design project rationale






The ‘Glossary’ is a Moodle tool which enables cohorts to create on-line dictionaries customised to meet individual and group learning needs.  Vocabulary is input individually and collaboratively, the purpose being to create a collective resource from which all learners will benefit.  Glossary-building is an on-going activity for the duration of a course, with new vocabulary being added as and when is appropriate.  Student autonomy maximises the learning potential of this tool, and the tutor role is to support, enable and moderate.  Students input vocabulary and simple definitions into specified text boxes, then classify language according to negotiated categories and save their work.  There are a number of ‘search’ options for language retrieval which offers opportunities to view vocabulary in alternative groupings according to preference or learning priority.  It also provides options which enhance the learning experience.  The ‘approval’ tool enables tutors to moderate input and check the accuracy of entries before acceptance, and this facility can also be used for peer approval and feedback.  Furthermore, the ‘link’ facility highlights Glossary entries throughout the Moodle, alerting learners to target language and enabling access to definitions directly, without the need to navigate to the Glossary.





The original driver for using the Glossary was to tackle a specific vocabulary-based issue within Job Centre Plus (JCP)- ESOL programmes, which required Entry-level learners to acquire advanced-level vocabulary to fulfil their contractual obligations with JCP.  Paper-based learning tasks, such as weekly spelling tests, had proved insufficient – language retention was low, students were unable to recall, spell or define essential target vocabulary, and the volume of target language was high.  Foreign language vocabulary acquisition processes depart radically from mother-tongue language learning (Wheatley, 2009, p123), and require considerable autonomy, independent input and revision by individuals. The Glossary provides a platform which enables students to work intensively on vocabulary-building, acquire essential study skills, and benefit from contributing to a shared resource which can also be accessed remotely; however, it does not reduce the intensive study time or skills needed to acquire and retain vocabulary.  Despite being a time-consuming process, the resultant learning justifies its continued use, proven by learners demonstrating excellent levels of target language retention and high levels of motivation for vocabulary learning.



I first used the Glossary with an Entry 2 JCP-ESOL cohort who were attending a mandatory training programme; these courses are short, intensive and non-accredited.  The group was representative of a JCP-ESOL cohort, the students being of European, African and Asian origin, mixed gender, with varying levels of prior educational experience and attainment, mixed abilities in terms of literacy and ICT skills, and some variation between individuals’ knowledge of English.  All Glossary work was undertaken in class to ensure inclusivity since some students did not have internet access at home or devices capable of remote access.  My current cohorts are returning adult ESOL learners who are undertaking accredited qualifications  – Level 1 ESOL and Entry 2-3 Functional Skills: ICT.  The group profiles are diverse – one group is predominantly Asian and female, another group is ethnically diverse with a wide age range and equal gender balance, and the ICT group comprises of young Asian, Arabic and African students; several students have refugee status, and curiously there is only one European student.    All students have achieved good levels of educational attainment.



Weekly spelling tests remain the core of vocabulary learning, and are negotiated weekly; the students identify and generate ideas for topic-based target language, my role is to elicit or make additional suggestions, and a consensus is reached regarding the final list.  Next, learner comprehension is checked, simple verbal definitions are generated, and I allocate specific vocabulary to individuals for inputting into the Glossary; due to limited classroom contact time, this activity is completed as a homework task, and acceptable entries are ‘approved’ remotely.  During the next class, we review and proof-read any ‘unapproved’ entries, generating peer feedback to create concise definitions, generate examples, etc., before accepting the entry.  Finally, the spelling test is undertaken as a standard paper-based task with peer marking; individual students then write vocabulary on the whiteboard and provide simple definitions; again, peer feedback, correction and approval is integral to this process.


Student participation in these tasks facilitates engagement in additional, supported learning opportunities which focus intensively on vocabulary acquisition whilst creating an on-going, collaborative consolidation tool.  Individual learners, peers and the tutor are clearly represented, play distinct roles and actively contribute, which Laurillard contends is essential in the teaching and learning process (Laurillard, 2009, p8).  Issues of andragogy (Laurillard, 2009, p7) and heutogogy (Sharples, Adams, Ferguson, Gaved, McAndrew, Rienties, Weller, Whitelock, 2014, p20) are raised in the context of technology-enhanced learning environments, challenging educators to consider how learners can acquire evolving prerequisite study skills, and which methodologies to employ.    “A combination of study, discussion, investigation and practice” (Sharples, Adams, Ferguson, Gaved, McAndrew, Rienties, Weller, Whitelock, 2014, p20) is recommended, and reflects the variety of skills and learning experiences practised during Glossary activities.

Glossary-based tasks are rooted in Vygotskian theory, the purpose being to transform the mundane, isolated task of learning a spelling list into a socially constructive learning experience.  Vygotski asserted that all learning results from the mediation and internalisation of social interaction (Eun, 2010, p320), and that dialogue, when combined with theory and practical activities, brings about cognitive change and development (Lantolf, 2009, p469).  Scaffolding techniques and theories relating to the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) are also exploited due to the collaborative nature of tasks.  Donato’s research reveals the vital role of peer support – “scaffolded help can be obtained through collaborative work among peers of the same level of competence” (Donato 1994,cited in Machado, 2000, p325) – and its positive impact on individual ZPD as they modify and evolve (Eun, 2010, 321).  Salmon defines her Five-Stage Model as a social-constructivist “cognitive mapping methodology” (Salmon, 2007, p171), and parallels can be drawn between Stages 1-4 (Kirkup, 2004, p425) and Glossary-focused tasks; however, I would argue that the final stage of the Model cannot be applied in this case.  Her definition of ‘Development’ implies a macro perspective and educational progression to higher levels (Salmon, 2004, p.425), whereas within my context, the model has been applied solely to vocabulary acquisition tasks.  Furthermore, these tasks are not concept-based, and therefore do not require the complex cognitive processes which I would anticipate to be prerequisite to Stage 5 of the Model.

Word count: 1002


Eun, B.  (2011)  A Vygotskian Theory-Based Professional Development: Implications for Culturally Diverse Classrooms   Professional Development in Education, Vol. 37, Issue 3, pp.319-333

Kirkup, G.  (2004)  Book Review: E-tivities.  The Key to Active Online Learning.  Gilly Salmon   Computers and Education, Vol. 42, Issue 4, pp.425-426

Lantolf, J., Beckett, T. G. (2009)   Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Acquisition   Language Teaching, Vol.42  Issue 4, pp.459-475

Laurillard, D.  (2009)  The Pedagogical Challenges to Collaborative Technologies   International Journal of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning, Vol. 4, Issue 1, pp.5-20

Machado de Almeida Mattos, A.  (2000)     A Vygotskian Approach to Evaluation in Foreign Language Contexts,   ELT Journal, Vol. 54, Issue 4, pp.335-345

Salmon, G.  (2007)  The Tipping Point   Research in Learning Technology, Vol. 15, Issue 2, pp.171-172

Sharples, M., Adams, A., Ferguson, R., Gaved, M., McAndrew, P., Rienties, B., Weller, B., Whitelock, D.  (2014), Innovating Pedagogy , The Open University pdf.

Wheatley, K.  (2009)   Review: Vocabulary Learning Strategies and Foreign Language Acquisition by TAKA , VISNJA PAVI I, The Modern Language Journal, Vol. 93, Issue 1, pp. 123-124


The sceencasts which support this project cannot be uploaded for reasons of Safeguarding & Vulnerable Adult Protection.  The files will be forwarded directly to the Course Tutor.

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