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Towards ‘Skill’ and ‘Will’: Using Hope-infused Strategy Instruction in the English Writing Classroom at Chinese Universities



Change log


Zong, Yuchen 


While English learning has been compulsory in higher education in China, there is no precise guidance for teachers to consider how to make constructive links to students’ knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, culturally mediated pragmatics, and so on in English writing. Very few Chinese teachers have employed writing Strategy Instruction (SI) in the classroom and examined how students learn and use strategies, despite a growing body of empirical evidence which suggests the effectiveness of SI in actualising and stimulating writing ‘skill’. Moreover, most SI studies take for granted that students maintain a willingness to engage in writing throughout this development. This raises the question of whether SI could be even more useful for cultivating skilful writers and empowering them to flourish by actively encouraging students’ ‘willpower’ in addition to their ‘skill’. Therefore, this PhD project tackles both ‘skill’ and ‘will’ in EFL learning, which are conceptualised as ‘strategy’ and ‘hope’, respectively. The latter, based on Snyder’s Hope Theory from Positive Psychology, is a cognitive trilogy comprising goals, agency thinking, and pathways thinking, which are hypothetically underpinned by writing strategies. The project aims to explore the extent to which hope-infused writing SI impacts Chinese EFL students’ ‘skill’ and ‘will’, i.e., writing strategy use, writing output, and hope, compared to traditional SI and normal teaching routines. Questions of how ‘skill’ and ‘will’ reciprocally interact and how individual differences mediate this development are also considered.

This study adopted a quasi-experimental research design. Six intact, mixed-ability classes of first-year students from two non-elite Chinese universities were recruited. Two classes (one from each university) were randomly assigned to form the Control Group and continued with regular teaching routines. Another two classes (one from each university) were designated as the Experimental Group 1 and received traditional SI. The remaining constituted the Experimental Group 2 and received hope-infused SI. For each experimental group, there were a total of ten interventional sessions over six months. A mixed-method approach was employed, consisting of a validated EFL writing-specific hope questionnaire, writing strategy task sheet, introspective journal, as well as stimulated recall and semi-structured interview, to generate evidence of 1) quality of writing product (QUAN), 2) frequencies (QUAN) and quality (QUAL) of writing strategy use, 3) hopefulness (QUAN), and 4) processes of hope-building/losing (QUAL). For the quantitative data analysis, two-way mixed ANOVAs were used to compare group differences, while correlational tests were employed to elucidate the interaction between ‘skill’ and ‘will’. The qualitative analysis delved into the quality of strategy use in relation to pre-task planning, mid-task monitoring, reformulation and asking for help, as well as post-task evaluation. It also explored the mechanisms through which one’s hope changed and their potential connection to strategy use.

The findings indicated that students who received the intervention of hope-infused writing SI significantly outperformed the control group in relation to both their ‘skill’ and ‘will’. Furthermore, in comparison to traditional SI, this innovative pedagogy demonstrated particular effectiveness in three aspects: 1) improving students’ awareness that writing development is not necessarily underpinned by innate abilities; 2) encouraging them to engage with strategy use in more depth, and 3) enhancing students’ perception that relational figures (e.g., the teacher) are able to help them to develop writing.

The project also found a significant positive correlation between overall writing performance and hope scores, while hope-infused writing SI seemed to make the relationship more nuanced at the post-test. This could be explained by a look at the five types of trajectories of students who demonstrated distinct characteristics of reciprocal interaction between ‘skill’ and ‘will’. Individual factors such as metacognitive awareness, learner beliefs, and English writing proficiency tended to mediate this development.

The pedagogical implications for this study include highlighting the importance of empowering learners at the same time as nurturing their skills, where perhaps the essence lies in raising their awareness of the linkages between strategy use and (less) successful writing performance. Yet, the development of ‘skill’ and ‘will’ can fluctuate and take time. Therefore, teachers should be cautious of individualised differences, monitor progress, and adjust teaching plans accordingly.





Forbes, Karen


Hope, L2 writing, Language learning strategy, Positive psychology, Strategy instruction


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge