The effect of assessment for learning techniques on young learners’ acquisition of vocabulary knowledge
Part of the Centre for Language Education Research (CLER) Seminars for Winter 2016.
Full programme information available here.
Researching the development of English language proficiency with young learners (YLs) has gained currency as a younger age of learning English as a second language has been introduced in a range of countries around the world (Enever, 2011; Eurydice, 2005). Though there is a substantial body of research literature on the acquisition of vocabulary (Broady, 2008; Schmitt, 2008), these studies reveal a paucity of research in which the development of YLs' lexical competence has been investigated. While the use of assessment for learning (AfL) is reported to have profound effects on learning outcomes in mainstream education (Black & Wiliam, 1998; Wiliam et al., 2004) there is little research investigating the impact AfL would have on the development of vocabulary in a second language among YLs.
A recent mixed-methods study in the Netherlands aimed at filling this gap. The quantitative study used a quasi-experimental design to examine the effects of AfL on learners' acquisition of L2 vocabulary knowledge. The 97 participants were Dutch native speakers in four matched classes in the first form of secondary education. (Two classes formed the experimental group, the other two classes the control group). The strength of the learners’ vocabulary knowledge was tested, before and after the intervention. Adapted from Laufer et al. (2004), the test was designed for YLs with lexical items from their curriculum. The AfL techniques used in the experimental group created opportunities for learners to engage with lexical items in different (meaningful) ways (cf. Broady, 2008) promoting “depth of processing” (cf. Craik & Lockhart, 1972). Learner diaries and the teacher's reflective journal comprised the qualitative data.
Preliminary results of the study clearly suggest that young learners are able to use AfL techniques and that it benefits their development of vocabulary knowledge. Learners in the intervention group had higher scores for their tests of vocabulary strength, and results from the qualitative study indicate that learners believed that the use of AfL promoted the “depth of processing” of the vocabulary. These findings have significant implications for classroom teachers and for teacher training programmes.