Methodology – education dissertation

This section covers a description of the procedures that were followed throughout the project the type of research that was carried out, the context where the study took place; the participants of the study; the researcher’s role and the explanation of the data collection instruments and procedures explaining the manner in which these instruments were used to gather the data.

Type of study

This research was developed under the Action Research (AR) approach which allows the teacher-researchers to identify their teaching context’s problems, reflect critically on their own teaching practice, and bring about change (Bailey &Nunan, 2009, p. 229) by carrying out “a detailed observation of their classrooms’ situations, the development of a plan of action to improve what is actually happening in their classrooms, provide a way of working which links theory and practice into the one whole ideas-in-action, the implementation of the plan and the reflection on the outcomes” (Kemmis, McTaggart, &Retallic, 2004, p. 1).

This qualitative and quantitative action research study drew on the data collected to make sense of human behavior by using different instruments. In reflecting what data collection tools and procedures could it use to elicit the students´ input in the context, the researcher based on Denzin (1978) who described four types of triangulation that can be usefully employed in action research: data triangulation, theory triangulation, researcher triangulation and methods triangulation.

This study focused on methods triangulation, which involves the use of multiple methods, for instance, interviews, questionnaires, observation schedules, test scores, journal entries, among others to collect data.

This study included gathering data from teachers and students, then three instruments and some quantitative data were used to support research findings and also provide validity, reliability to the research project. In Lier´s (1994) words, “make the research process more purposeful, interesting and valuable, and as such it tends to have an energizing and revitalizing effect” p.33. These data consisted of a set of pretests and post-tests, questionnaires, checklist, teacher and students’ journals. The collection of this information, provided for a more objective analysis of the intervention in the vocabulary learning improvement that ensued during the implementation.


This action research was carried out in a private school in Colombia, La Enseñanza School, a traditional based educational institution located in Bogotá, Colombia. This school belongs to The Society of Mary which was founded by St. Joan of Lestonnac in Bordeaux – France in 1607, in order to educate and evangelize Women. Among its objectives was the revival of devotion to the Virgin Mary.

The school was established in Colombia in 1751 with the objective of accompanying learners in their human and spiritual growth for a successful performance in life from the development of work ethics, self-discipline, tolerance towards difference and respect for life. The school begins in pre-kinder and has learners up to eleventh grade.

Third grade is considered a transitory grade, so most of the abilities established are consolidated at this level by aimed the students to develop productive and receptive skills in both their mother tongue and the target language. Although strong emphasis in English, students have only 7 hours of English instruction per week and an additional 1 YLE lesson per week.

At La Enseñanza School, there is a lack of interest in vocabulary learning but reading is considered an important practice from pre-kinder to eleventh grade; learners are encouraged to develop reading habits not only in Spanish (learners’ mother tongue) but also in English. In third grade, learners attend the library once every 6-day cycle to develop a Reading Plan throughout the year, in this case: Storyfun for starters. This series provides enjoyable practice for the Cambridge Young Learners English (YLE) Tests. Each book contains ten fully-illustrated stories followed by fun activities and exam-style questions designed to check learners’ understanding, and practice the grammar, vocabulary and skills needed at each level.

Furthermore, a classroom library is available with a variety of titles accessible at school or at home in learners’ spare time. This approach towards reading has established for learners a culture of reading for pleasure to the extent that they read at least one book a month or even either at a week, school or home where they have easy access to reading materials.

The group of third graders is aged between 8 and 10 years old; they have been studying at La Enseñanza School for five years. This implies that these learners should be able to use English for oral communication and very simple written tasks such as filling forms with personal details and writing simple sentences, characteristics of A1 level learners according to the CEFR. These learners are in the process of developing their oral and written skills, although listening and reading abilities are slightly more developed than speaking and writing production.

In sum, these learners are able to understand readings and recordings with simple content and to produce simple sentences.

The institution is planning to become a bilingual one. It is following a process guided by Cambridge University. So, this is a Cambridge English School; be part of this program means builds on the experience and expertise set of Cambridge University Press and Cambridge English Language Assessment. Well known worldwide for providing the highest standards in language education and assessment. All Cambridge English Schools are aimed to make English programs for students to progress in their international exams, support teachers for their students succeed, select the best learning materials for children – and make the best use of them.

In order to certify the level of English and initiate in the path of international certification of English level, preschool and primary students present the Cambridge Young Learners English Starters, movers and Flyers Exams, measuring learners’ language level up to Pre A2 according to the CEF.

Committed to support and enhance learning process, the school has numerous and varied technological resources such as computer labs and audiovisual rooms as new learning environments. Most classrooms have been equipped as well with e-beams, a portable device and powerful software helping teachers plan, prepare and deliver compelling lessons while keeping learners involved and motivated.

In addition, the school offers continuous access to a Moodle LMS ┢ platform adopted and adapted to assist blended type courses which teachers design and upload with activities aimed to develop learner autonomy, critical thinking and creativity.

Learners also use Super Minds book. It offers 7 levels. The course methodically improves mental abilities of the students, it is especially designed to train their memory and improve their concentration activities but it doesn’t focus on vocabulary development.

In spite of, some of the classes are taught in English, school time is not enough to increase students’ vocabulary. Therefore, poor or limited vocabulary repertoires at this young age poses difficulties for learners since vocabulary is considered as the building blocks that help EFL learners to label objects, actions, and ideas without which people cannot convey the intended meaning (Karami & Barekat, 2012). As stated by Nation (2008), “many of the difficulties in both receptive and productive language use result from an inadequate vocabulary” (p.2).


The participants of the study were 21 third grade students. The target sample’s age ranged between 8 and 10 years old. Most of the learners have been studying at the school for five years. According to the CEFR, learners are at a pre-A1 level that involves the understanding of simple present and past structures, basic content readings and recordings as well as the production of simple written and oral utterances.

They belonged to a high economical background; some of them were interested in learning English as a foreign language as they considered it as an opportunity to get a good job in the future, some more were not committed and self-confident to improve their English language learning skills, because they were not aware of the importance of vocabulary to develop communicative competence.

It was clearly seen from the participation of the students in every classroom activities and test that most of students were facing some difficulties in communicating or expressing their ideas whether in speaking or writing skill and to understand while reading or listening unless these problems in acquiring active vocabulary are overcome or defeated. The students were applied a needs analysis process which identify lack of autonomy, lack of use of strategies on improving vocabulary and lack of motivation to develop vocabulary learning. (See Appendix C)

Even with lots of resources, the class had crucial problem in vocabulary mastery. For instance, most of them failed their institutional competence tests and scored average marks in the range of 10 to 15% of 100.

Finally, at this low level, low scores in the “competence test”; students’ lack of commitment with their learning process and their lack of self-confidence and motivation to participate in the language tasks proposed by the teachers, learning vocabulary was essential since it is the basis for the development of literacy in the target language; the more vocabulary they acquire the better improvement in their communicative competence.

The researcher’s role

The teacher-researcher who carried out this study kept a reflective attitude towards their teaching practice during the research process since it was “aimed at discovering, developing, or monitoring changes to practice.

Being this a qualitative and quantitative action research project, the researcher was a participant observer during the different stages of the whole process. According to Burns (2010), the participant-observer adopts different levels of active involvement in the research situation. Hence, the researcher adopted, on one hand, the role of observer and, on the other, the role of participant. As an observer, watched, recorded and self-evaluated practice by means of Teachers´ Journal reflecting upon her own pedagogical performance when plan, develop materials and implement activities. (See Appendix F)

As active participant, researcher was involved in all the activities in order to collect the needed data to cope with the chosen phenomena.

The teacher-researcher acted as trainer as well, because students were trained under the VSS to foster SDVL skills and enlarged their motivation towards language learning. In this specific moment of the research study, teacher-researcher become guide and facilitator of students’ learning process helping them boost their language potential, develop their critical thinking skills and instruct them in those features over which they should have control such as amount of effort, motivation and self-directed vocabulary learning.

Pedagogical Intervention and Implementation

The study began with a needs analysis which was carried out with twenty one third-graders, 50% of the population, to inquire about their learning insights, organization and use of vocabulary learning strategies and in which researchers asked to learner´s parents to guide them in answering the questions. (See Appendix C)

The survey consisted of four sections with a four-point Likert scale. Outcomes indicated that students did not have a schedule for studying nor a place to study English at home. It also exposed that students see themselves as note-takers, as persons who participate little in class, as having a negative attitude toward asking for help if needed and unable to state any mechanism to self-direct their learning since they did not set personal goals or self-evaluate their vocabulary learning. A section specifically designed to ask about their use of vocabulary learning strategies was also included in the survey. The overall results confirmed that students did not use any strategies to facilitate their vocabulary learning. The only mechanism which seemed to be the most used among this population was the use of Internet and dictionary to review the meaning and usage of a given word. In addition to this, many students recognized the importance of English in their lives while being surveyed. They mentioned that they could identify their weaknesses in the English language and if given the opportunity they could overcome their difficulties. However, they also identified themselves as individuals with little persistence; meaning that their perception of their capabilities was not precise and solid enough. Finally, they were asked if they wanted to devote time and effort in learning vocabulary, to which many of them responded affirmatively.

During the needs analysis stage, 90% percent of learners expressed a lack of necessary vocabulary to communicate. Moreover, when most of teachers prompted learners to produce sentences spontaneously, their vocabulary limited to the words learnt in previous years — words that describe body parts, animals, colors and other simple topics introduced — and the repeated use of common words supported in occasions with their first language, lack of word consciousness was evident as well as the need to implement strategies to improve self-directed vocabulary learning.

Hence, learners seem not to learn, recall and make use of new vocabulary easily. As a matter of fact, when these learners were asked about the strategies employed to understand unknown vocabulary, their responses hinted to no particular use of strategies. This may suggest a lack of knowledge about the strategies that help them learn new vocabulary or to a lack of awareness of the strategies available to help them learn new vocabulary. The above elements also suggest a significant lack of control of learners related to their vocabulary learning.

Also, during the implementation of the reading plan selected for this year (Storyfun Starters, Cambridge University, Press), they were not able to comprehend short and easy texts.

In spite of reading plan includes Unit-by-unit wordlists provide an easy reference for vocabulary learning, they expressed during class discussion that the texts were difficult to understand because they don’t know the words and they unknown strategies to foster vocabulary acquisition.

Nonetheless, after informal observation of learners in the classroom and through discussions with other third grade teachers and the English department chair (who also teaches third graders), it was detected that although being widely exposed to English through different sources, especially reading — as was formerly described — these learners exhibited having a poor range of vocabulary use. Consequently, the idea in carry out this research project was to follow the process of encourage students to select and study words that they felt are important to learn from their readings, that were new and interesting and that they wanted to learn, they were chatting about their rationale for selecting words, using the context and other resources to determine the meaning of the words, nominating the words to be learned by others in the group or class and agreeing upon words for a classroom collection.

Accordingly, for the development of this project, the researcher decided to design the following chart in order to clarify steps in implementing the self-collection vocabulary strategy:

The intervention consisted of 16 to 20 hours in school time. Lessons were 45 minutes in length and the intervention was held two times a week. The lessons followed ICELT format, outlining teacher and learners’ actions during lessons. (See Appendix D)

The institution was informed of the development of the project and the approval was granted. These students were invited to participate and consent letters were signed by both, the students and their parents. (See Appendix A)

Therefore, the pedagogical intervention was designed to be developed in two phases. In the first phase there were two initial sessions, the first one aimed to contextualize learners within the study through informal questions about their vocabulary development concerns, importance of studying, and their opinions about strategy training. Teachers introduced the importance of use strategies in self-directed vocabulary learning as well as the purpose of VSS to students.

The learners took a pretest: Knowledge Rating Scale, in order to identify students´ strengths and weaknesses and to find out students level of vocabulary knowledge. (See Appendix E)

This pretest was based on YLE: starters – vocabulary practice test, the Cambridge English Starters Word List Picture Book and Starters A-Z word list, which includes many of the words students might know at this time.

The second one, two vocabulary learning strategy training lessons, which were aimed to introduce the self-collection strategy as well as training student to use it effectively. The teacher was focuses on engage students in the process of vocabulary self-selection.

During the training stage, the teachers used the previous mentioned and selected reading plan and model how to select and nominate important words from the readings and demonstrate how to use context and other resources to learn the meaning of the word. After students were familiar with the strategy, teacher provided guided practice to support the use of VSS during reading.

In this training stage, the teacher read parts of the text aloud, stopping at intervals to have students read some parts of text silently. Students were then instructed to choose two or three words that were new to them. They were instructed to write down each word, the page number on which the word was found, and what they thought the word meant using Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy Chart included in the Self-Monitoring Checklist helped students complete this task. After a few minutes of working individually, students then moved into heterogeneous discussion groups consisting of three to five students. In these groups students discussed their selected words and decided on two words they wanted to share with the class.

Afterward the students met in their small groups, the class gathered together to discuss the words selected by the students. Each group shared a new word, read the sentence in which the word was found, and told what the group members thought the chosen word meant. Each student was given an opportunity to guess the meaning of the words by giving some clues from the text. As time allowed, groups shared additional words they had selected. Then, whole class briefly chatted about the words and narrowed the list to four or five words, the discussions allowed them to understand how good readers used context to figure out the meaning of a new word. After discussions, the collected words were included in the weekly class vocabulary list pasted in the classroom. Occasionally the students decided to exclude a word because they considered that quite a lot of students already knew it. As words were discussed, the teacher stimulated students to make personal connections to the words.

At the end of each week, students were tested on their ability to spell each word, explain its meaning, and write a meaningful sentence using the word through dictation exercises. Every 2 weeks whole class devoted a portion of instructional time to reviewing past word lists, and students were tested on five words randomly selected from the weekly lists.

During each intervention a sample of ten students (which eventually resulted in six girls and four boys) this population was consisted of a group of students who had shown little involvement in their English learning process thus far.

They were asked to write on a journal sheet about their impressions, opinions and feelings on the strategy worked during the weeks in the first phase. (See Appendix F)

At the end of each session they described their experience using a self-monitoring checklist in which students were asked to use the self-assessment checklist to self-monitor their learning of the words outside the sessions. (See Appendix G)

Each strategy training lesson took three to four hours for a total of twenty hours. The sample was trained in the use of a checklist to self-monitor their vocabulary learning process during the development of five weeks. The teacher as facilitator of the process conducted students in the class to discuss the words they wished to nominate by fill in Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy Chart included in the checklist. They were told that this journal sheet and self-monitoring checklist would not have any effect on their course grades.

After this initial stage, the second phase took place; the sample was asked to apply the self-collection vocabulary strategy in which they had been trained. This phase was carried out in two extra sessions of two hours for two weeks.

Teacher was an observer by keeping the journal with the intention of retrieving relevant information from the learners during the implementation process as well as to gather information from the teachers’ views on the whole intervention process. (See Appendix F)

Finally, after the end of the intervention, a post test was introduced to find out the impact of the intervention on vocabulary learning as well as learners´ Questionnaire related to students impressions to the implementation of self-collection strategy in to improve self-directed vocabulary learning. (See Appendix E and H)

Whole class reflected on the impact of the use of the strategy in the development of self-directed vocabulary learning taking into account pre-post test outcomes and the answers for a closing questionnaire.

The implementation of the self-collection strategy was directed thorough the development of the proposed lesson plans contextualizing and introducing the strategy, allowing the students to choose, chat and collect the words, using the weekly class vocabulary list, as a whole group as well as individuals and lastly reflecting on acquired learning. (See Appendix D)

Timelines of the implementation and the overall study were included in the appendices section. (See Appendix B).

Data collection instruments

In accordance with the parameters of the qualitative action research study, the teacher-researcher gathered qualitative and quantitative data through three elicitation instruments: pre and posttest, a questionnaire and checklist and two introspective instruments: teacher-researchers’ journals and students’ learning diaries (See Appendices).

Tests. The tests were used to assess the learners’ performance. Based on Shohamy (1997) “a test is used to collect data about the subject’s ability and knowledge of the second language in areas such as vocabulary” (p. 87). For the purpose of this study, a vocabulary pre-test and post test were adapted from Cambridge University Starters Vocabulary Tests to have evidence about students’ vocabulary knowledge. (see Appendix E).

The pre-test was designed with the purpose of measuring pre-knowledge and based on YLE: starters – vocabulary practice test, the Cambridge English Starters Word List Picture Book and Starters A-Z word list. It included many of the words students, might know at this time. It was implemented during the pre-stage to find out the students vocabulary mastery as well to make a diagnosis of the amount of vocabulary each participant recognize. In the development of the test the teacher-researcher was making a dictation and the students were completing the table based on their prior knowledge.

Furthermore, the post-test based on student’s self-collection of words from readings after the implementation of the strategy and collected in the weekly class vocabulary list pasted in the classroom was applied in order to know their improvement. It was aimed to gather information about learners’ improvement, to find out how much learners enriched their vocabulary and to evaluate the extent to which the use of the Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy within the frame of self-directed learning could increase the vocabulary learning.

The pre- and post-tests also included a 4 point likert rating scale in which the students had the opportunity to self-evaluate their performance and rate their words. It was designed to evaluate students’ prior or background knowledge of words as well as the impact after implement the self-collection strategy. That rating scale involved: 4=Words they know and can use correctly. 3=Words they almost know, but the meanings are a bit foggy. 2= Words they think they have seen or heard before maybe from TV, conversations, magazines or in another subject. 1=Words they do not know at all.

Questionnaire. This instrument was selected based on Wallace (1998), who noted that questionnaires “involve eliciting something from informants: usually factual information about themselves and their teaching situations, or attitudes/opinions on some issue” (p. 24).

Likewise, learners’ questionnaire was created to find out students’ feelings and insights after the five implementation sessions in order to raise learners’ awareness on the use of the strategy and determine learners’ level of autonomy in their process of learning vocabulary by using the self-collection strategy. The questionnaire was conducted to the subject of study after the completion of the process. (See Appendix H)

Checklist. According to Andersen, (2007) “A checklist is a form that is used for quickly and easily recording data or identifying actions or requirements” (p.127). Checklists are lists of precise behaviors accomplished by students. They are popular among teachers because they are easy to use and can be helpful in identifying the rigorousness of the behavior problem.

The checklists structure a person’s observation and self-evaluation. It provides consistency over time or between observers. They can be simple lists of criteria that can be marked as present or absent, or can provide space for observer comments. These tools can provide consistency over time or between observers. In this study this instrument helped the researcher to gather information related to students perceptions and progress in the implementation of the self-collection strategy to empower self-monitoring vocabulary learning. (See Appendix G)

Teacher and learner´s Journals. The choice of this instrument relies on the fact that field notes are useful to periodically capture considerable thoughts that are a product of reflections and events. Field notes are contemporaneous notes of observations or conversation taken during the conduct of qualitative research. In other words, they contain observations, feelings, reactions, interpretations, reflections, hypothesis, and explanations about new material learned, different classroom activities and teaching materials such as tests, exams and homework. (See Appendix F1-2).

The learners’ and teachers’ journals were selected to retrieve participants’ feelings, perceptions and thoughts during the whole process. This instrument contained questions regarding teacher and student’s experiences during the lesson, strategies used and learning goals set.

The selection of all these instruments relies on accomplishing the objectives for this project which led eventually to answer the question.

Data collection Procedures.

This project prompts self-directed vocabulary learning through the training of self-collection strategy. Therefore, it was necessary for the teacher to design and implement a chronogram presented in the Action Research Project Timeline (See Appendix B).

The procedures carried out in order collect data (Table 1) took place over an eight-week period divided into three stages: pre, during, and post-implementation. The following table specifies the stage, objectives, instruments and time allotted for each stage.


At this stage, which lasted three weeks, students signed letters of consent agreeing to participate in the study, answered a diagnosis questionnaire on self-directed vocabulary learning. They also had input in vocabulary learning aimed to contextualize and identify prior knowledge of the topics.


This stage took place over three weeks and there were two sessions each week.

Sessions were organized as follows: firstly, students were exposed to a pre-test to measure pre-knowledge, after they were train in the use of self-collection vocabulary learning strategy; secondly, students were engaged in production activities involving the vocabulary studied and strategy taught; and thirdly, participants filled in their learning journals and self-monitoring checklist in order to self-assess their general performance during the week.


At this stage, students’ overall insights were also collected by means of the questionnaire.

The teacher presented a Vocabulary Post-test: to measure the amount of vocabulary learned. Since not all participants were able to present both tasks, only those questionnaires of learners who had gone through the whole process were taken into account.

Ethical Considerations

It is imperative to notify participants and their families (considering they are underage students) of the purpose of the study and data collection procedures as well as the benefits of the study, to sign consent letters and to protect the participants’ anonymity.

For this reason, the participants’ names were not used in this study; instead some numbers were assigned with the symbols (S1), (S2), (S3), and so on.

To make sure that relevant individuals in the institution accept to carry out this study; the Academic Coordinator and the Principal of La Enseñanza School will be also informed. (See Appendices A 1-2). Therefore, a request directed to the school director and parents’ allow researchers, and third grade members, to participate in the present research project. In this letter, parents will be guaranteed that the information obtained through the project will be confidential and that under no means the performance of the children during the project would not impact their grades.


Qualitative studies take place in natural settings where the researcher collects a diversity of experimental material that describes the situation being object of study. This material is of interpretative nature and depends on the skills and the methods used by the researcher in order to ensure that the data collection instruments and analysis are accurate and adequate according with the goals set. Therefore, the piloting of instruments is an effective practice in order to guarantee the adequacy of the instruments. It is a method used to test the instrument prior to carrying out the research.

Thus, questionnaires, checklist and tests in this study were presented to learners of similar characteristics to those of the participants so the teacher researcher could identify and eliminate possible difficulties and produce the pertinent adjustments before applying them.

All data collection instruments were pretested and piloted before using it in order to find out if they are accurate and relevant. Pretesting and piloting helped researcher to identify questions that does not make sense to participants, or problems with the questionnaire that might lead to biased answers.

In pretesting the researcher found 10 people from target group, boys and girls. Once found the testers, the researcher ask them to complete the questionnaire and write their impressions on a learners’ journal sheet, at a time, they shouldn’t be able to watch each other complete it. While student were answering the questions, the researcher was taking notes about the process. Each time they read and answered a question they could tell the researcher exactly what comes into their mind. The researcher took notes on everything they say. Some of them mention: “I do not understand this question”, “This is getting boring why it is so long” “The option I want is not offered” among other, even with this small number of people researcher was able to identify most of the major issues.

At the same time in writing journal entries, it was hard for them to share their ideas with confidence since they were not sure if they have to use English or Spanish.

Once all the testers have completed the questionnaire, check list and journals format, the researcher reviewed notes from each session to identify what the major problems are and go about improving the instruments to address those problems.

After analyzing notes, the researcher found that most of them have the same problems with some of the questions from questionnaire and check list, since this were in English. Some of the questions were skipped because the testers found certain questions ambiguous or confusing. It was also difficult for them to understand directions and answer the questions truthfully. Additionally, time expecting in answering the questions was not enough form them. In relation to the Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy Chart, the students were required to write down the synonym and antonym of the words listed but it was difficult for students to find synonym or antonym for the words. So, in redefining the instrument the researcher avoid the synonyms and antonyms.

On the other hand 3 “anonymous” colleagues’ reviewers, provide the researcher with valuable insights and comments in the design and improvement of the instruments. They suggested modifications to avoid faulty items that could mislead participants. They recommended that for questions with multiple response choices, the researcher should ask if there are any other choices that should be listed or if possible use a four-point scale. In a question where a number of respondents specified an “other” answer, is important to see if what they said is a more likely response choice than the ones you provided. They also, proposed that questionnaires, checklist and journals must be in Spanish since this will be applied to A1 elementary learners. In relation to the Pretest: Knowledge Rating Scale- Third graders, they found it pertinent in the implementation of the self-collection strategy.

Finally they consider that after adjustments the instruments will be greatly connected with the objectives of the research process in terms of reliability and suitability for analysis.

Therefore, in this study validity was addressed by: selecting an appropriate methodology and material for answering the research questions, appropriate instrumentation for gathering the type of data required, bearing in mind the students’ profile, using an appropriate sample, in this case 10 third grade students.

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