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THE EFFECTS OF GENDER, SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY ON LANGUAGE LEARNING STRATEGIES

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THE EFFECTS OF GENDER, SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS AND ENGLISH PROFICIENCY ON LANGUAGE LEARNING STRATEGIES

Abstract: A study was conducted in order to investigate the effects of gender, socio-economic status, and proficiency level in English on metacognitive, cognitive and social/affective language learning strategies. Thirty nine students from two schools of Salamina island (Greece) were tested. The selection of schools was based on the marked differences of the socioeconomic status of students. Statistically significant differences were observed on the effects of all independent variables (with the exception of gender on cognitive strategies), suggesting that learning strategy use determined by social and demographic factors.

Key words: Language learning strategies, social factors of learning, Salamina-Greece

Defining language learning strategies

Language learning strategies can be defined as mental mechanisms which facilitate the comprehension, storage, retrieval and use of input information, supporting, thus, and enhancing learners’ efforts while learning the foreign language. They are used as learners’ response to the demands of the learning and communication environment, and, as it will be discussed later on, their formation and use are tightly dependent on idiosyncratic and personal characteristics. Research has proved that they can be employed by adults (Wenden, 1986), as well as by children (Wong-Fillmore, 1979), although it is not yet quite clear how early their use starts.

         There is little consensus in the literature concerning either the definition or the identification of language learning strategies. Indeed, strategies are defined by different researchers as methods, approaches, steps, actions, behaviours, thoughts, processes, techniques or tactics. Furthermore, there is no complete agreement on the conscious or the subconscious nature of strategies. Thus, it becomes clear that the variety of theories and approaches, or, in some cases, even the lack of a specific underlying theory, have created confusion in the area. Some definitions of prominent researchers are presented in table 1 below.

Table 1: Definitions of language learning strategies

Researchers

Definitions

Bialystok (1978:76)

Learning strategies are optimal methods for exploiting available information to increase the proficiency of second language learning.

Dansereau (1985:210)

A learning strategy can be defined as a set of processes or steps that can facilitate the acquisition, storage, and/or utilization of  information

Weinstein and Mayer (1986:531)

Learning strategies are the behaviours and the thoughts that a learner engages in during learning that are intended to influence the learner’s encoding process.

Chamot (1987:71)

Learning strategies are techniques, approaches, or deliberate actions that students take in order to facilitate the learning and recall of both linguistic and content area information.

 Rubin (1987:71)

Learning strategies are strategies which contribute to the development of the language system which the learner constructs and affect learning directly and indirectly.

Oxford (1990a:8)

Learning strategies are specific actions taken by the learner to make learning easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situations.

Cohen (1990:4)

Language learning strategies can be defined as those processes which are consciously selected by learners and which may result in action taken to enhance the learning or use of a second or foreign language, through storage, retention, recall, and application of information about that language.

Williams and Burden (1997:145)

A learning strategy can be defined as a series of skills used with a particular learning purpose in mind.

Despite the fact that the definitions presented above highlight different aspects, characteristics or functions of strategies, they all agree that they enhance learning and that they facilitate the assimilation of input information. Nevertheless, it would be useful to focus on some interesting points of the definitions, which can be further discussed.

First of all, according to Chamot (1987:71), the terms ‘strategies’ and ‘techniques’ can be used interchangeably. Stern(1983:4), however, makes a distinction between them suggesting that “strategy is best reserved for general tendencies or overall characteristics of the approach employed by the language learner, leaving techniques as the term to refer to particular forms of observable learning behaviour”.  In other words, ‘strategies’ is an “umbrella”, broad term, that includes ‘techniques’, the realization of strategies in observable actions. 

Another point that deserves our attention, too, is the relationship between strategies and skills. According to Williams and Burden (1997:145) “a learning strategy is a series of skills”, i.e. the terms can be used interchangeably. For Kirby (1988:230), however, skills and strategies are two different things that should not be confused. Thus, a distinction is made as follows: “skills are existing cognitive routines for performing specified tasks”, while “strategies are the means for selecting, combining or redesigning those cognitive routines”. What is implied by this distinction is that strategies co-ordinate and manage skills during the performance of a language task.

The conscious and/or the subconscious nature of learning strategies has also caused heated debates among scientists, with some, like Chamot (1987:71), supporting only the conscious nature, characterizing them as “deliberate actions”, and others (Weinstein & Mayer,1986; Dansereau, 1985) believing in their dual character. These researchers claim that a strategy may be consciously and intentionally used at the very first stages, but, after repeated use, they can be employed automatically, i.e. subconsciously.

             Of course, there are scientists, like Rabinowitz and Chi (1987), Cohen (1990), who believe that, if a strategy becomes subconscious, then it is no more a strategy, but a process. Schmidt (1994) disagrees and claims that, even in the case of an automatic or subconscious strategy, a learner, when asked, is in the position to identify and justify the specific strategy.

It is commonly accepted by researchers that strategies influence learning in a positive way, supporting significantly learners’ efforts to acquire and master the foreign language. Oxford (1990a) and Rubin (1987) assert that this impact is exercised both directly and indirectly. The fact that other researchers do not clarify in their definitions if they accept this dual influence, may leave the reader with questions and confusion. 

No doubt, defining language learning strategies is not an easy task. Although a proliferation of definitions is provided, complete agreement and uniformity seem impossible, at least at this stage of study and research. One alternative way to define strategies is to list some of their characteristics, which are accepted by many researchers: They are idiosyncratic and personal responses to the leaning needs, generated and used by children and adults, can be both conscious and subconscious,  observable or unseen,  problem-oriented,  flexible, they promote autonomous and self-directed learners, they enhance learning and develop linguistic and communicative competence.

A ‘successful language learner’ research was conducted by a group of Canadian researchers (Naiman, Frohlich, Todesco and Stern, 1978), in order to gather information about the strategies that effective learners tend to employ. The data elicitation tool was a semi-structured interview, and the sample was constituted by 34 very successful language learners. According to the research results, five strategies were identified (Naiman et al., 1978 cited in Skehan, 1989:76):

1) Active task approach: Good language learners actively involve themselves in the language learning task.

2) Realization of language as a system: Good language learners develop or exploit an awareness of language as a system.

3) Realization of language as means of communication and interaction: Good language learners develop and exploit an awareness of language as a means of communication, i.e. conveying and receiving messages, and interaction , i.e. behaving in a culturally appropriate manner.

4) Management of affective demands: Good language learners realize initially or with time that they must cope with affective demands made upon them by language learning and succeed in doing so.

5) Monitoring of L2 performance: Good language learners constantly revise their L2 systems. They monitor the language they are acquiring by testing their inferences (guesses): by looking for needed adjustments as they learn new material or by asking native informants when they think corrections are needed.

A number of techniques were, also, identified by the interviews, which contributed to successful language learning:

·    Having contact with native speakers, as an opportunity to practise the language

·    Repeating aloud after the native speakers or/and the teacher

·    Reading magazines, newspapers, comics, etc., written in the target language

·    Listening to radio and/or records and watching TV

·    Following the grammar rules taught

·    Memorizing vocabulary lists

This study had some interesting findings, as far as the effective learners’ strategies and techniques are concerned. However, Skehan (1989:76) suggests that we should be cautious with the results and explains that “…there is always the possibility that the good learning strategies are also used by bad language learners, but other reasons cause them to be unsuccessful with this group”. Selinger (1983) is, also, cautious with the results, as he does not consider the self-report data elicited by an interview always valid. According to him, some learners become more reflective, because of analytic capacities, better memory or articulateness. In other words, the strategies that a learner possesses will never be uncovered through a self-report interview, if he is not articulate enough.

Despite Skehan and Selinger’s fears and although the research has no theoretical grounding, it cannot be denied that the concepts of learners’ reflection and introspection, as well as some metacognitive strategies, are present, even if they are not named.  

Bialystok’s (1981) research resulted in one of the first classifications of language learning strategies. His model is presented in Table 3 below:

Table 2: Bialystok’s language learning strategies

Formal strategies

Functional Strategies

1) Formal practising

1) Functional practising

2) Monitoring

2) Inferencing

Bialystok identifies two groups of strategies: the formal, which relate to language itself, i.e. its structures and rules, and the functional strategies, which relate to communicative situations. Formal practising and monitoring are the strategies that fall into the first group, whereas functional practising and inferencing belong to the second group.

This taxonomy is certainly very limited and insufficient, as it cannot account for the huge variety of strategies that a learner possibly possesses. Nevertheless, the research has a significant contribution to the area, as Bialystok proceeded to a classification of strategies, i.e. he tried to build his own theory, at a time that language strategy research was still in its infancy.  

Rubin (1981) is another researcher who tried to provide a classification of strategies. She concentrated on particular types of cognitive processes that young adult learners used, and the data elicitation method was a directed self-report.  Rubin distinguishes the identified strategies in direct and indirect, according to the impact they have on learning.  The direct strategies are listed below:

1.        Clarification/Verification

2.        Monitoring

3.        Memorization

4.        Guessing/inductive inferencing

5.        Deductive reasoning

6.        Practice

These cognitive strategies, contribute, according to Rubin, to the acquisition of the target language, as they help learners to understand, internalize, store, and retrieve input information more easily and effectively.

The indirect strategies, on the other hand, enhance language learning by:

1.  Creating opportunities for practice,

2.  Devising production “tricks” that aim at overcoming problems in communication, such as synonyms, paraphrases, gestures, etc.

Rubin’s classification is based on the impact of strategies on learning, which means that emphasis is given on the learning process itself. Although her taxonomy is certainly broader and more practical than Bialystok’s, it still does not contain a sufficient number of strategies. Moreover, we cannot detect a theoretical foundation, and we get the impression that the researcher, as in the case of all early researchers,  tries to understand the nature and the functions of language learning strategies rather than to classify them. However, it is still very significant that she proceeded to a classification of strategies, paving the way for future researchers and providing a model as a basis to build on.

At the same time, Cohen and Aphek (1981) investigated the correlations that learners devise and use while studying vocabulary. These correlations are considered to be very helpful and useful for learners, as they facilitate the integration of new vocabulary to the already formed cognitive schemata. Ten correlations were found by the specific research. Cohen and Aphek stress that the production of these mental mechanisms cannot be automatic, as mental effort and consciousness are necessary from the part of the learners. Unfortunately, their research did not bear any other interesting findings.    

Wenden (1983) focused her research on adults’ self-directed learning of a foreign language. She created a list with questions that learners can ask themselves, in order to come to conclusions about their learning and progress. Wenden’s questions are presented in Table 4 below:

Table 3: Wenden’s Questions

Information about Learning

Question 1: How does the target language function?

Question 2: How does someone learn a foreign language?

Planning

Question 3: What shall I learn and how?

Question 4: What should my focus be?

Question 5: How can I change my learning?

Self-evaluation

Question 6: How do I progress?

Question 7: How do the strategies I use benefit my learning?

Question 8: Am I a responsible learner?

 

Wenden emphasized the need for self-directed learning, which entails learners’ autonomy, and  introduced metacognition in relation to language learning strategy use. The fact that she expanded the domain of strategy research to metacognitive directions, makes her work quite significant.

Politzer and McGroarty’s (1985) research emerged another dimension in the study of language learning strategies. Using a questionnaire, administered to 37 Hispanic and Asian students, they aimed at investigating the relation between the strategy use and the proficiency level of the two cultural groups. Indeed, several interactions were found between the strategies used and the ethnic background, as the Hispanic students proved to be much more successful learners than the Asians. Skehan (1989:86), however, claims that the specific research was unsuccessful:

The study has to be judged unsuccessful. The empirical data, either in terms of internal consistency of the scales, or of their validity, is not impressive. As an exploratory study, it is interesting and provides the basis for further questionnaire-based studies. But for the present, such a research strategy has not yet paid dividends.

No matter if Skehan is right with his claims, Politzer and McGroarty’s work has contributed positively to the multidimensional study of language learning strategies, investigating the cultural variable.

Chesterfield and Chesterfield’s (1985) research aimed at the encoding of young children’s -from 5 to 6 years old- learning strategies, by means of observation and field notes. The importance of this research lies at the study of the longitudinal development of eight respondents’ strategies. This allows a) the examination of the variation within the group of these children at any time and b) the variation in each of the children separately over time. According to the findings, the strategies that appear first are receptive and self-contained, those which permit interaction follow, and the metacognitive are the strategies whose development comes chronologically last. Skehan (1989) notes that the observational data were successfully used by the researchers. Indeed, the specific study provided some interesting findings that permit further generalizations.

Oxford (1990a) provides us with a typology, which subsumes almost every strategy previously reported. Hence, the categorized strategies and their subcategories are quite numerous and the classification detailed. Oxford adopted Rubin’s distinction in direct and indirect strategies to make the primary classification of her strategies. Thus, the former presuppose direct manipulation of the target language, while the latter support and manage learning without involving the target language directly.

Socio-economic status

Studies in Greece (Giavrimis, Papanis, Rumeliotou, 2007) and abroad (Coleman, Campbell, Hobson, McPartland, Weinfeld and York, 1966; Grinion, 1999) have shown that students of a higher socio-economic status differ from those of a lower one in the so called ‘cultural capital’, a term introduced by Bourdieu and Passeron (1990). Socio-economically advantaged parents often have more success in preparing their children for school, because they have access to a wide range of resources to promote and support their development. On the contrary, when basic necessities are lacking, parents’ major priority is survival, and usually there is no time, energy or knowledge to foster children’s development and school readiness. In accordance to Bernstein and Henderson (1969), Bourdieu et al. claimed that low socio-economic status students lack the necessary cultural products that enhance learning, and have poor metacognitive abilities, which is reflected primarily in language learning and school adaptation.

On the other hand, the linguistic environment of students with a higher socio-economic status is richer and leads to ‘symbolic thinking’. Moreover, the learners who are members of large families usually live in overcrowded housing conditions, which do not facilitate studying and concentration. Thus, the family background is so tightly related to school achievement and learners’ proficiency level, that its impact on strategy use is inevitable (Datcher, 1982).    

Culture

A great number of theorists and researchers have commented on the impact of culture on learning. Hall (1973) seems to be persuaded that how one learns is culturally determined, as is what one learns”. The same researcher goes further saying that “culture can be likened to a giant, extraordinarily complex, subtle computer. Its programmes guide the actions and responses of human beings in every walk of life” (1973:3). Culture and learning are so tightly interrelated that Singleton recognizes the existence of a cultural theory of learning (1991:120):

There are in every society unstated assumptions about people and how they learn, which act as a set of self-fulfilling prophecies that invisibly guide whatever educational processes may occur there. They act as a kind of unintentional hidden curriculum, or what an anthropologist might call a cultural theory of learning 

If culture influences in one or another way learning, then it must, also, have an impact on the selection of language strategies. Indeed, Oxford and Nyikos (1989) believe that particular strategies are often chosen because they are compatible with a student’s culturally influenced learning style. A number of researches have reached the same conclusion. In a study conducted by Politzer (1983), Hispanics were found to use mainly social strategies, while Asians presented a clear preference for rote memorization, probably because of their past school experiences. Chen (1990), investigated the strategies used by Chinese students. According to the findings, Chinese tend to select cognitive and, mainly, memory strategies. What is surprising, though, is that they believed that only one correct answer exists, a belief that made them unwilling to take risks and feel relaxed while learning. The same memorization strategies were, also, found to be the favourite of Indian college students, in a research conducted by Sheorey (1999). It is, thus, almost evident that “learners often behave in certain culturally approved and socially encouraged ways as they learn” (Bedell and Oxford, 1996:60).

Methodology

The research questions can be summarized as follows:

a) What metacognitive, cognitive, and social/affective language learning strategies do the specific learners employ and how frequently?

b) Does students’ gender influence the frequency and the selection of strategies? In other words, do the girls prefer to use some specific strategies, while the boys consider others as more appropriate and useful?

 c) Are the frequency and the selection of strategies influenced by students’ proficiency level in English? Do the more effective learners use a larger number of them in comparison to the less successful/competent ones?

d) Is the use of strategies influenced by the socio-economic status of students’ background?

The decision to study language learning strategies was challenged by the remarkable difference in level between the 6th grade EFL pupils of the two schools. In the first one, the 5th primary school, most of the pupils-of a quite prosperous and small family background- can be characterized as quite successful learners, while the pupils in the primary school of Vassilika, who are members of large families and of a lower socio-economic status, are much less competent and successful learners. The decision to examine gender as one of the research variables was taken because the researchers wished to ascertain whether the superiority of females in strategy use, confirmed by many researchers (Ehrman and Oxford, 1989; Oxford and Nyikos, 1989; Zoubir-Shaw and Oxford, 1994; Politzer, 1983; Kaylani, 1996), is valid.

Proficiency level in English was selected as another variable to be examined in the research. If learners’ strategy use is related to competence in the target language, then the students from the 5th Primary School will be proved to possess a richer strategy repertoire. If this is the case, then the teacher should adapt her teaching methodology, in order to enhance the strategy use by the less competent learners.

Finally, the relation between learners’ socio-economic status and strategy employment was examined, in order to find out whether learners’ poor strategy repertoire is due to the disadvantaged financial, social, and educational background of their families. If this interrelation is proved to be true, then the students from the school in Vassilika, who are of a lower socio-economic status, will be found to possess fewer strategies than the learners from the 5th Primary School. In this case, as well, remedial actions must be taken by the teacher towards the development and the enrichment of their language learning strategies. 

‘Grade 6’ class of the 5th Primary School of Salamina is consisted of 25 students -12 boys and 13 girls. The pupils at the same grade in the Primary School of Vassilika are 14 -10 boys and 4 girls. They are all 12 years old and Greeks; thus, they are native speakers of Greek and this is the language they speak at home with their families. They are taught English as a foreign language since Grade 3. All students from the 5th Primary school of Salamina attend English classes in private schools, too. However, 9 learners from the Primary School in Vassilika do not attend such classes, since their families cannot afford the fees. The majority of students’ parents speak English, but only half of them help their children at home. All learners study another foreign language, too, which is German for most of the students, and French for some of them-German and French, apart from English, are taught in state primary schools.  The students of the 5th Primary School of Salamina are much more competent in English than the learners from the School in Vassilika, who appear to have weaknesses, not only in English, but in their overall academic performance, as well. However, they are more extroverted in comparison to the students of the other school, and they perform better whenever they are involved in group-work. They are members of large families and of a lower socio-economic status, while the learners from the 5th Primary School are of a quite prosperous and small family background.  

         The questionnaire was written in Greek, in order to be absolutely comprehensible by all learners. The taxonomy adopted by the researchers is the one proposed by O’Malley and Chamot (1985, 1990). It consisted of 36 closed, attitude statements, covering the above three categories of strategies. Respondents are asked to select the frequency of employment of each stated strategy from the Likert five-point frequency scale provided (Always or almost always, often, sometimes, rarely, and never or almost never). The first 12 statements cover the metacognitive strategies, i.e. monitoring comprehension, monitoring production while it is occurring, self-evaluation, setting goals and objectives, deciding on ways for improvement, selective attention, planning the organization of spoken discourse, and planning the organization of written discourse.

The cognitive strategies are covered by statements 13 to 24. Learners are called to report the frequency of employment of rehearsal,elaboration, transfer, organization/grouping/classification of words, inferencing, imagery, summarizing, and deducing. Finally, the social/affective strategies are covered by statements 25 to 36. Cooperation, asking for clarification, and self-talk are, as proposed by O’Malley and Chamot, the subcategories of social/affective strategies that are included in the last 12 statements of the questionnaire.

Results

The mean score of female students in metacognitive strategies is greater than the mean score of males (females’ mean score: 42.94, standard deviation: 7.96, males’ mean score: 36.68, standard deviation: 9.04). The t-value is -2.257, with 37 degrees of freedom. The significance is 0.03, which is lower than the 0.05 criterion.

Table 4: Metacognitive Strategies by gender

Number of research subjects

Mean score

Standard deviation

Males

22

36.68

9.04

Females

17

42.94

7.96

39

t-value= -2.257                         37 degrees of freedom                   p=0.03<0.05

The mean score of female students in cognitive strategies is greater than the mean score of males (females’ mean score: 36.76, standard deviation: 8.05, males’ mean score: 33.64, standard deviation: 6.85). The t-value is -1.31, with 37 degrees of freedom. However, the significance is 0.198, which is greater than the 0.05 criterion. Therefore, we accept the null research hypothesis (H02) as true. In other words, we cannot claim that gender influences the specific learners’ use of cognitive strategies/

Table 5: Cognitive Strategies by gender

Number of research subjects

Mean score

Standard deviation

Males

22

33.64

6.85

Females

17

36.76

8.05

39

t-value= -1.31                           37 degrees of freedom                   p=0.198>0.05

The mean score of female students in social/affective strategies is greater than the mean score of males (females’ mean score: 39.88, standard deviation: 6.26, males’ mean score: 36.05, standard deviation: 5.51). The t-value is -2.032, with 37 degrees of freedom. The significance is 0.049, which is lower than the 0.05 criterion.

Table 6: Social/affective Strategies by gender

Number of research subjects

Mean score

Standard deviation

Males

22

36.05

5.51

Females

17

39.88

6.26

39

t-value=-2.032                          37 degrees of freedom                    p=0.049<0.05

The mean score of high socio-economic status students in metacognitive strategies is greater than the mean score of low socio-economic status students (mean scores: 43.32 and 32.43, respectively, standard deviations: 8.05 and 6.12, respectively). The t-value is -4.393, with 37 degrees of freedom. The significance is 0, which is lower than the 0.05 criterion.

Table 7: Metacognitive Strategies by socio-economic status

Number of research subjects

Mean score

Standard deviation

High socio-economical status

25

43.32

8.05

Low socio-economical status

14

32.43

6.12

39

t-value=-4.393                           37 degrees of freedom                   p=0<0.05

The mean score of high socio-economic status students in cognitive strategies is greater than the mean score of low socio-economic status students (mean scores: 38.72 and 28.36, respectively, standard deviations: 5.43 and 5.85, respectively). The t-value is -5.56, with 37 degrees of freedom. The significance is 0, which is lower than the 0.05 criterion. Therefore, we accept the research hypothesis (H5) as true.

Table 8: Cognitive Strategies by socio-economic status

Number of research subjects

Mean score

Standard deviation

High socio-economical status

25

38.72

5.43

Low socio-economical status

14

28.36

5.85

39

t-value=-5.56                             37 degrees of freedom                   p=0<0.05

The mean score of high socio-economic status students in social/affective strategies is greater than the mean score of low socio-economic status students (mean scores: 39.68 and 34.21, respectively, standard deviations: 6.41 and 3.42, respectively). The t-value is -2.953, with 37 degrees of freedom. The significance is 0.005, which is lower than the 0.05 criterion. Therefore, we accept the research hypothesis (H6) as true.

Table 9: Social/affective Strategies by socio-economic status

Number of research subjects

Mean score

Standard deviation

High socio-economical status

25

39.68

6.41

Low socio-economical status

14

34.21

3.42

39

t-value=-2.953                          37 degrees of freedom                   p=0.005<0.05

As far as the relation between strategy use and grade in English, i.e. proficiency level in the target language, high correlations were found, as shown in the table below:

Table 10: Pearson Correlation between school grades in English and                               strategies

Pearson Correlation (r)

School grade in English

Metacognitive strategies

r = 0.9

Cognitive strategies

r = 0.898

Social/affective strategies

r = 0.696

 

Learners of the 5th primary school have a rich repertoire of metacognitive strategies; they use social/affective strategies quite frequently, while their cognitive strategies are the least being used by them. On the other hand, the most preferred strategies for students from the primary school of Vassilika are the social/affective ones, the metacognitive strategies come second, and the cognitive strategies are, once again, the least being employed. It becomes quite clear from table   below, that the strategy use by the learners of the 5th primary school is much greater in all three categories of strategies than that employed by the students of the school in Vassilika.

Table 13: Hierarchy of strategies used in each school

5th Primary School

Primary School of Vassilika

1st) Metacognitive strategies : 43,32 (mean score)

1st) Social/affective strategies : 34.21 (mean score)

2nd) Social/affective strategies : 39.68 (mean score)

2nd) Metacognitive strategies : 32.43 (mean score)

3rd) Cognitive strategies : 38.72 (mean score)

3rd) Cognitive strategies : 28.36 (mean score)

To sum up, according to the research results, the extracted conclusions that are of interest to us, are the following:

ü       The girls possess and employ more frequently than the boys metacognitive and social/affective strategies

ü       The use of cognitive strategies is not influenced by learners’ gender

ü       Students of a higher socio-economic status employ more metacognitive, cognitive, and social/affective strategies than their peers of a lower socio-economic status

ü       The learners of a higher proficiency level in English, and, hence, with higher grades, resort more frequently to their repertoire of metacognitive, cognitive, and social/affective strategies.

Discussion

As previously discussed a considerable number of researchers abroad (Ehrman and Oxford, 1989; Oxford and Nyikos, 1989; Zoubir-Shaw and Oxford, 1994; Politzer, 1983; Kaylani, 1996) have recognized females’ superiority in the employment of the whole range of language learning strategies. They attributed this superiority to females’ inclination, towards socialization patterns, to their conformity to the linguistic rules, and to their innate or acquired ability for self-management and concentration during the learning process. In our study, however, even if it was proved that the girls possess a richer metacognitive and social-affective repertoire, no statistical differences were found in the use of cognitive strategies between females and males. This means that both the selection and the frequency of the cognitive strategies have not accepted any influence by the specific pupils’ gender.

As far as the effect of learners’ socio-economic status on strategy use is concerned, it was confirmed that, indeed, this influences considerably the employment of metacognitive, cognitive, and social/affective strategies. Thus, our research findings on the issue are in accordance to the claims of an important number of researchers (Giavrimis, Papanis, Rumeliotou, 2007; Coleman, Campbell, Hobson, McPartland, Weinfeld and York, 1966; Grinion, 1999; Bourdieu and Passeron, 1990; Bernstein and Henderson, 1969), who supported that the socio-economically disadvantaged students are less strategic and effective learners, because they lack the cultural products and the necessary resources that promote an individual’s self-development and progress. Obviously, the students from the Primary School in Vassilika, who come from rather poor and large families, need special instruction towards the enhancement of their strategy use, and encouragement by the teacher, in order to overcome their learning deficiencies.

Proficiency level in the target language was, also, proved to be interrelated with strategy use. Thus, the learners from the school in Vassilika resort to the employment of metacognitive, cognitive, and social/affective strategies less frequently than the pupils from the 5th primary school. Our findings are again in accordance to the claims of other researchers (Huang, 1984; Huang and Naerseen, 1987; Watanabe, 1990; Phillips, 1990; Chang, 1990; Mullins, 1992; Green, 1991; Green and Oxford, 1993; Sheorey, 1999; Oxford and Nyikos, 1989), who investigated the issue. O’Malley and Chamot (1985a) supported that the weaker learners are not very strategic, and moreover, that, even when they use some strategies, they do it in a random, uncontrolled and unconnected manner, while the effective learners employ quite frequently carefully orchestrated strategies.

 

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