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October 2019 - Year 21 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

Understanding Reading Challenges Faced by Arab ELLs in U.S Schools: A Miscue Analysis Study

Ahmed Fahad is Assistant Professor in the English department at University of Thi-Qar, where he has taught courses in Linguistics, teacher education, TESOL, Teaching Grammar, discourse analysis, and Intercultural Communication. Ahmed received a B.A. in EFL from University of Thi-Qar, Iraq, a M.A. in linguistics from Baghdad University, Iraq and a doctorate in Literacy and second language studies from The University of Cincinnati, USA. Email: ahmedkadhum@gmail.com.

 

Abstract

This study explored how socio-cultural factors including differing L1 literacies may affect ELLs’ reading achievement levels. The two participants selected for this study were two immigrant children, grades 4 and 6, who arrived in the U.S with different levels of their L1 literacy, Arabic, and immediately enrolled in school in the U.S were English is the target language. The study helped provide an explanation on the connection possible between ELLs’ early L1 learning and their L2 reading outcomes. A miscue analysis, RMI, was conducted and revealed that there is significant effect of the Arabic L1 literacy on the reading achievements regarding syntactic and semantic awareness. Many studies were conducted on the effect of L1 on L2 literacy. However, few studies attempted to explain the unique socio-cultural factors of the Arabic L1 learning. These results provided additional information regarding the effect of advanced L1 on Arabic ELLs and how they can help in identifying the risk that Arab ELLs might face in their L2 literacy.

 

Introduction

The acquisition of the reading skills is a major contributor to success in school. For L2 learners who arrive in the U.S with no L2 literacy, reading is often one of the main indicators that teachers often use to predicate students’ future success. Many studies were conducted to show the effectiveness of the use of L1 on L2 proficiency in general. However, those studies seemed to be comprehensive and there was a lack of studies that looked at the effect on the skill of reading and on the strategies that learner, not teachers, use to facilitate comprehension and enhance their meaning making.

Identifying students with reading challenges at an early stage is of an utmost importance. Providing remedial action in the early stage of the L2 development is crucial in this respect (Clay, 1991; Fountas & Pinnell, 2001; National Reading Panel, 2000). The present study was designed to identify the factors including the of the level of L1 early literacy affecting L2 reading achievement.

The present study took place in a setting where the researcher is very close to the two readers, a 4th and 6th graders, who started school in the U.S at the kindergarten and second grade respectively. The study first examined whether readers L2 literacy could account for the variation noticed in the reading comprehension and meaning making between the two readers. Considering the context and the remedial nature of this study, a miscue analysis approach was used to determine the effect of L1 varied literacy on the reading comprehension and meaning making skills of the two readers

 

Methods

Retrospective and Miscue Analysis (RMA) was followed in this study. RMA) is supported by a wealth of research. Some scholars relate it to Vygotsky and his scaffolding theory (Wilde, 2000). To those scholars, miscue analysis is helpful for aiding struggling readers. Readers can benefit from knowledgeable people. For English language learners (ELLS) is not of a lesser important. Here it needs special consideration since there is an unclear connection between fluency and comprehension.

 

Participants

I choose to work with readers that I am quite close to as a relative. This is in line with the premise that recommends starting with relative or close friend since miscue analysis is used to help struggling readers and to come up with a remedial procedure to help that reader (Moore, & Gilles, 2005). This is not only helpful to make the process easy but it can definitely help create an atmosphere where the readers can feel more comfortable and eventually lead to more authentic findings. This facilitates the process of finding a text that needed not be too difficult or too easy for the readers to achieve the goal from the analysis. There were three variables that characterizes participants’ selection in this study. First, both readers Fay and Sami (Pseudonym names) arrived to the U.S with no English literacy and different levels of first language literacy. I considered them struggling readers in English because they are still considered ESL learners in their school.

Fay. She is a fourth grader that lover to read fiction books. I often work with her as tutor for her language art homework. Fay is very friendly and easy going. She enjoys gymnastics and is very social in class. Her friends often invite her for birthday parties and other out of school events. When she first arrived in the U.S, Fay was placed in the kindergarten and has no literacy skills of her first language. Fay has been known to develop her English faster than her brother, Sami, and she had been offered to exit her ESL pull out program when she passed third grade.

Sami: He is a sixth grader and loves computers and technology. Sami is very social, friendly and curious boy. He likes to play baseball and basketball. Unlike Fay, Sami arrived in the U.S with near full first language literacy and was placed in the second grade when he first arrived in the U.S. Sami still attends ESL classes based on recommendations from his teachers. He is perfect in math.

Table 1:

Participants Details

Name Age School Grade Gender
Fay 9 4 F
Sami 12 6 M

 

Data collection and analysis

RMI procedures were used since the objective is to provide remedial action for Arab ELLs reading challenges based on real reading text, retelling info and interviews with readers. This ensured that the results are representative of the challenges faced by Arab ELLs. Generally, the data collection and analysis involved the following steps:

Text selection: The two texts were selected based on the known reading capability of the readers as well as the school grades they are currently in. The text “Watching a Beekeeper” was assigned to Fay and the text “Hearts And Hands” Was assigned to Sami. Texts were selected as per Goodman’s (1987) recommendation to select a complete text that the student has not previously read and that it should contain at least 500 words.

Burke Readers Interview: I followed the Burke reading interview (BRI) procedures prior to conducting the miscue analysis since it is a very good tool that assisted in addressing the reader’s existing skills, and understanding their perspectives on the reading process (Moore & Gilles, 2005; Wilde, 2000). BRI also helped to triangulate the data from the actual miscue analysis. The Interviews were conducted at a time and place that were convenient to the participants. Both were interviewed at their home. BRI was a very efficient miscue analysis tool since it helped understand not only the weaknesses but also some of the very interesting strengths that the readers had. The questions were so well accurately prepared that they efficiently helped understand the strategies readers follow to construct meaning, control their knowledge of Interviews were recorded and transcribed by the author.

Table 2: Comparison of participants’ BRI responses

Questions

Fay

Sami

When you are reading and come to something you don’t know, what do you do? Do you ever do anything else?

I would skip it and come back to it uh uh or read the words around it to try to understand it. Sometimes I might look it up. 

So first I skip the uh Word then later I uh Later I go Back and uh ask like if it is my book I can underline the word.

 

Who is a good reader you know?

My teacher!

My teacher.

What makes him/her a good reader?

Uh, whenever she reads she puts enthusiasm and acts like she is the character. 

 

She has studied in Miami university and uh UC and uh Also in university of Los Angeles.

 

Do you think she/he ever comes to something she/he doesn’t know? What do you think he/she does (or would do) about it?

Uh…sometimes when she reads a Harry Potter book, there are big words in them so when she doesn't know a word she would ask us if we know them and if we don't she tells on of us to look it up.  She looks it up. 

Uh My ESL teacher uh She does sometimes like in a book aloud she uh let's us read like uh when her voice is like bad she lets us read.

 

Oh, she sometimes uh Goes to the computer and looks it up or uh she would use like with the class she uh usually do context clues and then we'll find the answer together. 

 

If up knew someone was having trouble reading, how would you help that person? What would your teacher do to help that person (What do you think is the best way to help someone?)

I would tell them to read the word then a sentence then a paragraph then a page and then a whole book. I think every day uh she will tell us to read a page of that book and whenever we get something wrong she would teach us that till we get it. To tell them what they having difficulties with and teach them those things so they don't have to learn what they already know they will learn new things. 

Uh when I was in uh second grade my teacher told me to bring an iPad and uh look like look up a story and like uh look up the story about the rabbit uh the three pigs and and uh wolf and tell him to uh go look up a website and he'll go and check it out.

 

She would uh like uh when uh like our school has every beginning middle and end of the year she gives us a packet and then we uh get timed for one minute and then uh we have questions to answer and um based on what we read in that one minute.

 

How did you learn to read?

A teacher came to my house and she gave me words to read then she told me to read sentences to her then read paragraphs to her then read a whole book to her.

 

No response

What would you like to do better as a reader?

What would you like to do better as a reader?

Fay: I would like to read books a little harder than my level and my level is almost beyond Harry Potter.

 

Because well like because I can read pretty fluently and like something that I don't know I can like uh ask my ESL teacher.

 

Do you think you are a good reader? Why?

Yes, Because I like to get into story's and act like I'm the character an do what they do.

 

Like uh I guess…

Note: Interview questions varied slightly

Texts reading and miscues coding: The two readers were asked to read the texts selected for each without guiding from the author’s part.  I tried to reduce the anxiety of the readers by stressing the idea that it was not a test. Besides the copy given to the readers, I also kept a typescript that I used to record the miscues to be a supplemental copy to the recorded miscues.

The coding of the miscues was based on the audiotaped transcripts as well as the notes taken during the reading session. Below are samples from both readers’ miscues with the coding next to each one. The focus was on whether the miscue causes meaning change or not and the degree of graphonemic similarity as well as efforts given by the readers to self-correct:

Figure 1. Fay’s Miscues Coding

 

Figure 2. Sami’s Miscues Coding

The coding helped analyze the miscues and connect and triangulate it with information elicited from the BRI interviews that I conducted prior to the typescript coding. The coding was then recorded on a summary sheet as suggested by Gordon.  It should be noted that considering that the two readers in this study were ELLs, miscues that were related to their dialect, not the comprehension, were not recorded as dialect is not considered miscues according to the MRI procedures.  For example, if a student pronounces the word “breakfast” as “breaksfist,” that would not be recorded as a miscue. The miscue analysis sheets below clearly show that Fay recorded higher comprehension percentage than Sami. She also experienced fewer miscues.   

Figure 3. Fay’s Miscues Analysis

 

Figure 4. Sami’s Miscues Analysis

Comprehension Check:  Aided and unaided retelling guide was designed after the students completed the reading. While the miscue analysis formed a tool to check students control of the reading process, the retelling phase is actually a window to check the meaning making and comprehension level that students made out of the text. Both students were given the opportunity to answer questions on the story they were given. They were then asked the same questions with some aid to help them recall and build on the events from the unaided retelling. The retelling followed Gordon guides which includes number of questions on aided and unaided retelling as well as questions on the reading process to check readers’ perception on the miscues they made while they were reading the text.  number of questions. For example, during the unaided retelling, Sami mentioned.

Sami read Hearts and Hands to me unaided. The following is a portion of transcript from Sami’s unaided retelling and then aided retelling. The aim was to check the comprehension level Sami had on the story:

Table 3: Sami’s Retelling

Unaided Retelling

Author: Great reading, Sami Please tell me what the story was about

Sami: Well, it was about uh a man who uh happens uh to talk to a lady and then the conversation tuned kinda to be about prison and jail because uh the man was handcuffed uh for a crime that was not clear, but uh the whole thing took place in the train. Then many people were there uh and were hearing the conversation and some of them disagree about uh how they treated the man

Aided Retelling

Author: You remembered some thing from your reading. You mentioned that the man was handcuffed. Why is he in train then?

Sami: Well, the man was uh either sent to jail because of a crime uh counter… I don’t k ow what is it but he is going to prison by another man.

Teacher: You told me the lady wanted to talk to the handcuffed man, can you tell me why?

Sami: I think the other man, you know, uh was very close to him and his hand tied to his hand and uh may be the lady prejudged the man and wanted to uh spend time but the man was tired, may be…?

Author: Anything else?

Sami: Uh…well…no!

Author: You said that the lady sitting next to the handcuffed man prejudged him, how?

Sami: Well, not only the woman but also the people sitting close to them, they were talking too much and uh… describe things about uh… the man but uh they just saw him.

Author: Do you remember what the people sitting next to them talked about?

Sami: Well, not really!

Author: So what do you think those people were doing, right or wrong?

Sami: Well, uh of course wrong, why should they overhear other people and talk about them without uh more… more information about the man.

Author: And what do we call this…?

Sami: Uh…something, like…like not your business…uh to judge others!

Author: Have you ever done anything like that?

Sami: No, Ha ha!

Author: So what the author wanted to tell us from this story?

Sami: How you need not to judge others by how they look.

Author: And how we could follow this lesson:

Sami: You need to be good and uh have uh good intention of others.

Author: What’s more…?

Sami: Well, uh people not how they look but much more…

Author: Do you think the story was easy?

Sami: Kind of tough.

Author: Why?

Sami: Some words are difficult and…yes difficult!

Question about the reading process:

Author: What does this mean? (point to “clasped” line 013)

Sami: I don’t know.

Author: Did you try to predicate the meaning from the other words?

Sami: Uh…well, I did not have time to look up the words…well no.

Author: How about this word? (point to “accounted” line 23)

Sami: Does it mean to count, may be.

Author: Anything else you want to add?

Sami: No.

Author: Thank you, Sami.

 

I specifically wanted to build on information supplied by Sami to see how far he understood the story especially for that part that left untold of his unaided retelling. Also, I wanted to know how was Sami trying to cope with the difficulty he encountered in some parts of the story and to seek the explanation he could provide on these as a sign for comprehension. As seen in the miscue coding, Sami struggled with several words such as “claps” and “accounted” but no effort was seen from him to overcome such challenges such as predicating the meaning from the context. Sami said that he “did not have time to look up the words” which indicate that Sami was only interested in maintaining the fluency of the reading on the expense of the comprehension. However, Sami appeared to have some good inferencing on some parts of the story but there was not good connection made among different events from the story. Sami also appeared to forgot the details and was hardly able to recall some of the major events but only after being triggering questions during the aided retelling.

Table 3: Fay’s Retelling

Unaided Retelling

Author: I liked your reading, Fai. Tell me what the story was about?

Fay: Well, the story was about someone who was watching her friend is making honey through uh honey hives and uh how careful one uh needs to be when working with bees uh such as caring for the queen and uh wearing helmet and spraying sugar and uh other stuff to avoid sting… uh, but it was uh very interesting and uh bees are so much interesting and they…uh also makes honey which is uh very sweet and uh tasty… and Frank gave her a big jar of sweet honey.

Aided Retelling

Author: You remembered a lot from your reading. You mentioned that Frank was spraying sugar on the bees, why do you think he did that?

Fay: Oh yah… to keep them from flying so that they can produce more uh, well, honey in the frame.

Teacher: You said that one had to be careful when working with bees, why?

Fay: Well, bees are uh nice, but when you treat them bad…they will sting you. Frank and his friend uh wore helmet because there were a lot of uh bees and they uh also like their queen so they uh should handle it uh carefully.

Author: So what is the main idea of the story: to be careful when working with bees?

Fay: Uh…well…no!

Author: So what…?

Fay: Well, the author uh wanted to uh show us interesting facts and uh about bees and also to show that raising uh bees could uh also be fun.

Author: Do you remember what Frank did after spraying the sugar on the honey wings?

Fay: Uh, um …yes. He actually did this on the queen uh so that he uh could get her out of the box…and put her in another place and but something to cover the hive but then he uh opened it.

Author: So why do you think he opened it?

Fay: Well, uh because honey needs food or other stuff to make honey. The bees uh fly from the opening to uh get that food and stuff uh and come back.

Author: And what was next…?

Fay: Uh…then the queen uh can lay eggs and makes the uh hive bigger…!

Author: Did you know how honey was produced before?

Fay: No, well, I uh knew it was from bees, but uh I did not know that it is uh …produced in uh such interesting way.

Author: So what the author wanted to tell us from this story?

Sami: Well, uh the author wanted to say uh that bees are uh are more important than uh… you think.

Author: What else:

Fay: Um also bees are not scary and they can make yummy honey.

Author: Do you think the story was easy?

Sami: Um, yes, but it is um interesting…

Author: Why?

Sami: I enjoyed uh reading it

Question about the reading process:

Author: What does this mean? (point to “buzzed” line 01)

Fay: sound of honey…

Author: Did you know that in the reading you said “stopped”?

Fay: Uh…really, no way!

Author: How about this word? (point to “pulsating” line 08)

Fay: Um I don’t know, but it may mean uh wide…

Author: why “wide”

Fay: Well, uh because of “box” … may be.

Author: Anything else you want to add?

Fay: No.

Author: Thank you, Fay.

 

Unlike Sami, Fay, seemed to have good control over her reading and her comprehension was apparently higher. Fay could remember more details from the story and she was also appreciating the fact she has learnt from the story. When asked about whether she knew how honey was produced before, Fay said “… I uh knew it was from bees, but uh I did not know that it is uh …produced in uh such interesting way”.

Miscues that changed meaning are fewer than Sami and Fay was showing her skills of predicating from the text. When asked about when she thinks the word “pulsating” could mean “wide”, Fay said because it is the adjective of box and boxes may be wide. Similarly, when asked on what the word “nectar” means, Fay said she did not know but she thought it is something like food that help the bee produce honey. Fay did not only predicate the meaning from the context, but she also used her metacognitive thinking tor predicate the meaning by logically connecting the meaning to the idea of the story. During the aided retelling, she referred to “nectar” as “food or stuff”

 

Discussion and conclusions

This study was designed to investigate the effect early L2 literacy may have on Arab ELL learners in the U.S. Arab ELL are considered unique when it comes to studying the use of L1 literacy compared other languages due to the fact that the formal Arabic literacy that Arab kids learn at school is very different from their native first language in everyday spoken language. This makes learning English more of a third language than a second language since formal Arabic literacy kids learn at school is considered a second language in this respect.  

Both readers shows confidence with their reading skills during the BRI interview which was meant to elicit information on the participants’ perception of their struggle with reading. However, there appeared to be more control from Fay on the reading process than the case with Sami especially concerning the use of metacognitive strategies to predicate and self-correct while interacting with texts. These include their focus on constructing meaning, their knowledge of grammar and phonics, their prediction and self-correction strategies. The lack of L1 literacy in Fay, unlike Sami who already had some literacy of Arabic, could explain this higher level of proficiency and control on the L2.

Another aspect to be noted here was the gap between the reading a s a process and the reading as a meaning-making process. Sami’s fluency was not much different from Fay’s one. However, Sami was some time trying to maintain his reading fluency by avoiding pauses and repetition through making up his own pronunciation on the words that ae challenging and also by not trying to predicate the meaning of the words he did not know. First, that seemed just a dialect variation, but the retelling questions revealed that Sami hardly knew the meaning or attempted to predicate it from the context.

On the other hand, when asked on the meaning of some of the challenging vocabulary where she was pausing and repeating, Fay showed accurate explanation of the meaning. She was also predicating the meaning of some of those words that she did not know from the text. Her metacognitive thinking was not separated from the reading process as graphonemic connection.

Hence, first language literacy might have disrupted Sami’ reading skill of the English language. During the retelling interview, Sami expressed that he would have done better if he was to read independently and given time to look up words. When asked on how would he look up words, he said he often rely on technology and on what the word could mean in his L1 language. Predicating from the text was the last thing that Sami mentioned as a strategy form the meaning making process. Wilde (2000) gave the example of the Spanish reader who has the ability to read but cannot make meaning due to her lack of understanding the meaning. This is a clear evidence for the difference between the mechanical reading and even fluency and the whole reading process which include the interaction between the text and the readers. “Meaning is inscribed on the structure of the language --- the syntax...innate grammatical knowledge” (Wilde, 2000:3) 

Both interviews revealed that there were other factors that can be brought up to explain on the reading behaviors of the two participants. These have to do with social connection versus word focused, significant other, future expectation and the purpose behind reading. Generally, BRI and retelling interviews triangulated by the miscues coding sheets helped have a sense on where students needed support and where to build on their strengths so they become more efficient and effective readers.

Readers interests plays a role in determining their reading behaviors and their ability to read and get over their difficulty. Fay is known for her love to literature and she believes that she can read texts harder than Harry Potter. When asked on what she often does to understand meaning, she said she usually predicates from text adding that she gained thins skill from reading lots of fiction books. Sami, who is nicked as computer nerd for his love to computers and technology highlighted the importance of technology to make meaning by looking words up in the internet.

Social connection and personal interests seem to be important factors in determining the types of strategies the participants used. Both Sami and Fay referred to their teachers as examples of a good reader. Fay thought that her teacher’s reading skill is perfect and she liked when her teachers act out and play the role of the characters. This is related to Fay’s love to literature and stories. Sami believe that the quality of education in good universities such as Miami university and Los Angeles as something he admires about his tear as a reader.

 

References

Clay, M. M. (1991). Becoming literate: The construction of inner control. Heinemann Educational Books.

Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (2001). Guided Readers and Writers Grades 3–6. Portsmouth, NH: Heinermann.

Goodman, Y. M. (1987). Reading miscue inventory: Alternative procedures. Richard C. Owen Publishers, Inc., Rockefeller Center, Box 819, New York, NY 10185.

Goodman, Y., Watson, D., & Burke, C. (2005).  Reading miscue inventory: From evaluation to instruction.  Katonah, NY: Richard C. Owen Publishing.

Heinemann.

Moore, R., & Gilles, C. (2005). Reading conversations: Retrospective miscue analysis with struggling readers, grades 4-12.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

National Reading Panel (US), National Institute of Child Health, & Human Development (US). (2000). Report of the national reading panel: Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

Wilde, S. (2000). Miscue analysis made easy: Building on student strengths. Portsmouth, NH:

 

Appendix A, Sami’s Burke Interview

Author: When you are reading and come to something you don’t know, what do you do? Do you ever do anything else?

Sami: So first I skip the uh Word then later I uh later I go Back and uh Ask like if it is my book I can underline the word.

Author: Who is a good reader you know?

Sami: My teacher.

Author: What makes your teacher a good reader?

Sami: She has studied in Miami university and uh UC and uh Also in university of Los Angeles.

Author: Do you think she ever comes to something she doesn’t know?

Sami: Uh My ESL teacher uh She does sometimes like in a book aloud she uh let's us read like uh when her voice is like bad she lets us read.

Author: What do you think she does about it?

Sami: Oh, she sometimes uh Goes to the computer and looks it up or uh she would use like with the class she uh usually do context clues and then we'll find the answer together. 

Author: If you knew someone was having trouble reading, how would you help that person? What would your teacher do to help that person?

Sami: Uh when I was in uh second grade my teacher told me to bring an iPad and uh look like look up a story and like uh look up the story about the rabbit uh the three pigs and and uh wolf and tell him to uh go look up a website and he'll go and check it out.

Author: What would your teacher do to help that person?

Sami: She would uh like uh when uh like our school has every beginning middle and end of the year she gives us a packet and then we uh get timed for one minute and then uh we have questions to answer and um based on what we read in that one minute.

When second grade when uh I uh so when the teacher is teaching the class something hard like uh I can't like understand uh it's just uh when the assistant teacher uh takes me out of class to read some flash cards and tells me to bring my iPad and we'll just uh search like uh she tells me to uh read this and then like the stories that they have.

Author: How did you learn to read?

Sami: …

Author: What would you like to do better as a reader?

Because well like because I can read pretty fluently and like something that I don't know I can like uh ask my ESL teacher.

 

Appendix B, Fay Burke Interview

Author: Hello….so I will ask you some questions uh about your reading experience….

Fay: OK…

Author: When you are reading and come to something you don’t know, what do you do? Do you ever do anything else?

Fay: I would skip it and come back to it uh uh or read the words around it to try to understand it. Sometimes I might look it up. 

Author: Who is a good reader you know?

Fay: My teacher.

Author: What makes your teacher a good reader?

Fay: Uh, whenever she reads she puts enthusiasm and acts like she is the character. 

Author: Do you think she ever comes to something she doesn’t know?

Fay: Uh…sometimes when she reads a Harry Potter book, there are big words in them so when she doesn't know a word she would ask us if we know them and if we don't she tells on of us to look it up.  She looks it up. 

Author: If you knew someone was having trouble reading, how would you help that person? What would your teacher do to help that person?

Fay: I would tell them to read the word then a sentence then a paragraph then a page and then a whole book. I think every day uh she will tell us to read a page of that book and whenever we get something wrong she would teach us that till we get it. To tell them what they having difficulties with and teach them those things so they don't have to learn what they already know they will learn new things. 

Author: How did you learn to read?

Fay: A teacher came to my house and she gave me words to read then she told me to read sentences to her then read paragraphs to her then read a whole book to her.

Author: What would you like to do better as a reader?

Fay: I would like to read books a little harder than my level and my level is almost beyond Harry Potter.

Author: Are you a good reader?

Fay: Yes, Because I like to get into story's and act like I'm the character an do what they do.

 

Please check the Methodology and Language for Primary course at Pilgrims website.

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    Ahmed Fahad, Iraq

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