Although I continued to use them from October (when the second semester for university starts in Japan), I was too busy with other things to devote as much time to experimenting with them. This semester I did not really expand on VN activities, but I did improve in incorporating them more smoothly into the curriculum. This semester, of 22 students, I would say that 20 routinely entered words into their VNs. The key to this success was 1) making VNs an essential part of the class evaluation while trying to encourage independent learning and 2) being more organized. I will explain both below:
1. Making VNs an essential part of class evaluation but encouraging some independent learning:
We routinely had quizzes about words that students wrote in their VNs and I routinely collected students' vocabulary sheets. Although it would be great if students would autonomously update their own VNs to satisfy their need for learning English words, without any kind of external measures from the teacher, students will not update their VNs.
However, when we had readings outside of the textbook, students would choose the words that they wanted to learn. Also, when we had quizzes, I let students choose which words to write on the quiz. For example, if students wrote 4 vocabulary sheets from a unit, they would choose about 3 words per page. For the quiz, I would give students a blank vocabulary sheet and they would fill it in. Also, they did not have to write the phonetic symbols for each word but they would have to write where the accent was. Lastly, they would only have to write the "derivations" and "important information" for about two thirds of the words. The reasons for this is that in can be too tedious to write all the lexical information for words you want to learn and for a lot of words receptive knowledge will suffice. Here is an actual quiz:
In addition to the quiz, I would collect students' vocabulary sheets after their quizzes and give them marks of ✓+, ✓1/2, ✓, ✓-, depending on how much effort they put into their sheets. Last semester I realized that students wrote a lot of incorrect information into their sheets and would actually correct this information. This semester, though, I did not do that. However, I believe there was less erroneous information in students' VNs this semester. The reason was, I think, is that they chose the words to write productive information (derivations, "important information," example sentences) for and did not have to write this information for words that they did not intend to learn. Additionally, they had a semester's worth of experience using VNs and they were more used to the practice of finding the word information. Nevertheless, I think that frequently students did write incorrect information. However, I could not spare the time to check the sheets, this is an issue.
At the ending of the semester, students had a self-evaluation sheet which contained their grades for each assignment and quiz. Students had to calculate their numerical grade in the last class and then tell me whether they deserved an A+, A, B, C or D. (At many Japanese universities, they do not use numerical grades). Of course, students' VN marks were also on the evaluation sheet (see below). Actually, I accidentally forgot to record some of the grades for students VN sheets (especially if they turned them in late), so with the self-evaluation sheets students were able to confirm to me that they had filled out their sheet even if there was no mark. A real evaluation sheet is shown below: