An intensive look at intensity and language learning

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An Intensive Look at Intensity and Language Learning LAURA COLLINS Concordia University Montreal, Canada JOANNA WHITE Concordia University Montreal, Canada In this longitudinal study we investigated whether different distributions of instructional time would have differential effects on the acquisition of English by young (aged 11–12 years) French-speaking learners Eleven classes of Grade students (N 230) in two versions of a similar intensive English as a second language program were followed throughout their intensive experience In one program, the 400 hours of instruction were concentrated in a 5-month block; in the other, the 400 hours were experienced in a series of intensive exposures across the full 10-month academic year Language development was compared across the two contexts four times via a battery of comprehension and production measures Overall, the findings showed substantial progress over time for both groups, with no clear learning advantage for either concentrating or distributing the intensive experience These results are consistent with research comparing the effects of massed and distributed conditions on the learning of complex skills in other domains The practical implications of the findings for the organization of instructional time for second language learning, as well as directions for future research in which variables such as age, proficiency, and learning targets are manipulated, are discussed doi: 10.5054/tq.2011.240858 his article reports findings from a longitudinal study of the effects of different distributions of instructional time on the learning of English as a second language (ESL) The research question that motivated the study was how varying the degree of intensity of instruction—concentrated in an uninterrupted learning experience versus distributed across a series of successive intensive experiences— would affect different aspects of language proficiency over time The findings have implications for theoretical accounts of the optimal T 106 TESOL QUARTERLY Vol 45, No 1, March 2011 distribution of time for language learning and for the learning of complex skills in general (the spaced–distributed practice phenomenon) In addition, an assessment of the relative effectiveness of the two types of intensive programs may inform decisions made by educators who weigh a range of practical issues when implementing intensive instruction in the various contexts in which such courses may be offered THE DISTRIBUTION OF TIME IN LANGUAGE LEARNING Within the language learning literature, it has long been recognized that a few hours a week of exposure to a new language, even if continued for several years, does not allow students to attain very high levels of proficiency This is especially true when additional access to the target language is not readily available outside the classroom Benseler and Schulz (1979), for example, noted that, in an early issue of the Modern Language Journal, Hills (1919) had lamented the level of oral proficiency in modern languages of young Americans at that time and included the intensifying of second language (L2) instruction at the postsecondary level among his proposed reforms Several decades later, Stern (1985) reported on similar concerns within the European context He described an initiative for improving secondary school students’ foreign language skills, which involved concentrating the time available for instruction into ‘‘compact’’ courses There is also empirical evidence demonstrating that the distribution of small amounts of instruction over successive school years leaves students with limited communicative abilities in the L2 (e.g., Donato, Tucker, Wudthayagorn, & Igarashi, 2000; Netten & Germain, 2004; Spada & Lightbown, 1989) Although many learners of all ages continue to receive their language instruction under limited exposure conditions, intensive courses are increasingly common across a range of contexts, institutions, and languages In general, a course or program is deemed intensive when the hours available for instruction are concentrated into blocks of time, giving students exposure to the L2 for several hours a day The length of the intensive experience varies widely, however When offered as professional development by an employer, which may require releasing employees from their regular responsibilities, the total amount of time may be quite short (e.g., 25 hours concentrated into a week-long course to enable receptionists in a French-speaking region of Quebec to take basic phone messages in English) At the other extreme, intensive programs may continue over several months as participants strive to achieve sufficient proficiency to pursue postsecondary education in their L2 (e.g., the multilevel intensive ESL programs offered at Englishmedium universities around the world), to meet the language INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 107 requirements of a particular job (e.g., the months of language training in French and English provided to Canadian federal civil servants) or to become citizens of an adopted country (e.g., the years of language training and civics programs provided to newcomers in countries such as Sweden) Among these prolonged programs are the well-documented Canadian English and French intensive courses for children at the end of elementary school, which typically last months (Collins, Halter, Lightbown, & Spada, 1999; Lightbown & Spada, 1994; Netten & Germain, 2004) There is evidence that an intensive language learning experience can lead to substantial progress in an L2 in a relatively short amount of time, for both children (Collins et al., 1999; Germain, Netten, & Movassat, 2004; Lightbown & Spada, 1994; White & Turner, 2005) and adults (Freed, Segalowitz, & Dewey, 2004; Serrano, 2007) There is also some evidence that the benefits of an intensive course may persist over time, although this aspect has received less research attention (Dussault, 1997; Lightbown & Spada, 1991) What is less clearly understood is whether one continues to extract maximum benefit from an intensive experience that persists over several months, or whether distributing the total time available for instruction across a series of intensive experiences may yield similar or possibly even superior results In other words, how extensive should an intensive language experience be? Are there advantages to spacing intensive exposure? The issue of distributing practice has received considerable attention in the cognitive and educational psychology literature, in which the effects of concentrating exposure in a single, or massed, learning experience is contrasted with two or more spaced exposures to the learning target, with total time on task held constant The evidence in support of the advantages to learning of spacing practice (summarized in Dempster, 1996) is so robust and well-established that a study investigating the effects of distributed practice in teaching physics began by justifying why there was even a need for such research: ‘‘with the overwhelming preponderance of evidence supporting distributed practice, it is natural to question the value of yet another study on this topic’’ (Grote, 1995 p 97) If these findings are relevant for language learning, they would suggest an advantage for spacing intensive practice However, there are two aspects of the research done in this paradigm that need to be considered when discussing the implications for language learning: time and learning targets In these studies, a practice session typically lasts a matter of minutes (even in the concentrated condition), and the total time devoted to learning may be spread over just a few hours or days (Willingham, 2002) This is far less exposure than even the shortest of intensive experiences, and in fact, even nonintensive language programs provide longer and more sustained 108 TESOL QUARTERLY exposure In addition, the convincing findings for the spacing effect have been observed for discrete learning targets, such as nonsense syllables, mathematical operations, lists of uncommon or specialized vocabulary, as well as for a range of motor skills, such as typing, ball toss, upside-down printing, and gymnastics moves (Donovan & Radosevich, 1999) It is not clear whether these findings would be relevant for the acquisition of a more complex skill like effective communication in an L2, especially in light of the findings from Donovan and Radosevich’s meta-analysis of the effect sizes of 63 studies of the spacing effect They found much less difference between the two types of practice when the task involved a number of distinct behaviours and choices, and a degree of uncertainty, such as air traffic controller simulations and music performance Furthermore, in the relatively few experiments in which the targets were a closer approximation to L2 learning conditions, such as the retention of ideas rendered in spoken or written form in first language (L1; sentences, paragraphs, or lectures), the spacing effect was reduced or eliminated when the exposure involved paraphrase (Dellarosa & Bourne, 1985; Glover & Corkill, 1987) or changes to the learning context (Verkoeijen, Rikers, & Schmidt, 2004), including the same ideas uttered by different speakers (Dellarosa & Bourne, 1985) The language program evaluation literature does not provide conclusive evidence in favour of a more spaced or distributed intensive experience, either In L2 classroom-based research investigating the effects of the distribution of time on language learning outcomes, when total time for instruction is held constant, the findings show more advantages for concentrating exposure (whether in the form of half days or full days of instruction), when comparisons are made with limited exposure of a few hours a week (Lapkin, Hart, & Harley, 1998; Serrano & Mun ˜ oz, 2007; Spada & Lightbown, 1989; White & Turner, 2005).1 In the current study, however, given the well-documented shortcomings of limited exposure, we were interested in examining a different distribution of more substantially concentrated amounts of instruction This issue has received less research attention Collins et al (1999) compared two versions of a communicatively oriented intensive ESL2 program for beginner-level3 11- to 12-year-old francophone students in Frenchspeaking regions of Quebec: one in which students’ ESL instruction was massed into full days over months; and a more distributed version in Serrano and Mun ˜ oz (2007) found no significant differences on the final outcomes among the adult English as a foreign language (EFL) learners in three distributions of 110 hours of instruction: intensive, semi-intensive, and extensive However, post-hoc comparisons of gains scores showed differences in favour of the two intensive groups We refer to these as ESL programs, although they resemble EFL contexts, in that learners typically have little or no exposure to English outside the classroom The students are not absolute beginners, but have very limited proficiency in English at the outset of their intensive experience INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 109 which students spent half days in ESL over the full 10 months of the school year Although both groups made substantial progress on the various measures of written production and aural comprehension used (oral production was not assessed), there were small but significant differences in favour of the massed condition However, there was a time confound in this study Because of the complexities of the cyclical timetable used in the 10-month model of intensive ESL, students ended up with fewer total hours of instruction than their counterparts in the 5month model, which may have influenced the direction of the findings In addition, this study, like the intensive or limited-exposure comparison studies cited earlier, looked at postprogram learning outcomes only, not development over time Thus we not know whether different distributions of intensity affect all aspects of proficiency (listening comprehension, vocabulary growth, grammatical accuracy, etc.) in similar ways and at similar rates Furthermore, Collins et al did not investigate the impact of variations in intensity on oral skills Given the high priority assigned to this aspect of language learning in many intensive language programs around the world (including intensive ESL in Quebec), it is important to understand how the distribution of instructional time may affect communicative competence In summary, although the cognitive and educational psychology literature points to advantages for spaced or distributed learning conditions, there are limitations (boundary conditions) on the effect when the to-be-learned targets are more closely related to the types of skills typically associated with L2 learning Furthermore, although the language program literature has shown some advantages for concentrating L2 exposure, the evidence is not conclusive, because of the role of intervening variables, the reliance on postprogram comparisons, and the paucity of data on oral production skills The current study was designed to investigate these issues in a naturally occurring context in Quebec, in which school boards have been experimenting with different distributions of intensive ESL for francophone children at the Grade level (11–12 year olds) In the two conditions chosen for this study, the children received the same total number of hours of instruction, but the time was distributed differently In the concentrated condition, the students were exposed to 4-5 hours of English every day in a single 5-month intensive experience In the distributed condition, students received a series of mini-intensives throughout the full 10 months of the school year; that is, 4-5 hours of English per day in blocks of 4-, 5-, and 9-day exposures We investigated how varying the degree of intensity (concentrated versus distributed) affected the development of different aspects of L2 proficiency over time in this learner population 110 TESOL QUARTERLY METHODOLOGY Context and Participants The 230 Grade (aged 11–12 years) francophone children who participated in the study began learning ESL in Grade (aged years) They had spent 90–100 hours, spread out over years, in a regular, limited-exposure ESL program During the period covered by this study, they were in one of two intensive ESL programs that afforded them substantially increased exposure to English, but which differed with respect to how the instructional time was distributed There were five intact classes of 5-month concentrated intensive ESL (n 137), all housed in the same school, and four intact classes of 10-month distributed intensive ESL (n 5107), located in two different schools in the same neighbourhood The schools were situated in two towns, each about hour outside of Montreal There were a number of similarities between the concentrated and distributed instructional contexts First, English could be considered a foreign, rather than a second, language because there were few opportunities for exposure to English outside of the classroom Second, the total number of hours of ESL instruction was the same, approximately 400 hours Third, teachers followed a themebased approach to lesson planning and focused on the development of speaking and listening skills and the expansion of the students’ vocabulary A fourth similarity is that the regular French academic curriculum was concentrated into half of the time normally allocated to it That is, French mother tongue, math, science, and social studies were also taught intensively, with additional hours of homework required to complete the grade-level objectives Finally, participation in intensive ESL in both intensive models was open to students from a range of academic abilities The main difference between the contexts was the distribution of instructional time In the concentrated model, students had full days of English every day for months, from late January through June They had already completed their French academic program during the first half of the year In the distributed model, students had blocks of full days of English alternating with blocks of full days of French for the entire 10 months of the academic year These distributed mini-intensives were in one of the following two cycles, such that, over a period of 18 days, students had full days of English: days of English, days of French; days of English, days of French; or days of English, days of French The classes were taught by seven trained, experienced ESL teachers who were all proficient speakers of English They all had their own classrooms, which they were free to decorate as they wished Although INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 111 each ESL teacher in the concentrated model taught one class over the 5month period from late January to June, each ESL teacher in the distributed model taught two groups over 10 months, alternating with the French teacher and following the pattern just described Thus there were five teachers for the five concentrated groups and two teachers for the four distributed groups Procedure All students were pretested at the beginning of their intensive ESL program to establish that they had similar knowledge of English They were tested four more times at 100-hour intervals during their respective programs: after 100, 200, 300, and 400 hours of instruction (henceforth Time 1, Time 2, Time 3, and Time 4) Language proficiency tests included measures of oral and written production and of aural and written comprehension In addition, although we had carefully selected the participating teachers and groups so that they were as similar as possible with respect to the points mentioned above (including students’ level of English, total instructional time, curriculum, and language teaching approach) and had included several groups from each condition to mitigate teacher effects, we know as experienced language teachers ourselves that teachers and classes can differ from each other in ways that cannot all be controlled for in classroom-based research To identify any instructional practices that might distinguish the groups or be important in interpreting the findings, four classes, two from the 5month program and two from the 10-month program, were observed four times, for the entire school day, during each of the four testing weeks In addition, teacher and student questionnaires were administered to all participants during the final testing session.4 The data collection schedule is presented in Table The paper and pencil measures were administered to whole classes and took 45–60 minutes to complete Times for oral measures are explained below Instruments All tasks used in the study were either original or adapted versions of tasks that had been used in previous studies with students of the same age and proficiency level 112 The teacher questionnaires also provided biographical data on the teachers’ experience and education (reported earlier), whereas the student questionnaires yielded information on language use and language attitudes, which will be relevant in follow up studies of individual performance TESOL QUARTERLY TABLE Data Collection Schedule Paper and pencil measures (N 244) Pretest Time Time Time Time AVR Dictation Cloze AVR Y/N Vocabulary Narrative Information gap ASC Y/N Vocabulary Narrative Role-play Dictation Y/N Vocabulary Narrative Information gap MEQ test Y/N Vocabulary Narrative Role-play Oral measures (N 108) Note AVR aural vocabulary recognition; ASC aural sentence comprehension; MEQ Ministry of Education of Quebec; Y/N yes or no Pretests The three pretests were an aural vocabulary recognition (AVR) test, a dictation test, and a cloze test The AVR required students to match 80 words spoken on a tape to pictures on a series of pages in a test booklet Scores were based on the total number of words correctly identified No data from students scoring above 75% on the AVR were retained for the study The cloze passage contained 10 blanks in a 54-word text about a school routine Students were given credit for any word that made sense in the context (for sample items, see Collins et al., 1999) The dictation was a 50-word text about a vacation, which had been used previously in the Barcelona Age Factor Project (Mun ˜ oz, 2006) Students were given one point for each correct word Longitudinal Tests Vocabulary knowledge A yes–no vocabulary recognition test, adapted from Meara (1992), evaluated familiarity with the 1,000 most frequent words of English It consisted of a checklist that contained 120 real words and 60 nonsense words A different version of the test was administered at each of the four testing times Narrative writing A picture-prompted written narrative task was used at each testing session (adapted from Collins et al, 1999; see also Lightbown, Halter, White, & Horst, 2002) Four different pictures were chosen to match learners’ developing vocabulary, based on our knowledge of the classroom themes typically used during the intensive programs The first two pictures involved animals, family members, body parts, and occupations, while the last two allowed students to imagine a range of activities, relationships, and outcomes The prompt in each case was Imagine what is happening now, what happened before, and what is going to happen next Learners were given 15–20 minutes to write and were encouraged to use their imagination and to provide as many details as they could No dictionaries were permitted, but to encourage students to write as much as possible, they were told that they could use a French INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 113 word if they got stuck There were two measures for this task: fluency (number of words in the text) and grammatical knowledge (use of verb inflections) Listening skills.The students’ listening skills improve dramatically in these intensive programs, creating the problem of potential ceiling effects on the readministration of tasks that had been appropriate in the initial testing times Consequently, we used a different measure at each testing time At Time 1, we readministered the AVR, which measured the ability to match individual words to pictures At Time 2, a 20-item aural sentence comprehension task required learners to match a sentence to one of three pictures (Mun ˜ oz, 2006) At Time 3, we readministered the dictation from the pretest At Time 4, a 32-item general listening comprehension test required the interpretation of short utterances This test was developed in the 1980s by the Quebec Ministry of Education for Grade ESL students and has been used frequently in Grade intensive ESL research in Quebec (see Collins et al., 1999 for a sample item) Oral interaction To measure communicative effectiveness, two timed, paired oral interaction measures were used with a stratified subset of 12 students from each class (n 108), selected on the basis of pretest performance and in consultation with the teachers Students were paired with a different partner from their class for each of the four testing times (information gap at Times and 3; role play at Times and 4), and each partner received the same score (see White & Turner, 2005, regarding co-constructed oral scores).5 The information gap task was presented as a game similar to those used in intensive classes Each student in the pair described five items that were missing in his or her partner’s picture (a school at Time 1, a house at Time 3), so that the student’s partner could draw the objects in the correct place A screen prevented students from seeing each other’s picture and forced them to rely on words, rather than gestures, to locate objects in the different rooms They had five minutes to complete the task The task was audio-recorded, and the drawings were collected Following the scoring procedure developed by White and Turner (2005), three points were allocated for each item: one point if the student drew the correct object, one point if it was in the correct room, and one point if the object was in the correct location The total possible score was 30 (10 items points) One point was subtracted if L1French was used to describe the object, room, or location The role-play task was administered at Times and It was modeled on one developed for the Barcelona Age Factor Project (Mun ˜ oz, 2006) There were two versions of the task, which was completed in pairs, 114 Because of time constraints, only one oral task was administered at each testing session The information gap task was more appropriate than the role play task at Time 1, because it did not require extensive discourse TESOL QUARTERLY recorded, and transcribed In each, one learner playing a child negotiated with another learner playing a parent over having a party (Time 2) or getting a pet (Time 4) Learners were required to assume their roles without the intervention of the task supervisor, and they were expected to stay on topic and respond to each other in English, to discuss different aspects of the situation, to elaborate and justify their points of view They were given minutes to negotiate a solution Because there were no established guidelines for scoring a role-play task carried out by two students, we developed a five-level global rating scheme for this task in collaboration with our Barcelona colleagues See Table A1 in Appendix A for a description of the rating scale The information gap and role-play tasks are typical of the ones used in intensive classes, where the primary focus is on the development of oral interaction skills Students often engage in pair or small group problemsolving activities and skits, working cooperatively with different classmates of varying linguistic abilities, and making the most of whatever language they have to accomplish the task The tasks thus have high ecological validity They also have construct validity, in that learners demonstrate the type of competence targeted by the intensive program, namely oral communicative effectiveness in terms of successful mutual comprehension rather than grammatical accuracy Classroom observations Members of the research team spent a full day observing and videotaping in the classrooms of two teachers in each program the same week that longitudinal data were collected, that is, Times 1, 2, 3, and The observations were later coded following an adapted version of the Communicative Orientation of Language Teaching (COLT) scheme (Spada & Froăhlich, 1995) Questionnaires At Time 4, questionnaires were administered to students and teachers The student questionnaire contained 12 items asking students their attitudes toward English and the intensive experience, what they could and could not in English, and their opportunities for exposure to English outside the classroom The 19 items of the teacher questionnaire asked teachers for information about the students in their class, the ESL materials and activities they used, their focus on skills and language features, their teaching experience and training, and their own language learning experiences INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 115 FIGURE Listening comprehension: aural sentence comprehension task 4, and both experienced a significant and comparable improvement on this task over time Narrative Skills (Writing) Each student produced four written narratives, one at each of the testing times Mixed between-within ANOVAs were performed on both the length of the narratives in words (a fluency measure) and the use of verbal morphology on a four-point scale (a grammatical knowledge measure) The findings are displayed in Figures and Length of narratives There was a main effect for time F(3, 630) 78.755, p , 0.005, and group F(1, 210) 10.716, p , 0.005 There was also an interaction between time and group, F(3, 630) 24.390, p , 0.005, with a moderate effect size for the time difference (gp2 0.467) and a small effect size for the interaction (gp2 0.187) The between-group pairwise FIGURE Listening comprehension: dictation task (*p , 0.005) INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 119 FIGURE Listening comprehension: Ministry of Education of Quebec test (*p , 0.005) comparisons revealed a significant difference at Time only (p , 0.05), in favour of the concentrated group The within-group pairwise comparisons (see Table B3 in Appendix B) for the concentrated group were all significant, indicating that the students’ narratives got progressively longer over the course of the intensive experience For the distributed group (Table B4 in Appendix B), overall there was also a significant improvement in length of narrative from the beginning to the end of the intensive program (Time and Time 4), but the profile between the four sampling times shows flat performance between Times and and a drop-off in performance between Times and (see Figure 8) FIGURE Oral interaction: information gap 120 TESOL QUARTERLY FIGURE Oral interaction: role-play Knowledge of verb inflections The scoring of the verb inflections was based on the four-point scale developed by Collins et al (1999) for the same task Level represented no use of inflections; Level 2, emergent use; Level 3, developing use; and Level 4, productive use Interrater reliability between two raters was 88%, reflecting the difficulty of determining productive use in some of the shorter texts produced at Times and There was a main effect for time [F(3, 630) 131.669, p , 0.005] and for the interaction between time and group [F(3, 630) 19.899, p , 0.001], with a moderate effect size for the time difference (gp2 0.385) and a small effect size for the interaction (gp2 0.087) The FIGURE Writing: narrative length (*p , 0.05) INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 121 FIGURE Writing: use of verb inflections in narratives (*p , 0.05) between-group pairwise comparisons revealed a significant difference at Time (p , 0.05), in favour of the distributed group, and at Times (p , 0.05) and (p , 0.05) in favour of the concentrated group The within-group pairwise comparisons (see Tables B5 and B6 in Appendix B) for both groups showed significant differences in use of inflections between Time and Times 2, 3, and 4, indicating that the students’ knowledge of verb inflections in both groups progressively improved over time However, as Figure shows, the concentrated group displayed steady improvement between times, whereas the distributed group’s progress appeared to level off between Times and To summarize the findings on the narrative task, although both groups demonstrated improvement in ability to write sustained narratives in English (as measured by length of compositions) and to use verbal morphology to situate the events in time (as measured by the use of verb inflections), the within-group analyses point to plateaus in improvement in the distributed group, particularly between Times and A synthesis of the findings across tasks for the two groups is displayed in Table The significant differences for the various measures at the four sampling times are highlighted Before turning to the interpretation of the student performance in the two models of intensity, we first report on the main findings from the classroom observations and teacher questionnaires Classroom Observations and Teacher Questionnaires The main purpose of the classroom observations and the teacher questionnaires was to confirm that the teaching approaches in the two 122 TESOL QUARTERLY TABLE Summary of Significant Differences Time Vocabulary recognition Listening comprehension Oral production Written production: Length Written production: Verb inflections Time Time Time *C *C *C *C *D *C *C Note *C significant difference in favour of concentrated intensity; *D significant difference in favour of distributed intensity models were similar Indeed, all teachers in both models followed the communicatively oriented approach mandated by the Quebec Ministry of Education, emphasizing speaking and listening skills and the development of students’ vocabulary through a series of common themes With rare exceptions, English was used at all times by the teacher and the students for teacher–student and student–student interactions There were, however, three differences in the pedagogical contexts of the two models that emerged from these qualitative measures that merit comment In the concentrated model, all five teachers had worked at the same school for many years and sometimes consulted with each other regarding day-to-day teaching matters Although the two teachers in the distributed model also had some contact with each other, the opportunities for collaboration were not as frequent The closer collaboration in the concentrated model yielded two pedagogical practices relevant to our study The first is that all five concentrated model teachers assigned half an hour of TV watching in English as a daily homework activity This amount was increased to an hour in the latter half of the program This TV-watching homework was the initiative of the teachers who participated in the study and not a ‘‘program’’ difference per se Students who were not able to complete the homework on a given day were required to make up the time on a subsequent day, and discussions of the content of programs watched were a regular feature of these classes In the distributed model, although some students did indeed watch TV in English outside of class time, this was not assigned as homework and was thus not a regular feature of the program for all students Consequently, students in the condensed model continually received additional daily exposure to aural English Another pedagogical difference surfaced at Time 3, when verb conjugation charts appeared on the walls of the concentrated students’ INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 123 classrooms Research assistants observed students consulting the charts during the writing of their narratives, and the teachers confirmed that they had begun encouraging students to make use of this reference material during both oral and written production These visual reminders of verb tenses were not displayed in any of the distributed model classrooms That is not to say that this aspect of language did not receive some pedagogical attention (i.e., it was present in some of the language materials common to both groups), but it appeared to receive greater sustained emphasis in the concentrated classes A third factor differentiating the two intensive contexts was the scheduling of the academic testing in L1 French mandated by the Ministry of Education for all Grade students in the province of Quebec The tests focus on all academic subjects and are spread out over several days In the concentrated version of intensity, the testing took place in January, at the end of the students’ intensive French L1 academic program, and prior to the intensive ESL experience In the distributed model of intensity, in which students were alternating L1 academic subjects with ESL across the 10 months of the school year, students took the Ministry tests in June, along with the rest of the Grade students in the province This was also the same period of time in which we were administering the Time tasks Not only did the provincial testing affect the scheduling of the ESL sessions (some regularly scheduled English periods were replaced by testing or review sessions in French), it also affected students’ concentration on ESL, including their normally enthusiastic participation in the language measures used in this study This was particularly noteworthy during the writing of the narrative It was always the final task in the battery, and because students took different amounts of time to complete it (within the overall time limit of 15 minutes), they were instructed to take out a pleasure book to read in English while waiting for their other classmates to finish the task At Time 4, many distributed model students raced through the task and then took out a French textbook or notebook to review for one of the tests Further evidence of the students’ shift in focus was observed in the narrative itself, which was written in response to a picture of a school-yard altercation among a group of students One participant who had written a well-structured 89-word narrative at Time cut her narrative short at Time to 67 words and added: ‘‘Today we will important exams and I hope I will have a good result, because it’s the Minister’s exams.’’ Other students incorporated the exam theme into their narrative, even though there was no obvious reason from the picture to so ‘‘Today Lana are not happy She have many exam.’’ ‘‘The boy’s said at the girl’s: ‘you are so stupid because you have 5% in your exam.’’8 124 The authors of these two extracts had both written longer and better structured narratives at Time (121 versus 108 and 158 versus 107 words, respectively) TESOL QUARTERLY In the discussion section we refer to these factors in interpreting the overall findings of student performance in the two models Summary of Findings Varying the degree of intensity appears to have influenced the language learning outcomes of these students in three main ways Table shows that, when there were significant differences between the two groups, in all but one case they were in favour of the more concentrated version of intensity The only exception to this trend was a small difference in the use of verb inflections in favour of the distributed model at Time 1; but neither group, in fact, used inflections productively at this time Of all observed differences, the most consistent across time was with listening skills and use of verb inflections in the latter half of the intensive programs: At Times and the concentrated group out-performed the distributed group on the final two listening comprehension measures and on the verb morphology scale for the final two picture-prompted narratives The greatest number of differences between the two groups was observed at Time 4, during the last few weeks of the learners’ intensive experience The concentrated group had superior performance on three of the five tests Only the oral production tasks (information gap at Times and 3; role-play at Times and 4) yielded similar results for the two groups In summary, there were significant differences between the two groups on of the 20 between-group comparisons displayed in Table Of the significant differences, six showed advantages for the concentrated group, compared to just one for the distributed group DISCUSSION The research question posed at the outset of the study asked whether varying the degree of intensity would affect the development of different aspects of L2 proficiency over time for these young francophone ESL learners The findings of significant differences on of the 20 measures in favour of the concentrated group would seem to suggest that the beginner level students in this study derived somewhat greater benefits from a language learning program in which the hours available for instruction were concentrated into a single, sustained intensive exposure to the L2, as opposed to a series of intensive experiences distributed across time However, there are a number of reasons to consider a much more nuanced interpretation of the results The first is the size of the observed between-group differences: Not only did the gap between actual scores tend to be quite small, but the INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 125 magnitude of the effect sizes for group differences was also small Score differences and effect sizes for differences across time, however, were more substantial, underlining the finding that students in both versions of intensity made considerable progress In addition, although many key aspects of the contexts and participants in the two intensive models were similar, information obtained through classroom observations and teacher questionnaires pointed to a few differences in the pedagogical contexts, unrelated to the distribution of instructional time These may explain some of the between-group differences, notably those related to listening, use of verb inflections, and performance overall at the end of the intensive experience (Time 4) The TV homework feature of the concentrated students’ intensive experience resulted in extra practice with listening comprehension (3.5 hours a week in the first half of the program; hours a week in the latter half), which may have contributed to the superior performance of these students on the listening tasks at Times and The significant difference in the use of verb inflections in the written narratives by concentrated model students at Times and coincided with the increased attention given to this aspect of language at this point in their intensive experience, as evidenced by the verb chart reminders on the classroom walls Finally, the distributed model students’ preoccupation with the end-of-year exams in L1 French may help explain the superior performance of the concentrated group on three of the five measures in English at Time 4, as well as the decline in length of narrative from Time to Time in the distributed group The concentrated group had completed the provincial exams in French before beginning their intensive ESL experience Given these observations about instructional practices, it is not possible to argue with confidence that students in the concentrated model were superior in listening, use of verb inflections, or overall performance as a direct result of the distribution of instructional time Indeed, the more nuanced interpretation of the findings is that both models of intensive instruction resulted in substantial ESL learning over the course of the 400 hours by all students Students in both programs who had started off with very limited knowledge of English emerged at the end of their intensive experience as confident, intermediate-level users of the L2 Overall, both groups made considerable progress in listening and oral skills and in recognizing common English words They also improved in their fluency at recounting a narrative (as measured by length of the texts) and in their ability to use grammatical markers to situate events in time in a narrative (as measured by use of verb inflections in the narratives) Unlike differences between groups, which tended to be small with small effect sizes, observed differences over time for both groups were substantial and yielded moderate-to-large effect 126 TESOL QUARTERLY sizes Moreover, factors other than the distribution of intensity may have played a role in the small number of significant between-group differences that were found The finding of little practical difference between the two models of intensive learning is consistent with research comparing the effects of massed and distributed conditions on the learning of complex skills Donovan and Radosevich’s (1999) review of studies on the two conditions concluded that the strong spacing effect observed in previous task performance studies may be limited to relatively simple tasks None of the tests used to assess learning in this study measured a discrete set of learning targets, and all required control over a range of types of knowledge (lexical, grammatical, phonological) in contexts with varying degrees of unpredictability Although the yes/no vocabulary test sampled individual words from among the 1,000 most frequent words of English, none of the words had been the target of the type of deliberate practice that is associated with the studies in which the strong advantage for spaced practice has been observed Thus one issue of interest for future research is whether experimental manipulation of predetermined learning targets, more in line with typical spacing effect research, will show differential effects under different intensive learning conditions Potential language items for such research could be a set of vocabulary items, a subsystem of the language (such as tense and aspect), or aural and oral discrimination of specific speech sounds Another important direction for future research will be to explore whether proficiency also influences the amount of learning that takes place in massed and distributed learning contexts Mumford, Costanza, Baughman, Threlfall, and Fleishman (1994), for example, hypothesized that participants who possess a certain knowledge threshold may extract more benefits from massed (concentrated) practice than novices, who must develop the knowledge structures needed to perform complex tasks In this study, the students were all novices at the outset; whether more advanced learners would have extracted greater benefit from a single intensive experience than several shorter ones remains an empirical question In light of the modest differences between the two distributions of instructional time and the substantial progress made in both program versions, the findings not suggest a clear learning advantage for either concentrating or distributing the intensive experience, at least among this population of learners This finding is important in the research context in which the study took place Although we chose schools where access to the special intensive program was not restricted to students with special abilities, this is not typical of the 5-month model The perceived challenge of students completing the regular Grade curriculum in L1 French in just months often results in participation INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 127 being limited to students with strong academic profiles from the previous school year Spreading the French L1 portions of the curriculum over the 10 months is seen as being less academically challenging, which may result in the distributed version being offered to a wider range of students The finding of strong results for mini-intensive L2 courses may be important for other populations of learners and may meet local needs better than the more common longer intensive courses Immigrant and refugee children in reception classes around the world, who are typically separated for months from their same-age native-speaking peers, could instead have a series of mini-intensives This would give them periodic language support while allowing them to be partially integrated into regular classes, with access to rich input from teachers and classmates and opportunities to make new friends Not only would the children be part of the regular school program, but their L2 teachers would also be better integrated than when they are doing long stretches of intensive teaching on their own Mini-intensives may also be more practical to organize than long intensives and may make language instruction accessible to a wider range of students Adults, for example, especially those who are employed and need to develop L2 skills as part of a job requirement, may find it much easier to participate in a series of intensive experiences spread out over time than to negotiate several weeks or months of release time to take language courses Finally, mini-intensives may also increase motivation, because the plateaus that typically occur during L2 learning may be less evident in successive learning experiences than a single intensive one CONCLUSION As noted at the outset of this report, there is clear evidence that limited exposure to an L2, even if continued over several school years, does not afford students the opportunity to advance very far in their learning The research issue of this article was whether there were clear advantages to different distributions of substantial amounts of L2 instructional time.9 Our findings suggest that, over the time period represented by this study (400 hours distributed over or 10 months), students’ performance on the various measures of proficiency that we used was quite comparable Our findings also point to the importance in classroom-based research of including qualitative measures (observing classrooms, obtaining information from teachers) to document the instructional contexts, even when those contexts are familiar and when 128 See Mun ˜ oz (2008) for discussion of substantial exposure in foreign language classrooms TESOL QUARTERLY other measures of control over variables are in place This information proved to be crucial in interpreting our findings The longitudinal design of the study allowed us to track progress over the several months of the intensive programs However, it did not continue beyond this time, which does not allow us to know whether the knowledge acquired in a single sustained intensive experience is as robust as that which is acquired in successive intensive experiences, including whether the effects are the same for all aspects of language proficiency There is evidence from comparisons between intensive and semester-length psychology courses for university students that the initial superiority of a one-time intensive experience may diminish if the knowledge does not continue to be used (Seamon, 2004) This could suggest that successive intensive language experiences may prove superior over time, but this is clearly an area for further research Answers to this and the questions raised earlier will be relevant not only to language program planners but also to anyone involved in teaching, administering, designing, and taking L2 courses ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This research was supported through grants from the TESOL International Research Fund and the Quebec Ministry of Education (Fonds Que´becois de la Recherche sur la Socie´te´ et la Culture) A preliminary version of the findings was presented at the joint AILA/AAALconference in Madison, Wisconsin, in July 2005 We would like to acknowledge the contributions of our project manager Suzy Springer, our statistics advisor Randall Halter, our research collaborators Carmen Mun ˜ oz and Carolyn Turner, and our large team of student research assistants We are also grateful to Patsy M Lightbown and the anonymous reviewers of TESOL Quarterly for their insightful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript THE AUTHORS Laura Collins and Joanna White are both associate professors of TESL and applied linguistics in the Department of Education at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada In their teaching and research, they focus on ways of maximizing the benefits of instruction for second language learners across a variety of classroom contexts and language features REFERENCES Benesler, D., & Schulz, R A (1979) Intensive foreign language courses Arlington, VA: Center for Applied Linguistics Collins, L., Halter, R H., Lightbown, P M., & Spada, N (1999) Time and the distribution of time in second language instruction TESOL Quarterly, 33, 655– 680 doi:10.2307/3587881 Dellarosa, D., & Bourne, L (1985) Surface form and the spacing effect Memory and Cognition, 13, 529–537 INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 129 Dempster, F (1996) Distributing and managing the conditions of encoding and practice In E Bjork & R Bjork (Eds), Memory (pp 317–344) San Diego, CA: Academic Press Donato, R., Tucker, R., Wudthayagorn, J., & Igarashi, K (2000) Converging evidence: Attitudes, achievements, and instruction in the later years of FLES Foreign Language Annals, 33, 377–392 doi:10.1111/j.1944-9720.2000.tb00620.x Donovan, J., & Radosevich, D (1999) A meta-analytic review of the distribution of practice effect: Now you see it, now you don’t Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 795–805 doi:10.1037/0021-9010.84.5.795 Dussault, B (1997) Les effets a` long terme de l’esnsiegnement intensif de l’anglais, language seconde [Long-term effects of intensive ESL instruction] (Unpublished master’s thesis), Universite´ du Que´bec a` Montre´al, Montreal, Canada Freed, B., Segalowitz, N., & Dewey, D (2004) Context of learning and second language fluency in French: Comparing regular classroom, study abroad, and intensive domestic immersion programs Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 26, 275–301 Germain, C., Netten, J., & Movassat, P (2004) L’e´valuation de la production orale en franc¸ais intensif: Crite´res et re´sultats The Canadian Modern Language Review, 60, 295–308 Glover, J., & Corkill, A (1987) Influence of paraphrased repetitions on the spacing effect Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 198–199 doi:10.1037/00220663.79.2.198 Grote, M (1995) Distributed versus massed practice in high school physics School Science and Mathematics, 95, 97–101 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System, 35, 305–321 doi:10.1016/j.system.2007.02.001 Spada, N., & Froăhlich, M (1995) Colt: Communicative Orientation of Language Teaching Observation Scheme: Coding conventions and applications Sydney: National Centre for English Language Teaching and Research, Macquarie University Spada, N., & Lightbown, P M (1989) Intensive ESL programs in Quebec primary schools TESL Canada Journal, 7, 11–32 Stern, H H., (1985) The time factor and compact course development TESL Canada Journal, 3, 12–28 Verkoeijen, P P J L., Rikers, R M J P., & Schmidt, H G (2004) Detrimental influence of contextual change on spacing effects in free recall Journal of Experimental Psychology, 30, 796–800 White, J., & Turner, C E (2005) Comparing children’s oral ability in two ESL programs The Canadian Modern Language Review, 61, 491–517 Willingham, D T (2002) Allocating student study time: ‘‘massed’’ versus ‘‘distributed’’ practice American Educator, 26, 37–39 APPENDIX A TABLE A1 Role-Play Rating Scale Descriptors Level 1—No success Learners fail to assume their roles, even with assistance from the task supervisor Level 2—Minimal success Learners attempt to assume their roles, but discuss only one or two aspects of the situation Interaction lacks logical flow; may contain conversationally inappropriate pauses or hesitation Learners may need to use L1 for content words or to appeal for assistance Level 3—Moderate success Learners assume their roles and cover different aspects of the situation but with little negotiation or justification of their respective positions There may be inappropriate pauses or hesitations and use of L1 for content words Level 4—Good success Learners negotiate different aspects of the situation, offering simple explanations or justifications Little or no recourse to L1 for content words; L1 may be used for fillers Level 5—High success Learners negotiate different aspects of the situation, offering elaborated explanations/ justifications of their respective positions Hesitations tend to be conversationally appropriate; infrequent use of L1 filler words INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 131 APPENDIX B TABLE B1 Within-Group Pairwise Comparisons of Mean Differences for Vocabulary: Concentrated Group Time Time Time Time Time Time 2.479 *9.322 *16.321 *6.843 *13.841 *6.998 Note *p , 0.05 TABLE B2 Within-Group Pairwise Comparisons of Mean Differences for Vocabulary: Distributed Group Time Time Time Time *7.755 *10.408 *15.298 Time Time 2.653 *7.543 *4.889 Note *p , 0.05 TABLE B3 Within-Group Pairwise Comparisons of Mean Differences for Length of Narrative: Concentrated Group Time Time Time Time Time Time *16.222 *34.624 *61.855 *18.402 *45.632 *27.231 Note *p , 0.05 TABLE B4 Within-Group Pairwise Comparisons of Mean Differences for Length of Narrative: Distributed Group Time Time Time Time Time Time 8.316 *21.432 *17.547 *13.116 9.232 23.884 Note *p , 0.05 132 TESOL QUARTERLY TABLE B5 Within-Group Pairwise Comparisons of Mean Differences for Verb Inflections: Concentrated Group Time Time Time Time Time Time *0.701 *1.333 *1.641 *0.632 *0.940 *0.308 Note *p , 0.05 TABLE B6 Within-Group Pairwise Comparisons of Mean Differences for Verb Inflections: Distributed Group Time Time Time Time Time Time *0.547 *0.716 *0.747 0.168 0.200 0.032 Note *p , 0.05 INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 133 ... meet the language INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 107 requirements of a particular job (e.g., the months of language training in French and English provided to Canadian federal civil servants) or... information about the students in their class, the ESL materials and activities they used, their focus on skills and language features, their teaching experience and training, and their own language. .. Surface form and the spacing effect Memory and Cognition, 13, 529–537 INTENSITY AND LANGUAGE LEARNING 129 Dempster, F (1996) Distributing and managing the conditions of encoding and practice
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