University of Wollongong, Australia

This small longitudinal study investigated oral task-based interaction in an undergraduate EFL classroom in Japan. First, descriptive quantitative data related to language-related episodes (LREs) and other contextual data from four focal learners and their partners (N = 8) in two oral presentation tasks were quantified to provide insights into the amount and effectiveness of learner-generated focus on form in a Japanese university context. Next, a qualitative microanalysis of one learner’s interaction with partners of similar proficiency on two similar tasks, separated by a period of seven months, was conducted to investigate influences of context. Much as in previous studies, there was little focus on form in interaction and there was much variability across dyads. Qualitative analysis revealed that the effectiveness of FOF in interaction and performance may have been influenced by the learners’ shared background (including L1 use), individual differences in terms of engagement in LREs, learners’ perceptions of each other’s language proficiency, and other interpersonally negotiated features of the interaction. The chapter concludes with suggestions for awareness-raising activities which may improve the effectiveness of task-based learner-generated FOF in foreign language settings.

Introduction

This chapter reports on a study into the incidence and effectiveness of learner-generat-ed focus on form (FOF) in task-baslearner-generat-ed learner-learner discourse in an English-as-a-foreign-language (EFL) classroom in Japan. This includes a microanalysis of one learner’s task-based interaction and performance over time and across partners, high-lighting individual and dialogically negotiated features which may influence the ef-fectiveness of incidental learner-generated FOF in EFL contexts.

Focus on form (FOF), initially defined as “[overtly drawing] students’ attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning” (Long, 1991, p. 46), is a major pedagogic principle in task-based language teaching (TBLT; cf. Long 2007, p. 122). This is evidenced by its prominence in SLA

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research from cognitive processing and sociocultural perspectives, and the several vol-umes dedicated to its investigation and application (e.g., Doughty & Williams, 1998;

Ellis, 2001; Fotos & Nassaji, 2007; cf. also Mackey, 2007). The ability of learners to provide each other with corrective feedback, or to collaboratively create new learning opportunities (e.g., Donato, 1994; Storch, 2002; Swain & Lapkin, 1998) in task-based interaction also features prominently in this research. A major unit of analysis in re-search into task-based learner-learner discourse is the language-related episode (LRE),1 defined most succinctly by Swain & Lapkin (1998) as “any part of a dialogue where the students talk about the language they are producing, question their language use, or correct themselves or others” (p. 326).

Incidental learner-generated focus on form

Although it has been found that learners can provide each other with corrective feed-back (e.g., Fujii & Mackey, 2009; Zhao & Bitchener, 2007), and that learner-learner (L-L) dialogue can result in more uptake (immediate responses to feedback; cf. Lyster

& Ranta, 1997) than teacher-learner (T-L; Ellis et al., 2001) dialogue, only a small number of classroom studies into FOF have investigated L-L dialogue in detail.

Seedhouse (2001) drew on conversation analysis (CA) theory and an analysis of 330 lessons from various sources to contrast interactional feedback given by teachers to that given by other learners. CA theory (e.g., Schegloff, Jefferson & Sacks, 1977) holds that, because of considerations of face, when conversational trouble arises, re-pair is achieved via a series of preferential methods, starting with initiated self-repair (where an individual notes an error in his/her own output and self-corrects), followed by self-initiated other-repair (where an individual notes an error in his/her own output and elicits correction from an interlocutor), other-initiated self-repair (where an interlocutor highlights an error in an individual’s output and the individual self-corrects), and finally other-initiated other-repair (where an interlocutor notes and corrects an individual’s error; see Storch (2001) and Mennim (2005) for related analy-ses of LRE initiation and resolution in FOF editing/revision tasks). Seedhouse found that teachers often provide overt and direct positive evaluation when learners produce correct responses, but avoid overt, explicit, direct negative evaluation when learners produce incorrect responses. He argues that, while teachers are trying to create an environment where errors are seen as a positive part of learning, avoidance of use of the word ‘no’ sends “the interactional message that making errors is an embarrassing, face-threatening matter” (p. 368). He cites survey research of students’ attitudes, which

1. Ellis and his colleagues (e.g., Ellis, Basturkmen & Loewen, 2001) use the term form-focused episodes (FFEs), defining them as “very similar to ‘language related episodes’ except that they include occasions when the teacher directed attention to form either pre-emptively or reactive-ly” (Ellis, 2008: 831).

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finds that learners want precisely the kind of feedback that teachers are not giving them, and that learners do provide each other with direct negative feedback.

Williams (1999) investigated spontaneous learner-generated focus on form in sixty-five hours of adult ESL classroom interaction data and reported the following results:

– learners initiated LREs, but not very often;

– use of LREs increased significantly with proficiency;

– the most prevalent (by far) type of LRE was requests to the teacher, though this decreased with increases in proficiency;

– grammar-focused tasks resulted in the most LREs and free conversation the least;

– lexically-oriented LREs accounted for 80% of the total LREs, regardless of profi-ciency.

Interviews with the learners revealed the perception that they were either ‘told to’ or

‘supposed to’ focus on form in one activity and fluency in another, though there was no overt direction from the teacher to do so. Like Seedhouse, Williams argues that learn-ers “come to this perception as a result of more subtle cues” (p. 616). She adds that learners’ perceptions of the goal of an activity guide their focus. In conclusion, she ar-gues that, given learners’ natural bias towards focus on vocabulary and that they “do not spontaneously attend to formal aspects of language very frequently or consistently across activities” (p. 619), the responsibility for encouraging focus on other aspects on form lies with the teacher, though it is unclear whether explicit or implicit teacher in-tervention will enable learners to focus more effectively on form.

Zhao and Bitchener (2007) compared form-focused episodes (FFEs; see note 1) in teacher-learner (T-L) and learner-learner (L-L) interaction in unfocused informa-tion exchange tasks, in adult migrant ESL classes in New Zealand. They found that learners were far more likely to initiate pre-emptive FOF (where no production prob-lem had occurred) in L-L interaction than in whole-class situations, noting that learn-ers may be reluctant to show a lack of undlearn-erstanding in the latter setting. Confirming findings from previous studies (e.g., Ellis et al. 2001), they found that recasts were the most common form of corrective feedback used by teachers (33% of FFEs), followed closely by explicit corrective feedback (30% of FFEs). They also found similar results for learners, in that explicit feedback (34%) was most common, followed by recasts (28%). In addition, for both groups the majority of FFEs were lexical, and there were similar amounts of successful uptake. One major difference was that L-L interaction included FFEs with no feedback (11.8%) and incorrect feedback (4.9%, with 2% in-volving uptake). Zhao and Bitchener balanced this against the findings that there was more uptake in L-L (72.3%) than in T-L interactions (54.4%), and that incorrect feedback was negligible in L-L interactions, much as in earlier studies (e.g., Pica &

Doughty, 1985).

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Research in foreign language contexts

While research in foreign language contexts aims to extend the findings of FOF re-search in SLA, there are several distinguishing features of such rere-search. In addition to those outlined by Shehadeh (this volume), learners (and teachers) may be resistant to FOF activities for social reasons (e.g., social relationships between partners; Philp, Walter & Basturkmen, 2010), cultural reasons (e.g., face considerations; Fujii &

Mackey, 2009), or curriculum policy-related reasons (e.g., curriculum focus on ex-plicit grammar teaching; McDonough, 2004). In addition, where learners have a shared L1, this may play a more prominent role in their classroom interaction (e.g., Swain &

Lapkin, 2000; Moore, in press), as they may be more likely to draw on their L1 for metalinguistic talk, for example.

In a study into learner-learner interaction in a Thai university EFL classroom, McDonough (2004) investigated whether interaction on tasks focusing learners on real and unreal conditional clauses improved learner production on immediate and delayed post-tests. After separating learners into high- and low-participation groups based on the number of negative feedback and modified output ‘episodes’, she found that learn-ers in the high-participation group showed significant improvement on both condi-tionals in immediate post-tests and on the delayed post-test for real condicondi-tionals, while the low-participation learners only showed improvement on the immediate post-test for unreal conditionals. In interviews with learners, she found that they placed little value on feedback from other learners, and that they felt they required explicit gram-mar instruction for upcoming examinations. Similar responses were received from teachers, highlighting a common issue in EFL curricula in Asia: Washback from formal written examinations can detract from a focus on language for oral communication.

Philp et al. (2010) investigated environmental and social influences on incidental focus on form in a foreign-language French classroom in New Zealand. Seven of 31 students in an intact classroom were observed, recorded and interviewed as they per-formed eight unfocused tasks over three weeks. Thirty-three (mostly lexical) LREs occurred in the data, and one third of these involved the use of the learners’ L1. In primed interviews, learners mentioned several social reasons for not focusing on form.

These included: relationships between partners (feelings of awkwardness were report-ed between some partners); learners’ perceptions of partners’ comparative language proficiency, or their own ability to provide corrective feedback; learners’ framing of the task (not wanting to interrupt ‘the game’ of role plays [p. 275]); and learners’ percep-tions of the teacher’s expectapercep-tions.

Finally, Fujii and Mackey (2009) investigated interactional feedback in unfocused tasks in a university-based EFL classroom in Japan (N = 18). In the study, feedback followed only 6.5% of non-target-like turns, though learners did modify their output in response to feedback, which mainly included clarification requests and confirma-tion checks. The latter provided rich positive evidence, in that they included para-phrases and summaries of the problematic turns. They also found that recasts provided

Chapter 8. Incidental learner-generated focus on form in a task-based EFL classroom 

by learners were problematic in that they provide only “partially more target-like reformulations” (p. 283). With regard to the low incidence of feedback, the authors suggest that the learners may have avoided feedback because of their shared cultural background, including avoidance of potential face-threatening acts. They also state that the learners may neither have noticed errors, nor been of a level of proficiency to provide effective feedback. Finally, the authors found several instances where LREs involving collaborative non-target-like resolutions appeared to lead to so-called ‘mis-learning’ on post-tests. They conclude that more research is needed into individual differences in abilities and preferences with regard to feedback, as well as “the per-ceived ‘authority’ of the feedback provider” (p. 293).

Sociocognitive influences on FOF

Research from a sociocultural perspective has linked the effectiveness of LREs to the existence of mutually supportive task-focused relationships developed between learn-ers in interaction. Such interaction may involve a variety of pedagogic moves, includ-ing scaffoldinclud-ing (Wood, Bruner & Ross, 1976) where a more competent peer supports a less competent peer, or collective scaffolding (Donato, 1994; cf. also Storch, 2002;

Swain & Lapkin, 1998) where learners provide mutual support. Forms focused on in collective scaffolding are hypothesised to create new knowledge for all participants.

Intersubjectivity, or the ongoing dialogic negotiation of partially shared perspectives and goals (e.g., Wells, 1998), is another important construct, linking the social and the cognitive in task-based activity, as evidenced by learners’ engagement with each other (e.g., through such phenomena as overlapping speech and backchanneling; cf. Brooks

& Donato, 1994; Storch, 2002) and engagement with the task. Evidence of intersubjec-tivity (see below) has been linked with successful task completion (Brooks & Donato, 1994), as well transfer of knowledge in LREs (Storch, 2002). The negotiation of task control (Swain & Lapkin, 1998; Storch, 2002) is also important, as dominant-passive dyads may generate fewer opportunities for negotiation and incorporation of new forms than dyads where both learners contribute equally to the task (Storch, 2002).

This research has found that a mixture of high levels of intersubjectivity, as well as shared scaffolding opportunities and shared task control to be most effective in creat-ing learncreat-ing opportunities, in terms of the number, and effectiveness of LREs.

In summary, though the classroom is the main source of learning for learners in foreign language settings, the majority of research into FOF in task-based interaction has been carried out in second language settings (Fujii & Mackey, 2009).2 The above research has identified challenges to the implementation of FOF in foreign language classrooms, including influences of students’ shared cultural and linguistic back-grounds, as well as situational and interpersonal features of the interaction on the 2. See Sato (2011: 11–13) for an interesting discussion of the use of the terms ‘foreign’ and

‘second’ language contexts in SLA research.

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effectiveness of FOF. It has also identified links between sociocognitive aspects of in-teraction, including intersubjectivity, task control and pedagogic roles, and the effec-tiveness of FOF. The current study aims to add to the small, but growing number of studies into focus on form in task-based learner-learner interaction in EFL contexts.

While this type of qualitative research into incidental focus on form is less common than the more analytic approaches taken above, Ellis (2010) notes the “obvious merit in more holistic, qualitative approaches that document the situated nature of [correc-tive feedback] and the complex discoursal events where learning takes place” (p. 346).

The study

As part of a larger longitudinal study in the context of a Japanese undergraduate EFL classroom, this study investigated focus on form generated by learners in pair work leading up to the performance of oral presentation tasks.

The research questions for the study were:

1. To what extent do learners focus on form?

2. What links are there between language-related episodes (LREs) in interaction and subsequent individual task performance?

3. To what extent, if any, might contextual sociocognitive features of the interaction influence the amount and effectiveness of LREs?

Context and participants

The study was undertaken in the Faculty of Humanities in a university in Japan. The second-year Oral Presentation class met once a week for 25 weeks over two semesters for 1.5 hours per week. Eight students participated in the study (six male and two fe-male; aged 19 to 33). Most learners’ English language proficiency fell within the inter-mediate range which the class was designed for (TOEFL 450–480) with the exception of two learners: one (Yasuko) whose proficiency was below this range and one (Mina) whose proficiency was above.3

Data collection and analysis

Data for this study came from the interaction surrounding two oral presentation tasks, performed seven months apart: Oral Presentation 1 (OP1) and OP3.4 OP1 was a

3. On a mock abridged version of the TOEIC test, Yasuko scored 15 and Mina scored 67 out of a possible 100, while other participants scored between 38 and 51.

4. Another task, OP2 (held in weeks 17–18), was excluded from the study as OP1 and OP3 provided substantial comparative data and there was a need to balance data collection require-ments against the workloads of the study’s participants.

Chapter 8. Incidental learner-generated focus on form in a task-based EFL classroom 

ten-minute (maximum) biographical presentation. Later presentations involved more freedom with regard to topic choice, and were also progressively longer, with the final presentation being from 15 to 20 minutes’ duration. Topics chosen for OP1 ranged from historical (President John F. Kennedy; Helen Keller) to more contemporary figures (John Lydon; Mariah Carey); while OP3 involved a broad range of topics (e.g., history of boxing; slow and fast food).

Interaction, performance and reflection data were collected for OP1 and OP3. In-teraction data were collected in the classroom using small analogue tape recorders in weeks 4 and 5 (OP1) and weeks 19–21 (OP3). In weeks 6 (OP1) and 22 (OP3) each dyad practised their oral presentations in front of one or two other dyads. These pre-sentations were audio-recorded in three adjoining classrooms. Directly after recording their OP3 pepractice (week 22) learners listened to their recordings to identify er-rors in grammar, lexis and pronunciation, in an adaptation of an FOF task described by Mennim (2003). Oral presentations were recorded on both video and audiotape during weeks 7–8 (OP1) and week 24 (OP3). Written self-evaluations were a part of the pedagogic approach in the course, and they were designed to gain insights into the learners’ experience of the task-based interaction with their partners and peers, as well as their awareness of their own language performance.

Data analysis for the larger study involved both descriptive statistical analysis and qualitative analysis of case studies. The first stage involved categorising, coding and descriptive quantitative analysis of the interaction data (22 transcripts in total) accord-ing to the emergent focus of learners, classified as procedural (e.g., talk about how to complete the task), content-creation (talk about content matter that will comprise the oral presentation) and off-task (talk unrelated to the task at hand), paralleling de Guerrero & Villamil’s (1994) categories of about-task, on-task and off task interaction.

Inter-rater agreement on a sample of seven transcripts was 82%. The current study draws on data from eight of the original 12 participants, comprising four focal learners and their interlocutors, as they had the best attendance, and therefore the most com-plete data sets. The four focal learners (Keita [male, intermediate, 19], Mina [female, upper intermediate, late 20s], Yasuko [female, upper-elementary/lower-intermediate, 33] and Taro [male, intermediate, 19]) were chosen for comparative analysis as they represented the maximum range of language proficiency, age, learners from both sex-es, as well as the maximum amount of available interaction data. Their interlocutors (see Table 1 below) were Nao (male, intermediate, 20), Ken (male, intermediate, 23), Daito (male, intermediate, 21) and Tomo (male, intermediate, 19).

First, descriptive quantitative analysis of the four focal learners and their inter-locutors is presented, in terms of counts of LREs in interaction, counts of LRE forms used in oral presentation tasks, and supporting contextual data related to share of talk-in-interaction and use of L1. This is followed by an in-depth quantitative and qualitative analysis of one learner’s (Keita’s) interaction and performance with two interlocutors, Nao, in OP1, and Ken, in OP3. Keita was chosen as both of his interlocutors were of a similar proficiency and both had known him for the same length of time prior to

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joining the class. Qualitative data included interaction transcripts, as well as reflection and observation data; these were analysed to investigate the influence of sociocognitive features of the interaction on the amount and effectiveness of LREs. The analysis draws on previous analyses of intersubjectivity, pedagogic roles and task control (e.g, Donato, 1988; Storch 2001). Evidence of intersubjectivity (or ‘mutuality’, summarised by Storch, 2001) may include repetitions (though not exclusively, cf. Extracts 1 and 2 below), requests, collaborative completions, phatic utterances (‘um’, ‘ah’, etc.) used in backchan-neling, acknowledgement agreement and requests, and use of the third person pro-noun (‘we’), each of which may signal a mutual interest in the ongoing dialogue. The following extracts provide examples of varying degrees of intersubjectivity.

Extract 1. Keita and Nao (OP1 interaction1, turns 128–139) 128 KEITA: white has ... big power

129 NAO: big power ...

130 KEITA: but black is not 131 NAO: um white=

132 KEITA: =but mm 133 NAO: hate [black people]

134 KEITA: [ah yes yes yes] ... ah Gandhi . appealed ... non violence 135 NAO: ah: OK I see

136 KEITA: (laughs)

137 NAO: ah! ... good face . good good good good man 138 KEITA: mm::

139 NAO: ah: Gandhi!

While sharing background knowledge the learners signal their intersubjectivity by us-ing repetition (turn 129), collaborative completions (turns 131–3), latchus-ing (turns

While sharing background knowledge the learners signal their intersubjectivity by us-ing repetition (turn 129), collaborative completions (turns 131–3), latchus-ing (turns

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