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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The effect of task variation in teacher-led groups on repair of English as a foreign language Berwick, Richard


An experiment was conducted to determine how learners and teachers of English as a foreign language in Japan cooperatively attempt to improve the comprehensibility of their talk in English during performance of various conversational tasks. The basic practical issue under study was the possibility that certain kinds of teacher-led groups and tasks would be more effective in generating repair and negotiation of the language by which tasks are accomplished than others, and that these group-task combinations might eventually be employed as alternatives to traditional teacher-fronted forms of foreign language instruction. The study was operationalized in a 2 x 5 between-and-within subjects, repeated-measures analysis of variance design. Two, six-dyad, teacher-led groups -- homogeneous (Japanese teacher/Japanese learner) and mixed (native English speaking teacher/Japanese learner) -- were formed in order to compare the frequency of 12 repair exponents generated during performance of five tasks. Teaching goals were represented in two tasks, instruction in use of the string-searching function of a laptop computer 1) with and 2) without the computer physically present. Non-teaching (social and cooperative problem-solving) goals were embodied in three additional tasks, 3) free discussion, and construction of a Lego (snap-together) toy accomplished with participants facing 4) away from and 5) towards each other. Task categories were also divided into experiential and expository activities (respectively, Tasks 2 and 5, and Tasks 1 and 4) following a model for use of reference in English. Experiential dyadic activity was related to the occurrence of exophoric (pointing out) reference and expository dyadic activity to the incidence of anaphoric (pointing back) reference in the task transcripts. Results of the analysis of variance indicated that while tasks differed on the basis of repair and reference, the groups did not: Dyadic talk was more responsive to the nature of the task than to the language background of the teacher. Further analysis suggested more frequent and elaborate repair during tasks which combine non-teaching goals and experiential processes as compared with tasks emphasizing teaching goals and expository processes. Qualitative analysis of task transcripts supported this distinction and elaborated specific discourse functions for such repair exponents as referential questions and confirmation checks which characteristically co-occur in conversational discourse. Based on these findings, it was concluded that Japanese teachers are capable of generating appropriate conversational repair in dyadic interaction with learners largely on a par with their native English-speaking counterparts. To this extent, their potential contribution to learners' acquisition of a foreign language is of an equivalent value. Furthermore, teacher-led small groups can be effective contexts for generating a rich supply of conversational repair and. thus should be considered as alternatives to traditional teacher-fronted foreign language classroom instruction. Finally, tasks which support achievement of social and problem-solving (i.e., non-teaching) goals through experiential activity are effective contexts in which normal forms of conversational repair can be generated. Since such tasks can be adapted easily to classroom settings, they merit consideration among the range of task options available to teachers and other instructional planners.

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