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UBC Theses and Dissertations

ESL university students' coping strategies : a qualitative study of academic reading Yuen, Susie


The ability to read and write academic discourse in a second language often determines an ESL student's scholastic progress. Recent related research has focused on the academic reading of ESL university students at the text level, often at the single or multi-paragraph level (Block, 1986; Carrell, 1985, 1987), and has looked at categories that were general across subject areas. This study explores how first year university ESL students cope with the reading demands of two specific credit courses, English Literature and Introductory Psychology, within the context of the course requirements, the instruction, and the nature of the academic discipline itself. The research method focused on ethnographic interviews with ten students from various Asian countries and their Canadian instructors, on classroom observations, and on the researcher's extensive field diary. Analysis of the findings identified three major coping strategies: self-management, background knowledge and experience, and reliance on the instructors in the disciplines. The nature of the genre, the students' interest in the discipline, and their perseverance in reading comprehension appear to influence their choice of strategies in meeting specific academic objectives. These strategies contributed to the background knowledge component of the academic tasks that the students face. Their efforts at academic tasks were guided by the concern to do what was required to complete course assignments. Essentially, course assignments directed the action component or agenda, of the students' academic tasks. Reading-to-learn involved approaching the genre-specific reading tasks at the whole text level within the context of what was required to successfully fulfil the course requirements of the particular genre. The primary reality of the students was to demonstrate an adequate level of academic proficiency. In contrast with previous research, findings indicated the importance of genre-specific reading tasks at the whole-text level rather than generic reading at the paragraph level, and the importance of relating coping strategies to the context of what was required to fulfil course requirements rather than the study of strategies in isolation. Thus, the findings were consistent with a theoretical model (Mohan, 1986) analyzing academic tasks into an action component and a knowledge component.

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