• Dennis Grynnerup
4. term, English, Master (Master Programme)
This thesis is a qualitative case study, which explores three teachers’ vocabulary teaching practices in English as a foreign language in a Danish gymnasium context. In addition, I conduct a relational analysis between three dimensions: 1) the teaching practices used, 2) policy goals and guidelines and 3) research recommendations for ‘best practice’. In doing so, the study addresses two gaps. The first, a claimed gap between research recommendations and teaching practice. Vocabulary researchers have argued that vocabulary has been neglected or marginalised in English language classrooms and have criticised practitioners for not applying recommendations for optimum learning conditions. The second, a methodological gap in vocabulary research. A review of existing research reveals that there is a lack of qualitative, classroom-based studies that focus on vocabulary teaching practices and seek to explore the interface between research into second language learning on the one hand and second language pedagogy on the other.
The relational analysis includes three main chapters that each focuses predominantly on one of the dimensions. Firstly, I conduct a review of the pedagogical recommendations made by vocabulary researchers in relation to four core questions: 1) Which place should vocabulary have in the curriculum? 2) Which criteria should be used in the selection of content? 3) Which learning principles should guide practice? 4) Which approaches should be used? Secondly, I look closely and critically at policy and investigate to which extent researchers’ recommendations are reflected in the ministerial documents Læreplan and Vejledning / Råd og vink. Thirdly, through an analysis of data from classroom observations, teacher interviews and lesson materials, I document how vocabulary is actually taught by the three case study participants as well as the rationales behind the practices. In addition, I explore how the vocabulary teaching practices relate to policy and research and investigate which factors influence to which degree the three dimensions correspond to each other.
The main findings are that vocabulary plays a role among many elements in a complex, multifaceted curriculum in the teaching context investigated. I found that vocabulary teaching occurred in different planned as well as unplanned forms in all the lessons observed, but also that there was significant variation in teaching practices in terms of systematicity and application of research recommendations. The study confirms that, while some of the practices reflect the advice put forward by researchers to a certain extent, a gap does exist between research on the one hand and practice as well as the policy that guides it on the other. In relation to content, the analysis shows that neither policy nor teachers applied research recommendations concerning vocabulary goals or selection criteria. Furthermore, compared to the descriptions of lexical competence in vocabulary literature, the treatment of vocabulary in both the policy documents and the classroom appeared to lack complexity and depth. In relation to learning principles, the findings suggest that, while they are almost completely absent from the policy documents, the teachers are familiar with these to varying extents. Whether they were consciously applied or not, the principles that researchers have identified for effective vocabulary learning were present in some of the activities used. However, the analysis also suggests that some key principles are not applied in the treatment of a large number of words. Regarding approaches, the findings are that, in one area, policy creates barriers for teachers in the implementation of research recommendations and, in another area, the guidelines even misinform teachers about what is considered the most effective practice by researchers. The teaching practices used reflect researchers’ suggestions to a certain degree, but due to the materials used, some practices are unlikely to provide effective learning conditions for a significant number of learners.
In the thesis, I conclude that primarily six reasons exist for why research recommendations are not necessarily applied in practice. These are: 1) curriculum complexity in the subject of English in the Danish gymnasium; 2) teachers’ lack of knowledge of findings in vocabulary research and/or lack of training in vocabulary learning as well as teaching; 3) a lack of correspondence between research and policy or vagueness in policy goals and guidelines; 4) washback from the exam; 5) a lack of application of research recommendations in textbooks produced for this context; and 6) a lack of applicability of research recommendations in the reality facing teachers. In order to create the basis for a better correspondence between research, policy and practice, I end the thesis by making recommendations for changes in the three dimensions.
Publication date2 Jan 2014
Number of pages80
ID: 159041127