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Examining the Interaction among Components of English for Specific Purposes Ability in Reading

The Triple-Decker Model


Yuyang Cai

The book presents the Triple-Decker Model that describes the interactive mechanism among key constituents of English for Specific Purposes Ability (ESPA): language knowledge, strategic competence and background knowledge (nursing knowledge).

First, the model reveals that ESPA constituents can be assigned to three groups according to their roles in determining ESPA in reading: automators (language knowledge and background knowledge) that respond most directly, assistants (the cognitive aspect of strategic competence) that come to assist when automators are insufficient or boggle down, and regulators (the metacognitive aspect of strategic competence) that supervise all cognitive activities. Second, the model demonstrates the effect of strategic competence and background knowledge on ESPA fluctuated with the continuous increase of language knowledge.

The book also demonstrates the use of two innovative analytical techniques: composite scores based on bifactor multidimensional item response theory for scoring ESP reading tests and the multi-layered-moderation analysis (MLMA) for detecting linear and nonlinear moderation relations.

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Chapter 1 Introduction


This chapter provides an overview of the study. It introduces the problem, scope and context, purpose, statistical methods, definitions of terms, significance and limitations of the study. It ends with a summary of the introductory chapter.

A demanding task for language assessment programs is to identify and define the construct underlying their language tests (Kane, 2013). This endeavor has evolved from the structuralism view of language ability as a list of linguistic components (Carroll, 1968; Lado, 1961), through the pragmatical concern of functional and sociolinguistic knowledge (Canale & Swain, 1980), to the account of communicative language ability (CLA; Bachman & Palmer, 1996, 2010).

This continuous effort can be understood as a history of problematizing variables originally regarded as ‘contextual’ (Bachman, 2007) and recruiting them into the core concept of language ability. With the burgeoning of testing English for Specific Purposes (ESP) in the recent decades (Hyland & Hamp-Lyons, 2002), the problematized ‘contextual’ variable has been subject-matter background knowledge1 ←19 | 20→(e.g., medical and nursing knowledge; Douglas, 2000). In the well-regarded CLA, the status of background knowledge is only vaguely delineated. It is either described to be at the disposal of stakeholders (Bachman, 1990; Bachman & Palmer, 1996) or simply left unaddressed (see, Bachman & Palmer, 2010). Holders of the exclusive view argue that language testing should not include background knowledge, as this would reduce ESP tests to institutional definition of background knowledge (Davies, 2001; Fulcher, 1999). Rather, as Davies (2001) added, it must be about “the...

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