Posted by: raghdah | March 27, 2009



This study presented here is not only based on the literature review, but it is also followed by an empirical research in an adult foreign language learners (EFL) classroom. This study examined a certain kind of interaction that occurs between two pairs over a range of language tasks such as (picture description, situation narration).The findings discussed here are clarified by reference to certain articles and Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development.

The use of pair work is very phenomenal in education, based on * Patterns of Interaction in ESL pair work * an article by Neomy Storch in which she states that group interaction has been the topic of broad research in social psychology and general education in which an outsized volume of research on cooperative learning groups (see reviews by Johnson & Johnson, 1990, 1994; Sharan, 1990; Slavin, 1990). It is very clear that these studies have shown that cooperative learning produces social and cognitive gains. Research conclusion on group work supports classroom organization above teacher-fronted classes. According to long and Porter (1985) who carried out a review of L2 literature on group work, it is quite clear that group work offers language learners with more chances to use the language and for a larger range of functions ( see also Ohta, 1995). More studies such as (e.g Pica and Doughty, 1985; Varonis and Gass, 1995) have revealed that learners engage more with each other compared to teacher-fronted classes.

However, more research has been done in both L1 (e.g. Mercer, 1995; Wegerif and Mercer, 1997; Cohen, 1994) and L2 (e.g. Donato, 1989; 1994; Brooks and Donato, 1994) to investigate the nature of interactions in group and pair work. In L2 research, a number of researchers (e.g. Donato, 1989, 1994; Ahmed, 1994; Ohta, 1995) have drawn awareness to the nature of group interactions and its relationship to language learning. These researchers refer to Vygotsky’s (1978) theory of learning not only as lending an alternative perspective on the importance of interaction in second language (L2) learning but what’s more, as offering a diverse approach to the analysis of such interactions.

According to Vygotsky (1978), cognitive progress takes place as a result of human interaction between pairs such as novice – expert or collaborative pair. The more the expert aids the novice to internalize the learning and therefore, attains an advanced level of improvement. Yet, further researchers (e.g. Wertsch and Hickmann, 1987; Wood et al., 1976), examining ‘expert-novice’ interactions in L1, have shown that for development to be successful, the backing supplied by the more able member needs to be scaffolded and lightly in tune to the needs of the novice. Donato’s (1989) and Ohta’s (1995) studies have revealed that in L2 settings with adult learners, scaffolded backing is not necessarily uni-directional (from expert to novice.

Furthermore, various studies have demonstrated that collaboration is beneficial (Azmitia, 1988; Doise, Mugny, & Perret- Clermont, 1975, 1976; Ellis, Klahr, & Siegler, 1993). Even though these profits are not widespread and differ across tasks and individual students (e.g., Tudge, 1989), students seem to learn better and unravel further problems correctly when they join forces with other people, especially when the task is complex (Gabbert, Johnson, & Johnson, 1986). Collaboration also seems to have more beneficial effects such as humanizing social relations, or escalating students’ motivation (Sharan, 1980). Thus, for various reasons, collaboration is increasingly viewed as an effective instructional medium. More instructors are using collaborative work in their classrooms.

In spite of its famousness, the exact mechanism of collaborative learning is not understood. While researchers have proposed that several factors such as cognitive conflicts (Doise et al., 1975, 1976), partner expertise (Azmitia, 1988), or increased amount of verbalization (Teasley, 1992) are responsible for improving learning in collaboration. The factors presented do not give an elucidation of how collaboration functions. What is more, there are several empirical studies that contradicted these factors, showing that the effect of collaboration does not seem to depend solely on the expertise of the partner (Ellis et al., 1993), the presence of cognitive conflict itself (Bryant, 1982), or sheer amount of talking itself (Perlmutter, Behrend, Kuo, & Muller, 1989). A basic basis of social interaction is the need to achieve a “common ground” that makes communication possible (Clark & Brennan, 1991; Clark & Schaefer, 1989). Based on the reports in anthropology, linguistics, and the organizational sciences, it seems that people share common memories, knowledge, or mental models as a result of working together (Hardin & Higgins, 1996; Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994; Sherif, 1936). My main question is 1) Do students learn and gain more knowledge if they cooperate together and how is collaborative work beneficial in their conversation and exchanging information in the foreign language?


1 Participants

The study was conducted in Prince Sultan Cardiac Center (PSCC). Data was collected by recording two pairs in entirely different tasks in the classroom. The students’ level ranges from mere beginners to Pre-intermediate. The students are high school graduates, who are specializing to be heart technicians, as a requirement of this major; they have to take an intensive English course for the first year and a half in order to be able to communicate in everyday situation since the program as a whole is taught in the English language only.

2 The first task
The first task (15-20 minutes) used in this study encourages communication since one student is speaking about a dangerous situation while the other student is drawing what is being narrated. Both students present themselves before they begin working in the task. Part B of the task in which the teacher asks both students to compare both situations they narrated and mention which one was more dangerous. Part C is presented by the teacher in which she gives an imaginary dangerous task and gives students (3-5 minutes) to think about the way they would cope with it!

The second task
The second task (20-25 minutes) used in this study encourages each student to guess the object without seeing the picture of their colleague which is actually the same picture ,yet both participants don’t know this bit of information, every student tries to explain the object using his/her own words. In Part B both students see each others pictures and say their opinion about the task. Part C of the task is when the teacher hides an object and asks students to discuss with each other the hidden object moreover, guess and compose questions about the hidden object!

3 Data
While students worked well together, tape-recorders were placed on the desk to record the pair talk. Once students completed the task, they joined together to discuss the drawing. The instructor took observation notes, making note of the time the pairs took to complete the task, level of engagement in the task, and any significant features of the interactions.
Data (transcriptions of pair talk, observation notes and a copy of both drawings) from the dyad was taken for the analysis. This dyad was chosen because they have represented the way they worked together very well *collaborative learning *

The first pair (Hind & Zinab) worked quite well together, looking at their excerpt:
Zinab: begins by saying * I think my ah my most, my more dangerous…
Hind: from me
Zinab: says from me, yeah
Hind: yeah, I think so because you have policeman, accident, people can die.

Zinab agrees with Hind by replying yes yes and my mother and father and —- Hind says worry

Zinab says yes, you don’t know and (word in Arabic) me make an accident.

Hind asking a question, how of the guy without accident! It is okay?

Zinab agrees by saying yes ok. No problem (both girls laughing)

Hind: No problem heheh yes.

Hind: did you put (gets interrupted by Zinab)

Zinab: but he leaves, he lost ah 5,000 for his car because the accident (both laughing) very expensive says Zinab.
Hind: answers ok, she explains her point of view * I think my situa. Situation is not dangerous cause it is all

in my mind , it is nothing happened , Zianb agrees by saying yes, yes but I think so interrupting Hind . Ahh

Also, in the second pair it was very clear to see the discussion between the second pair at their excerpt:

Amal: ok, my picture like um a circle thing for eating, um red?
Hadeel: Ok, Apple.

Hadeel: Ok, some people use it in desert, and s use it for fun?

Amal: I know, it is tent!

Hadeel: yeah.

Amal: um picture, it is move in the street, and get off with it thing , like a car

Hadeel : ahh, ok truck ?

Amal: yes

Hadeel : Ok, we use it for uh end the sentence, guess it !

Amal: Question mark.

Hadeel: yes.
In terms of the observed interactions, the notes showed that:

• Both dyads worked in their tasks with efficiency. According to Storch (2002) when studying the patterns of dyadic interaction, four different patterns of interaction appeared from her process of data analysis. They were collaborative, dominant/dominant, dominant/passive, and expert/novice. Illustration on the work of Damon and Phelps (1989), who distinguished three patterns of peer interaction (peer tutoring, cooperative learning, and peer collaboration), two indexes, can be used to distinguish amongst these four patterns of dyadic interaction: equality and mutuality. According to Damon and Phelps (1989), equality refers to the level of control or authority over the task. Equality describes more than merely an equal distribution of turns or equal contributions but an equal degree of control over the direction of a task (van Lier, 1996). Thus high equality is evident in interactions where both participants take directions from each other. Mutuality refers to the level of commitment with each other’s contribution. High mutuality describes interactions that are rich in reciprocal feedback and a sharing of ideas (Damon & Phelps, 1989). The expression collaborative defines some of the crucial basics acknowledged by a number of researchers (e.g., Erickson, 1989; Teasley & Roschelle, 1993; Underwood & Underwood, 1999). Underwood & Underwood (1999) both clarified the term collaborative in which the pair are functioning quite well together and where they are eager to offer and connect with each other’s ideas (Erickson, 1989), thus generating and preserving in Teasley and Roschelle’s (1993) terms a “joint problem space” (jps). During the following negotiations, different views are offered and discussed, leading to resolutions that seem acceptable to both participants. Throughout the observation of both pairs that were chosen randomly by their instructor, they both worked well with harmony and efficiency.


A number of classroom – based studies on group/ pair work (e.g. Kowal and Swain, 1994; Jacob et al., 1996; Swain and Lapkin, 1998; Mercer, 1995) have illustrated substantial variations in how learners approach a task and how they carry it out. In this study in which Figure 2 Defining characteristics of interaction was taken from Storch (2001):

Non-collaborative collaborative
Linguistic features: Linguistic features:
First- and second-person pronouns Predominance of first-person predominate. Plural pronouns.
Presence of directives. Few, or absence of, directives.
Text construction behaviour: Text construction behaviour:
Text constructed with little negotiations. Text co-constructed – each partner adding
to and extending on text construction
One partner may dominate. .
Some disagreements over task management.

Metatalk (LREs): Metatalk (LREs):
Few LREs initiated via requests. Many LREs initiated via request
Responses tend to be non-interactive. Responses interactive, and often incorporated.
Some revisions made without consultation Evidence of scaffolding.
Figure 2 Defining characteristics of interaction

The importance of pair work is very clear since there is an evidence of co-construction, extension of knowledge and provision of scaffolded assistance. Finding that proves the importance of the nature of pair interaction for the learning opportunities available to the students. In a study of dyads in peer editing, de Guerrero and Villamil (1994) found that interaction between members of dyads was enormously complex but wrap up that we need to examine which type of interaction is more beneficial to learning. There was some empirical research that was carried by (e.g. Donato, 1989; Goldstein and Conrad, 1990) which demonstrates a bond between collaborative interactions and language learning. Analysis of the pair interaction in Storch (2001) suggested that in collaborative dyads, there appear to be more confirmation checks, more provision of feedback and negotiations over language choices. These discourse moves reflect the type of cognitive processes such as noticing the gap between what one can and cannot do in the second language, consolidation and extension of existing knowledge; processes which are deemed to be important for second language learning according to (Swain and Lapkin, 1998; Pica et al., 1989). We actually need to investigate the possible reasons of why some pairs collaborate and others do not although Kowal and Swain (1994) proposed that great differences between language learners in terms of language proficiency might reduce the degree of collaboration. Yet the study done by Storch (2001) demonstrated that it is not compulsory the divergence in proficiency. In the first pair, the difference in language fluency was obvious, yet the pair was very collaborative in their speaking task and narrating events however, the second pair was less collaborative.


According to large amount of empirical work on collaborative learning, it is very obvious that the interaction between both pairs resulted in opportunities for learning and items learners negotiated as potential tracers (Newman, Griffin, & Cole, 1984; Donato, 1988, 1994). According to a study carried out by Storch (2002) that proved that collaborative and expert / novice pair scored higher in instances suggesting evidence of a transfer of knowledge while both pairs scored less in instances showing no evidence of a transfer of knowledge as well as instances suggesting missed opportunities. These results have been explained by reference to Vygtosky’s theory of cognitive development. Since language has been used as a tool, facilitated the length and complex negotiations over language choice in case of the collaborative dyad. In such negotiations, both participants were actively involved in these tasks presented by the interlocutor. Swain (2000, p. 102) refers to such talk as collaborative dialogue, “dialogue in which speakers are engaged in problem solving and knowledge building.” Such talk in turn reflects cognitive processes such as noticing, noticing the gap, hypotheses formulation, testing and restructuring, and uptake, claimed by researchers (e.g., Brooks et al., 1997; Ellis, 1995; Faerch & Kasper, 1986; Swain, 1994; Swain & Lapkin, 1995) to be vital for triumphant second language acquisition.

Teasley and Roschelle (1993), among many others, point out that collaboration is not predictable, nor
does it happen simply because individuals are co-present. Some studies have indeed documented group work that affords little opportunity for language development (e.g., DiNitto, 2000; Foster,
1998; Jacob, Rottenberg, Patrick, & Wheeler, 1996) and that may even be counterproductive (e.g., Smagorinsky & O’Donnell-Allen, 2000). The findings of this study suggest that language learning is more likely to occur in pairs that are collaborating (see also Donato, 1988, 2000) or that interact in an expert/novice relationship.
Finally, I agree with Goodnow (1993) who claims that the relationship between people in teaching/learning situations cannot be overlooked. Given that the more pair interacted, the more they learn about the language. In language classrooms, which are “essentially social events” (Block, 1996) mentions that interactions between participants have multiple meanings and may in turn have multiple academic outcomes (Brooks, 1990). A better consciousness of the nature of pair interaction can lend a hand to increase the learning occasions pair work offers language learners.


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  1. Suggest you review R. A. DeVillar’s published research literature since 1987 on subject, as well as Nidia Edfelt’s (1988,ff), which was published by DeVillar (with co-editor, Chris Faltis).

    • many thanks. I will try to do that , yet aren’t these studies outdated and I was trying to look for updated material

      best Regards,

  2. Thanks for your response.

    It is customary to review early sources to determine the extent to which foundations were set, principles identified, frameworks constructed, questions posed, and findings, interpretations and recommendations made. My remarks were made in that academic spirit.


    • Thanks again.

      best Regards,

  3. […] THE EFFICIENCY OF COLLABORATIVE PAIR WORK According to long and Porter who carried out a review of L2 literature on group work, it is quite clear that group work offers language learners with more chances to use the language and for a larger range of functions ( see also . […]

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