Interactive task design: Metachat and the whole learner

Lamy, Marie-Noelle (2006). Interactive task design: Metachat and the whole learner. In: Garcia Mayo, Maria del Pilar ed. Investigating tasks in formal language learning. Second Language Acquisition. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, pp. 242–264.



In this chapter the focus is on conversations about language between adult learners online, in synchronous and asynchronous postings. Socio-affective and social-semiotic perspectives are used, thus distancing the work somewhat from cognitive ways of looking at tasks. Because adults come to the task with diverse knowledge of both L2 and L1, the expectation is that metalinguistic interaction will enable them to swap expert and novice roles with each other within the constantly changing dynamics of the classroom. This if shown to be the case would advance an educational agenda favouring learner-directedness. Secondly, as metalinguistic conversations develop in directions that the learners feel like following, a greater degree of contingency can arise. This is considered in this paper as motivational for adults, and also as progressive, following van Lier (1996: 180) for whom in a contingent conversation "the agenda is shared by all participants and educational reality may be transformed". However, in seeking to satisfy his condition of contingency, the problem of designing tasks for greater spontaneity proves difficult. Therefore this study provide an ethnographic account of metalinguistic conversations by learners engaged in an online task, Simuligne, designed to address this difficulty. After studying data from the project forums, chat rooms and emails, we introduce a new perspective on the function of these conversations, which holds pointers for task design.

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