1st year students’ perceptions of extensive reading and learner autonomy: A preliminary study at Hanoi pedagogical university number 2

Extensive reading has been increasingly applied in the process of teaching and

learning, especially in the field of language teaching. However, it seems that little

research has been done on extensive reading and learner autonomy, an area that many

Vietnamese learners need to develop. This study was conducted to examine the

perceptions of students at Hanoi Pedagogical University No.2 (HPU2) of extensive

reading and learner autonomy as the first step of collecting information for a deeper

investigation on the impacts of extensive reading on fostering learner autonomy. To

achieve the objective, a questionnaire was sent among 178 first year non- English

majored students. The findings showed that 1) students had no or little experience in

practicing extensive reading, and 2) students were not really autonomous in their

learning. Therefore, to develop students’ autonomy, the teachers should integrate

extensive reading, especially reading in English into the teaching activities properly to

exploit its advantages on enhancing learner autonomy.

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174 TRƯỜNG ĐẠI HỌC THỦ ĐÔ HÀ NỘI 
1ST YEAR STUDENTS’ PERCEPTIONS OF 
EXTENSIVE READING AND LEARNER AUTONOMY: 
A PRELIMINARY STUDY AT HANOI PEDAGOGICAL 
UNIVERSITY NUMBER 21 
Đỗ Thu Hoà 
Trường Đại học Sư phạm Hà Nội 
Abstract: Extensive reading has been increasingly applied in the process of teaching and 
learning, especially in the field of language teaching. However, it seems that little 
research has been done on extensive reading and learner autonomy, an area that many 
Vietnamese learners need to develop. This study was conducted to examine the 
perceptions of students at Hanoi Pedagogical University No.2 (HPU2) of extensive 
reading and learner autonomy as the first step of collecting information for a deeper 
investigation on the impacts of extensive reading on fostering learner autonomy. To 
achieve the objective, a questionnaire was sent among 178 first year non- English 
majored students. The findings showed that 1) students had no or little experience in 
practicing extensive reading, and 2) students were not really autonomous in their 
learning. Therefore, to develop students’ autonomy, the teachers should integrate 
extensive reading, especially reading in English into the teaching activities properly to 
exploit its advantages on enhancing learner autonomy. 
Keywords: extensive reading; learner autonomy; non-English majored students; HPU2 
Nhận bài ngày 20.4.2020; gửi phản biện và duyệt đăng ngày 15.5.2020 
Liên hệ tác giả: Đỗ Thu Hòa; Email: dothuhoa@hpu2.edu.vn 
1. INTRODUCTION 
In the process of globalization and integration, English has become a compulsory and 
important tool for the communication of almost every daily activity. Being aware of the 
importance of English, The Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam has invested 
huge amounts of money and effort in developing English language learning and improving 
1 This research was funded by the Science and Technology Research Fund of Hanoi Pedagogical University 
No.2 for the Research project code: C.2019.02. 
TẠP CHÍ KHOA HỌC − SỐ 40/2020 175 
the national standard of English, which are demonstrated through the implementation of 
the National Foreign Language Project or Project 2020. Nevertheless, despite the strong 
determination of learning and teaching English, it is not easy for every learner to acquire 
English, especially due to the long practice of traditional teaching methods that are widely 
used in the secondary and high school level. This way of teaching mainly focuses on 
building up grammatical and written ability for students to prepare for and to pass the 
national examination to enter the university. According to the research results taken by the 
Ministry of Education and Training, because of the exam-driven teaching method, which 
are often designed to be split 40% for teacher explication, 50% for study and memorization 
and only 10% for practice (Nguyen, 2013), after 9 to 12 years of learning English, the 
students have had the habit of following the teacher’s instructions in the class and even 
outside the classroom and they can barely communicate in English. 
Resulted from the habit of learning at the lower levels, it takes students much time to 
change themselves to get used to the new teaching and learning style when entering 
university. This is due to the reason that once students enter the university, they are in a 
freer and more independent environment, in which most of activities are now being taught 
and implemented under the learner-center approach, which requires much of their effort 
and investment in self-studying. The teacher is no longer the king and the queen of the 
class, who gives out the order for the students to follow, but the one who provides 
orientation and support for them when necessary in order to achieve the academic learning 
goals set up by the institute. The students are now the ones who make decision on the way 
to acquire knowledge based on the guidance of the teacher and the established academic 
schedule. 
In order to achieve good results of learning, it is necessary for the students to be 
capable of knowing and being skilled at learning on their own, or on autonomous learning, 
which demonstrates through their time management for learning and other activities, goal 
setting, and goal achieving. However, as it has been said before, since from the lower 
levels of education, students were used to learning under the instructions of teachers most 
of the time, it is really a challenge for them to start studying on their own immediately. 
Consequently, there are many cases that one student invests a big amount of time on her or 
his studying but the results are still not as good as she or he expects. This, through a period 
of time, will demotivate the student from learning. So, the question that students and even 
teachers at university must focus on is to build up learner autonomy, one of the key factors 
to decide the success of a language learner. Research shows that extensive reading could be 
one of the ways to help students become interested in what they read and more important, 
it could help students to develop their learner autonomy (Imrie, 2007; Takase, 2008). 
2. CONTENT 
2.1. Literature review 
2.1.1. Extensive Reading 
176 TRƯỜNG ĐẠI HỌC THỦ ĐÔ HÀ NỘI 
 * Definition of Extensive Reading 
Extensive reading is a familiar term in the field of teaching and learning language as it 
has been studied by many linguists in this field. Extensive reading, or more precisely the 
term “extensively”, is first mentioned by Harold Palmer (1963, as cited in Sheu, 2004) 
when he compares it to intensive reading. Bright & McGregol (1977) describes extensive 
reading as “reading a quantity of FL/L2 materials over a certain length of time” (as cited in 
Sheu, 2004, p.214) in order to achieve the general understanding. Sharing similar opinion, 
Iwahori (2008) defines extensive reading as a way of giving L2 instructions of reading, 
which the goal is to allow learners to cover a large amount of reading texts that are of their 
enjoyment. Many more lingual researchers have also looked deeply into the language-
teaching-related side of extensive reading and terming it with some names that reflect its 
pedagogical aspects. Bamford and Day (2004) calls it “a language teaching procedure” to 
help learners to get the global general understanding, while Iwahori (2008) refers to it as a 
L2 reading instruction, the goal of which is to let learners come through a big quantity of 
reading materials that appeal to them. 
All in all, in the viewpoints of Bamford and Day (2004), and Hedge (2000), the typical 
features of extensive reading when being employed as a teaching and learning program 
include: a) the connection to a great variety of reading materials; b) the chance of reading a 
large number of texts; c) the freedom to select whatever books to read; d) the ability to read 
at individual speed; e) the pressure-free environment; and f) the opportunity to practice 
real-life reading. 
* The Benefits of Extensive Reading 
With its unique characteristics, extensive reading demonstrates valuable benefits to the 
process of language learning such as the vocabulary acquisition, the language proficiency, 
and especially the learner autonomy showing in the change in the reading attitudes, the 
increase of the reading speed and the opportunity of practicing decision making ability. 
In terms of vocabulary acquisition improvement, Rashidi and Piran (2011) affirm that 
extensive reading helps students gain considerate amount of vocabulary when practicing 
extensive reading on in EFL learners at different language levels. 
In addition, extensive reading is also beneficial to the enhancement of language 
proficiency, especially in fostering the improvement of other language learning skills such 
as writing, speaking and listening. Chen et al. (2013) exploit the benefits of e-books using 
for extensive reading and conclude that extensive reading has encouraging influence on 
vocabulary growth and writing skills. 
Finally, demonstrating its strengths through many studies, extensive reading is greatly 
considered valuable in increasing the reading speed, developing learners’ attitudes towards 
reading in particular and learning in general, and providing opportunity for the learners to 
practice their decision-making ability. These, in the end, are also the factors that help the 
learners to be more autonomous at their learning. When Takase (2008) and Iwahori (2008) 
TẠP CHÍ KHOA HỌC − SỐ 40/2020 177 
study on the benefits of extensive reading in the EFL high school students in Japan, they 
conclude that extensive reading has positive effect in motivating students to read, even 
they were not really interested in reading because of their limited vocabulary and the gap 
between their L1 and L2 before the research. Yamashita (2015) confirms once again the 
strengths of extensive reading on promoting reading attitudes and enhancing the reading 
speed through the positive results on improving reading attitude and speed in his research 
with Japanese EFL learner at tertiary level. Nation (2015) emphasizes strongly that in term 
of improving meaning-focused input and fluency ability, extensive reading really fits into 
the principle of a well-balancing language course. 
In brief, extensive reading possesses many advantages in fostering the language 
proficiency, the vocabulary acquisition for the learners. Moreover, it also proves its 
strengths in developing and enhancing learner autonomy, showing through the increase of 
reading speed, the change in reading attitudes and the ability of making decision among the 
learners. 
2.1.2. Learner Autonomy 
 * What is learner autonomy? 
 The most popular definition of learner autonomy is by Holec (1981) when he 
characterizes it as “learners' ability to take charge or control of their own learning” (p.12). 
Holec sees autonomous learning as a double process. On the one hand, it entails learning 
the foreign language; on the other, learning how to learn. Holec’s definition entails that 
autonomous learners can freely apply their knowledge and skills outside the immediate 
context of learning. Thus, autonomous learning extends beyond a school context: it is a 
life-long process of constantly developing awareness. This concept becomes the most cited 
definition when referring to learner autonomy later on. The three basic pedagogical 
principles which underlines autonomy in language learning is learner involvement 
(engaging learners to share responsibility for the learning process), learner reflection 
(helping learners to think critically when they plan, monitor and evaluate their learning) 
and appropriate use of target language (using the target language as the principal medium 
of language learning). In other words, there is a consensus that the practice of learner 
autonomy requires insight, a positive attitude, a capacity for reflection, and a readiness to 
be proactive in self-management and in interaction with others (Holec, 1981). Generally, 
definitions of learner autonomy include a number of key themes: responsibility or 
ownership of outcomes (internal locus of control); confidence in skills or ability to achieve 
(self-efficacy); engagement with student-led learning (self-regulation) (Macaskill and 
Denovan, 2013). Three common words that are often used when talking about autonomous 
learning are ability, capacity, and responsibility. All these words denote typical features of 
learner autonomy: the independence and the self-regulation of learner. The autonomous 
learners can freely apply any strategy during their learning progress to achieve their goals. 
However, as many language researchers note, the ability is not inborn with the learner but 
178 TRƯỜNG ĐẠI HỌC THỦ ĐÔ HÀ NỘI 
it must be acquired through both ways: naturally or trained (Holec, 1981). 
* Why is learner autonomy important? 
According to many empirical studies, autonomy – feeling free and willing in one’s 
actions is a basic need of human. In formal educational contexts, learner autonomy entails 
reflective involvement in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating learning. But 
as language learning depends crucially on language use, we can learn to speak only by 
speaking, to read only by reading, and so on. Thus, in formal language learning, the scope 
of learner autonomy is always constrained by what the learner can do in the target 
language. In other words, the scope of language learner autonomy is partly a function of 
the scope of our autonomy as target language users. (Thomas et al. 2015). The 
development of autonomy in language learning is governed by three basic pedagogical 
principles: 1) learner involvement – engaging learners to share responsibility for the 
learning process (the affective and the metacognitive dimensions); 2) learner reflection – 
helping learners to think critically when they plan, monitor and evaluate their learning (the 
metacognitive dimensions); 3) appropriate target language use – using the target language 
as the principal medium of language learning (the communicative and the metacognitive 
dimensions) (Holec, 1981) 
2.1.3. Extensive reading and learner autonomy 
Research shows that extensive reading and learner autonomy have the positive 
correlational relationship (Imrie, 2007; Takase, 2008). Extensive reading could help 
students to develop learner autonomy as it encourages the autonomous learning of a 
language learner, changes their learning habits, and promotes learner’s learning motivation 
(Lee, Schallert & Kim, 2015; Imrie, 2007; Takase, 2008; Yamashita, 2015). 
Studying about the effects of extensive reading on learner autonomy, Matsubara and 
Lehtinen (2007) concluded that extensive reading helped the learners change their attitudes 
toward learning process, or more precisely, toward the activity of reading in L2. Through 
the data collected from the questionnaire and journals kept by the EFL students at Kanda 
university during two semesters, Matsubara and Lehtinen (2007) found the extensive 
evidence of the change in students’ attitudes toward their autonomous learning 
development. This is in line with many other studies such as Lee, Schallert and Kim (2015) 
and Yamashita (2015). 
Reading extensively also promotes learners’ motivation in learning, especially reading, 
which supports the students in recognizing and choosing the strategies they can use for 
their autonomous learning. According to Yamashita (2015), extensive reading is a learner-
centered approach where learners’ autonomy, preference, independence are valued by 
giving them space to make their own decision on what, where and when to read. As the 
students participate in reading extensively, they need to make their own decisions about 
selecting the reading materials, monitoring their reading speed, evaluating and reflecting 
their own reading process. They tend to take the task more seriously because they feel the 
TẠP CHÍ KHOA HỌC − SỐ 40/2020 179 
sense of having the power over their learning activity, which is typically an autonomous 
learning activity. 
To conclude, the nature of extensive reading seems to possess many positive and 
beneficial things that can create good condition for learner autonomy to be shaped and 
enhanced as doing extensive reading will provide freedom and space for the learners to 
make choices, to arrange the activity under their own decision and to help them become 
more responsible with their activity. Therefore, a survey was conducted in order to initially 
find out the perceptions and experience of the 1st year non-English majored students at 
HPU2 in extensive reading and learner autonomy. 
2.2. Research 
2.2.1. Research setting and method 
The research study was carried out in four non-English majored classes at Hanoi 
Pedagogical University No.2 (HPU2) with the number of 178 students, who have just 
passed their entrance examination into the university. Among these 178 students, 11 are 
male and 166 are female. They are all have at least 7 years of learning English at lower 
levels of education. At the time joining the study, their English is supposed to be at pre-
intermediate level, with very basic English knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and four 
macro skills. 
In order to investigate whether the students were autonomous in learning as well as to 
confirm their experience in extensive reading, Questionnaire was employed as the data 
collection instrument with two main parts. The first part consisting of 12 questions aimed 
at finding out whether the students had experience of extensive reading or not. The second 
part was to discover about students’ autonomy in learning with 12 questions focusing on 
the aspects of learner autonomy. In this research, the questionnaire was sent to students 
directly to collect data on their reading experience and learner autonomy. Furthermore, to 
help students avoid misunderstanding the questions as their English level was just at 
beginner level, the questionnaire was made in Vietnamese. 
2.2.2. Findings 
Data from the questionnaire confirmed the problem of lack of learner autonomy and 
extensive reading experience, thus providing a need for conducting a further research 
project on the influences of extensive reading on learner autonomy. Data from 
questionnaire revealed that the students did not have learner autonomy in their learning, 
especially in reading. Another problem that the students had little experience with the 
activity of reading extensively was also affirmed. The sections that follow will detail these 
findings. 
2.2.3. Lack of Experience in Extensive Reading 
Data from questionnaire suggested the problem of students’ little experience towards 
extensive reading. Firstly, data from the first part of the online questionnaire gave 
180 TRƯỜNG ĐẠI HỌC THỦ ĐÔ HÀ NỘI 
information on students’ prior experience with extensive reading. It revealed that students 
seldom read extensively in the learning process. Generally, despite the fact that the 
participants were well aware of reading importance, they still had passive attitudes towards 
reading and little experience with the activity of reading extensively. 
Students showed their awareness of the significance of reading from question 1 to 
question 5. Students appraised such strengths of reading as broadening the knowledge, 
developing proficiency with the dominant selection of option Agree and Totally Agree 
ranging from 56.8 % to 93% collectively for each question. Nevertheless, students’ passive 
attitudes and inexperience of extensive reading were also expressed from question number 
8 to question 12. It can be seen that 67 % of students disagreed or confused when being 
asked that they had responsibility or they could choose their own reading way. In addition, 
all participants dissented from the idea that they could read well without teachers’ help. 
Moreover, 66 % of participants revealed that they did not often read at home when they 
were not required. Only 2.5 % claimed that they were interested in being able to read texts 
for studying in other fields. Figure 1 demonstrates the result of the first part of the 
questionnaire. 
Figure 1: Students’ opinions on extensive reading 
2.2.3. Lack of Learner Autonomy 
Questionnaire data indicate that there was a lack of learner autonomy among students 
in their learning, especially reading. This problem was demonstrated in the fact that when 
being asked about their practice of autonomy in the second part of the questionnaire, the 
majority of the participants chose option sometimes for most questions. 
In general, the students evaluated t

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