The Reading Matrix
Vol. 8, No. 2, September 2008
READING BETWEEN TEXTS: THAI POSTGRADUATE STUDENTS’
INTERTEXTUAL FRAMING AND METACOGNITION USE IN READING
Many factors influence students’ reading practices. In the case of international
students, home country educational practices and socio-cultural factors may pose a
greater influence than for local students. This study reported here, part of a larger
study, investigated the intertextual framing practices used in reading by a cohort of
Thai postgraduate students in their first and third semesters at an Australian university
and their self knowledge of these practices. An ethnographic approach was used
incorporating individual interviews and pair think-aloud protocols. In addition,
interviews were conducted with postgraduate students at a Thai university to provide
further explanation of Thai postgraduate reading practices. It was found that there
were significant changes between first and third semesters as the students
accommodated to the new cultural environment and the requirements of their studies.
These changes were facilitating the amount and kind of reading they were required to
interpret and evaluate.
Many universities over the last decades have had increasing enrolments of
international students from non-English speaking backgrounds. Many of these
students experience difficulties as they have to face a double cultural shift i.e. a shift
from school to university study and from study where they use their first language to a
place of study where they have to use their second language. Postgraduate students,
in particular, can experience significant difficulties. One area that is often
problematic, but which has received little attention, is the reading practices of
international postgraduate students (Zuber-Skerritt and Ryan, 1998).
Reading is a complex skill influenced by background knowledge, educational
upbringings, cultural attitudes to reading and expectations regarding the purpose of
reading. International students arrive at Australian universities with diverse cultural,
linguistic, religious and educational backgrounds (Ninnes et al., 1999) sometimes far
removed from those of their host country. These differing backgrounds may lead to
differing expectations and hence differing approaches to their reading which may or
may not serve the requirements of their postgraduate studies. The factors which may
influence their reading approaches include the way the English language was used in
their home country, the educational style of teaching language in Thailand and
background knowledge which can be applied to a text to aid understanding.
English Language Use in Thailand
In Thailand English is used in all the public domains but little used in the
private domains, e.g. in the home. Pornpimol (1984 cited in Cheshire, 1991) has
listed six domains in which English is currently used in Thailand: the educational
system; government agencies; the private sector; the élite community in Thailand; the
The élite English speaking Thais are often those who have studied in English
speaking countries overseas and have been given the name of ‘nag-rệan-noog’ by
other Thais. Pornpimol, according to Cheshire (1991), believes there is a unique Thai
variety of English and the Thainess in Thai English can be seen in the use of
pretentious words, wordiness and modes of address. The Thai English to which the
Thai student has been exposed may have implications for the English authored text
structures they have to negotiate when studying at an Australian university.
While English language usage in students’ home countries is an important
factor to consider when investigating the influences on reading at an Australian
university, it is difficult to separate language from culture (an underlying assumption
of intercultural theory is that language and culture are inextricably intertwined
Instructional time is often not given to connotative awareness in international
students’ home countries. A study by Yamamoto and Swan (1989) illustrates this.
They conducted a survey and a test with 76 Japanese teachers of English and 28
native English speaking teachers and found that teachers immersed in one cultural
background may ‘pass along images that do not necessarily correspond to the
connotations held in other societies’ (p.244).
Lexico-grammatical competence, while encompassing the notion of
grammatical and structural competence, also relates to the type of English learnt in the
home country. Moreover, ‘different cultures may promote different levels of
metalinguistic awareness’ (Hall and Guthrie, 1982:133) thus influencing a student’s
interpretation of a text. For example, at the purely linguistic level, students may miss
cohesive markers and other signposts in texts and, if reading is slow, may not have the
time to relate a text to other related texts to gain further understanding.
Students may, of course, have a high level of English language but of a variety
more appropriate for intranational use in their own country than in the host country
(Pride, 1982). A study by Bell (1994) set up to investigate the variety of Englishes
and cultural assumptions learnt by Singaporeans in their home country and the
implications when these students studied at an Australian university, found these
students were not aware of the linguistic differences they may meet and have to
address in Australia. As Pride (1982) says, ‘…the language learner cannot help but
transfer into his use of English certain of the more deep-seated culture-bound
communicative competencies which he has acquired and developed in his native
language or languages, while at the same time having to learn new communicative
competencies appropriate to the target, non-native language’ (p.5).
Much of the reading research has tended to focus on the comprehension
abilities of a reader i.e. the product of reading, or on individual components of the
reading process. For example there have been a variety of studies incorporating the
examination of the influence of text structure on reading. Another area of research
has focussed on the difficulties experienced by readers related to the structures of
academic texts (Bhatia, 1993; Hinkel, 1994; Swales, 1990).
Other researchers have examined the construction of the meaning process of
academic texts in relation to the cultural context of a text. In an attempt to investigate
the connection between appropriate strategy use and comprehension of science texts
McLoughlin (1995), for example, specifically designed a study to explore how
cultural background knowledge and linguistic variables influence students’
reconstruction of scientific texts. No differences emerged between the Australian and
the Singaporean students with regard to recall of main ideas or awareness of text
structures. The Malaysian students, in the study, however, recalled fewer main ideas
and showed less awareness of argument structure.
One of the most important insights from a review of 66 studies involving
traditional written texts and on-line texts incorporating both knowledge and interests
by Alexander et al. (1994) was the impact of subject-specific knowledge.
‘Specifically when there was a match between subjects’ avocations or vocations and
the subject matter of the text, there were significant and positive outcomes
reported’(p.219). They added that when there is a poor match, readers cannot process
the information in the text effectively. In this situation, students must rely on
whatever relevant conceptual knowledge they can muster.
The research reported here used metacognitive and framing theories as a
grounding to explore the reading practices, adjustments and self awareness of
adjustments to the reading practices of a Thai cohort of postgraduate students when
reading in English at an Australian university.
Armbruster et al.(1982) and other researchers discuss reading to learn from a
metacognitive perspective as it relates to four specific variables: Knowledge of tasks,
Knowledge of text structures, Knowledge of strategies and their applications, and
Knowledge of own learner characteristics (Knowledge of Self). This aspect of
metacogniton, Self Knowledge was explored in this study. Another aspect of
metacognition, the notion of self-efficacy, embodying the elements of self-appraisal
and self-management, is generally accepted as part of any definition of metacognition
(Paris and Winograd, 1990). Insights on this aspects arose in this study.
Reid et al. (1998) argue that construction of meaning always involves framing.
The basic premise of frame analysis, according to Reid (1996:92) ‘is that appropriate
interpretation presupposes an ability to recognise the framing devices (mainly
linguistic) which convey metamessages’.
MacLachlan and Reid (1994) describe the four types of framing as follows:
Extratextual framing occurs when a reader uses his background knowledge
and experience to assist in interpreting the text;
Intratextual framing is when a reader uses cues, such as headings and
subheadings, cohesive devices etc. within a passage to interpret;
Circumtextual framing occurs when a reader takes into account the cover of a
book or journal, and peripheral features such as title and abstract to build a
picture of the text; and
Intertextual farming is when a reader links other readings with his present
reading to help make sense of the present reading.
Intertextual framing was explored in the part of the study reported here.
Specifically, this part of the research reported here set out to:
Investigate the intertextual framing and Self Knowledge aspects of the reading
practices of a group of Thai postgraduate students while studying at an
Australian university during their first semester and third semesters;
Identify the educational and socio-cultural influences on these reading
practices, some of which would be derived from practices and experiences in
their home countries;
Identify the changing influences which had impacted on their reading practices
in order to gain an understanding of the reasons for the adaptations in reading
This study, using an ethnographic approach, incorporated qualitative case studies,
an appropriate method when the purpose of the study was to ‘provide a rich, intensive
description of a single entity and the phenomena surrounding it’ (Ivey, 1999:176). It
incorporated individual interviews to investigate the reading practices involved in
interpreting academic text by a sample of international postgraduate students from
Thailand who were studying at an Australian university. The individual interviews
elicited information on general aspects of reading and background reading as well as
reading practices related to subject-specific text in the Australian context.
Pair think-aloud protocols, followed by retrospective interviews, were also
conducted in order to establish how students read general-interest text while in the
process of reading. The pair think-aloud protocols provided data on the actual
thinking processes of the students at the time of reading general-interest text. In this
way, data could be gathered for a comparative study of the students when interpreting
general-interest text and when interpreting subject-specific, academic text and, for a
longitudinal study to show the changes in reading practices used by the students
between first and third semester. The use of pair think-aloud protocols and
retrospective interviews gave the participants the opportunity to become aware of, and
then reflect on, their reading practices between first and third semester.
Inductive data analysis was employed as an ethnographic approach was used. In
other words, broad categories were used to analyse the data but detailed categories
were not imposed upon the data. The data analysis incorporated seven phases.
Firstly, data were coded and put into categories, broadly defined framing and
metacognitive categories, from the Thai individual interviews and the Thai pair think-
alouds. Secondly the interviews were then grouped, compared and re-analysed;
thirdly the interviews and pair think-alouds were grouped together and re-analysed
and interpreted to provide explanations of the students’ reading practices. The same
process took place in third semester enabling a seventh phase, a comparison between
case studies in first and third semester.
Two texts were used for the study, a discipline-specific academic text (chosen by
each participant) and a general-interest text (chosen by the researcher). The
participants were asked to read their own discipline-specific text prior to the interview
and were advised that they would be asked questions relating to how they had
approached the reading of this article.
The general-interest texts for the pair think-aloud protocols were chosen from the
New Scientist, ‘This Week’ segment. The text used for first semester protocols was
entitled ‘Deadly worm may be turning drug-resistant’ and the one for the third
semester protocols was entitled ‘French officials on poisoning charge’. These
particular texts were chosen because they were one page general-interest pieces with
intratextual features of a picture, a table and a highlighted sentence situated in the
middle of the piece. As the texts both came from the ‘This Week’ page they also
incorporated a similar style of writing, enabling a comparison and examination of the
changes in reading practices between first and third semester. In addition, the texts
did not require any technical knowledge and the participants could be expected to
have some background knowledge of the topics to assist them. The texts, also, did not
deal with political, religious or any culturally sensitive matter.
The texts, moreover, comprised only approximately 750 words and so could be
read within the time allowance of one hour. It was important that participants had the
time to read an entire article and not just a few paragraphs of a text. In this way, they
could observe the structure of the entire text and use any knowledge they had of
intratextual features. The texts, too, were authentic in that there were no ‘planted’
inconsistencies or errors.
The texts were read by pairs of participants who were asked to vocalize their
thoughts as they were reading. Data were also gathered from a field trip to a Thai
university. These data helped to explain and better understand Thai students’
experiences and reflections on their reading practices during their study at an
The six Thai participants were chosen for the study because they had only just
arrived in Australia to embark on postgraduate study. They had all completed their
undergraduate study at Thai universities and the main language they used at home
was Thai. These common aspects enabled the researcher to investigate the Thai
socio-cultural and educational influences which might impact on their reading
practices on first taking up their study at an Australian university and later in third
semester when the researcher was able to identify the changes in reading practices
which were taking place as they progressed through their study. While not being able
to compare the practices of Thai students reading texts from a particular discipline
area, the fact that the participants were studying in different fields enabled the
researcher to gain insights into the relationships between the differing educational and
knowledge backgrounds of the participants and their reading practices. Brief profiles
of the participants now follow.
Al, aged 33 and female, as well as completing her studies in Thailand had also
been a lecturer at a Thai university. She was enrolled in a PhD in chemistry in
Australia. She had a secondary and tertiary background in chemistry. She explained
that her reading experience in Thailand latterly consisted of reading textbooks related
to teaching as she had had no time for research. The texts she read were in Thai or
A2, aged 25 and female, was a Thai Chinese enrolled in a graduate Diploma
course in Design. In Thailand she had been a research assistant at Thammaset
University, a journalist, an assistant teacher in German and Thai languages and
secondary school teacher of art. She withdrew from her course after the first pair
think-aloud and was replaced by a male (A22) who had been a lecturer in computer
science in Thailand at a Bangkok College. At the time of the interview, he was
enrolled in a PhD in computing. During his last ten years of lecturing in Thailand he
reported that he had not written in English and only spoke in English when an English
speaking lecturer visited. Like A1 he had done little reading in Thailand due to lack
B1, female, was studying for a PhD in computer science; she had been a
university lecturer in Thailand. Her experience in Thailand was similar to that of the
other students. She said she only read to prepare for classes for her students. There
had been no time for research.
B2 was also a university lecturer in Thailand and he was enrolled in the Public
Health field of study. He withdrew from the university shortly after his first pair
think-aloud. He was replaced with a postgraduate female student from the education
C1, aged 30 and male, was a lecturer of art in Thailand. He was enrolled in a
Masters in Visual Arts in Australia.
C2, aged 24 and female, was enrolled in a graduate Diploma in Banking and
Finance in Australia.
The part of the study reported here focuses on the Knowledge of Self component of
metacognition and the intertextual framing used by this Thai cohort.
Knowledge of Self
Early in first semester the six Thai participants appeared generally to already
have realised that they had much reading to do. Their earlier reading was not
sufficient to meet the expectations of their new study environment and their
postgraduate requirements, in particular. The purposes for reading, they realised, too,
were different in their new study environment.
The participants recognized that, because of the volume of reading required, it
was not possible to read to memorise facts for examinations; they were, however, still
reading, as one participant stated, to ‘get’ ideas, i.e. reading facts to ‘get ideas’ rather
than to discuss or critique any texts they read. A2 pointed to the influence of the
educational system in Thailand which encouraged reading to learn facts rather than
reading to critique, a necessary skill even at undergraduate level at an Australian
Although discussion of texts was encouraged in their tutorials, the participants
said discussion posed a considerable challenge for them. A2 explained that, in
Thailand, students could not argue about a text out of ‘respect for teacher’ and so the
students read for information.
They were also challenged because of their imperfect pronunciation, the
practice of translation and the lack of confidence in their oral abilities. A1 explained
that she not only translated when taking down notes at lectures but while trying to
speak with her supervisor even though she was aware that translating was making her
discussions a slow and difficult process; translation was confusing for her, she
reported, because she was not confident about putting ‘words in the right order’.
However, she was managing to memorize technical terms in English.
There was a cultural expectation that the lecturer would lead. At the same
time, there was the desire by the participants to be self-directed and to participate on
an equal basis with the other students. However, their oral capacity and lack of
knowledge of technical terms inhibited them.
B22 pointed out that she had been used to step-by-step guidance. She explained the
mismatch in expectations between the Australian lecturers and herself:
They [Australian lecturers] do not say, ‘I want the issue, I want the problem’:
we have to think about that.
The participants soon found, then, that learning in an Australian university was an
Observations in Thailand showed that students were accustomed to working in
informal groups and, in fact, it seemed almost impossible for them to work alone and
offer comment on a text without first consulting with their peers. They expressed,
too, how they found it difficult to express orally what they were thinking. One
student explained his difficulty this way to me:
I don’t speaking English but I smile!
The participants soon found out that learning in an Australian university was
an independent enterprise and they were expected to engage in self-directed learning.
Even lecturer assistance was not available when questions needed to be answered as
B2 found. When she asked a lecturer for assistance, his response only served to
reinforce the fact that she could not expect the same level of guidance as in Thailand:
Now everybody listen in the same time what I said; it mean you got the same
information from me
Generally the participants had come to Australia with little reading behind
them and so it was difficult for them to link arguments and views presented in their
current reading with previous readings. C2 explained why it would have been unwise
to have read academic texts in Thailand other than those suggested by lecturers.
Students, she said, read to answer examination questions and there was the fear that, if
they read other than the prescribed texts, information learnt from those might not be
appropriate for the examination questions. Besides, she added, lecturers in Thailand
gave out outlines of the examination and advised students which chapters would cover
the questions. There was also little opportunity to discuss different cultural examples
for lecturers used Thai examples instead of the American examples from the
In addition, lecturers such as B1 had little time for research and, in any case, it
was difficult to find research articles in Thailand – especially ones such as she
brought to the interview – an overview of multimedia systems. There was also
difficulty in following up references because the process of borrowing was long and
complex. C1 and As reported that, even if they visited the prestigious Chulalongkorn
university library, it could take a whole day or they might not be able to borrow at all
if the university chose to admit only its own students.
Intertextual framing can also be carried out through the Internet but the
participants considered this method had limitations because, for them, it was time
The text used for first semester protocols discussed how a human parasite,
according to British scientists, could have begun to resist the drug, mainly used,
Praziquantel; other researchers and the WHO discounted this claim.
Childhood non-academic reading proved useful for understanding this
general-interest text. As C1 and C2 explained, additional knowledge of snails came
from their reading of Japanese cartoons. Japanese cartoons, they explained, were very
important to Thai children as they were educational; ‘the writers have sound scientific
knowledge’, the participants said. Another interesting observation was that the
Japanese cartoons ‘make students have imagination’; American cartoons, on the other
hand, were ‘too fixed’ leaving little room for personal projection and construction.
Thai cartoons were not particularly liked because they were very serious; as these
participants explained, ‘Thai culture, we don’t want to teach the student in enjoying,
in enjoyable way’ and C1 and C2 reported that they had to convince their parents that
these cartoons contributed to their education.
Other sources of information came from the reading of newspapers. Many of
the Thailand-based students stated that they often read the Student Weekly to help
them with the English language. Their understanding was due to their knowledge of
the issues through viewing television. In Thailand, moreover, readings in
undergraduate classes were generally supplied by the lecturers and usually comprised
newspaper articles. Over half of the Thailand-based cohort stated also that they did
not read texts in their English classes; they focussed on grammar and writing lessons.
This helps to explain their lack of confidence with the language and their reticence
about tackling academic texts on their own during their first semester.
The Thailand-based students described a range of difficulties they had with
reading: lack of vocabulary, knowledge of meaning, grammar, structure and lack of
time. One poignant comment said it all:
I can reading but I no meanings.
The pair think-aloud protocols provided insights into a strategy used by the
participants – making analogies, made possible through their background knowledge
and media viewing and experiences from their home countries. C1 and C2 used the
analogy of the eating of raw fish by certain groups of the Thai population to relate to
the ingestion of parasites discussed in the text. There were many education
programmes in Thailand, they said, designed to alert the population to the risks of
ingesting parasites from the raw fish and this knowledge helped them to understand
the importance of finding a suitable drug to counteract the effects of the parasites,
Evaluation of Text
Evaluation of text is an important skill for postgraduate students, indeed for
undergraduate students too. Evaluation of text content, however, was demonstrated to
only a limited extent in the case of both the academic text and the general-interest text
as there had been little related other reading. Whereas the evaluation of the academic
text centred around textual elements such as the conclusion and the credibility of the
author, evaluation with the general-interest text focussed on the content and meaning,
using background knowledge and experiences. On reading about the disagreement
between the World Health Organization and the British scientists, C1 and C2 stated
that this situation was ‘funny’, showing their reaction to the behaviour displayed by
the WHO and the scientists. In the retrospective interview C1 explained why he
judged the situation to be ‘funny’:
It is funny because I think WHO is the organization which works without
benefit and they do work for the people … they [the researchers] don’t have
the evidence … I don’t think they can talk like that; I think they have no right
to speak like that.
C1 thus demonstrated his ability to scrutinize a text for supporting evidence
for an argument and, at the same time, articulated the conflict he found in the text –
the reputable organization with high ideals engaging in arguments with researchers
without sufficient evidence.
C1 and C2 also evaluated the type of research that was carried out prior to the
building of the dam and criticised the lack of awareness of possible consequences,
showing their ability to go ‘behind’ the text content:
C2: sometimes they did not think about the effects because they think of only,
ok, we will improve the human life to be better than before so
C1: dams, to get the farms
C2: they did not think about what will come after
C1: yea, they are not, no real knowledge, their research is not covered all of
the things or effects to humans, maybe before they made the dam [there should
have been] the research about the culture
In first semester the Thai students soon became aware that the Thai teaching
methods, reading practices, purposes and expectations influenced their reading in a
way which was not necessarily appropriate in the Australian university environment.
How a second language is acquired can have a bearing on the level of comprehension.
C1 explained how there had been little opportunity to acquire effective reading
strategies. Children were not generally read to by parents. Children, on the other
hand, were often asked to read to the elderly. He himself, he said, used to read books
about plants to his grandmother. Although the practice may have been good in some
ways, it did not allow children to acquire effective reading strategies because the
topics did not interest them and they did not really understand what they were
New strategies, however, were being developed even in first semester.
Memorisation was a strategy which was heavily relied upon in Thailand. The
participants realised that they could not now remember the large amount of material
incorporating unfamiliar vocabulary. They now spoke of reading for understanding
rather than to acquire vocabulary or memorise facts. A different sequence, important
for their postgraduate study, was also mentioned: reading for understanding followed
by memorisation. A study by Marton et al. (1996) with 17 Chinese mainland teacher-
educators identified various relationships between memorization and understanding.
Among them was the notion, that ‘we more readily memorize or remember what we
understand’ (p.76). Identified in this study, also, was the concept of understanding
Linked to memorisation is translation – another strategy which was commonly
used in Thailand. Again, because of the large amounts of reading, the difficulty of
finding appropriate meanings and the time it took to translate, meant this was no
longer a satisfactory strategy. The participants stated they were already making
transitions by trying to read and think in English through taking notes in English when
possible, using English/English dictionaries instead of English/Thai dictionaries and
asking non Thai speakers for assistance.
The participants, however, apart from A22 were still content to read single,
simple texts rather than try to compare and critique multiple texts as required in
postgraduate study. Reading was perceived to be a solitary activity at an Australian
university. As B2 explained: