ISLAMIC AZAD UNIVERSITY
AT CENTRAL TEHRAN
GRADUATE SCHOOL
ENGLISH DEPARTMENT
A THESIS IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS IN TEACHING ENGLISH AS A FORIGN LANGUAGE (TEFL)
THE COMPARATIVE IMPACT OF AUTONOMY AND CRITICAL THINKING ON EFL LEARNERS’ WRITING ACHIEVEMENT
ADVISOR:
DR. BEHDOKHT MALL-AMIRI
READER:
DR. HAMID MARASHI ZADEH
By:
FATEMEH SHEIKHY
DECEMBER 2013
ABSTRACT
The present study was an attempt to compare the effect of critical thinking techniques, and autonomy techniques on EFL learners’ writing achievement. To fulfill the purpose of the study, 74 participants of a total number of 100 learners at intermediate level who were studying in Kish Way Language School in Karaj were selected by means of a piloted PET. At the next stage, the 74 participants were divided into two experimental groups randomly so that one group would receive critical thinking techniques and the other autonomy practice as the two treatments. Prior to the start of the treatments, the scores of the writing section of the PET obtained by both groups were compared to make sure that the learners were homogeneous regarding their writing ability at the outset. At the end of the instructional period, both groups were given a writing posttest, and the comparison of their means revealed that the difference between the two groups’ writing posttest scores was non-significant , hence the null hypothesis failed to be rejected, implying that both groups benefited the treatments equally in their writing improvement.

ACKNOWLEGEMENTS
It is impossible for me to acknowledge all who have been a part of this journey. I truly believe that people come into your life for a reason. There are no words to express the feelings of thanks that I have for each of you, nor is it possible to describe the impact that each of you have had on my life.
I want to extend my deepest thanks and appreciation to two of my best professors: Dr. Behdokht Mall Amiri, and Dr. Hamid Marashi Zadeh for the support, advice, and encouragement they provided during the research process. Dr. Mall Amiri’s advice, constant encouragement, and affection to me and all her students is adorable. I learned a lot from her, not only about education, but also about life. Dr. Marashi Zadeh’s participation during my proposal hearing, and through my thesis, contributed positively to the quality of the work presented, and I learned a lot from him, too. I would appreciate both of them greatly.
Without my family, I would not have been successful in achieving this dream. I am so grateful to my parents. The importance that they both have placed on my education and always doing their best has served as an inspiration to me, and grounded me in who I am. They both have stood beside me every step of the way and the life.
I would like to appreciate my dear husband. Words cannot express my appreciation for the price that he paid as I pursued this dream.
To all of you – two small, yet heartfelt and sincerely genuine words, “Thank you!”.
Table of Contents
ABSTRAT………………………………………………………….I
ACKNOWLEGEMENTS………………………………………………………II
CHAPTER I: BACKGROUNG AND PURPOSE……………………………….1
1.1. Introduction…………………………………………………………………2
1.2. Statement of the Problem…………………………………………………..5
1.3. Statement of the Research Question……………………………………….6
1.4. Statement of the Research Hypothesis…………………………………….6
1.5. Definition of Key Terms……………………………………………………7
1.6. Significance of the Study……………………………………………………8
1.7. Limitations, Delimitations, Assumptions………………………………….9
1.7.1. Limitations…………………………………………………………….9
1.7.2. Delimitations………………………………………………………….10
1.7.3. Assumption……………………………………………………………10
CHAPTER II: REVIEW OF THE RELATED LITERATURE…………………..11
2.1. Introduction……………………………………………………………….12
2.2. Autonomy…………………………………………………………………12
2.2.1. Definitions of Autonomy……………………………………………….13
2.2.2. Learner Autonomy………………………………………………………14
2.2.3. What Does Autonomy Mean? …………………………………………………….18
2.2.4. Autonomous Learner’s Features……………………………………….20
2.2.5. Elements of Autonomous Learning……………………………………..20
2.2.6. Models for Autonomy……………………………………………………21
2.2.7. Kinds of Autonomy………………………………………………………22
2.2.8. Autonomy in the Classroom……………………………………………..23
2.2.9. Dimensions of Autonomy………………………………………………..25
2.3. Critical Thinking……………………………………………………………26
2.3.1. What is Critical Thinking? ..……………………………………………..29
2.3.2. What Does Critical Thinking Mean? ……………………………………30
2.3.3. A Five Step Model to Improve CT Skills…………………………………31
2.3.4. The Importance of Teaching CT in L2 Classrooms………………………35
2.3.5. Content-based Instructions for Improving CT Skills………………………35
2.3.6. Critical Thinker’s Features…………………………………………………35
2.3.7. Relationship Between CT and Learning……………………………………36
2.3.8. Strategies of Critical Thinking……………………………………………..38
2.4. Writing………………………………………………………………………..39
2.4.1. Writing Strategies…………………………………………………………..41
2.4.2. Writing Modes……………………………………………………………..42
2.4.3. Writing Process Approach and Product Approach…………………………43
2.4.4. General and Specific Components of Writing Tasks………………………44
CHAPTER III: METHOD………………………………………………………..48
3.1. Introduction………………………………………………………………….49
3.2. Participants………………………………………………………………….49
3.3. Instrumentation……………………………………………………………50
3.3.1. PET for Homogenization…………………………………………….50
3.3.2. Writing Posttest………………………………………………………51
3.3.3. Writing Scale/Rubric…………………………………………………52
3.3.4. Textbook……………………………………………………………..52
3.3.5. Materials for Practicing Autonomy and Critical Thinking…………52
3.4. Procedure………………………………………………………………….53
3.4.1. Practicing CT Techniques……………………………………………54
3.4.2. Practicing AUT Techniques…………………………………………56
3.5. Design……………………………………………………………………..58
3.6. Statistical Analysis……………………………………………………….58
CHAPTER IV: RESULTS AND DISCUSSION…………………………………60
4.1. Introduction………………………………………………………………..61
4.2. Descriptive Statistics of the Pre-treatment Writing Scores………………67
4.3. Descriptive Statistics of the Raters’ Scores to the CT Posttest Writing…69
4.4. Descriptive Statistics of the Posttest Writing Scores…………………….73
4.5. Testing the Null Hypothesis………………………………………………74
4.6. Discussion………………………………………………………………….75
CHAPTER V: CONCLUSION AND PEDAGOGICAL IMPLICATIONS………78
5.1. Introduction…………………………………………………………………79
5.2. Restatement of the Hypothesis…………………………………………..79
5.3. Conclusion…………………………………………………………………79
5.4. Pedagogical Implications……………………………………………………80
5.5. Implications for EFL Teachers, Learners, and Syllabus Designers………81
5.5.1. Implications for EFL Teachers…………………………………………81
5.5.2. Implications for EFL Learners……………………………………….82
5.5.3. Implications for EFL Syllabus Designers…………………………….83
5.6. Suggestions for Further Studies……………………………………………83
REFERENCES……………………………………………………………………85
APPENDICES……………………………………………………………………123
Appendix A: PTE 1 (used for homogenization)………………………………124
Appendix B: PET 2 (used as post-treatment test)………………………….144
CHAPTER I
BACKGROUD AND PURPOSE
1.1. Introduction
Education and learning need some special techniques to indulge learners more deeply and efficiently- techniques that involve learners to become more independent and at the same time more thoughtful. It is a rather recent issue that educators are focusing their attention to critical thinking and autonomy on different skills, although “ critical thinking is as integral part of education and training in schools of foreign and second language instruction” ( Shangarffam & Mamipour, 2011, p.1 ), and so is autonomy.
Writing is one of the most effective ways of conveying ideas and thoughts to others, so learning to write is important because without it education, and more important, communications will be defective and will face problems.
According to Pemberton and Nix (2012), writing, autonomy, and critical thinking seem to be linked to each other, and proficiency in writing can be a sign of students’ autonomy, critical thinking ,and reasoning skills on the other hand. Critical thinking and autonomy are both considered desirable educational goals. Raya, Lamb, and Vieira (2007), mention that “The competence to think critically is coextensive with the notion of autonomy and self-sufficiency” (p.43). And in the same way, Little (1991) explains autonomy as an ability “for detachment, critical reflection, decision making, and independent action”(p.4). Therefore, it is important that teachers help students develop exploring ways for autonomy and critical thinking (Pemberton & Nix, 2012). Consequently, it seems that teaching learners to become autonomous and at the same time critical thinkers is probably a vital factor in their progress.
In line with the ongoing development in communication and definitely writing, the methods that teachers use to help foster learners’ autonomy, and make a “paradigm shift from teacher-centered to learner-centered instruction” (Jacobs & Farrell, 2002, 12) are considered very important ,and as Wu Li-li (2008) mentions with the growing need of language teaching in communication-oriented way nowadays, language teaching is facing a challenge and is being substituted by the learner-centered one. As a result, the learner-centered approach made the concept of learners’ autonomy emerge (Bagheri & Aeen, 2011).
Nowadays, learner autonomy is considered as “an unquestionable goal and integral part of language learning methodologies throughout the world. Large amounts of time, energy, and money are spent on its promotion and implementation” (Reinders, 2000, p.2). In fact learner autonomy seems to become important because of the motive that it creates in learners. Learning autonomy emphasizes language learners’ role as an active participant in his/her learning who has “a choice as what and how of the curriculum can be used in learning”, and also, “has a responsible feeling for his/her own learning” (Jacobs & Farrell, 2001, p.7).
According to Bagheri and Aeen (2011), although there are very trivial differences in the way that scholars and language teachers express their understanding of learners’ autonomy, they all agree with the importance of autonomy in motivating learners, and the result is better and effective work of autonomous learners. They added that autonomous learners are more initiative and creative in learning, and this leads to more useful classroom instruction. When learners have the freedom to choose the kind of curriculum and instruction, the result is choosing the best that matches their learning styles and preferences and finally more effective learning happens.  According to Benson (2010), “When we talk about autonomy, we refer more to a certain kind of relationship between the student and the learning process.” (p.79).  To be autonomous means “to be directed by considerations, desires, conditions, and characteristics that are not simply imposed externally upon one, but are part of what can somehow be considered one’s authentic self” (Christman, 2008, p.1).
Autonomy has been considered an important factor in educational settings during recent years.“The development of autonomy as an educational aim is the development of a kind of person whose thought and action in important areas of his life are to be explained by reference to his own choices, decisions, reflections, deliberations – in short, his own activity of mind” (Dearden, as cited in Cuypers, 2004, p.1). According to Candy, (1991, as cited in Thanasoulas, 2002), autonomy is a dynamic process that is considered as educational interventions, so it helps learners to gain more control over their own learning, and at the same time it motivates learners’ thinking critically about different issues during learning; however, learners differ in their learning strategies, interests, needs, ideas, and the way of thinking, therefore they develop varying degrees of autonomous and critical thinking throughout their learning processes. In this regard, instructing autonomy and critical thinking may help students to take charge of their own learning more efficiently.
On the other hand, writing is a means of developing and conveying ideas to others. Therefore, it needs creating meanings, doing it autonomously, and thinking critically about it. Wade ( as cited in Al-Hazmi, 2006) mentions that writing plays an essential role in critical thinking instruction, because it improves more self-reflection. White and McGovern (as cited in Bagheri & Aeen, 2011) believe that process approach of writing creates self-critical ones because it makes students reflect on their understanding, to communicate their feelings about what they know, and how they are experiencing their learning.
According to Siegel (as cited in Cuypers, 2004, p.4), critical thinking is a highly significant educational notion. An investigation done by Alsagoff (2008, as cited in Jimenez, Ramos, Rosales, & Soraya, 2010, p.18) characterizes “ critical thinking as the intellectual disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action”. And all the mentioned factors plus autonomy are necessary factors in writing effectively.
Simpson and Courtney (2002) state that in critical thinking one tries to determine what to do or what to believe, and to apply critical thinking skills to one another. It means, one analyzes one’s own inferences, explains one’s own interpretation or evaluates one’s own analysis. On the other hand, Holec (1981) defines autonomy as the “ability to take charge of one’s own learning”(p.3) that can be in line with one’s critical thinking and maybe with the same impact on one’s learning. Critical thinking is also considered as a cognitive ability that is affected by multiple skills such as identifying, understanding, and analyzing an issue by using inferences through top-down and bottom-up strategies to validate the reliability of claims and arguments(Pithers & Soden, 2000). This suggests that critical thinking is a complex concept that can be used to support assumptions, information, and claims in EFL writing ( Barnawi, 2010, p.2). As a result, all factors affecting writing are considered important, and autonomy and critical thinking are two variables that can be in relation to writing.
1.2. Statement of the Problem
There is a great lack in researches on the comparative impact of autonomy and critical thinking , although studies on the impact of two of the variables separately – autonomy on writing ( Bagheri & Aeen, 2011), or critical thinking on writing (Mamipour & Shangarffam, 2011) – showed a significantly positive impact .
Learning is considered as a long process of gaining knowledge which needs great effort, and traditionally all the time students were asked to gain knowledge by listening to their teachers and following their instructions (Zhang & Wu, 2004, as cited in Li Yahong, 2009, p.1), and also teachers traditionally controlled everything in the classroom and they believed transmitting knowledge to students as their main duty (Zhang, 2006). As a result, they spoke most of the classroom time while students were expected to listen to them, take notes, and memorize their notes (Zhang, 2006), rather than thinking critically about what they are taught and developing their own ideas by talking to their classmates and teachers or even raising some novel questions about different issues.
It seems that teachers are usually in a higher position to encourage their students to do what they think is the best for their students’ learning ; whilst students’ abilities to take charge of their own learning alongside their teachers’ guidance, and think critically about different issues are ignored. It seems that it does not create much sense of satisfactory in students in their learning, because there are a lot of groans about the language teaching system in Iran and to the researcher’s knowledge, a lot of them believe they could have better performance if they were allowed to have more freedom in choosing learning strategies and discuss issues critically. .
Several studies have been done to check the effects of critical thinking on language learning, such as Naeini (2005) in which she found that the experimental group (group with critical thinking technique) outperformed the control group. On the other hand, according to some contemporary researches such as the one conducted by Bagheri and Aeen (2011), autonomy can also prepare a chance for learners to set their learning goals, and try to achieve them. Marashi and Jafari (2012), also found that critical thinking positively affects learners’ writing.
The researcher as a teacher has observed that students who use autonomy and critical thinking techniques during learning are more successful than those who do not use these two techniques in learning all the four skills especially writing. The researcher observed that the students with the two mentioned techniques think deeply about the conveyed information and believe themselves more responsible for their own learning; therefore, they try to follow the same procedure in their writing. The observation stimulated this study to investigate which of the two procedures, critical thinking or autonomous learning, could improve EFL learners’ writing achievement more.
1.3. Statement of the Research Question
To meet the afore-mentioned purpose of this research, the following question was raised:
Is there any significant difference between the impact of autonomous learning and critical thinking on EFL learners’ writing achievement?
1.4. Statement of the Research Hypothesis
In order to provide as answer to the research question empirically, the following null hypothesis was formulated:
H0: There is no significant difference between the impact of autonomous learning and critical thinking on EFL learners’ writing achievement.
1.5. Definition of Key Terms

Autonomy: According to Little, (as cited in Dimitrios Thanasoulas, 2002, p.1) “autonomy is a capacity for detachment, critical reflection, decision-making, and independent action” . Learning autonomy refers to “the ability to take charge of one’s own learning (Holec, 1981, as cited in Reinders, 2000, p.3); thus, autonomy requires “action” on the part of the learner when he takes responsibility for planning, monitoring, and evaluating his effort (Aliweh, 2010).
Critical thinking: Liaw (2007) defines critical thinking as something which “involves the use of information, experience, and world knowledge in ways which allow [EFL students] to seek alternatives, make inferences, pose questions, and solve problems, thereby signaling understanding in a variety of complex ways”(p.51).
Writing: According to Meyers ( 2005), “Writing is a way to produce language, which you do naturally when you speak. Writing is communicating with others in a verbal way. Writing is also a process of discovering and organizing your ideas, putting them on a paper and reshaping and revising them” ( p.2).
In this study, writing achievement was operationally defined as the scores that participants obtained on writing section of a sample of Preliminary English Tests (PET). More descriptions are provided in chapter three below.
1.6. Significance of the Study
With the growing importance of communication, and with the constant need to learn writing efficiently for a great number of learners, investigating the factors that affect writing become a vital point.
In order to learn English successfully, learners need to acquire four skills as well as “develop critical analytical skills” (Jimenez, Ramos, Rosales, & Soraya, 2010, p.13) ,and autonomy. The Iranian educational system traditionally emphasizes on acquiring and learning the four skills and ignores critical thinking and autonomy skills; however, teachers need to give more attention to these two factors in teaching skills. Jimenez, Ramos, Rosales, and Soraya ( 2010) assert that by the development of critical thinking, students will go beyond the limitations of academic world, and also developing critical thinking is essential nowadays because the time we are living needs learners that can think critically. The emphasis on critical thinking prevents a closed mind that will accept others’ ideas easily and without questioning.
Ismail (2010) mentions writing has been an important skill in language teaching and learning, therefore it should receive more attention in order to prepare learners to deal successfully with the communicative needs of real life situations, and to become better writers. “ It is as a process of discovery as the writers try to find their way while they are struggling to think, compose and put their ideas together” ( Ismail, 2010, p.1), so it is considered as a cognitive skill that thinking critically and being autonomous may influence it greatly.
According to Ku (2009), teaching critical thinking technique is one of the important goals of education. Critical thinking helps students to be able “to deal quickly and effectively with the changes in the new world” (Fahim & Komijani, 2010, p.34). For gaining such a competency, students need to go beyond the course books, and learn to acquire some special techniques such as critical thinking for reasoning, judging, and argumentation. Critical thinking is not a technique that is only usable for students in school, but also in workplaces, and social contexts to make people decide appropriately, independently, and carefully on daily issues.
It is hoped that this research and its findings will encourage reflection on the factors that may affect learners’ writing, and propose guidelines for EFL teachers who wish to improve their students’ writing ability as well as their skills such as autonomy and critical thinking, and also creates important implications for materials developers and students. Likewise, it is hoped that the findings of this study have useful implications for teachers to help their students reduce their difficulties in writing in English, and on the other hand make learners more autonomous and critical thinker. Accordingly, teachers and materials developers can pave the way for learners by having a better understanding of effective factors on writing and they can help learners to reach their goals in writing more effectively and proficiently. By becoming aware that students should not follow a fixed procedure dictated to them by teachers and thinking about the curriculum, teachers and materials developers can add more special parts in course books and classes that involve students in autonomous and critical thinking procedure to become more competent in language learning.
1.7. Limitations, Delimitations, and Assumption
This research encountered some limitations like many other researches and delimitations were decided upon by the researcher to narrow down the scope of the research which are mentioned as follows:

1.7.1. Limitations
1. All the participants were females due to the regulations of language schools that a female teacher cannot teach male students; therefore, the results may not be generalizable to males.
2. In this study, the range of participants’ age was between 22-35 based on the sample available to the researcher, so the result of the study may not be generalizable to other age groups.
1.7.2. Delimitations
1. Students at intermediate level of proficiency was chosen as the appropriate level by the researcher because lower or higher levels may not be suitable for checking these two techniques . Elementary level students were not considered proficient enough in language skills and thus less able to get along with the application of critical thinking and autonomy techniques in writing. On the other hand, advanced levels were assumed to be already proficient enough in writing. Therefore, the researcher chose intermediate level participants as the best sample for this study.
2. All aspects of critical thinking were not practiced by the researcher. She chose some of the critical thinking techniques such as debating, reasoning, problem solving, classifying, clarifying, and analyzing media because according to many researchers (Lai, 2011; Marashi & Jafari, 2012; Marashi & Jodeiri, 2006; Shangarffam & Mamipour, 2011) these techniques are supposed to be good ones for improving critical thinking.
1.7.3. Assumption
The participants were informed at the outset that they were going to be granted a writing proficiency certificate at the end of the instructional course of this study. In doing so, the researcher assumed that the participants would take the course and the research more seriously and would attend the classes with more motivation and attention.
CHAPTER II
REVIEW OF THE RELATED LITERATURE
2.1. Introduction
In order to fulfill the requirements of the current study, the review of the related literature of each of the variables in this research – autonomy, critical thinking, and writing – are



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