Language Teaching

Surveys of Ph.D./Ed.D. Thesis

Review of doctoral research in second-language teaching and learning in England (2006)

Emma Marsdena1 and Suzanne Grahama2

a1 University of York, UK

a2 University of Reading, UK


Using the British ‘Index to Theses’, we found forty-seven Ph.D.s relating to second and foreign language learning and/or teaching defended in English universities in 2006. Objective criteria led us to fourteen theses which had investigated both teaching and learning. Over half of these adopted a process–product research design with the aim of finding causal relationships between teaching and learning. Six theses focused on individual differences (motivation, strategies, attitudes), with three adopting an ‘effectiveness-of-intervention’ approach and three following more descriptive, exploratory designs. The designs of the ‘effectiveness-of-intervention’ studies varied greatly, ranging from naturalistic evaluations to highly controlled randomised control experiments. They covered a range of pedagogical concerns, including the use of computers, error correction, language portfolios, learner strategies and communicative-style activities. In addition to our own comments on the quality of the studies and reports, we present considerable methodological detail to enable the reader to evaluate the validity of the findings and claims made in each study. We argue that Ph.D. theses need to demonstrate fully that the implications drawn from the study are supported by the data collection and analyses described, which was not always the case in the theses reviewed. Finally, we make suggestions for future areas of investigation by postgraduate researchers.