Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Wiseman, Donna L. (Donna Louise)

Degree Name

Ed.D. (Doctor of Education)

Legacy Department

Department of Literacy Education


Vocabulary--Study and teaching (Higher); Reading (Higher education); College freshmen--Attitudes


This descriptive study investigated vocabulary learning in at-risk college freshmen. It describes students' perceptions about word learning and those independently selected and applied word-learning strategies employed by at-risk college freshmen. The study was conducted in a semester-long college reading course that is mandatory for the majority of students alternatively admitted to the university. The reading course included a vocabulary component where students worked cooperatively to negotiate meanings and generate associations for self-collected words. The participants were 36 students enrolled in two sections of the reading course taught by the researcher with special attention given to five key participants who formed one classroom group. Data included transcripts of interviews with the five key participants and of their classroom vocabulary sessions, journal entries and informal reflections from all 36 participants, and field notes. Data was analyzed using a constant comparative method, beginning with open coding and ending with the development of grounded theoretical propositions based upon the relationships among the categories that emerged. Findings of the study fall into three broad categories: general perceptions about language and vocabulary instruction, perceptions about word learning, and independent word-learning strategies and motivation for word learning. The participants understood that language reveals the person and should be context appropriate. The majority of the participants also understood that traditional methods of vocabulary instruction do not lead to permanent word learning. They preferred the cooperative generation of associations for self-collected words employed in this research. The participants understood the socially mediated nature of language and perceived that word learning is influenced by personal liking, multiple and meaningful encounters, and the compelling nature of the word or the context. Focus on vocabulary promoted increased metacognitive awareness. The participants used a full range of independent word-learning strategies, including those paralleling instruction and those independently developed. Changes in strategy selection represent a more active role for the learner. The participants were motivated to learn words by desire and need and understood that word learning occurs wherever language occurs. This study distinguishes itself by a thorough investigation into students' perceptions of word learning and further validates Haggard's VSS method of vocabulary instruction.


Includes bibliographical references (pages [106]-112).


xi, 299 pages




Northern Illinois University

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