The Linguist

The Linguist 52,4

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

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FEATURES Working together Neomy Storch shows how collaborative writing tasks can be an effective strategy for language learners ENGAGING Neomy's students collaborate on writing tasks in the classroom (left and right) have used collaborative writing in my language classes for a number of years and have also conducted and supervised studies investigating the factors affecting the success of such tasks in a range of language learning contexts. The question I am often asked is how such tasks can be implemented in order to maximise success, and how teachers can overcome the initial reluctance of learners to engage in such activities. Collaborative writing is the co-authoring of a text by two or more writers. Although the term is often used interchangeably with cooperative writing, the two activities are very different. In cooperative writing, participants can divide the task between them and feel responsible only for their sub-task (eg, writing one section or being responsible just for the editing), but in collaborative writing, the writers are involved and share the decision-making in all stages of the text creation: in planning, composing and revising the entire text. I 14 The Linguist For language learners, collaborative writing has a number of benefits. Unlike solitary writing, where the learner has to grapple with decisions about language and structure on their own, when writing collaboratively they have a larger pool of knowledge to draw on – the knowledge of their peers. When writing together, they can exchange ideas about what to include in the text, how to organise their ideas, and how best to express their ideas, including choice of words and grammatical accuracy. Furthermore, when students write alone, the feedback they receive from the teacher is given after the writing has been completed and often after some time delay. When writing collaboratively, students provide each other with feedback immediately, during the writing process. That feedback can be both positive (reassuring) and negative (correcting errors). Research has shown that in the majority of instances, language learners provide each other with grammatically correct information. AUGUST/SEPTEMBER Collaborative writing provides students with opportunities not only to write but also to speak in the other language. When speaking about their writing, they practise using their language for a range of functions that are usually the purview of language teachers. These include asking for clarification, providing explanations and inviting contributions. Learners also use the other language to negotiate different perspectives in order to reach agreement about their joint text. Thus the activities provide learners with key ingredients for language learning: exposure to language, opportunities for extended and authentic speaking and writing practice, and the chance to receive immediate feedback about language use. We now have a number of studies that compare the texts produced by learners writing alone with texts produced collaboratively. These show, quite convincingly, that collaboratively produced texts are of better quality and are more accurate than texts produced by learners writing alone.1 How to introduce tasks It is important to note that collaborative writing tasks may not be suitable for all language learners. Tasks are most suitable for learners of intermediate or advanced level, as low proficiency learners may not have sufficient language skills to engage in the tasks. Simply assigning learners to work in pairs does not necessarily mean that they will collaborate. When I first introduced collaborative writing tasks in my ESL (English as a second language) classes and observed learners' behaviour, I noticed that they

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