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Instructor-student interaction: form/meaning chat.


This article reports on the Instructor-Student (IS) dynamic in two synchronous computer-mediated communication (SCMC) environments, one form-and-meaning focused (FMF) and one meaning-focused (MF), in terms of instructor-marginalization and the implicit feedback strategies she adopted. The data for this article were extracted from the qualitative findings of a larger study on "The Development of Grammatical Competence through Synchronous Computer-mediated Communication" (Fiori, 2004) which investigated the role of consciousness-raising (CR) in the two aforementioned chat environments for the development of the Spanish a) copular verbs ser/estar and b) prepositions por/para.

1.1 Introduction

The motivation for the larger study was based upon the mixed results on the effectiveness of SCMC in developing grammatical accuracy. While SCMC is accepted as a tool for increased participation (Beauvois 1992, Kern 1995; Pratt and Sullivan 1996; Warschauer 1996, 1997ab; Chun 1998) and student-directed learning (Peterson 1997, Abrams 2001; Kern 2000; Warschauer 1997ab) its ability to foster grammatical development is in question. Most researchers agree that formal accuracy suffers in this environment, characterized by informal information-exchange where abbreviations, casualness, and speedy communication take priority (Kern 1995, 1998; Blake 2000, Lee 2000; Sotillo 2000). The larger study examined whether consciousness-raising in SCMC assisted in the development of por/para, ser/estar in L2 learners of Spanish to a greater degree than SCMC without C-R.

1.2 Participants

The participants were level three university students at a large state university, between 19 and 25. Participants numbered 22 for FMF and 17 for MF. One instructor, a native Spanish speaker taught all sections.

1.3 Procedures

Three pre- and post-tests, an elicited imitation test, orals, and a grammaticality preferences component, were administered at the onset and close of the semester. Chats were held once, weekly, during class time in language lab. Students were instructed to maintain L2 use, focus on the discussion questions, be respectful, and work to analyze the readings. FMF participants were instructed to focus on grammatical form and accuracy, especially por/para, ser/estar. In addition they were required to prepare pre-chat questions before their Thursday chats, which served to cue CR. The MF participants were required to focus on the discussion questions to analyze the readings. No mention of form-focused attention was made.

1.4 Reported Results

The larger study reported that the MF group primarily focused on meaning and adopted ser as the default verb form. The FMF group demonstrated higher levels of syntactic maturity and equal levels of lexical density when compared to the MF group (Fiori, 2004). FMF participants produced greater quantities of and more accurate productions of the L2 and did not adopt ser as the default "to be" verb. Participants engaged in peer-to-peer and self-correction, stayed on task, and were cooperative. They were less likely to resort to L1 use and more likely to recognize IS feedback. The MF group was more likely to resort to L1 use, less likely to collaborate and recognize IS feedback, and were inclined to joke and bully. Quantitative analyses revealed that the groups were homogenous at the onset of the study as per the pre-test results but that they demonstrated statistically significant differences in favor of the FMF group for the EI/SRT and GPC posttests, but not for the post-test oral (Fiori, 2004).

2. Instructor-Student Interaction: Overview

The instructor's role in both chat groups was a) to provide authentic, native-speaker language as it would typically transpire during a chat dialogue and b) to facilitate discussion. She was to assist the MF group analysis the readings through meaning-centered, content-driven discussion. She was prohibited from correcting grammatical errors explicitly but could recasts or request clarification if an error impeded comprehension. She was to pay particular attention to the FMF group's use of por/para and ser/estar and was permitted the following feedback options: 1) recasting, 2) clarification request for both meaning and form, 3) explicit feedback by calling direct attention to non-target like productions, and 4) metalinguistic feedback. Ultimately, she was to assist the FMF group in analyzing the readings through form-and-meaning-focused, content-centered chats.

The data reveal that the instructor principally engaged in implicit corrective feedback for both groups. Over the seven transcripts collected for analysis during one academic semester, twenty-three instances of feedback surfaced for the FMF group. Nineteen of the corrections were implicit, while four were quasi-explicit. The three instances of explicit correction that surfaced were comments on lexical items, and focused on word-choice and agreement, not por/para, ser/estar. The instance of metalinguistic feedback that surfaced was an exclamation about a well-formed student-production, not a correction. Five clarification requests surfaced, with the remaining feedback as clarification request. Fifteen instances of implicit corrective feedback surfaced in the MF transcripts with zero instances of explicit and metalinguistic feedback. Four clarification requests and eleven recasts surfaced. Over all, the instructor implicitly corrected 19 times in the FMF group, and 15 times for the MF group. The data reveal that the instructor exercised the same corrective feedback strategies for both groups, and consequently both groups received comparable corrective input.

The data bring to light a number of findings on Instructor behavior in FMF and MF SCMC environments which merit further comment: 1) She corrected very little over all and assumed the role of conversational facilitator, 2) When she did correct she chose implicit measures.

2.1 Instructor Marginalization

The data reveal that the instructor corrected very little overall and assumed the role of conversational facilitator. Approximately 5.25 hours of chat transcripts were reviewed, per group, and very few corrective measures surfaced. First, the instructor's role in the two forums may have affected the ability to offer feedback; she had to engage herself differently according to forum focus. Second, the forum population was large and the instructor had the added responsibility of tending to multiple a-sequentially posted conversations. Third, the participants were monolinguals for whom Spanish was their L2. Deciphering their productions in order to give feedback may have posed its own challenges. It is possible that these factors contributed to the instructor marginalization as it surfaced in this data set. The instructor also had to monitor her feedback practices in the MF forum to maintain a meaning-centered environment in which resulting form focused productions were learner- and/or environment- driven, and had to monitor the FMF for both form and meaning. Thus, it is possible that forum focus further marginalized the instructor. This is not surprising since she had added responsibilities in an environment already reported to reduce teacher authority (Kern 1995; Peterson 1997) by placing teachers on the periphery in favor direct of student-centered interaction in which learners have more autonomy over their learning (Kern 2000; Abrams 2001).

While its possible that there were "multiple" marginalizing factors at work, its also possible that the instructor chose to manage her responsibilities by adopting the feedback measures safe for both groups--implicit feedback. Discussions between the researcher and instructor undoubtedly indicated that the instructor was clear about expectations and corrective options for both groups. It is feasible that such direct, explicit feedback was an unnatural deviation from her usual teaching style. This is an interesting possibility since she bound herself to implicit corrective feedback and did not correct specifically for por/para, ser/estar in the FMF group, but rather corrected for form over all. In-class visits to the instructor's classrooms corroborate the finding that implicit corrective feedback during face-to-face communicative work was the instructor's primary corrective strategy, and this held true regardless of the learning environment (computer-based vs. face-to-face).

While the aforementioned factors may have played their role in the instructor's performance it is noteworthy that she published 77 more turns in the MF forum. These turns were participatory. On the one hand they offered a personal element that she did not share with the FMF group--perhaps a result of alleviated responsibilities of facilitating a MF forum. On the other hand they served to facilitate the discussion and keep participants on task. The social dynamic that surfaces in any L2 environment is a critical element in learning that may inhibit or enhance learning opportunities. For this data set SCMC was no different. In a study by Morris & Tarone (2003) the social in-group / out-group dynamic present in the classroom negatively impacted how learners perceived feedback. In follow-up interviews students reviewed their respective sessions and, over all did, not recognize peer assistance as assistance, but as ridicule and mockery. These findings are pertinent to the present study because leaner and instructor perceptions about task and task environment, and their consequences for learning cannot be ignored. The underlying focus of the forum resulted in distinct student-to-student interaction (Fiori, 2004) as well as unique instructor-to-student interaction.

2.2 Implicit Corrective Feedback

The data reveal that the instructor adopted recasting and clarification requests as her principle corrective strategies in both forums. A possible explanation behind the dominance of implicit corrective feedback might stem from the institution's professional training. The instructor's teaching experience in the US had been shaped by this particular university program, which was the only institution for which she had taught in the US. The instructor completed a teaching methodology course and teacher-training under a program characterized by a task-based, whole language approach under which students were minimally exposed to grammar. This program interpreted communicative language teaching as a series of speaking tasks ranging from single-response to free-response, and grammar as an element absorbed through contextualized exposure. Explicit grammar lessons were prohibited in the classroom, yet exams were heavily grammar based.

Given that this instructor's theoretical, methodological, and pedagogical training took place under a program with such a framework, its possible that her SCMC practices were heavily influenced by her training. This raises questions about the consequences of mandating a particular methodology in the L2 classroom. Does mandating a particular methodology make it difficult for instructors to adjust their practices in the absence of the mandated methodology?. This instructor depicted herself as an advocate of both form and meaning and believed the two reinforced one another and dedicated specific class time to communicative exercises and the grammar, and so brings into question how communicative language teaching is interpreted at macro- and micro-levels and raises questions about the impact of theoretical vs. methodological instructor-training in terms of institutional practices vs. the research community at large.

Another possible explanation behind the dominance of implicit corrective feedback might stem from the popularity of recasting in L2 class rooms. According to Lyster and Ranta (1997) recasts are the most frequent form of implicit correction. Recasting and clarification requests were the feedback measures endorsed by the Spanish program. This instructor exhibited four recasting patterns: 1) direct repetition of the phrase with corrections, 2) introduction of a corrected, recasted phrase with "yes", 3) salient recasts, defined as recasts made prominent through notational devices such as capital letters, italics, character marking * [ ], etc., and 4) interrogative recasts. However popular recasting may be, it results in less self correction by students than explicit forms of correction (Lyster and Ranta, 1997). This data set upholds these findings, but only in part. Note that the instructor's pseudonym was velazquez2.

2.2.1 Salient Recasts

Although salient recasts should have called attention to themselves in this written environment if the recast was noticed it neither sparked published acknowledgement nor prompted participants to develop their ideas any further, and consequently, offer no insight as to whether or not students noticed the correction (examples 1-3). Thus the data seem to support past research that recasting results in less student correction. Although the possibility remains that they were recognized but did not interrupt the communicative flow this data set sheds no light on the relationship between SCMC and salient recasts and salient recasts in SCMC with FMF or MF attention. Continued investigation is in order. See Figure

2.2.2 Direct Repetition Recasts & Yes-Recasts

Direct repetition recasts and yes-recasts were consistent with past research that recasting leads to less student correction than more explicit forms of correction for the MF group. Whether or not participants in the MF group noticed the recast at all, and subsequently whether or not they perceived the recast to be a corrective measure is in question. In example 4, the student clearly comprehended the content of the message, but the purpose behind the instructor's recast was unclear. Example 5 is the sole instance of a MF participant who recognized the corrective nature to the recast. In this sample loquito2 acknowledges the correction by thanking the instructor and repeating the corrected form, but resumes use of the incorrect form in a subsequent publication. Yes-recasts served to verify that the participant's message was understood while providing feedback on syntax as well. This strategy did not trigger students to self-correct, as evident in example 6. In fact, the participant failed to notice the instructor's feedback at all. See issue website While the MF data on yes-recasts and direct repetition recasts do support prior research on recasting, the FMF group's data were somewhat unique. Samples 7 and 8 exemplify the FMF exchanges. In #7 it is likely that castillo2 noticed the correction because she reviewed the exchange and noted her orthographic error in a subsequent posting. Although it is unknown whether or not besazo2 noticed the recast, the context did not lend itself to published output because the instructor's correction was posted after castillo2 had replied. Example 8 concludes a lengthy exchange in which confusion about form, and a participant's attempt to clarify through metalinguistic feedback, was at the heart of the discussion. See

While the written medium should assist the learners in recognizing such recasts of all sorts, the key to recognizing the feedback underlying the recast seemed to be the focus of the forum. While it seems that salient recasts, yes-recasts, and direct repetition strategies did not prompt students to correct--the FMF environment revealed situations in which the context of the dialogues taken as a whole suggests that feedback was not ignored. Recognition of implicit corrective feedback was most evident in the FMF forum and specifically in terms of interrogative recasts.

2.2.3 Interrogative Recasts

Interrogative recasts allowed the instructor to offer corrective feedback to the students without interrupting the communicative flow. Unlike the other recasting strategies, interrogative recasts clearly solicited a response in the FMF group. In sample #9, the instructor restated Castillo's statement, thus modeling the correct form, as an interrogative recast. Castillo replied with a more sophisticated production and demonstrated uptake of both sentence-structure and the instructor's feedback about "realistas". See issue website

In sample #10 Alhambra stated that he was tired from watching TV every night. Before the instructor published an interrogative recast to correct for verb choice and ask if it were a matter of not getting enough sleep Besazo published the correct verb-form and marked it with an asterisk for salience. Alhambra responded with an apology and a correction. See issue website

The MF data show no indication that the interrogative recasts had their desired effect. Rather, these recasts were processed on their communicative value in every case. In sample #11 El_Pachuco was so interested in why Juan_Carlos said the indigenous were lucky that nether he nor the other participants recognized the corrective feedback behind the instructor's recast, and subsequently carried on the conversation without uptake or output. See issue website Similarly, no overt signs of recast-uptake are evident in sample 12. Conversational flow is maintained and comprehension is demonstrated, but there is no evidence that Margarita recognized the correction underlying the recast.

3. Conclusions

The data reveal that the instructor adopted recasting strategies as her primary means of offering corrective feedback to students. While the consequences of her feedback choices support past research that recasting results in less self correction by students than explicit forms of correction (Lyster and Ranta, 1997), this is true for salient recasts in FMF and MF forum, somewhat true for direct repetition and yes-recasts and likely untrue for interrogative recasts in FMF SCMC. The data suggest that environments in which consciousness raising is operationalized through specific instructions to focus on from are necessary for learners to recognize, understand, and respond to interrogative recasts.

This certainly merits further investigation because many learning opportunities may be lost if the instructor's feedback is not perceived. What's more, research on the instructor's ability to adjust teaching practices to suit different learning environments and styles is in order since her role is critical in learning. On the one hand, she maintained consistency with her feedback practices regardless of forum focus, but on the other hand she too was affected by the conversational environment in the MF group and made more personal, conversational contributions that did not surface in the FMF exchanges. Teacher training might also plays its role in the IS dynamic. How would the data have been different if this instructor hadn't favored implicit corrective feedback?


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Melissa L. Fiori, Daemen College, NY

Fiori, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in second language acquisition and applied linguistics, and Spanish, with special interest in technology and language learning.
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Author:Fiori, Melissa L.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2006
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