Vol. 5. No. 1 A-2 April 2001
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Contrastive Goal Orientations in an EFL Reading Context: Influences on Reading Strategy Use and Comprehension Patterns

Tung-hsien He
National Ping-tung Institute of Commerce


This study investigates the influence of goal orientations on strategy use patterns and reading comprehension of adult EFL readers. Thirty-eight Taiwanese EFL college freshmen were randomly selected and assigned into the mastery-oriented and the combined mastery- and performance-oriented groups. Results indicated that two strategy use patterns surfaced in participants' think-aloud protocols. The combined group went through more turns of strategy use and employed more follow-up strategies, compared to its counterpart. The combined group also achieved better reading comprehension in terms of recalling more idea-units. Conversely, the mastery-oriented group was more liable to stop its efforts at understanding the unknown vocabulary/expressions. It was concluded that contrastive goal orientations contributed to significant differences in strategy use patterns and reading comprehension. EFL reading teachers are advised to investigate the links among these variables. Additionally, they might need to orient students to adopt a dual- rather than a single-achievement goal.


Reading researchers in the fields of EFL and ESL have long highlighted the significance of reading comprehension development in terms of investigating readers' on-line strategy use. It has been acknowledged that reading is a self-discovery process, and in this process, readers interact with written texts by investing cognitive as well as metacognitive efforts to deconstruct the incoming information in order to make or infer meaning. From this process-oriented perspective, reading comprehension is the final product. [-1-]

Merely measuring this ultimate result does not reveal any valuable knowledge about mechanics of the reading comprehension process. For instance, Lee (1986) posits that "the product of comprehension is supposed to give us insights into the process of comprehension" (p. 353). Based on this realization, Lee calls for more research to probe L2 readers' comprehension process rather than to report reading comprehension. Championing Lee's proposition, Block (1986) provides a practical, workable framework for researchers to capture this process. She urges L2 reading researchers to investigate comprehension strategies in terms of "how readers conceive a task, what textual cues they attend to, how they make sense of what they read, and what they do when they do not understand" (Block, 1986, p. 465). As suggested by these researchers, with regard to the studies that merely estimated reading comprehension, these studies do not promote the disclosure of the actions and behaviors that non-English-native readers used to approach, explore, and construct anticipated meanings of written passages. To remedy this, pinpointing on-line actions and behaviors in terms of researching strategy use becomes indispensable and possible (Pritchard, 1990) since strategies are traditionally defined and realized as actions and behaviors that learners initiate and demonstrate (Rubin, 1975; Oxford, 1990; O'Malley & Chamot, 1990).

Nevertheless, regarding the factors that affect strategy use and language learning outcomes, motivation is considered a significant variable. Maclntyre and Noels (1996) report that their undergraduate foreign language participants, who were substantially motivated, tended to adopt more learning strategies and use them more frequently when compared to those relatively less motivated. The highly motivated learners also demonstrated better results in language learning. These findings, reported by Maclntyre and Noels (1996), seem congruent with what Oxford and Nyikos (1989) conclude: "The degree of expressed motivation to learn the language was the most powerful influence on strategy choice" (p. 294). Moreover, they also corroborate the results obtained from Gardner and his associates' work (1991) in which they argue that "both integrative motivation and instrumental motivation facilitated learning" (Gardner & Maclntyre, 1991, p. 57). According to these studies, it seems that when L2 learners are highly and appropriately motivated to accomplish a language learning task, they become more active in exerting cognitive and metacognitive efforts, more determined for maintaining their efforts, and more cautious about their current levels of achievement. Driven by their higher goals and personal standards, L2 learners tend to use more strategies to assure the occurrences of their anticipated learning outcomes.

The influence of motivation on L2 learning, as a matter of fact, has been extensively discussed and investigated within the social psychology framework, especially in Gardner's works. However, as Dornyei (1994) posits, "Gardner's motivation construct does not include details on cognitive aspects of motivation to learn" (p. 273). Even Gardner acknowledges that "the focus on motivation is mainly cognitive with emphasis on self-efficacy . . ., and goal-directed behaviour. . . . All of this has relevance to approaches to the role of motivation in second language acquisition" (Gardner & Tremblay, 1994, p. 362).[-2-]

This realization champions what goal theory has proposed. Goal theorists have contended that motivation should be conceptualized as goal-directed behaviors that are revealed by learners in an achievement environment (Ames, 1992a, 1992b). Motivational determinants, including self-efficacy, expectancy, anxiety, interests, reasons for learning, and task values would be considerably influenced and mediated by one specific academic goal that individual learners establish for engaging in a learning task. Oriented by this engendered goal, learners determine the extent and quality of efforts they should dedicate, which, in turn, may differentiate their learning achievements. Two contrastive goal orientations have been identified and extensively examined by goal theorists:

  1. a mastery orientation is distinguished as perceiving learning as an end in itself, and the ultimate purpose of engaging in a learning task is mastering skills and accumulating knowledge;
  2. conversely, a performance orientation is characterized as perceiving learning as a means to external purposes such as outperforming peers or pleasing the authority like parents and teachers.

Researchers consistently report that different goal orientations substantially correlate to the use of various types of processing strategies. For instance, Nolen (1988) acknowledges that "deep-processing but not surface-level strategy use was associated with task (but not ego) orientation" (p. 284). Additionally, Schraw et al. (1995) point out that undergraduate learners with a learning orientation reported using more strategies in contrast with those learners with a performance orientation. As suggested by previous studies, the qualities and degrees of learners' engagements in a learning task are profoundly influenced by contrastive achievement goals and characterized by learners' adoptions of different strategies (Ames, 1992a). Moreover, as Stipek (1998) proposes, goal theory has integrated motivational determinants proposed by a variety of motivation models, providing the most reconciliatory framework to conceptualize theoretically and define operationally this construct. Urdan and Maehr (1995) also acknowledge that "achievement goal theory is the one that focuses most directly on students' perceptions about the reason for engaging in academic work" (p. 214).

The impacts of strategy use on foreign and/or second language learning have been consistently discussed and implied in language learning strategies (LLS) researchers' works. For instance, Ehrman and Oxford (1990) argue that strategies are able to help L2 learners to "enhance the acquisition, storage, retention, recall, and use of new information" (p. 312). However, a more significant issue worthy of further in-depth explorations is how these strategies are employed. Nam and Oxford (1998) contend that "unsuccessful language learners do not necessarily use fewer learning strategies than their more successful peers; rather they simply employ strategies in a haphazard fashion" (p. 53). [-3-] In other words, it is the manner of how strategies are used that determines and differentiates the extent of efficient language learning rather than the amounts or frequencies of how many strategies are chosen. From this perspective, any positive effects that strategies can exercise on facilitating language learning outcomes must be based on an assumed premise: Learners have to be capable of choosing a series of strategies that can appropriately meet particular requirements in various learning contexts. On the basis of this understanding, it is hypothesized that the effectiveness of using one particular strategy may be related to what and how other follow-up strategies are employed.

In other words, the use of various strategies must be logically connected in such a sense that all initiated strategies can either effectively solve reading difficulties encountered or efficiently facilitate the process of reading comprehension. However up-to-date, no studies have directly focused on this issue in EFL reading contexts. In addition, as Schmidt et al. (1996) argue that although a considerable number of studies undertaken in foreign language contexts have underscored the links between learning strategies and learning outcomes, there has been "little research so far linking aspects of motivation with the use of such learning strategies" (p. 18).

Prompted by these suggestions and drawbacks found in previous research, this study aims to investigate whether contrastive goal orientations would influence the patterns of strategy use of adult Taiwanese college freshmen and their reported reading comprehension. Three research questions are raised:

  1. What are the patterns of on-line strategy use of adult Taiwanese EFL readers with the contrastive goal orientations?
  2. . Are there any significant differences in these strategy use patterns? If yes, what are these differences?
  3. Do adult Taiwanese EFL readers with the contrastive goal orientations achieve significantly different levels of reading comprehension in terms of the amounts of recalled idea-units? If yes, which groups can reach better comprehension?



Thirty-eight participants were randomly selected from eighty-four English-major freshmen cohorts enrolled in a major university in Taiwan and evenly assigned into the mastery-oriented and the performance-oriented groups. Due to the random selection, it was assumed that all participants had obtained homogeneous levels of English reading and oral proficiency. [-4-]

Experimental Treatments: Contrastive Goal-Orientation Treatments

To orient participants in respective groups to adopt a corresponding achievement goal, spoken and written treatments were administrated before participants commenced performing requested reading tasks. The spoken treatments were carried out by following Graham and Golan's (1991) procedures. The purpose of the spoken mastery-orientation treatments was to manipulate participants in the mastery-oriented group to place emphases on the intrinsic values of performing the think-aloud task in this study. Values such as improving and mastering reading skills were highlighted (Nicholls, 1984). Participants were explicitly told that the reading task was purposely designed to investigate their strategy use. Through completing this task, participants would realize how they comprehended English passages. This information, further, could be beneficial for increasing their efficient reading comprehension in the future. More importantly, it was emphasized that their performances would not be graded on a normative basis. For these reasons, participants were encouraged not to compare their performances to others' but focus on how to master their reading skills.

Conversely, the oral performance-orientation treatments intended to direct participants in the performance-oriented group to heighten extrinsic values of performing this reading task like getting better grades and outperforming their peers (Nicholls, 1984). It was brought to participants' attention that the reading task was administrated to identify the particular readers who could adopt a variety of strategies most frequently and recalled most idea-units. Additionally, participants were repeatedly reminded that their performances would influence their grades on the reading courses they were taking. Therefore, in order to achieve better grades, they had to outperform others by using more strategies and recalling more idea-units. The written goal-orientation treatments were implemented by following Ames and Archer's (1988) suggestions. Specific purposes and distinctive natures for participants in different experimental groups to engage in the reading task were printed out on pages and accentuated to reinforce spoken treatments. It should be noted that both types of treatments exercised identical functions.

In order to measure the effects of goal-orientation treatments, a goal-orientation questionnaire adapted from Ames and Archer's (1988) study was administrated immediately after treatments had been completed. This questionnaire contained eight mastery-oriented items (items a-h) and eight performance-oriented items (items i-p). Participants' responses to each item were quantified based on a five-point Likert scale: 1 indicated their strong disagreement with the statements, whereas 5 represented their strong agreements.

Experimental Task 1: Think-aloud and Playback of Think-aloud

An English expository essay, excerpted and adapted from America Celebrates! by Dupuis (1991), was provided as the reading material. This essay depicted how St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in the United States. The difficulty indexes of this essay were summarized as follows : (a) total word counts: 724, (b) lexical density (ratios of words and tokens): 0.525, (c) mean length of T-units (syntactic complexity): 13.39, and (d) idea-units (semantic complexity): 65. Also, this essay was dotted with red points at the end of each sentence to manipulate participants' timing of thinking aloud in English. [-5-]

In most previous studies, self-report measurements were extensively utilized as a principal data collection technique to identify strategies. However, as Brown (1988) contends, reliability and validity of these self-report measurements needs to be justified, because a reported strategy recognized by this type of measurement might not be used by the readers to perform an authentic reading task. To improve reliability of collected data, Pintrich and Groot (1990) suggested the complementation of think-aloud protocols. Bereiter and Bird (1985) also realized that "because the essence of such procedures is the reporting of thoughts as they occur, thinking aloud offers promise of breaking into the reading process to reveal on-line strategies" (p. 132). As suggested by previous researchers, this technique seemed able to serve "as a valid means of gaining information about the reading process" (Pritchard, 1990, p. 276).

In this study, an on-line strategy was operationally defined as specific actions and behaviors that EFL readers voluntarily took in order to comprehend English essays in an effective manner when performing an authentic reading task. This working definition was formulated by synthesizing O'Malley and Chamot's (1990) and Oxford's (1990) conceptions. In order to ensure that all participants would have the necessary abilities to think aloud in English, a series of training sessions were offered prior to the actual conduct of think-aloud protocols. The primary data collection procedures were not undertaken until the performances of all participants in training sessions were estimated satisfactory and until all participants felt comfortable and confident in using it. As Ellis (1994) suggested, when L2 readers used their first languages to think aloud, it "may interfere with the way in which they perform the learning task" (p. 535). To minimize unwanted L1 interference, participants were required to use English as the sole means for verbalizing their abstract thoughts as reading the passages.

No sooner had the think-aloud task been completed than the playback of think-aloud protocols was carried out. Fontaine (1989) acknowledged that because of this technique, her participants further "explained decisions that they had not verbalized on the tape" (p. 30). The procedure of playback was explained orally in both English and participants' first language by adapting Fontaine's (1989) guidelines. The entire playback of think-aloud protocols was audio-recorded in a cassette tape and coded into strategies by following an initial strategy-coding schema. This coding schema was created by adapting the taxonomy provided by Oxford (1990) and Pritchard (1990) to ensure that each identified strategy was based on clear and legitimate operational definitions. Identified strategies were further categorized based on two criteria:

(a) their distinctive functions: for instance, strategies were grouped together if they were used to establish intra-sentential, intra-paragraph, or inter-paragraph comprehension; and

(b) the characteristics of the contexts where they were adopted: for example, the strategies of activating background knowledge were classified into the same category because they were adopted in similar contexts where readers' prior cultural knowledge about the contents of the essay was retrieved and applied. [-6-]

Following is an example that illustrates how a strategy was identified and categorized:

Stimulus Sentence: "His name is always associated with the shamrock, because he was in the habit of using its three leaves to explain the Trinity."

Participant's Playback Think-aloud Protocols: "I don't know the word shamrock, but it is OK, because I understand the rest of the sentence. So, I just skipped it."

Descriptions of Playback Think-aloud Protocols: "unknown word was skipped because the rest of the sentence was comprehended"

Descriptions of Identified Strategy: "skipped unknown words when the remaining was comprehended"

Strategy: "Strategy I8: intentionally skipping words/expressions while the remaining portions of individual sentences are comprehended"

The primary purpose of data analyses was to identify patterns of strategy use in each group's think-aloud protocols. However, it should be noted that these patterns surfaced in participants' use of categories of strategies rather than in individual strategies. Further, to measure the reliability of strategy coding and categorizing, another rater was invited to code 10 randomly-selected participants' protocols. The interrater reliability, 0.76, was satisfactorily high.

Experimental Task 2: Stimulated Recall

After having finished the first experimental task, all participants were instructed to retell in English what they had just read in terms of free and stimulated recall. Procedures for gathering the retellings of participants were:

  1. participants were asked to recall freely what they had read; the free recall of each participant was recorded on a cassette tape; and
  2. during a short break, participants' tapes were played back by the researcher who had prepared questions for further probing participants' recall.

The purpose for conducting stimulated recall was to gather additional information that had been neglected in participants' free recall protocols (Fontaine, 1989). Participants' stimulated recall was recorded on another cassette tapes for computing the amounts of recalled idea-units.


To analyze quantitative data, SPSS 9.0 for Windows was administrated with the level of significance set at .05 for all tests. [-7-]

Goal Orientations of Participants

The group means of participants' responses to items in the goal-orientation questionnaire after they received experimental treatments were analyzed. Table 1 and Table 2 report these results:

Table 1
Results of Independent T-tests on Contrastive Goal-Orientation Questionnaire Items

Table 2
Results of Paired-Sample T-tests on Contrastive Items for Respective Groups

As Table 1 reveals, for the mastery-oriented and performance-oriented items, the values of Independent T-tests for both groups were t = -.482, P>.05 and t = -3.081, P<.05, respectively. In other words, both groups did not perform significantly differently on the mastery-oriented items, as expected. To clarify this unexpected result, Paired-Sample T-tests on contrastive types of questionnaire items for respective groups were carried out. As Table 2 indicates, for the mastery-oriented group, the t value was 4.458, P<.05, whereas t was 1.626, P>.05, for the performance-oriented group. Based on the information, it was inferred that the mastery-oriented group expectedly adopted a mastery goal, whereas the performance-oriented group adopted a combined mastery and performance goal. To illustrate this characteristic, the performance-oriented group was renamed as the combined mastery- and performance-oriented group.

Although the goal orientations of learners have been conceptualized as being mutually exclusive in earlier research (Duda & Nicholls, 1992), most goal theorists would agree that the mastery and performance goals, rather than inversely related, are relatively independent of each other (Ames & Archer, 1988; Meece et al. 1988; Nolen 1988; Meece & Holt, 1993). For instance, Meece and Holt (1993) point out that "a high positive correlation between these two goals defined one of the subgroups" (p.587). This subgroup was labeled as the Combined Mastery-Ego group ("ego" is an alternative term for the performance goal). In other words, Meece and Holt acknowledge that based on a high, positive correlation between mastery and performance goals, learners were found to hold both types of goal orientations simultaneously. Supported by previous findings, that participants adopted a dual achievement goal seemed able to be verified. [-8-]

Categories and Patterns of On-line Strategy Use

The results of strategy coding revealed that six different categories that amounted to twenty-eight distinctive strategies were utilized by all participants. These categories of strategies include:

  1. Category I: Processing Intra-Sentential Comprehension Strategies,
  2. Category II: Processing Intra-Paragraph Comprehension Strategies,
  3. Category III: Processing Inter-Paragraph Comprehension Strategies,
  4. Category IV: Activating Background Knowledge Strategies,
  5. Category V: Accepting Ambiguity Strategies, and
  6. Category VI: Monitoring/Evaluating Comprehension Strategies.

Table 3 reports these strategies:

  1. Processing Intra-Sentential Comprehension Strategies
    1. transferring
    2. translating: verbatim
    3. re-reading
    4. paraphrasing
    5. interpreting words/expressions by using linguistic clues
    6. guessing words according to memories
    7. making inferences/summaries/judgments of individual sentences
    8. intentionally skipping words/expressions while the reminder of a sentence is comprehended
  2. Processing Intra-Paragraph Comprehension Strategies
    1. confirming/disconfirming judgments/inferences in later sentences within the identical paragraph
    2. referring/relating/connecting sentences to other portions within the identical paragraph
    3. constructing judgments/inferences across sentences within the identical paragraph by using clues
    4. intentionally skipping words/expressions/discourses while the reminder of the paragraph is comprehended
  3. Processing Inter-Paragraph Comprehension Strategies
    1. confirming/disconfirming judgments/inferences across different paragraphs
    2. referring/relating/connecting sentences to other portions across different paragraphs
    3. constructing/reconstructing/commenting judgments/inferences across different paragraphs by using clues
    4. intentionally skipping words/expressions/discourses while the remaining paragraphs are comprehended
  4. Activating Background Knowledge Strategies
    1. making inferences/confirmations/judgment by using background knowledge of the topics/issues under discussions
    2. associating incoming information to concepts in memory in terms of its sounds
    3. visualizing images in terms of associating incoming information to concepts in memory
    4. relating to personal experiences
    5. speculating beyond presented information
  5. Accepting Ambiguity Strategies
    1. involuntarily skipping identified words/expressions/discourses
    2. formulating questions/uncertain answers regarding the contents
    3. suspending judgments
    4. guessing unknown words/expressions/discourses
  6. Monitoring/Evaluating Comprehension Strategies
    1. selectively paying attention to specific aspects of information and/or situational details
    2. evaluating comprehension progress by stating failure of comprehension and/or by making positive statements
    3. constructing alternative guesses/inferences

Table 3
[-9-] Taxonomy of Coded On-line Strategies

As far as patterns of strategy use were concerned, the following figures illustrate the findings:

Figure 1
Connection patterns of strategy use by the mastery-oriented group


Figure 2
Connection patterns of strategy use by the combined mastery- and performance-oriented group


As both figures indicate, all participants initially employed the processing intra-sentential and intra-paragraph comprehension strategies to solidify a sound foundation upon which comprehension could be built. After enough linguistic and contextual clues had been picked up, monitoring strategies were utilized to determine participants' familiarity with the contents of the reading material. For the group that adopted a dual goal, no sooner had an unknown word or expression surfaced than a decision on its significance was made. If the unknown words or expressions were determined not to influence comprehension of the whole sentence, then they were intentionally skipped. Conversely, if the unknown did hinder comprehension, then participants would seek linguistic and contextual clues within the sentence. If these collected clues provided enough information to make confident decisions, then inferences were finalized. If the collected clues within the individual sentence failed to supplement practical information to achieve sentential comprehension, then cognitive efforts would be devoted to comparing this stimulus sentence to other portions of written texts in a search for more clues. If clues collected within and/or across paragraphs were plentiful to infer what the unknown meant, inferences were determined at this point. However, if the clues did not supply necessary information, then the unknown words or expressions were involuntarily skipped. In the meantime, activating background knowledge strategies were chosen to relate what had been read to the readers' instantiated schemata as an alternative way to solve reading difficulties. Furthermore, to confirm certain aspects of the reading material were really culturally familiar, participants in this combined group turned to strategies of processing intra- and inter-paragraph comprehension and monitoring. Activating background knowledge strategies, then, were utilized with more confidence after familiarity had been validated. Notably, top-down strategies such as activating background knowledge strategies and bottom-up strategies like processing intra- and inter-paragraph comprehension strategies were employed interchangeably by this combined group.

Conversely, the mastery-oriented group revealed fewer turns of strategy use. For instance, fewer strategies of monitoring and processing inter-paragraph comprehension were chosen to solve reading difficulties resulting from the unknown texts. Similarly, after activating background knowledge strategies were utilized, no follow-up strategies were employed, either. Instead, participants tended to skip intentionally the unknown without dedicating more efforts, leaving difficulties undiminished. In short, although both experimental groups demonstrated similar directions of strategy use in the very beginning of their reading this essay, the mastery-oriented group was identified to use fewer follow-up monitoring strategies and go through fewer decision-making turns when compared to its counterpart.

Means of Recalled Idea-units

To measure whether the contrastive groups achieved significantly different levels of reading comprehension, a One-Way ANOVA on the group means of recalled idea-units was carried out. Table 4 illustrates these results: [-12-]

Table 4
Results of One-Way ANOVA on Recalled Idea-Units for Both Groups

As Table 4 shows, the group means of recalled idea-units, 16.3684 vs. 13.7895, were significantly different, F ratio = 5.295, P<.05. Based on this information, it was inferred that the combined mastery- and performance-oriented group recalled significantly more idea-units than the mastery-oriented group did.


The twenty-eight distinctive strategies that have been identified in participants' think-aloud protocols holistically illustrate the cognitive and metacognitive efforts that these EFL readers have exerted in comprehending an English expository essay, regardless of their goal orientations. Moreover, this result indicates that participants choose a variety of on-line strategies in order to make sense of what they read. It seems congruent with the reported findings in O'Malley et al. (1985) study. O'Malley et al. (1985) acknowledged that their beginning and intermediate ESL participants "identified and reported use of an extensive variety of learning strategies" (p. 40). As the list developed by the current study reveals, adult EFL participants are able to adopt various types of on-line processing strategies as well. Additionally, the EFL readers in this study seem to employ strategies similar to those identified in Pritchard's study (1990) that investigated strategy use of English native readers. However, a notable difference between these native and EFL readers is that the latter, in four different contexts, utilize the strategy of skipping. They include:

  1. EFL participants intentionally skip unknown words because the remaining portion of the sentence has been well comprehended,
  2. EFL participants intentionally skip unknown words because the remaining portions of a paragraph has been comprehended,
  3. EFL participants intentionally skip unknown words because the remaining information across different paragraphs has been comprehended satisfactorily, and, finally,
  4. EFL participants are forced to skip unknown words when there have not been any clues, background knowledge, or information, based on which an intelligent guess could be made.

This finding suggests the significance of knowing about the contexts where unknown words are skipped, because the contexts reveal the underlying reasons for participants' decisions for skipping them. More importantly, it also implies that EFL readers' strategy use is not arbitrary; rather, it is driven by these readers' decisions based on their judgment calls. For instance, participants in the combined group employ monitoring strategies in order to make logical and appropriate decisions on their familiarity with the topic and on the significance of the unknown vocabulary and/or expression. From this perspective, contexts, decisions, judgments, and strategy use have comprised a circle that illustrates how an EFL reader comprehends reading texts in terms of what decisions she/he reaches and what strategies she/he chooses. By means of realizing particular contexts and hidden rationalizations behind strategy use, it will provide a better understanding of actions and behaviors that EFL readers launch when responding to English essays. And this information may help EFL reading teachers to justify the appropriateness of their students' strategy use in particular contexts.

Additionally, this study shows that the combined mastery- and performance-oriented group adopts more follow-up strategies in comparison with those with a single goal. It suggests that the participants with a dual goal are more willing to put forth additional cognitive and metacognitive efforts to establish comprehension of the entire essay. They are more liable to monitor their current levels of reading comprehension as well. In Meece and Holt study (1993), the combined mastery-ego group was reported to demonstrate "both approach and avoidance tendencies" (p. 588). Contradictory to what Meece and Holt (1993) found, in this study, the combined mastery- and performance-oriented group, rather than to avoid such comprehension, is more active to approach the English essay in contrast with participants with a mastery goal.

To account for this finding, revealed from participants' think-aloud protocols, it is realized that in order to accomplish both the mastery and performance goals simultaneously, participants are greatly driven not only to outperform other participants but also to master their reading skills. To achieve this dual goal, they have to comprehend the essay as much and better as compared to other participants. For this reason, these EFL readers may be mediated to direct more effort to clarify the unknown vocabulary or expression by relying on strategies beneficial for addressing these reading difficulties. Meanwhile, to assure that their performances would be better than others' and that they would be able to master reading skills concurrently, these participants become more sensitive about their levels of reading comprehension. Strategies that aim to gauge how well the written texts have been comprehended and how well invested efforts have contributed to better understanding are employed. As a result, EFL readers with a dual goal utilize processing information strategies interchangeably with monitoring strategies to guarantee better understanding. [-14-]

Conversely, that the mastery-oriented group chooses fewer monitoring and processing strategies reveals that these EFL readers are more likely to skip involuntarily the unknown vocabulary and expressions, even though the unknown may hinder comprehension. For instance, the mastery-oriented group utilizes processing intra- and inter-paragraph comprehension strategies to collect linguistic and contextual clues to infer the important unknown vocabulary. Then, after realizing that these clues fail to fulfill this function, the mastery-oriented group tends to terminate its efforts at searching for further information. Perhaps this is because the mastery-oriented participants are fully aware that their performances are not compared to those of other participants. Therefore, after the pressure of normative evaluations is lifted, this group loses their incentive to clarify the unknown during the think-aloud task.

These arguments are supported by the evidence obtained from participants' think-aloud protocols. In their protocols, participants with a single goal believe that their current reading comprehension has genuinely reflected their reading proficiency and already reached the limits of their ability. These participants consider what has been comprehended to be their best performance. Therefore, partly because the mastery-oriented participants feel content with their performance and partly because the unknown can be solved later, it becomes more acceptable for them to leave the unknown unexplored. Additionally, since these participants have learned to perform think-aloud protocols, they may already feel satisfied because the think-aloud per se is conceptualized as an innovative reading technique that is beneficial for understanding their reading processes and for improving their reading skills. Based on their clear realizations of the single purpose of engaging in this learning task, the mastery-oriented participants, as a result, become more willing not to deal with what they fail to comprehend. Contradictorily, because the combined mastery- and performance-oriented participants still face the pressure of normative evaluations and of getting better grades, they are more eager to make additional efforts to solve uncertainties in order to achieve the goal of reaching better comprehension.

With respect to reading comprehension, Veroff (1969) pointed out that learners need to develop both a mastery-oriented (labeled as "autonomous") and performance-oriented (labeled as "social-comparative") goal orientation in order to adapt successfully to varied educational environments. In other words, to entail better learning in a variety of achievement environments where learning contexts may vary, learners have to be oriented to adopt a dual achievement goal. Driven by this dual goal, learners may take proper actions and launch appropriate behaviors correspondingly in various contexts. The finding obtained from this study seems able to lend support to Veroff's arguments. The combined mastery- and performance-oriented participants achieve better comprehension in terms of recalling significantly more idea-units as compared to the mastery-oriented group.

Although there is not any direct evidence to justify any causal relations between strategy use and reading comprehension in this study, leaving unknown vocabulary and expressions as unknown elements does not seem to facilitate reading comprehension. It is because the unknown, quite likely, will lead to confusion, ambiguity, and uncertainty, which, in turn, may contribute to comprehension breakdown. From this perspective, the mastery-oriented group that tends to leave the unknown intact may encounter more reading difficulties. Without appropriately using follow-up strategies to clarify confusions, consequently, they recall fewer idea-units compared to the combined group that is willing to expend more cognitive and metacognitive efforts to solve these mysteries. [-15-]

As suggested by these findings, it is concluded that contrastive goal orientations exercise considerable influence on on-line strategy use patterns of adult EFL readers and on their reading comprehension. Participants with a dual goal engage in more turns of strategy use, use more follow-up strategies, and achieve better levels of reading comprehension. Contradictorily, the mastery-oriented participants are more willing not to comprehend the important but unknown vocabulary and expressions, and obtain lower levels of reading comprehension.

Implications and Limitations

Certain limitations of this study should be noted. First, the size of selected sample is limited. Additionally, participants are English-major freshmen who demonstrate relatively equal and adequate English reading and speaking proficiency. Second, the nature of the dual goal has not been well defined and investigated. Further studies are needed to explore this issue. Because of these limitations, generalizing the findings to other contexts should be done cautiously.

Nonetheless, this study has several implications for EFL reading pedagogy. First, in this particular EFL context where an authentic reading task is designated, participants, regardless of their goal orientations, chose twenty-eight distinct strategies to comprehend an English expository essay. This finding is consistent with Oxford and Cohen's claim (1992) that "learning strategies do not operate by themselves, arising de novo every time to meet the need of a new and specific learning situation" (p. 23). The identified strategies in this study reveal the cognitive and metacognitive efforts that these EFL readers make in a learning task. EFL reading teachers may need to determine whether these efforts are beneficial for or harmful to reading comprehension. Second, a dual goal orients adult EFL readers to monitor and evaluate their current levels of reading comprehension more frequently. Unlike the mastery-oriented participants, the combined mastery- and performance-oriented readers are mediated to concentrate more additional effort on making sense of the unknown texts rather than to leave them intact. This finding implies that EFL reading teachers may need to explore the links between goal orientations of their students and the on-line strategy use patterns that students display. More importantly, that the combined mastery- and performance-oriented EFL readers can obtain better reading comprehension points to one indispensable responsibility that EFL reading teachers have to take. That is, EFL reading teachers may need to foster their students to adopt a dual rather than a single achievement goal by creating a learning environment where extrinsic and intrinsic values of performing a reading task are equally emphasized. [-16-]


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About the Author

Dr. Tungh-hsien He earned his Ph.D. degree from Indiana University-Bloomington. Now, he is an assistant professor in Applied Foreign Languages Department, National Ping-tung Institute of Commerce, Taiwan. His research interest covers reading strategy, writing strategy, and critical literacy situated in EFL contexts.

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