Strategic learning in SLA:
Reopening the research agenda
Peter Yongqi GU 顾永琦
Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand
Beijing Foreign Studies University, China
4th National Symposium on SLA in China
23-25 April, 2010
Suzhou
In this talk…
1. What is strategic learning?
2. Why strategic learning in SLA?
3. Brief recap of 30 years of research on
“language learning strategies”
4. Major achievements
5. Problems and proposed solutions
6. Strategic crossroads: Where from
here?
Part 1: Strategic learning
• Strategic learning refers to the learner’s active,
intentional engagement in the learning process by
selectively attending to a learning problem, mobilising
available resources, deciding on the best available plan
for action, carrying out the plan, monitoring the
performance, and evaluating the results for future action.
• Strategic learning is triggered and defined by task
demands, and is thus not a task-independent learner
trait/capacity.
• Strategic learning is tied to a purpose. The purpose of
strategic learning is to solve a learning problem, perform
a novel task, accelerate the learning rate, or to achieve
overall learning success.
Part 2:
Why study strategic learning in SLA?
So long as we
– reject a fundamentalist Stimulus-Response view
and accept the role of agency in human learning,
– agree that cognitive mechanisms play a role in SLA,
– agree that, besides individual differences such as
aptitude and motivation, learners’ own learning
decisions aimed at maximizing results make a
difference in the learning process,
Strategic learning will need to be examined.
Why study strategic learning in SLA?
SLA constructs in vogue over the last 30 years:
–
–
–
–
–
comprehensible input
opportunities for output
corrective feedback
task-based presentation
Socio-contextual mediation and scaffolding
Assumption: Learners will notice the patterns or
automatically activate their implicit learning
mechanisms
Strategic learning: Learners, and teachers, can play a
much more active role in managing and controlling the
learning process, and thereby maximising the
outcomes of learning
Part 3
• A brief recap of research on “Language
learning strategies”
Research on Language
learning strategies (LLS)
• Exploratory approach
– Correlational: Is strategy use correlated
with learning results?
– Case studies: Do high achievers use
different strategies from low achievers?
• Intervention approach
– Is strategy training effective?
Are learner strategies useful?
LLS research: Summary of findings
1.
2.
3.
4.
There is a quantitative, correlational pattern in general: the
more strategies you use, the better; and the more often
you use strategies, the better the language performance.
However,
The quantitative pattern is only at the surface level. The
minute you look at specific cases in detail, you immediately
realise that it is how a strategy is used, rather than whether
it is used that makes a difference.
More often than not, it is not how many strategies one
uses, it is how a number of strategies are used together and
how the learner orchestrates the use of these strategies
that makes the real difference, and
The choice, use, and effectiveness of strategy use very
much depend on who the learner is, what the task at hand
demands, and what context the learner is in.
LLS research: Examples
Study 1
Study 2
Study 3
Think aloud elicitation
(Exploring listening
strategies)
Confirmatory survey
(Listening strategies)
Strategy training (writing
strategies)
Study 1: Exploring listening strategies
Example: Good listener
1. I: You said you liked the story. Why did you like it?
2. P: (pause 3 sec; looks at wall deep in thought) It (pause 2 sec) tells me about the
scenery in the morning.
3. I: OK.
4. P: How it looks like.
5. I: Mm hm. What else?
6. P: (pause 3 sec) Mm (pause 1 sec) the (pause 2 sec) writer gave a very good
description of the scenery and (pause 2 sec) other things around him.
7. I: OK.
8. P: (pause 5 sec) And I find it very interesting.
9. I: In what way is it interesting?
10. P: Mm (pause 5 sec) I cannot (pause 1 sec) predict what would happen next.
11. I: Mm. So because you cannot predict, it’s interesting.
12. P: (pause 2 sec) And (pause 3 sec) if I were the writer, I won’t have (pause 3 sec)
wrote about the scenery or the stray dogs.
13. I: Mm. And then what would you have written about?
14. P: (pause 5 sec) I’d have written he just jog (pause 2 sec) and went home.
--Johnny, Primary 5, High-proficiency Learner
Bottom-up decoding
Example: Poor listener
Mabula left his village early. As usual, he carried his spear and water bag with him.
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.
16.
17.
18.
P: (pause 6 sec; thinks and then pouts) Can’t hear it carefully.
I: So?
P: Again. Rewind.
(Replaying the relevant part)
P: The … Mabula, I think, is a girl name.
I: Hmm.
P: (pause 2 sec) He carry a (pause 2 sec), uh she leave her village very early…
I: Mm.
P: then he carried both bag (gestures carrying bags in both hands) uh the… (pause 1 sec)
how to say ah, (pause 2 sec) the beer ah?
I: Beer?
P: Ya, I think so. (laughter)
I: OK.
P: I didn’t hear it, that part.
I: You didn’t hear that part. So what do you want to do?
P: Rewind little bit.
I: OK.
(Replaying the relevant part)
P: Beer and water bag.
0
Sel finiti a
ti ng
Plan
ning
Mon
itori n
g
Evalu
ati ng
Re- li
steni
ng
Ignor
i ng
Repe
t ition
Deco
ding
Infer
encin
g
Pred
iction
Cont
extua
lisati
on
Tran
slat io
n
Imag
ery
Tran
sfer
Reco
nst ru
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Sum
mar i
Per s
zati o
onal
n
expe
r
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Appr
eciat
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Evalu
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Findi
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Usin
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Coop
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Askin
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Tryi n
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mba
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Patterns of strategy use
Mean Frequency of Strategy Use by Proficiency Level
Top group
Bottom group
25
20
15
10
5
Study 1 summary:
Listening strategies
• Good listeners had a larger repertoire of strategies than poor
listeners;
• Good listeners used listening strategies more frequently than
poor listeners;
• Good listeners used both top-down and bottom-up strategies;
• Good listeners orchestrated their strategy choice and use;
• Poor listeners had fundamental decoding problems;
• Some poor listeners used mainly bottom-up decoding
strategies;
• Some poor listeners used wild guessing to compensate for lack
of understanding;
• Poor listeners rarely monitored their own strategy use, not to
mention any meaningful strategy orchestration.
Study 2: Confirmatory survey
Listening Strategies Questionnaire
Strategy
type
Strategy Example
Metacognitive SelfInitiation
Planning
I look for opportunities to
listen in English.
Before I start listening, I
decide if I need to pay
attention to details or to
the main idea.
Monitoring If I have a problem in
and
understanding, I quickly
Evaluating decide whether I should
continue or listen again.
Patterns of listening strategy use
5-point Likert scale, N=3618, Six schools
Metacognitive
Cognitive
Mean
SD
N
Self-Initiation
3.3537
.81629
3543
Planning
3.1877
.91243
3572
Monitoring and
Evaluating
3.4178
.74541
3503
Perceptual processing
3.3319
.80994
3469
Inferencing
3.1100
.71942
3507
Predicting
3.0143
.84746
3485
Utilisation/Elaboration 3.2154
.77628
3505
.75276
3492
Social and Socio-Affective
Affective strategies
3.2654
Correlations between listening strategies
and English language scores
SelfInitiation
Planning
Metacognitive
Monitoring
and
Evaluating
r
.130(**)
p
.000
N
3530
r
.041(*)
p
.015
N
3558
r
.116(**)
p
.000
N
3492
Correlations between listening strategies
and English language scores
Perceptual
processing
Inferencing
Cognitive
Predicting
Utilisation/
Elaboration
r
.090(**)
p
.000
N
3455
r
.190(**)
p
.000
N
3494
r
.092(**)
p
.000
N
3474
r
.118(**)
p
.000
N
3492
Correlations between listening strategies
and English language scores
Social and
Affective
SocioAffective
strategies
r
.054(**)
p
.001
N
3478
Study 2 summary:
Listening strategies
• Strategy pattern
– Most used listening strategies: Monitoring and
Evaluating (3.42); Self-Initiation (3.35); Perceptual
processing (3.33)
– Least used strategies: Predicting (3.01)
• Listening strategies and EL results
– All strategies significantly correlated with EL results
– The highest: Inferencing (r=.190); Self-Initiation
(r=.130)
– The lowest: Planning (r=.041)
Study 3: Strategy-Based Instruction
The Singapore Strategy Intervention Project
• Coverage:
– reading strategies
– writing strategies
• Length: one semester
• Materials:
– Reading strategies: Lesson plans package
– Writing strategies: Lesson plans package
Subjects (Primary 5)
Experimental
Control
School A
2 classes
(writing)
2 classes
(writing)
School B
2 classes
(writing)
2 classes
(writing)
2 classes
(writing)
2 classes
(writing)
2 classes
(reading)
2 classes
(reading)
School C
Strategy Instruction Framework
Teacher Responsibility
Preparation
Activate Background Knowledge
Presentation
Attend
Participate
Explain
Model
Practice
Prompt Strategies
Give Feedback
Apply Strategies
with Guidance
Evaluation
Assess Strategies
Assess Strategies
Expansion
Support
Transfer
Use Strategies Independently
Transfer Strategies to New Tasks
Student Responsibility
Chamot, Barnhardt, El-Dinary, & Robbins (1999, p.46)
SBI Lessons: Writing
Weekly 1 hour sessions
Lesson # Writing Strategies
1
Setting writing goals
2
3
4
Planning for content
Assessing the audience
Getting ideas: reading to find out more
5
6
7
Attending to language at the word level
Attending to grammatical structures
Writing the essay: orchestrating
strategies
8
9
Revising an essay
Responding to feedback and revising
Structure of an SBI lesson
Preparation
Presentation
 Step 1: explaining
 Step 2: modelling
Practice
Evaluation
Expansion
 Similar tasks in
homework
 Other EL lessons
5-10 minutes
15 minutes
20-25 minutes
10 minutes
Writing scores of experimental
vs. control groups
Pre Test
Groups
Experimental
Control
Mean
47.11
48.85
SD
8.55
6.36
N
119
127
Post Test
Total
Experimental
Control
48.01
52.34
48.08
7.54
7.68
7.10
246
119
127
Total
Delayed Test Experimental
50.14
51.42
7.68
6.23
246
119
49.03
50.19
6.27
6.35
127
246
Control
Total
Plot of mean score differences
53
52
51
Means
50
49
Experimental
48
Control
47
46
45
44
Pretest
Post test
Tests
Delayed test
Were the three tests different from
each other?
Sum of
Squares
df
Mean
Square F
821.98
2
410.99
19.85 .000
Tests *
Group
1158.12
2
579.06
27.97 .000
Error
(Tests)
10103.38 488 20.70
Source
Tests
Sig.
Was the experimental group different
from the control group?
Source
Sum of
Squares
df
Mean Square F
1804408.34
1
1804408.34
16624.59 .000
493.57
1
493.57
4.55
26483.40
244
108.54
Sig.
Intercept
Group
Error
.034
Study 3 summary
• SBI was found to have made a
significant contribution to the
writing performance of the
experimental group
Part 4:
Major contributions of LLS research
• A large repertoire of language learning strategies has
been identified and classified
• These LLS have been found to be related to language
learning outcomes (mainly to general proficiency, the
4 skills and vocabulary)
• LLS patterns of both adult and young learners have
been documented from around the world
• Effects of LLS on learning have been found to be
mediated by a host of person/task/context variables
• Strategy intervention has been found useful in
boosting learning results
Part 5:
Problems and proposed solutions
–
–
Constructive criticism
Destructive criticism
Constructive criticism
• Conceptual and theoretical issues
– LLS construct too vague and elusive
•
•
•
•
Static, simplistic either/or lists
The size-abstractness dilemma
The outside-inside problem
Difference between strategic and ordinary learning activity
– Research then theory (atheoretical)
– The same research questions being asked repeatedly
• Methodological issues
– Think-aloud intrusive
– Survey measures are self-reports only
• Practical issues
– Not practical enough for immediate use in the classroom
– Strategy training results inclusive
Destructive criticism
•
•
Destructive criticism
– Dörnyei, Z., & Skehan, P. (2003). Individual differences in second
language learning. In The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
(pp. 589 - 630). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
– Dörnyei, Z. (2005). Language learning strategies and student selfregulation. In The psychology of the language learner: Individual
differences in second language acquisition (pp. 162-196). Mahwah,
New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.
Destructive action
– Tseng, W., Dörnyei, Z., & Schmitt, N. (2006). A new approach to
assessing strategic learning: The case of self-regulation in vocabulary
acquisition. Applied Linguistics, 27(1), 78-102.
– Tseng, W., & Schmitt, N. (2008). Toward a model of motivated
vocabulary learning: A structural equation modeling approach.
Language Learning, 58(2), 357-400.
LLS research: Fate sealed?
• “We cannot offer a watertight definition of ‘learning
strategies’” (Dörnyei, 2005, p. 166); “learning strategies
have contestable validity as a concept” (p. 173).
– Hard to pin down the difference between ordinary
learning activity and a strategic learning activity
– Existing definitions “inconsistent and elusive”
• “Simply focusing on the ‘surface manifestations’—i.e.,
the tactics and techniques that strategic learners actually
employ—does not do the topic justice.” (p. 196)
• The most often used strategy measure, Rebecca Oxford’s
Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) is
psychometrically problematic
Dörnyei’s (2005) suggested solution
• In educational psychology, “the term learning strategy was
first marginalized and then virtually abandoned by the
research community in favor of the more versatile concept of
self-regulation.” (p. 170)
• Self-regulation is a broader, “trait-like strategic potential”
(p.190) , “a relatively enduring attribute of a person” (p.
194).
• “a new construct, ‘self-regulation’ or ‘self-regulated
learning,’ was introduced in the educational psychological
literature, and most of the research attention has turned
toward examining variables that were more dynamic and
process-oriented [My emphasis: How can a trait be dynamic
and process-oriented?] than learning/cognitive strategies”
The last straw:
Tseng, Dörnyei & Schmitt’s (2006) Self-Regulating Capacity in
Vocabulary Learning Scale
• Actual and explicit attempt in REPLACING the LLS
concept in SLA
• Dörnyei’s arguments operationalised into a selfregulating trait/capacity with 5 components:
commitment control, metacognitive control, satiation
control, emotion control, and environment control.
• My questions:
– Is strategic learning a trait/capacity issue?
– Assuming it is, which I hotly debate, can the task of
vocabulary learning be reduced to statements like
“when learning vocabulary…I…”?
Is self-regulation a clear concept?
Alexander, P. (2008). Why this and why now?
Introduction to the special issue on metacognition,
self-regulation, and self-regulated learning.
Educational Psychology Review, 20(4), 369-372
• “It is perhaps a truism to say that there is an inverse
relation between the popularity of any educational
construct and its conceptual clarity within the
literature.” (Alexander, 2008, p. 369)
• “In fact, it may well be an unavoidable consequence of
working within the educational realm that has not
precise or agreed-upon meaning for any of its most
central constructs.” (pp. 369-370)
Dörnyei’s argument for a fuzzy “selfregulation” concept
• “Although there are many fuzzy boundaries and distinctions,
as well as numerous unresolved issues ranging from the
conceptual to the methodological, scholars appear to be keen
to invest energy in researching the topic because the stakes
have been raised considerably since the time when the target
of research was learning strategies only” (Dörnyei, 2005, p.
192).
• My reading:
– Oh, yeah! We should be keeping up with the fashion in
educational psychology, no matter what.
– Fuzziness is a sin in SLA, but a virtue in other fields
(which must be more scientific than ours)
Wisdom from an elder
• “In a strange way, language testers ... are not unlike
the person who murdered his parents and then
made a plea for clemency as an orphan. Our field
has been remarkably ahistorical; we have too often
satisfied ourselves with patricidal fury on a named
or unnamed predecessor before launching
ourselves into our own rediscovery of a slightly
circular wheel of our own.”
Bernard Spolsky (1995) Measured words, p. 352
Part 6: Where from here?
Re-opening the research agenda
•
Build on the strength and knowledge from
LLS research
Proceed with a complete open mind, both
in terms of theorising and in terms of
research methodology
Aim for complete integration into SLA
•
•
–
–
Cognitive/neuro-psychological perspectives
Sociocultural perspectives
Re-opening the research agenda:
Cognitive perspectives
1. Reconceptualise static LS as dynamic strategic
learning
2. Describe strategic learning in sufficient detail
3. Explain strategic learning
a. Open up the explanatory framework
b. Explain strategic learning and its relationship to
learning outcomes
c. Tie strategic learning closely to learning tasks
d. Examine the effectiveness of each constituent
tactic in relation to task, learner, and learning
context
Re-opening the research agenda:
Cognitive perspectives
4. Study Individual differences in strategic
learning
5. Incorporate strategic learning into
classroom instruction
6. Expand strategic learning aims to
include learner autonomy
Dynamic strategic learning
Dynamic strategic learning involves at least
the following procedures:
– Problem identification and selective
attention
– Analysis of task
– Choice of decisions
– Execution of plan
– Monitoring progress and modifying plan
– Evaluating result and deciding on next
steps
A dynamic view of strategic learning
implies:
• Strategies can no longer be studied as presence
/absence of strategies or frequency of strategy use.
• Each of the following can influence learning results:
– Selective attention to learning problems and novel
tasks
– Task analysis
– Choice and use of strategies
– Monitoring and evaluating of strategies
– Flexible orchestration, adaptation and revision of
strategic choice and implementation
Explaining strategic learning:
A person-task-context-strategies framework
Context
Strategies
Person
Task
Explaining strategic learning
• How is strategic learning represented in the
mind?
• How is strategic learning developed over time?
• Does strategic learning make a difference in SLA?
• Why does strategic learning make a difference?
• How does strategic learning work to make a
difference?
• How much difference does strategic learning
make?
Learning task and strategic learning
• Traditional learning tasks studied
– LLS for language learning in general
– LLS for the four skills
– LLS for vocabulary
• A new agenda for strategic learning
should include all aspects of second
language acquisition
Learning task and strategic learning:
What is strategic language learning the learning of?
Organizational competence
Grammatical
Textual
competence
competence
 Vocabulary  Cohesion,
 Morphology
e.g.
 Syntax
reference,
 Phonology
conjunction
 Rhetorical
organization:
conceptual
structure for
textual effect
Pragmatic competence
Illocutionary/functional
Sociolinguistic
competence
competence
Ability to send and receive
Sensitivity to
intended meanings to fulfil 4 and control of
conventions for
macro-functions of
language:
•Dialect or
variety
•Ideational: forming,
expressing knowledge and •Register
feelings
•Naturalness
•Manipulative: affecting the •Cultural
world, e.g., getting things
references,
done with lang
figures of
speech
•Heuristic: using language
to learn, teach, and solve
problems
•Imaginative: figurative uses
of language
(Bachman,1990)
Learning task and strategic
learning
• Which aspect of communicative
competence?
–
–
–
–
Accuracy
Fluency
Complexity
Appropriateness
Strategic learning beyond
communicative competence
• Micro-focus: Strategic learning is for the
achievement of success in language
learning (communicative competence)
• Macro-focus: Strategic learning is also
for the holistic development of the
active, reflective and socially
responsible individual (Learner
autonomy)
Strategic learning at different stages of SLA
(Ellis, 1998, p. 43)
Re-opening the research agenda:
Sociocultural perspectives
• Higher forms of human mental activity are always and
everywhere mediated by symbolic means
• The source of mediation is either a material tool
(artifact), a system of symbols (e.g., classroom
discourse) or the behaviour of another human being in
social interaction
• The emergence of strategies is a by-product of goal
directed, situated activity in which mediation through
artefacts, discourse, or others plays a central role in
apprenticing novices into a community of practice.
Research from sociocultural perspectives
should collect evidence to show …
• that strategic learning, rather than solitary, individual
activities, is developed in “communities of practice”
where inexperienced learners are apprenticed
gradually into the sociocultural practices of the
classroom community.
• that the genesis of learning strategies as objectoriented learning activities and goal directed actions
are situated, mediated and shaped by artefacts,
discourse, or other people in and out of the classroom.
• that dialogic and reflective communities of language
learning practice and mediation can lead to the
emergence and restructuring of strategies
Methodological considerations
• Continued exploration with think-aloud elicitation, interviews,
diaries, questionnaires.
• Much more experimentation
– Strategy-Based Instruction of a whole range of needed strategies
– Effectiveness of individual strategies in controlled learner-task-context
configurations
– Classroom experimentation, small-group training, one-on-one tutoring
– Laboratory tests of strategic processing, e.g., fMRI scans
• Much more classroom integration and action research
• Much more narrative enquiry and genetic method that document
situated and mediated strategic development
• Much more research from emic perspectives, i.e., learners’ own
decision making processes in strategic learning, rather than codes
imposed by researchers
Exploring new methodologies
Example: fMRI scans
• Strategic vs. non-strategic behaviour
(representation): Is strategic processing
neurologically different from non-strategic
processing?
• Development of strategic learning (neural correlates
of learning results): Do beginning and experienced
strategy users processing the same task show
different brain scan patterns?
• Strategy transfer to novel tasks: Do brain behaviours
show similar patterns in the strategic performance of
similar and novel tasks?
Criteria for evaluating the new
research agenda
• Explanatory power: There is no need for one
single theory. We need a multitude of
perspectives to explore the strategic learning
phenomenon.
• Usefulness: “No matter a cat is black or white,
if it catches mice, it is a good cat.” In other
words, research has to yield results that lead
to the learners’ more active control of their
own learning and to better language learning
outcomes.
In the spirit of Spring
Let a hundred strategy flowers
bloom, for the cultivation of a
theoretically colourful and
practically useful garden nourished
by diverse nutrients.
Thank you!
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Strategic learning in SLA