Lesson Project on Vocabulary Teaching. Can the Performance of Students in Vocabulary Tests be Improved through Different Vocabulary Introduction?
Term Paper 2015 22 Pages
Table of Contents
Portfolio Part A
2. Theoretical Background of the Lesson Project
4. Survey Instruments and Methods
5. Anticipated Challenges and Possible Solutions Assignment (Reflections on Classroom Discourse)
6. Which New Points did I Learn in this Seminar?
Portfolio Part B
7. Lesson Project: Implementation
8. Lesson Project: Results
9. Lesson Project: Discussion
11. List of Figures
Portfolio Part A (Expose)
Around 30 years ago, vocabulary was considered “a neglected feature of second language research” (Nation 2012: 93). Recent research, however, indicates an “enormous growth in research on vocabulary” (ebd.). Vocabulary is essential to communicate effectively. Nowadays, teachers often test their students’ language skills in vocabulary tests, in which the students have to fill in the correct English translation for the German word. Therefore, many students learn vocabulary through direct translation and without any comprehensible context, but is this kind of learning appropriate? From my point of view “vocabulary learning is a continual process of encountering new words in meaningful and comprehensible context” (Harmon et al. 2009, cit. in: Bintz 2011: 45). Even if students are performing well in vocabulary tests, it does not mean that they can apply the words in context. Therefore, my lesson project will deal with the following question: Can the performance of students in vocabulary tests be improved through different vocabulary introduction? While focusing on different vocabulary introduction, I will also consider a meaningful and comprehensible context, so that students will be able to apply the words, which they have learned, in new context.
First of all, some theoretical positions and beliefs of vocabulary teaching will be depicted, especially the “main jobs of the vocabulary teacher” (Nation 2012: 93) will be discussed. Various methods of the vocabulary introduction, e.g. creating a board game, word cards, etc. will be described. Students’ performance on vocabulary will be tested by various vocabulary tests with meaningful context. Additionally, the aims as well as the survey instruments and methods of the lesson project will be given. Furthermore, anticipated challenges and possible solutions will be described at the end of Part A (Research and Theories). After having presented the theoretical background of the lesson project, this paper will have a specific look at the Action Research (Part B of the lesson project) in order to establish a connection between the theoretical context and the practical application. Therefore, based on the lesson project at the Geschwister-Scholl-Gesamtschule in Moers (8th grade), a survey will be conducted at the end of the lesson project, which is also described in chapter 4. The implementation of the lesson project, its results and a discussion will be given in Part B.
2. Theoretical Background of the Lesson Project
The focus of the theoretical background will be laid on both teaching and learning vocabulary. Basically, learners need a “relatively large vocabulary to function in a language, and must know a lot about each word in order to use it well” (Schmitt 2010: 38). But how can teachers ensure that students learn a wide range of words numerous times? First of all, there is no 'best' teaching methodology (cf. ebd.). The best teaching method depends on several factors which vary from situation to situation. One important factor is “the words themselves” (Schmitt 2010: 39), i.e. different words or phrases might need different teaching strategies and methods. There is a variety of ways of conveying the meaning of a new word:
- definition or explanation;
- demonstration or gesture;
- synonym or antonym;
- giving examples;
- define in a situational context. (ebd.)
A second factor is “the learners themselves” (ebd.), i.e. each learner is an individual, and “different learners may favour different approaches” (ebd.). Students typically use a variety of vocabulary learning strategies, however, using more strategies is not always better. What is more important is “how well the strategies are used” (ebd.). Another factor is the “general teaching approach” that is intentional versus incidental learning (ebd.).
In many school internships I observed that most of the teachers do not put emphasis on different vocabulary introductions. Students often have to learn the new words of the unit at home in order to achieve a good mark in the vocabulary test. There is neither a vocabulary introduction nor an appropriate context included. In order to implement my lesson project, I will lay stress on “the main jobs of the vocabulary teacher” (Nation 2012: 93f.), which are listed in the following:
- Planning a Well-balanced Vocabulary Course
- Training Learners in Useful Strategies of Vocabulary Learning
- Testing Vocabulary
- Teaching Vocabulary
The most important job of a vocabulary teacher is to plan (cf. ebd.). Planning involves making sure that students are focusing on the right vocabulary for their current level of proficiency (cf. ebd.). Teachers have to make sure that their students have a balanced range of opportunities for learning and that the learning activities are setting up the best possible conditions for learning in class (cf. ebd.). The author Nation (2010) puts forward the thesis that a “well1balanced vocabulary course has roughly equal proportions of meaningfocused input, meaningfocused output, languagefocused learning, and fluency development” (94), i.e. each one of the factors should take up about 25 percent of the total learning time, both “in class and out of class” (ebd.).
The second most important job of a vocabulary teacher is to train learners in the most useful strategies for vocabulary learning. This aspect is significant to think about different vocabulary introductions and methods to strengthen the learners’ vocabulary skills. There exist a huge variety of strategies, e.g. learning using word cards, creating a board game with question and answer cards on the current topic, using a dictionary, guessing from context etc. Research shows that “training in the strategies brings about improvement, but this training however needs to take place over a reasonable period of time” (Nation 2010: 93), typically several months. These strategies for vocabulary learning enable learners to increase their vocabulary knowledge “without having to seek help from the teacher” (ebd.).
The third most important job of the vocabulary teacher is to test (cf. Nation 2010: 94), because good planning is not possible without knowing where the students are at present in their vocabulary knowledge (cf. ebd.). I will use this aspect to test learners several times in vocabulary tests with appropriate context in order to see if their performance can be improved through different vocabulary introduction.
The fourth most important job of the vocabulary teacher is to teach vocabulary (cf. ebd.). The teacher has to decide “whether learners need to focus on high frequency vocabulary or need to be developing strategies to deal with low frequency vocabulary” (Nation 2010: 93).
Both learning and teaching vocabulary are important instructional aims for teachers “in all content areas in middle grades schools” (Bintz 2011: 44). As far as the question of vocabulary use is concerned, students will learn how to apply certain words and/or phrases in different and several contexts.
First, after all my observations and experiences in the former school internships, I would like to investigate the following hypothesis: Students cannot apply their vocabulary knowledge in different contexts because they only learn the direct translation of the German word. In the most cases in my school internships, teachers did not introduce the new vocabulary with comprehensible context. Students should always learn the new vocabulary at home, so that they can achieve good marks in vocabulary tests. If some students do not have the time to learn for a vocabulary test, they will automatically get a worse grade because the never learned vocabulary in different contexts. Findings also suggest that “learning vocabulary is more complex than simply memorizing definitions of words; rather, it involves seeing, hearing, and using words in meaningful contexts” (Daniels/Zemelman 2004, cit. in: Bintz 2011: 45). Therefore, I my first aim is to investigate the mentioned hypothesis above. I want the students to apply new words in meaningful contexts, so that their vocabulary knowledge can be extended. Even research indicates “that enlargement of vocabulary has always been and continues to be an important goal in literacy and learning” (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development 2004, cit. in: Bintz 2011: 44).
My second aim will be to implement different vocabulary introduction in order to create a contextual and positive learning atmosphere. Afterwards, I will create vocabulary tests with meaningful context, so that learners should not simply memorize definitions of words. Therefore, the question whether the performance of students in vocabulary tests can be improved through different vocabulary introduction will be investigated and either verified or falsified.
4. Survey Instruments and Methods
Surveys can be divided into two broad categories: questionnaires (quantitative method) and interviews (qualitative methods) (cf. Trochim 2006). Because of the fact that I want to integrate the whole class in my lesson project, it is more suitable to use a questionnaire. A questionnaire can contain open^nded questions as well as closed1ended questions which are based on a prepared topic guide (cf. Brace 2008: 2).
First of all, I will observe the English lessons of the 8th grade in order to explore how the teacher is introducing new vocabulary and how the students are learning these. I will also have a look at their grades in the former vocabulary tests to get a little knowledge about the students’ vocabulary skills. After the observation, I will start implementing my lesson project at the class with different vocabulary introduction and possible vocabulary teaching methods. Having taken the theoretical background into account, my lesson project will be based on the four most important jobs of a vocabulary teacher: planning, training, testing and teaching. As mentioned above, data collection of the students will occur through observation, vocabulary tests and a questionnaire at the end of the lesson project. The questionnaire will be a quantitative method, i.e. several questions (especially closed1ended questions) in the same way will be asked to different people. This is the “key to most survey research” (Brace 2008: 4). The same instrument can be filled out by a wide number of respondents at their own convenience. The respondents are between the ages of 13 and 14 years. One disadvantage of the questionnaire with closediended questions could be that a detailed written response cannot be achieved. Furthermore, I will also integrate frequency questions, where e.g. respondents can give information about how often and long they learn vocabulary at home etc.
5. Anticipated Challenges and Possible Solutions
Because of the fact that this is my first significant lesson project at a school, one possible and anticipated challenge could be the time management. Even if I can arrange various things in time, I am concerned that I cannot implement my lesson project in time. There are several factors which I have to consider before beginning with the implementation of the lesson project. One possible solution of the time management problem could be to create a schedule for my upcoming activities/tasks in order to have an overview of all activities/tasks with their time to be finished.
A further expected challenge is the less range of vocabulary because many English school books do not have many words per unit which can be taught. In order to implement the lesson project I will need a great number of vocabularies. However, even if there are not many words to learn in the lessons, I can integrate older vocabulary as a possible solution. Therefore, it would also be a repetition of previous vocabulary.
As I heard, many classes of the Geschwister-Scholl-Gesamtschule in Moers work rarely in groups because most of the teachers use the frontal teaching as an effective teaching method. In my opinion, it is not an effective teaching method. Therefore, it could be a problem if I want to work a lot in groups with the pupils, especially because of the fact that many group work activities could be something completely new for these pupils. One possible solution for this problem could be to divide the class into groups of four. Each group will consist of high1performance and low1 performance students, where the high1performance students can help and support their low^erformance classmates. The students will not know that they are divided into high1performance und low1performance groups. Because of the fact that many group work could be something new for the pupils, the activities and tasks within the groups have to be creative.
All in all it can be said that the lesson project can only be implemented adequately if the lesson project is well planned.