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October 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

Use of Self-regulated Learning Strategies in Paragraph Writing at Van Lang University

Mai Tran Thi Thanh is currently an English lecturer at Van Lang University, Vietnam. She is interested in teaching English methods as a foreign language to various levels of learners, especially to college students. Email:



The aim of this research paper is to determine the attitudes of the first-year English majors towards the use of self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies in academic paragraph writing at Van Lang University in Vietnam. The sample for this study consisted of 50 first-year English-majored students selected from four classes. A set of 30-item questionnaires adapted from Abadikhah, Aliyan and Talebi’s questionnaire (2018) together with interviews served as instruments for data collection. Descriptive analysis indicated that students used SRL strategies in their writing at a moderate level. The findings revealed the majority of students got into trouble with three dimensions, namely method, time management and motive in writing process. Despite some unavoidable difficulties in writing, students usually employed some dimensions of SRL strategies such as physical and social environment in improving their writing ability.



It is strongly believed that writing is the most important skill in language learning as well as the most difficult skill to be mastered and hard to teach (Richard & Renandya, 2002). Voltaire once observed that “writing is the painting of the voice; the closer the resemblance, the better it is” (Stephens, 1998, p. 17). Not surprisingly, it requires numerous aspects, namely grammatical and rhetorical devices, conceptual and judgment elements.

Regardless of its significance as a sign of literacy in language acquisition, writing skill has not been taught much in school-based curriculum. In spite of spending many years learning English, Vietnamese students’ English ability is still far from the expectation, especially writing skills. In deed, students’ weak writing results were clearly shown through the survey of Tuoitre Newspaper (2015). When taking the National High School Graduation Examination in the academic years of 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, the majority of the candidates had a really low score, mainly between 0 and 2.0 points out of 10.0 points. Most of them supposed that writing a paragraph for a given topic was too difficult for them to know how to start and what to write. Also, English major freshmen at Van Lang University kept complaining that writing section was really a challenging task.

From such an alert circumstance, there comes a must to find out a number of suitable methods which raise learners’ awareness and facilitates them to make use of their own learning strategies. Of all these strategies, self-regulated learning is generally considered as one of the best predictors of learning and personal development (Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1986; Pintrich & DeGroot, 1990; Purdie & Hattie, 1996).

Based on the positive results of the previous studies on using SRL strategies on different context, i.e. Magno (2009), Bakry and Alsamadani (2015) and Abadikhah, Aliyan and Talebi (2018), the paper was conducted to investigate into the use of SRL strategies among English major freshmen at Van Lang University as well as to explore the difficulties they faced when using the strategies in learning writing.

There were two research questions used as follows

     Question 1. What are the self-regulated learning strategies used by the first-year English majors in learning paragraph writing at Van Lang university?

     Question 2. What are the first-year English majors’ difficulties in using self-regulated learning strategies?


Literature review

What are self-regulated learning (SRL) strategies?

Firstly introduced in the mid-SRL has gained popularity among a wide range of scholars and researchers, e.g. Pintrich (2000); Montalvo & Torres (2004); Schloemer & Brenan (2006); Schunk (2009); Zimmerman (1994, 1989, 2002); Andrade and Evans (2013) etc. owing to its significance in language achievement. There are numerous ways to define SRL according to many authors. One of the most commonly accepted definitions is from Zimmerman, who used to define SRL as “…when individuals are meta-cognitively, motivationally and behaviorally active participants in their own learning process” (Zimmerman, 1989, p.329). Pintrich later gave his more detailed definition. He referred SRL to, “an active, constructive process whereby learners set goals for their learning and then attempt to monitor, regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and behavior, guided and by their goals and the contextual features e the environment” (Pintrich, 2000, p.453). In 2008, Zimmerman clarified SRL is a proactive process that students use to acquire academic skills such as setting goals, setting and deploying strategies, and self-monitoring one’s effectiveness. Thus, self-regulated students have to be more active and pay attention to their learning. Also, they know how to manage their learning in a logical way.

SRL strategies, according to Zimmerman (1989), consist of three phases of learning including the forethought phase (students utilize goal-setting and plan strategies), the performance phase (students deploys the previous phase strategies and utilize attention-focusing and specific task strategies) and the self-reflection phase (students reflect on their progress and achievement attributing success or failure to specific strategies employed). He (2009) proposed the cycle of SRL strategies in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1. The cyclical self-regulation phases

Generally, SRL strategies benefit students in many ways, according to Meyer, Haywood, Sachdev & Faraday (2008), i.e. increasing students’ motivation & confidence in their personal learning, raising students’ awareness of their limitations and abilities to manage their learning, facilitating them to plan and set goals for their learning; developing students to feel like they belong to the academic program. More importantly, self-regulated learning enables even teachers to provide their students with different academic tasks.


Frameworks for SRL strategies

Accordingly, there exist several different models of self-regulated learning that have been developed over the past two decades (Puustinen, & Pulkkinen, 2001, p.269). Actually, the practical frameworks for self-regulated learning consist of six dimensions: motive, methods, time, social environment, physical environment, and performance. These dimensions correspond to the questions why, how, when, with whom, where, and what (Dembo & Seli, 2012; Zimmerman & Risemberg, 1997; Zimmerman, 2002). The six dimensions were summarized by Abadikhah, Aliyan and Talebi (2018) as presented in Table 1.

Table 1. Dimensions of SRL Strategies (Adapted from Abadikhah, 2018)


Relationship between SRL strategies and L2 writing

The impact of SRL strategies on writing achievement has been proved by numerous studies, e.g. Magno (2009), Bakry & Alsamadani (2015), Fentaye (2015), Goy (2017), Abadikhah, Aliyan & Talebi (2018).

Magno (2009) examined the relationship between two specific approaches (deep and surface) and the use of self-regulatory strategies in English composition writing in the help of a cross-sectional explanatory design. The findings then indicated that the deep approach significantly correlated with many factors of self-regulation among 294 college students from different universities in Philippines.

Bakry & Alsamadani (2015) carried out the quasi-experimental static group comparison design with 24 Arabic EFL students to investigate into the effects of SRL strategies on persuasive essays. The researchers concluded that SRL strategies were effective in writing persuasive essays. Specifically, the experimental group who received instructions on writing through SRL strategies outperformed the control one who was taught mainly by a teacher-centered model. The results also proved that a number of writing abilities were remarkably improved, namely paragraph writing, creating ideas, organizing, clarity of position, sentence structure and vocabulary.    

In the same year (2015), Fentaye conducted the study to identify the use of self-regulated learning strategies when students learned writing skills as well as to find out the hindering factors students face to practice self-regulated learning strategies. The result showed that students were good at using time management, self motivation, social support, and attention control strategies but in meta-cognitive/self evaluation strategies, they were not found good. The result also showed lack of awareness among students on what strategy to choose and how to use it, lack of interest among students to work cooperatively with mates, lack of more concentrated practice on writing tasks, learners’ resistance to more writing tasks, and lack of sufficient time to teach what strategy students needed to use are some of hindering factors. Finally, this study had suggested writing skills instructors and EFL students that they should use more strategies like guided and independent practice, should minimize an explicit corrective feedback that means use progress feedback, and use reflective practices.

Goy (2017) did the action research to explore the effectiveness of strategy instruction on foreign language learners’ writing skills and self-regulation abilities. The project was carried out in a classroom of 18 students within three cycles of action for three weeks, each cycle evolving on the previous one. The results showed that strategy training could help students improve their writing skills but further instruction and feedback were needed as they used a small number of strategies and only a slight improvement was seen in their writings.

One year later, Abadikhah, Aliyan & Talebi (2018) investigated into EFL university students’ attitude towards self-regulated learning strategies in writing academic papers. The result exposed that the participants used the self-regulatory strategies and processes ranking from moderate to slightly high degree. Moreover, the findings indicated that participants failed to employ appropriately certain writing strategies including pre-writing, goal-setting and self-consequence, which suggested an important need to the application of additional strategies for their writing.


The research


This case study research was carried out in a cross-sectional explanatory design, that is, the data were collected at one point in time (Creswell, 2009). Specifically, this research paper tries to find out what SRL strategies students use at Van Lang University as well as the challenges of using these SRL strategies.


The subjects

The subjects were fifty first-year English majors including twenty males and thirty females at Van Lang University. Most of them were at the age of eighteen while the minority was nineteen and over twenty. 


Data collection instruments


The thirty-item questionnaire of SRL strategies in terms of six sections was adapted from Abadikhah, Aliyan & Talebi (2018). Noticeably, the reliability of the items estimated based on Cronbach’s α was high enough (0.81) to indicate that the questionnaire could elicit consistent responses from the participants.


     Two open-ended questions were used to explore the challenges students faced when using SRL strategies as follow:

     Question 1. What are the challenges you deal with when you use the strategies in learning writing?

     Question 2. What are the easiest and the most difficult sub-strategies to be used? Why?

Data collection procedures

The questionnaires were first delivered to the participants. All of them were encouraged to complete the questionnaires in about 30 minutes. After that, ten students were randomly chosen to participate in the interview. Each student answered the interview’s questions in 8-10 minutes and their responses were took notes carefully.


Results and discussion


Research question 1: What are the self-regulated learning strategies used by the first-year English majors in learning paragraph writing at Van Lang university?

Table 2 presented the overall quantitative results for the six dimensions, which have been ordered from the highest to the lowest means.

Table 2. The SRL strategies used by the first-year English majors in learning writing




Physical environment



Social environment















The data collected from the questionnaires showed that the students used SRL strategies at a moderate level. Physical environment is the most frequently used strategy with the highest mean score of 3.91. Meanwhile, time is the least frequently used strategy with the lowest mean score of 2.76. It revealed that most of the samples were likely to have problems in managing their time for writing. Another strategy that has low mean score was motive (M=2.88). That could explain why most of students considered writing skill as the most boring one. Lack of the main drive for learning may cause sequencing challenges in learning writing. Moreover, the mean score of method was also low (M=3.09). Thus, method, motive and time are the three strategies that should be paid more attention in learning writing.

Research question 2: What are the first-year English majors’ difficulties in using self-regulated learning strategies?

The interview results showed three main points. One of the most common problems the participants had to face was that when they dealt with a certain topic, they spent most of the time writing with less time for pre-writing activities, i.e. brainstorming as well as proof-reading or peer-correction. They also explained that time seemed to go by quickly when they were asked to write. As a result, they failed to finish their writing without a conclusion or even no fully supporting ideas and examples. This was greatly related to time management. Another challenge was from the fear of writing. Specifically, eight of the ten participants expressed their anxiety over writing tasks and shared that it was hard for them to improve writing ability in a semester. Last but not least, all of the samples supposed that social environment was the easiest sub-strategy to be used, especially the direct interaction with their classmates to exchange information and the help of technological devices to write their assignments. In terms of the most difficult sub-strategy, while six students claimed that time management is the hardest sub-strategy to be employed, three students said that it was their motive, the other thought that it was method. In brief, the considerable challenges in applying the SRL strategies among students were method, motive, and especially time management.



Through the data analysis, there was no balance among six dimensions in terms of rates. To be specific, while physical and social environment were in the highest rates, motive and time received much lower and lowest respectively. It could be explained that bad time management resulted a series of difficulties to students. In fact, college academic writing requires more tasks with full of supporting ideas, explanation and examples. As Andrade and Evans (2013) discussed, writing in a second language may take college students a long time for they had to struggle against grammar and lexical choices.

Another dimension which was problematic to English major freshmen was motive or goal-setting. Noticeably, the significance of goal-setting used to be proved by Page-Voth and Graham’s study (1999). They concluded that those who were taught goal-setting strategies outperformed those who were not in writing performance. One year earlier, in 1989, Britton and Glynn (1989) stated that there was a correlation between time management or task management and goal-setting. Specifically, according to them, poor time management resulted in not achieving specific goals, not splitting them into sub-goals, and not knowing how to spare time to accomplish certain goals (as cited in Dembo, 2004). Therefore, if students did not know what they had to write, they would find it quite challenging to keep track of required tasks in due time. It, of course, was because time was not controlled suitably.

To solve this problem, Andrade and Evans (2013) suggested that developing awareness of the writing process and of the need to allow sufficient time to address the stages of prewriting, planning, writing, revising, and editing should be the first step for teaching and learning writing (p.14). They emphasized the nature of writing, i.e. a process and it could not be wrapped up in a single writing session. (Weigle, 2014) supplemented that SRL strategies should be introduced to students right at the beginning and various stages of pre-writing, writing, revising, editing and evaluating should be employed fully in order to produce a well-written product.

With the help of technological devices, students felt no difficulties in make good use of them in their study, especially in writing. In deed, social environment strategies gained its popularity among students. That could be explained by the higher rate with the mean of 3.89. By means of technology, students looked up new words, got their ideas translated into Vietnamese as well as asked for help from their friends.

Surprisingly, the participants made good use of physical environment strategies in their writing. With the highest rate, they showed that they could not be distracted much from the outside noises, the room facilities. Although a few of them disagreed with the statement, “I switch off my phone to concentrate on my writing”, the participants’ concentration on writing tasks seemed not be influenced much.  



In summary, the study showed the reality of using SRL strategies of the first-year English majors at Van Lang University to improve their writing ability. Although the students used the strategies in learning writing, they only employed these strategies at the moderate level. This needs the great efforts of both teachers and students in balancing the use of SRL strategies in teaching and learning writing effectively. Based on the findings, teachers should train their learners or give them more opportunities to improve their time management and method. Moreover, arousing learners’ motive is very crucial because it is positively related to their writing ability./.



Abadikhah, S., Aliyan, Z., & Talebi, S. H. (2018). EFL students’ attitudes towards self-regulated learning strategies in academic writing. Issues in Educational Research, 28(1), 1-17.

Andrade, M. & Evans, N. (2013). Principles and practices for response in second language writing: Developing self-regulated learners. New York: Routledge

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Los Angeles: SAGE.

Dembo, M. H. (2004). Motivation and learning strategies for college success: A self-management approach (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Goy, N. (2017). An action research on the development of self-regulated writing strategies of Turkish EFL students. Eurasian Journal of Applied Linguistics, 3(2), 191-204.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(2), 64-70.


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