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For recent decades, the role of peer interaction has become a debatable issue in second language acquisition (SLA). In the field of SLA, peer interaction is interpreted as a situation of learning where two or more learners conduct a variety of communicative activities without the interference of the teacher. Researchers have used several approaches to analyze the efficacy of peer interaction for L2 learning. Foster and Ohta assert that knowledge intrinsically stems from social contexts and is constructed through social engagement. Ballinger conducted a study on peer “corrective feedback” based on a sociocultural perspective by analyzing the interactions among eight pairs of French immersion learners and she came to the conclusion that the learners do not merely produce more feedback when they interact collaboratively. This prompts that the efficacy of corrective feedback depends on peers’ enthusiasm and the success of peer interaction arguably relies on learners’ cultural backgrounds.
Likewise, a study by Bruce and Hansson conclude that contextual aspects such as the number and backgrounds (including social, cultural, age and language skills) of participants involved in a certain group of work influence verbal interaction among learners. Whereas interacting with familiar peers having similar ages may be encouraging, communicating with older or younger peers with different culture and language proficiency level is possibly challenging. These varied situations create a range of differential supports as well as obstacles to the learners in peer interaction. As peer interaction occurs in a myriad of classroom settings at any level of learning with different purposes, it is obvious that learners spend a lot of time interacting with their peers during teaching and learning process whether in pair or group work. Thus, it is important for teachers to ensure whether or not peer interaction necessarily contributes to learners’ second language development by concerning several factors which might affect its effectiveness such as task types, learners’ backgrounds, etc. Pertaining to this issue, a number of literature related to peer interaction research are going to be reviewed to figure out to what extent peer interaction is necessary for second language advancement and what factors affect it.
To address this question, it is important to look into the strength and the weakness of peer interaction. Much research had made the claims that peer interaction enables students to negotiate meaning whenever they encounter communication disturbances which involve interactively corrective feedback to support reciprocal understanding. It is true this natural learning process is likely to trigger L2 development in which learners can get overwhelmed by corrective feedback from each other. Nevertheless, these studies did not address the erroneous forms made by the learners as they are contradictory to the findings of Sato and Lyster, revealing that even though learners’ frequently exchange inputs and provide a sequence of treatment for error correction, they were less attentive to the negotiation of form. Similarly, Schmidt, who refers corrective feedback to noticing, emphasizes that noticing is essential due to the fact that learners obtain intake from the conscious noticing. Consequently, with such awareness of modified input, learners have a great chance to develop their L2 cognition simultaneously.
On the other hand, several shortcomings do appear in peer interaction, particularly in learners’ grammatical competence. McDonough & Mackey claim that the use of body language or gestures and strong reliance on short answers as well as limited use of the target language has become influential factors which lead the learners to not necessitate the form upon the task completion. Therefore, it can be inferred from these findings that paying attention to the impacts of certain task types on learners’ interactional behavior as well as on the on the outcome of L2 development is a salient variable for further investigation.
The role of peer interaction is still questionable regarding in what kind of task the learner-to-learner interaction takes place. A research by Smith et al. claims that the learners perform better, in responding the multiple-choice task after group learning and demonstrate an increasing achievement in the second task with similar components, than does individual work. This finding is contradictory to a recent study by Linton et al. which figures out that the learners’ correct responses to multiple-choice tasks are not affected by peer interaction. However, it should be underlined the research questions of the two studies are significantly different. Smith and friends’ paper questioned if students’ learning can be assisted by peer interaction, while Linton and colleagues’ asked if peer interaction is needed for learning advancement in the process of active learning. Linton et al. further suggests that peer interaction can be beneficial in high level cognitive tasks such as applying, analyzing and evaluating; however, it seems to be useless in lower level cognitive tasks such as memorization where peers are not necessarily needed to memorize things. Thus, it can be seen that peer interaction does not always necessarily determine the learning outcomes which might depend on the task types presented by teachers.
Research explaining learners’ strong engagement during peer interaction is rare. However, some evidence showing that learners feel more comfortable during peer interaction compared to student-teacher interaction does exist. It can be said that students’ comfort level brings positive impacts to learners’ L2 processing by making them aware of errors in their peers’ utterances as well as allow them to give corrective feedback. In my own experience of working with students during classroom activities, being comfortable allows the learners to interact more confidently with others. Consequently, they tend to produce more chances for practicing the language and receive more feedback. In line with this issue, Philp et al. argues that learners basically feel more relieved during peer interaction than that of teacher-learner interaction owing to the fact that they are not closely supervised by the teacher. Language Input and Output Even though to some extent peer interaction might not fully support the language development of some groups of learners based on the social view, it benefits the learners in the area of psycholinguistic and linguistic views. As what Loewen and Sato (2018) claim that peer interaction brings psycholinguistic advantages which come up with long-term input and output as a result of practicing the language. Peer interaction provides learners with an experimental experience in language use. Meanwhile, a recent study conducted by Derwing and Munro (2015) find out that peer interaction linguistically develops learners’ grammatical and lexical competences. All the findings above implies that the result of learners’ interactional behavior inside or outside the classroom may not emerge immediately, but learners will feel the improvement along the way as they keep receiving reciprocal feedback from each other.
A study conducted by Lin, Justice, Paul, and Mashburn (2016) on peer interaction investigates how children interact and affect one another in their daily social interaction in rural preschool classrooms. Lin et al. hypothesized that young learners receive plenty of opportunities in generating their interactional skills through socialization in preschool classrooms. 270 preschoolers were observed with average ages of fifty-three months from sixty-one preschool classrooms. This study reveals that peer interaction cannot be significantly successful when it is implemented in a classroom setting in which students have similar educational and behavioral backgrounds. Nonetheless, it should be noted that the scope of their study was limited to preschool learners studying in rural region with insufficient resources. Accordingly, there could be other factors which influenced the results of the study such as socio-economical and demographical contexts, considering that these factors were beyond the scope of the study. The selection of participants and setting of research definitely make the results noticeably different, as what underpinning theories of child development reassure that the significance of fundamental variability in children’s basic ecosystems including family, school, and community highly affect children’s development, thus, the omission of one aspect makes the others delicate to be understood.
As the research carried out by Lin et al. only analyses the pattern of peer interaction of preschool learners in a rural area with the low socio-economical background, it is restricted in its evaluation of the peers’ impacts with the same attributes. As such limitation, this research could be improved by conducting an investigation into wider and dynamic preschool contexts for young learners in order to broaden their social relationships to more varied peer groups. Likewise, with regard to homophily phenomenon, a research carried out by Sit in a university in Hong Kong focusing on peer interaction among diverse learners also indicates that mixed groups, which consist of Mainland China and local students, did not work as good as non-mixed ones. It is noticeable that the learners have an inclination to make groups with familiar friends during classroom interaction. Interestingly, even though this study was conducted in a university classroom context, several impediments were still found during peer interaction owing to the sociocultural background. The students seem to be reluctant to initiate mixed learning groups until they are required by the teacher to do so. Thus, Sit recommends that teachers should be more aware and informed of organizing socially and culturally diverse learners during the learning process.
In response to the finding above, Ribeiro, Zachrisson, and Dearing (2017) carry out a study on peer effects on language skill development. This study involves a broad range of participants including 539 children in 57 childcare centers in Norway. It should be underlined that they collect the data from the Behavior Outlook Norwegian Developmental Study (BONDS). This study was aimed at finding out the influence of peer effects on language skills of preschool-aged children studying in Norwegian childcare centers. According to Ribeiro and colleagues, peer interaction in preschool settings brings positive impacts to learners’ language development. Moreover, it can be argued that social economic backgrounds, where income discrepancies are relatively low, provide benefits to learners to be successful in enhancing their language skills during peer interaction.
After investigating four English classes at a university level in Japan by applying experimental design research, Sato and Lyster made a conclusion that peer interaction did improve learners’ L2 fluency and provided intake on certain interactional shifts in relation to L2 learning. It was found that corrective feedback presented during peer interaction was useful to learners, particularly in foreign language taught classrooms where learners own very limited opportunity in practicing the target language and do not obtain adequate corrective feedback from the teachers.
In the context of L2 learning, in particular, some researchers take into account that this way of learning is quite helpful to propel students’ activeness in building classroom networks and to practice the target language communicatively, while some others still question and examine the usefulness of peer interaction. Personally speaking, the writer is in favor of the idea that reciprocal interaction among students that occurs during the classroom activity strongly contributes to the development of their language skills. It is undeniably true that practicing is important in acquiring a second language. Under this circumstance, peer interaction is inevitably significant for learners by which they can exchange thoughts or ideas that unconsciously stimulate their learning process. Thus, the more the students practice, the better they understand and eventually acquire the target language. In relation to this learning condition, Sato and Ballinger state that peer interaction is implemented in a wide range of classroom activities either in pairs, small or larger groups, and teachers can adjust it for various tasks such as task completion and group discussions. Furthermore, it is also possible to be applied in varied learning contexts both inside and outside the classroom. In simpler words, it has no limitations to a particular context of learning.
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