Meeting Learners at Their Cognitive Zones: The Effect of Explicit, Implicit and Differentiated Instruction on Saudi EFL Learners’ Performance and Lived Experience

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This mixed-method research study aims at bridging the gap between Instructed Second Language Acquisition and Individual Differences as two well-established, yet (almost always) treated as distinct, educational areas of research. It explores the differentiational effect of explicit/implicit/differentiated instruction on L2 learners’ acquisition of the English Article System and the extent to which students’ working memory capacity and form-complexity interact with instruction. To form a holistic and clear point of view of the effectiveness of explicit, implicit and differentiated instruction in language classrooms, the decision was made to triangulate the results of a four-week pretest-posttest classroom experiment and follow-up interviews with learners. To run the experiment, 90 intermediate-level EFL students were assigned to three instructional conditions: explicit, implicit and differentiated. They were instructed on the English Article System for three weeks, twice weekly, in sixty-minute-long sessions. Subsequent to the treatment, students were sent a licence to an online working memory battery designed to measure the performance of different components of working memory (i.e., the visuospatial sketchpad, the phonological loop, and the central executive). Five students from each group were, then, randomly selected for comprehensive three-stage interviews at the beginning of which the study’s main constructs were introduced in simplified terms. The study results have shown that implicit instruction is the most effective one out of the three, followed by differentiated instruction, whose effect is greater on the explicit knowledge measure. Explicit instruction, on the other hand, has been found not to be effective on the explicit knowledge measure and of slight effectiveness on the implicit one. The second part of the experiment results shows that differentiated instruction is the only form of teaching to neutralize the effect of varying levels of working memory capacity and form-complexity. The interview results have come almost in line with the experiment findings; students have perceived differentiated instruction as the most effective form of teaching, followed by implicit instruction and then explicit instruction. These results are believed to have some important implications for the field of Second Language Acquisition.
Language Education, English Articles, Second Language Acquisition, Grammar Teaching, TESOL