Chapter 7 Processing Instruction and Structured Input
In this chapter we explore: • The nature of input processing • Processing instruction, a grammar instruction that has structured input at its core • Research on processing instruction that demonstrates its effectiveness • A set of guidelines for developing structured input activities
Input processing • Traditional instruction consisting of drills in which learner output is manipulated and the instruction is divorced from meaning or communication is not an effective method for enhancing language acquisition. • What is needed is a new pedagogy of grammar instruction that takes as its point of departure what we know about how grammatical forms and structures are acquired. • This pedagogy needs to work with input and with the processes learners use to get data from that input.
Input processing • Of concern is input processing, how learners initially perceive and process linguistic data in the language they hear. • In input processing, learners might encounter their first problems in dealing with the properties of the new language. • We must come to some understanding of what input processing looks like.
Intake from input • Input processing is concerned with those psycholinguistic strategies and mechanisms by which learners derive intake from input. • Intake refers to the linguistic data in the input that learners attend to and hold in working memory during online comprehension.
Form • Research on input processing attempts to explain how learners get form from input while their primary attention is on meaning. • Form here is defined as surface features of language, although input processing is also relevant to syntax.
The most complete model • VanPatten (1996,2003b) presents the most complete model of input processing in SLA. • The role of working memory is important in this model since some of the principles are predicated on a limited capacity for processing. • Humans develop mechanisms that allow them to selectively attend to incoming stimuli. Without such mechanisms, there would be informational overload.
VanPatten’s Principles • Principle 1(P1). The Primacy of Meaning Principle. Learners process input for meaning before they process it for form. • P1a. The Primacy of Content Words Principle. Learners process content words in the input before anything else. • P1b. The Lexical Preference Principle. Learners will tend to rely on lexical items as opposed to grammatical form to get meaning when both encode the same semantic information. • P1c. The Preference for Nonredundancy Principle. Learners are more likely to process nonredundant meaningful grammatical form before they process redundant meaningful forms.
VanPatten’s Principles continued… • P1d. The Meaning-before-Nonmeaning Principle. Learners are more likely to process meaningful grammatical forms before nonmeaningful forms irrespective of redundancy. • P1e. The Availability of Resources Principle. For learners to process either redundant meaningful grammatical forms or nonmeaningful forms, the processing of overall sentential meaning must not drain available processing resources. • P1f. The Sentence Location Principle. Learners tend to process items in sentence initial position before those in final position and those in medial position.
VanPatten’s Principles continued… • Principle 2(P2). The First Noun Principle. Learners tend to process the first noun or pronoun they encounter in a sentence as the subject or agent. • P2a. The Lexical Semantics Principle. Learners may rely on lexical semantics, where possible, instead of word order to interpret sentences.
VanPatten’s Principles continued… • P2b. The Event Probabilities Principle. Learners may rely on event probabilities, where possible, instead of word order to interpret sentences. • P2c. The Contextual Constraint Principle. Learners may rely less on the First Noun Principle if preceding context constrains the possible interpretation of a clause or sentence. Based on VanPatten (2003b)
Principle 1 • That learners are driven to get meaning from input (P1) has a set of consequences, the first being that content words are searched out first. • A great deal of form that is meaning-oriented or has referential meaning may also be expressed by a lexical item or phrase elsewhere in the sentence. • This observation led to the creation of the construct communicative value (VanPatten, 1985b).
Communicative value • Communicative value refers to the meaning that a form contributes to overall sentence meaning and is based on two features. • [+/- inherent semantic value] • [+/- redundancy] • If meaning can be retrieved elsewhere and not just from the form itself, then the communicative value of the form is diminished. • Forms with [- semantic value], regardless of redundancy, contain no communicative value.
Nature of communicative value • The nature of communicative value is important for input processing. • The more communicative value a form has, the more likely it is to get processed and made available in the intake data for acquisition (P1d).
Conversely… • The less communicative value a form has, the more likely learners are to “skip” it in the input. • For learners to process forms of little or no communicative value in the input, they must be able to comprehend an utterance such that the act of comprehension does not tie up all their attentional resources.
P1f • From P1f it is clear that learners perceive and process items in one position better than another. • For example, learners are much more likely to pick up question words and their syntax than object pronouns or the subjunctive, which tends to occur inside the sentence.
Word order • Input processing is also concerned with word order. • P2, the first noun principle, may have important effects on the acquisition of a language that does not follow strict subject-verb-object (SVO) word order. • A Juan no le gusta esta clase mucho. (literally, “To Juan is not very pleasing this class,” meaning “This class is not very pleasing to Juan.”
Erroneous input • Research has shown that learners do indeed encode such pronouns and noun phrases as subjects, thus delivering erroneous input to their developing linguistic systems. • They think that Juan is the subject. • It is not that meaning is gotten elsewhere; it is that meaning is not gotten at all or is gotten wrong. • The form-meaning connections are not only filtered, they are altered.
Summary • Research on input processing attempts to describe: • What linguistic data learners attend to during comprehension • Which ones they do not attend to • What grammatical roles learners assign to nouns • How position in an utterance influences what gets processed. • Intake is grammatical information as it relates to meaning that learners have comprehended (or think they have comprehended.)
A reminder… • As a reminder, input processing is but one set of processes related to acquisition • That learners derive some kind of intake from the input does not mean that the data contained in the intake automatically make their way into the developing mental representation of the L2 in the learner’s head (i.e., intake does not equal acquisition).
Rethinking grammar instruction: Structured input • We now have some idea of what learners are doing with input when they are asked to comprehend it. • We can begin to develop a new kind of grammar instruction-one that will guide and focus learners’ attention when they process input.
Processing instruction • Processing instruction consists of three basic components: • Learners are given information about a linguistic structure or form. • Learners are informed about a particular processing strategy that may negatively affect their picking up of the form or structure during comprehension. • Learners are pushed to process the form or structure during activities with structured input- input that is manipulated in particular ways to push learners to become dependent on form and structured to get meaning.
Processing-oriented grammar instruction InputIntakeDeveloping SystemOutput Processing Mechanisms Focused Practice
An example of relating processing strategies to instruction: Verb morphology • We turn to activities that focus learners’ attention on verb endings; the goal is for learners to use these morphological endings to comprehend tense rather than solely rely on lexical items. • After learners receive a brief explanation of how past-tense endings work, they might first practice attaching the concept of past time to verb forms in an activity such as the following.
Listening for time reference Listen to each sentence. Indicate whether the action occurred last week or is part of a set of actions oriented toward the present. • John talked on the phone. • Mary helped her mother. • Robert studies for two hours. • Sam watched TV. • Lori visits her parents.
Structuring the input • Note that only the very ending encodes tense in the input sentence. • Lexical terms and discourse that would indicate a time frame are not present, thereby encouraging learners to attend to the grammatical markers for tense. • The input has been structured.
An example of relating processing strategies to instruction: Adjective agreement • This time we focus on the following strategy: P1d. Learners are more likely to process meaningful grammatical forms before nonmeaningful forms, irrespective of redundancy. • Some features of language do not have inherent semantic or communicative value.
For example… • In the Romance languages, adjectives must agree in number and gender with the nouns they modify, but this feature of grammar contributes little or nothing to the meaning of the utterance in most cases. • In the following Spanish-language activity, learners’ attention is directed toward proper adjective form by a task in which the adjective endings must be attended to.
Who is it? Listen to each sentence in which a person is described. Determine which person is being described and then indicate whether you agree or disagree. David Letterman Madonna • Es dinámica. (She’s dynamic.) • Es comprensivo. (He’s understanding.) • Es reservada. (She’s reserved.)
An example of relating processing strategies to instruction: The French causative • Remember that learners apply a first-noun strategy to determine subjects and objects of sentences (“who did what to whom”) • With the French causative, this leads to misinterpretation and nonacquisition. • In this activity, learners are pushed to process correctly; to be sure this happens, sentences with the noncausative faire (faire du ski, “to ski”) that involve two people are also included.
Who is performing? Listen to each sentence. Then answer the question. • Who cleans the room? • Who packs the bags? [Teacher’s script] Read each sentence ONCE. After each sentence, ask for an answer. • Claude fait nettoyer la chambre à Richard. • Marc fait les valises pour Jean.
Research on processing instruction • There has been ongoing research regarding the effectiveness of processing instruction. • An important part of this research has examined the relative effects of processing instruction versus those of traditional instruction. • The study that launched this research agenda is VanPatten and Cadierno (1993). • It is the most frequently cited study and has been the impetus for a number of replication studies.
Research questions • VanPatten and Cadierno sought to answer the following research questions: • Does altering the way in which learners process input have an effect on their developing systems? • If there is an effect, is it limited solely to processing more input or does instruction in input also have an effect on output? • If there is an effect, is it the same effect that traditional instruction has (assuming an effect for the latter)?
Focus of the research • VanPatten and Cadierno compared three groups of learners: • A processing instruction group (number=27) • A traditional instruction group (number=26) • A control group (number=27) • The processing group received instruction based along the lines presented earlier. • The focus was word order and object pronouns in Spanish.
Who did what • In the processing treatment, learners first received activities with right or wrong answers (“Select the picture that best goes with what you hear”) followed by activities in which they offered opinions. • In the traditional group, learners received involving a typical explanation of object pronouns and the complete paradigms of the forms. • The control group did not receive instruction on the target structure and instead read an essay and discussed it in class.
Assessment • Assessment consisted of two tests: a sentence-level interpretation test and a sentence-level production test. • These were administered as a pretest, an immediate posttest, a two-week delayed posttest, and a four-week delayed posttest.
Assessment continued… • The interpretation test consisted of ten target items and ten distractors. • The production test consisted of five items with five distractors. • The interpretation group was based on an activity performed by the processing group (“Select the picture that best goes with what you hear.”) • The production test was based on an activity the traditional group performed (“Complete the sentence based on the pictures you see.”)
Results! • The pretests yielded no differences among the groups on the two tests prior to treatment. • In the posttesting phase, the processing group made significant gains on the interpretation test whereas the traditional and control groups did not. • On the production test, both the traditional and processing groups made significant gains but were not significantly different from each other. • The control group did not make significant gains.
Conclusions • Altering the way learners process input could alter their developing systems. • The effects of processing instruction are not limited to processing but also show up on production measures. • The effects of processing instruction are different from those of traditional instruction.
Two for one • By being pushed to process form and meaning simultaneously, learners with processing instruction not only could process better but also could access their newfound knowledge to produce a structure that never produced during the treatment stage. • Members of the traditional group learner to do a task, while the members of the processing group actually experienced a change in their underlying knowledge that allowed them to perform on different kinds of tasks.
Areas for future research • Are the effects of processing instruction (PI) generalizable to other structures? • Are the effects of PI due to different explicit information? • Are the effects of PI observable with different assessment tasks? • Are the effects of PI different from the effects of other types of instruction? • Do the effects of PI hold over time?
Are the effects of P1 generalizable to other structures? • Cadierno (1995) replicated the VanPatten and Cadierno study using the Spanish preterite (past) tense as the target structure. • Again contrasting a control group, a traditional instruction (TI) group, and a processing instruction (PI) group, Cadierno measured the effects of treatment via two measures: • An interpretation test (Is the sentence you’re hearing present, past, or future?) • A production test (writing sentences in the past)
Results • Cadierno’s results matched those of VanPatten and Cadierno exactly • On the interpretation test, the PI group improved significantly, but the other two groups did not. • On the production test, both the PI and TI groups improved significantly but were not different from each other.
Cheng’s study • In her dissertation, Cheng (1995) conducted a study with ser and estar, the two major copular verbs in Spanish. • She compared a control, a processing, and a traditional group in the use of copular verbs with adjectives as the target. • Her results mirrored those of the original VanPatten and Cadierno study.
Farley’s study • In another study, Farley (2001a) demonstrated the effects of PI on the Spanish subjunctive with noun clauses. • In his study he showed that participants who received PI made significant gains in both interpretation and production abilities with the subjunctive both in form and use.
Buck’s dissertation • Buck (2000) investigated the relative effects of PI and TI in the acquisition of the present continuous (versus the present progressive) in English by native speakers of Spanish. • “Bill is smoking a pipe” versus “Bill smokes a pipe.” • He results indicated greater gains for the processing group that were maintained over time on the interpretation test.
VanPatten and Wong • In one other study, VanPatten and Wong (2003) demonstrated that PI was superior to TI with the French causative. • They compared a control, a processing, and a traditional group and measured outcomes with an interpretation and a production test. • Their results were the same as the results of the original study.
Acquisition of verbal morphology • In another study involving the acquisition of verbal morphology, Benati (2001) compared PI, TI, and a control group using the Italian future tense as the target structure. • His results were similar to but not the same as those of the original study. • On the interpretation task, the PI group improved significantly, the TI group did as well, and the control group did not. • However, the gains made by the PI group were significantly greater than those of the TI group. PI>TI>C
Are the effects of PI due to different explicit information? • In VanPatten and Oikennon (1996), the researchers compared three groups. • One that received PI exactly as in the original VanPatten and Cadierno study. • Another that received the structured input activities only, with no prior explicit information and no explanation during the activities • Another that received explicit information only, with no structured input activities. • The researchers used the same assessment tests as in the original study.
Results • Both the regular processing group and the structured input-only group improved significantly but were not different from each other. • The effects of PI are due not to the explicit information provided to learners but to the particular nature of the structured input activities.