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Available online at www.sciencedirect.com <a href=System 39 (2011) 290 e 301 www.elsevier.com/locate/system Investigating the relationship between belief and action in self-directed language learning Diego Navarro * , Katherine Thornton Kanda University of International Studies, 1-4-1 Wakaba, Mihama-ku, Chiba 261-0014, Japan Received 15 January 2011; accepted 25 May 2011 Abstract Employing the principles of a contextual approach to learner belief research and applying it to a self-directed learning context at a Japanese university, this longitudinal study investigates the complex interplay between beliefs and actions and its contribution to the development of language learning skills. Through the triangulation of various qualitative data sources, including language learning histories and reflective accounts of students’ self-directed learning actions, with detailed documentation of these actions, we demonstrate the differing belief trajectories of two learners, and the role interaction played in the emergence, appropriation and refinement of their beliefs. In illuminating the important role that action plays in this belief development, this paper further problematises the validity of research which depends primarily on learner belief statements and suggests that future research on beliefs would benefit from in- depth examination of behaviour. It is argued that only through centralising the role of action that researchers will be able to gain a more precise understanding of the true nature of a learner’s beliefs. 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Learner beliefs; Learner autonomy; Self-directed learning 1. Introduction Contextual approaches to learner beliefs studies centralise both the learning context and learners’ interpretations of their experiences within this specific context ( Barcelos, 2003a ), allowing researchers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the process in which beliefs develop and change through interaction with these contexts, by investigating not only what learners say they believe about language learning but also how they behave. However, despite increased awareness of the role of social context in belief research ( Allen, 1996; Murphey et al., 2009; Ning, 2008 ) few studies have investigated the complex relationship between learners’ beliefs and action within the self-directed learning context. This study applies the contextual approach to an autonomous learning context at a Japanese university. A course run by two learning advisors combined classroom-based instruction with periods of self-directed learning, in which * Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: navarro187@gmail.com (D. Navarro), thornton.katherine@gmail.com (K. Thornton). 0346-251X/$ - see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi: 10.1016/j.system.2011.07.002 " id="pdf-obj-0-2" src="pdf-obj-0-2.jpg">

Available online at www.sciencedirect.com

Available online at www.sciencedirect.com <a href=System 39 (2011) 290 e 301 www.elsevier.com/locate/system Investigating the relationship between belief and action in self-directed language learning Diego Navarro * , Katherine Thornton Kanda University of International Studies, 1-4-1 Wakaba, Mihama-ku, Chiba 261-0014, Japan Received 15 January 2011; accepted 25 May 2011 Abstract Employing the principles of a contextual approach to learner belief research and applying it to a self-directed learning context at a Japanese university, this longitudinal study investigates the complex interplay between beliefs and actions and its contribution to the development of language learning skills. Through the triangulation of various qualitative data sources, including language learning histories and reflective accounts of students’ self-directed learning actions, with detailed documentation of these actions, we demonstrate the differing belief trajectories of two learners, and the role interaction played in the emergence, appropriation and refinement of their beliefs. In illuminating the important role that action plays in this belief development, this paper further problematises the validity of research which depends primarily on learner belief statements and suggests that future research on beliefs would benefit from in- depth examination of behaviour. It is argued that only through centralising the role of action that researchers will be able to gain a more precise understanding of the true nature of a learner’s beliefs. 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Learner beliefs; Learner autonomy; Self-directed learning 1. Introduction Contextual approaches to learner beliefs studies centralise both the learning context and learners’ interpretations of their experiences within this specific context ( Barcelos, 2003a ), allowing researchers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the process in which beliefs develop and change through interaction with these contexts, by investigating not only what learners say they believe about language learning but also how they behave. However, despite increased awareness of the role of social context in belief research ( Allen, 1996; Murphey et al., 2009; Ning, 2008 ) few studies have investigated the complex relationship between learners’ beliefs and action within the self-directed learning context. This study applies the contextual approach to an autonomous learning context at a Japanese university. A course run by two learning advisors combined classroom-based instruction with periods of self-directed learning, in which * Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: navarro187@gmail.com (D. Navarro), thornton.katherine@gmail.com (K. Thornton). 0346-251X/$ - see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi: 10.1016/j.system.2011.07.002 " id="pdf-obj-0-6" src="pdf-obj-0-6.jpg">
Available online at www.sciencedirect.com <a href=System 39 (2011) 290 e 301 www.elsevier.com/locate/system Investigating the relationship between belief and action in self-directed language learning Diego Navarro * , Katherine Thornton Kanda University of International Studies, 1-4-1 Wakaba, Mihama-ku, Chiba 261-0014, Japan Received 15 January 2011; accepted 25 May 2011 Abstract Employing the principles of a contextual approach to learner belief research and applying it to a self-directed learning context at a Japanese university, this longitudinal study investigates the complex interplay between beliefs and actions and its contribution to the development of language learning skills. Through the triangulation of various qualitative data sources, including language learning histories and reflective accounts of students’ self-directed learning actions, with detailed documentation of these actions, we demonstrate the differing belief trajectories of two learners, and the role interaction played in the emergence, appropriation and refinement of their beliefs. In illuminating the important role that action plays in this belief development, this paper further problematises the validity of research which depends primarily on learner belief statements and suggests that future research on beliefs would benefit from in- depth examination of behaviour. It is argued that only through centralising the role of action that researchers will be able to gain a more precise understanding of the true nature of a learner’s beliefs. 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Keywords: Learner beliefs; Learner autonomy; Self-directed learning 1. Introduction Contextual approaches to learner beliefs studies centralise both the learning context and learners’ interpretations of their experiences within this specific context ( Barcelos, 2003a ), allowing researchers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the process in which beliefs develop and change through interaction with these contexts, by investigating not only what learners say they believe about language learning but also how they behave. However, despite increased awareness of the role of social context in belief research ( Allen, 1996; Murphey et al., 2009; Ning, 2008 ) few studies have investigated the complex relationship between learners’ beliefs and action within the self-directed learning context. This study applies the contextual approach to an autonomous learning context at a Japanese university. A course run by two learning advisors combined classroom-based instruction with periods of self-directed learning, in which * Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: navarro187@gmail.com (D. Navarro), thornton.katherine@gmail.com (K. Thornton). 0346-251X/$ - see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi: 10.1016/j.system.2011.07.002 " id="pdf-obj-0-12" src="pdf-obj-0-12.jpg">

Investigating the relationship between belief and action in self-directed language learning

Diego Navarro * , Katherine Thornton

Kanda University of International Studies, 1-4-1 Wakaba, Mihama-ku, Chiba 261-0014, Japan

Received 15 January 2011; accepted 25 May 2011

Abstract

Employing the principles of a contextual approach to learner belief research and applying it to a self-directed learning context at a Japanese university, this longitudinal study investigates the complex interplay between beliefs and actions and its contribution to the development of language learning skills. Through the triangulation of various qualitative data sources, including language learning histories and reflective accounts of students’ self-directed learning actions, with detailed documentation of these actions, we demonstrate the differing belief trajectories of two learners, and the role interaction played in the emergence, appropriation and refinement of their beliefs. In illuminating the important role that action plays in this belief development, this paper further problematises the validity of research which depends primarily on learner belief statements and suggests that future research on beliefs would benefit from in- depth examination of behaviour. It is argued that only through centralising the role of action that researchers will be able to gain a more precise understanding of the true nature of a learner’s beliefs. 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Learner beliefs; Learner autonomy; Self-directed learning

1. Introduction

Contextual approaches to learner beliefs studies centralise both the learning context and learners’ interpretations of their experiences within this specific context (Barcelos, 2003a), allowing researchers to gain a comprehensive understanding of the process in which beliefs develop and change through interaction with these contexts, by investigating not only what learners say they believe about language learning but also how they behave. However, despite increased awareness of the role of social context in belief research (Allen, 1996; Murphey et al., 2009; Ning, 2008) few studies have investigated the complex relationship between learners’ beliefs and action within the self-directed learning context. This study applies the contextual approach to an autonomous learning context at a Japanese university. A course run by two learning advisors combined classroom-based instruction with periods of self-directed learning, in which

* Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: navarro187@gmail.com (D. Navarro), thornton.katherine@gmail.com (K. Thornton).

0346-251X/$ - see front matter 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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learners were supported by both written and spoken interaction with the advisors. The course designed to raise learners’ awareness of concepts vital for effective self-directed language learning (SDLL), provided opportunities for experiencing an approach to learning which is largely unfamiliar to East Asian learners (Littlewood, 1999). In describing the relationship between beliefs and learner autonomy, Barcelos and Kalaja emphasise that: “we have to proceed with a detailed investigation of how these beliefs interact related to the situation, the task and with [learners’] participation in that specific situation or task” (2003, p. 234). By examining the interaction of beliefs during learners’ participation in personalized learning situations, this study highlights the effects of the dynamic relationship between action and belief on the learning process. By examining the beliefs and behaviour of two Japanese learners, we observe the different ways in which the emergence, modification, and appropriation of beliefs can be reflected in and shaped by the actions of our learners, and how in turn these beliefs shape future learning decisions.

2. Literature review

This section reviews the literature on beliefs research, namely the relationship between belief and action, the importance of interaction and the ways in which beliefs have been investigated in self-directed learning contexts.

  • 2.1. Beliefs and action

Early approaches to learner beliefs (Horowitz, 1988; Sakui and Gaies, 1999; Victori and Lockhart, 1995) presented beliefs as essentially stable factors which influence action in a cause and effect relationship. Investigating learners’ beliefs was seen as an essential component to understanding and predicting how learners behave (Keim et al., 1996; Mantle-Bromley, 1995; Rifkin, 2000). As researchers have gained deeper understanding of the nature of beliefs and their relationship with learning behaviour, the role of action has become a more central tenet in beliefs research. The growing recognition of the primary importance of social context and interaction in the language learning process, represented most explicitly in the interest in Vygotskian sociocultural theory (Lantolf and Appel, 1994), has facilitated an approach which views learner beliefs as a dynamic, socially-situated construct. These studies, collectively referred to as the contextual approach (Barcelos, 2003a), examine more closely the relationship between belief, action and context, and its impact on language learning. Researchers applying this approach propose that beliefs are not only socially-situated, that is, positions adopted or utterances made in reaction to experiences in particular environments, but are also socially constructed, in that they are actually shaped by the individual’s interaction with their environment (Alanen, 2003; Woods, 2003). The role of action in contextual studies is therefore cyclical; as something which itself is shaped by belief, but also contributes to belief change.

  • 2.2. Interaction in belief development

Sociocultural theories on the nature of learning place primary importance on interaction, specifically the role of dialogue (Bakhtin, 1981), characterizing it as a vital tool through which learning is mediated. Contextual studies into belief development must, therefore, pay attention to the role of interaction with others (Dufva, 2003). Through experiences and interactions with others, learners modify and restructure their beliefs (Barcelos, 2003b; White, 1999). In this way, the contemporary understanding of beliefs presents them as a construct inseparable from action itself, and forming the “central framework within which all learning takes place” (Woods, 2003, p. 202).

  • 2.3. Contextual belief studies into self-directed learning

Two studies applying a contextual approach to the investigation of beliefs in self-directed learning have attempted to demonstrate the processes by which action influences the development of beliefs in the context of self-directed learning. White (1999) shows a shift in expectations about the nature of language self-instruction among distance learning students but does not detail the exact processes through which these expectations changed, concentrating instead on the nature of the learners’ emergent beliefs. Although the detail of Hosenfeld’s (2003) journal entries about her own

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self-directed Spanish learning does allow for rich insights into the process through which new beliefs emerge from experience, her numerical account of dates of emergent beliefs and the times they generated action depicts a somewhat simplified view of beliefs, and fails to show how these emergent beliefs may then be refined through further action.

  • 2.4. Beliefs in the development of self-directed learning skills

It is Wenden (1998, 1999) who has posited the clearest link between what she refers to as a subset of beliefs, metacognitive knowledge, and the strategies necessary for successful self-regulation of learning.

  • 2.4.1. Planning, monitoring and evaluating

Building on the work of Flavell (1979), on metacognition in the field of cognitive psychology, Wenden (1986, 1998) proposed that to be able to manage their own learning successfully, learners need to be able to plan, monitor and evaluate their learning through the use of metacognitive strategies. According to Flavell (1979), metacognitive knowledge, consisting of knowledge about oneself as a learner (person knowledge), the language learning task (task knowledge) and appropriate strategies to complete this task (strategic knowledge), is a prerequisite for successful planning, monitoring and evaluating of learning.

  • 2.4.2. Implementing action as an SDLL skill

Wenden (1998) fails, however, to pay sufficient attention to the role of action in the development of self-directed learning skills. Through our experiences inducting Japanese students into SDLL, we have noticed that there is often disparity between the plans learners make for their personalized learning, and the actual implementation of these plans. We therefore recognized implementing as an area of self-regulation equally important as planning, monitoring and evaluating and included it in our model, PIME (planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating) (Thornton, 2010). It is through observing this implementation that we, as advisors, have become increasingly aware of the nature of the beliefs mediating our learners’ actions. Studies which regard beliefs as metacognitive knowledge are usually classified under the “metacognitive approach”, which focuses on learners’ articulations of their beliefs through open-ended questionnaires or interviews, yet neglects the role of action (Barcelos, 2003a, p. 16). This study, with its emphasis on the role of learners’ context and learning behaviour in belief development, applies the contextual approach to the investigation of metacognitive beliefs.

3. The study

  • 3.1. Purpose of the study

Framed within a self-directed learning context, this study uses data from two students in a class of third and fourth years enrolled in an elective English department course at a Japanese university to answer the following research questions:

1. How does the relationship between learner beliefs and action influence the self-directed learning process? 2. What is the role of interaction between learners and advisors in this process?

The contextual approach which we adopt for this study allows us, through the triangulation of data, to observe the relationship between action and belief in the learning process and understand how this relationship is perceived and articulated by the subjects, resulting in a more comprehensive understanding of our subjects’ behaviour and belief development.

  • 3.2. Context of the course

The four-month course within which this study took place adopted its principles and practice from the field of language learning advising and learner autonomy (Holec, 1981; Mozzon-McPherson, 2001) and was designed to raise students’ awareness of and proficiency in self-directed learning. It was team taught by the two researchers in our

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capacity as learning advisors. This meant that we inevitably affected, through our interaction with the students, the data collected. However, in order to minimise any negative impact of this effect, we did not conduct any data collection or analysis until all students had completed the course. In addition, the effect of our interactions with the learners is examined in our second research question, making its role explicit. Class activities were designed to raise learners’ awa reness of their language learning beliefs and introduce the PIME skills considered central to self-directed language learning ( Wenden, 1995; Hiemstra, 1994 ). Class work was followed by two 3-week periods of individualised learning cycles, taking place outside of the classroom. During these cycles students applied PIME skills to personalised learning plans, setting their own learning goals and determining and implementing activities to achieve these goals. The experimentation and reflection required of this process, facilitated by both w ritten and spoken interaction with the learning advisors, was considered essential for the development of SDLL skills. The personalised dialogue between learner and advisor was vital in making the beliefs behind actions more salient, therefore impacting subsequent learning decisions.

  • 3.3. Participants

Eighteen Japanese nationals, majoring in English, sixteen in their 3rd year and two in their 4th year of study, participated in the course. There were five males and thirteen females with an average age of twenty-one.

  • 3.4. Instrumentation

3.4.1. Reflective journal

The primary observation instrument used was a “reflective journal” pack. Students first set learning goals and

completed an individualised learning plan. Each week they planned and implemented self-directed learning activities, keeping a detailed record by answering the following prompts in their journal:

  • 1. Weekly objectives; What do you want to achieve this week?

Explain what you will do, step by step:

  • 2. What materials will you use? Give details.

On completion of their learning activities, they were encouraged to monitor their action by completing a written reflection in their pack, guided by several further prompts:

  • 3. Did you achieve your objectives for this week? Do you think your activities were useful for achieving your objectives? Why? What did you do well? Why not? What could you have done better?

  • 4. Looking back on this week’s work, what will you continue to do next week? What will you change?

The journal was then submitted, along with all documentation of the week’s work, for the advisors to read and respond to, through a combination of in-text comments, questions, and a longer overall comment. This journal, by facilitating the dialogic interaction between advisor and learner, allowed both parties to see more explicitly the rationale behind learning decisions. In total, six weekly entries were collected from each student. Because of the inherent difficulty in observing self-directed learning outside the classroom, the learning packs, with their emphasis on rigorous documentation, offered us insight into the nature of the interplay between beliefs and actions of individual students. While allowing us to see and therefore gain a better understanding of what our learners were doing, this documentation also enhanced students’ awareness of their learning actions, facilitating the reflections in their journals. Documentation included: vocabulary and grammar log books, photocopies of examinations, listening scripts, audio recordings of pronunciation and speaking practice, samples of writing, and copies of selected readings.

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    • 3.4.2. Advising sessions

All students met with an advisor three times, for 15e30 min, during the two learning cycles, and recordings from these sessions are part of the data set. The first meeting, at the beginning of the first cycle, was used to help focus the learning plan, asking students to clarify goals, strategies, and resources. The second session, held between the two cycles, was an opportunity for students to discuss their reactions to their experiences on the learning cycle. Finally, the third meeting was an overall reflection on the course, specifically focussing on their perceptions of their performance and what they had learned. The second and third sessions assisted students with the completion of their self-reports (see below).

  • 3.4.3. Self-reports

Self-reports were completed at the end of each cycle. These reports provided us with important insight into our students’ perceptions of their development and progress as autonomous learners. After cycle one, students wrote a 500-word report detailing their experiences on the cycle with emphasis on the PIME skills. After the second cycle, students wrote a 750-word reflective account of what they had learned about their language learning beliefs and their personal learning processes. Below are examples of the guidelines given to students to facilitate their reflections:

  • 3.4.3.1. Guidelines for cycle one self-report. Use the PIME (Planning, Implementing, Monitoring, Evaluating)

categories to help you write your Post-Cycle Reflection (500 words). Report on your experience on the independent

learning cycle, and reasons why you think you were successful or unsuccessful. What was enjoyable/what was challenging about working independently? Use specific examples from your own learning cycle (use your reflective journal to help you).

  • 3.4.3.2. Guidelines for cycle two final report. Your report should be 750 words (þ/ 10%). It should be an analytical,

reflective account of what you have learned about your own beliefs about language learning and your personal learning processes, with reference to the activities you’ve completed on the course and your experiences during the learning cycles. Do not simply describe what you did, but be critical of yourself.

  • 3.4.4. Data enrichment instruments

Finally, a variety of tools, consisting of open-ended and closed-item questionnaires addressing language learning beliefs, a language learning metaphor activity, and language learning histories were employed to enrich our under- standing of individual students’ language learning contexts. The closed-item questionnaire, adapted from Sakui and Gaies (1999), introduced the idea of learner beliefs and their effect on language learning. The open-ended ques- tionnaire and the metaphor activity, both adapted from Wenden (1986), gave students the opportunity to express their own personal beliefs rather than responding to prescribed ideas that may hold little importance for them, a common complaint about closed-item questionnaires (Barcelos, 2003a,b; Block, 1998). These instruments (see Appendix A) and the discussions they generated helped prepare the students to write their language learning histories. The language learning histories provided insight into learners’ previous learning experiences and how they evaluated those expe- riences. Below are examples of prompts included in the guidelines for the language learning histories:

What has motivated you to learn English? What positive/negative experiences have you had learning English? How did you overcome them? What has been the role of teachers/family/friends throughout your language learning experience? What role do you think your personality has played in your language learning?

By explicitly focussing on the relationship between beliefs and behaviour throughout the first weeks of the course, we tried to prepare our students for the cycles, encouraging them to reflect critically on their actions and choices.

3.5. Data analysis

Firstly, the data from the students was divided between the two researchers to get a general impression of how beliefs and action were interacting and affecting one another. After a general categorisation of statements of “belief” and “action”, specific episodes of belief modification were identified, and traced through the learning cycles. The data was then exchanged, ensuring that both researchers examined all of the students. At this stage, several cases with

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significant belief modifications were chosen. Statements of action from these cases were then triangulated with the documentation provided, and the role of peer and advisor interaction was also investigated, by examining the written discourse in the journals and the content of the advising sessions. In this way, the roles of both action and interaction were extrapolated from the data. In light of this analysis, two “information rich cases” (Patton, 1990); useful in illuminating how the interplay between beliefs and actions can lead to a more nuanced understanding of the devel- opment of SDLL skills and the role of interaction in belief development, were selected. This case study selection represents an “intensity sample” (Patton, 1990).

4. Findings

In this section we address each of the research questions in turn, using data from the two cases, Kimiko and Risa. All interactions were conducted in English. Citations from students have been kept in their original form.

  • 4.1. The interplay between belief and action in belief development

Despite having attended high school English classes with an emphasis on communication, Kimiko still felt she lacked fluency in speaking, and decided to focus on improving conversation skills during the learning cycles. She chose to do this by visiting the university speaking practice centre several times a week. In her final advising session, Kimiko explained her choice, citing a belief about how best to improve speaking: “I notice speaking needs speaking”. She also admits being influenced by one of her teachers who encouraged students: “you shouldn’t care about pronounce; you have to speak”. Given the well-established role that both previous experiences and teachers can play in learner belief development (Barcelos, 2003a,b; Pajares, 1992), it is easy to see how these factors influenced Kimiko’s belief, resulting in her choice of practice as a strategy to improve speaking. Through comparing the relative success of a number of visits to the conversation practice centre in her first weekly reflection, this belief was modified. Kimiko began to see not only practice, but focused practice, in the form of choosing topics, as the best way to improve her speaking.

“I could speak more smoothly than before. I think it was because of setting speaking theme.” (Reflective journal: Learning cycle 1, Week 1)

This belief became the organizing principle for her actions throughout the learning cycles. Although this belief originally emerged from interpretation of her own actions in her reflective journal, it was reinforced the following week through positive perceptions of speaking using a topic. Guskey (1986) highlights the role a successful expe- rience with new or unfamiliar practice can play in modifying beliefs; in this case, Kimiko’s successful experiences at the practice centre, have reinforced an emergent belief. The influence of action on beliefs is witnessed not only in the reinforcement, but also refinement of this belief. In Week 3, after several further practice conversations, Kimiko modified the topic belief to include an understanding of the importance of shared interest with her interlocutor:

“I noticed that I can speak everyone if I think about topic.[.], I think it’s good to ask hobby or favourite, and if I also like it, I could have a lively conversation.” (Self-report: Learning cycle 1)

In this way, Kimiko’s own interpretations of her chosen action, speaking practice, not only promote the emergence of a new belief in focused practice through topics, but through perceived success this belief is then reinforced and further refined. It is only through careful examination of a variety of data sources, that we are able to observe the nature of Kimiko’s belief trajectory, showing the complex interplay between belief and action.

  • 4.2. The role of interaction in belief development

When applying a contextual approach to belief investigation, which foregrounds learners’ interactions with people and their environment, examination of these interactions, and learners’ own perceptions of these experiences becomes an integral part of the research (Barcelos, 2000). In this study, this interaction took place predominantly between the students and learning advisors. We were interested in investigating how these interactions influenced the development of the students’ beliefs.

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    • 4.2.1. The role of interaction in refinement of existing belief

Having developed and refined her belief about planning topics in the first cycle, interaction with her advisor, in the

form of written questioning (Kelly, 1996), prompted Kimiko to further refine this belief, to include a perception that she should choose topics directly related to her own needs:

Advisor:

“What kind of speaking do you want to improve e what topics do you want/need to talk about? Where can you find the vocabulary to help you talk about those topics?”

Kimiko:

“I want to talk about JAPAN, especially culture. Also I need to know how foreigners feel about Japan.” (Reflective journal: Learning cycle 2, Week 1). (original emphasis)

Planning according to one’s own needs was a key element of self-directed learning that we encouraged students to incorporate into their learning. Although Kimiko was in fact already choosing topics related to her interests, the advisor’s comments moved her to consider interests related to her future needs (her desire to work with foreigners), and guided her to find vocabulary related to these needs. Evidence of incorporation of this belief can be seen in her action, the use of a vocabulary book to prepare her topic the following week, and the use of this terminology about future needs in her final self-report:

“I noticed I had to think what my needs are when I started Learning Cycle 2.”

While Kimiko had made some previous refinements to her topic belief and behaviour based on her own reflections, in this case written interaction with her advisor directly influenced her subsequent learning behaviour. The perceived success of this action led Kimiko to incorporate this belief about her needs into her topic belief structure.

  • 4.2.2. Interaction and belief appropriation

If one acknowledges the important influence of others on o ne’s own interpretations of events and actions, such beliefs, rather than being seen as emerging organica lly, may be more accurately conceptualised as being appropriated from others (Alanen, 2003; Dufva, 2003). This process, however, is rarely straightforward. The following case, Risa, illustrates the problems encountered when new information, meant to challenge existing belief structures, was introduced to students, and the role interaction with learning advisors and peers played in this process. Risa is a third year English major, who has followed a traditional Japanese education, with a focus on memorisation of vocabulary and grammar. In her learning cycles, she chose to work on her reading skills for the TOEIC test. Through the two cycles, Risa’s belief about how to study for this exam evolved from a focus on pure vocabulary study to one which incorporated a focus on developing specific reading strategies. Before the cycles started, the advisors introduced all students to the idea of balancing their learning activities using a framework of Study, Use and Review (SUR). Risa’s plan and documentation for the first two weeks of the first cycle focused solely on vocabulary study, reflecting a common belief about the importance of vocabulary input among Japanese students who have to cram for university entrance examinations (Gorsuch, 1998; Hino, 1988). As her actions showed an apparent lack of SUR balance, her advisor, in written feedback in her reflective journal, attempted to prompt her into realising this:

Advisor:

“You did a good job of studying and reviewing last week. How are you going to USE the new words you studied? (Remember: balancing what you study (test, vocabulary) with review and USE is very important to succeed in independent learning.)”

Risa:

“I will use new words through solving tests of vocab books / use. Before doing this, I will reconfirm the words / review.” (Reflective journal: Learning cycle 1, Week 1)

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The Use and Review activities that Risa describes are regarded by the advisor as more suitable for the Study element of her learning, so the following week the advisor again challenges Risa to redress this balance to incorporate more Use and Review activities. Her response suggests she believes that she is already doing so and has not truly grasped the SUR model as intended by the advisor.

“Solving the tests at the end of the vocab book can be “use”. Remembering the words to solve tests, I guess it can be “review”.” (Reflective journal: Learning cycle 1, Week 2)

Risa has appropriated the SUR terminology from the advisor, but the modality of her discourse suggests that she is unsure about these terms and, at this stage, is using them to justify existing learning behaviour, a phenomenon about which Kalaja warns (2003). As such her comments should not be regarded as evidence that these concepts have been understood as the advisors intended. Alanen distinguishes between “content items” of knowledge, which may be acquired from others but are not appropriated to the level that they become “psychological tools” which mediate behaviour, and fully-appropriated beliefs (2003, p. 62). Risa’s discourse suggests that the idea of balancing SUR activities was, at this stage, only a content item of knowledge that she was mapping onto a well-established existing belief structure about the importance of vocabulary study for reading. This serves as further evidence that beliefs that have been established early on in one’s learning experiences are not only difficult to alter but also affect the processing of new information (Pajares, 1992). In marked contrast to her first cycle, Risa successfully incorporated all aspects of SUR into her work during the second learning cycle. This is evidenced in her initial learning plan for this cycle, in which she organised her activities into Study, Use and Review, the increase in reading (Use) activities, supported by documentation, and her reflections. At the end of the second cycle she describes how she actively planned Study, Use and Review activities with a focus on developing reading strategies:

“In cycle two I decided how to study use and review when I make my plan at the beginning of every week and I could carry them out. I monitored my study at the end of each week and checked that my study, use, review balance is always good.” (Self-report: Learning cycle 1)

These comments and documentation of her action from the second cycle suggest she had now fully-appropriated the belief of activity balance, and was using it to mediate her actions. The catalyst for this change seems to have come from several events which took place between the two cycles. The first was her relatively low grade and written advisor assessment of her performance in the first cycle. It is perhaps unsurprising that input from an advisor on a grade sheet was more salient than comments made in the journal, given the power of graded assessment (Kern, 1995). The second event was the face-to-face session with the advisor after the first cycle, in which she was encouraged to engage in more reading activities (Use) and introduced to some of the strategies to do this (skimming, scanning). This was an explicit challenge to her existing be liefs about how to improve her exam reading skills. These two events may have been all the more influential given the authority of Risa’s interlocutor, her advisor (Dufva, 2003). Her interaction with the advisors, both written and face-to-face, was instrumental in initiating this appropriation of belie f, which was then reinforced by the perceived success of her learning actions throughout the second cycle. In both these cases, interaction with the learning advisor encouraged the students to reinterpret their original actions, leading to a change in belief. Woods (2003) situates this interpretation and evaluation of actions as a central tenet in understanding belief development. Through both written and spoken interaction with a learning advisor, this process is made explicit. The learners are able to see aspects of their learning from new perspectives, re-interpreting their actions in a way which impacts their learning beliefs and hence their future behaviour. In this way, the interaction between learner and advisor acts as a scaffold, facilitating the reflection process essential to successful monitoring of learning behaviour (Mynard and Navarro, 2010). Although it is beyond the scope of this study to determine whether their actions have resulted in the development of beliefs which will continue to mediate behaviour after the course, data from both students’ final self-reports suggests that they believe this to be the case:

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Risa:

“In order to be a professional English user, I must be a good English learner. That is why I will continue to study, use and review which is balanced well.”

Kimiko:

“The best thing I could know was about topic. When I went to the Practice Centre first, my topic was music. This topic was common and easy to talk with, but I did not concern my needs.[.] I understood how important to have obvious topic when we have conversation, and topic should be our needs.”

  • 5. Discussion: Belief, action and the development of SDLL skills

The variety of instruments used in this study, in particular the triangulation of the reflective journals with the actual documentation of learning behaviour, has allowed us to gain an understanding of belief development that learners’ statements or journal entries alone would not have provided. Although previous studies (Borg, 2003) have pointed out that contextual constraints may prevent learners from acting according to their beliefs, these constraints are, to a certain extent, absent from a self-directed learning context where learners have more control over their choice of learning actions. In such contexts behaviour may be regarded as the most reliable indicator of belief, especially if it can be understood in light of the learner’s previous experiences and current context. In fact this triangulation of statement with action and context has provided further evidence for the stance taken by many who adopt contextual approaches to beliefs research, namely that statement alone is not only insufficient, but may be misleading (Kalaja, 2003; Kane et al., 2002). While Risa’s initial use of SUR terminology may have suggested that she had appropriated these beliefs about organising her learning actions, her behaviour and documentation showed that she was actually focussing purely on vocabulary study activities, suggesting a belief about the primary importance of Study over Use. In Kimiko’s case, despite her apparent enthusiastic adoption of the belief about planning topics according to her needs, her actions reveal that the actual implementation of this belief was problematic. Although declaring her “needs” to be vocabulary related to Japanese culture and tourism, her documentation shows that she spent time learning collocations related to public transport. Although these learners appropriate the terminology of self-direction, their actions reveal the limits of their understanding of these concepts. In this way, it can be seen that although beliefs related to what Wenden (1998) calls strategic knowledge, organising learning according to needs or balancing activities, have emerged from and been refined through action and interaction, these learners’ personal understanding of the task itself, i.e. what kind of vocabulary relates to specific needs, or what constitutes effective Study, Use and Review activities for reading tests, (task knowledge), still requires further development. This supports Wenden’s (1995, p. 192) assertion about the actualisation of autonomy in learners, which, she asserts, greatly depends on their ability to acquire the “software” i.e. the practical skills, for individualised learning.

  • 6. Conclusion

This study, through its examination of different belief trajectories experienced by two Japanese learners, illus- trates how the relationship between belief and action can affect belief development and the acquisition of SDLL skills. Furthermore, by highlighting the way in which interaction with instructors, in this case written and spoken interaction with learning advisors, can facilitate this process, this study reveals the complexity of this relationship and the learning context. Both Kimiko and Risa’s decision-making suggests that they are applying beliefs developed over the course to mediate new learning behaviour. While this investigation has focused on learners in a self- directed learning context, we suggest that examining this relationship is integral to the understanding of any language learning behaviour. Although the fact that we, the researchers, were also teaching the course will have affected our objectivity in approaching the data, the subjectivity we brought to the study provided us with “an important entry into the data”

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299

(Bogdan and Bilken, 1982), creating a close relationship with the students which offers an advantage for a study in which personal context plays a pivotal role. While this study was longitudinal, observing participants over four months, we were unable to determine whether newly developed beliefs continued to govern learning actions after the course. As we have shown statement alone to be problematic in understanding beliefs, further research into the relationship between belief and action should attempt to clarify this question through follow-up observations. Another limitation was that all data collection was conducted in the learners’ L2, English. This is likely to have affected students’ interpretations of the questionnaire items, and their ability to express themselves in journals and advising sessions. However, thanks to the rigorous documentation process, we were able to interpret learners’ statements in light of their actual behaviour, resulting in a more nuanced understanding than statement alone could provide. In light of these findings, we suggest that researchers conducting future investigations into beliefs should attempt to triangulate data from statements with detailed observation of behaviour.

Appendix A. Data enrichment instruments.

Closed-item questionnaire, adapted from Sakui and Gaies (1999).

Item

Strongly Agree

Agree

Disagree

Strongly

 

Disagree

 

4

32

1

1.

  • I study English because it is useful to communicate

with English-speaking people

  • 2. Listening to CDs and watching English TV or DVDs are very important in learning English

  • 3. It is necessary to know about English-speaking countries in order to speak English

  • 4. If I learn to speak English very well, it will help me get a good job

  • 5. It’s O.K. to guess if you don’t know a word in English

  • 6. Learning English is mostly a matter of translating from Japanese to English

  • 7. Learning English is mostly a matter of learning grammar rules

  • 8. In English classes, I prefer to have my teacher provide explanations in Japanese

  • 9. In learning English it is important to repeat a lot

    • 10. Girls are better than boys at learning English

    • 11. It is easier to learn a language when you are young

    • 12. Learning English is different from learning other subjects

    • 13. Some people are born with a special ability which is useful for learning English

    • 14. You shouldn’t say anything in English until you

can say it correctly

  • 15. I avoid difficult things when I am studying

  • 16. I make mistakes because I do not study enough

  • 17. I can check my own progress

  • 18. To learn successfully you need good teacher

  • 19. I want my teacher to correct my mistakes

  • 20. I am good at setting my own goals

  • 21. I like to ask the teacher for help

  • 22. I like studying alone

  • 23. I am satisfied with the English education

I

am receiving at KUIS

  • 300 D. Navarro, K. Thornton / System 39 (2011) 290e301

Open-ended questionnaire, adapted from Wenden (1986).

300 D. Navarro, K. Thornton / System 39 (2011) 290 e 301 Open-ended questionnaire, adapted from
300 D. Navarro, K. Thornton / System 39 (2011) 290 e 301 Open-ended questionnaire, adapted from
300 D. Navarro, K. Thornton / System 39 (2011) 290 e 301 Open-ended questionnaire, adapted from
300 D. Navarro, K. Thornton / System 39 (2011) 290 e 301 Open-ended questionnaire, adapted from

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