An analysis of thematic progression of sophomore students’ writing at faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education

Abstract. An analysis of the thematic progression (TP) patterns of 35 paragraphs by the sophomore students at Faculty of English (FOE), Hanoi National University of Education (HNUE) was conducted based on Paltridge’s (2006) analytical model. Its results show that the constant theme pattern is the most frequently used and the TP problems of brand-new theme, overuse of constant progression, interruption between rheme and subsequent themes, and empty rheme are committed by students. To solve these problems, a package of instructional steps is presented with twofold objectives: developing students’ awareness of theme/ rheme and TP patterns and helping them apply the concepts to improve coherence in their writing.

pdf10 trang | Chia sẻ: thanhle95 | Lượt xem: 95 | Lượt tải: 0download
Bạn đang xem nội dung tài liệu An analysis of thematic progression of sophomore students’ writing at faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education, để tải tài liệu về máy bạn click vào nút DOWNLOAD ở trên
51 HNUE JOURNAL OF SCIENCE Educational Sciences, 2020, Volume 64, Issue 4B, pp. 51-60 This paper is available online at AN ANALYSIS OF THEMATIC PROGRESSION OF SOPHOMORE STUDENTS’ WRITING AT FACULTY OF ENGLISH, HANOI NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF EDUCATION Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education Abstract. An analysis of the thematic progression (TP) patterns of 35 paragraphs by the sophomore students at Faculty of English (FOE), Hanoi National University of Education (HNUE) was conducted based on Paltridge’s (2006) analytical model. Its results show that the constant theme pattern is the most frequently used and the TP problems of brand-new theme, overuse of constant progression, interruption between rheme and subsequent themes, and empty rheme are committed by students. To solve these problems, a package of instructional steps is presented with twofold objectives: developing students’ awareness of theme/ rheme and TP patterns and helping them apply the concepts to improve coherence in their writing. Keywords: coherence, theme and rheme, thematic progression. 1. Introduction Teaching instruction tends to focus on local coherence problems related to mechanical and grammatical errors or cohesive devices despite the fact that global coherence, which looks at the coherence of a text as a whole, needs to be addressed in a systematic way by teachers of writing [1, 2]. This means that the teachers need to look beyond the traditional grammar of the clause when teaching and explaining to students where they are losing effectiveness in their arguments at the level of discourse [3]. To meet these expectations, frameworks at text level should be employed. One of those frameworks could be found in the theory of functional grammar on theme/ rheme and thematic progression (TP). The concept of theme/ rheme was introduced as early as the mid-1800s, and later developed by the Prague school of linguists [4]. While a number of researchers, such as Firbas [5], Fries [6], and Thompson [7] have examined the topic in depth, perhaps the most widely-referenced analyses of theme and rheme were published by Halliday [8]. Theme, according to Halliday [8:38], is “what the message is concerned with: the point of departure for what the speaker is going to say” in a clause. In other words, themes usually contain information that is already familiar or already given. The role of theme needs to be stressed as the chosen theme can affect the readers’ interpretation of upcoming information. Readers tend to process information by first identifying what is being discussed and then pay attention to what is said about it. Meanwhile, rheme, according to Halliday [8:38], is the “remainder of the message” whereby part of the theme is developed. Rheme usually contains new information, knowledge that the author thinks the reader does not know from the previous context. Rheme, therefore, is the most Received April 1, 2020. Revised April 2, 2020. Accepted May 1, 2020. Contact: Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen, e-mail address: thanhhuyen.016.hnue@gmail.com Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen 52 prominent element of its nature – the messenger in the clause. Thematic progression (TP), as stated by Danes [9:114], is “the choice and ordering of utterance themes, their mutual concatenation and hierarchy”. TP, according to Halliday [8:38], is “the way themes and rhemes are chained into” and may contribute to coherence. As cited in Jing [10:68], coherence is thought of as the relationship between different semantic meanings in a text and one important element in establishing such semantic relationships is ordering ideas in a logical sequence, which could be realized through the appropriate use of TP. Jing [10:67] stated that one line of research in TP has focused on how appropriate use of TP could improve coherence in writing by analyzing their problems of TP. In the Chinese context, Ma [11] found that English writing that was graded with high scores was more coherent, using different types of thematic progression such as constant thematic progression and linear thematic progression than writing that was graded with low scores in a comparison study of three writing samples. Similarly, Wang [12] concluded that effective thematic progression patterns such as constant progression, linear progression, split Theme progression, and split Rheme progression could make English writing more coherent, based on a detailed analysis of three writing samples that were graded with high, medium, and low scores from TEM-42 writing sections. In the Vietnamese context, however, little attention has been paid for analysing Vietnamese students’ TP patterns and their TP problems. Perhaps, one noticeable study on this topic deserving mentioning is the contrastive paper conducted by Vu [13]. Vu compared Vietnamese ESL students' argumentative essays with model texts by native expert writers and identified that nonlinearity argument, which is caused by the inappropriate choice of TP, may result in negative reactions from English readers, who may find that ESL argumentative texts are more disconnected, harder to follow, less persuasive, and less well-supported [13]. As a teacher of English, in an attempt to help my students at FOE, HNUE who were struggling with producing a coherent writing text, I decided to carry out this study with the hope of describing the patterns of TP emerging in their writing and finding out their typical TP problems so that the pedagogical remedy could be suggested. 2. Content 2.1. Thematic progression patterns Paltridge [14] developed a framework with three TP patterns, including linear TP, constant TP, and split Rheme Progression. 2.1.1. Linear/ Zigzag thematic progression This pattern is considered to be the most elementary or basic TP [11]. In this pattern, the subject matter in the rheme (R) of one clause is engaged in the Theme (T) of the succeeding clause [14]. Figure 1. Linear thematic progression Example: I ate an apple. It was delicious. An analysis of thematic progression of sophomore students writing at Faculty of English 53 2.1.2. Constant/ Reiteration thematic progression: In this pattern, the theme in one clause is repeated and taken up as the theme of the next clause, beckoning that T1 of each clause will be discussed about continuously [14]. This pattern may give the impression that the topic lacks development because each sentence begins the same way. It is represented in Figure 2. T1 → R1 ↓ T2 → R2 Figure 2. Constant TP Example: I ate an apple. I had some milk with it. 2.1.3. Thematic progression with a split rheme In this model, a rheme from a clause contains different pieces of information, and each piece of information becomes a Theme of succeeding clauses [14]. It is represented in Figure 3. T1 → R1 (R1.1+R1.2) T2 (=R1.1) T3 (=R1.2) Figure 3. TP with a split rheme Example: I ate an apple and an orange. The apple was delicious. The orange was so sour. 2.2. Study procedures This study was carried out on a corpus of 35 paragraphs by the sophomore students aged 19 - 20 at Faculty of English, Hanoi National University of Education. They were asked to write a paragraph of about 120 words within 20 minutes, which is the students’ learning responsibility according to their course syllabus, in respond to the following question: What are advantages/ disadvantages of studying in groups? Previously, they had been instructed about how to write a paragraph but they have had no idea about the concepts of theme/ rheme and TP. To determine different patterns of TP, the data were analyzed based on Paltridge’s analytical framework [14]. This model is believed to present comprehensive details on subtypes of TP patterns and has been widely used in other TP studies by Rungrudee & Natjiree [15] and Rama [16], to name but a few. After the data was analyzed, the study was aimed at presenting a package of instruction in TP. The package was adapted from the theory suggested by Mellos [17], in which practical and detailed classroom activities were introduced to students to the grammar of Theme-Rheme in order to improve the coherence of their writing in the academic writing curriculum. Comprised of five parts, introduction to Theme-Rheme, analysis of authentic and model texts, introduction to Thematic patterns, analysis of Theme patterns in student texts, and application to the students’ writing, the lessons were intended for an undergraduate ESL academic reading and writing course and with adaptation could be used for other levels and contexts. 2.3. Findings and Discussions 2.3.1. Thematic progression patterns in the students’ writing The overall frequency of each TP pattern found in the corpus is presented along with its percentage in the following Table 1. The Table 1 reveals that, out of the three patterns, Constant TP (66%) was the dominant patterns employed in the students’ paragraph writing, followed by the pattern of Split rheme (21%) and Linear TP (12%). Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen 54 Table 1. The frequency of thematic progression patterns used in the students’ writing and the percentage Thematic progression patterns Total TP patterns Weighting Constant TP 106 66% Linear TP 20 12% Split rheme 35 22% Total 161 100% First, the findings were in line with previous papers by Wang [18] or Ebrahimi & Khedri [19] who agree that the constant TP is considered to be mostly preferred pattern used by the students. The reasons behind this overuse could be that writers might not know that this scheme makes their text read like a list, and they tend not to go in depth on the ideas by not expending on information introduced in the rheme. Second, the findings caused a surprise to the author who expected that the students should have used the linear TP pattern more frequently than the constant pattern in their academic writing. In an academic text, in which complex arguments require each successive idea to be an expansion of preceding one, TP needs to have high incidence of cross-referential links from the rheme of the preceding clause to the theme of the next clause [20]. The following excerpts exhibit each type of TP patterns found in students’ writing. Excerpt 1. The constant pattern Besides, studying in group helps you have more experiences and knowledge. (1) You will understand the value of teamwork. In addition, (2) you can expand relationships. (3) You have the chance to meet many people and learn to improve qualifications and skills. This can make you more rounded as a person. In the instance above, Themes 1, 2 and 3, sharing the same element ‘you’ as the point of departure, are in the constant TP pattern. As mentioned before, the constant TP pattern is not much realized to a great extent in the academic writing due to the fact that the overuse of the constant progression pattern makes the text appear simple and repetitive like a list [3]. Excerpt 2. The linear pattern Group learning is one of the ideal studying methods in respect of its benefits. First, it forms a favorable learning environment for students. Specifically, students can take advantage of communications in the process of learning to exchange information, solidify their knowledge in classrooms, and develop their critical thinking through debate and discussions. The TP pattern in the excerpt can be mapped as follows. T1 (Group learning) → R1 (one of the ideal studying methods in respect of its benefits) T2 (=R1, First it) → R2 (forms a favorable learning environment for students) T3 (=R2, Specifically, students) → R3 (can discussions) This kind of pattern gives the text ‘a sense of cumulative development’ [21:325] by offering newly introduced information in continuous progression. Therefore, this recurrence makes the writing more compact in structure, creating cohesion and coherence in a written text, and ensuring that the readers can constantly follow the information and catch what the passage is about in the text. Excerpt 3. The split rheme One of the main positives of studying in groups is that it can make your work easier and faster. Your burden at work will be lighter when one of members in your team do the other parts of the work. Besides, because the work is split, it comes as no surprise that the work do not take so much time to complete. An analysis of thematic progression of sophomore students writing at Faculty of English 55 In the instance above, the elements ‘easier’ and ‘faster’ are introduced in the rheme of the first sentence, and each of the element is converted into themes in the subsequent clauses. In spite of being different from each other, the themes are all related to the rheme in the first sentence. 2.3.2. Problems of TP in students’ writing The next part of the study was aimed at explaining and illustrating the TP problems found in the students’ writing. The problems are the use of brand-new theme, the overuse of constant progression pattern, the interruption between rheme and subsequent themes, and the empty rheme. 2.3.2.1. Brand-new theme According to Bloor & Bloor [22], the problem of brand-new theme occurs in the work of inexperienced writers who put new information in the theme position and do not develop adequately the ideas introduced. Thus, the introduction of too many brand-new themes may lead to writing incoherence. This is illustrated below with Excerpt 4 found in students’ paragraphs. Excerpt 4 Secondly, you can improve your learning skills. Every student has their own method and skill to study. By joining a study group, we will have the opportunity to learn a new study method or technique. From the case above, it is observed that Secondly and you are theme of the first sentence. However, the brand-new theme Every student, By joining a study group, and we are introduced in the subsequent sentences, which make a sudden break in the logical flow of information in the text, forcing readers to make the conceptual connections themselves to understand what the writer is trying to convey. Another illustration can be found in the student’s excerpt below. Excerpt 5 One of the worse things about studying in-group is that it limits your ability in doing what you are good at. Some people do their best when they work alone. For some subjects, Art, for example, it is better to let students expose their own characteristic or personality by working individually. 2.3.2.2. Overuse of constant progression Another problem found in the corpus was the over-use of the constant theme pattern, where many clauses of the text share the same theme. In this case, the text seems to be a list of disjointed statements instead of a coherent piece of writing as the writer tends not to go into depth on the ideas introduced in the text. Pointing this out to students can help them discover how they can generate more ideas to write about. Two fragments below of students’ paragraphs are a clear example of the problem. It can be seen that the theme we is repeated used and there is a lack of deep explanation of the ideas introduced through the rhemes, making the texts read like a monotonous list. Excerpt 6 Firstly, studying in a group will help us identify your weakness. We will learn more when studying alone. We can exchange many difficulties we have in the lesson with our team members and learn a lot from each other. Secondly, we won’t be bored like when we study alone. We can be free to exchange lessons for adding enjoyment. Thirdly, studying in group helps us practice accountability. Excerpt 7 Studying groups is quite familiar with every learner. I will discuss about disadvantages of studying groups in this paragraph. First of all, we can understand lessons easier because we can be explained by member of our groups if they understand these lessons. Secondly, we will have a great learning atmosphere as all members of group learn hard, which will motivate us study more effectively. Finally, we can learn skills how to work in teams. This skill is useful for us in the future. 3.3.2.3. Interruption between rheme and subsequent themes Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen 56 A third problem is a large stretch of text between a concept mentioned in a rheme and its subsequent placement in thematic position. This forces the reader to peruse back through the text at length to find the previous mention. It also indicates a lack of a clear plan of development, as if the writer decided at a later moment to tack on an additional comment to something mentioned earlier in rheme position, rather than developing that idea at the time it was introduced into the text, resulting in incoherence in writing [3:23]. This can be seen in the fragment below. Excerpt 7 First, studying in group helps students learning faster. In fact, in a group of people, there are many members. Each person has their own weakness and strength. Students can learn quickly because everyone does the suitable job for them. The student introduces the concept of students learning faster in the first sentence. The flow of information is broken when he switches over to the ideas of In a group of students and Each person (in a group). He later picks up the idea of students learning faster in the fourth sentence. This subsequent development of the idea should have been better included after its introduction in the rheme in the first sentence to maintain the text coherence. 2.3.2.4. The empty rheme The problem of empty rheme is also found in the writing of students, who fail to present ‘new’ information in rheme position. In the example below, the underlined rhemes do not offer any further information for the readers. Instead, they sound like a paraphrase. Excerpt 8 Secondly, studying with friends helps you have effort to study. When your friends are hardworking, you will try to study better. When you are alone at home, you will feel lazy to study but you will hard be working when studying with friends. To conclude, the data analysis indicated the problems of TP including brand new theme, overuse of constant progression, interruption between rheme and subsequent themes, and empty rheme have a negative influence on coherence in students’ writing. These problems do indicate that Vietnamese students exhibited similar writing weaknesses that have been found in previous studies in other contexts by Belmonte & McCabe [3], Cheng [23] and Lu [24]. 2.4. Pedagogical implications for teaching English writing The results of this study do confirm the essence of introducing the concepts of theme/ rheme and TP to students to help them improve the coherence of their writing. This implication is supported by other researchers who share the same interest in the concepts and realise the relationship between TP and coherence. For example, Cheng [23] supported the teaching theme/ rheme and TP in school syllabus after identifying students’ problematic use of TP in writing and seeing how coherence in such writing could be improved by revising the problems with the use of TP. Alonso and McCabe [25] proposed that learners’ sentences in their essays seem not to connect together into a cohesive text, and claimed that more attention should be paid to the progression of information in texts. Following the study implication, the following part presents a package of activities on TP adapted from the paper by Mellos [17] The training consists of six steps: 1) Lead-in, 2) Presentation on theme/theme and theme types, 3) Controlled practice on theme/ rheme, 4) Presentation on TP patter
Tài liệu liên quan