EFL/ESL Student’s Memorization Of Compositions

When English is as a foreign language or as a second language, it is common for learners to experience various difficulties in the course of preparing for assessment. Writing assessment in particular has proven to be challenging. This has caused learners to resort to memorization and rote learning as a learning strategy in an attempt to ensure excellent performance. The following study aims to gain an understanding of this tendency for memorization in relation to model compositions for writing assessments in public schools in Saudi Arabia. The results reveal that washback is an outcome of the education system focusing on assessment resulting in both teachers and students turning to inadequate learning strategies like memorization. Further, the results indicate that the factors that influence this tendency to memorize include the ideal text, teachers’ response, learning strategies, culture, and students’ level. Finally, the results demonstrate that the impact of this memorization includes diminished critical thinking and poorly developed writing skills.

EFL/ESL Students Tendency to Memorize Model Compositions for the Writing Assessments in Public Schools in Saudi Arabia

In English as foreign language (EFL) and English as second language (ESL) classes learners encounter several difficulties while preparing for assessments. According to Aldhafri, Alkharusi, Ismaili (2015), writing assessments are the most challenging for students. Hence, they follow several strategies to overcome these challenges. Rote learning and memorizing are the most common methods in some countries in Asia, Africa, Middle East, and the Persian Gulf. Unfortunately, some teachers and parents promote learning sampled compositions as they are the ideal example which helps them score full marks in the writing question in the final summative exams.

From the researchers’ experience, some students in public schools in Saudi Arabia gravitate towards the memorization strategy in the guided-writing assessments. Alhaysony (2017) opines that their teachers provide them with modeled compositions that might be included on the test. Hence, students memorize them by heart and rewrite them on the writing portion of the exam. It is not an issue of proficiency, because both high and low students prefer memorizing the modeled paragraphs over writing their own. For the high-level students, they want to maximize their grade even if it is not truly measuring their comprehension levels. As for the low-level students, they struggle with writing even guided compositions; therefore, they feel they are better off learning the modeled paragraph and rewriting it as their own answer for the sake of a better score (Fernandez & Siddiqui, 2017). Teachers do not mind having the same version of the writing answers since it is a guided composition. Furthermore, it is easier for the teachers to grade the test. The problem is that the students will get full or high grades based on their memorization skills when the actual point of the exam is to test their writing skills.

The significance of this research is that there is little literature on students’ tendency to memorize compositions and essays for the writing assessments. This is something that is quite common in a number of Asian and Arab countries. Hence, this paper’s framework is developed based on the need to analyze this common phenomenon. This is because it acts as an obvious washback of the teachers’ attitudes in both teaching and rating the writing skill.

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Research Questions

  • This research aims to answer the following pertinent questions:
  • What factors contribute to students memorizing the writing compositions?
  • What are the effects of memorizing compositions on their writing skills development?

Washback on Teaching and Learning Writing Compositions

Washback is a concept that encompasses both aspects of teaching and testing of situations. In general terms, this refers to the effect of testing on teaching. Alderson and Wall in their study describe washback as a type of complex phenomenon which results in teachers and students doing things that they would not normally do because of tests. As per various empirical studies conducted on this (Alderson & Hamp-Lyons; Alderson & Wall), the conclusion that has been made is that tests have an influence on teaching and learning. They bring a considerably faster change and additional changes in the process of teaching content in comparison to teaching methods.
Therefore, this implies that testing plays a vital role in the teaching and learning processes. Extant studies have expressed a substantial amount of concern over the fact that teachers have developed a tendency to ignore content that is not directly related to the set tests (Green, 2013; Muñoz & Álvarez, 2010). At the same time students are practicing exam techniques as opposed to taking the time to learn knowledge.

Similar findings are made by Alderson and Wall who made several hypotheses on the general influence of tests on teaching. First, tests have the ability to influence teaching. In this regard, tests influence what is taught by teachers and the manner in which this teaching takes place. The test will therefore influence the exact rate, sequence, extent, and depth of teaching that takes place. Furaidah, Saukah, and Widiati (2015) add that tests can also influence the attitude that is developed towards the content and method of teaching that is applied. This indicates that tests can result in washback effects. However, it should be noted that while this may be the case, it is possible for the washback effect to apply to some teachers but not necessarily for others.

Gu (2005) provides the most comprehensive study on washback through assessment of the College English Test (CET). This is a high stakes test in China that is conducted to assess the English proficiency of the country’s college students. Some of the key findings of this study include: (a) CET has been instrumental in motivating teachers in their teaching; (b) CET is more influential on teaching content, teaching pace, development of attitudes towards teaching, but it is less influential on teaching methods; (c) CET causes negative washback including more rapid teaching pace; (d) teacher factors may outweigh the effect of the test on classroom teaching and learning. In particular, the study concluded that the CET writing test exerted positive washback on college English teaching, which was manifested by the fact that students’ writing scores rose rapidly since the adoption of the cut-off score policy in the late 1990s (Gu).

Therefore, from this it is apparent that writing assessments in particular results in both positive and negative washback in regard to the process of teaching and learning. Pan and Newfields (2011) explicate that the results therefore indicate that teachers do not focus their efforts on teaching writing. This is asserted by the admission by most teachers that they do not teach students how to write and instead they directed the students towards good examples of writing in texts. This clearly explains why these students will opt to memorizing mode compositions as opposed to writing their own.

By contrast, Zavašnik and Pižorn (2006) investigated this phenomena in Slovenia and concluded that empirical studies on washback were nonexistent despite external examinations and testing of proficiency in foreign languages which was introduced at the national level in the country. This finding may also be explained by the fact that testing as it relates to the field of linguistics is not integrated in undergraduate or postgraduate studies in Slovenia. However, this does not necessarily imply that washback never takes place there.

Positive Washback

Positive washback indicates that there is a significant difference between teaching the curriculum and teaching to the test. Tests can be used to promote the accomplishment of educational goals. That is, tests can serve as a powerful, low cost means of influencing the quality of exactly what teachers teach and therefore what learners learn in school. According to the findings of Hongli (2009), when tests are properly developed and implemented, then placing focus on teaching what these tests assess can be useful. Xie (2013) makes similar claims by postulating that when a test induces curricular and instructional changes that promote the development of cognitive skills, such a test is effectively designed to measure. Positive backwash is further said to occur when the implementation and outcomes of a test leads to improvement of course syllabus.

However, for positive washback to be promoted it is vital for both teachers and students to understand the particular connection between educational goals and assessment. According to Buck, “most educators would probably agree that the content of classroom instruction should be decided on the basis of clearly understood educational goals, and examinations should try to ascertain whether these goals have been achieved. When the examination does that, it forces students and teachers to concentrate on these goals, and the washback effect on the classroom is very beneficial” (17).

Positive washback further comes about when students utilize assessment to determine their progress. According to Green (2012), this is because assessments make it possible to successfully identify the strong as well as weak areas of learning. At the same time, they are essential in identifying the current proficiency level of the students. This is all significant in that it enables students to become more goal-oriented and therefore more self-directed learners. Accordingly, positive washback results in a testing procedure promoting excellent teaching practices. An example of this is when an oral proficiency test is introduced with the intent of enhancing the teaching of speaking skills.

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Negative Washback

Negative washback is an indicator of the mismatch existing between the stated goals of instruction and the specific focus of assessment. In this regard, negative washback takes place when the content of a test or its format is mainly based on a narrow definition of language ability, therefore constraining the learning as well as teaching context (Al Naqbi, 2011). To a large extent negative washback usually results in the abandonment of instructional goals which is replaced with test preparation which becomes more paramount. Negative washback therefore impedes the accomplishment of educational goals.

Negative washback is quite common in high stake tests, as per Gebril and Eid (2017). For instance, often teachers tend to hold negative feelings in regard to the issue of testing whenever there are high stake tests. This is evidenced in the work of Hamp-Lyons (2014) who explained about negative washback and the associated negative feelings by teachers in the assertion that teachers have fears and tend to avoid formalized testing for their students.

Negative washback compromises the ability of teachers to teach and instead promotes testing. As per Muñoz and Álvarez (2010), negative washback invariably causes memorization in the form of cramming. Therefore, in relation to negative washback the impact of testing causes teachers to resort to practices which they find to be counterproductive in student learning. These practices however do not usually reflect the current thinking in the field that is being taught.

Factors Contributing to Students Memorizing Compositions

The Ideal Text

The notion of an ideal text has been critical in facilitating students’ memorization of compositions ( Frederiksen & Collins). Many writing teachers have developed the perception that their role is to facilitate the development of an ideal text which comes about from their feedback and revision by the students. This is thus taken to be the most essential end product. However, this is not the case. Instead, it is the students’ progress and increased awareness of and skill in applying a number of strategies to compose, revise, and edit their own work that is most important. Therefore, when teachers abandon the notion that if the students’ papers are not perfect it is the teachers’ failure, this will allow them to develop much more realistic and less compulsive expectations of students’ performance.

According to Wang and Neimann (2017), Chinese teachers who are able to teach English are highly revered. This is the reason as to why most school officials will select these teachers to join the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with the intent of ensuring that these teachers teach in accordance to the will of the government. Despite this, the government tends to appoint individuals with no education-based backgrounds in their qualifications within the Ministry of Education. These individuals therefore prescribe a centralized kind of curriculum for schools as well as institutions of higher learning. This is evidenced by the fact that all middle schools in China are obligated to utilize the same textbook. Additionally, Chinese universities are also obligated to utilize the exact same textbook in learning, further illustrating the idea of an ideal textbook. Those teachers who fail to utilize the recommended texts face penalties by school officials.

The creation of the ideal text has led to a situation in which teachers in China have become something like teaching machines. These teachers work very long hours with little time for research. Wang and Neimann (2017) point out that this has caused many of these teachers to become mere talking heads. Therefore, these teachers tend to repeat the same textbook materials over and over again in various teaching sessions and classrooms. The use of the same ideal text has this means that students from various learning centers are able to recite the same information.

Teachers’ Response

Teachers providing students with feedback has been found to be time consuming and challenging. Ferris (2007) opines that “Future writing instructors in L2 teacher preparation programs tend to view the endeavor with alarm, often citing response to student writing as the primary reason why they would rather do anything than become an L2 composition teacher” (p.165). Therefore, the teachers’ response heavily influences their ability to respond to students’ work and therefore teach.

Extant studies have found that teacher response has a significant impact on the students’ act of memorizing compositions (Heedal, 2015; Li, 2009). Heedal (2015) found that ESL composition teachers have a tendency to respond the same way to the students’ work. That is, they make similar comments on the work. In most instances, the marks and comments that are made are often confusing to the students. Besides being confusing, these marks and comments are considered arbitrary and inaccessible. Furthermore, Li (2009) noted that many ESL teachers do not expect students to revise the texts provided beyond the surface level. This is significant in driving these students towards opting towards memorization of what they have learned.

In this regard, the above kind of response to texts provides students with a considerably limited perception of writing. As per Popham, this is due to the fact that such a response fails to provide students with the necessary understanding that indicates what writing entails. In this regard, writing needs to evolve over a course of time. From these, it is apparent that students need to develop much more proper responses. According to the findings of Zamel, “They need to facilitate revision by responding to writing as work in progress rather than judging it as a finished product” (79). Such a move will be essential in discouraging memorization of compositions and instead encourage students to work on their writing skills to enhance them.

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Learning Strategies

There has been a considerable amount of research relating to learning strategies and more so in relation to language. That is, learning strategies have received a lot of attention from researchers and educators in the field of EFL and ESL with a focus on how language is learned by different people. With regard to language learning strategies (LLS), these have been in use for many years. However, they have been formally identified only recently. In this case, the area of research interest on this subject has increased considerably. It has included particular areas such as the manner in which students go about learning, factors affecting the success of learning, and the efficiency of the learners. Oxford posits that learning strategies are divided into two main categories encompassing direct learning strategies and indirect learning strategies. Accordingly, direct learning strategies consist of specific application of language and are classified as including memory, cognitive and compensation strategies. On the other hand, indirect learning strategies do not utilize language directly. It merely provides support to the process of language learning. LLS has therefore been a significant factor leading to students memorizing compositions. The specific learning strategies that have been the most involved in this are memorizing and rote learning.

Memorizing

Memorizing as a learning strategy has largely caused students to memorize compositions for writing assessments in public schools in Saudi Arabia. As a learning strategy, memorization is perceived as a kind of double-edged sword as a consequence of the existing dispute over its positive and negative effects. This learning strategy encompasses a direct involvement in regard to language learning which causes it to belong to memory strategies. The application of this learning strategy comprises a conscious process of internalizing, recalling, and retrieving information. In relation to EFL/ESL, memorization is a concept that is commonly used to facilitate learning and remembering of various vocabularies and phrasal structures thus assisting in aid communication.

Therefore, there are a number of studies that have found a positive impact of memorization to learning by (Kovecses and Szabo; Cook). According to (Kovecses and Szabo, there are positive learning results for students that memorize phrasal verbs. Cook reiterates this in the assertion that repetition and learning by heart which is the definition of memorizing are valuable, pleasurable, and efficient applications of language learning activities and because of this it can assist learners to set valuable goals. This is attributed to the fact that these learners will be involved in authentic and communicative application of language.

In contrast there are also studies that have shown that memorization inhibits learning significantly. As per the findings of…many scholars and teachers who mainly are native English speakers have not been in favor of memorization as a learning strategy. That is while this may assist a learner accelerate the initial process of learning allowing them to sound more fluent and native like, it can however in the end inhibit spontaneous and proper speaking performance.

Within the context of the current discussion this implies that students’ memorization of compositions while it assists them in applying the language they are learning it however does not mean that they have actual command of this language. The findings of Oxford clearly show this in the assertion “the use of memory strategies in a test-taking situation had a significant negative relationship to learners’ test performance in grammar and vocabulary” (p. 13). It is essential to mention that students generally choose to memorize as a consequence of test anxiety. Teachers therefore to an extent tend to apply this learning strategy as a way of assisting students to deal with their fears.

The differences between Western and Eastern approaches to teaching English have also been essential in causing increased use of memorization as a learning tool in China. This has emanated from the fact that in China teachers are perceived to be masters while students are considered as disciples. This has resulted in the role of students to encompass expending a considerable amount of effort towards memorization and analysis of texts that are selected by the teachers. In this regard, memorization of texts is something that is greatly valued in China compared to in any other educational setting.

According to Wang and Neimann, Chinese instruction of English Speakers of Other Language (ESOL) places a lot of emphasis on the concepts of English grammar and memorization of vocabulary. This is not the case for Western instructors who believe that memorization is not synonymous with comprehension. In addition, Western educators tend to believe that memorization is in fact an anathema to the process of learning. Therefore, memorization is not taken to be a higher order of cognitive functioning in the course of learning and applying English. All this is vital as it indicates that memorization cannot necessarily result in actual learning.

Rote Learning

As per the findings of Wang and Neimann, Western educators do not favor rote learning as a method of knowledge transmission which is something central to traditional Chinese pedagogy. Rote learning has further been a critical contributor to students’ tendency to memorize model compositions. This can to an extent be perceived to be a form of memorization. It is defined mainly as the process of information memorization through repetition. This is not regarded as an effective learning strategy. A number of reasons have been presented in studies to justify this. One of these reasons lies in the fact that role learning tends to cause learners to lose focus rather fast. This can be attributed to the fact that it prevents a deeper understanding of a topic. In addition, rote learning indicates no actual link between new and previous knowledge. Therefore, role learning does not result in any meaningful learning. Within the context of Malaysia, rote learning is a common occurrence. This is attributed to the fact that examinations are treated very seriously.

In the view of Tan and Miller, this has resulted in close monitoring of classes that take exams and particularly national exams. Therefore role learning has proven essential in assisting students to gain high scores since passing exams – rather than demonstrating knowledge – is the only goal that is pursued in this case. This is used to facilitate the analysis of past questions and enable improvement of memory skills. A good example of this is in relation to the area of essay writing where students are reminded of the evaluation criteria of grammar, spelling, punctuation, vocabulary, content, length, style and organization. Therefore, learning for students becomes a means of preparing for exams as opposed to actually gaining education and therefore knowledge.

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Culture

Culture has further been significant in influencing students towards memorizing compositions. This is best demonstrated by the increased interest of the Chinese in learning English. As per Wang and Neimann, there has been increased interest in learning English in China over the last few decades. This has resulted in the emergence of a new middle class. This group of people is comparable to those in the US. Many of them hold essential positions in various foreign enterprises. Therefore, these individuals have been known to serve as vital role models for young Chinese. Therefore, this has led many parents to strive to learn English as a way of enhancing their chances in emulating this group of people. In addition, China has continued to open itself to the world. This has resulted in increased economic growth and opportunities for many Chinese to travel the world. All these have been the contributing factors for the increased interest of the Chinese needing to learn the four components of the English language that consist of reading, writing, speaking, and listening to English. Overall, it can be seen that there is a quite high motivation for learning English in China. Teachers take great pride in teaching the language. However, all of this high motivation has in reality not resulted in effective learning. It has instead led to an andragogic form of instruction in the process of learning English among the Chinese. This has included increased use of memorization as a learning tool among students.

Wang and Neimann have demonstrated that there is a considerable difference in English teaching approaches between the West and the East. This has resulted in learning English among the Chinese to include a strong emphasis on grammar as earlier indicated and memorization of various essential English vocabulary. This is done usually within the cultural context of the Chinese. All this has thus led to increased memorization of compositions among Chinese learners as this is perceived to be an essential English learning method.

The impact of culture on students’ memorization of compositions is further demonstrated by the differing teaching methods between Western educators and Chinese ones. Zavasnik and Pizorn explicate that andragogy as per the taxonomy of Bloom is an essential component of adult education in Western education which is seen as education of the equals. This indicates that learners have the ability to be self-directed and therefore participate in collaborative discourse. By contrast, Chinese teachers undertake their role within the context of the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. In this regard, Chinese teachers tend to perceive themselves as being transmitters of knowledge. They are thus considered to be good performers and therefore they are emulated in China. Therefore, bringing up students on the higher hierarchy of Bloom’s taxonomy including creating, analyzing, and synthesis has become a serious problem. This therefore has made it quite difficult for students to achieve the necessary cognitive levels for critical thinking.

Further, China’s pedagogy has a strong cultural connection which significantly leads to students cultivating the habit of memorizing compositions. China is a nation that remains significantly influenced by its Confucius heritage which impacts Chinese attitudes and overall way of life. Therefore, the process of teaching is heavily influenced by this heritage, as asserted by Wang and Neimann. This explains why most Chinese teachers prefer to accumulate knowledge which they then impart on to their students. In this case, teaching encompasses giving out what students expect that their teachers know. This is in line with Confucius’ assertion on knowledge transmission and not creation.

Students’ Level

Student level has also been found to heavily impact on students’ tendency to memorize text in the course of exam preparation. Kirkpatrick and Hlaing examined the Myanmar system of education that entails five years at the primary level; four at the secondary (middle) level; and two years at the upper secondary (high) level. Proceeding from one level to the next entails passing through the competitive matriculation testing system. This is further confirmed by the assessment process in Malaysia which is taken quite seriously, in the view of Tan and Miller. Students who rank at the top of their class are assessed more regularly and much emphasis is placed on their performance. All this has been found to lead to significant washback effects. This can be attributed to the fact that students in a bid to pass their exams resort to memorizing.

The Effects of Memorizing Compositions

Diminished Students’ Critical Thinking

The ability to think critically is perceived to be a valid indicator of academic progress and success. At the same time, it is also taken to be a vital construct in regard to the process of language acquisition and particularly in reading and writing as per the findings of Fahim, Barjesteh, and Vaseghi. Critical thinking is further essential since transmitting thoughts in a foreign language is actually very challenging considering the application of varying linguistic conventions and competences as well. Therefore, students’ ability to think in a critical manner is vital as it facilitates learners’ communication.

The significance of critical thinking which is sometimes referred to as reflection is essential for learning, as demonstrated by Wang and Neimann. This is attributed to the fact that critical thinking as opposed to memorization results in the development of new knowledge and different techniques. This is even more significant given the emphasis for students in the 21st century to be prepared to work in the global economy. It is essential for them to possess skills to “design, assemble, construct, conjecture, develop, formulate, and investigate” (Wang & Neimann). All these require a considerable amount of critical thinking. In addition, the need for critical thinking in the process of learning is also demonstrated in the need for students to learn how to not only evaluate a stand, but also justify it including the decisions that they reach. This needs to be based on reasoned appraisals, arguments, defenses, and judgments which are essential components of critical thinking. The need for students to think critically is also empathized in the assertion that it is vital for students to be able to analyze and draw conclusions among ideas through effectively “differentiating, organizing, relating, comparing, contrasting , distinguishing, examining, experimenting, questioning, and testing” (Wang & Neimann).

Additionally, the need for critical thinking among students is also demonstrated by the fact that in order for students to penetrate the global marketplace, they must possess the skills to apply knowledge. That is, they must be able to apply information in new situations through reasoned execution, implementation, problem solving, demonstrating, interpreting, operating, scheduling, and sketching.

There is a considerable amount of diminished critical thinking that is a direct outcome of memorizing compositions by students. Kirkpatrick and Hlaing demonstrate this in the claim that students who score high in English tend to learn provided sample essays as opposed to writing their own. While in the course of writing their essays students do apply their ideas in writing, they tend to also utilize some well-constructed sentences from the memorized essays. Those who strive to practice essay writing by reading are quite few.

Memorization of compositions therefore results in diminished critical thinking among students since it hinders them from developing their own ideas. This is attributed to the fact that teachers tend to test the same old essay topics. This repetitive behavior by teachers means that students know what to expect and therefore write down their prepared essay as opposed to thinking of new ways of approaching the study.

Critical thinking is further diminished because of the testing requirement that state that essays are to be limited to three paragraphs. This is vital because the limited three paragraphs heavily stifle the development of creative arguments, complex logic, and parallel reasoning. Instead, essays should be permitted to be of a much longer length in some cases.

One crucial point to note is that literature on students’ critical thinking and its relation to foreign language learning is minimal. In addition, most existing research has been conducted by Western researchers. This is significant as it implies that very little is known about students’ critical thinking and its impact on English language learning in Saudi Arabia. Further significance of this is the conclusions that have been made regarding learning of foreign language that indicates that critical thinking is something that is rather unique to the Western culture in the view of Stapleton.

Prevention of Development of Writing Skills

Memorization of compositions by EFL/ESL students in public schools in Saudi Arabia has led to inadequate development of writing skills. Naghdipour and Koc postulate that this is evidenced by the fact that many teachers admit that students have mediocre writing skills which translates to poor writing skills. That is, while most of these students show high proficiency in grammar they are unable to efficiently apply theory of writing to actual practice. Thus, the students show a reluctance in carrying out writing tasks and instead they are used to learning passages by heart which they then rewrite from memory during assessment. In this regard, these students have developed the attitude that learning compositions is a waste of time since they do not require creative writing to pass an exam.

The poor development of writing skills among students is further evidenced in the fact that students do not have knowledge on the construction of sentences given that there are no questions on this in the set exam. Kirkpatrick and Hlaing refer to the explanation provided by a teacher with 36 students “For writing, students know and do only guided writing until 9th standard level, so it seems difficult for them to perform free writing at this level”

Discussion and Conclusion

Discussion

The purpose of this study was to investigate the EFL/ESL students’ tendency to memorize model compositions for the writing assessment in public schools. Accordingly, the findings reveal various issues regarding students’ tendency to memorize model compositions. These issues touch on washback, factors influencing students towards memorization, and the impact of this.

To begin with, as per the findings in this paper, from the various aspects of teaching and learning washback is a common occurrence. This concept takes place as a consequence of the ongoing training on assessment practices that teachers tend to master. This indicates that there is a need for constant guidance and support that should be provided to teachers over time. This will be significant in helping teachers to gain better understanding of the system and therefore appropriately make use of it.

Further, the discussion has revealed that washback is something that can be fostered a number of ways. One of these ways is through making students aware of assessment procedures and scoring scales. Another is through specifying objectives as well as structuring assessment tasks. In this regard, this increased student awareness of such practices causes them to place focus on specific learning goals.

Overall, washback whether it is positive or negative is a threat to the process of teaching language curriculum. This is due to the fact that through washback a test can easily shift curriculum in a given direction or another. This can take place against the better judgment of teachers and therefore students.

The idea of the ideal text has undermined the ability of teachers teaching knowledge and therefore students learning something new. This has been a vital factor contributing to students’ high memorization rate. For teachers, what they teach as per texts that are available is therefore the most significant aspect of learning. This has therefore been a vital point contributing to undermining students’ progress. This is in line with the findings of Wang and Neimann who postulate that the development of an ideal text has resulted in students all over China quoting the same teachings.

The extent of teachers’ response has further been a contributing factor towards the tendency of students memorizing compositions. For most teachers, responding to their students brings about a certain case of anxiety. This was shown by the findings of Ferris in the assertion that most L2 teachers dread providing responses to their students to the extent of wishing they had a different career. The tendency of teachers responding in the same manner as was ascertained in this paper is the main reason why students opt to memorize essays and regurgitate them during assessment.

In addition, it has also been determined from this paper that learning strategies have considerably impacted students’ tendency towards memorization. In this case, students’ act of memorizing compositions has greatly undermined their writing skills significantly. This can be attributed to the fact that only descriptive essays are assessed. This is essential as it implies that the best move to make is to provide different types of essays that would allow for adequate measurement of students’ actual writing skills.

As per the findings of this investigation into students’ memorization of compositions, culture has also been an essential facilitator of this. China has been instrumental in illustrating this through the influence of Confucius heritage on the way of life of the Chinese including the process of learning. This is in line with the findings of Wang and Neimann, which indicate learning in China is all about knowledge accumulation by teachers that is then transmitted to learners.

The tendency of students memorizing compositions has resulted in detrimental impact on their critical thinking and writing skills. As a consequence of the tendency to memorize, many students lack the ability to think in a critical way. This is attributed to the fact that memorization prevents students from developing their own ideas. This thus aligns well with the assertion by Wang and Neimann that memorization has meant that students lack the ability to effectively differentiate, organize, relate, compare, contrast, distinguish, examine, and question. In relation to writing skills, memorization has undermined the development of this among students as most teachers admit that students exhibit mediocre writing skills. Simple construction of sentences is a difficult task for many of these students.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, this study has shown with clarity that many students in public schools in Saudi Arabia do not receive actual value of learning and instead memorize information which they have an idea its meaning. High focus on assessment has been a contributing reason for this which has therefore resulted in backwash. While positive backwash may have some benefits, negative backwash largely comprises the learning process. It undermines learning in that teachers ignore a lot of content in order to shape learners’ mind towards passing exams which at the time is the only goal. This study has identified the various factors that have mainly been influencers of students memorizing compositions in many parts of the world including Saudi Arabia. These factors include: the ideal text, teachers’ response, learning strategies, culture, and students’ level. All these have greatly undermined learning and actual acquisition of knowledge. The resulting impact of this is considerably diminished students’ critical thinking and prevention of development of writing skills of students.

Recommendations

This study provides a number of recommendations for further research in this important issue on learning and teaching. In the first place, surveys can be distributed to both students and teachers. In those surveys researchers can examine the reasons behind memorizing modeled paragraphs and compositions. This can also include suggestions of further training and practicing writing in-class with the teacher’s guidance. In addition, teachers need to realize the benefit of applying new curriculums in developing their students’ higher levels of thinking techniques. This includes aspects such as using mind-maps and the outlines that are presented in the new developed text-books, to organize and compose meaningful guided compositions. This will go a long way in enhancing critical thinking among students. In addition, it will be instrumental in preventing the notion of existence of an ideal text. It is further recommended that it is essential for teachers to strive to reduce negative washback and promote positive washback. This can be enabled by testers reducing the under-representation of construct and construct irrelevance in assessment.

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