The effects of teaching phonics and reading strategies in L2 French: an experimental trial in UK secondary schools

26th February 2019 : 13:00 - 14:00

Category: Seminar

Research Group: Applied Linguistics

Speaker: Dr Robert Woore, University of Oxford

Location: Seminar Room G

Convener: Hamish Chalmers

Applied Linguistics Lunchtime Seminar Series Event

This study investigated the effects of phonics and reading strategy instruction amongst beginner learners of L2 French in English secondary schools (a context facing persistent problems of low L2 motivation and achievement). It built on a previous study in the same context (Macaro & Erler, 2008), which found positive effects for a combined reading strategy and phonics intervention. A cluster randomized control trial was conducted with a sample of 900 learners in 36 schools. Participants were explicitly taught either (a) phonics, (b) strategies or (c) neither phonics nor strategies.

All three groups also read eight linguistically challenging ‘pedagogical texts’, designed to engage learners’ interest as well as to exemplify particular French grapheme-phoneme correspondences and to facilitate the use of particular strategies. The teaching took around 20 minutes per week over 16 weeks. Participants completed measures of reading comprehension, phonological decoding, strategy use, self-efficacy and vocabulary knowledge (amongst other variables) at three time points: immediately before, immediately after and six months after the interventions. Outcomes were analysed using multi-level models to account for covariation within clusters (schools), and controlling for students’ prior academic attainment. Between times 1 and 2, all three groups were found to make significant progress in French reading comprehension. However, there was no evidence that any of the three programmes of instruction was more effective than the others in improving reading outcomes.

There was a significant advantage for the Phonics group in terms of progress in phonological decoding; and for both the Phonics and Strategies groups (particularly the former) in terms of vocabulary gains. Learners in all three groups, but especially the Strategies group, became more confident in reading challenging texts in French. There was also some evidence of an advantage for the Strategies group in terms of the development of strategic behaviour. Between times 2 and 3, there was a levelling off of progress on all variables, and no statistically significant advantage for any of the groups over the others.

All three programmes of instruction were received highly positively by the teachers and students who took part; in particular, they enjoyed the cultural content of the texts, which they felt offered rich opportunities for developing French reading skills. Overall, we conclude that an integrated approach to French reading instruction – combining explicit instruction in both Strategies and Phonics with the use of appropriately challenging, engaging texts – is likely to be more beneficial than any of these approaches in isolation; and that such an approach needs to be sustained over time