This chapter consists of three sections: key terms in this study, theoretical foundations of this study as well as previous studies related to action research, story-based approach and vocabulary teaching. 2.1 Key Terms in this Study The key terms in this study are action research and story-based approach. 2.1.1 Action Research (ⅰ) Definition of Action Research Action research (AR) first appears during the Second World War in America. It is put forward by J. Collier (Wallace, 1987) to solve the problem of ethnic discrimination. In the 1940s, Kurt Lewin, a distinguished social psychologist, further develops the definition of AR and applies it to industrial training. Although AR has been widely employed in many fields, it is not until the 1950s that AR comes into use in education. The so-called “educational action research” encourages teachers and supervisors to adopt AR to improve teaching and management. After nearly two decades’ silence, AR becomes popular again because of Lawrence Stenhouse and John Elliott’s study in the mid-1970s. Since 1980s, AR has been prevailing in western countries and gaining popularity in developing countries. The definition of AR varies because different researchers define it from different perspectives. Following are some of the representative definitions. One of the most widely accepted definitions of AR is put forward by Carr and Kemmis (1986: 162). According to their definition, AR is a form of self-reflective research conducted by participants in social or educational situations to increase the rationality of their own social or educational practices as well as their comprehension of these practices and the situations where these practices are carried out. Verma and Beard (1989: 20) define AR as “a type of applied social research different from other types in the immediacy of the researcher’s involvement in the action process”. It is more concerned with the immediate application of theory rather than its development. “It focuses on a specific problem in a particular setting. In other words, its findings are usually judged in terms of their application in a specific situation.” Zuber-Skerritt (1992:15) defines AR at the higher educational level. He points out that AR “is not only possible, but particularly appropriate for at least five reasons which may be again summarized in the acronym CRASP: Action research promotes a Critical attitude, Research into teaching, Accountability, Self-evaluation and Professionalism.” According to McLean (1995: 3), educational AR is “the process of systematically evaluating the consequences of educational decisions and adjusting practice to maximize the effectiveness”. This involves teachers’ and school administrators’ specifying their teaching and leadership strategies, identifying their potential outcomes, and verifying whether these outcomes do occur. Burns (1999) consideres AR as a kind of reflective practice and the teacher as researcher. In her definition, AR is “a self-reflective, systematic and critical approach to enquiry by participants who are at the same time members of the research community”. Its aim is to identify problematic situations or issues considered by the participants to be worth investigating so as to bring about changes in practice. Professor Wang Qiang (2001) in Beijing Normal University has made great contributions to the development of AR in China. In her opinion, AR is carried out by the teacher who acts as researcher to investigate and explore the problems existing in teaching. “It should be implemented through a series of steps. The aim of AR is to improve the teacher’s educational practices to a higher quality and enhance the understanding of the teaching process.” The definitions above involve the participants, situations and significance of AR. There is no standard definition for AR, just as Anne Burns (1999: 20) indicates, “it is difficult to gasp or explain the concept until one is in the process of doing it.” To put it simply, it is during the action that researches could be made and it is during the researches that the practice of action could be improved. As far as educational AR is concerned, it is an appealing way to investigate into classroom issues and teaching dilemmas in depth. (ⅱ) Process of Action Research Among all the models of AR, Kemmis and McTaggart’s model is probably the best known, which typically involves four broad phases in a cycle of research. And “the first cycle may become a continuing, or iterative, spiral of cycles which recur until the action researcher has achieved a satisfactory outcome and feels it is time to stop” (Burns, 2013: 9). The four steps of their model are as follows: (a)Planning. To identify a specific problem in teaching and devise a plan in order to improve the current situation. (b)Action. To put the plan into practice. (c)Observation. To observe the process systematically and note down the effects of the action. (d)Reflection. To reflect on action, evaluate the effects and make further researches. Figure 2.1 Basic steps of AR (Kemmis & McTaggart 1982) Although Kemmis and McTaggart’s model succinctly summarizes the essential phases of the AR process, it has been criticized by some authors for being too fixed and rigid. It is revised as Figure 2.2 to be more adaptable. Figure 2.2 Cyclical AR model based on Kemmis and McTaggart (1988) On the basis of Kemmis and McTaggart’s model, McNiff (1988) adjusts the model of AR to make it more flexible to allow researchers’ creativity. Therefore, she designs the model of AR into the following five steps: (a) Identifying problems existing through teaching practice; (b) Putting forward countermeasures; (c) Effectuating teaching plan to resolve problems; (d) Evaluating the results of the teaching action; (e) Ascertain teaching problems newly on the basis of analysis and evaluation to proceed research in the next step. Professor Wang Qiang (2002) designs two models of AR: open AR model and oriented AR model as shown in Figure 2.3 and 2.4, which are more operable for Chinese AR researchers. The procedures of the open AR model include problem identification, hypothesis, investigation, problem re-identification, plan and implement, data analysis, reflection and evaluation and report. The oriented AR model also includes eight steps: finding a new teaching method, making a plan, implementing plan, modifying plan, observing and data collecting, analyzing data, evaluating results and reporting. Figure 2.3 Open AR model Figure 2.4 Oriented AR model Despite the various AR models, the process of AR usually includes problem identification, problem analysis, hypothesis formulation, plan implementation, evaluation and reflection, the outcome of which will lay foundation for the following cycles of AR. 2.1.2 Story-based Approach Storytelling originates with the appearance of human society. Many ancient scholars, such as Socrates, Aristotle and Quintilian, spread their thoughts and opinions through telling stories. Although many ancient educators don’t put forward the concept of story-based approach explicitly, their education imply the method of telling stories. Piaget is the first to utilize the story-telling method in educational studies. He exposes children to moral dilemma through stories to facilitate their development of moral judgment. In the 1990s, William Smith, a famous expert in English education, invents story-based approach to develop Chinese students’ listening and speaking abilities. During the teaching process, the teacher utilizes short stories to illustrate the teaching content and achieve the teaching aims. A lesson in which story-based approach is employed includes a series of activities such as the selection, presentation, analysis and evaluation of a story. Andrew Wright (1995: 1) points out that “stories are particularly important in the lives of our children: stories help children to understand their world and to share it with others.” In other words, stories like fairy tales and fables serve as children’s gateway to understand the world. Jayne Moon (2005) elaborates children’s characteristics of learning languages: learning by doing, going for meaning, creative use of language, sense of fun and playfulness, etc. Story-based approach conforms to children’s psychological and learning characteristics and can easily draw children’s attention and arouse their interest in learning. It also advocates inviting students to tell stories in class to mobilize their participation, which is beneficial to realizing bilateral communication. In China, Professor Ji Yuhua in Xiamen University publicly adopts Sandwich Story Methodology in 1997 for the first time. This methodology refers to teaching foreign languages by telling stories in a language which is a mixture of the learners’ mother tongue and the target language. It is a transitional method designed for language beginners. It aims at increasing the comprehensibility and readability of the learning material, so as to maintain learners’ intrinsic motivation of learning. In a word, story-based approach is an approach by which teaching aims are achieved via stories. It centers around learners’ interest and provides learners with a joyful environment to learn languages so as to increase the teaching effect. 2.2 Theoretical Foundations of the Study This study is theoretically based on Krashen’s Input Hypothesis, Swain’s Output Hypothesis, and Constructivism Learning Theory. 2.2.1 Krashen’s Input Hypothesis Krashen is the most influential and authoritative researcher in the field of second language acquisition. He is extremely famous for his monitor model: the acquisition-learning hypothesis, the natural order hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the input hypothesis and the affective-filter hypothesis. Krashen’s Input Hypothesis provides an explanation for second language acquisition. He suggests that, “humans acquire language in only one way-by understanding messages or by receiving ‘comprehensible input’” (1985: 2). In Krashen’s “i + 1” formula, “i” stands for a learner’s current level of knowledge and “1” stands for the comprehensible input, the level of which is slightly higher than the learner’s current language level. Thus the outcome of language acquisition is described as “i + 1”. The Input Hypothesis emphasizes not only the importance of input, but also learners’ cognitive level. Language input should be plentiful and based upon learners’ current level to foster their language acquisition (Xu, 1998). The characteristics of Krashen’s ideal input are summarized as follows: (1) Comprehensible. Comprehensible language input is the prerequisite of language acquisition. To learners, incomprehensible input is nonsense. (2) Interesting and relevant. Learners should process the meaning of the input to make it beneficial to language acquisition. The more interesting and relevant the input is, the more likely for learners to acquire a language unconsciously. (3) Not grammatically sequenced. Given the purpose of teaching is acquisition instead of systematic learning, teaching arrangement in accordance with grammatical sequence is unnecessary. (4) Plentiful input. The acquisition of a new language needs extensive reading and adequate conversation. In Krashen’s view, the Input Hypothesis is essential to acquisition and has profound implications for classroom English teaching (Gass & Selinker, 2008). First, teachers should adjust their utterance to enhance the comprehensibility of the input. In other words, they should pay attention to their pronunciation and intonation and try to avoid words that are rarely used. Second, teachers should consider the difficulty of the teaching material. Teaching materials that are closely related to daily life are much easier for them to internalize. 2.2.2 Swain’s Output Hypothesis Admittedly, Krashen has made great contributions to the explanation of second language acquisition, but he doesn’t pay much attention to the output, which is defined as “the language a learner produces” or the product of acquisition. Swain (1985) argues that although comprehensible input is critical in language acquisition, it does not ensure that the learner can produce native-like output. In the early and mid 1980s, she puts forward the Output Hypothesis, which is the fruit of her French immersion programs in Canada. Swain (1995) points out the three functions of output in second language acquisition. First, noticing function. It is not uncommon for learners to encounter language problems when using the target language, which may make them aware that they do not know how to say or write precisely the meaning they wish to convey. This awareness can contribute to enhancing their language level. Second, hypothesis-testing function. Learners’ errors in the oral or written form of the target language reflect their hypotheses of how to say or write their intent. Their output can test whether there are incorrect hypotheses or unreasonable generalization of the target language. As Swain and Lapkin (1995) propose, learners will not only reveal their hypotheses, but also reflect on them and use language to do so under certain task conditions. Third, metalinguistic function. Learners utilize language to reflect on language produced by others or by themselves, which may help them mediate their second language learning. As a matter of fact, the Input Hypothesis and the Output Hypothesis are complementary to, rather than opposite to each other. Input and output are both prerequisites to language acquisition. Learners can never have adequate language knowledge without input, nor can they develop their communicative competence without enough output because the accuracy and fluency of output may influence their effective communication. Therefore, much more emphases should be attached to learners’ output in English lessons in China, especially speaking and writing. Chinese teachers should arrange activities that allow learners to use language and reflect upon their speaking and writing. Only in this way can teachers judge the extent to which students have understood the input and internalized the knowledge. Additionally, pair work and group work may give learners more opportunities to use English and deepen their understanding of the target language points. Their peers’ feedback is as important as that offered by the instructor. 2.2.3 Constructivism Learning Theory The constructivism learning theory is the learning theory based on constructivism, which argues that humans construct meaning from current knowledge structures. The constructivism learning theory derives from the cognitive processing theory and has been developed by many famous psychologists and educators, such as Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky and Jerome Bruner. Constructivism learning theory asserts that learners do not receive knowledge passively. Instead, they acquire knowledge through meaning construction with the assistance of their teachers and peers or on the basis of their own personal experience. Liu (2013: 307) illustrates that, “constructivism holds that knowledge is not taught by teachers, but got by learners via meaning construction in certain socio-cultural context, with the help of other aids or other persons and necessary learning materials”. Therefore, constructivism learning theory regards “context”, “collaboration”, “conversation” and “meaning construction” as the four key elements in the learning environment. Context in the learning environment should be beneficial to learners’ meaning construction of knowledge. When it comes to instructional design, it should consider the creation of context as one of the most important tasks. Collaboration exists throughout the learning process. It plays an important role in data collection and analysis, hypothesis formulation and verification, outcome evaluation as well as ultimate meaning construction. Conversation is indispensable in collaboration. Group members make study plan and share ideas through conversation, which is a significant means to realize meaning construction. Meaning construction is the ultimate objective of learning. It refers to the comprehension of the nature and law of things, as well as the internal relations between things. This comprehension is stored in learners’ brain in the form of “schema” for a long term. Constructivism Learning Theory highlights the central position of students. Instead of receiving passively, students take an initiative to explore knowledge, process information and construct meaning. In addition, it maintains that teachers are not only knowledge providers, but also facilitators. As facilitators, teachers should arouse learners’ interest and stimulate their learning motivation. It is also of great importance for teachers to create context that is relevant to the teaching content to help learners construct meaning of knowledge. Since collaboration may assist learners’ meaning construction, teachers can arrange discussion to allow learners to exchange ideas and learn from each other. 2.3 Related Studies This section includes related studies on action research, story-based approach, and vocabulary teaching home and abroad. 2.3.1 Related Studies on Action Research Action Research goes through three main stages in the history of western countries, namely its rise, decline and revival. Although the origin of action research is controversial, Kurt Lewin is generally referred to as the father of AR, who suggests practitioner get involved in researches as a researcher, reflect upon his or her own circumstance and attempt to change the current situation. According to an American scholar, McKernan, educational AR can be traced back to the Science in Education Movement in the late 19th century. It is not until 1953 that Stephen Corey takes the lead in systematically applying AR to the educational field in his work Action Research to Improve School Practice. Thereafter, the application of AR is expanded into education as a research method. In the late 1950s, The National Defense Education Act enacted in America questions the legitimacy of educational AR. Afterwards, educational AR is replaced by the positivism-oriented mode-RDD (Research-Development-Diffusion). In the mid-1960s, the deficiency of RDD Mode becomes obvious as it results in the separation between theory and practice. Educational AR revives in the 1960s and 1970s in the UK with the promotion of “open education”. Stenhouse (1975) proposes “teachers as researchers” and “research as a basis for teaching” under the influence of The Humanities Curriculum Project. Owing to the joint effort of Elliott, Kemmis, Ebbutt and Mckernan, Action Research Movement begins to emerge in UK and Australia. AR is widely spread and regained scholars’ attention. Elliott is the most important driving force of the promotion of AR. Since he joins Ford Teaching Project, he keeps devoting himself to studying the theory and practice of AR and finally sets up the Classroom Action Research Network in Cambridge Institute of Education. In the 1980s, AR becomes popular around the world with its development of the critical spirit. It is in 1984 that Chen Li, a famous psychologist in Hangzhou University, introduces AR to China (Zhi, 2008). After that, Jiang (1987) introduces AR to the educational field and. Not until 1990s does AR draw scholars’ and educators’ attention. Papers and works that provide information about AR begin to increase year by year. Researchers explore the characteristics, significance, principles and process of AR as well as the differences between educational experimental study and educational AR. Professor Wang Qiang (2002) from Beijing Normal University applies AR to the Sino-British MA-Certificate TEFL Program to encourage reflective teaching and classroom research among trainee teachers. In 2000, Li Jingchun offers guidance to read Wallace’s Action Research for Language Teachers, which helps deepen language teachers’ understanding of the characteristics and purposes of AR. Henceforth, a lot of related studies spring up in the field of foreign language teaching. Till now, AR plays an important role in education, especially teachers’ professional development. In the promising future, AR will be further advocated and utilized in education of all levels.