UBC Theses and Dissertations
Academic tasks and international students : a case study Marshall Smith, Sondra Marguerite
The majority of second language research pays scant attention to the importance of context and social setting in language learning. However, a small group of researchers recognizes that context is very influential, context in the sense of the organization of units of social interaction beyond the sentence and even beyond the discourse. Using the latter perspective, this case study investigates how a group of eight Chinese students were able to succeed in a graduate level course even though their skills in English language were very limited and the students had no background in the field. While traditional second language research focuses attention at the sentence level, this study discovered that the larger unit of the whole course and the required assignments had central importance to the students' success. Theories of language and context, and language socialization were helpful in examining systematically some of the factors involved. The study not only included the individual class period and lesson, but also considered the organization of the whole course, the organization of the homework assignments, and the way class work supported the assignments. The study indicates that the organization of the course was particularly cohesive and was clearly communicated to the students at the beginning of the course; the assignments were integral to the course and were coherent with each other, and there was a clear format to each assignment. The assignments engaged students in actual work, not simply exercises in comprehension, and class sessions provided background knowledge and feedback that enabled students to participate successfully and presumably learn the culture of the classroom. With this larger perspective the study underlines the importance of context in language learning.
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