Collaborative Pedagogies

Collaborative Pedagogies for Advanced L2 Composition

By Mariana Bono and Adriana Merino

Language learning has traditionally been regarded as a private cognitive activity geared towards the acquisition of a linguistic code. From a sociocultural perspective, however, collaborative dialogue, in which participants establish and negotiate meaning, enhances the learning process. Likewise, meaning-making tasks create favorable conditions for language development: when learners strive to produce comprehensible output, they are encouraged to reflect on language use. Today, collaborative tasks, pair and group work and learner-led projects are common in the L2 classroom.

And yet, because of entrenched perceptions of writing as a solitary act and widespread notions of individual authorship, pedagogical practices based on social construction have remained largely untapped for use when teaching writing. We claim that collaboration promotes self-discovery and reflexivity, triggering more sophisticated writing. Activities such as peer editing and co-authoring provide learners with a multitude of roles not available during solitary writing, those of tutors, co-authors, sounding boards, and critical readers. We argue that a collaborative approach to teaching L2 composition can take us beyond the production of fixed, static texts solely aimed at a one-person audience, the instructor. As learners analyze, accept or reject solutions offered by their peers, they encounter opportunities for language growth and reach a better understanding of the discursive functions of the L2.
In our research study, we analyzed the written production of students enrolled in an advanced Spanish course at Princeton University (SPA207). While examining their production at different stages of the writing process (prior to and post peer editing, for instance), we identified the strategies that they deployed while reading and critiquing each other’s work. Our data suggests that the effectiveness of feedback may depend on several factors: students’ motivation, language proficiency, cognitive style, clarity of feedback given, how the feedback is used, and the attitudes of learner-writers towards their peers and teacher.
We found that peer response triggers interactions involving collective scaffolding, which is known to promote L2 development. We may conclude that peer response fosters shared responsibility for learning. It also empowers students to go beyond discussion of strictly grammatical and lexical issues, and raises more awareness of content and stylistic issues.

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