Negotiating Meaning

Hi All!!!!

I wanted to chip in with a comment that tackles more the why and what of the learner-learner interaction than the how. I think we all agree after session 2 that conducting successful oral learner-learner interactions synchronously in an online environment presents several challenges, and that we need to carefully prepare the interactions and consider how to troubleshoot in case learners encounter problems with the task and/or the tools. If this is the case, it seems to me I will have to be much more choosy of which oral learner-learner interactions to do synchronously than I would be in an in person environment. All learner-learner interaction tasks are not created equal. I’m going to get a bit technical here. Some tasks are very robust and support both language development (creating mental representations) and skill development (ability to use the representations for communication in a more or less fluent fashion). These tasks are rarely included in textbooks. Most activities that appear in typical language textbooks (activities included after introduction of grammar topics, for instance) might help (notice the conditional) with skill development, but will not do much to support language development (if you want clarification on this point, please let me know). After session 2 it’s clear to me that while I can afford during an in person class to spend time in more mechanical activities, this might not be the best choice in an online course. While I will still plan for  learner-learner interactions during “in class” synchronous time with the whole class, the goal of these activities will not be language development (or even skill development), but it will be to create community, getting learners comfortable with working with each other, and to train them on how to interact during language tasks. Then, instead of assigning the mechanical workbook exercises as homework, I will design communicative tasks (tasks that have a communicative purpose, that are contextualized, promote  negotiation of meaning, and result in some type of product) as homework; to be done in pairs or small groups, and to be recorded so I can later provide feedback. Yes, it’s considerable more work than looking at the self-grading textbook homework, but it is an important investment of time. Also, I believe I will not be grading each language use for each student in this tasks (the same way I don’t grade them when they do oral learner-learner activities in class), but I will check for completion and use them to create a record of development throughout the semester.  Since I never taught a fully online course (I have experience with hybrid courses), this is not a recommendation for all to do, but something that I would try based on the characteristics of the teaching environment and what I know about how languages are acquired and developed. What do veterans of online teaching think?

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