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2 Significance of Writing
3 The Extensive Reading Experiment at Mohammed V University
3.1 The Pre-Test
3.2 The Post-Test
4 Discussion and Analysis
4.1 The Pre-Test Results
4.2 The Post-Test Results
There is no doubt that literacy in Morocco has mushroomed considerably within the realm of TEFL in recent years, especially with respect to language acquisition, research, and business. This can be attributed to the prevalence of English in Moroccan higher education. Thus literacy—or the ability to read and write effectively—has become mandatory in order to enable EFL learners to operate not only functionally, but also socially, economically, technologically, and most importantly culturally. Literacy becomes imperative to raise students’ awareness of the momentous role that reading and writing perform within development, communication, and scholarship. Yet the teaching of English reading and writing in Moroccan higher education has been divorced for decades, and most language educators and TEFL practitioners have been wrongly assuming that reading is simply receptive, whereas writing is simply productive, with little relation between them.
However, reading involves the production of meaning and writing involves response to and use of previously read texts. Writing motivates reading and reading inspires the response of writing. The pedagogical mindset has created a plethora of hurdles toward marrying reading and writing in Moroccan classrooms. Reading and writing can both lay a firm foundation for literacy that will gradually enable students to develop meta-cognitive skills, namely critical thinking, problem-solving, logical reasoning, and decision-making skills. In brief, helping EFL students read and write effectively can improve our national development in many domains. Evidence for this claim can be found in the fact that, today, English has become the vehicle of international communication. Therefore, enabling EFL learners to become effective communicators and both literate and knowledgeable learners in English will gradually make our country a compelling destination not only for education and research, but also for foreign investment and business.
This paper investigates the impact, interaction, and affinity of extensive reading and academic writing in Moroccan higher education. Academic writing refers to overall written English language proficiency that primarily focuses on scholarly writing mechanisms. Extensive reading is characterized by pleasure and general understanding of longer texts (Scrivener Jim, 2005: 188). The reciprocal benefits and cognitive relations that reading and writing share have been increasingly researched by a number of scholars and writers, such as Heys (1962), Christiensen (1965), De Vries (1970), Tierney and Pearson (1983), Tsang (1996), Nancy Nelson (2006), Elizabeth W. Kraemer (2013), and many others.
Nonetheless, many questions remain unanswered with respect to the ongoing textual, lexical, syntactic, and stylistic relations that cognitively and technically govern extensive reading and academic writing. Therefore, this research aims to unpack the conventions and techniques of written academic texts in tandem with extensive reading, as well as focus on the analysis of linguistic and technical tools utilized in academic written texts. It also aims to explore the impact of classroom interactions and learning-teaching procedures on the development of academic writing. To reach the above-mentioned objectives, an attempt will be made to research the significance and characteristics of extensive reading, as well as the techniques of English academic writing that would help Moroccan university students grow. This growth includes cognitive development—understanding of theories, concepts, strategies, and habits of mind; it also includes affective development—confidence, empowerment, independence and self-sufficiency balanced with a readiness to give and receive feedback from other writers at various stages of development. Therefore, the rationale behind this research project is two-fold. First, it is undeniable that most Moroccan university students constantly encounter the demanding tasks of reading an immense amount of lengthy and complex pieces of English in a variety of forms and covering an array of subjects. In fact, most students dislike reading in English because the elements of interest, pleasure, and enthusiasm are unfortunately absent, largely due to tedious reading materials and orthodox teaching methods. This claim is supported by Constantino, who argues that many students do not enjoy reading in their second language because they feel that it is a “task-laden, rule-oriented skill that requires close attention to detail and meaning” (1995: 15). Given this problem, it is important to provide basic solutions to help students read in English and enjoy what they read.
Second, writing assignments and research papers represent another challenging component of higher education in Morocco. The majority of Moroccan university students perceive English academic writing as a burdensome part of the curriculum because it is technically and intellectually demanding. This could potentially be a result of a lack of practice in writing on the part of students, or ineffective teaching methods. It should be noted that academic writing requires the presence of several components, such as topic, organization, objectivity, coherence, cohesion, clarity, linguistic variables, purpose, and audience. Viewed this way, academic writing is informative, dispassionate, purposeful, orderly, direct, explicit, interactive, and communicative. Accordingly, it requires systematic instruction, innovative teaching, and a positive learning environment.
More importantly, for students to achieve efficiency and proficiency in academic writing, they have to be exposed to a variety of texts, so that they become familiar with different writing styles, complex sentence structures, and rhetorical strategies. In this regard, extensive reading substantially benefits students’ academic writing. Reading extensively contributes tremendously to the improvement and enrichment of academic writing and other aspects of foreign-language acquisition. This statement is supported by Alderson, who believes that “a reading ability is often all that is needed by learners of EFL” (1984: 1). This suggests that learning to read effectively is fundamental to EFL learners in order to expand their knowledge of the language and enhance their fluency. Thus, it is important that more research is undertaken to investigate the significance of extensive reading within Moroccan higher education and the vital role it plays within the practice of academic writing. Development of literacy is, indeed, a marriage of reading and writing that both teachers and students must recognize, embrace, and work closely to reconnect within the curriculum.
With hindsight, this paper strives to answer the following question: What is the impact of extensive reading on the writing of Moroccan EFL university students?
2 Significance of Writing
Apart from being one of the most fundamental and onerous language skills, writing has been gaining importance in various Departments of English in Morocco, and hence stirring up several debates about its usefulness within the curriculum of Moroccan higher education. Likewise, writing has helped organize a myriad of weekly and monthly seminars, shedding light on its pivotal role in the production of knowledge and the enhancement of learning. Both teachers and students find themselves obliged to engage their thoughts and experiences within the realm of writing to understand its mystery and grasp better its conventions. Writing is a social action because we write in order to convey our feelings, emotions, messages, thoughts, aspirations, knowledge, literature, scholarship, and so forth. It is also a mechanical process whereby several factors should be present such as layout, punctuation, handwriting or typing, organization, paragraphs, and so on.
More importantly, the EFL teaching in Morocco is improving on a large scale. The evidence in support of this claim is the statement made by The Pedagogical Guidelines (2007: 15). It explains that the EFL curriculum in Morocco adheres to the competency-based approach. The distinctive characteristics of this approach are stated as follows:
“It is organized around a set of learning tasks and/or activities that are: (1) based on language knowledge, skills, strategies and abilities that learners have to demonstrate; and (2) directed towards the likeliest uses learners will have to make of English in their future studies and jobs.
Specific themes and situations are used as a means to develop competencies and improve performances.
It is learner-centered.
It is task-based.
It assesses learner behavior/performance in relation to the competencies focused upon.
It capitalizes on the performances that the learners should expect to attain, not just content to be covered.
It focuses on the present status of the learners’ competencies in reference to what the curriculum expects them to attain (i.e. terminal performance).”
According to Rao, “writing is useful in two different ways. On the one hand, it invigorates thinking, impels students to organize their ideas and develop their ability to summarize, analyze and criticize. On the other hand, it fosters students’ ability to learn, think and reflect on English language skills continuously” (2007: 100). Additionally, Krashen believes that “writing helps conceptualize and concretize our thoughts, and also help maximize our intelligence” (1993: 31). He convincingly explains that “when we write our ideas down, the vague and abstract becomes clear and concrete. When thoughts are on paper, we see the relationships between them, and come up with better thoughts. Writing, in other words, can make us smarter.”
For Badger and White, “writing is mainly concerned with the knowledge about the structure of language, and writing development is mainly the result of the imitation of input, in the form of texts provided by the teachers” (2000: 154). The focus here is on accuracy rather than fluency, for teachers assess the writing performance in terms of grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other writing conventions (Adeyemi, 2012). This undeniably makes students feel that the writing task is a mere chore rather than a means of freedom and expression of thoughts.
Several studies have pointed out that non-native speakers of English encounter several problems when it comes to writing, such as grammar, mechanics, organization of ideas, lexis, spelling, and so forth. Hence, these problems affect the accuracy of the written text. In the same manner, students encounter another problem that is deeply rooted in the interference of L1 and L2. This is by virtue of the fact that they find themselves unable to speak their mind in English or correctly accomplish a certain task because of their deficiency in English. Some writers, such as Jeremy Harmer, emphasize that it is natural for learners of English to use L1 while forming a sentence or an expression because they unconsciously tend to translate. Harmer explains “this is because we try to make sense of a new linguistic (and conceptual) world through the linguistic world we are familiar with” (2009: 130). This actually occurs frequently to novice EFL learners because they tend to apply the knowledge they know about their mother tongue to the new language they are acquiring, which can result either in a positive transfer (correct translation and guesses) or a negative transfer (incorrect translation and guesses).
Al-Jawi explains that “many ESL and EFL students dislike writing in English and they perform poorly in it. This is because of their poor command of the language and repeated experiences of failure” (op.cit. :7). It is believed that the difficulty and intricacy of writing stem from the fact that it encompasses a set of interwoven characteristics, which according to Wall (1981) “range from mechanical control to creativity, with good grammar, knowledge of subject matter, awareness of stylistic conventions and various mysterious factors in between” (as cited in Jahin & Idrees, 2012:11).
3 The Extensive Reading Experiment at Mohammed V University
The research experiment was carried out at Mohammed V University in Rabat. The time frame of the experiment was four weeks. It was so because the participants did not have much time to regularly attend my experiment sessions, as it was early in the semester. Therefore, the participants had to check their schedules, make sure they are in the right classes, familiarize themselves with new professors, and adapt slowly to the curriculum. Thus, I took this fact into consideration and I tried to make it convenient to them so that I can allow a more genuine and dispassionate participation to occur.
There were ten research participants (six males and four females). Gender is not an issue and will be disregarded throughout the research project. The participants were randomly selected. They all major in ‘English Studies’, and hence receive the same number of hours of English. First year students constitute an important segment in the present research project, for they have a composition class and their writing experience will be of interest and might add more value and credibility to the entire research project.
The experiment comprises of a pre-test and a post-test for the sake of investigating whether extensive reading truly has some effects on Moroccan EFL students’ academic writing. The participants will write about the same topic in both tests, which will be descriptive in nature. The researcher himself will be involved teaching the basics, definitions and characteristics, of descriptive writing during the experiment, along with exposing the participants to graded readers of various American and British writers so as to familiarize them with the underpinnings of descriptive writing. The amount of teaching aims at providing students with an effective learning opportunity that will directly or indirectly inform them about descriptive writing, and hence gradually prepare them for the post-test. Ultimately, the post-test intends to reveal whether the participants’ written performance is improved due to the inclusion of the descriptive reading material.
3.1 The Pre-Test
Meetings with the research participants were organized in advance prior to embarking on the experiment. That is to say, I met with the participants at Mohammed V University, and I briefly spoke to them about my research, goals of the study, and procedure of the experiment. Additionally, the participants and I set up a time together to meet in class, and thus the agreement was reached to meet twice a week (Mondays and Wednesdays at 4 pm) for the period of four weeks.
The topic of the pre-test, as it would be in the post-test, was purely descriptive, as the majority of the EFL participants were novices. They were clearly instructed to ‘describe their university’. It is important to note that the short stories that the researcher provided the participants were descriptive. This would help the participants learn more about descriptive writing on their own, including the acquisition of new adjectives, nouns, phrases, figures of speech, etc. In fact, the topic was deliberately chosen in order to help me as a researcher test students’ composition skills in relation to the grammatical and lexical knowledge they would acquire thanks to the reading (short stories) and the instruction (teaching of descriptive writing) that would be given by the researcher before the post-test. The participants were encouraged to read the short story they picked. When they finished reading, they could swap stories with other participants so that they could read more and more fully experience extensive reading.
3.2 The Post-Test
Each time we met in class, we had a brief conversation about the participants’ composition class and how they are performing in it in order to create more context and foundation to my research experiment. In the same vein, we talked about their short stories and how much of it they had read. Generally speaking, the participants displayed a great deal of interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm in the research experiment because they realized over time that it was about them and it responded to their learning needs. That is to say, improving their writing through reading to better perform in exams, which are almost all written. The participants were also punctual, interactive, and helpful. More importantly, the teaching of descriptive writing took place in the first meeting after the pre-test. Throughout the experiment period, we talked about different issues pertinent to the teaching/learning of descriptive writing, along with conjunctions and cohesive devices (additionally, likewise, nevertheless, similarly, hence, yet, etc).
In all those sessions, I tried to avoid lecturing because I wanted to break away from the traditional way of teaching, where I wished to include all participants, and hence all of us would contribute to the class. We started off by giving definitions to descriptive writing and what it means to each one of us. I had to draw a diagram on the board and write down everything the participants said to me. Afterwards, we discussed how adjectives and nouns, in particular, are important in description because after all we describe nouns, be they people, objects, animals, experiences, adventures, feelings, and so on. I also spoke to them about sensory details and how they are fundamental in descriptive writing because sensory details are purely based on our senses, which help vividly picture what we see, taste, feel, touch, etc.
As time went by, the participants made a lot of progress in understanding the nature and characteristics of descriptive writing, as they were doing an extensive practice in description in class. Therefore, the attention was shifted to more technical matters, such as layout, indentation, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. In the fourth week, especially in the last meeting the routine sort of changed a little because there was no teaching. The participants instead returned the short stories to me, and the post-test was initiated right away. They were given about one hour to finish their written post-test without talking to each other, or using dictionaries and smartphones.
4 Discussion and Analysis
The extensive reading experiment was seamlessly carried out thanks to the tremendous interest, help, and discipline of the participants at Mohammed V University in Rabat. Notwithstanding the time frame of the experiment was 30 days, it yielded extremely valuable results with respect to the effects of extensive reading on academic writing by the Moroccan EFL university students, especially in terms of writing improvement, structural awareness, development of thought, vocabulary growth, reading comprehension enhancement, and a better knowledge and practice of grammar and spelling.
4.1 The Pre-Test Results
The results showcased that the participants wrote very little, lacking vocabulary, structure, and a developed content. Their description of their university was generally short, shallow, imprecise, and lacking cohesion. In addition, they had problems with the past tense conjugation, not to mention spelling mistakes. They also sometimes tend to forget adding the suffix “S” of the plural form, causing confusion. In fact, their short writing did not reveal much of their writing weaknesses, but still indicative of their inability to write meaningfully and qualitatively long sentences, and include more ideas and examples. This actually shows the participants’ lack of reading and writing, which obviously affects their written performance.
4.2 The Post-Test Results
The participants developed incremental fluency and maturity, and conspicuous writing improvement throughout the experiment sessions. They were also open and interactive with the writing topic. They were more willing to write complex sentences and cohesive paragraphs. In fact, the experiment displayed a positive effect on the participants’ reading and writing skills, particularly in the area of language use, vocabulary, grammar, and enhancement of several writing techniques, such as introducing a thesis statement, elaborating on main ideas, using examples and cohesive tools, avoiding redundancy, giving signals to the conclusion. The participants learned during the experiment that a thesis statement is a primordial element in any composition, and that it should be specific, provocative, and debatable, along with being able to engage the reader’s critical thinking and reading. Moreover, the participants’ lexicon became elastic and energized to vividly remember words and phrases from the reading they had done throughout the period of the experiment. Likewise, they acquired more reading speed, confidence, and motivation to read purposefully and meaningfully without paying scrupulous attention to looking up words and translating expressions, but rather guessing meaning from context. This is supported by the fact that some, if not all, of the participants read more than two short stories in a relatively short period of time, although they had more readings in other classes.
Generally speaking, students learned faster and remembered better what they read because when they came across new words multiple times in the short story, they started to comprehend their meaning better than beforehand. Furthermore, the context helped visualize and conceptualize the entire frame of the short story, which enabled students to understand the main ideas without relying continuously on mere translation.
As a matter of fact, vocabulary plays a significant role in foreign language acquisition because meaning is found in words, and hence they largely contribute to the comprehension of the reading material. It is important to mention that reading has a particular resonance because it evokes feelings, emotions, memories, and past and present experiences that the reader finds interesting, and hence it arouses in them a sense of curiosity and adventure. Reading is a rewarding experience because it makes you a personally and professionally better person. Similarly, it influences students’ behavior positively toward writing, for it makes them write as they read, and vice versa. Viewed this way, students understand better the reading process and the writing mechanics because they know that their composition will eventually be read by some audience. This helps them write strategically and purposefully.
Most importantly, the participants’ awareness of transition words grew due to the exposure to the extensive reading program. They learned how to not only connect smoothly paragraphs to create balance and unity, but also sentences to convey meaning clearly and strengthen cohesion. Interestingly, the participants were able to profoundly express themselves in longer sentences and phrases, combining a rich vocabulary and correct grammar, to a large extent, to create an amazingly wonderful piece of composition that is relatable, passionate, and genuine. Their use of adjectives became more precise and context-based. Similarly, there use of connective adverbs (also, in addition, accordingly, etc), adverbs of degree (very, totally, and, extremely, etc), and conjunctions (whilst, because, and, so, etc), added more cohesion, connectivity, and rhythm to their composition. All these cohesive devices that the participants acquired helped express their admiration, and at the same time reflect the maturity of their thinking.
The participants also developed a sense of location in their description. They wrote words, such as façade, mosque, gardens, cafeteria, cyber café, library, Al-Irfane, and so on. Their use of location made their description specific and added more vividness and context. Similarly, the participants mentioned names of Departments existing, such as Islamic Studies, English Studies, French Studies, History, Geography, Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, etc. This is expressive of the fact that they are aware of the disciplines taught at Mohammed V University. Likewise, the participants showed a lot of comfort during the experiment because the testing environment was relaxing and stress-free. They were able to revisit and describe their university.
With hindsight, the experiment revealed some of the problems that first year Moroccan EFL university students encounter ranging from technical to grammatical to lexical in the writing process, including capitalization, spelling, punctuation, indentation, run-on sentences (two or more independent clauses that are not separated by a colon or semicolon), misuse of prepositions (in/on), conjunctions, and confusing regular and irregular past tense conjugation.
Overall, the extensive reading program was significantly effective and useful for the first year Moroccan EFL university students. Its gains have been numerous and desperately needed for the production of quality English academic writing. Indeed, students who do extensive reading make better progress in writing, reading comprehension, reading speed, vocabulary development, and development of thought. Evidently, these gains are not reached overnight; they naturally come over time with constant practice. Having said that, extensive reading can offer a gateway to so many interesting and exciting topics, and at the same time it is a powerful means to foster quite a few language skills. Best of all, the research experiment has proven that extensive reading is capable of adding a lot of benefits to students’ academic writing, and it is an effective and stimulating way to teach reading compared to the traditional approaches of reading.
The findings of this study have unequivocally shown that students are mindful of the significance of extensive reading in the production of English academic writing. Students are convinced by the power of extensive reading because it enables them to learn new words and phrases, study grammar in context, learn more about writing techniques implicitly, experience firsthand how cohesion and coherence are established in written texts, and explore various writing styles. The findings have also shown the problems that students encounter in academic writing. These problems purely emanate from grammar (tenses and run-on sentences), style, vocabulary, cohesion, coherence, punctuation, spelling, citing sources, and language interference (L1). In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the essence of academic writing is stating one’s ideas clearly and directly. In other words, communicating effectively with readers, engaging their attention, and creating interaction with them.
As we have learned from the current research project, reading and writing are fundamental to learning; they reinforce and interact with each other in many ways. They are both functional and cognitive skills and are used to accomplish tasks. When students read they spontaneously utilize what they learn from reading in writing.
It was interesting to find out that students are eager to embark upon extensive reading because they are empowered and allowed to choose whatever they like to read, and hence enjoy it more. This process produces passionate, dynamic, and responsible students, who are responsible for their own learning. Furthermore, students wholeheartedly know that reading and writing together can foster their foreign language learning and literacy. In fact, good reading skills can transform students into great writers: writers who can make a difference and change the world with their fresh and original thoughts and perspectives. Therefore, helping students to read and enjoy their reading is a key to their success as readers and writers. In this regard, teachers should provide their students with reading materials that should help them achieve fluency, accuracy, and comprehension. They should also be able to provide students with skills and strategies that are compelling to them. If there are struggling readers in class, teachers must be willing to sit with them in their office, spend more time with them in class, and try to find out what makes them struggling readers. Needless to say, good reading instruction will enhance author awareness and good writing instruction will enhance sensitivity to the needs of an audience. The instructor as a model reader seems to have positive effects on students in class. My classroom observation has proved that the role of the instructor is pivotal in the success of the writing class. The instructor’s preparation and skills and the learning environment can make students love to write and continue to write after university and for the rest of their lives. Additionally, the instructor’s passion, talent, and training can make the reading-writing class a remarkable and unique experience. More importantly, teachers who participated in my research project strongly believe that extensive reading can lead to a substantial learning development both in reading and writing. This learning development can be seen through students’ absorption/acquisition of new vocabulary, expanding their horizon, inspiring their creativity, and developing their critical thinking. This helps students become more confident and willing to interact smoothly and meaningfully with their instructor. Accordingly, reading and writing should be given equal and effective assessment and must be incorporated within the curriculum. In the writing class, students-writers must know to write for a variety of purposes, produce effective pieces of writing, engage successfully in the writing process, and meet the needs of a variety of audiences. In the same vein, they must be exposed to more writing in class and practice regularly writing steps (planning, generating ideas, analyzing, synthesizing, and revising).
Overall, drawing from the information gathered, I can confidently say that extensive reading is a leading indicator and a determinant of writing development. It can create miracles in the realm of TEFL. We have learned that reading is an act of deciphering meaning and writing is an act of constructing meaning. When taught equally they can generate pleasing results in terms of students’ literacy. Therefore, bringing receptive and productive skills together and teaching them with excellent pedagogy seem to change the classroom dynamics in a positive way. Another fact that was crystal clear in this research is that Moroccan university students face numerous difficulties in the writing process ranging from form to content. This is due to the fact that reading instruction is more widespread than writing instruction in Moroccan higher education.
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