Reciprocal Role Peer Tutoring: Can It Enhance Students' Motivation and Perceptions of Proficiency When Learning a Foreign Language?

By East, Martin; Tolosa, Constanza et al. | Babel, November 2012 | Go to article overview

Reciprocal Role Peer Tutoring: Can It Enhance Students' Motivation and Perceptions of Proficiency When Learning a Foreign Language?


East, Martin, Tolosa, Constanza, Villers, Helen, Babel


Abstract

As a consequence of a substantially revised national curriculum in New Zealand, all schools are now required to provide opportunities for students in school Years 7 to 10 (age 11+ to 14+) to learn an additional language. There are, however, very few intermediate school (Years 7 and 8) teachers who are additional language 'subject specialists'. This situation raises issues around effective organisation of languages programs. One initiative is to consider reciprocal role peer tutoring whereby additional languages students are paired with students overseas who speak the target language as a first language, and who, via technology, interact in ways that facilitate tutoring in the additional language. This article reports data from an investigation into an online reciprocal peer tutoring project. The project involved beginners' level Year 7 students of Spanish as an additional language in New Zealand who worked with reciprocal Spanish first language speaking partners of the same age in Colombia, who were studying English as an additional language. This article focuses on the New Zealand students' experiences, and discusses the impact of the project on these students' attitudes towards learning an additional language, and their perceptions of their proficiency in the language. Findings are used to consider the strengths and limitations of reciprocal role peer tutoring for language learning, in New Zealand and elsewhere.

Key Words

languages, peer tutoring, technology, motivation

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Introduction

A revised national curriculum for New Zealand's schools (Ministry of Education, 2007) has marked a significant move forward for the teaching and learning of additional languages in comparison to the curriculum that had been in place since 1993 (Ministry of Education, 1993). Under the former curriculum, additional languages teaching and learning had been embedded within a larger curriculum area --Language and Languages--which also included English or Maori as first languages. This often had the effect of marginalising additional language study, because English as a first language could effectively become the default language through which the requirements of the learning area could be met.

Following international critique of the weak place of languages learning in the former curriculum (Australian Council for Educational Research, 2002; National Foundation for Educational Research, 2002), a new learning area, specifically dedicated to additional language learning, has been launched: Learning Languages. From 2010 (when the revised curriculum became mandatory), all schools have been required to be working towards making an additional language an entitlement for school students in Years 7 to 10.

This expansion of provision has brought substantial challenges. One dilemma has been finding suitably qualified (i.e., linguistically and methodologically proficient) teachers. Many languages teachers in intermediate schools (i.e. schools for students in school years 7 and 8, aged 11 + to 12+), who may well have a genuine interest in languages teaching, are themselves at early stages in acquiring the language they are aiming to teach, have not necessarily received any formal training in teaching an additional language, and are by no means 'subject specialists' (Scott & Butler, 2007). Hu (2005), furthermore, argues that crucial to successful student language acquisition is having teachers with a high level of proficiency in the target language.

Another dilemma for expansion of languages programs in New Zealand has been problems with recruitment into, and retention in, languages courses (East, Shackleford, & Spence, 2007). There is arguably a need to make languages classrooms 'places that students enjoy coming to because the content is interesting and relevant to their age and level of ability' (Lightbown & Spada, 2006, p. 64). …

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