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System 37 (2009) 418433 www.elsevier.com/locate/system

Using language learning strategies to improve the writing skills of Saudi EFL students: Will it really work?
Maram George McMullen
English Department, Yanbu University College, Yanbu Al-Sinaiyah, Saudi Arabia Received 3 November 2008; received in revised form 19 April 2009; accepted 5 May 2009

Abstract This study investigates the use of language learning strategies (LLSs) by Saudi EFL (English as a Foreign Language) students inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The study determines if gender and academic major have any eect on that use and reveals the potential benets for Saudi students in the area of strategy instruction. Data was collected during the academic year 20072008 from three sample universities in Saudi Arabia using Rebecca Oxfords Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL), a self-report questionnaire, as the instrument. Participants in the study (N = 165) were all enrolled in similar Freshman English composition courses and totaled 71 male students and 94 female students. The results of ANOVA (analysis of variance) tests showed that female students used slightly more LLSs than male students, and Computer Science students used slightly more LLSs than Management Information Systems students. In response to these ndings, a program for direct strategy instruction was piloted with an English writing class at one of the sample universities. Encouraging results from this trial program suggest new avenues for approaching the teaching of writing inside the Kingdom. 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Language learning strategies; Saudi Arabia; Gender; Academic major; Strategy instruction

1. Introduction Anyone who has ever taught university-level English composition in Saudi Arabia can conrm, writing has always represented a unique challenge for Saudi EFL students. Even Arab students themselves admit their shortcomings when it comes to English composition (Fageeh, 2003; Khalil, 1989, p. 359). While many studies around the world have investigated the use of language learning strategies (LLSs) for improving language skills, very little has been published on Saudi students and their use of strategies. Case in point, there are only three documented large-scale strategy studies which feature Saudi participants. One, a groundbreaking study (Al-Otaibi, 2004), examined Saudi EFL students and how they were using LLSs, but it reported on just one geographical location inside Saudi Arabia. The subjects for the other two studies were ESL (English as a Second Language) students who were living and studying in the United States (Braik, 1986; Al-Wahibee, 2000).
E-mail address: marammcmullen@yahoo.com 0346-251X/$ - see front matter 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.system.2009.05.001

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This current study samples EFL students from three universities across the Kingdom and hopes to oer a broader look at how strategies are currently being used in Saudi Arabia and how they could be used more to improve student writing. 2. Literature review 2.1. The importance of strategy use For decades, enthusiastic supporters have hailed the importance of strategy use in and out of the classroom. Specialists in second language acquisition (SLA) have pointed out just what an important role LLSs can play in the development of second language (L2) learners. According to a renowned leader in SLA, LLSs are one of the most important individual dierence factors in L2 acquisition (Skehan 1989 cited in Green and Oxford, 1995, p. 262). Ellis (1985) concurs (Green and Oxford, 1995, p. 263), stating LLSs are one of the three main processes for developing L2 knowledge. Oxford agrees, declaring LLSs are essential for developing communicative competence (1990, p. 1). In fact, it has been found in study after study that more procient language learners use a wider range of LLSs than do less procient learners (Ehrman and Oxford, 1990, p. 312). This is because eective language learners tend to use more strategies and to apply them in a more appropriate fashion than less successful learners (Nyikos 1991 cited in Oxford, 1996, p. 229). In addition to facilitating second language acquisition and improving student performance, strategy use promotes greater learner autonomy because the use or adoption of appropriate strategies allows learners to take more responsibility for their own learning (Dickinson, 1987). This enables students to keep on learning even when they are no longer in a formal classroom setting (Oxford and Crookall 1988 cited in Oxford and Nyikos, 1989, p. 291). With these points in mind, most researchers agree that promoting greater strategy use can help develop the language skills of EFL/ESL students in any context. 2.2. International studies on the variables which aect strategy use The study of language learning strategies began with the pioneering article of Joan Rubin entitled What the good language learner can teach us (1975, pp. 4151). It was followed by a series of articles calling for action research in this new eld (Wenden, 1986, cited in Flaitz et al., 1995; Oxford and Crookall, 1987; Oxford et al., 1988). The publication of Oxfords What Every Teacher Should Know (1990) and OMalley and Chamots Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition (1990) ignited a series of empirical studies on LLSs in the international research community which has lasted for nearly two decades. Many of these studies have relied on quantitative analysis and have used the SILL as the instrument for data collection. Quite a number of these empirical studies focused on the eects of language prociency on strategy use (Watanabe, 1990; Chang, 1991; Green, 1991; Phillips, 1991; Wen and Johnson, 1991; Mullins, 1992; Bedell and Oxford, 1996; Dreyer and Oxford, 1996; Cohen, 1998; Chamot et al., 1999; Riding, 2005). Some of these international studies considered the eects of motivation on strategy use (Oxford and Nyikos, 1989; Oxford et al., 1993; Kaylani, 1996; Salem, 2006). Some studies have looked at the eects of language learning styles on the selection of strategies (Reid, 1987; Ehrman and Oxford, 1989; Rossi-Le, 1989; Ko, 2002). In one study conducted at a Japanese university, class size and the eects of learning environments on the use of strategies (Locastro, 1994) was examined. Other studies have compared the dierences between EFL and ESL students in their strategy use (Oh, 1992; Oxford, 1992; Kojic-Sabo and Lightbrown, 1999). Some studies have looked at dierences between beginners and advanced language learners (Oxford and Nyikos, 1989; Green and Oxford, 1995; Wharton, 2000; Griths, 2003). Interesting enough, only two studies have been published on academic major and strategy use (Politzer and McGroarty, 1985; Hashim and Sahil, 1994). More recently, many researchers around the world have been considering the eects of self-regulation on strategy use (Nota et al., 2004; Cleary, 2006; Tseng et al., 2006). It must be pointed out, however of all the international studies dealing with LLSs probably the most often tested variable is that of gender and how it aects strategy use. In fact, gender was tested as a second independent variable in a majority of the studies mentioned above and has been the focus of much attention in the eld of strategy research ever since the publication of Vive la Dierence? Reections on Sex Dierences

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in Use of Language Learning Strategies (Oxford et al., 1988). Since Oxfords call for more research in the area of gender and LLSs, a number of studies have been conducted worldwide most reporting higher strategy use among females. Studies reporting greater strategy use by female participants include observations from the US (Ehrman and Oxford, 1989; Oxford and Nyikos, 1989; Zoubir-Shaw and Oxford, 1995 cited in Klee, 1994), from Japan (Watanabe, 1990), from Taiwan (Wang, 2002), from China (Sy, 1994), and from Puerto Rico (Green and Oxford, 1995). In recent years, a number of SILL-based studies have also surprisingly revealed no signicant gender dierences in strategy use. For example, a study conducted in Malaysia (Hashim and Sahil, 1994) showed no signicant dierences between male and female students in overall strategy use, although it did indicate a slightly higher use of aective strategies by females. Similarly, no signicant gender dierences were found in overall strategy use in a study coming out of Lebanon. However, the females there did score higher in certain individual strategy categories (Salem, 2006). Likewise, no signicant gender dierences were found in a strategy study in Palestine (Shmais, 2003) or in what was probably the rst strategy study conducted in Saudi Arabia (Al-Otaibi, 2004). Similar studies from Taiwan, (Luo, 1998; Peng, 2001) have also reported no signicant gender dierences, but were later disputed by Wangs (2002) study. In another Thai study (Phakiti, 2003), no differences were found between male and female respondents in the use of cognitive studies. Interesting enough, a study published in Turkey has reported higher use among males in overall strategy use. However, the researcher in that study cites cultural reasons which might explain over-reporting on the part of the male subjects and under-reporting by females. According to the researcher, a possible explanation for higher male scores could have less to do with actual strategy use and more to do with low female self-esteem and overcondence of the men in a male-dominated Turkish society (Tercanlioglu, 2004, p. 8). Similarly, in the aforementioned 2003 Phakiti study, male Thai students reported higher use of metacognitive strategies. Perhaps Tercanlioglus explanation of a male-dominated society could also be given for studies emanating from Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Lebanon which unlike the majority of international studies do not report higher strategy use by females. However, before drawing more denite conclusions, more specic research needs to be conducted to show the correlations between gender, culture, and strategy use around the world. 2.3. Strategy Based Instruction (SBI) and its frameworks SBI has been dened as a learner-centered approach to teaching that focuses on explicit and implicit inclusion of language learning and language use strategies in the second language classroom (Cohen and Weaver, 1998, p. 1 cited in Renandya and Jacobs, 1998). Ever since researchers realized the importance of LLSs, there has been a growing call for the teaching of strategies in language learning classrooms across the world. As one leading researcher has said, unlike most other characteristics of the learner, such as aptitude, attitude, motivation, personality, and general cognitive style, learning strategies are readily teachable (Oxford and Nyikos, 1989, p. 291). Most researchers around the world now agree, there are specic ways to teach those who struggle with language acquisition to consciously implement strategies which can make a dierence in language learning and language use. Several frameworks have been developed over the years for providing SBI training, including Pearson and Doles framework (1987) cited in Cohen (2003, p. 1), Oxfords framework (1990, p. 204), Chamot and OMalleys framework (1994) cited in Cohen (2003, p. 1), Nyikos framework (1991), Grenfell and Harris framework (1999) cited in Griths (2008, p. 270), and Cohen and Weavers framework (2006, p. 4). Regardless of which of these frameworks are chosen, Cohen (2003, p. 1) explains the goals of any strategy training program should be to provide learners with the tools to:        Self-diagnose their strengths and weaknesses in language learning Become aware of what helps them to learn the L2 most eciently Develop a broad range of problem-solving skills Experiment with familiar and unfamiliar learning strategies Make decisions about how to approach a language task Monitor and self-evaluate their performance Transfer successful strategies to new learning contexts.

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Many enthusiasts of SBI have pointed out the striking benets that strategy use holds in store for SLA (Griths, 2008, p. 3). SBI enables learners to nd which strategies work best for them and how to use them in a variety of language learning and language use situations. In short, as Cohen so aptly states, SBI empowers the learners in so many ways and at so many levels (1998, p. 71). 3. Research questions This particular study involved two distinct phases. The purpose of Phase I was to nd out how strategies are currently being used in Saudi Arabia, determining if gender and academic major have any eect on the use of language learning strategies among Saudi EFL students. The purpose of Phase II was to determine if Strategy Based Instruction (SBI) can help Saudi EFL students improve their English writing abilities. Three research questions were used to drive the current study: Question 1: Does gender aect the use of language learning strategies among Saudi EFL students inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? Question 2: Does academic major aect the use of language learning strategies among Saudi EFL students inside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia? Question 3: Can Strategy Based Instruction (SBI) help Saudi EFL students improve their writing abilities? 4. Methodology: phase I In order to determine if gender or academic major have any eects on how Saudi students are currently using LLSs, two null hypotheses were formed stating there is no relationship between the independent variables and the dependent variables. In this study, the independent variables were gender and academic major. The dependent variables were the six categories of LLSs found on the survey used to collect the data. 4.1. Participants of the study In order to obtain samples which were representative of the whole population of Saudi EFL university students, the participants for this study (N = 165) were chosen from three universities across the Kingdom which oer very similar course plans. One university was chosen from the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, one from the west, and one was chosen from the central region of the Kingdom. All three universities oer bachelors degrees in Computer Science (CS) and Management Information Systems (MIS). The programs at each of these universities are all ve years in length, featuring an introductory preparatory year program. All students chosen for the study had already completed their preparatory year and were enrolled in very similar English Composition classes at the freshman level. Although nearly two hundred students participated in the study, only 71 male surveys and 94 female surveys were clearly marked male and female and were, therefore, selected for data analysis. 4.2. Procedures for collecting the data: the instrument Rebecca Oxfords Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) was chosen to collect the data from all three samples. Most of the data was collected in November and December of 2007 with the exception of one late sample which arrived during the rst week of March 2008. Since the SILL was rst introduced in 1986, it has been used in over fty major studies worldwide, involving over 9000 language learners. Because the SILL produces numerical data, most of the researchers in these studies used their data as parametric (or interval) data. Various versions of the SILL are available in dierent languages for dierent learners. The one used in this study is the English version and it is called the ESL/EFL SILL. All of the versions have been tested for reliability which is the degree of precision or accuracy of scores on an instrument. Although higher reliabilities can be found when the SILL is administered in the native language of the respondents, very acceptable reliabilities (Oxford and Burry-Stock, 1995, p. 6) have been reported for the English version. According to published reports, the SILL appears to be the only language

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learning strategy instrument that has been extensively checked for reliability and validated. Its Cronbachs alpha reliability coecients, which are a measure of internal consistency, range from 0.89 to 0.98 (Oxford and Burry-Stock, 1995, p. 4). Validity evidence, the degree to which an instrument measures what it claims to measure, has also been demonstrated via a wide assortment of studies (Oxford and Burry-Stock, 1995, p. 10). The SILL divides LLSs into six categories: memory, cognitive, compensation, metacognitive, aective, and social. The SILL uses a choice of ve Likert-scale responses for (1) never or almost never true of me, (2) usually not true of me, (3) somewhat true of me, (4) usually true of me, (5) always or almost always true of me (Oxford, 1990, p. 293). Learners are asked to self-report the frequency of their strategy use for fty items, such as:       I use ashcards to remember new English words (memory); I make summaries of information that I hear or read in English (cognitive); If I cant think of an English word, I use a word or phrase that means the same thing (compensation); I plan my schedule (metacognitive); I encourage myself (aective); and I practice English with other students (social) (Oxford, 1990, pp. 293296).

4.3. Procedures for analyzing the data: ANOVA testing ANOVA is an acronym for analysis of variance and it refers to procedures followed to test the statistical dierences among two or more groups. Procedures include a comparison of the mean scores and the standard deviations of the groups. In this study, a two-way ANOVA was performed. In other words, observations were taken from two samples. First, dierences between male and female samples were analyzed, and then dierences between Computer Science (CS) and Management Information Systems (MIS) students were considered. T-tests and F-tests were then performed using Microsofts Excel program to determine if there were any signicant dierences between the samples. Results were found for each individual university and for the Kingdom as a whole. To determine signicance throughout the study, the standard of p < .05 was used. 5. Results from phase I 5.1. Gender comparison by university Although no statistically signicant dierences were found, female Saudi EFL students reported using language learning strategies more frequently than male students at all three universities polled in Saudi Arabia. These universities ranked strategy use in the following order (see Tables 13): Males in Saudi Arabia Univ. A mean: 3.25 Univ. C mean: 3.24 Univ. B mean: 3.23 Females in Saudi Arabia Univ. B mean: 3.64 Univ. C mean: 3.52 Univ. A mean: 3.28

Table 1 Gender comparison, University A. Univ. A F[1, 71] Male M Avg. 3.25 SD .66 Female M 3.28 SD .42

M.G. McMullen / System 37 (2009) 418433 Table 2 Gender comparison, University B. Univ. B F[1, 41] Male M Avg. 3.23 SD .43 Female M 3.64

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SD .67

Table 3 Gender comparison, University C. Univ. C F[1, 47] Male M Avg. 3.24 SD .50 Female M 3.52 SD .52

5.2. Academic major comparison by university Just as no statistically signicant dierences were found for gender, no statistically signicant dierences were found for academic major. Saudi Computer Science (CS) students reported using language learning strategies more frequently than Management Information Systems (MIS) students at Universities A and B. MIS students outscored CS students at University C. These universities ranked strategy use in the following order (see Tables 46): CS majors in Saudi Arabia Univ. B mean: 3.56 Univ. C mean: 3.35 Univ. A mean: 3.30 MIS majors in Saudi Arabia Univ. C mean: 3.48 Univ. B mean: 3.34 Univ. A mean: 3.25

Table 4 Academic major comparison, Univ. A. Univ. A F[1, 71] CS M Avg. 3.30 SD .51 MIS M 3.25 SD .55

Table 5 Academic Major Comparison, Univ. B. Univ. B F[1, 41] CS M Avg. 3.56 SD .62 MIS M 3.34 SD .56

Table 6 Academic major comparison, Univ. C. Univ. C F[1, 47] CS M Avg. 3.35 SD .46 MIS M 3.48 SD .57

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6. Kingdom wide results 6.1. Gender Looking at the nationwide results for gender, the female students reported higher strategy use than the males across the Kingdom. The male students and the female students ranked the top four strategy categories identically in the following order: social, metacognitive, compensation, and cognitive. Use of aective strategies came in fth for the male students and use of memory strategies came in last. Saudi female students, however, ranked the use of aective strategies last with memory strategies coming in fth (see Table 7 and Fig. 1). As for the percentages of high and low responses, Figs. 2 and 3 indicate that Saudi females across the Kingdom reported much more frequent strategy use with answers to 84% of their SILL questions receiving a high score (4 or 5 on the Likert scale), 2% scoring medium (3 on the Likert scale), and only 14% scoring low (1 or 2 on the Likert scale). Saudi males, on the other hand, reported much lower strategy use with only 66% of their responses scoring high, 2% scoring medium, and 32% scoring low. Notice the percentage of low responses from the male students (32%) is more than twice the percentage from the females (14%).

Table 7 Independent variable: gender, KSA Kingdom of S.A. dependent variable (SILL category) Male M Memory Cognitive Compensation Metacognitive Aective Social Overall average 2.88 3.35 3.41 3.43 2.89 3.46 3.24 SD .64 .69 .74 .79 .68 .75 .55 Female M 3.28 3.48 3.54 3.56 3.18 3.62 3.44 SD .67 .65 .72 .77 .72 .78 .53 n.s. n.s. n.s. n.s. n.s. n.s. n.s. F[1, 163] Critical value = 3.993

Fig. 1. Gender comparison, kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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Fig. 2. Male high/low response across the kingdom.

Fig. 3. Female high/low response across the kingdom.

6.2. Academic major As for academic major comparisons across the Kingdom, the Computer Science (CS) students reported higher strategy use than the Management Information Systems (MIS) students at two out of the three universities, with the CS students scoring a higher overall score. Kingdom wide results for academic major were identical for CS students and MIS students for the fourth, fth, and sixth ranking strategies: cognitive, memory, and aective. However, the Kingdoms CS students ranked metacognitive, social, and compensation strategies as the rst, second, and third highest used categories. The Kingdoms MIS students ranked social, compensation, and metacognitive strategies as their rst, second, and third highest used categories (see Table 8 and Fig. 4).

Table 8 Independent variable: academic major, KSA. Kingdom of S.A. dependent variable (SILL category) CS M Memory Cognitive Compensation Metacognitive Aective Social Overall average 3.14 3.44 3.48 3.55 3.12 3.54 3.39 SD .64 .65 .73 .77 .69 .73 .53 MIS M 3.08 3.41 3.48 3.47 3.01 3.55 3.34 SD .72 .69 .73 .79 .73 .80 .56 n.s. n.s. n.s. n.s. n.s. n.s. n.s. F[1, 163] Critical value = 3.993

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Fig. 4. Academic major comparison, kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Fig. 5. CS high/low response across the kingdom.

As for the percentages of high and low responses, Figs. 5 and 6 indicate that Saudi CS students across the Kingdom reported much more frequent strategy use with answers to 80% of their SILL questions receiving a high score (4 or 5 on the Likert scale), 6% scoring medium (3 on the Likert scale), and only 14% scoring low (1 or 2 on the Likert scale). Saudi MIS students, on the other hand, reported lower strategy use with only 72% of their responses scoring high, 2% scoring medium, and 26% scoring low. 6.3. Discussion of phase I results Having analyzed the data, one major task was remaining: to consider the reliability and validity of the data collected from the questionnaires. As is the case with any quantitative analysis research project, considerable

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Fig. 6. MIS high/low response across the kingdom.

reection was needed to determine if the numbers could be trusted. It is well known that one central issue in considering the reliability and validity of questionnaire surveys is that of sampling. An unrepresentative, skewed sample, one that is too small or too large, can easily distort the data (Cohen et al., 2003, p. 129). Because observations for this study were taken from three dierent universities across the Kingdom and because the sample was neither too large nor too small (N = 165), sampling issues were not a problem associated with this study. Establishing reliability also involves other considerations. Internal reliability involves asking questions such as: Were the methods for collecting, analyzing, and interpreting the data consistent? Would the same results be obtained by other researchers using the same analysis? External reliability, on the other hand, raises the following question: Could an independent researcher reproduce the study and obtain results similar to the original study? (Burns, 1999, p. 21). Because the methods for collecting, analyzing, and interpreting the data for this study were all meticulously consistent, other researchers would surely produce the same results if the same study was conducted either in the same locations or elsewhere in Saudi Arabia. Hence, the current study can be deemed highly reliable. As for the validity of the SILL, it has been measured and veried in many countries throughout the world (Oxford and Burry-Stock, 1995, p. 6); however Saudi Arabia is not one of them. Measuring the validity of the SILL in Saudi Arabia is a somewhat complicated proposition and one which, I believe, requires locally-based research. Validity. . . can be seen from two viewpoints. . ..First, whether the respondents who complete the questionnaires do so accurately, honestly and correctly; and second, whether those who fail to return their questionnaires would have given the same distribution of answers as did the returnees (Cohen et al., 2003, p. 128). From the second viewpoint, the researcher in this study is extremely condent that those who did not participate would have responded in much the same way as those who did. However, trying to ascertain if the respondents actually understood every question on the SILL and answered each question honestly and without exaggeration is much more dicult. Because there was so much consistency in the answers, I am quite condent that the data represents a valid picture of what it intends to represent. Nevertheless, it is entirely possible that the questionnaire respondents might have exaggerated their answers in similar ways creating a false sense of consistency and accuracy. The best way to determine how valid the SILL is when used with Saudi EFL students would be to conduct another study in the future which combines both quantitative and qualitative analysis. For example, small-scale studies could be conducted at each of the three universities which include either a follow-up interview after the respondents complete the SILL or the use of think-aloud protocols while administering the questionnaire to better ascertain the accuracy of student responses. With these limitations in mind, the results for Phase I of this study were nonetheless conclusive. The ANOVA clearly indicated that in response to Research Questions One and Two, gender and academic major do not have a statistically signicant eect on the use of LLSs among Saudi EFL students even though the females in the study did score slightly higher than the male students and the Computer Science (CS) students scored slightly higher than the Management Information Systems (MIS) students. The results clearly showed that Saudi EFL students as a whole have been favoring three strategy categories (social, metacognitive, and compensation) while neglecting three others (cognitive, memory, and aective). The implications for teachers acting alone, or ideally with the support of course designers, are to think of new ways of teaching all of these strategies to their students. Perhaps by oering the students who have been neglecting strategy use new ways of

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learning, teachers and administrators can work in tandem to address language learning problems which are common to learners across the kingdom. Simply put, measures should be taken nationwide to introduce a program of strategy instruction for all. 7. Methodology: phase II In this phase of the study, a custom-made Strategy Based Instruction (SBI) Program was designed and piloted at one of the universities which participated in the earlier questionnaire study. In particular, it set out to answer Research Question 3: Can Strategy Based Instruction help Saudi EFL students improve their writing abilities? The longitudinal results of this SBI pilot program compare the nal marks of a freshman English composition class before SBI training and the nal marks of the same class after SBI training. These results are presented along with an evaluation of program success. 7.1. Designing an SBI training program Using a framework developed by Cohen (Cohen and Weaver, 2006, pp. 45), the following procedures were followed: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Strategy Preparation Strategy Awareness-Raising Strategy Instruction Strategy Practice Personalization of Strategies

First, students were given a brief introduction to strategy use and were asked to talk about some of the strategies they were already using. The next stage of the strategy training program involved raising student awareness about the dierent kinds of strategies and their potential benets. At this point, copies of the SILL were passed out to raise self-awareness about strategy use. Later, a multi-media PowerPoint presentation was prepared and shown depicting how specic strategies listed on the SILL could be used with course content for the freshman English composition class the students were currently taking (see Appendix). As the slide show was presented, specic strategies were modeled by the teacher. An SBI handout listing over two dozen strategies which could be used with the current writing course was also prepared and distributed on the same day as the PowerPoint show. The fourth stage of this pilot program strategy practice was the most dicult to sustain, but perhaps the most crucial to the success of the program. The researcher determined that it was not enough to lecture students on strategy instruction or even to dazzle them with a ashy multi-media show. Students needed to be given the opportunity to experiment with strategies throughout the semester and to discover for themselves that strategy use really works and can help improve their eorts in class. To ensure these opportunities, strategy use training was integrated with course materials by the teacher and used continuously throughout the semester. The last stage of the training process, personalization of strategies, involved asking students to ll out a very short questionnaire indicating their favorite language learning/use strategies and perceptions of their eectiveness. 7.2. The results from phase II As described above, during the spring semester of the academic year 20072008, a trial Strategy Based Instruction program was set up and piloted with sixteen Saudi English composition students. Pre-SBI marks were compared with Post-SBI marks. Marks distribution of all students was identical: 15% for writing assignments, 15% for quizzes, 25% for midterm exam, and 45% for nal exam. An identical rating scale was used by one teacher/marker for assessment in all cases, awarding marks for content, coherence, and mechanics thus ensuring intra-rater consistency and reliability. Content was assessed on organization, thesis statement, topic

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sentences, and conclusion. Coherence was assessed on the mostly subjective opinion of the marker, ascertaining if the writing was clear and easily understood. The use of any irrelevant sentences which did not support the topic sentence of each paragraph also fell under coherence and was marked accordingly. Mechanics included spelling, grammar, and punctuation with equal marks allocated for each. By comparing rst semester Pre-SBI marks with second semester Post-SBI marks, it was found that 15 out of 16 or 93.75% earned higher marks the second semester after having been exposed to SBI training. The grade point average of the sixteen passing students went from an overall average of 73.40 the rst semester to 78.68 the second semester. Considering the struggles that Saudi EFL students typically have with this course, the numbers were quite encouraging. Naturally, there are many factors which can explain why student marks might increase or decrease. In this case, there were strong indications that the end of the year marks saw a dramatic increase due to great strides made in the use of language learning strategies by student writers great strides witnessed by the teacher/ researcher and which seemed to be a direct result of the pilot SBI program. For example, the teacher/marker noticed that, after SBI, students began to use the margins of their test papers to organize before they write a strategy emphasized repeatedly throughout the research semester. By doing so, students were able to communicate their ideas much more clearly on paper and avoid irrelevant sentences which had been hindering coherence. Greatest gains in student marks, however, were made in the area of mechanics. Because departmental policy in the researchers context forbids the use of dictionaries on English exams, many students had been losing valuable marks in spelling during the pre-SBI semester. After SBI training, the same students learned to compensate for lack of spelling knowledge by using only words which they knew for sure how to spell correctly. For example, if they were not sure how to spell beautiful, they crossed it out and substituted with pretty. If they had doubts about the spelling for intelligent, they substituted with smart. This was a compensation strategy practiced in the class and observed by the researcher at marking time. Using strategies, students learned how to improve the organization, coherence, and mechanics of their writing and ultimately achieve better results. Therefore, in response to Research Question 3, the empirical evidence presented in this study demonstrates that SBI can help improve the writing abilities of Saudi students in an EFL setting. In other words, Strategy Based Instruction really will work in practice as well as in theory. 7.3. Discussion: implications for pedagogical practice Rather than leaving students to grasp at straws on their own when it comes to strategy use, educators across the world can systematically integrate strategy instruction with course content enabling students to develop and rene their English writing skills. Anyone interested in setting up their own strategy instruction program can follow Cohens easy-to-follow plan (2003, p. 1) for training: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. Determine learners needs and the resources available for training. Select the strategies to be taught. Consider the benets of integrated strategy training. Consider motivational issues. Prepare the materials and activities. Conduct explicit strategy training. Evaluate and revise the strategy training.

As one leading researcher in the eld of LLSs has noted, The possibility that eective use of language learning strategies might contribute to successful language learning is exciting (Griths, 2003, p. 381). Just consider the enormous impact SBI could have in EFL writing classes in your context. Also consider this: as we move into the 21st century, we can see the world changing into a global community. As this shift takes place, the status of writing in language teaching is also changing. As students enter the global community from all corners of the world, English is emerging as the international language of choice. EFL students everywhere, now more than ever, need to improve their writing skills in order to participate and compete in the global market. Educators and curriculum planners across the globe need to ask what more can be done to produce good English writers. SBI oers promise to educators who are interested in trying a new technique to achieve an old goal.

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8. Conclusions: recommendations for future research in Saudi Arabia Nearly twenty years ago, two leading researchers in the eld of LLSs (Oxford and Crookall, 1987, p. 415) called for not only more research in the eld, but more collaboration on joint research projects. That call for research came over two decades ago and the international research community has produced innumerable research studies on the use of LLSs since then. I humbly ask, Where is the LLS research from Saudi Arabia? While the rest of the world has heeded the call for strategy-specic research, the EFL research community in general remains in the infancy stage in Saudi Arabia. This is not only my observation, but also the observations of my peers and leading educators in the Gulf as well (Syed, 2003, p. 340). I highly recommend that administrators across the Kingdom do more to encourage their faculty to get involved in action research. Rather than standing on the sidelines and reading research articles dealing with students in other countries, it is time for the TESOL practitioners in Saudi Arabia to stand up and investigate what is going on inside their own classrooms. It is time to discover how Saudi EFL students are dierent from EFL students in other international studies, and to discover how they are similar to other language learners across the world. All in all, the results of this study have been far reaching. Not only has this study provided empirical data suggesting how Saudi EFL students are currently using LLSs, it has showed how they can be taught to take hold of the power of strategies and use them to improve their writing skills skills which can last a lifetime. More than anything, I hope this study will serve as a wakeup call to the TESOL community in Saudi Arabia. It is time for EFL teachers in Saudi Arabia to get more involved in action research. It is time to collaborate with others inside the Kingdom and share results with the outside world. It is time for my fellow researchers in Saudi Arabia to join me and those who have gone before me taking our place in the international TESOL community. Acknowledgment The author would like to thank Dr. Farhat Nasar for explanations and advice relating to the quantitative analysis of the data generated in this study. (Note: portions of the above article appeared in the McMullens unpublished MA dissertation). Appendix

What is a language strategy?


a tool which enhances the storage, retention, recall, and application of information

Language Learning Strategies selected while learning

Language Use Strategies selected while using the language


while listening while speaking while reading while writing

Complete SBI Training presentation can be viewed at http://marammcmullen.weebly.com/.

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