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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Graphic representation of knowledge structures in ESL student learning Tang, Gloria Mann


Research suggests that students can understand information more easily if the structure of that information is given in graphic as well as verbal form, and that this is especially true for second language students. These suggestions have major implications for the education of second language learners. This study was conducted to explore the role and value of graphic representation of knowledge structures in English as a Second Language student learning, based on a specific definition and categorization of knowledge structures (Mohan 1986). To obtain a complete picture of graphics in two seventh grade ESL classes, an ethnography and an experiment were conducted. The first part of the study, employing ethnographic techniques (examination of documents, intensive and participant observation, and interview) includes detailed analysis of the graphics in a chapter of a textbook and analytic descriptions of student activities related to graphics. Findings revealed that students were exposed to a considerable number of graphics. However, whether, and how, students used graphics to facilitate learning depended to a large extent on the guidance they received. Without teacher guidance, students could not successfully extract information from graphics or use graphics to represent knowledge, nor did they recognize graphics as an alternative way of communicating information/knowledge. They perceived the function of graphics to be decorative, and their general attitude towards graphic representation of knowledge structures was negative. Students did not find graphics facilitative of comprehension and recall. With explicit teacher guidance, however, students could use graphics to organize information; a percentage of the students recognized graphics as an alternative way of communicating information, and were more positive about the facilitative effect of the graphics they had been taught. Results suggested, but failed to conclude, that graphics can facilitate student learning. The second part of the study was conducted to test the hypotheses thus generated. The second part reports an experiment and an attitude or preference study conducted to establish the effect of graphics on student learning. Based on a pretest-posttest nonequivalent-control group design, a pretest and two posttests were administered on 45 intermediate ESL students. Findings suggested that 1. using a tree graph to present knowledge to seventh grade ESL students facilitated learning in 90% of the students; 2. teaching students to construct a tree graph to represent the semantic relations of one type of text, and requiring them to generate a similar graphic while reading, facilitated comprehension and immediate recall in 95% of the students; 3. the majority of seventh grade ESL students could be taught to construct a tree graph to represent the semantic relations of a text passage; 4. students' perception of, and attitude towards, graphics changed after they had been taught to use a tree graph to represent one type of text; and, 5. over 80% of the students found a tree graph helpful as a teaching technique and over 75% found it helpful as a reading strategy. Moreover, most students affirmed that they would employ a tree graph to represent or organize knowledge, and as a reading strategy, although many of them felt that they needed more practice in using the technique. Thus results indicate that graphic representation of information/knowledge structures can improve comprehension, but that students are unlikely to take advantage of it unless teachers take active steps to realize its potential.

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