A Comparison Study of the Effects of a Story-based Video Instructional Package Versus a Text-based Instructional Package in the Intermediate-level Foreign Language Classroom

Emory University
Baylor University
Research Design Associates

This study compared a story-based video instructional package, with a feature-length film as its focus, to a text-based program. It explored the effectiveness of each approach to enhance the listening and grammar performances of intermediate-level college French students. Twenty-seven students at two institutions participated. A pretest-posttest design assessed long-term gains in listening performance and grammar performance. Results indicated that students significantly improved their listening skills and grammar knowledge when exposed to the story-based video package. For the text-based group, students did not significantly improve in listening, but they significantly improved in grammar. For grammar only, the increase in mean scores for the video-based group was significantly higher than the increase in mean scores for the text-based group. The video-based curriculum used a narrative approach to teach grammar and foster listening. Results support using a film with an engaging storyline and with embedded targeted structures as effective input to enhance linguistic performance.

Video, Story-based Approach, Research, Intermediate Level
To enhance foreign language (FL) acquisition, instructors have attempted to make classroom experiences more like those in the real world. In this context, they
have turned to technological innovations such as authentic videos. Dubreil (2004) argues that video “can be the medium that opens a window to the outside world” (p.128). Authentic videos permit FL learners to listen to and to witness the dynamics of interaction as they observe native speakers in natural settings (Shrum & Glisan, 2000). The use of video to create real-life communicative contexts in the FL classroom to teach language could create a rich learning context similar to when a child receives authentic input from adult speakers. Support for this contention can be found in current L1 usage-based grammatical theories that suggest that children learn language through the processes of intention reading and pattern finding (see Tomasello, 2003 and Larsen-Freeman, 2003 for a discussion of a usage-based theory of language acquisition). That is, children are thought to learn their first language most readily in contexts in which it is easiest to read the adult's communicative intentions and to involve their pattern-finding skills (Tomasello, 2003, p. 195). In the FL classroom setting, the use of episodic video with an engaging and unfolding storyline and embedded target language patterns that captures students' attention could offer such a rich linguistic setting. A story-based video presentation of FL structures can be contrasted with one in which students are formally presented with target language structures through rule explanations and examples not directly related to a contextual presentation text. Whether or not linguistic skills in a FL are best learned using an instructional package revolving around a story-based video to teach language rather than a text-based one in which linguistic structures are presented without direct linkages to the introductory reading selections or listening activities is the topic of this research.
Over the last two decades, complete instructional packages that use video rather than a textbook as the primary vehicle for teaching the FL have become available as curriculum choices (e.g., Capretz, 1994; Van Patten, Marks, & Teschner, 1992; Siskin, Willliams-Gascon, & Field, 2003). These complete multimedia-based instructional packages are to be distinguished from video-enriched textbook programs in which the textbook is supplemented with a FL video, often optional, that generally includes interviews, short documentaries, and so forth. The continuance and popularity of video-based instructional packages underscores the need to investigate how these materials affect the teaching of FLs when compared to a book-based approach supplemented by multimedia.
Some research exists on the effects of video-driven materials on FL performance. There are studies on the positive effects of video on students' listening comprehension (Rubin, 1990; Secules, Herron, & Tomasello, 1992) and the effects on listening comprehension of various introductory strategies (Chung, 1999; Herron, 1994; Herron, Cole, York, & Linden, 1998; Herron, Corrie, Cole, & Henderson, 1999; Herron, Hanley, & Cole, 1995). Other studies assess cultural proficiency and the effective use of video in language programs (Hanley, Herron, & Cole, 1995; Herron, Corrie, Cole, & Dubreil, 1999; Herron, Dubreil, Cole, & Corrie, 2000; Herron, Dubreil, Cole, & Corrie, 2002; Herron & Hanley,
1992; Kitajima & Lyman-Hager, 1998; Martinez-Gibson, 1998). Adair-Hauck, Willingham-McLain, and Youngs (2000) reported the findings of a classroom study in which they assessed the power of a technology-enriched language learning (TELL) program to improve beginning FL students' cultural knowledge. The TELL curriculum included computerized reading and grammar programs, as well as a video component. They reported that the treatment group (with out-of-class multimedia activities) significantly outperformed the control group (with in-class multimedia activities) on both the cultural prequiz and postquiz but that there was no significant difference between the two groups in average cultural gain made over the semester. The use of gain scores in a setting in which the mean on the pretest scores for the experimental group was already significantly greater than the mean on the pretest scores for the control group complicates interpretation of these results.
Even though almost two decades have passed since the publication of the first complete video-based FL program, one finds very few FL experimental classroom studies with a comparison group on the effectiveness of these instructional packages to improve students' FL skills. Two experiments with first-year college French students compared the effects on comprehension skills of teacher-managed videotaped instructional materials to more traditional text-based packages involving a variety of classroom oral and written exercises and drills (Herron, Morris, Secules, & Curtis, 1995; Secules, Herron, & Tomasello, 1992). Both studies revealed that classes that used video-based instruction scored considerably higher in overall listening comprehension than did the classes which used traditional, text-based approaches with no accompanying video. Furthermore, gains in listening comprehension did not come at the expense of other skills, which were shown to be at the same level as the text-based approaches at the end of the studies. These investigators are unaware of experimental studies that compare the effectiveness of a story-based video instructional package versus a text-based one to teach French at the intermediate level.
This paucity of experimental research at the intermediate level may be related to the heterogeneous nature of the student population. York (2005) pointed out that the intermediate-level college language class includes a broad spectrum of abilities and backgrounds complicating the necessity of controlling for these variables in classroom research. Harlow and Muyskens (1994) reminded us that the intermediate courses attract students to the major or discourage them from continuing, making motivation a particular concern. They reported that students at the intermediate level appear very interested in the use of audiovisual authentic documents (e.g., films, videos, and TV shows). They concluded that the intermediate level is a good place to increase the use of technology and to identify appropriate content. Harlow and Muyskens (1994), Martin and Laurie (1993), York (2005), and Dubreil, Herron, and Cole (2004) called for more research on teaching and course content at the intermediate FL level, a request to which the present investigators responded.
Research Questions
We report here a classroom experiment in college intermediate-level French that compared a teacher-managed story-based video instructional package, with a French feature-length film as its focal point, to a text-based program. The purpose of this study was to investigate the effectiveness of each approach to enhance intermediate-level French students' listening performance and grammar performance. To achieve this goal, we addressed the following research questions:
1. Do intermediate French students' listening and grammar performance improve over the course of the study when exposed to a story-based video curriculum?
2. Do intermediate French students' listening and grammar performance improve over the course of the study when exposed to a text-based curriculum?
3. Will a story-based video curriculum produce greater improvement in listening and grammar performance than a text-based curriculum over the course of the study?
Because of the lack of classroom research regarding the effectiveness of either curricular package to improve listening and/or grammar skills, it was difficult to formulate hypotheses about the results of the current investigation. With regard to the story-based video curriculum, however, we did begin with certain hypotheses. Questions 1 and 2 dealt with an evaluation of each approach and its effectiveness to develop students' listening and grammar skills over the length of the study. For question 1, whether the story-based video condition would enhance the students' listening and grammar skills, we hypothesized that students would significantly improve in listening performance. This supposition was based on previous findings (Secules et al., 1992; Herron et al., 1995) that beginning students exposed to a narrative video in a video-based curricular package had achieved significantly higher listening proficiency than a group in a text-based approach. We were unable to make a directional hypothesis for the effectiveness of story-based video instruction to teach grammar. Previous research with beginning French students had shown no significant difference in grammar performance between story-based video and text-based instruction (Secules et al., 1992; Herron et al., 1995). The population in the current study, intermediate-level students, presented a higher level of linguistic proficiency than participants in the Secules et al. and Herron et al. research, which could affect long-term linguistic gains.
For question 2, whether the text-based curriculum would enhance the students' listening and grammar skills over the course of the study, we hypothesized that students in the text-based group would not significantly improve in listening performance. However, with respect to grammar, we speculated that for students in the text-based approach there would be a significant increase in grammar performance.
The listening speculation for the text-based group was based on previous findings (Secules et al., 1992; Herron et al., 1995) that beginning students using a text-based curricular package did not have significantly stronger listening performance than the group in a story-based video approach at the end of the study. The grammar hypothesis for the text-based group was based on our speculation that improved grammar performance would be a result of clear grammar explanations and a multitude of grammatical activities in the text-based curricular package.
Question 3 dealt with significant differences in listening and grammar performance between the story-based video group and the text-based group at the conclusion of the study. We posited that the story-based video curriculum would improve the intermediate-level students' listening and grammar performance significantly more than the text-based curriculum. In addition to offering students significant listening practice, the mystery film at the heart of the story-based video program exposed the learners to presentation materials organized episodically with targeted FL grammar naturally embedded in the program. Along these lines, Adair-Hauck, Donato, and Cumo-Johanssen (2000) advocate a story-based approach to teach grammar. They emphasize that “a story-based language approach stresses natural discourse and encourages learners to comprehend meaningful and longer samples of discourse from the very beginning of the lesson” (p. 151). With the functional significance of the targeted FL structures highlighted in the story, the learner has a framework in which to place new linguistic concepts. In particular, Adair-Hauck et al. (2000) emphasize that a story that is interesting and episodically organized makes for a very effective presentation text prior to a grammar lesson. The oral component of storytelling brings into play listening comprehension, which can be followed by interactive classroom activities such as role-playing and reading-and-writing exercises (Adair-Hauck et al., 2000, p. 154). In support of their theories, Adair-Hauck et al. refer us to Oller (1983) who pointed out that episodic organization also is thought to aid comprehension and retention of the story. In the story-based video package in the current study, each new lesson began with learners viewing a portion of the continuing story in the film. In the book-based curriculum, each chapter began with a cultural reading on different regions of the francophone world. These readings, though linked thematically through their treatment of French culture, were not linked by an unfolding storyline to subsequent chapters. Also in line with the principles of a story-based approach, the explanation of grammar in the video-based package had direct links to the presence of the targeted structures in the introductory video. Each grammar explanation began with a still picture from the film accompanied by a short dialogue from the film which contained the targeted structure. For the text-based approach, grammar points were presented in the second half of the chapter without direct linkages to the introductory reading selections or listening activities. We hypothesized, therefore, that the story-based video package would enhance students' learning of grammar as well as their listening skills significantly more than the book-based approach due to its episodically arranged presentation materials and its direct linkage of grammatical explanations to their presence in the introductory video material.
Thirty students enrolled in a 15-week, third-semester French course at two medium-sized, private, liberal arts institutions participated in the study during their regular classroom time. Of the 30 students, 3 (10%) did not take the listening and grammar posttests. All analyses were based on the 27 students who took both the pretest and posttest. The study took place during the 2003 fall semester. Two classes of intermediate-level French students were compared: (a) a class using a story-based video curriculum (described below) to learn French (n = 13) and (b) a class (n = 14) using a text-based curriculum (described below) to study French. The story-based video group consisted of third-semester French students enrolled in one section of Intermediate French at one institution. The text-based group consisted of third semester French students enrolled in one section of Intermediate French at the second institution.
In view of the fact that a different teacher taught each approach at each institution, it was important to select instructors with similar characteristics. Both teachers were non-native speakers of French. Each teacher held a Ph.D. in French literature from the same university and had received pedagogical training in FL acquisition at this same university. They were each experienced teaching both elementary- and intermediate-level French with both video-based and text-based methods. Both instructors were principal investigators in this study and therefore knowledgeable about the hypotheses. Possible design confounds related to the use of different teachers were minimized in that salient teacher characteristics were equalized across conditions.
Chi-square analysis revealed no statistically significant difference between groups by gender (p = .12). Of the 13 students in the story-based video group who took both pre- and posttests, 11 were female; and of the 14 students in the text-based group who took both pre- and posttests, 8 were female. A t test for independent samples revealed that there was no significant difference in mean age between the students in the story-based video group (M = 20.23, SD = 3.92) and students in the text-based group (M = 19.71, SD = 0.99), p = .64. Furthermore, there was no significant difference in the number of previous years of formal instruction in French between the video-based group (M = 4.54, SD = 1.51) and the text-based group (M =3.79, SD = 1.48), p = .20.
General Classroom Procedures
For the story-based video group institution, classes met 4 times a week (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday). Each session lasted 50 minutes. For the text-based group institution, classes met 3 times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). Each session lasted 50 minutes. Since the story-based video group had a higher number of classes per week than the text-based group, the video-based group took the posttests earlier in the semester than the text-based group. In this way, the research design equalized the class time hours of exposure to the French
instructional packages for both groups. Pretests (listening and grammar) were administered at both schools during the third day of class. Both groups received the posttests (listening and grammar) 40 class days after the first day of class. This research design meant that students in the video-based group took the posttests prior to the full completion of their instructional program, in the middle of lesson 18 of the 22-lesson program.
The instructional program for the story-based video group was Débuts, a two-semester comprehensive package, with its focal point a French film entitled Le Chemin du retour (Siskin et al., 2003). Centered on a young French television journalist who is investigating her grandfather's hidden past, Le Chemin du retour is a 2-hour feature-length film that leads students on a journey throughout parts of the French-speaking world. With Débuts/Chemin du retour, students learn French in the functional context provided by the film. Each lesson begins with a 2- to 3-minute segment of the film. On-screen pre-and postviewing activities help students check their comprehension of that portion of the film. It is important to note that although the film is in French with an all-French cast of characters, comprehension exercises included on the video are usually in English in the earlier episodes.
Print materials in Débuts provide learners with additional activities to comprehend the film segment. Structural and vocabulary exercises in the accompanying book/workbook, the audio CD program, and web-related activities are built around the context of the film. In other words, students learn and review the fundamentals of French language and gain proficiency in French language and culture through each chapter's exposure to the film. Grammar explanations in the printed materials are in English throughout. Linguistic terms are given in French so that in early chapters students are exposed to terms such as “le genre de certains substantifs,” “les verbes avec changement d'orthographe,” and “le complément d'objet direct.” The first 16 of the 22 cultural readings in the printed materials are in English as well.
To complement progress in listening comprehension and grammar, students were responsible for independent completion of the material in the audio program and the coordinated activities in the workbook. Students listened to the audio CD's either in the university Music and Media Library or online by contacting the university's Language Center Online internet site. The workbook assignments, self-corrected by the students, had to be finished and turned in to the instructor the day of the chapter tests. Chapter tests came from the test bank included in the Débuts/Chemin du retour program.
Typically, a lesson would begin with a one-minute “Vous avez vu” `You have seen' clip to refresh students' memory of the previous episode, with a pause for brief questions and answers about the story thus far. This was followed by a short “Vous allez voir” `You are going to see' clip, and students were invited to speculate as to how certain details they saw on the screen might fit into the continuation of the story. The new segment for the lesson was then shown in its entirety, running about 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately following was an on-screen
multiple-choice comprehension check with appropriate pauses for class answers. The viewing portion ended with a clip from the day's episode containing the grammar point that students had reviewed for the day's class. The small group work that followed provided practice of the grammatical structure through questions and discussion either of characters and subjects from the film or of students' own personal experiences and opinions.
Subsequent viewings of the same video segment did not include the advance organizer or the comprehension questions. On those days, the focus was on the culture and/or vocabulary presented in the film. Typical subjects included the French educational system, World War II France and the intellectual movements springing from it, environmental issues, and the depopulation of la France profonde. The fact that there were characters with ties to Quebec and Algeria paved the way for a discussion of other Francophone countries.
Writing assignments during the semester consisted of four compositions of 100-150 words and two collaborative scripts. The topics for the composition were taken from the online resources accompanying the text. For example, one early composition was a report on a Paris café and another was on rai music. The students worked in small groups to write scripts for the two skits they presented, the first relating to Paris and the second to a Francophone country other than France.
It is important to note that Débuts/Chemin du retour is advertised as a first-year program and, in this study, it was used to teach intermediate-level French. York (2005), an investigator and instructor in the current study, argues that Débuts/Chemin du retour is appropriate to use at the intermediate level. She stresses that the program's goals, the continued development of skills in speaking, listening, reading, writing, and cultural knowledge, with a review of the basic grammar accomplished outside class, are applicable to the intermediate year. She points out that intermediate texts, like those for first-year, are often designed for use over two semesters and contain a wealth of linguistic, cultural, and literary materials. In her teaching experience, she found using these texts has often involved a lot of sifting and paring back to basic structures to help students reacquaint themselves with the familiar and absorb the mass of new material.
York (2005) raises a further challenge of using an intermediate text designed for two semesters when a university's intermediate level has been reduced to only one semester, as at her own institution. At her institution, coverage of the basic grammar in the intermediate text in one semester meant that much had to be left out, causing comprehension difficulties as the semester progressed. In the rush to “cover” the grammar in one semester, York found that the presentation of content suffered greatly, sometimes giving the impression that form was everything and ideas were of little consequence. Attracted by the continuing Chemin du retour video story which supports the precepts of a story-based approach for teaching grammar, York determined that Débuts and its film could be adapted to a one-semester intermediate-level course through the use of appropriate pacing. The use of English in the printed materials for grammar explanations and for some of the cultural readings was also turned into an advantage; students studied the grammar
and read about the Francophone world outside of class while class time was reserved for “French only” and for application activities. Favorable student and instructor evaluations of the program administered after the Spring 2003 semester supported York's contentions. The reasons listed above led the investigators to adopt Débuts/Chemin du retour as the primary material for the video-based group in the current study.
The text-based curricular package used in the text-based group was Personnages (Oates & Dubois, 2003). This comprehensive textbook, with 10 chapters, is designed to be used in a two-semester intermediate-level course. Students in the current study completed 5 of the 10 lessons in the fall semester. The program features a learner-centered, four skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing) approach with a strong emphasis on oral communication and Francophone culture. Print materials consist of a textbook and workbook. The instructional package has student audio CDs, web activities, and ancillary video segments that accompany the print materials. The video segments, which follow a tourist video format and last approximately 5-minutes each, contain authentic footage filmed in cities and countries of the French-speaking world. The fundamental difference (beside content) between the Personnages tourist video and the Chemin du retour narrative film is that the tourist video supplements the text with enrichment material while the feature film is the vehicle by which students are introduced to all new and review structures. In the Personnages curriculum, students are exposed to new and review linguistic structures primarily through written passages on francophone areas in the textbook.
For the students in the text-based group, each new lesson began with a cultural quiz followed by a magazine-like reading selection on a different French-speaking area of the world (e.g., Paris, the Maghreb, Lyon, Quebec, Tahiti), containing some of the key vocabulary in the chapter. After class discussion of the reading and cultural points, the students listened to the audio program at home in order to complete two dialogues as fill-in-the-blank exercises in the student workbook that featured two speakers carrying on a conversation at normal speed. The instructor would then go over these exercises in class to ensure that the students had filled in the blanks correctly. Following reading and discussion of two additional reading passages that related to both the cultural area and the dialogues, as well as one role-playing exercise, the students prepared the grammar lessons (including workbook exercises) for each chapter, which were introduced in class by the instructor during the course of previous class days, and participated in various oral and written exercises, including role plays, games, and dialogue creation with partners. The instructor also occasionally showed the accompanying video to Personnages as an introduction to the chapters, its nature being primarily that of a travelogue showing video clips of each location with some accompanying dialogue. As the instructor found the videos too long for classroom viewing, she did not use the video for all of the chapters. Students wrote a composition approximately every two weeks, took chapter tests and reading quizzes (on one of each chapter's two to three literary documents) at similar intervals, and performed student-written dialogues as part of a midterm test.
Testing Procedures: Pretest and Posttest
In order to control for the lack of random assignment of students to classes at the two institutions and the possibility of students' varying degree of knowledge of the language, all students in both conditions took an investigator-developed pretest (listening and grammar) on the 3rd class day. To assess the effect of the instructional packages on students' listening and grammar performance, all students in both conditions took a listening and grammar posttest containing the same multiple-choice items on the 40th class day. For purposes of scoring accuracy, one judge scored all the tests, and a second judge scored 20% of them. The instructors/investigators administered the listening and grammar pretests and posttests in both groups. They informed the students that the test results would not affect their course grade. The instructors read the written directions in English to the participants and then gave them 20 minutes to complete the listening tests and 10 minutes to complete the grammar tests.
The listening test consisted of 14 multiple-choice items about a short series of three scenes selected from an authentic French police TV drama (Advanced French DVD-ROM, Au Coeur De La Loi, 2000) (see listening comprehension test in Appendix A). The scenes on the DVD were shown to each class twice. Before the first viewing, students received a written brief introduction to each scene and multiple-choice questions over each, both in English to avoid the problem of confusing students' listening comprehension with their French reading and writing ability. In the initial viewing, the instructors showed all three scenes without interruption and told students not to answer the items, but simply to watch and try to understand the content of the scenes. In the second viewing, the instructors stopped the DVD after the first scene and gave the students a few moments to respond to the items that corresponded to that scene (items 1-7). The instructors repeated the same sequence for the second and third scenes (items 8-14). Each test item consisted of a stem and five possible answers. Students received 1 point for each correct answer and 0 for each incorrect answer. Students' listening pre- and posttest scores were computed by adding the number of correct responses and dividing by the total number of questions (scoring accuracy for the pretest = 99%; for the posttest = 100%).
The grammar test was a 30-item multiple-choice test in which students had to choose the correct linguistic structure to complete a sentence (see grammar test in Appendix B). All linguistic structures examined on the test were included in the print materials of both curricular packages and covered by the classroom instructors over the course of the study. Students received 1 point for each correct answer and 0 for each incorrect answer. Students' pre- and posttest scores were computed by adding the number of correct responses and dividing by the total number of questions (scoring accuracy for the pretest = 99%; for the posttest = 99%).
Preliminary Analyses
Table 1 lists the mean scores and standard deviations of the students' scores on
the listening and grammar pre- and posttests in the video-based and text-based groups.
Table 1
Means (and Standard Deviations) of Listening and Grammar Pretest and Posttest Scores by Group

Video based

Text based




(highest possible score = 14)




(highest possible score = 30)




To determine whether the students' scores in the video-based and text-based groups were significantly different before treatment (listening and grammar), t tests for independent samples were conducted. Results of the analyses showed no significant differences between the groups for listening (p = .87) or grammar (p = .80).
Tests of Research Questions
To assess differences in performance over time between the two groups, the investigators employed a 2 (video-based group, text-based group) x 2 (pretest, posttest) repeated measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) for each dependent measure (listening and grammar). For listening, there was a statistically significant main effect for time F(1, 25) = 9.37, p = .005, eta squared = .27. The time x treatment interaction was not statistically significant (p = .61). For grammar, there was a statistically significant main effect for time F(1,25) = 50.79, p = .000, eta squared = .67. There was a statistically significant time x treatment interaction, F(1,25) = 7.00, p = .014, eta squared = .22. To test research questions 1 and 2 directly, a priori contrasts were assessed with t tests. The time x treatment interaction was a direct test of research question 3.
Question 1
For the students exposed to the story-based video curriculum, there was a statistically significant 10.4% increase in listening scores from pretest (M = 9.62, SD = 1.85) to posttest (M = 10.62, SD = 1.94), p = .012. For grammar scores, there was a significant 39.2% increase from pretest (M = 15.85, SD = 5.60) to posttest (M = 22.08, SD = 4.09), p = 000.
Question 2
For students exposed to the text-based curriculum, the 7.5% increase in listening scores from pretest (M = 9.50, SD = 1.74) to posttest (M = 10.21, SD = 1.58) was
not statistically significant (p = .13). For grammar scores, there was a significant 17.4% increase from pretest (M = 16.36, SD = 4.68) to posttest (M = 19.21, SD = 5.04) p = .003.
Question 3
The time x treatment interaction effect for listening revealed that the 10.4% increase from pretest to posttest for the video-based group was not significantly higher than the 7.5% increase from pretest to posttest for the text-based group. The time x treatment interaction effect for grammar revealed that the 39.2% increase from pretest to posttest for the video-based group was significantly higher than the 17.4% increase from pretest to posttest for the text-based group.
Before discussing conclusions, we wish to emphasize that the findings reported here should be interpreted in light of the following limitations. With respect to assessment, we only investigated the effects of the two programs in two skill areas. No measurements were taken for the effects of the approaches on other proficiencies (e.g., reading, speaking, vocabulary, or cultural acquisition). Regarding the choice of video, this research examined only one kind of video (i.e., a narrative video with a continuing storyline). Another video genre (e.g., a documentary) might have produced different results. It must also be emphasized that the video-based materials in the present study were designed for a beginning-level program. After careful evaluation of their appropriateness for more advanced students, the current study used these materials at the intermediate level. The project also took place at two different institutions with a different instructor in each condition. However, the demographic similarities between the students and teachers in each of the treatment groups helped to minimize possible experimental confounds. The finding of no significant differences in pretest performance for listening and grammar proficiency also suggests that students in both conditions were equally matched at the onset of the experiment. Due to the paucity of existing experimental research on the comparison of a story-based video approach to a text-based one, we believe our significant findings still shed light on important curricular decisions. Larger sample sizes should also be included in future research. Keeping the above limitations in mind, we suggest the following conclusions in response to our research questions.
Question 1: Do intermediate French students' listening and grammar performance improve over the course of the study when exposed to a story-based video curriculum?
Results of the present study indicate that intermediate-level college French students do significantly improve their listening skills and grammar knowledge when exposed to a video-based instructional package. At the onset of the semester, students in the story-based video group took a listening pretest and a grammar pretest on structures to which they would be exposed in the presentational video
and ancillary print materials throughout the semester. At the completion of the study, students in the story-based video group took the same tests (posttests) and scored significantly higher than on the pretests. These findings support the initial hypothesis that the video-based curricular package would enhance listening skills over the course of the semester. These results also support previous findings (Secules et al., 1992; Herron et al., 1995) that beginning French students improved their listening skills significantly when exposed to a video-based curriculum.
At this point it is important to stress that we are not making the claim that the feature-length film was solely responsible for the improvements. The design of the research does not permit a separate evaluation of the film, print materials, audio materials, Internet activities, or teacher techniques. The results suggest, however, that after exposure to a French program that included video as its focal point for listening practice, grammar explanations and exercises, vocabulary acquisition, cultural knowledge, and so on, students significantly improved in both listening and grammar performance.
It is also important to note that the video in question was of a particular nature. First, it was episodically organized, a genre advocated in a story-based approach for learning grammar (Adair-Hauck et al., 2000). In each chapter, the mystery story unfolded more and more, engaging the students' attention and their curiosity to learn “what will happen next?” Within each episode, targeted grammatical structures were embedded and then directly linked to the grammatical explanations in the print materials accompanying the film. This natural occurrence of the targeted grammar in the presentation video and its subsequent highlighting in the following grammatical explanations is also a technique advocated in the story-based approach to teaching grammar. The findings of this project support the assumptions underlying a whole language approach to teaching linguistic structures. They also support the hypothesis underlying the L1 grammar-usage theory of language, that language structure emerges from linguistic input and language use. The kind of contextual and gradual input that allows children to store concrete and meaningful utterances and then to find patterns in these stored utterances might also be provided by exposing FL students to a narrative video-based program. The existence and frequency of embedded examples of the target structure in the video could facilitate FL linguistic performance.
These and previous findings provide support for publishers and instructors to produce and implement complete instructional packages to teach foreign languages built around an engaging story and presented through video technology to enhance first- and second-year FL programs. Even though the production of multimedia packages is very costly and demands considerable amounts of time and creativity, the results for student learning appear to make it a worthwhile endeavor.
Question 2. Do intermediate French students' listening and grammar performance improve over the course of the study when exposed to a text-based curriculum?
Results of the present study indicate that intermediate-level college French
students do not significantly improve their listening skills when exposed to a text-based instructional package. They do, however, significantly improve their grammar skills. The scores of students in the text-based group on the posttest were significantly higher for grammar but not for listening. These results support our initial hypothesis that the text-based group would experience no significant gains in listening but that they would have significantly improved grammar performance from pretest to posttest.
Listening performance showed only a 7.5% average improvement from pretest to posttest for the students in the text-based approach. In considering explanations for this lack of improvement, it would be difficult to give a specific answer without doing an in-depth analysis of the extent of listening practice provided for in the materials. Since the video that accompanies the text is not required viewing, the instructor only had the option of providing students with this form of additional listening practice. The students' text and workbook included other listening activities that were more essentially connected to the required work in the course. However, taken altogether, it seems that the various listening opportunities in the package did not considerably enhance students' acquisition of listening comprehension.
Students' improvement in grammar performance was probably related to the quantity and quality of grammar activities in the textbook and ancillary materials. Their average improvement of 17.4% from pretest to posttest clearly indicates that they benefited from the program's grammar explanations and activities.
Question 3. Will story-based video curriculum produce greater improvement in listening and grammar performance than a text-based curriculum over the course of the study?
With respect to the distinction between video-based instruction and text-based instruction on the listening and grammar pre-/posttest, the magnitude of the gains in listening performance was different from the magnitude of the gains in grammar performance. The difference in change of scores from pre- to posttests between the two groups was not statistically significant for listening performance, but it was statistically significant for grammar performance. For listening, the increase in mean scores for the story-based video group was not significantly higher than the increase in mean scores for the text-based group. For grammar, the increase in mean scores for the story-based video group was significantly higher than that for the text-based group.
These findings partially support our hypothesis that students in the video-based group would have significantly higher scores for both listening and grammar performances than those in the text-based group. The results of the study suggest that the video-centered approach can facilitate listening. However, that improvement was not a significant improvement over the listening performance with the text-based approach. A possible explanation can be found in a limitation in the research design. In order to equalize classroom exposure to the curricular packages in both conditions, the research design specified that each group be tested after 40 classroom hours. For this reason, students in the video-based group completed
18 out of 22 lessons. Perhaps, if the video-based group had been allotted the time necessary to finish its instructional program, a larger improvement in listening would have occurred.
Results for grammar indicated that students in the video-based group greatly benefited from its approach even though they did not complete the whole program. The average increase for students in the video-based group was 39%. A possible explanation for the benefits of the video-based program in comparison to those of the text-based program on grammar performance can be related to its story-based approach. Our findings indicate that students do benefit from a direct linkage between introductory materials and subsequent grammar explanations as advocated by a story-based approach to the teaching of grammar. In contrast, the text-based approach in the current study appears to lack such direct linkages.
Based on the results of this study, we can affirm that while a text-based instructional program improves intermediate students' FL grammar skills, it appears that a story-based, episodic video-based instructional program not only improves students' grammar skills, but also their listening skills. Furthermore, for grammar performance only, the students in the video-based program had significantly higher scores from pre- to posttests than those in the text-based approach. These findings suggest that grammar explanations with direct links to the introductory presentation material, in this case narrative video, hold promise for improving the grammar performance of intermediate-level FL students. Moreover, writers of FL curricula should take note of the apparent importance of the structure of a video component. While this study affirms that video effectively conveys information to the student, it also suggests the importance of a narrative structure to the video. Further research should explore the various video structures (e.g., storytelling narrative, documentary, news programs, and interviews) to confirm whether narrative, episodic film-based FL programs do indeed provide the strongest base for improving the listening and grammar skills of learners. In addition, future research might explore the effects of these or similar programs on students' development of speaking, reading, and writing skills. One feature that Débuts/Le Chemin du retour and Personnages have in common is a strong cultural content, which was not a focus of the present study. Previous research at the intermediate-level of FL instruction has shown that the use of supplemental videos can have a positive effect on cultural awareness in a textbook-based course (Herron et al., 2002). With today's trend toward content-based instruction, the internationalization of curricula, and the ever increasing number of students opting to include study abroad in their academic program, cross-cultural awareness may be one of the most valuable assets to be gained from FL study. Whether a story-based approach also facilitates learning about a foreign culture at the intermediate level merits further investigation. We encourage researchers to continue our classroom investigations on the kind of input our students receive in instructional materials and their effects on FL learning at all levels.
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