THE EFFECT OF TASK TYPES ON LISTENING COMPREHENSION LEVELS

THE EFFECT OF TASK TYPES ON LISTENING COMPREHENSION LEVELS OF 7TH GRADE STUDENTS AT A PUBLIC SCHOOL

ABSTRACT
It is a well-known notion that listening is a key skill to build mutual interaction as an essential means of communication. It definitely requires the active involvement of listeners, their effort, andpractice. In doing so, students need to be get exposed to adequate listening input to foster their comprehension in the target language. With this aim, this study investigates the impact of four specific listening tasks on 7th grade EFL learners ’ listening proficiency at a public school with the help of smart boards. Furthermore, the perceptions of students are another source of research concerning the listening skill and the task types. To achieve that, both quantitative and qualitative methods were employed to collect andanalyze the data with a convenience sample of 25 students. Findings revealed that students performed more successfully at the selection task while they were the least succesful in true/false activities. Additively, all students takingpart in semi-structured interviews reported that they have a positive attitude towards the listening activities in their coursebook Briefly, it can be suggested that the listening comprehension skill in EFL classrooms tends to improve through exposure to various kinds of tasks, as a result of which they have chances to develop a positive attitude towards an ignored language skill and to improve new strategies for their comprehension.

Key Words: Listening skill, Comprehension, Tasks, 7th grade

Ayşe ZAMBAK
Minitry of National Education
PhD Student, Department of English Language Teaching, Çukurova University

INTRODUCTION
Listening in a foreign language is an integrative skill, consisting of grammatical, phonetic and cognitive complexities. However, listening comprehension traditionally has drawn the least attention of the four skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) in terms of both the amount of research conducted on the topic and its place in language teaching methodology (Rivers, 1981). Although there has been several reasons describing this situation in different contexts, this neglect may have stemmed from the fact that listening is considered a passive skill, and from the belief that merely exposing the student to the spoken language is sufficient for listening comprehension (Bahrami, 2010). With the increasing demand and attention on communication in the process of language learning, it can be suggested that listening has been given more importance, as it is an indispensable prerequisite of communication (Richards, 2005).

Considering the fact that language is a medium of communication, it has been a significant facet for most of foreign language teachers to teach English for communication since the introduction of Functional Language and Communicative Approach into language teaching in 1970s (Osada, 2004; Vandergrift, 1999). Since then, there have been significant changes as a result of debates in the field of foreign or second langu¬age education. One of the most striking changes was the shift from the passive role attributed to listening to an active one as a receptive skill (Vandergrift, 1999). Parallel with this perception, listening comprehension has attracted considerable attention being acknowledged as a critical dimension in language acquisition (Van Duzer, 1997). With this in mind, a considerable number of researchers have stated that listening is an essential means of communication, and that it is regarded as the process of hearing, understanding, remem- bering, interpreting, evaluating, and responding (Brownell, 2002).
Even though listening comprehension is “an active and conscious process in which listeners cons- truct meaning by using cues from contextual information and existing knowledge” (O’Malley, Chamot & Kupper, 1989, p.19), there is still a common notion that it is a passive skill. Contrary to this general belief, Brown (1994) indicates that listening involves listening for individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and intentions. Doing so definitely requires the active involvement of listeners, their effort, and practice. As Osada (2004) indicates, “the status of listening in language education changed from being incidental and peripheral to a status of central importance. As researchers became increasingly interested in exploring this skill, more re- search, theory building, and curriculum development on listening were done” (p. 55). Likewise, Goh (1997) states that the key skill that is vital and unavoidable in language acquisition is listening. Nunan (2002) believes that listening is the basic skill in language learning, and that listening comprehension is a highly complex problem-solving process.
As a general rule, exercises for listening comprehension are more effective if they are constructed around a task in a classroom environment. The students should be “required to do something in response to what they hear that will demonstrate their understanding” (Dunkel, 1986, p. 104). Examples of tasks can include form filling, true-false activities, matching, selecting, answering questions appropriate to the lear- ners’ comprehension ability, taking notes, taking dictation, and expressing agreement or disagreement and so on. However, Dunkel (1986) and Wing (1986) suggested that listening activities should require the stu¬dents to demonstrate listening skills. Consequently, listening exercises should be dependent upon students’ skills in listening, rather than skills in reading, writing, or speaking.

Considering the effect of tasks on building listening comprehension, the present study was concerned with the investigation of four specific types of tasks with 7th grade EFL learners’ listening proficiency at a public school. Furthermore, the perceptions of students are another source of research about the task types regarding listening skill. This study attempted to answer the following questions:

1. What type(s) of listening tasks correspond better to the 7th grade students’ language proficiency levels at a public school?
2. What are the students’ general perceptions about different listening task types in English?

LİTERATÜRE REVIEW
Listening is the key skill that has a notable place in the constitution of communication in our daily lives. As Flowerdew and Miller (1997) indicate “it is an essential tool, which is one of the constructive aspects in the communication process, for communicating with other people” (p.21). Through the studies conducted by many researchers, it is understood well that the time allocated for listening is relatively more than the other language skills; that is, speaking, reading, and writing. In support of this, Mendelsohn (1994) states that “of the total time spent on communicating, listening takes up 40-50 %; speaking 25-30 %; rea¬ding, 11-16 %; and writing, about 9 %” (p. 9).

In addition to its critical role in daily life communication, listening has a considerable place in edu- cation as well. According to Wolvin and Coakley (1997), both in and out of the classroom, listening uses up more of daily communication when compared to the other forms of verbal communication. Listening has been necessary for students throughout all levels of their educational development and classroom instructi- on (Wolvin & Coakley, 1997; Feyten, 1991). As Gilakjani and Ahmadi (2011) state, listening is used more frequently than the other language skills in the classroom environment. Considering this, it is no doubt that listening comprehension plays a central part in the success of academic settings as well.

Having a better grasp of the significance of listening in both personal and academic lives, it is also necessary to explore what listening comprehension means and how it is constructed. Buck (1992) suggests that listening is an active process in which listeners construct meaning with the help of knowledge for the incoming sound that involves linguistic as well as non-linguistic knowledge accordingly. From this point of view, what is required of a proficient listener is to interpret what a speaker intends tosay, handle a listening conversation, understand what is meant in the discourse as a message, and comprehend the message regard- less of understanding every word (Mendelsohn, 1994). As Purdy (1997) defined, listening comprehension is “the active and dynamic process of attending, perceiving, interpreting, remembering, and responding to the expressed (verbal and nonverbal), needs, concerns, and information offered by other human beings” (p. 8). It can also be understood in this definition that the listener has an active role in comprehension process. Rost (2002) support this situation by stating that listening comprehension is a process of inference in which listeners infer something from the incoming message or input. During this process, listeners make use of both linguistic knowledge and world knowledge or previous knowledge in order to generate a mental rep- resentation of what they have heard. In order to listen efficiently enough, listeners are required to have the ability to decipher the message, the ability to use various strategies and processes in an interaction, and utter something in response to what is said to him or her considering the purpose and mode of the communication (Gilakjani & Ahmadi, 2011). Keeping all these stated in mind, it is understood that listening comprehension is not solely a unidimensional process of receiving audible knowledge or symbols, but rather an interactive process (Brown, 2006).

There have been many research studies that have shed light on the fact that listening is the most difficult skill to acquire for learners (Ching-Shyang Chang & Read, 2007). This is primarily because there has been more emphasis and attention on the skills such as reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar rather than listening as a receptive skill. Thus, learners who attempt to learn English as a foreign language usually face obstacles or difficulties in comprehending listening accordingly. Task type in related listening activities is one of them having impact on language proficiency of learners.

1. Task Type in Listening Skill
Task has been defined in a variety of ways. Nunan (1989) suggests that it is a piece of classroom work which involves learners in comprehending, manipulating, producing, or interacting in the target language while their attention is principally focused on meaning rather than form. The task should also have a sense of completeness, being able to stand alone as a communicative act in its own right (cited in Ellis, 2003, p. 4).
Long (1985) defines a task as a piece of work undertaken for oneself or for others, freely or for some reward … in other words, by a task it is meant the hundred and one thing people do in everyday life, at work, at play and in between. Tasks are things people will tell you they do if you ask them and they are not applied linguists.
According to Ellis (2003), a task may consist of any of the four language skills including listening comprehension ability. Listening tasks can be applied for several purposes: 1) measuring whether learners have acquired a special feature targeted to be learned or facilitating learning a special feature through modifying the input for effective processing the feature, 2) providing a non-threatening way to engage learners in a meaning-centered activity, and 3) providing learners with the enriched input. In listening-to-comprehend tasks, learners use their schematic knowledge to carry out the task (Ellis, 2003).
There are different task types when the listening skill in EFL teaching is considered. Advocating the concept of task, Dunkel (1986, p. 104) puts forward: “The students should be required to do something in response to what they hear that will demonstrate their understanding”. Examples of tasks are making an appointment, making a hotel reservation, filling out a form, labelling a map, etc. Dunkel (1986, p. 104) has classified listening tasks into the following types:

1. Matching: requires learners to listen to a text and then match a numbered list of items with a set of options. The purpose of this task is to evaluate how well learners can listen to details.

2. Labelling: requires learners to select the labels from a list which best match the blank parts of a visual task (Dunkel, 1986). The purpose of this task is to assess students’ ability to understand descriptions of a place which usually includes spatial- and direction-related expressions such as opposite to, in front of, etc.

3. Selecting (multiple choice): this listening task requires learners to listen to a text and answer some questions each with 3-4 choices. This task type aims to check the learners’ detailed or general understanding of the main points of the listening text and their ability to answer some questions.

4. Form-filling: this listening task requires learners to listen to a text and complete the information requested and it evaluates the learners’ ability to evaluate the relationships and details.

5. Sentence completion: this listening task requires learners to listen to sentences which summarize the key information of the text and complete a gap in each sentence using information from the listening text. The purpose is to measure the learners’ ability to focus on the main points of the text.

6. Summary completion: this listening task requires learners to complete a summary which contains a number of gaps and it assesses learners’ understanding of the overall meaning and main points of the section summarized.

7. Short-answer questions: this listening task requires learners to listen to a text and read a set of related questions to which they have to write a short answer. Such tasks evaluate learners’ ability to listen for concrete facts such as places.

2. METHODOLOGY
This chapter presents information regarding the current study’s design, participants, instruments, data collection. It gives the readers an insight into the nature of the study and help them understand better the procedures used in this study.
2.1. Research Design
In this study, both quantitative and qualitative methods were employed to collect and analyze the data in order to find out the 7th grade EFL learners’ tendecies to perform better in specific listening tasks and also their perceptions about the related listening activities with problems that these learners may encounter in listening comprehension process. Initially, a descriptive research design was utilized by the researcher. According to Cohen, Manion, and Morrison (2007), descriptive research design is defined as “the survey that describes and present data, for example, in terms of summary frequencies such as mode, mean, median, range, or standard deviation” (p. 503). Students listened to three different listening extracts through smart boards in their classrooms. For each listening extract, there are 4 different listening tasks. Three different listening extracts were implemented and the mean scores were collected for the related task types. Mean scores of each task type were used to show which task type(s) can correspond better to students’ listening proficiency levels.
Additively, semi-structured interviews were carried out to have a better grasp of students’ reactions towards different task types in listening skill and general perceptions about the listening skill itself. Semi- structured interviews are important data collection tools of qualitative research designs. Spafford, Itzo Pesce, and Grosser (1998) define qualitative research as “research efforts that are participant-oriented and inductive in nature” (p.230). They further suggest that qualitative research usually focuses on a problem or issue at hand with little reference to previous findings (p. 231). In addition, Cohen et al. (2007) state that qualitative research is significant since it “investigates the quality of relationships, activities, situations, or materials” (p. 503).
2.2. Participants and the Setting
The present study has a convenience sample of 25 participants who are 7th grade students at a public school Sarıçam County, Adana. A convenience sampling is a non-probability sampling method, which pro- vides accessibility to the researcher and availability at a given time. Thus, this sampling method provided the researcher with the convenience of working with her students and helped her to understand them better.
The study was carried out at a public middle school. The school is about 30km from the city centre. It serves as a central school with regards to neighboring villages. Students from 6 different villages receive education in this school. In general, students ‘ academic achievements are not at the desired level. Nevert- heless, the researcher is planning to carry out this study in order to raise awareness of listening skills in the target language.
2.3. Data Collection Tools
Since the aim of this study is to find out the impact of 4 different listening task types on students’ listening comprehension and achievement levels in the course book, it is crucial to adopt different data col¬lection instruments in this study. For the quantitative part, firstly, 3 units were determined from the textbook given by the Ministry of National Education. For each unit, 4 listening task types were chosen (selecting, matching, filling in the blanks and true/false). To analyze the listening process better, the researcher perio- dically had participants listen to three different listening extracts with an interval of one week between each two administrations. While listening to the passages, the students were asked to do the related tasks. At the end of each extract, mean scores, which were collected from three different listening extracs including four task types, were computed and illustrated through the tables formed in SPSS 20.0.
For the second part of the study, the gathered data from the semi-structured interviews with five students were analyzed and interpreted using the content analysis method.
2.4. Data Analysis Procedure
As the first step, the quantitative data collected through 3 different listening extracts ,which exist in the course book, were analyzed by using the Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS, version 20). Descriptive statistics were utilized in order to find out the participants’ mean scores according to different listening task types.
As the second step, the qualitative data, that were gathered through semi-structured interviews, were analyzed and interpreted using the content analysis method. Content analysis is described as “the scientific study of content of communication. It is the study of the content with reference to the meanings, contexts ,and intentions contained in messages” (Cohen et al., 2007, p. 503). The reason for applying this method was that concepts and themes that are not noticeable using the descriptive approach may be seen by using the content analysis. (Yıldırım and Şimşek, 2005). In addition, in content analysis, the researcher focuses on coding and categorizing the data, which makes this technique rich (Sternler, 2001).

3. FINDINGS
This chapter is devoted to the findings of the research. It includes the analysis results of descriptive data obtained from the different task types in 3 listening extracts. The results of the mean scores are interp- reted to unravel the most and the least succesful task types based on students’ comprehension levels.
3.1. Findings Related to First Research Question
For the first research question ‘What type(s) of listening tasks correspond better to the 7th grade students’ language proficiency levels at a public school?’, results of descriptive analysis were taken into consideretion to see in which listening task students are more successful. Each listening extract contains 4 different tasks, which are selecting, matching, true/false and fill in the blank activities. The worksheet pre- pared by the researcher for each listening extract have 100 points. Therefore, each listening task correspon- ds to 25 points. In the light of this information, the following tables show the students’ comprehension levels in each listening extract related to 4 listening tasks.

Descriptive Statistics

Table 1 reveals the descriptive statistics for the first listening extract, which belongs to the ‘Buildings’ chapter in the course book. When results are concerned, the selecting task has the highest mean score (M=20,4, SD=5,93) while the matching activity (M=14,8, SD=9,06) scored the lowest mean values. It can be suggested that students have demonstrated the best performance at the selection task in this listening
extract.

Descriptive Statistics Descriptive Statistics

When all statistical results are paid attention, Table 4 offers that the selecting was the task, in which students corresponded better and demonstrated the most successful performance in this study (M=21,71, SD=2,92). On the other hand, although there exists a little difference between true/false and fill in the blanks tasks, it seems that students have shown the least success in true/ false activities (M=15,48, SD=4,60) con- cerning all listening extracts and tasks of this study.

4.2 Findings Related to Second Research Question
For the second research question ‘What are the students’generalperceptions about different listening task types in English?’, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 5 students. In doing so, students were asked 5 different questions and asked to express their opinion on this subject comfortably. The interviews were conducted in Turkish by the researcher. After translating into English, necessary feedback was obtained from the participants for the accuracy of the data, which ensures respondent validation.

To start with the participants’ comments on their self-perceived listening ability in English, 3 of them mentioned that they find themselves successful in these kind activities. However, 2 participants reported that they are not good at listening activities in English classes.

I think I’m capable of listening in English. I give my whole concentrate on the listening activity. Thanks to listening a few times, I can understand subjects or words that I don’t understand when I first listen. In addition, I think my interest in English lesson has also a positive effect on my listening comprehension.
I don’t find my listening ability so successful, because l have great difficulty in keeping up with the words while listening.

Based on students’ reflections, they were asked in which areas they have the greatest difficulty when the listening skill is considered. According to their answers, different reasons emerged as factors affecting listening comprehension. These are unknown words, quality of sound in listening extracts, the noise out- side, unfamiliar topic, lack of concentration, speed, tone and pronunciation in listening extracts and their anxiety level towards the activity.

In relation with these answers, students were asked to comment on the listening activities in their course books. All of them reported that they have a positive attitude towards the these activities in their coursebook. To illustrate;

I think listening activities in the textbook are easy and educational, because they are improving our listening skills.

To me, listening activities are easy to understand, and there should be more listening activities in the text book. But, we can understand better if they talk a little more slowly.

Ifind the listening activities in the textbook very amusing and easy because there are words out there to help us understand better.

After having a general understanding about students’ attitudes towards listening skill in English, they were asked to reflect more specifically on the task types and their listening comprehension levels, which are the main themes of this study. To start with the task type with which they felt the most comfortable, 3 students mentioned that selecting was the easiest one. The other 2 students reported that matching and filling in the blanks tasks were the easiest activities. Their justifications are as following:

I think matching was the easiest one because the words were so clear and easy.
That was filling in the blanks activity, because the missing words were given in the box and it was very helpful.
To me, selecting was the easiest task, because we didn ’t get late while listening. We were just supposed to hear and put a tick on the given words.

Students commented on the listening activities in which they have difficulty, after reflecting on the easiest listening activity for themselves. The answers revelaed that true- false and filling in the blanks, un- like the student who found this activity easy above, were the most difficult task types with the following reasons:
It was filling in the blanks task, becase while I was trying to write one word, it doesn ’t stop andI can not catch up with other words.

I think true – false activity was difficult, because I must understand the sentences to decide if it is true or false. That was challenging for me.
Only 1 student stated that he had no difficulty in any task type, because he found the topics easy and comprehensible.

DISCUSSION and CONCLUSION
This study aimed to investigate the effects of 4 different listening tasks on listening comprehension levels of 7th grade students at a public school. The participants were 25 EFL learners studying at a public school in Sarıçam County of Adana. The research questions addressed in the present study were related to the type(s) of listening tasks, To answer these questions, the researcher prepared 3 listening worksheets including different task types which were taken from the related chapters in the coursebook. Then, the researcher analyzed the data by using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS, version 20) with the help of descriptive statistics to find out the participants’ mean scores according to different listening task types.

The results have displayed that students performed more successfully at the selection task. Also, students were the least succesful in true/false activities among other 4 tasks mentioned previously. To cla- rify these results, semi-structured interviews were carried out with 5 students to reflect on the justifications. According to their answers, selecting task was the most easiest one because they were just supposed to hear the target words and put a tick and this activity did not expect too much from them. However, true/false task was the most demanding and challenging one because it requires a full comprehension and interpre- tation of what is heard. These results do not show parallellism with Khoshsima & Sadighi Tasuj (2014)’s study, which found out that the learners’ performance was better on completing and note-taking task types in comparison to the other three task types of selecting, role-playing and matching. In another study by Bahrami (2010) studying the impact of task types on the learners of different levels, results showed that the matching, labeling, and form-filling tasks showed some degrees of effect on improving the listening comp¬rehension of the learners at the intermediate level but the selecting task was not as effective as other tasks. However, it is vital that different activities should be used in developing the listening skill (Marlow, 2000) without considering their contribution level, because listening is mostly a neglected skill especially in countries where sit-down types of exams are quite popular. Apart from that, Ghaderpanahi (2012) searched about the effect of using authentic materials in second language education upon listening comprehension, and explored that authentic texts had positively influenced students’ success in activities performed after listening. This conclusion highlights that we need to move our listening activities to a more meaningful and authentic point involving situations that students may encounter in their daily lives, together with the activities in the course books.

In brief, according to the obtained results, it became clear that the listening-comprehension skill in EFL classrooms tends to improve through exposure to various kinds of tasks with specific aims. Thanks to these tasks, student will be able to develop a positive attitude towards an ignored language skill and they will improve new strategies for their comprehension.

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