful handover was completed at midnight in the new Convention and Exhibition Centre, when China's red five-star flag was raised to the sound of the Chinese anthem, The March of the Volunteers.

The lowering of the Union Jack moments earlier brought to an end 156 years of British colonisation, throwing Hong Kong into a new era of uncertainty despite China's assurance - repeated by Jiang this morning - to leave the territory's lifestyle unchanged.

Prince Charles marked Britain's exit from its most successful colony with a vow to stand by its 6.4 million citizens, many of whom claim Britain has deserted them by refusing to grant them residency rights.

"We shall not forget you, and we shall watch with the closest interest as you embark on this new era of you remarkable history," Prince Charles said. "The solemn pledges made before the world in the 1984 joint declaration guarantee the continuity of Hong Kong's way of life. For its part Britain will maintain its undeviating support for the joint declaration."

China has always regarded the colonisation of Hong Kong as a national disgrace, and President Jiang termed its return " a festival of the Chinese nation and a victory for the universal cause of peace and justice."

He welcomed Hong Kong's residents back "to the embrace of the motherland" and said July 1, 1997, would "go down in the annals of history as a day that merits eternal memory."

But his speech before 4000 invited guests and televised to the world, will not have lessened fears that Hong Kong citizens may have their right to free speech and to hold public demonstrations restricted, or that the elections China has promised the territory within a year may be biased against democrats.

Concerning residents' rights, the president has said only that "The Hong Kong residents shall enjoy various rights and freedoms according to law." He said the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region would gradually develop "a democratic system that suits Hong Kong's reality" and that Hong Kong's laws would be "basically" unchanged.

-The Evening Post 2 July 1997
Text 2: Chinese leaders pledge freedom

China's president and Hong Kong's new leader pledged yesterday that Hong Kong would have autonomy and retain freedoms.

Their assurances about the future of the of democracy came hours after Hong Kong was returned to China, ending 156 years of British rule.

Thousands of Chinese troops poured across the border to mark the transfer of power.

Hong Kong's 6.4 million people, 98 per cent of whom are Chinese, acclaimed a return to the motherland surrounded by uncertainty about the future of civil liberties under communist rule.

The declarations by China's President Jiang Zemin and Hong Kong's newly selected chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, appeared to be aimed at easing fears.

Mr Jiang said a promise of a high degree of self-rule would be honoured. "There is no reason to change the one-country, two-systems, Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, the high degree of autonomy. All these will be long-term directions," Mr Jiang said in a speech during the inauguration of the new Hong Kong government as part of China.

He repeated the words of China's late paramount leader. "Mr Deng Xiaoping said it well. Hong Kong people can rule Hong Kong well. We must have confidence."

He also said that eventually Taiwan would be reunified with China."Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan will be reunited together with China," he said without elaboration.

Portuguese-administered Macau is to revert to China in 1999.

Mr Deng was responsible for the principle of Hong Kong's return to communist-ruled China under a "one country, two systems" formula, allowing the territory to keep its capitalist lifestyle for 50 years.

Mr Tung said existing freedoms in Hong Kong would continue. "We will protect the lifestyle of Hong Kong people," he said. "They will continue to fully enjoy freedom of speech, association, press, political and civil liberties as guaranteed by an international pact. Democracy is an important aspect of the modern society."

All lawful organisations would be allowed to air their views, he said.

Mr Jian told the government ceremony: "After Hong Kong returns to the motherland, the overwhelming majority of the laws previously in force will be maintained. Hong Kong residents will enjoy their rights and freedoms in accordance with law and all will be equal before the law."

Mr Jiang said Hong Kong would retain the status of a free port and an international financial, trade and shipping centre, while keeping ties with other countries and organisations, "so that this international economic metropolis will forever be vigorous and dynamic."

"With the continuous advance of China's modernisation drive, Hong Kong's economic link with the mainland will become even closer and its role as a bridge will be increasingly enhanced." - The Dominion 2 July 1997

Text 3: Taiwan fears it is China's next target

"Suppose you have a very beautiful daughter," Chen Mao-sung, an independent politician, was telling a crowd of 500 who turned out one sweltering night last week for a "Say No to China"

rally here. "And a man with a gun tried to force her to marry him. That's how China wants to force Taiwan to reunify with China."

As China takes possession of the British colony of Hong Kong, Beijing's Communist government are saying that the "one country, two systems" formula can be a model for reunification with Taiwan. But the 21 million people of Taiwan are greeting the event with ambivalence, or, in rallies like this one, complete hostility.

"There is no reason to celebrate the loss of 6 million people to the Communist system," said Parris Chang, an opposition member of Taiwan's parliament. "I'm ambivalent about the whole thing. It's the end of colonialism, yes. But on the other hand the people are going to an uncertain future."

"The Hong Kong reversion is no reason to be optimistic," a U.S.-trained Taiwanese lawyer, Tsai-chang, told the crowd in Chiayi last week. "A lot of celebrating is going on in Hong Kong, but it's like being frightened in the dark: You make a lot of noise so you're less frightened."

For much of Taiwan's population, the feeling about the "glorious" handover of Hong Kong to China is more like apathy. Chen Hao, a television executive, said ratings for programs about the Hong Kong handover have been consistently low.

China's leaders have always considered Taiwan, to which Nationalist forces fled in 1949, a rebel province. With the return of Hong Kong and the Portuguese-administered Macau in 1999, Taiwan remains the one place Beijing desires to make its own.

That doesn't provide much comfort to Taiwan.

"Until July 1, Hong Kong was a wall that kept China from Taiwan. After July 1, people feel there will only be a strait left" said Chen. "It will force Taiwan people to face reality, that we're very close to China politically, psychologically and geographically. We are the next Chinese concern."

Hong Kong has been a buffer between Taiwan economically as well as psychologically. Shipping, air travel and trade between the two countries move first through Hong Kong, even though it would often be easier to sail across the 100 mile strait separating them.

According to Andrew Yang of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taipei, if the "one country, two systems" plan for Hong Kong succeeds, "Taiwan will gradually be receiving more and more pressures from Beijing and the world to talk to China about peaceful resolution of our differences."

China's president Jiang Zemin is doing his best to put Taiwan in an awkward position. In early 1995, he offered an eight-point plan for better relations. Like other Chinese leaders, he would not rule out force to achieve reunification. Recently, he secretly offered the vice presidency of China to Taiwan's President Lee Tung-hui if the latter would make moves toward reunification. Many China analysts say that if Jiang is rejected, it will create an opening for more militant leaders. -Guardian Weekly, 6 July 1997

Appendix 2 The self assessed test of target words and non-words

Vocabulary Knowledge (A)

Initials______

Below is a list of words. Please indicate how well you know these words according to this 4 point scale:

1.

I have never seen or heard this word before.

2.

I've met this word before and have a vague idea of its general meaning.

3.

I've met this word before and have a very clear idea of its meaning, but I couldn't use it in my speaking or writing.

4.

I know this word well and could use it in my speaking and writing.

aspect 1 2 3 4

civil 1 2 3 4

conventory 1 2 3 4

administrative 1 2 3 4

dynome 1 2 3 4

elaboration 1 2 3 4

residents 1 2 3 4

prosperity 1 2 3 4

assurance 1 2 3 4

grant 1 2 3 4

maintual 1 2 3 4

policy 1 2 3 4

embrace 1 2 3 4

transfer 1 2 3 4

rejected 1 2 3 4

secatently 1 2 3 4

enhanced 1 2 3 4

psychologically 1 2 3 4

rebel 1 2 3 4

hostility 1 2 3 4

principations 1 2 3 4

province 1 2 3 4

retain 1 2 3 4

territory 1 2 3 4

 

Appendix 3: Information transfer task

Read the three articles to complete the exercises below.

1. Complete this box showing significant events in Hong Kong's recent history:

Beginning of British rule
1984
1 July 1997
Return of Macau

2. Fill in the boxes with information from the three articles:

From the perspective of Britain From the perspective of China From the perspective of Taiwan
How was the British colonisation of Hong Kong viewed?
What was the feeling behind the handover ceremony?
How was the transfer of power symbolised?

r

What is the outlook for the future?
What assurances were given to Hong Kong's residents?

r

3. Use these notes to write an account of Hong Kong's return to China (approximately 300 words) Appendix

4 : Students' Reactions to Reading-to-Write Task

1. When you were writing, how much attention did you pay towards producing correct information?

very muchç ________________ç quite a lot ç ________________ç some ç ________________ç not muchç ________________ç none ç ________________ç

2. When you were writing, how much attention did you pay towards the accuracy of your language (e.g. grammar)?

very muchç ________________ç quite a lot ç ________________ç some ç ________________ç not much ç ________________ç none ç ________________ç

3. When you were writing, how much assistance with vocabulary did the texts give you?

very muchç ________________ç quite a lot ç ________________ç someç ________________ç not muchç ________________ç none ç ________________ç

4. When you were writing, how much assistance with sentence structures did the texts give you?

very muchç ________________ç quite a lot ç ________________ç someç ________________ç not muchç ________________ç none ç ________________ç

5. When you were writing, how much assistance with the organisation of your writing did the texts give you ?

very muchç ________________ç quite a lotç ________________ç someç ________________ç not much ç ________________ç none ç ________________ç

6. When you were writing, how easy was it for you to write in your own words?

very difficultç ________________ç difficult ç ________________ç so-so ç ________________ç easy ç ________________ç very easy ç ________________ç

Appendix 5 : Multiple choice test of word recognition

Put a circle around the word that is closest in meaning to the underlined word

administrative a. caring b. managing c. different d. civilian e. assertive
aspect a. item b. pleasure c. part d. whole e. information
assurance a. safety b. guarantee c. constant d. same e. capacity
civil a. public b. specialist c. rural d. serious e. alternative
conventory a. home b. normal c. signature d. ill e. passive
dynome a. energy b. power c. intelligence d. light e. use
elaboration a. design b. election c. loss d. autonomy e. expansion
embrace a. circle b. create c. welcome d. support e. devote
enhanced a. improved b. mixed c. lengthened d. achieved e. adjacent
grant a. assist b. reduce c. receive d. give e. produce
hostility a. resentment b. bitterness c. acceptance d. conversion e. emphasis
maintual a. continuous b. permanent c. important d. consistent e. obvious
policy a. concept b. authority c. judgement d. culture e. plan
principation a. area b. majority c. leader d. rhythm e. movement
prosperity a. health b. wealth c. growth d. method e. assembly
province a. city b. offer c. region d. ceremony e. festival
psychological a. mental b. physical c. personal d. individual e. social
rebel a. role b. artist c. career d. winner e. fighter
rejected a. included b. denied c. returned d. absorbed e. affected
residents a. guests b. hosts c. officials d. citizens e. staff
retain a. teach b. hold c. keep d. agree e. compare
secantly a. quietly b. neatly c. orderly d. separately e. accurately
territory a. district b. frightening c. border d. flag e. planet
transfer a. carry b. interpret c. cease d. change e. prevent
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