ISLAMIC AZAD UNIVERSITY
Central Tehran Branch
Faculty of Foreign Languages
Thesis Submitted In Partial Fulfilment Of The Requirements For The Degree Of Master Of Arts In Teaching English As A Foreign Language
The Comparative Impact of Analysis and Inference on Intermediate EFL Learners’ Reading Comprehension
Dr. Sholeh Kolahi
Dr. Behdokht Mall Amiri
In The Name of God
I would like to dedicate my thesis to my beloved parents and husband.
I would like to express my special gratitude to a number of people without whom this research could not have been accomplished.
I am deeply grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Sholeh Kolahi, who kindly provided me with her insightful, invaluable advice and support throughout all the stages of this research.
My Sincere thanks go to my reader, Dr.Behdokht Mall Amiri, who went through the laborious task of reading my thesis and provided me with her brilliant comments.
My warm thanks to Dr. Kourosh Akef who took the trouble to read and review this research as the external reader.
I would like to thank my dear parents for their spiritual support without which I could have never got to this point.
My great debt is also to my husband for his sincere love and encouragement during this study.
I also like to make special reference to all my colleagues and friends at Parsa Language School without whose cooperation; I could have not fulfilled this process.
This study was an attempt to investigate whether there is any significant difference between the effects of inference and analysis critical thinking skills on intermediate EFL learners’ reading comprehension. To reach this aim, the 2011 version of PET was utilized to select a homogeneous sample. Ninety four learners of intermediate level from Parsa Language School in Kashan were selected through the convenient non-random sampling. They were given the PET and subsequently, 60 subjects whose score fell between one standard deviation above and below the mean were selected. Then, they were randomly divided into two experimental groups and four classes of 15 with unequal number of males and females. They ranged from 12-16 years old. At the outset of the study and before giving any instruction, the participants sat for a pre-treatment test which was the reading comprehension section of the 2010 version of PET. After administering the pre-treatment test and calculating running a t-test, the researcher was assured that there was no significant difference regarding reading comprehension ability between the two groups prior to the treatment. During the treatment, the first experimental group (E1) was exposed to analysis, while the second experimental group (E2) practiced inference skills about 30 minutes during each session. In E1, the researcher employed the rhetorical précis by Woodworth (1988), whereas the observation/inference chart designed by Nokes (2008) was used in E2. The treatment occurred for 13 sessions. At the end of the semester, the experimental groups were post-tested through the reading comprehension section of the 2009 version of PET. Finally, an independent sample t-test was run to check if there was any significant difference between the effects of inference and analysis on reading comprehension of the learners. The results showed that the participants in the inference group outperformed those in the analysis group. Meanwhile, the participants in analysis group showed progress in post-test in comparison to their performance in pre- treatment test. Therefore, it can be concluded that the present study also emphasize and confirm the positive role of teaching critical thinking skills –in this study, inference and analysis- on reading comprehension.
Table of contents
CHAPTER Ι: Background and Purpose
1-2 Statement of the Problem12
1-3 Statement of the Research Question17
1-4 Statement of the Research Hypothesis17
1-5 Definition of Key Terms18
1-5-1 Reading Comprehension18
1-5-2 Critical Thinking18
1-6 Significance of the study20
1-7 Limitation and Delimitations of the Study27
CHAPTER ΙΙ: Review of the Related Literature
2-2-1 Types of Thinking33
2-3 A brief History of the Idea of Critical Thinking37
2-3-1 What Is Critical Thinking?41
2-3-2 Characteristics of the Critical Thinker46
2-3-3 Critical Thinking Skills and Dispositions50
2-3-3-1 Inference and Analysis57
2-4 Teaching Critical Thinking59
2-4-1 How to Teach Critical Thinking62
2-5 Advantages of Critical Thinking67
2-6 Problems in Teaching Critical Thinking70
2-7 Language and Thought73
2-8 Reading Comprehension77
2-8-3 Nature of Reading83
2-9 Theories in Second Language Reading84
2-9-1 Process Approach84
2-9-2 Schema Theory86
2-10 Reading Processing88
2-10-1 Bottom-up Processing88
2-10-2 Top-down Processing89
2-10-3 Interactive Processing89
2-11 Reading Comprehension Strategies90
2-11-1 How to Teach Reading Comprehension by Inference and Analysis92
2-12 Models of Reading97
2-12-1 Bottom-up Models97
2-12-2 Top-down Models98
2-12-3 Interactive Models99
2-13 Types of Reading100
2-13-1 Intensive Reading100
2-13-2 Extensive Reading101
2-13-3 Scanning and Skimming Reading102
2-13-4 Receptive and reflective Reading103
2-14 Critical Reading103
2.14.1 Approaches to Critical Reading106
2-15 Related Studies on Critical Thinking and Reading Comprehension107
CHAPTER III: Methodology
3-3-2 Reading Comprehension Pre-Treatment Test116
3-3-3 Reading Comprehension Post-Test117
3-3-4 Instructional Materials118
3-3-4-1 Course Book118
3-3-6 Data Analysis136
CHAPTER IV: Results and Discussion
4-2 Participant Selection139
4-2-1 Descriptive Statistics of the Piloting PET Proficiency Test140
4-2-2 Descriptive Statistics of the PET Proficiency Test141
4-2-3 Dividing the Participants into Two Groups143
4-3 Pre-treatment Test146
4-5 The Results of Testing the Null Hypothesis154
CHAPTER V: Conclusion, Pedagogical Implications
5-2 Summary of the Findings162
5-4 Pedagogical Implications165
5-5 Suggestions for Further Research168
LIST OF TABLES
Table 4-1 Descriptive Statistics for PET Proficiency Test piloting139
Table 4-2 Reliability of the PET Proficiency Test Piloting139
Table 4-3 Descriptive Statistics for PET Proficiency Test140
Table 4-4 Reliability of the PET141
Table 4- 5 Inter-rater Correlation for Writing Section of the PET141
Table 4-6 Descriptive statistics of the PET scores of the two groups at the outset142
Table 4-7 the Results of Normality Check of the Distribution of scores on PET143
Table 4-8 Group Statistics for Two Experimental Groups’ PET scores144
Table 4-9 Independent Sample T-test for Two Experimental Groups’ PET scores144
Table 4-10 Descriptive Statistics for the Results of the Pre-treatment Test145
Table 4-11 Results of Normality of Distribution of Scores for Reading Comprehension Pre-treatment Test147
Table 4-12 Results of Normality of Distribution of Scores for Reading Comprehension Pre-treatment Test147
Table 4-13 Group Statistics T- Test for Pre-treatment Test148
Table 4-14 Independent Samples T- Test for Pre-treatment Test148
Table 4-15 Descriptive statistics for the results of the post-test150
Table 4-16 Results of Normality of Distribution of Scores for Reading Comprehension Post-test150
Table 4- 17 Results of Skewness Ratio for Reading Comprehension Post-test150
Table 4-18 Group Statistics of Two Experimental Groups on the Post-test153
Table 4-19 Independent Samples t-Test of Two Experimental Groups on the Post-test153
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 2-1 Elements of Thought (Elder & Paul, 2007)30
Figure 2-2 Critical Thinking Skills51
Figure 2-3 The Relationship between Skills and Dispositions53
Figure 2-4 Observation/Inference (O/I) Chart (Nokes, 2008)95
Figure 3-1 Observation/Inference Chart (Nokes, 2008)128
Figure 3-2 An Example of O/I Chart133
Figure 4-1 The Histogram of Scores of PET Main Administration143
Figure 4-2 Histogram of the Scores Obtained on the reading Pre-Treatment Test of E1146
Figure 4-3 Histogram of the Scores Obtained on the Reading Pre-treatment Test of the E2146
Figure 4-4 Histogram of Scores Obtained on the Reading comprehension Post- test of E1151
Figure 4-5 Histogram of Scores Obtained on Reading Comprehension Post- test of E2152
Background and Purpose
Growth and advancement in educational systems are the most important characteristics of the present societies. This phenomenon, especially in recent decades, has become an important and sensitive issue in developing countries. The role of educational systems in the process of growth and persistent advancement of countries is accepted by everybody. Moreover, education is regarded as a main base of advancement and progress. The most observable and effective character in educational system is the thinking element (Hashemi, Naderi, Seif Naraghi, & Shariatmadari, 2010). Thinking and acquiring new information and the method of thinking and learning are the most important characteristics of human being and from other perspective, in new approaches; the great attention has been paid to teaching and learning by critical thinking which is one of the fundamental phenomena and dimensions in educational systems (Hashemi et al., 2010).
Critical thinking is a necessary skill in promoting the students’ thoughts. It is one of the new models in education system. This model pays special attention to the development of individual and social features of people so that mental power and social responsibilities will be fostered among the learners (Hashemi et al., 2010).
It is hard to formulate an encompassing definition for critical thinking; as it includes several levels of understanding. Paul and Elder (2001) believe that critical thinking is a mode of thinking about any subject, content, or problem. It is an ability with which students can improve their thinking quality by skillfully managing their thinking structures and intellectual criteria around them. Scriven and Paul (2003) define critical thinking as an intellectually disciplined process in which students actively and skillfully conceptualize, apply, synthesize, and evaluate information generated by observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, and communication. Facione (2000) believes that critical thinking is a cognitive process of developing reasonable, logical, and reflective judgment about what to believe or what to do. In the same line, Watson and Glaser (2002) define critical thinking as a composite of attitudes, knowledge and skills. Critical thinking does not expect students to answer the questions put in the class, but instead develops students’ sound judgment for problem-solving, decision-making, and higher-order thinking (Case, 2002; Taylor & Patterson, 2000 as cited in Alizade & Khatib, 2012).
Facione (2011) states that the experts are persuaded that critical thinking is a pervasive and purposeful human phenomenon. The ideal critical thinker can be characterized not merely by her or his cognitive skills but also by how she or he approaches life and living in general.
New trends in education nowadays are focusing on developing critical thinking skills. Fisher (2007, p. 1) asserts that, “in recent years critical thinking has become something of a buzz word in educational circles. For many reasons, educators have become very interested in teaching thinking skills of various kinds in contrast with teaching information and context” (as cited in Avendaño and Fonseca, 2009). Facione (1990) introduces critical thinking skills as interpretation, analysis evaluation, inference, explanation, and self–regulation. Research indicates that adult learners do not use critical thinking skills naturally, but these complex abilities develop in learners over time (Kurfiss, 1983; Paul, 1993). Scholars and educators believed that this kind of complex reasoning process can be improved with practice (Paul & Elder, 2004; Van Gelder, Bissett & Cumming, 2004) and advocated that developing critical thinking skills are crucial to help students “know how to learn and how to think clearly” (Halpern, 1998, p. 450).
An important question raised considering the critical thinking issue is its teachability. From numerous studies, there is empirical evidence that thinking skills courses have positive effects that are transferable to a wide variety of situations (Halpern, 1996; Weddle, De Capite, & costa, 1990 as cited in Wal, 1999). Therefore, it is possible to use education to improve the ability to think critically, especially when instruction is specifically designed to encourage the transfer of these skills to different situations and different domains of knowledge (Wal, 1999). Furthermore, Halpern (1996) provides findings that show critical thinking skills can be learned in educational setting (as cited in Wal, 1999).
Critical thinking is one of the central competences for L2 learners to achieve language-learning success (Connolly, 2000; Davidson, 1998; Davidson & Dunham, 1997). It seems that critical thinking skills enhance higher order learning skills leading to higher levels of language proficiency (Renner, 1996 as cited in Alizade & Khatib, 2012). Critical thinking is an ongoing process in which all language learners must engage, regardless of their language proficiency levels. Critical thinking involves the use of information, experience, and world knowledge in ways which allow L2 learners to seek alternatives, make inferences, pose questions, and solve problems, thereby signaling understanding in a variety of complex ways (Liaw, 2007).
Among the four language skills, reading has been considered as one of the most important skills in EFL/ESL context (Farhadi & Mirhassani, 2001). Moreover, Richards and Renanadya (2002) and others (Carrell, Devine, and Eskey, 1988; Grabe & Stoller, 2001) consider reading comprehension as the most important language skill and state two important reasons for this importance. First, many foreign language students often have reading as one of their most important goals. Second, various pedagogical purposes help reading to be the most important language skill. Besides, Amoli and Karbalaei (2001) state that there is good evidence indicating that reading comprehension is a challenging concept for most students, especially at college levels. In addition, as students step into higher level in education, reading comprehension plays a more important role as a primary source of knowledge. Furthermore, reading is assumed as a passive skill and learners are mostly passive when they are reading. In other words, they just receive the information without being consciously involved in it. Therefore, it is important to train critical learners and foster critical thinking (Alizade & khatib, 2012).
Levine, Ferenz, and Reves (2000, p. 1) hold that ‘‘the ability to read academic texts is considered one of the most essential skills that university students of English as a Second Language (ESL) and English as a Foreign Language (EFL) need to acquire’’. Dreyer and Nel (2003) beieve that the essence of reading is reading comprehension, which not only refers to academic learning in all subject areas but also to professional success and, indeed to lifelong learning. The written words surrounding us are not only as a source of information, but also as a means of improving and consolidating our knowledge of the language. Neilsen (1989) defines comprehension for readers as finding “parallels between what they know and what the author knows” (p. 8). Accordingly, the process of reading contains building connections between what is read and life experience, and creating new connections that go beyond and extend what was comprehended. Given Neilsen’s definition, basic process of reading comprehension indicates that readers understand author’s content, generate the concept and use it to gain a new perspective on their own life experiences. In a sense, to foster higher-level reading skills is not to place an emphasis on the reading instruction that is isolated from student’s daily life; instead, they must learn to value their own ideas that are drawn from the materials they already read in a thoughtful, critical way (Applebee, Langer & Mullis, 1985). As a result, students learn to “develop their own interpretations of what they read, to question, rethink, and elaborate upon the ideas and information drawn from their reading experiences” (Applebee, Langer & Mullis, 1985, p. 8).
Reading is not just obtaining information or knowledge from the text and accepting the ideas or viewpoints presented in the textbook (Wen & Lui, 2006) but reading is an active process and a dynamic, meaning-making interaction between the page and the reader’s brain (Barnet & Bedau, 2007). Barnet and Bedau, (2007) believe that reading process involves thinking on three levels: reading for literal meaning, reading to draw inferences, and reading to evaluate. The first level means read “on the lines” to see what is stated, the second level means read “between the lines” to see what is not stated but implied, and the third level means read “beyond the lines” to form your own opinion about the material. In other words, the main meaning of a text is not mentioned by the author. Therefore, the reader should think to understand the underlying meaning.
The relationship between critical thinking and reading is well established in the literature. Norris and Phillips (1987) as cited in Aloqaili (2011) point out that reading is more than just saying what is on the page; it is thinking. Moreover, Beck (1989) asserts, “there is no reading without reasoning” (p. 677). Also, among those researchers who recognize that reading involves thinking is Ruggiero (1984). He indicates that reading is reasoning. Yu-hui, Lirong, and Yue (2010) states clearly that reading is thinking process to construct meaning. Furthermore, Paul and Elder (2004) state that critical thinking is essential in the reading. They believe that understanding the elements of critical thinking and practice thinking skills regularly is important until they become ‘second nature’.
Comprehension itself has been seen as the critical thinking process. For instance, from a schema theory description of reading, comprehension can be conceptualized as a critical thinking act (Anderson & Pearson, 1984; Collins et al., 1980; Noriss & Phillips, 1987; Rumelhart, 1980; and Aloqail, 2005 d as cited in Aloqaili, 2011). Lewis (1991) argues that viewing reading as a critical thinking act becomes more tenable when some of the components of the reading process are accepted as automatic and necessary (automatic process like word identification derivation of meaning for most words, and assignment of importance), but not sufficient for constructing text understanding.
Norris and Philips (1987) explain that critical thinking provides a means of explaining the ability to work out ambiguous text by generating alternative interpretations, considering them in light of experience and world knowledge, suspending decision until further information is available, and accepting alternative explanations. They conclude that critical thinking is the process, which the reader uses to comprehend (Norris & Phillips, 1987). Critical thinking is not simply a set of tools that should displace other aspects of the curriculum; rather, it should be used to complement with basic textbook grammar and vocabulary. Students should equip the ability to question themselves about what they have read, to draw inferences, to analyze lines of reasoning, to apply logic, to weigh evidence, to evaluate authors’ ideas and perspectives, and relate different information to each other in order to read critically (Moore, 2003).
In general, it can be said that critical thinking plays a central role in instructional domain because it is what learners need to succeed both in an instructional environment and in real-life situations. Hence, it seems necessary to provide explicit training in the specific critical thinking skills which learners are expected to demonstrate proficiency in (Barjesteh, Gholami, &Vaseghi, 2012). According to various English language arts programs in U.S., many aspects of reading are pertinent important critical skills (Liaw, 2007). Hence, the integration of critical thinking and reading could be most effective to learners. To develop students’ critical reading ability is a major goal in reading instruction and teachers need to “present students with opportunities to analyze, synthesize and evaluate ideas through cooperative problem solving”(Flynn 1989, p. 664 as cited in Barjasteh et al., 2012).
A study of over 1100 college students shows the significant correlation between critical thinking and reading comprehension. Improvements in the one are paralleled by improvements in the other (Facione, 2011). Moreover, Kamali’s (2011) study revealed that learners’ critical thinking levels have significant effects on their reading comprehension ability when faced with unknown vocabulary items. The presence of such a strong effect may be due to the fact that critical thinking and reading are both cognitive abilities which have some identifiable cognitive skills in common (Kamali, 2011). According to Ryder and Graves (1994), these cognitive abilities involve “1. the ability of the learner to draw on background knowledge, 2. the ability of the learner to obtain or derive meaning from diverse sources of information, and 3. the ability of the learner to recognize or generate objectives that direct attention and regulate thinking” ( p. 211).
The experts consider some cognitive skills as core critical thinking skills. The more one achieves proficiency in these skills, the more worthy one is of being regarded as adept at critical thinking (Facione, 1990). The experts are not, however, saying that a person must be proficient at every skill to be perceived as having critical thinking ability. They include analysis, evaluation, self-regulation, explanation, interpretation, and inference. She noted that analysis overlaps with reading and listening (Facione, 1990).
By analysis someone can break up a whole into its parts, can examine in details so as to determine the nature of it, can look more deeply in to an issue of situation. All learning presupposes some analysis of what we are learning, if only by categorizing or labeling things in one way rather than another. Students should continually be asked to analyze their ideas, claims, experiences, interpretations, judgments, and theories and those they hear and read (Paul & Elder, 2001).
According to Hammadou (1991) as cited in Chou (2011), inference refers to a cognitive process used to construct meaning through a thinking process that involves reasoning beyond the text through generalization and explanation. Poor inference skill causes poor comprehension and not vice versa. Inference is at the centre of the reading curriculum. Inference skill is needed not just to be able to ‘read between the lines,’ to detect the unspoken hidden meanings that enrich overall understanding of a text or to draw one’s own personal conclusions about a text. It is needed for all the other tasks that teachers want their students to do in handling texts: to understand the effects achieved through choices in vocabulary, to recognize what the writer is trying to accomplish through the whole text and to appreciate what the impact on the reader may be (Kispal, 2008).
Ricketts and Rudd (2004) point out that a competent critical thinker using analysis would be good at identifying the relationship between statements, questions, concepts or description to express beliefs, judgments or reasons. They add that proficient students in the inference skill have the ability to draw reasonable conclusions and/ or hypotheses based on the facts and judgments.
1-2 Statement of the Problem
The main purpose of education is producing thoughtful people and the result of education must be the contemplative mind. Critical thinking is a controllable and purposeful judgment, which pays logical attention to proofs, fields, concepts, methods and criteria (Harkreder, 2000). The final product of the educational systems which do not pay attention to critical thinking is a noncreative person, and it is considered to be a serious problem in the material and spiritual development of the country (Hashemi et al., 2010).
According to Alizadeh and Khatib (2012) there are different models and methods for teaching critical thinking. They believe that one of the avenues through which learners’ critical thinking can be tapped is reading comprehension section in English classes (Alizadeh & Khatib, 2012). According to Kurland (2000) to non-critical readers, texts provide facts and readers gain knowledge by memorizing the statements within a text. Critical readers infer what the text, as a whole, means based on the earlier analysis. They look beyond the language to see if the reasons are clear. Critical readers thus recognize not only what a text says, but also how the text portrays the subject matter. Critical readers recognize the various ways in which each and every text is the unique creation of a unique author (Kurland, 2000 as cited in Alizadeh & Khatib, 2012).
Traditionally, reading classes have been an opportunity for learners to enlarge their vocabulary repertoire. Learners in these classes mainly focus on the load of the information presented in the texts and accept the ideas prescribed there. The materials employed in the classes are mainly life stories, scientific articles and passages that lack the potency to encourage learners to think critically. The reading exercises are often multiple-choice questions to test students’ comprehension (Alizadeh & Khatib, 2012). In these classes, teachers and learners’ attention is not paid to one of the most essential potentials of reading comprehension classroom that is working on the meaning implicit in the text and moving beyond the text. In traditional reading comprehension classes, the focus mainly is on the facts raised in the texts and learners rarely go beyond the text. In addition, in these classes learners are hardly encouraged to question the idea presented in the text. The traditional teaching method of reading comprehension hardly ever hints to the learners that there can be different interpretations of a text.
Consequently, most of the students cannot understand and appreciate the writers’ thoughts and expand their knowledge with the traditional teaching methods. Thus, while looking at the problems of contemporary EFL classrooms, schools and educators should take into consideration that the purpose of English language education should not be simply aiming at development of basic skills, but also promoting independent and extensive reading, and emerging critical thinking skills from gaining a deeper understanding of the concept (Lee, 2007).
For some reasons, the learning of higher-level thinking skills appears to be more challenging for Asian learners of English than for EFL learners of other ethnicities. Some researchers characterize Asian learners of English as lacking an individual voice and critical thinking skills (Stapleton, 2002). For example, Atkinson (1997) and Fox (1994) depict Japanese learners as group-oriented, harmony-seeking, hierarchical, and non-critical thinkers. Harklau (1994) points out that the Taiwanese students in U.S. high school classrooms bring with them the belief that “being quiet is good” because the schools in Taiwan expect students to be quiet in the classroom. In particular, Southeast Asian students are commonly stereotyped as passive, non-critical rote-learning students who do not engage in deep learning (Ballard, 1995; Mills, 1997 as cited in Egege, and Kutieleh, 2004). Southeast Asian students are generally perceived to be non-critical in their approach to academic texts and are considered to lack an understanding of the requirements of analysis and critique (Egege, and Kutieleh, 2004). Moreover Hashemi et al. (2010) indicate that Iranian education system’s emphasis on knowledge transmission and learning is limited to memorizing materials, because of the formulation of plans subject maters, methods of formulation and educational assessment and etc (Hashemi et al., 2010).
Reading is a process that needs thinking and making necessary inferences because writers cannot make all information explicit in the text (Snow, 2002). Every word has logic and implication, but Elder (2005) believes that unfortunately students do not recognize that any word has logic. Furthermore, she argues that students do not recognize that words generate implications, whether the writer recognizes them or not. Walmsley (2006) points out students fail to understand the big ideas while reading. They can understand the main ideas of a paragraph or can easily work on a specific skill, but when they want to recognize the main idea or underlying theme, it is a struggle. Students should be able to connect themselves to text and see the whole picture (Walmsley, 2006). Therefore, students should be trained and encouraged to go beyond the surface meaning of the words, which are engineered masterfully into texts; that is; they should read between the lines. They should be instructed that meaning is not just the facts directly stated in the passage (Alizadeh & Khatib, 2012). In order to read between the lines, the old tools and techniques are not beneficial anymore and much more advanced equipment is required. In addition, the ability to express the idea fluently and accurately is not the peak for language learners, learners should learn how to produce and receive information through language critically. Therefore, apparently the task at this juncture is to integrate critical thinking skills to the whole teaching recipe.
However, a common complaint among educators, and the people involved in the educational field is that students show a lack of critical thinking skills despite of its instruction. Avendaño and Fonseca (2009) believe that students perform tasks involving critical thinking skills, but they are not really equipped with strategies that would enable them to become more critical thinkers (Avendaño & Fonseca, 2009). It seems that teaching all critical thinking skills to intermediate learners of English as a foreign language is a demanding job, and the learners may not be able to gain the mastery to make use of all of them. Therefore, the issue which is of concern to this study is to find out whether analysis and inference as two critical thinking skills have any significantly different impact on intermediate EFL learners’ reading comprehension.
1-3 Statement of the Research Question
Based on the problem mentioned above, the following research question was raised:
Q: Is there any significant difference between the effects of analysis and inference as the two critical thinking skills on intermediate EFL learners’ reading comprehension?
1-4 Statement of the Research Hypothesis
According to above-mentioned question, the following null hypothesis was stated:
H0: There is no significant difference between the effects of inference and analysis as the two critical thinking skills on intermediate EFL learners’ reading comprehension.
1-5 Definition of Key Terms
1-5-1 Reading Comprehension
“Reading comprehension is a process of simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning through interaction and involvement with the written language” (Snow, 2002, p. 11).
In this study reading comprehension is operationally defined as the scores the intermediate EFL learners obtained on a PET reading comprehension post-test.
1-5-2 Critical Thinking
“It is the deliberate determination of whether we should accept, reject, or suspend judgment about a claim and of a degree of confidence with which we accept or reject it” (More & Parker, 2000, p. 4).
Facione (2011) states that critical thinking includes cognitive skills which build up the very core of critical thinking. These cognitive skills are interpretation, self-regulation, explanation, evaluation, analysis, and inference.
“It is to identify the intended and actual inferential relationships among statements, questions, concepts, descriptions, or other form of representation intended to express belief, judgment, experiences, reasons, information, or opinions” (Facione, 2011, p. 5).
Moreover, Rubenfeld and Scheffer (2001) define analysis as searching or breaking a whole into parts to discover their nature, functional and relationships.
It means, “to identify and secure elements needed to draw reasonable conclusions; to form conjectures and hypothesis; to consider relevant information and to educe the consequences flowing from data, statements, principles, evidence, judgments, beliefs, opinions, concepts, descriptions, questions, or other form of representation” (Facione, 2011, p. 6).
Furthermore, Rubenfeld and Scheffer (2001) define inference as drawing conclusions that are supported in or justified by evidence.
1-6 Significance of the study
Critical thinking presents a new pattern on thought in education and contains importance, wisdom or rationality, and democracy. In those educational systems that do not pay attention to critical thinking, the students will be noncreative and narrow-minded so that learners think for routine, for habit, and for fixed procedure. These students may cause many obstacles on the way of spiritual and material progress. They have learned how to do their job once and then repeat it over and over. However, the present world requires relearning continually and rethinking decisions (Elder & Paul, 2007).
Hashemi et al. (2010) believe that Iranian educational system always tries to accumulate the learner’s mind with data and information instead of creating thoughtful individuals. This process is very similar to a computer with the task of storing information. Critical thinking is of the most effective methods in transferring thought. The cultural advancement is the result of critical thinking. It is only education that causes human beings leave narrow-mindedness behind and invariably accept deep understanding and free choices. The education, itself, enhances the ability of human being for a higher understanding of the cases around. Those countries that understood the importance of critical thinking with a complex planning have provided the basement for its expansion and paying attention to the education of critical thinking will guaranty the progress of their countries from the economic, political, and social and … matters (Hashemi et al., 2010). So overloading students’ minds with materials and handwritten texts is not so important today, but rather the learning process and the learners’ activities during the training period are fundamental in educational system.
In the same line, Paul (1995) stated that critical thinking mastery would help students take command of their lives by continually improving the quality of their life experiences. Barjesteh et al. (2012) argue that in the absence of critical thinking skills, people can vulnerable or simply less than their best. They believe that improving students’ critical thinking skills can be considered a universal goal of all educational endeavors. Furthermore, Facione (2011) states that critical thinking is “pervasive”. There is hardly a time or a place where it would not seem to be of potential value. As long as people have purposes in mind and wish to judge how to accomplish them, as long as people wonder what is true and what is not, what to believe and what to reject, strong critical thinking is going to be necessary (Facione, 2011). In addition, she believes that teaching students critical thinking and making good decisions cause to equip them to improve their own futures and become contributing members of society, rather than burdens on society. Besides, Ghanizadeh and Mirzaee (2012) state that in today’s age of information, mastery of thinking skills is considered a basic requirement for coping with this rapidly changing world. Learning to think critically and creatively is a lifelong skill with broad applications both inside and outside the classroom (Ghanizadeh, and Mirzaee, 2012). In addition, according to Halpern (1999) changes in technology and workplace have made the ability to think more important than ever.
Despite the multitude of definitions for critical thinking, there is a consensus among educationalists that learning to think critically is one of the key objectives of formal schooling (Keeley, Holland, & Watson, 2005). Similarly, critical thinking is known as one of the important competences for students to attain in academic language situation (Connolly, 2000; Davidson, 1998; Davidson & Dunham, 1997). Egege and Kutieleh (2004) argue that critical thinking is considered such a crucial skill that it has become a marketable asset. Each university advertises a list of generic graduate attributes that they claim their students acquire as part of their degree. They continue that it is clear that critical thinking needs to be incorporated into any transition program. Furthermore, Kress (1985) believes that critical thinking is a social phenomenon and is in fact language itself. Therefore, even more than L1 teachers, L2 teachers have reasons to introduce the aspects of critical thinking to their students because if they do not, their students may have difficulty when they are encountered with the essential of thinking critically, especially in an academic situation. Hence, the researcher believes that teaching critical thinking is necessary from the first stages of learning English as a second/foreign language.
The need for critical thinking in an L2 classroom does not mean that EFL learners lack the ability to engage in critical thinking. In fact, EFL students usually come to L2 classrooms with a variety of critical thinking skills developed in their L1. Many students are ready for and need to do critical thinking in L2. Since higher-order thinking skills are increasingly required for success in a knowledge-based society, it is the responsibility of EFL teachers to assist their students to acquire critical thinking skills while learning English (Liaw, 2007).
Although critical thinking is vital for developing all language skills, the researcher has chosen reading comprehension because reading receives a special focus in many second or foreign language situations. According to Richards and Renandya (2002), there are some reasons for this fact. First, many foreign language students often have reading as one of their most important goals. They want to be able to read for information and pleasure, for their career, and for their study purposes. In fact, in most EFL/ESL situations, the ability to read in a foreign language is the most important goal of language learners. Second,