Comprehension-based and production-based instruction

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Chapter 3. Comprehension-based versus production-based instruction: A meta-analysis of comparative studies


In this chapter I review studies that have compared the effects of comprehension-based and production-based instruction by means of a meta-analysis. I elected to carry out the review in this way because I wanted to obtain a clear overall picture of what previous studies had shown about the relative effects of the two kinds of instruction and because I hoped that a meta-analysis would more clearly reveal where there were gaps in the existing research.
I begin this chapter with some general comments about the two kinds of instruction and on the advantages of conducting a meta-analysis before moving on to present the methodology and results of the meta-analysis.

Comprehension-based and production-based instruction

Comprehension-based instruction (CBI) involves activities that require learners to demonstrate comprehension of target language features while they are exposed to oral and/or written input. Production-based instruction (PBI) requires learners to produce the target language features in an oral or written form in order to complete the instructional activities. Thus, the fundamental distinction between CBI and PBI is whether or not the instruction requires In the case of grammar, the debate on the effectiveness of the two approaches was initiated by Krashen’s input hypothesis (1982, 1985, 1998), which claimed that production serves only for generating comprehensible input, and that output itself does not make a direct contribution to acquisition. The Interaction Hypothesis (Long, 1983) also saw acquisition as driven by input, at least in its early form. It claimed that the input that derives from the negotiation of meaning worked best for acquisition. This led to a number of studies that investigated the effects of ‘baseline input’, ‘premodified input’ and ‘interactionally modified input’ on both comprehension and acquisition (e.g.m Loschky, 1994). Many of the recent studies comparing the effects of input-based and output-based instruction on the the production of the target language. The debate over the merits of the two approaches for teaching both vocabulary and grammar has continued over three decades. acquisition of L2 grammatical features have been motivated by claims derived from Processing Instruction (VanPatten & Williams, 2007). These studies have compared instruction designed to induce processing of grammatical features through exposure to structured input with various other types of instruction that required learners to produce the target features – such as traditional instruction (e.g. Benati, 2005), meaningful output-based instruction (e.g. Farley, 2001b), instruction based on dictogloss tasks (e.g. Qin, 2008) or present-practice-produce (PPP) instruction (e.g. Collentine, 1998). Other theories, however, make a case for production-based instruction. The Output Hypothesis, proposed by Swain (1985; 1995) suggests that “pushed output” contributes to acquisition by leading learners to notice L2 features and thereby modify their output.
Researchers investigated the effectiveness of “pushed output” by comparing instruction that involved pushing learners to produce specific linguistics features with comprehension-based instruction (e.g. Izumi, 2002; Leeser, 2008). Some studies investigated the effects of‘noticing’ in output-based instruction and in instruction involving input enhancement. These studies were interested in the extent to which the two types of instruction resulted in “incidental acquisition” (e.g. Izumi & Bigelow, 2000; Izumi, et al., 1999). See the previous chapter for a discussion of incidental acquisition.
A somewhat different position on the two types of instruction can be found in Anderson’s (1993) skill acquisition theory. This makes no claim regarding the superiority of comprehension-based and production-based instruction but instead proposes that comprehension and production skills develop as a result of practice in the respective skills. That is, to develop comprehension skills, comprehension-based instruction is needed while to develop production skills, learners need to practise production. DeKeyser & Sokalski (1996; 2001) were motivated by skill learning theory to investigate the effects of production and comprehension practice on the development of comprehension and production skills. There are also competing theories in the case of vocabulary acquisition. The Interaction Hypothesis has informed a number of studies of vocabulary acquisition (e.g. R. Ellis, 1995;R. Ellis, Heimbach, Tanaka, & Yamazaki, 1999; Loschky, 1994). Drawing on a later version of this hypothesis (Long, 1996), some studies compared the relative effects of different kinds of input with ‘pushed output’ on the acquisition of new lexical items (e.g. de la Fuente, 2002; R. Ellis & He, 1999). Other comparative vocabulary studies involved activities that required L2-L1 translation for receptive learning (i.e. CBI) and those required L1-L2 translation for productive learning (i.e. PBI). In general the results indicated that productive practice leads to better vocabulary learning (Steinel, et al., 2007). However,Webb (2009a) produced results that lend support to skill-learning theory. He reported that productive practice benefited productive knowledge and receptive practice benefited receptive knowledge.
As we have seen, CBI-PBI comparative studies draw on very diverse SLA theories. They have also had very different foci and employed very different methodologies. Not surprisingly, then, they have produced very mixed results. This makes it difficult to reach any clear conclusions about the overall superiority of either instructional approach. However, the relatively large number of studies on vocabulary and grammar that have now accumulated make it possible to conduct a meta-analysis. This makes it possible to obtain an overall assessment of the relative effects of the two kinds of instruction and also to identify gaps in the existing research – the main goals of this chapter.


A meta-analysis (Glass, 1976) or “research synthesis” (Cooper & Headges, 1994) is defined as a quantitative research method which involves combining and synthesising the results of multiple studies to provide a macroscopic view of a particular research domain. Dornyei (2007) described it as a “quantitative literature review”. It affords a systematic and objective review of the existing literature. The purposes of the literature review is to identify patterns in findings and to identify gaps and methodological weaknesses in existing research. Norris & Ortega (2006) discuss the limitations of a traditional, narrative review as follows:
The essential weaknesses include, foremost, a tendency to select the studies under consideration unsystematically and idiosyncratically, resulting in incomplete, biased, or simply unwarranted claims about the state of knowledge. In addition, traditional reviewers tend to distill generalizations, and to argue their positions, on the basis of theoretical predilections rather than inspection of the actual evidence that may be complied systematically across studies, including evidence regarding the extent to which study methodologies themselves may be influencing study results (p.6).They advocated conducting a research synthesis in the form of a meta-analysis on the following grounds: (1) it always includes an explicit account of how the relevant literature was searched and how primary studies were selected for review, (2) it focuses on the actual variables, characteristics, and data reported in the primary studies, rather than on the studyspecific conclusions offered by primary researchers, and (3) it compiles findings, and seeks generalizations by examining categories of data and methodology that cut across studies, in order to create as systematic a depiction as possible about what we know, what we do not know, and why (Norris & Ortega, 2006, pp. 6-7).


Table of Contents
Table of Contents
List of Tables
List of Figures
Chapter 1. Introduction: The background to my study 
1.1. Teaching English to elementary school learners in Japan
1.2. Personal context
1.3. Theoretical context 
1.4. Summary
Chapter 2. Comprehension-based and production-based instruction
2.1. Comprehension, production and L2 acquisition
2.2. Comprehension-based instruction 
2.2.1. Definition
2.2.2. Early studies
2.2.3. Pedagogical approaches
2.3. Production-based instruction 
2.3.1. Definition
2.3.2. Behaviourism and the audiolingual method
2.3.3. Second language acquisition (SLA) theories
2.3.4. Pedagogical approaches
2.3.5. Intentional and incidental acquisition
2.3.6. Conclusion
Chapter 3. Comprehension-based versus production-based instruction: A metaanalysis of comparative studies
3.1. Introduction 
3.2. Comprehension-based and production-based instruction
3.3. Meta-analysis
3.4. Methodology
3.4.1. Selection of studies
3.4.2. Coding
3.4.3. Data analysis
3.4.4. Results
3.4.5. Research synthesis
3.4.6. Vocabulary acquisition
3.4.7. Discussion
3.4.8. Grammar acquisition
3.4.9. Discussion
3.5. Conclusion
Chapter 4. Pilot Study 
4.1. Research Questions for the pilot study
4.2. Participants 
4.3. Research design 
4.4. Target features
4.5. Instructional treatments 
4.5.1. Treatment materials and procedures for the CBI group
4.5.2. Instructional materials and procedures for the PBI group
4.5.3. Control group materials
4.5.4. Recording and transcribing of lessons
4.6. Test materials Multiple-choice word comprehension test
Category task test Discrete-item word production test  Same or Different task test Plural -s comprehension test.  Wug test. 
4.6.1. Testing order
4.6.2. Reliability of testing materials
4.7. Data analysis
4.8. Results
4.8.1. Vocabulary acquisition (Research Question 1-3)
4.8.2. Acquisition of plural -s (Research Questions 4-6)
4.8.3. Process features (Research Question 7)
4.9. Discussion.
4.9.1. Vocabulary acquisition
4.9.2. Acquisition of plural -s
4.9.3. Process feature
4.9.4. Issues and modification for Main study
4.9.5. Expanding research questions
Chapter 5. Research Methodology
5.1. Introduction 
5.2. Research Questions
5.2.1. Vocabulary acquisition
5.2.2. Incidental acquisition of grammatical features
5.3. Participants 
5.4. Research design 
5.5. Target vocabulary items 
5.6. Target grammatical features
5.7. Instructional treatments 
5.7.1. Instructional materials and procedures for the CBI group
5.7.2. Instructional materials and procedures for the PBI group
5.7.3. Control group materials
5.7.4. Recording and transcribing of lessons
5.8. Testing materials Multiple-choice word comprehension test Category task test Discrete-item word production test Same or Different task test Task-based copula be production test: Tell-and-Do task test  Discrete-item copula be production test: Sentence production test
5.8.1. Testing order
5.9. Reliability of testing instruments
5.10. Data analysis
5.10.1. Data analysis for the vocabulary tests
5.10.2. Data analysis for the plural -s tests
5.10.3. Data analysis for the copula be tests
Chapter 6. The process features of the two types of instruction 
6.1. Introduction 
6.2. Turn-taking
6.2.1. The characteristic of turn-taking in the PBI lessons
6.2.2. The characteristics of turn-taking in the CBI lessons
6.2.3. Summary of the turn-taking in the two groups
6.3. Repair
6.3.1. The characteristics of repair in the PBI lessons
6.3.2. The characteristic of repair in the CBI lessons
6.3.3. Difference between the two groups
6.4. Private Speech
6.4.1. Private speech in the PBI group
6.4.2. Private speech in the CBI group
6.4.3. Summary of private speech
6.5. Conclusion
Chapter 7. Vocabulary acquisition
7.1. Introduction 
7.2. Results 
7.2.1. Noun scores
7.2.2. Adjective scores
7.3. Discussion
7.3.1. Acquisition of nouns
7.3.2. Acquisition of adjectives
7.3.3. Summary
Chapter 8. Incidental acquisition of grammatical features
8.1. Introduction 
8.2. Measuring acquisition
8.3. Results
8.3.1. Results for plural -s
8.3.2. Results for copula be
8.3.3. Summary of results
8.4. Discussion
8.4.1. Acquisition of plural -s
8.4.2. Acquisition of copula be
8.5. Summary
Chapter 9. Conclusion
9.1. Process features 
9.2. Vocabulary acquisition
9.3. Incidental grammar acquisition 
9.4. Methodological implications
9.5. Limitations and future research 
9.6. Final comments
Appendix A: Ethics forms
Appendix B: List of Included Studies for the Meta-analysis
Appendix C: Instructional Materials
Appendix D: Test Materials
Appendix E : Transcript of the first part of the CBI classroom (Lesson1)
Appendix F : Transcription Conventions

A comparison of the effects of comprehension-based and production-based instruction on the acquisition of vocabulary and grammar by young Japanese learners of English

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