Mediated Functioning and Processing Time as a Measure of L2 Learners’ ZPD performance
Karim Shabani and Iman Bakhoda, Iran
Karim Shabani is a PhD graduate of TEFL from the University of Tehran and academic member of Allameh Mohaddes Nouri University. He has presented a number of papers in international conferences like ICELT2009 (UPM), TELLSI6, TELLSI7, TELLSI9, TELLSI10, TELLSI11, ILI conference, ICELET2012 (University of Tehran), etc. His areas of interest are Vygotsky’s Socio-cultural Theory, (dynamic) testing/assessment and simultaneous interpreting.
Iman Bakhoda is an MA student of TEFL at Allameh Mohaddes Nouri University. He is interested in doing research on dynamic assessment and discourse analysis.
Data analysis and result
Discussion and conclusion
The aim of this study was to take the learners' processing time and mediated functioning as a measure of their zone of proximal development (ZPD) performance in L2 reading comprehension task during computerized dynamic assessment (C-DA). Computer was employed to present a reading comprehension text along with textual and visual prompts, offered based on students’ unsuccessful attempts to reach the correct answer, and then to simultaneously record the students’ processing time during the reading comprehension task. The results revealed that students with larger ZPD needed not only fewer mediations but also less processing time to perform the reading comprehension tasks.
Keywords: zone of proximal development (ZPD), Computerized dynamic assessment (C-DA), assessment process.
In second/foreign language teaching and testing, there exist lots of investigations with different methods and techniques to assess learners’ proficiency levels. For this reason standardized testing perpetuated the field of teaching and testing for several decades. The main feature that brought popularity to standardized test was its psychometric promises of validity, reliability and generalizability (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2002). Standardized tests were faced with heavy criticism on contradiction between its goal and its means (Lauchlan & Elliott, 2001). The goal was to evaluate learners’ cognitive performance and learning ability for more effective instruction but the means was to predict the future achievements of the learners in accordance with their current performance level. Dynamic assessment (DA) was proposed by Feuerstein and his colleagues (Feuerstein et al., 1979; Feuerstein et al., 1980; Feuerstein et al., 1988; Feuerstein et al., 2003; Karpov and Gindis, 2000; Lidz, 1991; Peña and Gillam, 2000) as a robust method to assess the students’ learning ability directly.
After the introduction of zone of proximal development (ZPD) by Lev Vygotsky in 1933, this notion has been developing rapidly under the term of DA. Vygotsky presented the concept of ZPD, which he defined as the “distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86). Vygotsky believed that interpersonal interaction in socially meaningful cooperative activity internalized new information and learning abilities originated in this interpersonal interaction. DA is proposed to assess a child’s ZPD in interpersonal interactions.
In accordance with Vygotsky’s (1978) ZPD, various approaches of DA have been developed to teach and assess the students’ progress in their ZPDs. The common characteristics among these approaches have been reviewed and highlighted in several studies (e.g., Grigorenko, 2009; Grigorenko & Sternberg, 1998; Swanson & Lussier, 2001; Tzuriel, 2001). The new approach known as Computerized Dynamic Assessment (C-DA) is developed to replace the labor-intensive human mediation during dynamic assessment with a more user-friendly electronically delivered mediation (Poehner, 2008). By employing C-DA it is possible to investigate new aspects of language learners’ ZPDs more deeply.
Here, in this article we aim to investigate the time students spend on the reading comprehension task and their ZPD enlargement through the use of C-DA. In another word, we believe that learners with larger ZPDs need less processing time to perform language tasks.
Following the growth of technology, computer-based tests have become widespread even on mobile phone these days. DA is not an exception and its researchers have investigated the feasibility of C-DA with predetermined electronic mediation in several studies. As a recent development, a few studies have been done with the use of C-DA.
Tzuriel and Shamir (2002) investigated the modifiability of kindergarten children’s seriational thinking abilities with the use of computer-assisted dynamic assessment (DA). Their study was based on Feuerstein’s (1988) mediated learning experience theory and Tzuriel's (2001) DA approach with young children. Different series of shapes in color, size, and brightness are presented to the children. They are asked to differentiate the shapes with the consideration of new figures presented to them; in each task the criterion for sorting them is changed. Mediations are presented to one group in interventionist format and to the other group in interactionist format. Interventionist mediations are presented to children via computer while interactionist mediations are presented through interaction with children to provide help that is attuned to their needs. The findings revealed that significant cognitive changes occurred with the group that received computerized dynamic assessment.
Jacobs (1998) introduces program known as KIDTALK which is based on interactive dynamic aptitude test for language knowledge. A series of computer-based invented language based on Swahili was designed to assess pre-school and school-age children’s language aptitude. Vocabulary and morphological rules were presented through puppets in videos. Children were asked to answer a series of questions based on what they had learnt from invented language in the initial training phase. But the program was not dynamic enough to reach students’ developing abilities. Jacobs (2001) reports a new version of KIDTALK program with improvement in dynamism of assessment based on DA principles. In this version, when children miss a question, they are automatically given an opportunity to attempt the question again by computer. This procedure is repeated three times, if the child is still unable to reach the correct answer, the computer skips to the next item on the test. By the completion of assessment, computer provides a profile for each student which contains two points: first, one score for each correct answer regardless of how many tries the child made; second, detailed information in accordance with the number of attempts the child took for each item. Findings demonstrated a further enhancement in performance of preschool children, a finding which is associated with incorporating dynamic assessment components throughout the test.
More specifically, in L2 reading comprehension domain, Shabani (2012) investigated the feasibility of computerized dynamic assessment (C-DA) with electronic textual and pictorial mediations in the context of L2 reading comprehension. Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s (1994) and Campione and Brown’s (1985, 1987) Graduated Prompt Approach were employed to provide prompts and an adapted version of Guthke and Beckmann's (2000) computerized model of dynamic assessment in interventionist format was used to measure the students' reading comprehension ability. The researcher used a software which was programmed to present a reading text and pre-fabricated implicit (textual) to explicit (pictorial) mediatory prompts to measure the students’ reading comprehension ability. Students were asked to read the text and answer a question. If the students failed respond correctly, the predetermined mediations were offered to them on the screen from implicit (textual) to explicit (pictorial). The findings indicated that both independent performance (ZAD) and assisted cognitive functioning (ZPD) with reference to students’ responsiveness to electronic mediation could be attained through C-DA to discriminate students’ reading comprehension abilities from each other.
Time is a significant factor in testing which could be applied to all sorts of test to differentiate students based on that. Powers and Fowles (1997) investigated the effect of incorporating different time limits to GRE writing test. 304 participants were asked to write two full-length essays according to four given topic. Different periods of times were allocated to each essay. A time limitation of 40 minutes and 60 minutes was considered for the first and second essay, respectively. Students’ essays were scored based on 1-6 scale by a group of university faculty members. Effective writing with the appropriate use of elements of writing determined the students’ score. Adapted inventory of Ward and Carlson (1984) was employed to investigate students’ writing self-assessment. Results indicated that students’ performance was much higher in the writing task with a 60 minutes time limitation. Students who described themselves as quick writer without pressure of time performed better than others. From dynamic assessment point of view, this study measured students’ developed abilities of writing by the use of time limitation. Students could be differentiated based on the development of their writing abilities with time consideration.
The present study included the time factor to C-DA to investigate the relation between learners’ ZPD and the time spent by them to reach the correct response in accordance with the mediation they received on L2 learners’ reading comprehension processes. The time of cognitive involvement of students with the reading comprehension task counted as processing time. Students’ processing time began with the immediate presentation of the text on the screen, and it ended with students’ last choice of the answers. Researchers believe that learners with larger ZPD not only require fewer mediations and prompts toward their independency but they spend less processing time to reach the correct response.
Among the various models and approaches introduced in DA (Brown & Ferrara, 1985; Carlson & Wiedle, 1992; Guthke, 1993; Poehner, 2005; Feuerstein, 1979), this study employed Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994), Campione and Brown’s (1985, 1987) Graduated Prompt Approach and an adapted version of Guthke and Beckmann's (2000) with an interventionist cake format to assess the processing time for learners with different ZPDs in accordance with the mediation they received on L2ers’ reading comprehension processes.
This study involved 43 English learners recruited from Ponaki English Language institute in Gorgan, Golestan and Puyesh Language institute in Babol, Mazandaran province. The learners were at intermediate level who had studied English at the above-mentioned institutes for three years. Both 20 male and 23 female learners participated in this study.
Materials and instrument
A reading comprehension text was employed from Philips (2001) along with its manipulated version transformed by highlighting and visuals to assess the learners’ ZPDs through prefabricated mediation prompts presented by the computer. The software was programmed to present the text and the mediation prompts arranged from the most implicit (texts) towards the most explicit (visuals) and simultaneously record the learners’ processing time on answering the question.
At the level of practice, learners were asked one by one to read a comprehension text and then respond to a multiple choice question on the screen. When a learner failed to response correctly, pre-fabricated mediatory prompts were automatically offered by the software. The mediatory prompts offered from implicit (textual) towards explicit (pictorial). The software was programmed to record the processing time each learner spent to answer the question. After the immediate appearance of the text on the screen, the timer began to record the time. Whenever the learners selected the correct answer the timer stopped regardless of the first attempt or the last. That time indicated the processing time of a particular learner in accordance with mediations he/she received. When five mediation prompts were offered and learners were still not able to reach the correct answer, the timer stopped at the last wrong choice. The different steps of mediatory prompts provision and time recording are displayed in figure 1 below:
Figure 1. C-DA Procedure
Figure 1 shows graphically how C-DA works during the assessment. The mediation prompts, their implicitness and explicitness, whether they are textual or visual and the work of timer are shown in figure 1. The assumption was that if the learners arrive at the answer with fewer prompts, they have larger ZPDs; therefore, they are closer to independency. In other words, the more prompts were offered to the students, the smaller their ZPDs score would be and also they would spend more processing time and vice versa.
Each learner’s profile were comprised of ZPD score depending upon to the mediations he/she received and the processing time spent on the reading comprehension task provided by computer. The amalgamation of time factor and C-DA is summed up in the following graph:
Evidently, various pieces of information from the learners’ profiles are included in Table 1. The prompts column presents the number of prompts offered to the learners. Feature of each prompts is clarified under the Task Feature’s column. Time based on seconds demonstrates dexterity of learners in accordance with the particular prompts. Level of ZPD classifies students based on their ZPD levels at 7 levels. The last column presents the number of students who did or did not reach the correct answer in the reading comprehension task. The significant finding from amalgamation of time factor with C-DA in our study was to ascertain linear relation between enlargement of ZPD and the processing time of each learner. Students who correctly answered the question without any prompts or fewer explicit prompts are believed to be more independent with larger ZPD than those who received more explicit prompts. With incorporating time to students with larger ZPD in our C-DA, it became apparent that these students not only require fewer mediations but also spend less processing time to reach the correct answer. The following figure crystallizes the findings:
Figure 2. Quality of mediation and students’’ processing time
The blue bars in Figure 2 indicate the students who arrived at the correct answer with/without particular prompt, but the green bar shows the students who could not reach the correct answer despite the presentation of the entire prompts to them. Level 1 demonstrates that students who reached the correct answer without mediation spend almost 200 seconds. In level 2 with assistance of the most implicit prompt, some of the students who failed to answer the question at first attempt came up with the answer less than 7 minutes. Unsuccessful attempts in level 2 are given more explicit prompts than in level 3. This procedure continuously offered more explicit prompts to failed attempts until the last prompts in level 6. Interestingly, with the gradual increase of prompts explicitness, the students’ processing time increases accordingly. Students who failed to answer the reading question even after the presentation of the last mediation in level 6 are demonstrated by the green bar. They spent the longest processing time, even though they could not arrive at the correct answer. It seems that the question is far above their ZPDs. The following figure indicates more information.
Figure 3. Distinct performance of students
Figure 3 graphically demonstrates students’ performance on the reading comprehension task through C-DA. Each black point represents a student correctness based on the mediation prompts he/she received and the processing time he/she spent. Level 1 shows students’ performance without any mediation. There is slight difference between them but it is distinctive and understandable. With the presentation of first mediation the differences between students in level 2 became more obvious but in comparison with level 1, their entire performance took more time. Students’ differences became more apparent and their processing time increased when more explicit prompts were offered to them in levels 3 to 6.
The C-DA applied in this study was structured based on Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994) and Campione and Brown’s (1985, 1987) Graduated Prompt Approach and adapted version of Guthke and Beckmann's (2000) with interventionist format to assess primary the students’ processing time spent on reading comprehension. Multiple pieces of information were collected from students’ profiles which were provided by computer, including: a) students’ zone of actual development (ZAD); b) students ZPD level; and c) the time each student spent on the reading comprehension task.
Students’ zone of actual development (ZAD)
One of the conspicuous features of each test based on static point of view could be the question of whether the participants answered the question(s) correctly or not. Based on this point of view, 6 students from 43 successfully answered the reading comprehension question without any assistance or mediation. In other words, the potentiality of 6 students was fully developed in reading comprehension task. More specifically, even these students could be differentiated from each other based on their ZAD and the time each of them spent to reach the answer. Although all of the 6 students answered the question correctly without the assistance of any prompts, which clearly indicate their independency in reading comprehension, the time spent by each of them significantly differed from one another. Students who spent less processing time to arrive at the correct answer without any prompts had larger ZAD than those who spent much more processing time. Therefore, students’ processing time in their ZAD reveals more precisely their developed abilities and their independency which could differentiate them from each other.
Students’ ZPD level
To sketch the data analysis of students’ ZPD level during C-DA, it should be mentioned that learner’s ZPD is a dynamic process of development before full maturation of their potentiality (Vygotsky, 1956, pp. 447–448). To externalize the process of students’ development in reading comprehension, five mediation prompts from implicit (textual) to explicit (visual) were employed. Enlargement of students’ ZPDs was estimated based on the mediation prompts they used to arrive at the correct answer. Students with larger ZPD required less explicit prompts while students with lower ZPD require more explicit prompts. Generally, 37 students from 43 with or without the mediation(s) assistance successfully answered the question while 6 students despite the reception of prompts failed to give the correct answer. Students were differentiated in table 1 based on their ZPD enlargement. After the amalgamation of time with students’ ZPD enlargement, new aspects of measurement came up: First, students with larger ZPDs could be differentiated based on processing time on reading comprehension task from students with smaller ZPDs. Students who arrived at the correct answer with the first textual implicit prompts spent less processing time than students who answered the question with more explicit prompts such as manipulated text 2. Second, even students who correctly answered the question with the same prompts and with the same ZPD level could be differentiated from each other based on their processing time. For instance, in this study 5 students made use of third prompts, text manipulated through highlighting and visual 1, to reach the correct answer. Although they apparently benefited from the same prompts, each of them spent distinctly different processing time to successfully answer the question. According to the same mediation offered to them, they all had the same ZPD level and enlargement but based on the processing time each of them spent, they had different ZPD level. Student who immediately chose the correct answer after the presentation of prompt with less processing time are assumed to have larger ZPD than the students who spent more processing time to reach the answer with the same mediation prompt. In other words, students with the same ZPD level could be discriminated based on the processing time they spent.
In this study time was a significant factor to investigate the students’ true potentiality in reading comprehension. The timer started along with the immediate appearance of the text on the screen. Students got involved to read and answer the question and the timer continued to record their time. Computer gave us a profile of each student’s processing time (in seconds), which was open-ended after they had completed the test. This time score is not a simple score. This score could be affected and fluctuated significantly based on the students’ ZAD and ZPD. If students do not have a large enough ZPD to answer the question like 6 students in our study, even presentation of prompts could not assist them with the correct answer and length of their processing time added up continually. As it is clear in figure 3 students who failed to answer the question, spent the longest processing time, an observation which indicated that the reading question were out of their ZPDs.
This study was designed to investigate primarily the students’ ZPDs enlargement and their processing time in reading comprehension tasks through C-DA. In contrast to product-oriented feature of static testing, hallmark of process-oriented DA seems to be an appropriate procedure to assess students’ ZPDs and processing time in reading comprehension task with the use of computer. Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s (1994) regulatory scale was employed to present the mediation prompts to students. The overall findings of this study could be summarized as follows:
- The feasibility of computerized dynamic assessment (C-DA) in the context of L2 reading comprehension is in line with the results of the previous study in computerized DA by Shabani (2012). As it was crystallized in the results, students’ reading comprehension improved significantly through electronic mediatory scaffolding. Computer could practically provide prompts that raised readers’ consciousness, therefore humans could be replaced by computer in this regard.
- Implicit and explicit mediation based on students’ ZPDs could assist students to move forward in their ZPDs and reach the correct answer. Student with different ZPD required mediation which was appropriate to his/her ZPD. The results of our study substantiate Antón (2003) and Aljaafreh and Lantolf‘s (1994) claim about effects of implicitness and explicitness of mediations based on students’ ZPD.
- Non-dynamic and dynamic procedures were applied in our C-DA to identify both the students’ current level of abilities and their developing level with the processing time they spent on the reading comprehension task. As Sternberg (2000) explained information of students ZAD and ZPD could be useful for teachers to assess their students.
- The specific findings of this study revealed that processing time could be introduced as a new measurement and criterion to differentiate students more meticulously in their ZAD and ZPD level. Students in their current developed abilities could not be precisely at the same exact level. Their ZAD differed based on the time they spent to arrive at the answer. Students with more consummate developed skills spent less processing time to successfully answer the question. Processing time as a criterion also differentiated students based on their developing abilities; students with larger ZPD not only required few mediation prompts but also spent less processing time to reach the independency. This measurement can be applied to placement tests to investigate students’ developed abilities more deeply. It also could have significant effect on estimation of students ZPD level and the mediations offered to them in DA approaches. Processing time should be investigated experimentally for other language skills to get more feedback. An implementation of our C-DA procedure in an interactionist format in the classroom context would glitter new horizons in investigating the learners’ individuals ZPDs in association with the group ZPD.
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The rate at which the deforestation of the world is proceeding is alarming. In 1950 approximately 25 percent of the earth’s land surface had been covered with forests, and less than twenty-five years later the amount of forest land was reduced to 20 percent. This decrease from 25 percent to 20 percent from 1950 to 1973 represents an astounding 20 million square kilometers of forests. Predictions are that an additional 20 million square kilometers of forest land will be lost by 2020.
The majority of deforestation is occurring in tropical forests in developing countries, fueled by the developing countries’ need for increased agricultural land and the desire on the part of developed countries to import wood and wood products. More than 90 percent of the plywood used in the United States, for example, is imported from developing countries with tropical rain forests. By the mid-1980s, solutions to this expanding problem were being sought, in the form of attempts to establish an international regulatory organization to oversee the use of tropical forests.
The author’s main purpose in this passage is to….
- cite statistics about an improvement on the earth’s land surface
- explain where deforestation is occurring
- blame developing countries for deforestation
- how deforestation occurs in the world
- offer solutions for deforestation
- inform reader about history of deforestation
- predict what will happen in 2020
- report that deforestation began in United States
- find the main source of deforestation
- make the reader aware of a worsening world problem
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