Another paper that I am reading as part of a meta-analysis of second language vocabulary learning. I had started to read this and then paused for three weeks while I read three background theoretical papers (Laufer & Hulstijn, 2001; Hulstijn, 2001; Hulstijin, 2003) that made this one much easier to understand.
This paper is an experimental study in two parts designed to test L&H's involvement load hypothesis. One concern is control of time on task, since this varied in L&H's experimental attempt to assess involvement load hypothesis. Knight (1994) apparently brings this issue up in general for things like dictionary look up tasks. All through I was concerned with precisely how vocabulary knowledge was being measured. Like Folse (2006) Kim used the Vocabulary Knowledge Scale (VKS; Paribahkt & Wesche, 1993) but I still wonder what L&H used - later on it is described as providing L1 translation or English explanations. Laufer's (2003) experiment gave support for different performance based on different levels of involvement load, however another experiment in the set gave varying performance for three tasks that were supposed to have the same involvement load (distribution was different?). Am keen to know Laufer's explanation of that - that paper also on our reading list?
Laufer (2001) apparently indicates that involvement load construct should generalise from textual to face to face audio situations, which I had assumed, but good to be able to reference that assertion given the wide range of studies we are applying the concept to. I was unsure of the meaning of interactionally modified input versus interactionaly modified output, and in particular the concept of premodified input, although this is in the context of L&H(2001) that I guess I should be reading.
I was concerned about the random assignment implications of the split between the two experiments. One of the experimental groups from the first experiment is compared with a group constructed for the second experiment, which I think was run subsequently, and although similar had a slightly different mix of ages and nationalities.
Another concern is that it seems we could explain results independently of involvement load. In the reading condition the learners attention is only drawn to the target words through emphasis and glossing. In the gap-fill condition the learners attention is drawn to 15 words, and in the composition and sentence writing conditions the learners attention is drawn to the 10 words they will be tested on. Purely in terms of attention one might expect to see the results that were achieved. In the experiment that tested the three different involvement load levels, the immediate post test only distinguished the composition group as significantly higher, while the delayed post test distinguished all three - there was no interaction or main effect for proficiency level. The second experiment made no distinction between the composition and sentence-writing tasks. I had been wondering earlier if the results could all be explained in terms of receptive/productive or active/passive differences, although the significant difference between reading and gap-fill at post-test could not, but now I realise that there were 15 words being brought to attention in the gap-fill task, it seems that the results can all be explained in terms of attentional resources. Another question is whether the comprehension questions needed understanding of the target words in order to be answered (looking at appendix b I would say not really).
I am concerned about the bias of using the VKS tests, and the author expresses some concerns as well. I find the alleged pedagogical implications sit uneasily with me, since I am not sure that showing a benefit on a VKS test necessarily indicates that the learner has gained something of importance. The key problem here is that the VKS sentence generation task could represent various sorts of ability on the part of the learner, e.g. that they memorized a sentence containing the word versus actually generating a novel sentence. In particular it seems that if a learner was specifically practicing sentence generation or doing essay composition for a particular set of vocabulary that this would increase performance on the test through a practice effect. It seems to be obvious that practicing a productive skill would lead to higher performance on productive tests, whereas practicing a receptive skill would lead to benefits on receptive tests. The question I would like to know the answer to is what kind of transfer do we get cross-task, and thus motivational concerns aside, what is the most efficient approach to take to maximise ability on both receptive and productive tasks.
Reading proofs of our soon to be publshed paper on vocabulary study (Joseph et al. 2009) I am struck that as we discuss how to make tests more and more challenging, we are not addressing the goal of the language learner. We are arguing that gradually more challenging tasks maintains motivation and boosts long term retention, but the real question should be what is the long term task that the learner wants to succeed at. Clearly looking up a word in a dictionary can help a learner understand a sentence they are reading. The question is then whether other activity related to that word should be undertaken. The usual argument in L2 is that if nothing else is done then exposure to low frequency words will be insufficient for the learner to avoid having to look the word up again in future. I guess the real question is whether some sort of "artificial" re-exposure to the word will be a more efficient way of increasing the likelihood of future sentence comprehension, versus using that same time to just do more reading ... and what kind of experiment could actually test which approach was more efficient? I guess one could have learners perform a reading comprehension task, and then have one group perform another reading comprehension task, while a second group did vocabulary review, and then both groups would be tested on another reading comprehension task that was of comparable level and contained similar words. So for this kind of experiment we would need three different texts of comparable length, involving the same "target" vocabulary?
Depending on the results of such an experiment an argument could be made to say that although explicit vocabulary study was not recommended, that selection of subsequent texts for additional comprehension practice could be selected based on which words were looked up by a learner, in order to increase the chances of a rewarding experience - which is linked to overall motivation issue, i.e. should the learner be reading anything other than texts they specifically select themselves?
[A great deal of research has shown that when learners study definitions alone their ability to comprehend text containing the target words does not improve (Graves, 1986; Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986)] from Joseph et al. (2009), so I wonder if doing essay composition, or gap filling leads to improvements in text comprehension.
[N.B. The Kim paper also references some more studies showing the importance of negotiation that I was previously associating with Newton (1995), i.e. de la Fuente (2002) and Joe (1995, 1998) although latter focused on generative rather than negotiated tasks?]
Kim, Y. (2008). The Role of Task-Induced Involvement and Learner Proficiency in L2 Vocabulary Acquisition Language Learning, 58 (2), 285-325 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9922.2008.00442.x
Joseph S.R.H., Watanabe Y., Shiung Y.-J., Choi B. & Robbins C. (2009) Key Aspects of Computer Assisted Vocabulary Learning (CAVL): Combined Effects of Media, Sequencing and Task Type. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning. 4(2) 1-36.
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