Utilizing Advising Strategies with Grounded Theory to Support an Advisee’s Learning Goals

Stacey Vye, Saitama University

Vye, S. (2021). Utilizing Advising Strategies with Grounded Theory to Support an Advisee’s Learning Goals. Relay Journal, 4(2), 107-115. https://doi.org/10.37237/relay/040206

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This reflection-in-practice details a 30-minute advising session online with a fourth-year male student at a self-access center at Saitama University, a national/public university in Japan. The advisor (the author) was not the advisee’s instructor and genuinely attempted to be an equal conversation partner to boost trust and credibility. This qualitative framework was primarily inductive, and 12 advising strategies checklist and the use of silence in Kato and Mynard (2016) were utilized. After analyzing between patterns and themes in an inductive process, three advising strategies emerged in the post-session analysis using grounded theory (Corbin & Strauss, 2015; Creswell, 2014; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) that were summarizing, metaphor, and asking powerful questions (Kato & Mynard, 2016). The advisee pinpointed his English self-study constraints, then planned to select English videos with English and Japanese captions as support to reach his English proficiency goals. After analyzing the rich content, I learned more about how my advising shortcomings turned into a strength by reflecting on the emergent data over time. Moving forward, I am conducting more advisee sessions to inductively reveal how advisees intensify their learner autonomy for their own study purposes. 

Keywords: learner-centered advising, summarizing, metaphors, powerful questions, grounded theory

The English Resource Center (ERC) is a self-access center available for all students to join group advising sessions with volunteer advisors who are faculty at the Center for English Education and Development at Saitama University, a national/public university in Japan. Operations have changed from pre-pandemic to the current COVID-19 conditions. In the ERC on campus, student teacher-assistants (TAs) helped guide students and led group conversations, so the advisor could provide individual advising. However, due to COVID-19, group sessions are held off-campus on ZOOM weekday afternoons in 2020 and 2021, yet without the TAs due to online protocols. In this transcribed 30-minute individual session, advising strategies including the use of silence detailed in Kato and Mynard (2016) were used. Then, inductive data revealed three strategies that helped the advisee identify how to adjust English-language self-study to reach the desired proficiency goal. The aim of this article is to provide an account of a session in which reflection is both a key component of the advising session unique to the advisee, and also is essential for researching emerging themes occur in qualitative grounded-theory data (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) as the themes slowly arise from the data through reflection rather than initial deductive assertions from the researcher (Corbin & Strauss, 2015).

Overview of the Learner Participant and the Advisor

I am one of three volunteer advisors in the ERC who also teach English courses. Junichi (a pseudonym), the volunteer-learner participant, is a fourth-year male liberal arts major, has studied English abroad in 2019, and is an avid practitioner of Japanese martial arts. His specific form of martial arts is not revealed for privacy. On reflection, I had informal advising sessions with Junichi in 2018-2019 and remembered his enthusiasm for learning English and martial arts, which is evident in the excerpts. 

For credibility and trustworthiness as my role as an advisor, the session was informal to genuinely attempt being an equal conversation partner (Rubin & Rubin, 2012) despite our 36-year age difference. It is essential to pay attention to the power balance in advising to create a safe space for the advisee. My life-long journey explores learner confidence and learner and teacher autonomy in language education in Japan for 32 years. Patton (2002) cautions that language subtleties can impede communication in research analysis. I tried to reduce the limitation with my Japanese language awareness, understanding of cross-generational frameworks, and familiarity with university students in Japan for 28 years. Kato and Mynard’s (2016, pp. 21-28) “Basic Advising Strategies” section casts a safety net using a narrative framework in advising in attempts at a more extraordinary holistic lens of reflective practice (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). While Junichi conceptualized his English language learning goals, it was essential for me to be empathetic (Patton, 2002).

Three Emergent Strategies: Summarizing, Metaphor, and Powerful Questions

Junichi volunteered for my professional development without specific requests, so I started the session organically using the 12 advising strategies checklist and added silence detailed in Kato and Mynard (2016). Fortunately, since this advising session was conducted on video through Zoom due to the pandemic, I could conveniently glance slightly at the list on the screen positioned near the camera to keep eye contact and engagement with Junichi. Had the session been in person, the list could have been a distraction inhibiting advisor presence, which could be problematic. Six months since Junichi’s session with ample practice and training in advising in language learning through reflective dialogues (Kato & Mynard, 2016), I no longer need the list during sessions. Next, I strategically analyzed three interlinked or symbiotic strategy codes that emerged by discovering data patterns in a grounded theory approach (Corbin & Strauss, 2015; Creswell, 2014). As a result, three salient strategies materialized: summarizing, metaphor, and asking powerful questions (see Kato & Mynard, 2016) comparable to “inductive, concept-building orientations” that occur in qualitative grounded-theory data (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016, p. 228). As in qualitative research, I analyzed abstract concepts that are inductive patterns, categories, and themes working from the bottom and then shifted back and forth somewhat deductively to derive the concrete concepts of the cogent advising strategies (Creswell, 2014; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016). What was helpful to note for methodological implications, as suggested in Miles, Huberman, and Saldaña (2014, p. 87), is not to identify patterns too quickly, or in my case, the advising strategies, but rather reflect on loose chunks of data and “unfreeze and reconfigure” the compelling themes as they emerge. This practice encourages reflection, which can reduce researcher bias and preconceptions because the patterns slowly emerge from the data (Corbin & Strauss, 2015).

Summarizing Summarizing the advisees’ interlocution is a valuable strategy at the beginning of the session to figure out more information and often paired with repeating, mirroring, and restating (Kato & Mynard, 2016). I frequently used them to find out more through summarization and attempted to ring the advisee’s “mental doorbell” (Patton, 2002, p. 370) to establish rapport and demonstrate interest. The first excerpt is Junichi explaining how he uses English YouTube videos to study through shadowing martial art instruction videos. I summarized how he showed much passion regarding his sport, and I tried to establish rapport and complimented him on getting closer to his area of focus.

Excerpt 1 (4:14-5:05)

Stacey: [Name of the martial arts] seems to be a very important thing in your life…

Junichi:..yeah-yeah [smile]

Stacey: I see you do demonstrations of [the martial art] on campus, and when you…

Junichi: Hmmm…

Stacey: And when you, I noticed when you talk about [the martial art] …. your face lights up; you smile!

Junichi: Oh! [laugh]

Stacey: Yeah! [laugh] Yeah!

Junichi: How do you know that? [surprised]

Stacey: I, I don’t know, but I, how do I know that? [smile]

Junichi: Oh! [smile]

Stacey: That’s a good question [complimenting]; I watch your eyes and smile when you

talk about it [smile].

Junichi: I enjoy practicing!

Junichi demonstrated his sincere motivation for learning. I summarized that his compassion for understanding is a strength by tapping into emotions building rapport and observed he appeared ready to describe English learning via metaphor because his awareness seemed to be heightened while analyzing my expressions and learning something new when he asked me, “How do you know that?” In advising, metaphors in communication raise the advisee and the advisor’s awareness and insights to expand perceptions of the learning situation (Kato & Mynard, 2016), and the timing seemed right from our communication during the summarization.  


Using metaphors is a powerful visualization strategy that helps express feelings and thoughts in an alternate view (Kato & Mynard, 2016). Bogdan and Bilken (2007) hypothesize that metaphors help prevent nearsightedness that often gets in the way of learning more. For example, playing with metaphors helps researchers not to “become so captured by the particulars, the details, that we cannot make connections to other settings or to a wide experiential array we carry with us” (Bogdan & Bilken, 2007, p. 169). For example, it is powerful to analogize concepts that represent what reminds us of meaningful experiences. Junichi demonstrated self-awareness in frustration of a rut using authentic content, yet it encouraged his creative thinking, and he used a metaphor as a concept to refer to, as suggested in Kato and Mynard (2016). The second excerpt brought a profound aha moment for Junichi. I first learned about experiencing intuitive leaps of progress or an aha moment that educational researchers experience when uncovering inductive and unexpected findings (Hubbard &  Power, 1993). However, in advising, an aha moment is when the learner begins to view concepts differently, and the key is for the advisor to not only facilitate in the aha moment, but support the advisee for a maximum learning effect from their realization (Kato & Mynard, 2016). Junichi and I were active participants in his powerful aha moment through a unique dialogic experience:

Except 2 (14:30-16:19)

Stacey: If you could, like describe that feeling of frustration of not being able to understand the word and see the vocabulary [on screen], like is it like sometimes, um, my teacher said it’s like climbing a mountain, or … learning how to ride a bicycle, how does that feel when you are learning with YouTube? 

Junichi: Let’s see. Hmmm…

Stacey: Is it a comedy or a horror show? [laugh]

Junichi: Hmm, let’s see, Hmm…

Stacey: You could describe it in a feeling. [Silence 5:11-5:15]

Junichi: Hmm, I’d say, sailing a boat, without a map.

Stacey: Ahhhhh, okaaaay, yeah! Aha! [An aha, moment!]

Junichi: I think, without a map, I think we can go to the place, with the stars or something, but we cannot go to the exact, the exact point, exact the [sic] place.

Stacey: Fascinating! So, um, what I am hearing is that um, studying with YouTube is …sailing, so sailing can be an enjoyable thing. 

Junichi: Yeah! [agreement]

Stacey: But you might not get to the place because there is no map. 

Junichi: Yeah, yeah, yeah! [agreement]

Stacey: …There’s not a map; you might not reach your destination. 

Junichi: Yes, yes, yes [firm agreement]! Still, I can get closer, but it is not exact. 

Junichi identified his frustration learning English through YouTube videos like sailing a boat without a map. Then, I continued using this metaphor in the third excerpt during the advising strategy by asking a powerful question. Subsequently, we use the metaphor as an anchor for navigation planning to steer his learning boat with a map. 

A Powerful Question

After establishing rapport and trustworthiness, powerful questions in advising and narrative studies (Kato & Mynard, 2016; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016; Rubin & Rubin, 2012) are influential “at triggering major leaps in awareness and/or action” (Kato & Mynard, 2016, p. 24). We made progress with his metaphor in excerpt three. The question was powerful because Junichi created the metaphor, and I merely reformatted the metaphorical question below in bold: 

Excerpt 3 (25:31-26:26)

Stacey: How can we get you a map on that sailboat?

Junichi: Hmm, when it comes to Japanese sub-titles when I read it in English, it

  doesn’t, I understand its structure.

Stacey: Uhuh. [big smile]

Junichi: I think, or I know this is a verb, or this is a noun

Stacey: Uhuh.

Junichi: It does not make sense when I am reading, so…

Stacey: Ohhh..

Junichi: So, when I don’t make, when it does not make sense.

Stacey: Uhuh.

Junichi: I always understand, I want to know the meaning, so I need Japanese subtitles.

Stacey: Uhum.

Junichi: Also, I know the meaning of Japanese; of course, I know the meaning. 

Stacey: Uhum.

Junichi: I know the meaning of the sentences in English [closed captions], so when I 

compare these things [English captions and Japanese subtitles as a map]; I finally can 

break down its meaning. 

  Stacey: …It’s a support.

Junichi: Yeah, yeah, yeah! 

Stacey: It’s a support.

Junichi: Like a map.

Stacey: Like a map. [repeating]

The bilingual closed captions help navigate his boat towards his English proficiency destination goal. As an advisor, I continue supporting Junichi to sail his boat with his newfound map.

Reflections on the Advising Session

I was satisfied with observing the interconnectedness of summarizing, metaphor, and powerful questions demonstrated in three excerpts. I felt like we established sailing with a map, so Junichi is now searching for videos with English and Japanese captions as a scaffolded map to pinpoint his English goals. I was embarrassed documenting my use of fillers such as ‘um,’ and ‘uhuh.’ However, an account was needed, and the fillers were my honest attempts to backchannel in agreement with Junichi’s plan for his learning outcomes. Through the data, I learn from strengths and shortcomings to improve my advising and facilitate advisees with greater learner-centered autonomy for their own study purposes. A practical implication might be for advisees using silence in the sessions, which is a shortcoming of mine that became a strength through reflection. I noticed previously that I spoke too much or interrupted advisees during the sessions. Silence as a strategy (in Kato & Mynard, 2016) provides thinking time for advisees to formulate their thoughts before communicating, which is a powerful tool, either when an advisee does not comprehend, or after using powerful questions to leave time for gathering powerful insights. Kato and Mynard (2016, p. 27) suggested that using silence can “help the learner get into a deep reflective process” and potentially develop refreshingly new ideas. In my case, four seconds of silence after asking Junichi about his learning metaphor prompted his valuable insight for further learning: “Hmm, I’d say, sailing a boat without a map.”  Subsequently, after this reflective practice, we have been metaphorically drafting a learning map for Junichi’s sailboat.


I detailed a 30-minute recorded advising session online with Junichi as he pinpointed his learning goals. Intentionally, for trustworthiness and credibility in qualitative research (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016), I made sure the session was with an advisee who was not my current student to avoid unequal power dynamics or conflict of interest. During the session, I made honest attempts to be an equal conversation partner with Junichi. The data emerged through grounded theory (Corbin & Strauss, 2015; Creswell, 2014; Merriam & Tisdell, 2016), and I utilized the 12 advising strategies checklist and using silence in Kato and Mynard (2016). Three advising strategies of summarizing, metaphor, and asking powerful questions (see Kato & Mynard, 2016) emerged that supported Junichi in pinpointing his English self-study goals. He identified selecting English videos with English and Japanese captions from his metaphor of sailing a boat without a map to support his listening proficiency goals with the aid of silence. Reflecting on the data inductively by discovering emerging patterns in the data through grounded theory, I reduced preconceived  notions through reflecting on my advising biases and preconceptions while not making initially prescribed deductions (Corbin & Strauss, 2015). In other words, the findings were generated from the data and not from my deductions without reflection. Moving forward, I am conducting more one-on-one advising sessions to facilitate the advisees’ learner autonomy for their own purposes. 

Notes on the contributor

Stacey Vye is a professor and volunteer advisor at Saitama University. For 20 years, she has been researching learner and teacher autonomy before their language education buzzword status.


Bogdan, R. C., & Bilken, S. K. (2007). Qualitative research for education: An introduction to theories and methods. Pearson Education.

Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2015). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Sage. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781452230153

Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-methods approaches. Sage.

Hubbard, R. S., & Power, B. M. (1993). The art of classroom inquiry. Heinemann.

Kato, S., & Mynard, J. (2016). Reflective dialogue: Advising in language learning. Routledge.  https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315739649

Merriam, S. B., & Tisdell, E. J. (2016). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. Jossey-Bass.

Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook. Sage.

Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed.). Sage. 

Rubin, H. J., & Rubin, I. S. (2012). Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data. Sage.

One thought on “Utilizing Advising Strategies with Grounded Theory to Support an Advisee’s Learning Goals”

  1. As a person who has spent a great deal of time reading and learning about, but rarely participating in, the advising process, reflection-in-action like this is truly enjoyable to take in. Visual cues presented alongside meaningfully-selected transcription excerpts can really bring the session to life for those of us who work primarily in other domains.

    I appreciate the focus on your own growth as an advisor; at several points you note that at the time of writing, you better understand challenges that seemed unfamiliar during the session, and that since the session, you have been able to back away from relying on training tools (e.g., the strategy checklist). You also describe how during the process of reflection and analysis, you were able to make thematic connections that had not been apparent while engaged in the session. For readers like myself, who may have conducted only a handful of sessions, this reminder to reflect—even when not writing a formal “reflection”—is crucial. During my sessions, I often feel that I am in over my head and perhaps getting nowhere with an advisee, but I am almost always able to discover successes and signs of progress during later reflection and review. Though advising in the online space surely has its drawbacks, I am grateful that it’s become somewhat more normalized to record these one-on-one sessions, as the freedom to later view, transcribe, and visualize thematic connections has been essential for me in coming to view myself as a capable advisor. Your thoughtful reflection appears to have done the same for you.

    Using metaphor has been a challenge for me in my sessions; after a few clumsy attempts, I think I have since avoided a tool that you have shown here in your reflection to be a valuable one. I appreciate the way you introduced the strategy overtly, telling your advisee “my teacher said it’s like climbing a mountain, or …. trying to ride a bicycle.” Your advisee was responsive and came to his own metaphor straightaway. This is a great reminder that maybe we can be overly cautious when introducing higher-level strategies or tools, and that we need not let inexperience make us hesitant to ask a powerful question or to assign responsibility when it is called for.

    I would have liked to read more about the grounded theory framework you used to analyze the session’s emerging themes. Perhaps a short explanation of this choice and process, toward the beginning, would go some way to provide other developing advisors with a model for examining their own sessions. I have some difficulty seeing how the method described here (identifying, comparing, and interpreting codes within your qualitative data) differs from more general thematic analysis. I wonder if it would be possible to add a small note about the distinction?

    I am grateful to you for contributing this reflection. Even in the past two or three years, and within Japan especially, I have seen the circle of educators making the journey from teacher to advisor expand greatly, and we are fortunate to have opportunities like this to learn from each other and find parallels between our rewarding, dynamic, and at times daunting early advising experiences. I have no doubt I will revisit this reflection again the next time I have the opportunity to advise. Thank you for your effort here!

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