Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cobb (1997) Measurable Learning from Hands-on Concordancing

I'm reading this paper as part of a meta-analysis of different approaches to teaching vocabulary. This paper describes a study making use of a software that provides the learner with many 'concordances'. Concordances are examples of words being used in context. You can see an example of concordance use in the image above. In this example from the PET200 system the learner is being asked to guess the appropriate word in the paragraph "had been done to make ? that the project", and they are getting help from a series of other sentences that take the same word in the blanked out space, e.g. "Make __ that your home is really ...", etc.

This was a particularly interesting study as the author designed the experiment so that the students using the software over 12 weeks got concordance support only on alternate weeks and got just definition support the remaining weeks. Comparing the results of weekly tests the author was able to show a specific benefit to supplying concordancing information. My only real concern about this study is that the precise nature of the weekly tests is not disclosed; they are described as spelling tests and novel text tasks. The danger with experiments of this kind is that the results will depend heavily on the type of test. So for example if the weekly tests were concordance based, e.g. look at these concordances and then spell the appropriate word, versus definition based tests, e.g. look at this definition and then spell the appropriate word, one can easily imagine that changing the test type would show an advantage of concordance based learning over definition based learning and vice versa. Would be good to contact the original author, but he does have some other publications we should check with first.

Original Paper
79 Citations according to Google Scholar

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