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Assessing ESL Students' Literal, Reorganization and Inferential Reading Comprehension Abilities.

Byline: Akhtar Ali, Muhammad Javed and Ghulam Shabbir

Abstract

Reading comprehension is one of the basic skills of the English language that enables ESL students to comprehend textual material appropriately. This study aims to assess reading comprehension abilities of primary school students studying at private schools. A reading comprehension test, based on Barrett's and Day and Park's taxonomies of reading comprehension, was developed by focusing on literal, reorganization and inferential reading comprehension skills. ESL students of grade 5 were targeted in the study. A sample comprising of 375 students was selected from 25 primary schools from District Vehari, Pakistan. Fifteen students were randomly selected from each school. Mean scores, standard deviation and percentage were calculated in order to analyze the data. T-value was calculated to make comparison between the performance of male and female students in reading comprehension skills.

The results indicate that the respondents showed better performance in literal and reorganization comprehension as compared to inferential comprehension. The calculated t-value (0.04162) reflects that there was a significant difference between the performance of male and female students. Some implications were made to enhance ESL students' reading comprehension abilities.

Keywords: ESL students, comprehension, literal, reorganization, inferential, assessment

Introduction

Linguists divide language into four skills; namely, speaking, writing, listening and reading. Two skills such as speaking and writing are known as productive skills. Contrarily, reading and listening skills are considered as receptive skills. Each skill helps ESL students in promoting their language competencies; however, reading skill, not only assists them in developing language skills, but also provides foundations for them to enhance their language abilities. The previous studies (e.g., Senechal and LeFevre, 2002; Welcome, Chiarello, Thompson, and Sowell, 2011) concluded in their studies that reading was more important as compared to other language skills because it provides foundations for ESL students to improve their language proficiencies. Reading is known as an interaction between the text and reader in order to dig out meanings from the textual material.

Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (2012: 483), states that "reading is a process by which the meaning of the text is understood". ESL students apply a variety of reading strategies in order to identify main idea and locate supporting details from the text. They also identify cause and effect relationship and get the meanings of unknown words with the help of contextual clues. In addition, they infer the text for drawing appropriate conclusions.

With regard to the process of reading comprehension, the reader needs to go back time and again in order to extract accurate meanings of the text (Diaz and Laguado, 2013; Mellard, Fall, and Woods, 2010). In this connection, the reader's level of success or failure is judged by the competence of decoding the text (McKeown, Beck, and Blake, 2009).

The English language is taught as a second language in Pakistani institutions and it enjoys the status of Lingua Franca in the country. It is playing very important role in promoting education, developing economic status and upbringing social life in Pakistan. English is known as an official language in Pakistan as well (Mahboob, 2009). The importance of the English language is increasing gradually in Pakistan since it is deemed as a token to be successful in life (Mahboob, 2003; Mansoor, 2005; Mustafa, 2011). With regard to the Pakistani ESL students' abilities in reading comprehension, they are lagging behind in coping with inferential and reorganization comprehension (Javed, Eng, and Mohamed, 2013).

The skill of reading comprehension is attached to recognizing letters, words, phraseology, vocabulary, connectors and phonology of the English language (Hale et al., 2011). Fundamentally, it is a vibrant interaction between the text and the reader. In other words, it is a dynamic process through which the reader extracts meanings from the text with the help of his previous knowledge and understanding (Cornoldi and Oakhill, 2013; Kendeou, Van den Broek, White, and Lynch, 2009). With regard to the conception of reading comprehension, the taxonomy of reading comprehension designed by Barrett's (1968) assists ESL students to understand any type of textual material. According to Barrett (968), there are five types of skill categories; namely, i) literal, ii) reorganization, iii) inferential, iv) evaluation, and v) appreciation.

These skills are further categorized into different sub-skills (Alderson and Urquhart, 1984).

Similarly, Day and Park (2005) presented another taxonomy of reading comprehension, which state five similar skill categories; namely i) literal, ii) reorganization, iii) inference, iv) prediction, and v) evaluation/personal response.

The taxonomies stated above assist ESL learners to a great extent in enhancing their capabilities in reading comprehension. They are very significant for students to comprehend each genre of text, however, as regards the objectives of the current study are concerned, three skill categories; namely, literal, reorganization and inference/ inferential were focused. Cleland (1965) also presented a model with six stages, i.e., i) perception, ii) appreciation, iii) abstraction, iv) appraisal, v) ideation and vi) application. These stages are also significantly important for ESL students to enhance their intellect for comprehending the text. Two stages stated in Cleland's (1965) model are akin to the first two skill categories of the reading comprehension taxonomies presented by Barrett (1968) and Day and Park (2005). The current study focused on identifying supporting details and locating main ideas which are the sub-skills of literal comprehension.

The study also addressed to extracting supporting details, locating simple cause and effect relationship, and getting the meanings of unknown words with the help of contextual clues, which are the sub-skills of reorganization comprehension. In addition, drawing conclusion and making inferences were also considered to be identified that are the sub-skills of inferential comprehension.

Regarding the concept of literal comprehension, the answers of the questions pertaining to supporting details and main ideas are explicitly narrated in the text. On the other hand, the answers of reorganizational questions are also explicitly stated in the text, however, the reader needs to reorganize and analyze various pieces of information taken from different parts of the text. As regards the approaches to be employed for answering inferential comprehension questions, students need to make predictions, suppositions and assumptions based on their personal experiences, background knowledge, and common perception in view of the information explicitly stated in the text (Hessamy and Sadeghi, 2013; Javed, Eng, and Mohamed, 2013). Previous research findings report that students are generally able to answer the questions related to literal comprehension with slight efforts. On the other hand, they face immense trouble in answering inferential and reorganizational comprehension questions.

According to Izumi (2012) and Jones and Idol (1990), ESL students need critical thinking skills and higher order capabilities for drawing conclusion and making inferences while answering inferential comprehension questions.

The studies carried out by Bibi (2009), Shafi and Loan (2010), Stutz, Schaffner, and Schiefele (2016) conclude that students' lack of capabilities in reading comprehension. Hardly a few studies have been conducted in Pakistani contexts for measuring students' erudition in inferential comprehension. Therefore, in view of the situation, the researchers aim to measure ESL students' proficiencies in literal, reorganization and inferential reading comprehension in line with the taxonomies of reading comprehension stated above.

Objectives of the Study

Following research objectives were formulated in the study.

1. To measure ESL students' performance in literal, reorganization and inferential comprehension skills.

2. To compare the performance of male and female students in the selected skills.

Hypotheses

Following hypotheses were framed in line with the second objective of the study to compare male and female students' performance in literal, reorganization and inferential comprehension.

1. Ho. There is no significant difference between male and female students' performance in reading comprehension skills.

2. H1. There is a significant difference between male and female students' performance in reading comprehension skills.

Methodology

Sample

ESL students of class five were targeted in the current study. As regards the selection of sample, three hundred and seventy-five students were randomly chosen from 25 private schools from District Vehari, Pakistan. In this respect, 15 students were taken from each school. Out of the selected respondents, 180 (48%) were females while 195 (52%) males participated in the study. The respondents' average age ranged from 9 to 11 years with the mean of 10.4 years.

Research Tool

A self-designed achievement test was used to collect the quantitative data. The test comprised of 15 passages and 75 MCQs related to the selected skill categories; namely, literal, reorganization, and inferential comprehension in connection with the reading comprehension taxonomies of Barrett (1968) and Day and Park (2005) and the objectives of the English language of Grade 5 set by the Ministry of Education Pakistan (2006). English Textbook of grade 5 of the Punjab Textbook Board (PTB) Lahore, Pakistan was focused for the selection of 15 passages followed by five reading comprehension questions under each text in the achievement test. Four options/distracters were given under each question. The New Dale-Chall Readability Formula was used to determine the difficulty level of each passage.

As stated earlier, two skill categories such as finding supporting details and locating main ideas under literal comprehension were focused. Three sub-skills; namely, digging out supporting details, identifying simple cause and effect relationships, and getting the meanings of unknown words with the help of contextual evidences were considered under reorganization comprehension while developing the achievement test. Furthermore, drawing conclusions and making inferences were addressed under inferential comprehension in the achievement test.

Twenty-five MCQs were constructed under each skill category. Sixteen items were included to measure students' proficiency in locating the main idea while 9 items were added for identifying supporting details. As regards measuring students' capabilities in reorganization comprehension, 8 items were designed for identifying simple cause and effect relationships, 7 items were developed for getting the meanings of words by using contextual evidences while 10 items were constructed for digging out supporting details. With respect to inferential comprehension, 15 items were included for measuring students' performance in making conclusions while 10 items were specified in order to gauge students' proficiency in drawing conclusions.

A pilot study was carried out in order to test the validity and reliability of the instrument. In this respect, the English language experts tested the validity of the tool. The experts suggested some changes in the instrument; therefore, the recommended changes were incorporated in the light of their opinions regarding the difficulty level of the passages, length of the texts, appropriateness of the MCQs and possible options/distracters for each question. One hundred and fifteen students were chosen for the pilot study. The selected sample for the pilot study was 30 % of the total sample of the study that is in line with the recommended sample size by Hertzog (2008). The reliability of the tool was established by using The Kuder-Richardson Formula (KR20). The reliability for literal comprehension, reorganization comprehension and inferential comprehension was 0.892, 0.912 and 0.933 respectively.

These values indicate high reliability of the instrument (Airasian, Gay, and Mills, 2000; Bonito, Ruppel, and Keyton, 2012).

Data Collection and Analysis

As stated earlier, a self-designed achievement test was used to gather quantitative data from the students of grade 5 from District Vehari, Pakistan. The participants of the study were given proper instructions and allocated 90 minutes to complete the comprehension test. Each respective teacher cooperated with the researchers in administering the test. Hence, 100 % response rate was reported. Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS. 22) was used for the analysis of the data. The marking of the students' transcripts was made on the principle of one-item one-mark, therefore score 1 was given to the correct response while zero score was awarded to an incorrect answer. Descriptive and inferential statistics were applied for the analysis of the data. Therefore, percentage, mean scores, and standard deviation were calculated for each reading skill category. T-value was also calculated to measure the difference between males and females at p<0.05.

Results

Each reading skill was analyzed individually. Moreover, comparison between male and female students was also made in order to measure their proficiency in reading comprehension. The results are presented in tabular forms as follows.

Table 1 shows ESL students' mean scores in three reading comprehension skills such as literal reading comprehension, reorganization reading comprehension, and inferential reading comprehension. It also indicates that their score in literal, reorganization and inferential comprehension was 22.7 (90.8%), 9.8 (39.2%) and 10.1 (40.4%) respectively. The data in the table reveal that the participants show better performance in literal reading comprehension as compared to reorganization reading comprehension and inferential reading comprehension. It also shows that the respondents face difficulty to reorganize and analyze different pieces of information taken from the texts.

Table 1 The ESL students' overall performance in reading comprehension skill categories (N=375)

Reading Skills###Scores for each###Mean scores###%

###reading skill

Literal Reading###25###22.7###90.8

Comprehension

Reorganization Reading###25###9.8###39.2

Comprehension

Inferential Reading###25###10.1###40.4

Comprehension

According to the data presented in Table 2, the students' performance was relatively better in locating main idea and identifying supporting detail instead of discovering cause and effect relationship, digging out supporting details and getting the meanings of unknown words. It reveals that students excelled in understanding literal and inferential texts as compared to answer reorganization comprehension questions. It can be concluded that the students could not answer the questions for which the information was implicitly stated in the text.

Table 2 The ESL students' overall performance in sub-skills of reading comprehension (N=375)

###Score for each###Mean

Reading Skills###Sub-skills###%###SD

###reading skill###scores

Literal Reading###i###identify supporting detail###16###14.5###90.62###.3078

Comprehension###ii###locate main idea###9###8.2###91.11###.3663

Reorganization###i###identify simple cause and

###8###2.6###32.50###.4701

Reading###effect

Comprehension###ii###acquire the meaning of

###words by using contextual###7###2.0###28.57###.4893

###clues

###iii###extract supporting details###10###2.3###23.00###.3663

Inferential###i###make inference###10###2.3###23.00###.4103

Reading###ii###draw conclusion

###15###8.1###54.00###.5026

Comprehension

The data presented in Table 3 represent male students' gained scores in literal comprehension, reorganization comprehension, and inferential comprehension. It shows that ESL students obtained better scores in the inferential reading comprehension and literal comprehension as compared to reorganization reading comprehension.

Table 3 The ESL male students' overall performance in reading comprehension skills (N=195)

Reading skills###Score for each###Mean scores###%

###reading skill

Literal Reading Comprehension###25###21.4###85.6

Reorganization Reading comprehension###25###5.6###22.4

Inferential Reading comprehension###25###10.2###40.8

Table 4 indicates female students' expertise in three types of skill categories such as literal reading comprehension, reorganization reading comprehension, and inferential reading comprehension. It represents that the participants showed better performance in identifying main idea and supporting details; information explicitly stated in the text, e.g., literal comprehension. They face difficulty in inferring information not clearly stated in the texts.

Table 4 The ESL female students' overall performance in reading comprehension skills (N=180)

Reading skills###Scores per skill category###Mean scores###%

Literal Reading Comprehension###25###24###96

Reorganization Reading comprehension###25###8.2###32.8

Inferential Reading comprehension###25###10.6###42.4

The data presented in Table 5 gives a succinct projection of both genders' performance in literal comprehension, reorganization comprehension, and inferential comprehension. The results indicate that both genders acquired relatively better scores in locating supporting detail and identifying main idea that are the sub-skills of literal comprehension. Similarly, their performance was also well in drawing the conclusion, which is one of the sub-skills under inferential comprehension. On the other hand, the respondents were unable to identify cause and effect relationship, dig out the meaning of unknown words, and locate supporting details and make inferences satisfactorily. The t-value (0.0416) was found significant at p<0.05 level of significance. Therefore, keeping in view the calculated t-value, it can be concluded that the null hypothesis (1-Ho) was rejected. Based on the finding, it is evident that there was a significant difference between the performance of male and female students.

Table 5 Comparison of males and females in reading comprehension skills (N=375)

###Male students (n=195)###Female students###t-value

###(n=180)

Reading###Sub-skills###Score###Mean###%###SD###Mean###%###SD

Skills###Obtained###Score###Score

Literal###i###identify

Reading###supporting###16###13.6###85.00###.42###15.4###96.25###.000

Comprehensi###detail

on###ii###locate main

###9###7.8###86.66###.42###8.6###95.55###.316

###Idea

Reorganizati###i###identify simple

on Reading###cause and effect###8###2.2###27.50###.48###3.0###37.5###.483

Comprehensi###ii###acquire the

on###meanings of

###words by using###7###2.0###28.57###.48###2.0###28.57###.516###.04162*

###contextual

###clues

###ii###extract

###i###supporting###10###1.4###14.00###.00###3.2###32###.483

###details

Inferential###i###make inference###.316

###10###2.8###28.00###.48###1.8###18

###2

Reading

Comprehension ii###draw###.483

###conclusion###15###7.4###49.33###.53###8.8###58.66

###0

Discussion and Conclusion

The literature indicates that reading skills provide foundations for ESL students to enhance their proficiencies to greatly understand any type of textual material (Cornoldi and Oakhill, 2013). Fundamentally, ESL students' expertise and skills to assist them to comprehend text in order to extract important information implicitly or clearly stated in the text. According to the taxonomies of reading comprehension by Barrett's (1968) and Day and Park (2005), ESL students should have competencies to deal with a literal understanding of the text as well as abilities to reorganize and infer information based on information either explicitly or implicitly stated in the text. In this respect, Yeh, McTigue, and Joshi (2012) claim that such abilities boost up ESL students' critical thinking skills.

As regards the results of the current study, the ESL students showed relatively better expertise in identifying main ideas and location supporting details, which are the sub-skills of literal reading comprehension. These results are consistent with the findings from Abdelhalim (2017), Alptekin (2006), Roe and Smith (2011), Ulu (2016) who gauged ESL students' capabilities in literal reading comprehension, reorganization reading comprehension, and inferential reading comprehension. Moreover, the current study's results indicate that the participants' performance was relatively poor in answering reorganization comprehension questions as compared to answer literal and inferential comprehension questions.

Additionally, a significant difference was found between male and female students' performance in all types of reading skill categories; namely, literal comprehension, reorganization comprehension, and inferential comprehension. Moreover, the calculated t-value is an indicator of the difference between their competencies in answering literal, reorganization and inferential comprehension questions.

Recommendations

Reading skills stated in the previously mentioned taxonomies of reading comprehension are significantly important for ESL students to enhance their English language competencies. In connection with the findings of the current study, the respondents' proficiency in answering inferential comprehension is comparatively deplorable. Therefore, they are suggested to enhance their inferential comprehension skills. Additionally, they should utilize both the taxonomies in order to improve their language skills since these skills provide strong foundations to command over the English language. Besides, students also lack the abilities for reorganizing information after taking from different parts of the text. Hence, they should pay focus on learning how to organize and analyze information.

Similar studies can be carried out to investigate ESL students' proficiencies in other skills such as appreciation, evaluation, prediction and personal response stated in the aforementioned reading comprehension taxonomies.

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Author:Ali, Akhtar; Javed, Muhammad; Shabbir, Ghulam
Publication:Journal of Educational Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Dec 31, 2017
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