2012 Christopher Brumfit Award winner Jim Ranalli discusses his prize winning work

Post written by Jim Ranalli

It’s a great honor to receive the 2012 Christopher Brumfit Award, especially as it commemorates a scholar whose books on communicative methodology were a tremendous source of guidance and inspiration to me when I first trained as an English teacher. I thank the panel of referees, the editor and editorial board of Language Teaching, and Cambridge University Press for this special recognition of my research and the opportunity to share it with a wider audience.

The focus of my thesis was a web-based, instructional resource called VVT (Virtual Vocabulary Trainer), which I developed to teach integrated vocabulary depth of knowledge and dictionary referencing skills to university-level learners of English as a Second Language (ESL). In addition to evaluating the potential of online resources to address long-standing challenges in the field of second language (L2) strategy instruction, my project also targeted research objectives in other related areas. I described these in four separate articles that were aimed at peer-reviewed journals in the fields of computer-assisted language learning (CALL), applied linguistics, and English language teaching.

The first paper discussed the theoretical underpinnings of the VVT course, the procedures I followed in developing it, and the materials themselves, while also suggesting general design principles for L2 strategy instruction based on frameworks derived from information-processing theory. The second paper represented the evaluation component of the project and reported how I investigated the feasibility of online strategy instruction by studying the resource’s effectiveness, both actual and perceived, in a randomized controlled trial involving 64 ESL composition students. In the third paper, the VVT course served as the platform for another study critiquing a structural model of L2 vocabulary learning proposed in a 2008 paper by Wen-Ta Tseng and Norbert Schmitt, while at the same time adding to the literature on the acquisition of L2 vocabulary depth-of-knowledge features. In the final paper, which was based in a self-regulated learning framework, I used discrepant cases from the evaluation study – that is, individual participants whose performances diverged significantly from group norms – to investigate the metacognitive process of task definition, a stage of learning in which students develop internal, and potentially idiosyncratic, representations of tasks.

I believe my findings provide clear evidence of the feasibility of automated, online forms of strategy instruction for complementing teacher-led forms, while at the same time shedding light on the challenges many L2 learners face in self-directed learning of vocabulary depth of knowledge. They also demonstrate the potential of process-oriented models of self-regulated learning for researching and theorizing about L2 acquisition and strategy use. Two of the papers have been published so far and I am currently collecting more data to improve the final two papers for publication. If you’re interested in the references or in finding out more about my research, please visit www.jimranalli.net.

Discover more about the Christopher Brumfit Award and how you can enter for 2013 here.

 

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