Using Precision Teaching Method to Improve Foreign Language and Cognitive Skills in University Students

Using Precision Teaching Method to Improve Foreign Language and Cognitive Skills in University Students

Francesca Cuzzocrea (University of Messina, Italy), Anna Maria Murdaca (University of Messina, Italy) and Patrizia Oliva (University of Messina, Italy)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/jdldc.2011100104
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Abstract

Learning a foreign language takes time and effort. In the last few years, too much emphasis has been placed on oral communication skills and English teachers make their students speak English without paying enough attention to grammatical accuracy. As a result, while students’ ability in terms of fluency has improved, they often cannot communicate appropriately in English due to a lack of grammatical knowledge. The aim of the study was to explore the potential of Precision Teaching software developed for the improvement of English grammar rules. Two groups were compared, one having used the software and the other following a traditional textbook-based approach. The students who used the software showed significantly higher learning scores than students who did not. In addition, after using the software students show increased scores in some cognitive abilities that are related to foreign language learning.
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Method

Participants

28 Italian university students were recruited as volunteers from a beginners' psychology class. All students had a basic level of English proficiency. After agreeing to take part in the study, all participants completed a preliminary task to assessing their level of English knowledge and cognitive abilities, to ensure comparable groups. Two groups were selected: one used Precision Teaching software (n=14), the other used a traditional learning method, based on textbook teaching materials (n=14). None of the participants in this study had used the Precision Teaching software and the textbook materials prior to the experiment.

Materials

PT Software

Precision Teaching software (Caravita, 2003) consists of three areas: 1) Insegno (to set didactic contents of learning training), 2) Imparo (to perform assigned tasks) and 3) Performance Analyzer (to assess student performance). Use by the trainee requires no specific knowledge, either for the execution of the test, or for the training phase.

Through Insegno, the didactic contents to learn during the training (English grammar rules and their applications) were arranged. Students simply had to answer a default sequence of items (choosing between pictures or writing the answer by keyboard). Items are presented from easier to more difficult ones. 14 lessons of training on principal grammar rules and correct use of verbs in English language were selected for this study.

Traditional Textbook Materials

English Grammar in Use (Murphy, 2003) is a grammar text known for its simple, clear explanations and innovative format. This book is aimed at elementary students and is designed as a first grammar book, covering all the major grammatical problems with numerous examples and illustrations. It can be used as a classroom text or for self-study. Each lesson-unit is a two-page spread that teaches a specific grammar point on the left hand side and provides practice exercises on the right.

Cognitive Abilities

Attenzione e Concentrazione test (Di Nuovo, 2000) was used to assess attention, concentration and memory abilities. This uses computer technology to give a greater understanding of these valuable capabilities; it’s based around a simple, accessible item-format which looks at the ability to pay attention and memorize instructions and applies these quickly and accurately.

Concentration and sustained attention (vigilance) were assessed by using digit span (forward and backward), already computerized by Jarvis and Jarvis (1991). It consists of the number of digits a person can absorb and recall in correct serial order after hearing them. The test begins with 2 to 3 numbers, increasing as the test progresses. At the end of a sequence, the subject is asked to recall and write using a keyboard the items in the same order presented.

Also divided attention was measured, using a dual-task methodology. In particular, the subject had to press a button when a stimuli target appeared on the screen; at the same time, a list of words was read and the participant had to click another button every time word target was heard. So, attention ability must be distributed in two parallel tasks, one for the visual search and the other for auditory recognition.

Reaction time is the elapsed time between the presentation of a stimulus and the subsequent behavioral response and, in particular, in a recognition reaction time task some stimuli should be responded to and others should get no response (distracter set). The user had to press a button when one stimulus type appeared and withhold a response when other stimulus types appeared. Assessing this kind of reaction time is important to define the time required for an observer to detect the presence of a stimulus and to measure the duration of mental operations.

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