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The role of vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness in reading comprehension of adult English language learners

Dissertation
Author: Ying Guo
Abstract:
The importance of vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness in reading comprehension has been established in the first language research. By contrast, fewer studies have documented the role of these components in the reading comprehension of English language learners (ELLs) in the field of second language (L2) research. The proposed study specifically focused on an L2-only model to examine the role of L2 vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness of reading strategies in L2 reading comprehension with 278 Chinese college students majoring in English. More specifically, First, confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modeling were used to (1) evaluate whether vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness were distinguishable psychological constructs, and (2) examine the strength of the relations between each construct with reading comprehension. Second, the following questions were addressed: (1) whether poor L2 readers are inferior to good L2 readers in syntactic awareness, vocabulary knowledge and metacognitive awareness of reading strategies (MANCOVA was used to address this question); (2) whether the correlations among vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness in reading comprehension were different for poor L2 readers and good L2 readers; and (3) whether the relation between each of three constructs vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness to reading comprehension differ across the poor-reader and good-reader groups. The multigroup analyses were conducted using structural equation modeling. 278 undergraduates whose native language is Chinese, enrolled as English majors, from 3 Chinese universities participated. Those with TOEFL reading scores in the sample's top and bottom 25% were identified as good and poor readers. Eight assessments were administered concurrently, with two measures each of vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness, metacognitive awareness, and reading comprehension. Vocabulary knowledge was assessed using the Vocabulary Level Test (Nation, 1990) and the Depth of Vocabulary Knowledge Measure (Dian & Mary, 2004). The Sentence Combination Subtest of the Test of Adolescent and Adult Language (Hammill, Brown, Larsen & Wiederholt, 2007) and the Syntactic Awareness Questionnaire (Layton, Robinson & Lawson, 1998) were used as indicators of syntactic awareness. The Metacognitive Reading Strategies Questionnaire (Taraban, Kerr & Ryneason, 2004) and the Metacognitive Reading Awareness Inventory (Miholic, 1994) assessed the construct of metacognitive awareness of reading strategies. Reading ability was assessed by using the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) Reading Comprehension Subtest (Schedl, Thomas & Way, 1995) and the Gray Silent Reading Test (Third-Edition; Blalock & Weiderholt, 2000). These were all paper and pencil, group administered assessments, which participants completed in a counterbalanced order. Confirmatory factor analysis suggested the two-factor model of Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacogntive Awareness offered the best fit to the data. Structural equation modeling indicated that 87% variance in reading comprehension is explained by the Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacognitive Awareness factors taken together. However, Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness has a stronger relationship to reading comprehension than metacognitive awareness does. MANCOVA indicated significant differences between poor and good readers in both constructs. Multigroup analyses using structural equation modeling suggested the correlation between the Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacognitive Awareness in poor readers was the same across poor-reader and good-reader groups. Similarly, the pattern of relations of Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacognitive Awareness to reading comprehension remained constant across the poor-reader and good-reader groups.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST of TABLES……………………………………………………………………vi

LIST of FIGURES…………………………………………………………………..vii

ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………………viii

INTRODUCTION……………………………………………………………………1

The Role of Vocabulary Knowledge…………………………………………………2 The Role of Syntactic Awareness…………………………………………………… 7 The Role of Metacognitive Awareness……………………………………………….11 The Difficulties of Poor L2 Readers………………………………………………….15 The Importance of an L2 Model……………………………………………………...15 The Present Study…………………………………………………………………….16

METHOD…………………………………………………………………………......22

Participants……………………………………………………………………………22 Demographic Questionnaire…………………………………………………………..22 National University Matriculation (NUM) Examinations in China…………………..22 Vocabulary Measures…………………………………………………………………22 Syntactic Awareness Measures……………………………………………………….25 Metacognitive Awareness Measures………………………………………………….26 Reading Comprehension Measures…………………………………………………...27 Procedure……………………………………………………………………………...27

RESULTS……………………………………………………………………………..29

Data Issues and Descriptive Statistics…………………………………………………29 Research Question 1.1…………………………………………………………………32 Research Question 1.2…………………………………………………………………35 Research Question 2.1…………………………………………………………………38 Research Question 2.2…………………………………………………………………39

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Research Question 2.3………………………………………………………………..39

DISCUSSION………………………………………………………………………...45

Interpretation of Results………………………………………………………………45 Implications……………………………………………………………………….......49 Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research…………………………………….50

APPENDICES………………………………………………………………………....54

REFERENCES……………………………………………………………………..….117

BIOGRAPHIC SKETCH……………………………………………………………...130

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LIST OF TABLES

Table 1.Counterbalancing of Four Sessions………………………………………...28 Table 2.Descriptive Statistics and Intercorrelation for all observed variables……...29 Table 3.Missing Data Patterns for variables included in the main analysis………...31 Table 4.Mean of All the Measures for both Groups………………………………...33 Table 5.Regression and Correlation Summary for the Structural Portion Model…...37 Table 6.Model Fit Indices…………………………………………………………....38 Table 7.Chi-square Tests Constraining Models……………………………………...42

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LIST OF FIGURES

Figure 1.Basic Model………………………………………………………………18 Figure 2.Alternative Model (1)…………………………………………………….19 Figure 3.Alternative Model (2)………………………………………………….....20 Figure 4.Example test item from the Vocabulary Level Test……………………...23 Figure 5.Example test item from the Depth of Vocabulary Knowledge Measure…24 Figure 6.Two-factor Model………………………………………………………...35 Figure 7.Structural Portion Model…………………………………………………36 Figure 8.The good-reader Model…………………………………………………..40 Figure 9.The poor-reader Model…………………………………………………...41

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ABSTRACT The importance of vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness in reading comprehension has been established in the first language research. By contrast, fewer studies have documented the role of these components in the reading comprehension of English language learners (ELLs) in the field of second language (L2) research. The proposed study specifically focused on an L2-only model to examine the role of L2 vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness of reading strategies in L2 reading comprehension with 278 Chinese college students majoring in English. More specifically, First, confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modeling were used to (1) evaluate whether vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness were distinguishable psychological constructs, and (2) examine the strength of the relations between each construct with reading comprehension. Second, the following questions were addressed: (1) whether poor L2 readers are inferior to good L2 readers in syntactic awareness, vocabulary knowledge and metacognitive awareness of reading strategies (MANCOVA was used to address this question); (2) whether the correlations among vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness in reading comprehension were different for poor L2 readers and good L2 readers; and (3) whether the relation between each of three constructs vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness to reading comprehension differ across the poor-reader and good-reader groups. The multigroup analyses were conducted using structural equation modeling. 278 undergraduates whose native language is Chinese, enrolled as English majors, from 3 Chinese universities participated. Those with TOEFL reading scores in the sample’s top and bottom 25% were identified as good and poor readers. Eight assessments were administered concurrently, with two measures each of vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness, metacognitive awareness, and reading comprehension. Vocabulary knowledge was assessed using the Vocabulary Level Test (Nation, 1990) and the Depth of Vocabulary Knowledge Measure (Dian & Mary, 2004). The Sentence Combination Subtest of the Test of Adolescent and Adult Language (Hammill, Brown, Larsen & Wiederholt, 2007) and the Syntactic Awareness Questionnaire ( Layton,

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Robinson & Lawson, 1998) were used as indicators of syntactic awareness. The Metacognitive Reading Strategies Questionnaire (Taraban, Kerr & Ryneason, 2004) and the Metacognitive Reading Awareness Inventory (Miholic, 1994) assessed the construct of metacognitive awareness of reading strategies. Reading ability was assessed by using the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) Reading Comprehension Subtest (Schedl, Thomas & Way, 1995) and the Gray Silent Reading Test (Third-Edition; Blalock & Weiderholt, 2000). These were all paper and pencil, group administered assessments, which participants completed in a counterbalanced order. Confirmatory factor analysis suggested the two-factor model of Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacogntive Awareness offered the best fit to the data. Structural equation modeling indicated that 87% variance in reading comprehension is explained by the Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacognitive Awareness factors taken together. However, Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness has a stronger relationship to reading comprehension than metacognitive awareness does. MANCOVA indicated significant differences between poor and good readers in both constructs. Multigroup analyses using structural equation modeling suggested the correlation between the Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacognitive Awareness in poor readers was the same across poor-reader and good- reader groups. Similarly, the pattern of relations of Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacognitive Awareness to reading comprehension remained constant across the poor-reader and good-reader groups.

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CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Since the late 1970s, many educators and researchers have agreed that reading is a language-based skill (Frost, 1998; Mattingly, 1972; Vellutino, 1979; Vellutino, Fletcher, Snowling & Scanlon, 2004) and involves cognitive processes (Ehri, 1995). Therefore, reading ability is determined by many factors of language skills. In first language (L1) research, there is ample evidence that vocabulary knowledge accounts for the largest percent of variance in reading comprehension (Davis, 1944). Similarly, second language (L2) research has highlighted the importance of vocabulary knowledge. Carlisle, Beeman, Davis, and Spharim (1999) suggested that L2 vocabulary knowledge made a unique contribution to L2 reading comprehension for primary-level struggling Latina/o readers. Besides vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness, generally conceptualized as the understanding of rules of grammar and sentence structure, plays a very important role in reading comprehension for native speakers (Bowey, 1986; Dreher & Zenge, 1990; Tunmer, Nesdale & Wright, 1987). The importance of syntactic awareness in reading comprehension also has been established by Carlisle et al. (1999) in L2 reading research. Whether in L1 or L2, reading is considered a cognitive enterprise that entails three components including reader, text and activity (Flavell 1979; Snow & Sweet 2001). Thus, readers must utilize metacognitive awareness and invoke the conscious use of reading strategies, in order to comprehend text successfully. According to Auerbach and Paxton (1997), metacognitive awareness is defined as the process “entailing knowledge of strategies for processing texts, the ability to monitor comprehension, and the ability to adjust strategies as need” (pp. 204-241). Within the domain of L1 reading research, recent trends have led to an increasing emphasis on the role of metacognitive awareness of one’s cognitive and motivational processes while reading (Pressley, 2000; Pressley & Afflerbach, 1995). Indeed, many researchers have agreed that awareness and monitoring of one’s comprehension processes are critically important in predicting reading comprehension. Similarly in the L2 research, many researchers have established the role of metacognitive awareness in reading comprehension (Barnett, 1988; Carrell, Pharis & Liberto, 1989; Chamot, 1987).

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The line of reading research about the unique contribution of vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness, and metacognitive awareness to explaining reading comprehension was conducted primarily with native English speaking populations to examine which reading skill components contribute to reading comprehension in L1 with children and adults (Davis, 1944; Dreher & Zenge, 1990; Pressley, 2000; Pressley & Afflerbach, 1995; Tunmer, Nesdale & Wright, 1987). The respective roles of vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness, and metacognitive awareness in predicting native speakers’ reading comprehension have been well documented in factor analysis, correlational studies, and experimental evidence. By contrast, fewer studies have documented the role of these components in the reading comprehension of English language learners (ELLs). While there may be some similarities between native speakers and ELLs in the arena of which skills predict reading comprehension (Proctor, Carlo, August, & Snow, 2005), the unique contributions of L2 vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness, and metacognitive awareness to predicting L2 reading comprehension remains largely undeveloped in the literature. In order to fill this void, the present study seeks to investigate the role of vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness in reading comprehension with adult English language learners. The research about their respective roles in reading comprehension in the field of L1 and L2 reading research is reviewed below. Literature Review The Role of Vocabulary Knowledge Previous factor analyses, correlational studies, and true experiments have established, to different extents in the fields of L1 and L2 research, the importance of vocabulary knowledge in reading comprehension. Factor analytic evidence. The relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension for native speakers has been established in factor analytic studies of L1 English speakers. Davis (1944) administered 240 multiple-choice items to a large number of college freshman in order to analyze basic skills underlying reading comprehension such as word knowledge, reasoning, ability of identifying a writer’s purpose, figuring out the meaning of words, grasping the detailed statements, and specific knowledge of literacy devices and techniques. He found word knowledge had a factor

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loading of .80. Subsequent analyses (e.g., Botzum, 1951; Clark, 1972; Davis, 1968) have yielded vocabulary factor loadings ranging from .41 to .93. These factor analyses suggest that vocabulary knowledge is a major factor of reading comprehension. However, no research dealing with the factor analysis of vocabulary knowledge in the L2 population could be identified. Correlational evidence. Many correlational studies also have been conducted in the past fifty years that demonstrate the importance of vocabulary knowledge in reading comprehension. In the field of L1 reading research, prospective longitudinal data from NICHD Early Child Care Research Network (2005) revealed a correlation between Grade 1 picture vocabulary and Grade 3 reading comprehension of .56. Furthermore, research conducted with L1 English speaking undergraduate students has demonstrated correlations between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension of about .50 (Dixon, LeFevre & Twilley, 1988; Hunt, 1953; Stanovich & Cunningham, 1992). Similarly, the results of L2 reading research have established the unique contribution of vocabulary knowledge. Proctor, Carol, August and Snow (2005) tested 135 Spanish- English bilingual Latina/o fourth graders and reported the correlation of .73 from structural equation modeling. Additionally, Gelderen et al. (2004) administered tests of English vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension to 397 Dutch students from Grade 8 to Grade 10 in secondary education and found a correlation of .63. Among adolescent and adult English language learners, the role of L2 vocabulary knowledge becomes more pronounced and, therefore, is considered one of the most important components of L2 reading comprehension (Alderson, 1984; Laufer, 1992; Meara & Jones, 1989; Nation, 2001). In a study (Qian, 1999) with 80 Korean and Chinese adults attending intensive academic ESL programs, the correlation between scores on the Vocabulary Level Test (Nation, 1983, 1990) and reading comprehension was .78. The correlations ranged from .50 to .75 in similar studies conducted with other adult English language learners, whose native languages were neither Chinese nor Korean (Laufer, 1992; Meara & Jones, 1989). Because research conducted with English speaking undergraduate students has demonstrated moderate correlations between L1 vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension of about .50 (Dixon, LeFevre & Twilley, 1988; Hunt, 1953; Stanovich & Cunningham, 1992), the larger correlations

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obtained from L2 studies indicate that vocabulary knowledge may play a more important role in reading comprehension for adult ELLs compared with adult native speakers. For both L1 and L2 vocabulary knowledge, the range of correlations is mainly determined by two factors: test format and the dimension of vocabulary knowledge tested, both of which are explored here. There are different test formats for the assessment of vocabulary knowledge, including reading, oral, expressive and receptive formats. First, reading vocabulary measures are correlated higher with reading comprehension than measures of oral vocabulary (Oakland, DeMesquita & Buckley, 1988; Stanovich & Cunnigham, 1992). That is because reading vocabulary measures assess not only the word meaning but also word reading ability. Second, tests can be receptive or expressive. Receptive language involves such operations that “give symbolic abstract meaning to spoken stimuli when they are heard and to written stimuli when they are seen” (Wallace & Hammill, 2002, p.3). The term expressive language, by contrast entails those operations that “formulate meaningful messages intended as communication with other people” (Wallace & Hammill, 2002, p.3). Formats that assess receptive vocabulary tend to be more highly correlated with measures of reading comprehension than formats that assess expressive vocabulary (Oakland, De Mesquita, & Buckley, 1988). This may be because reading comprehension primarily involves the processes of “simultaneously extracting and constructing meaning” from written text for some purpose (Snow & Sweet, 2003, p. 1), and the receptive vocabulary test form focuses on assessing the ability to construct the meaning of words presented in the assessment. The dimension of vocabulary knowledge being assessed also affects the correlation between vocabulary and reading comprehension. There are two primary dimension of an individual’s vocabulary knowledge: breadth and depth. Breadth of vocabulary mainly refers to the number of words that have some level of meaning to the individual. It focuses on the knowledge of the multiple meaning of words, but not how well each of these words is known to an individual. It taps how many words have meaning for individuals (Anderson & Freebody, 1981). Similar to the definition of breadth in L1 research, researchers in L2 research have defined breath as the vocabulary size (Qian, 1999). Numerous studies attempted to estimate the actual number of words ELLs need to know to comprehend the text. Goulden, Nation and Read (1990) postulated

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that adult ELLs needed the same number of words in their lexicon as adult native speakers. About 3,000 word families, or 5,000 individual word forms were necessary for ELLs’ minimum comprehension (Laufer, 1997; Nation, 1993). Depth is conceptualized as the richness of knowledge that the individual possesses about the words that are known. Depth of word knowledge involves knowing the “core meaning of a word and how it changes in different contexts. This involves exposure to the word in multiple contexts, preferably from different perspectives” (Stahl, 1998, p. 82). Slightly different from the definition of depth of vocabulary knowledge in L1 research, Nation (1990) proposed that word meaning, register, frequency, pronunciation, spelling, syntactic and morphological properties were all considered primary aspects of depth of vocabulary for English language learners. Moreover, Qian (2002) added collocational (the restrictions on how words can be used together) and phraseological (how words and phrases are used in speech and writing) properties as components of the depth dimension. Qian concluded that word meaning and collocation are important variables in predicting reading comprehension: depth of vocabulary knowledge operationalized only as word meaning and collocation explained about 59% variance of performance on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) reading comprehension subtest. Breadth of knowledge is more highly related with reading comprehension than depth of knowledge in English-speaking children (Tannenbaum, Torgesen & Wagner, 2006). In contrast, Qian (1999) found that for adult ELLs, the correlation between depth and reading comprehension (.82) was higher than that between breadth and reading comprehension (.78). Qian (1999) explained that TOEFL reading comprehension measure was not discriminating enough at the higher ends, which may have caused the higher correlation between depth and reading comprehension. It also is possible that the difference in the two studies was caused by the different samples. Thus, depth may play a more important role in reading comprehension for adult readers (even ELLs) than for child readers. Experimental evidence. Besides the correlational evidence, experimental evidence also has indicated that there is a causal relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension in both L1 and L2 reading research. In the field of

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L1 reading research, Beck, McCaslin and McKeown (1980) developed a program to teach word meanings to children in order to enhance comprehension of text. The results of their study suggested that methods of enhancing word knowledge had an impact on both word knowledge and comprehension. Beck et al. (1983) further hypothesized that to achieve true vocabulary development, and not mere rote learning, instruction should be rich and multifaceted, taking into account the type and extent of encounters needed for a word to be used fluently and flexibly and become permanent part of children’s vocabulary (Beck & McKeown, 1983). To make vocabulary instruction more effective in improving reading comprehension, the recent work conducted by Beck, McKeown and Kucan (2002) suggested that instruction should develop complex, in-depth, core knowledge of words and provide multiple and various encounters. Multiple repetitions are helpful in mastering the word’s meaning. In the field of L2 reading research, Carlo et al. (2004) explored the effect of systematic L2 vocabulary instruction among fourth-through fifth-grade Spanish-speaking ELLs. They concluded that those ELLs receiving English vocabulary instruction, which focused on depth of vocabulary knowledge and word comprehension strategy use, performed as well as or better than an English-only control group in reading comprehension. Similarly, Nagy, Garcia, Durgunoglu and Hancin-Bhatt (1993) found that fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade bilingual Latina/o students attuned to cognate relationships between English and Spanish words have better English reading comprehension outcomes. These studies establish the effectiveness of vocabulary instruction in improving reading comprehension for English language learners. However, in the L1 research, the results of some studies indicate that vocabulary instruction may not always improve general reading comprehension (Foorman, Seals, Anthony, & Pollard-Durodola, 2004). Foorman et al. found that third grade students participating in the Vocabulary Enrichment Program in high poverty schools had significant gains in vocabulary. However, these gains did not generalize to improvement in reading comprehension. This result suggests that the relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension may be obscured by the nature of vocabulary and reading comprehension. Vocabulary is mainly about individual words while comprehension is about the meaning of the text. Even though students understand the

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meaning of individual words they are taught, it is hard to transfer this specific word knowledge to reading comprehension of new text. Other reasons have been put forth to explain why the vocabulary-reading comprehension relationship is not so simple. Besides the above-mentioned reason, Anderson and Freebody (1981) suggested that word meaning could not make people understand text. Rather knowledge of word meanings reflects knowledge of topics, which, in turn, help people understand. Thus, topic knowledge is the variable that confounds the relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension. It is possible that different levels of student topic knowledge influence the effectiveness of vocabulary instruction. In a word, as hypothesized by Snow (2002), the complicated relationship between vocabulary knowledge and reading comprehension is mediated by the relationship among vocabulary knowledge, conceptual and cultural knowledge and instructional opportunities. Besides these confounding factors, whether ELLs’ native language and writing systems are different in important ways from English also may influence the effect of vocabulary instruction (Haper & Jong, 2004). For example, given ELLs’ native language system, transfer of the skills of learning words in their native language to studying English could be hindered. This may be particularly true for Chinese ELLs, whose native languages are based on ideographic writing systems that are radically different from the alphabetic system used in English. Therefore, the vocabulary instruction targeted to Chinese ELLs should give greater attention to developing letter-sound associations (Haper & Jong, 2004). In contrast, since 1980, only four quasi-experimental interventions about vocabulary knowledge have been conducted with ELLs (Proctor et al., 2005). Therefore, whether vocabulary knowledge instruction could improve reading comprehension remains largely unexplored for ELLs. Clearly, more L2 intervention research should be conducted to promote vocabulary knowledge for comprehension in L2 populations. The Role of Syntactic Awareness Besides vocabulary knowledge, many researchers have recognized the importance of syntactic awareness as an element of reading skill. Much evidence from correlational

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and experimental studies establishes its role in reading comprehension in the fields of L1 and L2 reading research. Specifically, syntactic awareness refers to the ability to understand the grammatical structures of language within sentences (Tunmer & Hoover, 1992) as well as the ability to “reflect on the syntactic structure of language and regard it objectively and separately from the meaning conveyed by language” (Blackmore, Pratt & Dewsbury, 1995, p. 405). Based on Gombert’s theoretical framework, the development of syntactic awareness follows a four-level path (Gombert, 1992). The first level involves the acquisition of tacit knowledge of syntactic and grammatical rules related to word strings or sentences. Level 2 refers to the ability of manipulating the internal grammatical structure of sentences. Level 3 is determined by the ability to formulate the rules of syntax and to identify what the rules are. The highest level involves the ability of intentionally controlling and reflecting upon one’s knowledge of syntactic rules or one’s performance on tasks testing syntactic knowledge (Layton, Robinson & Lawson, 1998). Correlational evidence. The presence of a relationship between syntactic awareness and reading comprehension has been well indicated in correlational studies. In the field of L1 reading research, research indicates that syntactic awareness is a statistically significant predictor of students’ reading comprehension performance and ongoing reading comprehension (Bowey, 1986; Dreher & Zenge, 1990). Tunmer et al. (1987) matched older, poor readers with younger, good readers on four measures of reading ability. Participants were 30 second-grade and 30 fourth-grade children. They found that good readers scored significantly higher than poor readers on two measures of syntactic awareness derived from oral cloze and oral correction tasks. This finding suggested the possibility of a causal connection between syntactic awareness and learning to read. Consistent with this, Siegel and Ryan (1988) reported that reading disabled children scored lower on measures of syntactic awareness than age-matched normal readers. A limitation of both Tumner at al. (1987) and Siegel and Ryan’s (1988) studies, which both employed the reading level match design, was that the relation between syntactic awareness and reading comprehension was confounded by decoding skill. In order to overcome this limitation, Nation and Snowling (2000) matched children for age,

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decoding skill, and nonverbal ability and assessed syntactic awareness skills, with results suggesting that poor readers were delayed in developing syntactic awareness skills. In addition, Gottardo, Siegel and Stanovich (1997) sketched out the relationship between syntactic awareness and reading comprehension with adults by choosing an orally presented sentence judgment task and an orally presented sentence correction task to measure syntactic awareness. They tested 76 adults and found a correlation of .69. For second language learners, Rabia and Siegel (2002) assessed the role of syntactic awareness in reading comprehension of 56 bilingual Arab-Canadian children aged 9-14 and found a correlation of .57. Consistent with this, Verhoeven (1990) suggested that syntactic knowledge of second language learners significantly predicted their second-language reading comprehension for grade 2 students. In another study involving 397 Dutch grade 8 students, Gelderson et al. (2003) reported a correlation of .78 between grammatical knowledge and English reading comprehension. For advanced learners, moreover, limited syntactic knowledge and a basic unawareness of syntactic boundaries can impede their second-language reading process (Kirajima, 1997). For both L1 and L2 learners, the range of correlations varied depending mainly on three factors, including the syntactic awareness test format, the control of verbal intelligence, and the age of participants. There are two main test formats for the assessment of syntactic awareness. One is the written mode and the other is the oral mode. The written mode introduces a potential difficulty for research studies. Differences of performance in measures of syntactic awareness presented in a written mode may be caused by differences in the decoding abilities of good and poor readers, confounding decoding and syntactic awareness ability. For example, children having trouble identifying the words of text will have trouble organizing them into larger structural units (Tunmer et al., 1987). Therefore, the oral mode is more highly positively correlated with reading comprehension. Whether verbal intelligence is controlled also seems to affect the correlation between syntactic awareness and reading comprehension. Failure to control for verbal intelligence can cause problems of interpretation, because verbal IQ may produce a spurious relation between syntactic awareness and reading ability. Syntactic awareness may not make unique contribution to predicting reading ability not already explained by

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verbal intelligence (Tunmer et al., 1987). Vocabulary knowledge measures assess knowledge about word meaning, as well as how words are combined with other words to form grammatical sentences. Because syntactic ability is partly determined by vocabulary knowledge that is part of tests of verbal intelligence, the present study controlled for verbal intelligence using participants’ scores on the Matriculation Chinese test (MCT), a component of National University Matriculation (NUM) examinations in China which is similar to the Scholastic Aptitude Test used for US college admissions. Frey and Detterman (2003) reported that the correlation between SAT and verbal intelligence was .82. MCT measures the students’ general Chinese reading and writing skills as well as reasoning skills (Yang, Chang & Ma, 2004). In addition, research evidence suggests that the limitation of working memory constrains syntactic comprehension and syntactic awareness. More specifically, when working memory load is reduced, there is no difference in syntactic awareness tasks between poor readers and skilled readers (Smith, Macaruso, Shankweiler & Crain, 1989). Thus, working memory was not assessed for the present study because it is highly correlated with vocabulary knowledge (Dixon et al, 1988; Macdonald & Christiansen, 2002). Even though working memory is important in predicting the reading performance, adding it to the model poses a difficulty for isolating the unique effect of vocabulary knowledge and syntactic awareness in reading comprehension. The age of participants additionally might affect the correlation between syntactic awareness and reading comprehension. The correlations between syntactic awareness and reading comprehension with children were respectively .35 and .40 in two previous studies (Bowey, 1986; Tunmer, Herriman & Nesdale, 1988). However, Gottardo et al. (1997) found a correlation of .69 with English-speaking adults, which is higher than those obtained from similar studies with children. The higher correlation with adults could be explained by the view proposed by the Rand reading group (2002). That is, individual differences in vocabulary and syntactic knowledge account for more variance in reading comprehension than do individual differences in word-level skills in readers with enough facility in word recognition to comprehend in print what they comprehend in spoken language. Since adults have acquired the ability of word recognition, syntactic awareness plays a more important role in reading comprehension for adults.

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Experimental evidence. Two studies provided children with training in sentence organization and cloze procedure, which led to an improvement in sentence anagram performance and an increase in L1 reading comprehension (Kenney & Weener, 1973; Weaver, 1979). However, the training of both studies focused on low-level syntactic abilities. Therefore, they offered little support for a causal relation between high-level syntactic awareness and reading comprehension. In contrast, Layton et al. (1998) provided training tapping all levels of syntactic awareness for 30 grade-four L1 children. Opposite to previous intervention studies, syntactic training did not show any effect on their reading ability, even though it improved the high levels of syntactic awareness. These conflicting results lead to questions about the existence of causal relationships between syntactic awareness and reading comprehension across all levels of syntactic awareness. It is possible that the causal relation does not hold for high levels of syntactic awareness. In sum, the low-level of syntactic awareness appears to be casually related to reading comprehension, but whether the causal relations hold for all levels remains a matter of dispute. Compared with L1 reading research, there was very little experimental evidence to support the importance of syntactic awareness in reading comprehension in the body of L2 reading research. The dispute about whether there is causal relation between syntactic awareness and reading comprehension in L1 research still persists in the field of L2 reading comprehension. More specifically, whether the causal relations hold for all levels of L2 still needs to be clarified. In the present study, the L2 syntactic awareness construct, including both low-level and high-level syntactic ability, was assessed. Thus, the results have the potential to provide evidence about the relation between high-level L2 syntactic awareness and L2 reading comprehension. Even though one cannot make definitive conclusions concerning causal relations, given that the present study was correlational in design, this study provides a more accurate estimate of their correlation and their potential for a causal relation by using latent variables. The Role of Metacognitive Awareness In the domain of both first and second language reading research, recent trends have led to an increasing emphasis on the role of metacognitive awareness of one’s cognitive and motivational processes in reading (Alexander & Jetton, 2000; Pressley,

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Abstract: The importance of vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness in reading comprehension has been established in the first language research. By contrast, fewer studies have documented the role of these components in the reading comprehension of English language learners (ELLs) in the field of second language (L2) research. The proposed study specifically focused on an L2-only model to examine the role of L2 vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness of reading strategies in L2 reading comprehension with 278 Chinese college students majoring in English. More specifically, First, confirmatory factor analysis and structural equation modeling were used to (1) evaluate whether vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness were distinguishable psychological constructs, and (2) examine the strength of the relations between each construct with reading comprehension. Second, the following questions were addressed: (1) whether poor L2 readers are inferior to good L2 readers in syntactic awareness, vocabulary knowledge and metacognitive awareness of reading strategies (MANCOVA was used to address this question); (2) whether the correlations among vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness in reading comprehension were different for poor L2 readers and good L2 readers; and (3) whether the relation between each of three constructs vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness and metacognitive awareness to reading comprehension differ across the poor-reader and good-reader groups. The multigroup analyses were conducted using structural equation modeling. 278 undergraduates whose native language is Chinese, enrolled as English majors, from 3 Chinese universities participated. Those with TOEFL reading scores in the sample's top and bottom 25% were identified as good and poor readers. Eight assessments were administered concurrently, with two measures each of vocabulary knowledge, syntactic awareness, metacognitive awareness, and reading comprehension. Vocabulary knowledge was assessed using the Vocabulary Level Test (Nation, 1990) and the Depth of Vocabulary Knowledge Measure (Dian & Mary, 2004). The Sentence Combination Subtest of the Test of Adolescent and Adult Language (Hammill, Brown, Larsen & Wiederholt, 2007) and the Syntactic Awareness Questionnaire (Layton, Robinson & Lawson, 1998) were used as indicators of syntactic awareness. The Metacognitive Reading Strategies Questionnaire (Taraban, Kerr & Ryneason, 2004) and the Metacognitive Reading Awareness Inventory (Miholic, 1994) assessed the construct of metacognitive awareness of reading strategies. Reading ability was assessed by using the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) Reading Comprehension Subtest (Schedl, Thomas & Way, 1995) and the Gray Silent Reading Test (Third-Edition; Blalock & Weiderholt, 2000). These were all paper and pencil, group administered assessments, which participants completed in a counterbalanced order. Confirmatory factor analysis suggested the two-factor model of Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacogntive Awareness offered the best fit to the data. Structural equation modeling indicated that 87% variance in reading comprehension is explained by the Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacognitive Awareness factors taken together. However, Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness has a stronger relationship to reading comprehension than metacognitive awareness does. MANCOVA indicated significant differences between poor and good readers in both constructs. Multigroup analyses using structural equation modeling suggested the correlation between the Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacognitive Awareness in poor readers was the same across poor-reader and good-reader groups. Similarly, the pattern of relations of Vocabulary Knowledge/Syntactic Awareness and Metacognitive Awareness to reading comprehension remained constant across the poor-reader and good-reader groups.