Prior Knowledge Comprehension and the User by liaoqinmei


									   Prior Knowledge,
Comprehension and the L2
     Ernesto Macaro
    University of Oxford
                Research evidence
The latest research shows that drinking
red wine results in a significant reduction
in cardio-vascular related diseases (Bourgogne
et. al. 2004)

 Therefore everyone should drink lots of
red wine.
Research shows that high consumptions
of alcohol lead to: alcohol dependency,
cirrhosis of the liver, significantly high
levels of marriage break-downs.
              Research evidence

A meta-analysis of SLA research shows that:
Focus on form and focus on forms both lead to
higher levels of language acquisition compared
to “focus on meaning” (Norris and Ortega 2000
“Effectiveness of L2 instruction”)

Therefore we should have focus on form
designed second language learning.

Focus on forms (and even consistent focus on
form) lead to: neglect of skills development; poor
vocabulary growth rates; de-motivation;
significantly high levels of marriage break-
Please listen to the following news
         News Report: Lotticks in Hotel!

A Reading man who found lotticks and izzids in his supposedly
  furbustuous Caribbean hotel was awarded £459 in damages
  yesterday by a local magistrate.

Paul Batters paid £1300 to Atlantic Pacific Tours in March 2000 for
  a “furbusty” holiday on the island of Martinique.

The firm’s ancaps promised a furbusty hotel, free happaps from
  the airport, free use of the hotel’s gabonmang and beaches.

However, on his arrival, Mr Batters found there was no one to
  meet him at the airport, the hotel room was infested with
  lotticks and izzids, and the gabonmang was completely flooded
  from the ninth hole onwards.

Mr Batters successfully sued Atlantic Pacific Tours, who claimed
  that they had been organizing holidays on the island for 20
  years and had never received any uptips.
        Research evidence
A systematic review shows that: Prior
Knowledge of a topic helps listeners with
comprehension. (Macaro et al 2005)
Therefore language teachers should use texts
which the students have prior knowledge of.
Or should they?
Lecturers should provide L2 users with the text
of their lecture beforehand
Or should they?
       Research Evidence
is like a second-hand car:

You really need it to get around
But you should really have a good look
under the bonnet before buying it!
Prior Knowledge (schemata)

Knowledge of the topic/area
Rhetorical knowledge: structure;
organization of the text/discourse;
Context knowledge – a lecture; an
interactive seminar

  Types of prior knowledge we might have of
   the topic:                   Global
                       “floods”   Specific event
Geographical lecture
News report
Personal account

     Top-Down Processing:
       Application of PK

        Spoken Text

perception               parsing

       Bottom-up processing
     Why the interest in Prior
the most efficient comprehension is one
where the listener uses the least amount
of “surface information” from the text to
achieve the maximum amount of meaning
 Studies testing the facilitating effect
          of “familiar topic”
   Generally, if listener knew topic (personal or specific
   knowledge) they understood it better than if they did not
   know the topic

However some caveats:
  PK sometimes led to wild guessing (or overextending)
  PK effect only strong in open-ended comprehension, not specific items
  PK only accounted for a small % of the variance in comprehension

Markham and Latham (1987); Long (1990); Jensen & Hansen (1995)
Studies testing the facilitating effect
   of stimulating prior knowledge
   Topic not necessarily very familiar
   global knowledge stimulated
   Teacher presents students with advance
   organizer activities
   Mind mapping; statements or questions
   Generally, comprehension was facilitated
   No evidence of long-term effect on skill of
   listening – on strategy use
Teichert (1996) Herron et al. (1998)
       Studies: strategy use and
          successful listening
   often described as investigating “successful
   listeners versus unsuccessful” listeners

   Two hypotheses are tested here,
1. Learners of unequal listening proficiency use
   different strategies.
2. some learners of equal general proficiency
   might be adopting more effective listening
   strategies than others.
              Testing Hypothesis 1
   more effective listeners use PK to infer
   meaning rather than working it out from
   the text itself
   Less effective listeners use strategies
   such as listening out for single words,
   translating into L1,
   Hence claims for the superiority of top-
   down approaches
O’Malley et al (1989); Vandergrift (1998); Chien and Wei (1998).
 Studies testing hypothesis 2
No studies really testing this hypothesis
but these two come near it.

Chiang and Dunkel 1992
Tsui and Fullilove 1998
         Chiang and Dunkel (1992)

   the importance of two factors in learners'
   ability to understanding spoken English
   language texts in lectures:
1. prior knowledge, operationalized as
   familiar or unfamiliar topic,
2. passage-dependent and passage-
   independent test items.
              Chiang and Dunkel (1992)

360 students took the Comprehensive English
Language Test and on the basis of their scores
were divided into low and high listening
proficiency groups.
Students at each level were then randomly
assigned to one of the four experimental
conditions: familiar or unfamiliar topic of text;
passage-dependent or passage-independent
test items.
Subjects in each group listened to one of the
lectures recorded in one of the four conditions.
             Chiang and Dunkel (1992)

 Prior knowledge:
 Generally subjects scored higher when they
 listened to the familiar topic than the unfamiliar
 topic (predicted).
 There was no significant difference between
 HILP and LILP in this respect.
 However, the significant effect of prior
 knowledge only appeared on the subjects'
 performance on the text-independent items.
 This suggests that it did not help them with main
 ideas contained in the text nor with specific
                 Tsui and Fullilove (1998)
Bottom-up or top-down processing as a discriminator of L2
     listening performance. Applied Linguistics 19/4

 Is bottom-up processing (focusing on
 words and phrases in the text) more
 important than top-down processing (using
 the listener's prior knowledge and
 inferencing) in discriminating the listening
 performance of L2 learners.
        Tsui and Fullilove (1998)

  Previous research has suggested that poor
  listeners spend too much time in bottom-up
  processes (local) rather than top-down (global)
  However, some researchers have suggested
  that what makes poor readers is their inability to
  recognize words rapidly and construct an
  accurate representation. Local skills have to be
  mastered to take much of the guesswork out of
  reading. Same for listening?
                Tsui and Fullilove (1998)
  Investigated the performance of candidates in one
  section of a listening paper in large-scale public
  examinations in Hong Kong: “media items” – short texts
  simulations of news items or adverts. (English L2)

Independent Variables:
   Question type: global or local (see examples)
   Schema type: (1) initial input is congruent with subsequent
                    (2) initial input is incongruent (refuted by)
  with the subsequent input (see examples)
Local and Global questions       Matching and non-matching schema
   A. Butterfly catching
   B. Bird Watching                A. A kitchen knife
   C. Travelling                   B. An oven timer
   D. Kite Flying                  C. A cleaning cloth
                                   D. A special dish

   A. Tom Everly
   B. Bobby Walker                 A. the direction the wind was
   C. Mike Harman                  blowing
   D. Isabella O’Grady             B. the strong jets of water from the
                                   fire hoses
                                   C. the prompt call by residents to
                                   the fire services
                                   The quick action of the firemen
     Tsui and Fullilove (1998)

Sample: 177 test items taken by 20,000
candidates. 98 matching global questions; 20
non-matching; 49 matching local questions; 10
not matching
Analysis: “mean criterion” = the mean scores in
the entire paper of the candidates who chose
those multiple choice options.
An option with a “high mean criterion” was
chosen by candidates who scored higher in the
entire paper.
                Tsui and Fullilove (1998)
  Consistently showed that (correct) items of non-
  matching schema type (i.e harder) yielded the higher
  mean criterion scores (i.e. were chosen by the most
  successful students) (predicted)

  No significant differences between local and global
  questions. (not predicted!)

  Mean criterion scores of non-matching schema type
  items among the global questions were significantly
  higher than those of the matching schema type among
  the global questions. (predicted)

  Mean criterion scores of non-matching schema type
  items among the local questions were significantly
  higher than those of matching schema type among the
  local questions. (not predicted!)
           Tsui and Fullilove (1998)

Conclusions and implications
 The biggest problem occurred with non-
 matching schema: listeners unable to process
 subsequent input which contradicted their initial
 schema. Either: they were weak at bottom-up
 processing or not combining strategies
 Learners need to be taught how to use prior
 knowledge to help understand but also they
 need to be reliant on rapid and accurate
 Most effective listeners combine top-down
 and bottom up strategies
        Lectures and the L2 user
  Lectures will activate prior knowledge of some
  sort. Which kind?
  What kind of lectures: traditional; interactive;
  Individual a variable?
  We need to understand why and when prior
  knowledge is leading to misunderstanding of

For a review on “academic listening” see: Flowerdew (1994)
                 Ruhe 1996
Enhanced lecture comprehension through the provision
of an organizational graphic – a mind map similar to
advance organizers.
A sample of 103 students with mixed L1s were matched:
“graphic provided” versus “no graphic provided”; and
“vocabulary provided in lecture order” versus “vocabulary
provided in non-lecture order”.
“graphic provided” group scored higher than the control
whilst there were no significant differences between the
control and the two “vocabulary provided” conditions.
In other words, all conditions except the control would
have activated schemata but only the graphic revealed
the organizational patterns of the lecture.
     Use of metaphor in lectures
          (Littlemore 2001)
Metaphor: “science is witchcraft”
 “science” is the topic of the metaphor
 “witchcraft” is the vehicle of the metaphor
 “the common ground” is what is shared by
 participants in the metaphor
 The common ground of metaphor is often
 culturally specific
    Lectures include metaphor

Metaphors are evaluative (usually negative)
Metaphors label new concepts being introduced
Metaphors allow the lecturer to be deliberately
Metaphors provide frameworks for ideas
Metaphors make language entertaining and
           Littlemore 2001
 Bangladeshi students of “civil service
 Researcher followed their lectures
 Students asked to note down difficult
 language in lectures
 20 Students given 10 metaphors to
 interpret and to say how they had derived
 the meaning
             Littlemore 2001
  Although lecturers varied in their use of
  metaphor it was always present somewhere
  Of 180 words judged difficult, 145 were
  Most of the participants misinterpreted at least
  one of the metaphors in a way that seriously
  affected their understanding of the lecturer’s
  Participants wrongly used both schematic
  knowledge (PK & cultural background) and
  contextual knowledge about their course, to
  interpret the metaphor
   Main findings of the review on PK
There is a positive association between
Prior Knowledge and listening

Studies where Prior Knowledge was
deliberately stimulated by the teacher (i.e.
advanced organizer type studies) found
that students’ short term listening
comprehension performance was greater
            PK review findings
Prior Knowledge can be misused if it is
not supported by later in-text information
or if the listener is not listening out for
possible contradicting information.
The way in which Prior Knowledge is used
as a comprehension strategy may vary
depending on the learners L2 language
proficiency. Lower proficiency learners
likely to misuse prior knowledge more.
(Previous research concluded it was a question
of either use or non-use)
Implications (for teachers/test-constructors)
 Texts should be selected carefully by teachers to take
 into account both the facilitating and potential pitfalls of
 prior knowledge.

 Facilitating comprehension may engender motivation.

 Limiting exposure to texts where the topic is familiar to
 the listener, may lead to under-developing bottom-up
 processes crucial for confirming hypotheses generated.

 Tests should include questions which require
 understanding of information which may contradict a
 listener’s general knowledge of a topic.
Implications for lecturers/teachers
           of L2 users
Lecturers should exercise caution in their use of
Raise students’ awareness of metaphor use
Perhaps provide mind-mapping activities at the
beginning of a lecture
Find out PK of students
Provide key words on slides to guide the
Check understanding on schema-non-matching
   Implications for researchers
More research on the different types of PK
How does PK interact with different lecture
Disentangle hypothesis 1 from hypothesis 2
To identify successful listening strategies, need
to control for general proficiency and PK.
                 Prior Knowledge

                                         How much is
L2 proficiency   Lecture comprehension   beforehand
                        & L2 user

                 Mode of delivery

To top