Analyzing the learning potential of collaborative writing with primary school children: The case of dictogloss


Abstract  In recent years there has been a growing body of research on the so-called writing-to-learn approach to develop L2 knowledge (Byrnes & Manchón 2014). Swain (1995) argued that the need to produce output is more likely to encourage learners to process language in depth, notice gaps in their interlanguage, and reflect on language use. Some scholars advocate the use of tasks which require learners to produce written output collaboratively as they engage in a dialogue (referred to as languaging by Swain 2006) and try to reach an agreement not only about the content, but also about the form. Recent work has also wondered about the effects of group setup (Fernández Dobao 2012; García Mayo & Zeitler, 2017) and individual factors, such as attitudes, on the effectiveness of these tasks (Fernández Dobao & Blum 2013; Shak & Gardner, 2008). However, the number of studies analyzing the impact of collaborative writing on EFL young learners' output has yet been scarce. The aim of the present study was, thus, to analyze the effects of dictogloss (Wajnryb 1990) on the development of the English grammatical knowledge (3rd person singular -s and articles) of Basque-Spanish Primary school learners. Fifty 11-12 year-old learners (mean age: 11.18 years) with an elementary proficiency level worked on a dictogloss task individually (n = 16), and in teacher-assigned dyads (n = 16) and small groups (n = 18). A grammaticality judgment test and a multiple choice gapped task taken before and after the completion of the dictogloss measured their grammar uptake and an exit questionnaire assessed their attitudes toward writing, collaborative work and the task itself. The findings revealed that the task allowed equally learners in pairs and groups to focus on form, although not always in the expected quantity and direction. Besides, the task did not lead to a clear improvement in the posttest results for 3rd -s and articles and no significant differences were found between the different experimental groups. Regarding attitudes, the quantitative and qualitative analysis of the exit questionnaire demonstrated learners’ general positive disposition and a willingness to carry out this sort of tasks in their EFL lessons. These results confirm the effectiveness of dictogloss to focus children’s attention on form, but highlight the need to design dyad and small group specific posttests, based on their deliberations during the text reconstruction stage, in order to better gauge the impact of the task on the learners’ grammar knowledge (Storch 2016). Finally, the possibility to use a reconceptualization of LREs known as Language Related Problem Spaces (LRPS) (García Hernández, Roca de Larios & Coyle 2017) is also suggested, as the traditional classification of LREs may be too limited to measure any improvements in this population’s metalinguistic reasoning.

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