Chapter One Introduction
1.1 Research Background
Writing, as one of the five basic language skills for senior high school students, has continually attracted widespread attention and is becoming increasingly important. As a production-oriented approach, writing enables students to express their minds and emotions. As a comprehensive ability, writing reflects the words and sentences that students have already mastered, the whole structure of their knowledge systems, and it is also an essential communicative skill besides speaking. As a complete process, writing combines input and output and becomes the tie that is closely related to the other four skills. Thus, more and more experts and frontline teachers are devoted to this field, and many different methods are employed to improve students‘ writing capability. However, problems remain unsolved. Traditional English writing emphasizes the extension of the topic sentences and some lexical cohesion ties, such as transitional words, and adverbs, without considering the inner structure of the language systems (Ma, 2001). In this way, no matter how students work hard, they may misuse, overuse, or lack using the connectives and references (Du, 2001), failing to produce coherent compositions.
With the appearance of the National English Curriculum Standards for General High School (2017 edition), language competence, cultural awareness, thinking skills, and communicative strategies are regarded as the four critical competencies for senior high school students to attain. Besides, discourse knowledge has been included in curriculum content, along with the other six important elements to construct the main curriculum content. What‘s more, discourse knowledge has been emphasized again in the scope of language knowledge.
1.2 Research Significance
As a part of the Systemic Functional Grammar, TP was put forward by Danes in 1974, and after that, many researchers developed and implemented this model further. According to Danes (1974:114), ―Thematic progression might be viewed as the skeleton of the plot.‖ With TP, we can not only work out how the story is developed, but analyze the logic structure and semantic relations among the sentences. Therefore, this study is based on the Thematic Theory and TP patterns and investigates its influences on continuation writing, in the hope of offering further applications of this theory in different fields.
English writing requires both expressiveness and logical relations and continuation writing task values coherence more. Current English teaching focuses merely on surface cohesion, such as the employment of topic sentences and turning words, ignoring the inner structure of compositions. The theory of Thematic Progression Pattern, as one of the most essential cohesive methods, can undoubtedly improve the coherence of continuation writings when properly employed. For teachers, the teaching materials are not limited to the scope of vocabulary and grammar anymore. They can further analyze the themes and rhemes of passages, to instruct students how to unravel out the structure. For students, they can better determine the critical elements in the passage to relate the latter part to the given one in a more logical way.
Chapter Two Literature Review
2.1 Previous Studies on Thematic Theory and Thematic Progression Patterns
The empirical studies of TP are carried out from two aspects. The first one is Discourse Analysis (DA as below), and the second one is the application of TP into teaching practice, mainly including reading, writing, and translating. In this part, studies on applying TP to DA and to the teaching process will be introduced successively.
2.1.1 Previous studies on Thematic Theory and TP in discourse analysis
Van Dijk (1985b) studied the choices of themes and TP patterns in news, and then came up with two thematic structures: chain structure and parallel structure. Francis (1989) confirmed the idea that there is a strong relationship between the choices of themes and genres by collecting and analyzing the TP patterns used in three different contexts: news reports, editorials, and letters to the editor. Nwogu and Bloor (1991) examined the TP patterns used in medical passages and discovered that linear progression and constant themes appear more in medical passages. Martine (1991) researched the relationship between text organization and register from the perspective of TP. Dubois (1987:89-116) applied TP to scientific articles and concluded that the simple linear pattern and constant pattern are used more than other patterns. Peter Crompton (2004) studied the relationship between TP and Method of Development by comparing 80 essays. Thomas Hawes (2015) compared the compositions of 18 students and the TP patterns used in two leading British newspapers. He also considered how assignments could be improved by the instructions of the rudiments of TP patterns and recommended certain variations of Danes‘ progression types, insisting that more breaks should be employed.
2.2 Previous Studies on Continuation Writing
The literature review on continuation writing is divided into three parts, including the theoretical development and previous empirical studies of continuation writing, as well as the relations between continuation writing and coherence, which is recounted in detail to verify that the level of coherence is crucial in continuation writing, functioning as the basis of this study.
2.2.1 Theoretical development of continuation writing
Wang Chuming (2012:3) developed the conception of continuation writing and defined it as ―leaving an unfinished foreign article to make students complete it.‖ Continuation writing originates from the Length Approach to Foreign Language Writing, which encourages students to finish long passages. Wang Chuming (2010, 2011) posed an efficient approach to foreign language learning: interaction-comprehension-alignment-production-learning, based on the Interactive Alignment Model. After that, Wang (2012) discussed the relationship between the Interaction Alignment Model and foreign language teaching, and insisted that the key to foreign language learning lies in the combination of comprehension and production. That is to say, the more closely they are connected, the better it promotes learning. Henceforth, the concept of continuation writing came into public. He (2012) summarized the strengths of continuation writing, including the combination of comprehension and production, developing students‘ imagination, interacting with materials and the authors, imitating and using language creatively, using language in discourse contexts, and achieving students‘ self-correction. What‘s more, Wang (2013) proved those advantages through a set of studies. In 2015, Wang further explained why and how continuation writing promotes study by applying the thinking-aloud method to explore the process of continuation writing.
Chapter Three Theoretical Basis .............................. 18
3.1 Thematic Theory ................................................. 18
3.1.1 Definition of theme and rheme abroad and in China ............................ 18
3.1.2 Classifications of themes .......................... 20
Chapter Four Methodology .............................. 29
4.1 Research Questions ........................................ 29
4.2 Research Participants ................................... 30
4.3 Research Instruments .............................. 30
Chapter Five Data Results and Discussion .......................... 43
5.1 Effects of TP on the Local Coherence of Students‘ Continuation Writings .... 43
5.1.1 Data analysis with Coh-Metrix ................................... 43
5.1.2 Data analysis of the test scores .................................. 49
Chapter Five Data Results and Discussion
5.1 Effects of TP on the Local Coherence of Students’ Continuation Writings
As has been discussed before (see in Chapter Two), Liang (2006) proved that three dimensions in Coh-Metrix are indicative of local coherence and that coherence plays a vital role in scoring continuation writings. Therefore, data collected with Coh-Metrix and the scores in the pre-test and post-test can be gleaned and discussed in response to the first research question: what effects will the Thematic Progression have on local coherence in continuation writing for senior students?
5.1.1 Data analysis with Coh-Metrix
The author collected 150 back-to-back compositions which were then typed into the systems of Coh-Metrix, and obtained a series of indexes. According to Liang Maocheng‘s study (2006), there are three dimensions that are indicative of the local coherence of students‘ writings: adjacent arguments overlap; adjacent stems overlap, and LSA between adjacent sentences, so data in the target three dimensions will be presented and discussed one by one in this part. For each dimension, two sets of comparisons will be made.
Chapter Six Findings and Implications
6.1 Major Findings
6.1.1 Effects of TP on the local coherence of students’ writings
The first research question of this study is what effects TP patterns will have on local coherence in continuation writing for senior students. To answer the question, the author carried out a three-month experiment, in which two parallel classes are taken as participants. Before the experiment, the two classes were at the same level in the three dimensions. After the investigation, it turned out that there are apparent differences between the two classes on two dimensions, the adjacent arguments overlap and the LSA between adjacent sentences. The mean numbers in the two dimensions of EC increased by 30% and 63%, respectively, which are higher than those of CC. However, both classes have made some progress and are still parallel in the dimension of adjacent stems overlap. And the growth rate of CC is higher than that of EC.
In addition, the scores of students‘ compositions can also help to answer the question. Compared with topic writing, the level of coherence is of great significance in continuation writings. Thus, the score of students‘ compositions is indicative of students‘ writing coherence. In this study, after the experiment, the average grades of students in EC grew by 14.3% The mean score of CC increased by 6.2%, implying that the application of TP in EC can improve the coherence of students‘ continuation writings more efficiently.
Therefore, for the first question, this study found that the application of TP in continuation writings can help boost the local coherence of students‘ continuation writings in two dimensions, the adjacent arguments overlap, and the LSA between adjacent sentences, which is also confirmed by the scores of students‘ compositions.