Systematising EAP Materials Development: Design, Evaluation and Revision in a Thai Undergraduate Reading Course
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Materials design and evaluation have been regarded as inseparable processes for a systematic approach to materials development. But much less attention has been paid to the role and process of revision. This study reports a two-cycle approach to reading materials development for Thai undergraduate students: a first cycle of needs analysis, initial design, implementation and evaluation; and a second cycle of revision, implementation and re-evaluation. The two cycles involved both learners and teachers in providing feedback on the materials post-use, in order to enhance learners’ involvement and motivation and maximise their learning opportunities. The materials integrated the learners’ specific needs, (i.e. poor L2 reading behaviours) within a theoretical framework of cognitive/metacognitive strategy instruction and collaborative work that informed the selection of reading strategies, reading texts and pedagogical tasks. In the first cycle, six units of material were implemented with reading classes in Thailand for a period of six weeks. Evaluation involved students’ tasks-in-process, end-of-unit and use-of-Thai-or-English questionnaires, teacher’s questionnaires, learning journals, interviews and classroom observations. In addition to users’ positive comments on the usefulness of strategies, collaborative work, text topic and a variety of learning tasks, analysis of the findings indicated linguistic difficulties, insufficient amount of time and support from the teacher, difficulties in expressing ideas in English and uncertainty about reading purposes and task procedures. This led to two versions of materials revision—text simplification (TS) and procedural modification (PM). In the second cycle, the materials, revised in response to the first-cycle users’ feedback, were re-implemented and re-evaluated through the same procedures, with the addition of pre-and post-tests, by four groups of Thai students taught by two different teachers. Analysis of the learners’ perceptions showed that the second-cycle materials had met their learning needs, in reference to their comments about reading improvements and the usefulness of reading strategies, and that collaborative work helped increase their awareness of strategy use, text understanding and motivation. Classroom variables, particularly teachers’ scaffolding, played a significant role in enhancing learners’ motivation in terms of their perceptions of text difficulty, text understanding, and text and task enjoyment, as well as positively affecting their task performance. There was no significant difference between the students’ perceptions of the TS and PM materials, except that the TS groups had significantly more perceived text understanding, as they found language use in the texts significantly more accessible. In terms of progress, all TS and PM groups made improvements in their post-test, with Group 1 (PM) and Group 4 (TS) gaining significantly higher means in the post-test. These two cycles of implementation and evaluation offer clear evidence that the reading materials featuring explicit strategy training and collaborative work could raise the Thai students’ awareness of reading strategy use, enhance their reading performance and increase the level of task enjoyment. The present study also suggests the benefits of integrating text simplification and the use of L1 in the reading materials and instruction, as these two measures could build up the students’ motivation as well as level of text understanding. Additionally, to increase motivation and involvement, it is worthwhile focusing on the selection of interesting and challenging text topics, on the design of a task response format which does not require grammatical knowledge and on producing materials with colourful illustrations. Teachers’ careful scaffolding and the clarity of task purposes and procedures were shown to be important variables affecting the classroom atmosphere and the students’ level of task achievement, and thus, need to be taken into consideration when planning guidance for teachers involved in teaching reading course such as that investigated in this study.