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Exploring the use of MALL with a scaffolded multi-sensory, structured language approach to support development of literacy skills among second-chance EFL learners at a technological-vocational secondary school in Israel

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posted on 2023-06-09, 09:30 authored by Fern Levitt
This thesis describes a qualitative mixed-methods study carried out in a vocational-technical secondary school with second-chance adolescent learners of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in a peripheral area of Israel. The learner population was characterized by complex, socio-economically disadvantaged family backgrounds and a high rate of learning disabilities. The study investigated the effects of a Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL) intervention to support the development of basic EFL literacy skills by students who lacked solid foundational English skills. The intervention provided an interactive educational software application, The English Club™, on iPod Touch devices to scaffold learning and review of letter sounds and rules of English, integrate them into words and texts, and practice reading, writing and comprehension. Learners developed literacy skills depending on the level they reached in the application. The English Club follows a scaffolded Multi-Sensory Structured Language (MSL) approach, adapting for struggling EFL learners the Hickey Multi-Sensory Method (Combley, 2001), developed by Kathleen Hickey of the British Dyslexia Institute. Printed books containing the material complemented the use of the MALL. The English teachers at the school chose the learners who participated and determined how to integrate the intervention into their English classrooms. An investigation of the teachers’ roles was included in the study. The methodology was primarily action research with case studies of individual learners and teachers. Pre-intervention and post-intervention data on learners’ English knowledge, skills, attitudes and opinions and on teachers’ attitudes and opinions about use of this MALL intervention was generated via skills assessments and semi-structured interviews. As a participant-teacher-observer, I observed the intervention’s use in classes and in sessions with individual students. Changes in skills, attitudes and opinions were analyzed in the framework of Vygotsky’s theories of language acquisition and the Zone of Proximal Development as elaborated in Scaffolding Theory. Theories of motivation, literacy and second language acquisition, and how struggling learners experience these, have provided additional lenses for analysis. My goals in performing this study were to understand in depth the whole picture of the intervention, both its effects on students’ English skills and attitudes, and the factors that shaped these outcomes. The study’s findings contribute to an understanding of the ways in which delivering a scaffolded MSL approach to literacy education via MALL can contribute to addressing the world crisis in literacy acquisition, and issues that must be addressed for this type of intervention to be effective. Findings showed that learners who actively engaged in the intervention made significant progress in their English literacy skills, increased their confidence in their ability to learn English and thus their willingness to engage in learning, and demonstrated increased awareness of the connection between their own investment of effort and learning. This success was shaped by many factors, including variation among individual learner profiles, the degree of teachers’ support for the intervention, increasing students’ motivation to invest effort, minimizing disruptions to the students’ learning routine, and maximizing access to charged, working devices and to books. The individual MALL delivery platform enabled an untrained, inexperienced but committed teacher to provide the benefits of this scaffolded method, appropriate to her learners’ needs, in multi-level English classrooms and to provide a solution for students returning from extended absences to catch up with missed classwork. Recommendations for policy and practice include use of such scaffolded MSL MALL applications with struggling language learners in conjunction with printed materials and closely accompanied by committed teachers, who do not have to be highly trained in specialized methods to support learning by struggling students. Schools engaging in such interventions need to ensure that the devices will be fully available for use during learning hours, minimize disruptions to the class schedule, and maximize students’ use of the MALL app and books in class, during free time at school, and at home. If necessary, extrinsic rewards should be offered to overcome students’ learned helplessness.


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