Descriptive study of middle school ESL students' reading moves and uses of visual inscriptions when inferring the meaning on unknown words in a science passage




Deschambault, Ryan

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The purpose of this study was to describe the moves used by middle-school ESL students to infer the meaning of unknown words in a science passage, and to describe the use of visual inscriptions in their inferencing process. Data from 10 female ESL students were collected using think-alouds while reading a test passage from a science textbook. In addition participants completed a Survey of Reading Strategies survey and participated in an open-ended interview about reading strategies. The think-aloud transcripts were analysed using an inductive process based on the constant comparison method, and resulted in the development of a taxonomy consisting of two meta-categories, six categories, and 20 sub-categories of inferencing moves. This taxonomy resulted in the identification of five sub-categories of inferencing moves that had not been described in previous lexical inferencing research. Each of these five new sub-categories occurred among the top ten most frequently used moves overall. Further analysis revealed that participants used Regulatory category moves more frequently than Heuristic moves. This suggested that participants in this study expended a Iarger portion of their resources managing the inferencing and the social aspects of the reading task than attending to word, sentence, discourse, or prior knowledge moves. The use of visual inscriptions was reported with low overall frequency, but this sub-category was used in complex ways in conjunction with other Regulatory and Heuristic moves. This suggested that the use of inscriptions was firmly embedded in the lexical inferencing processes of participants when reading science texts. Suggestions for future research include using texts with additional multimodal characteristics, expanding the age range of participants to include younger ages, and including descriptions of moves resulting from the social aspects of the reading tasks. Pedagogical implications include: (1) developing instruction which targets the use of less frequently reported Regulatory and Heuristic moves to expand the inferencing repertoire of learners, and (2) developing instruction which encourages students to draw links between inscriptions and the construction of lexical meaning to aid in the interpretation of complex text. Further it is suggested that textbook designers: (I) develop more calculated design strategies that will assist students in using inscriptions and text in tandem to construct meaning, and (2) use the published results of lexical inferencing to include features that facilitate the identification of words that are anticipated to be problematic for ESL learners.



middle-school education, English language, foreign speakers