Effects of a Vocabulary Acquisition and Assessment System on Students’ Performance in a Blended Class for English Subject
Jiyou Jia, Yuhao Chen, Zhuhui Ding and Meixian Reeuan
Computers & Education, 2012
Theme: Grades 9-12/ Blended Learning
Language learning for young children comes naturally; they pick up the languages which they are exposed to in a seemingly effortless manner. However, older learners (middle school and above) need to put more effort into the acquisition of a second language. Although a teacher may implement engaging activities in the classroom, studying and memorizing basic vocabulary can be difficult, tedious and time-consuming. Unfortunately, without the stepping-stones of said vocabulary, functional usage of another language is difficult to obtain.
The article “Effects of a Vocabulary Acquisition and Assessment System on Students’ Performance in a Blended class for English Subject” (Jia, Chen, Ding & Ruan, 2012) compares the achievement of students’ vocabulary acquisition by integrating a web-based system into the experimental class’s instructional time. The experiment involved one teacher who taught two Grade 3 English classes at a junior middle school in China. Each class received nine hours of English instruction per week: the traditional class had regular classroom instruction while the experimental group went to a computer lab for one hour each week (NETS-T-1d; NETS-S-6a, d). The authors’ hypothesis was that blended learning would increase vocabulary acquisition and improve the students’ performances on assessments.
The experimental group practiced vocabulary exercises and completed evaluations which were designed using activities designed using the Moodle Document website’s quiz function (http://docs.moodle.org/24/en/Quiz). The descriptions of the available quiz forms such as multiple choices, cloze and matching are very similar to the activities that my class has used occasionally when accessing the text online. The difference being that the authors’ customized their Moodle activities specifically for the target learners (NETS-T-2c) using resources that came with their language program. The text’s online activities available to my class are generic and identical to the workbook pages. Both programs offer automatic feedback for the students, but encouraging messages and icons were incorporated into the experiment feedback. My students simply received a green check or a glaring red X.
The study was entirely focused on vocabulary acquisition. Therefore, grammar, drills and writing activities were not included during the experiment hours in the computer lab. After my own experience using the online text features, I believe the concentration on the specific skill of vocabulary acquisition makes more sense. My students had difficulty focusing when using the online workbook pages because of the variety of activities and expectations. In addition, the authors state that integrating the vocabulary acquisition system into the regular teaching plan was neither difficult for the teacher, nor frustrating for the students regardless of their technological capabilities. In fact, upon reading this article it is easy to imagine planning and implementing a similar program with the resources that I know are available at my school (NETS-T-3d).
The vocabulary acquisition experiment described in this article provided helpful feedback and supported the authors’ hypothesis. When compared to the sixteen English classes taking place, the experimental group rose from an eighth place ranking at the start of the experiment to number one. It is especially interesting and important to note that the control group also made a significant improvement: from fifteenth place to tenth. This shows that the teacher’s role as the instructor, leader and facilitator in the computer lab and the classroom directly affected the experiment’s success. Through my own experience I have seen that one cannot expect all students to self-guide their learning in the computer lab. It is necessary to demonstrate, clarify and supervise by modelling using a projector and monitoring what each student is doing while online (NETS-T-4b).
At the end of the experiment, the authors conducted interviews and surveys with the student participants. They used an open suggestion format to encourage the students to make any sort of comments about blended learning. I had to chuckle at one that came up quite often: the system homepage was sometime slow to start. That is exactly the reason my students have mostly given up on our text online option. The reflections and comments obtained from the participants of this study were used to solve system problems and make program adjustments. The survey results provided the authors with an overall feeling of success. Although the participants indicated that they liked the blended learning format (NETS-S-5b, c), only half said would like to continue. Others claimed that they either had too much coursework already, or the vocabulary learning online just wasn’t sufficiently entertaining.
The value of creating this sort of blended learning experience is unquestionable. My quest is to discover digital technology options that I can incorporate into language teaching through the blended learning in high school theme. After reading the evidence put forth in this article, I find myself inspired and encouraged.
Jia, J., Chen, Y., Ding, Z., & Ruan, M. (2012). Effects of a vocabulary acquisition and assessment system on students’ performance in a blended learning class for English subject. Computers & Education, 58(1), 63-76.
List of the NETS Standards referenced in the review:
NETS-T-1d: Model collaborative knowledge construction by engaging in learning with students, colleagues, and others in face-to-face and virtual environments
NETS-T-2c: Customize and personalize learning activities to address students’ diverse learning styles, working strategies, and abilities using digital tools and resources.
NETS-T-3d: model and facilitate effective use of current and emerging digital tools to locate, analyze, evaluate, and use information resources to support research and learning.
NETS-T-4b: Address the diverse needs of all learners by using learner-centered strategies and providing equitable access to appropriate digital tools and resources.
NETS-S-5b: Exhibit a positive attitude toward using technology that supports collaboration, learning, and productivity.
NETS-S-5c: Demonstrate personal responsibility for lifelong learning.
NETS-S-6a: Understand and use technology systems.
NETS-S-6d: Transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies.