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This project was entitled “Peer-to-peer discourse journal writing by Japanese Junior High School ERL Students” and was submitted as a doctoral thesis. A peer-to-peer “secret” dialogue journal project, emulating projects by Green and Green (1993) and Worthington (1997), was instituted between 30 Japanese junior high school students at one public school, and 15 students each at two other Tokyo public schools. The project spanned five terms during which the students exchanged journals weekly in English with partners, who changed each term. Using names and school names was forbidden in order to maintain a sense of mystery, and to force the partners to learn as much as permissible about each other by communicating in English. The supervising teachers did not correct or respond to the entries; the researcher occasionally scanned them to check for sole use of the L2 and for appropriateness of content.
There were four entries by each partner in Terms 1, 4, and 5. There were six each in Terms 2 and 3. The 60 secret journal participants were average public middle-school students from a Tokyo suburb. They entered the seventh grade at around 12 years old, and were 12-13 at the beginning of the journal project. At the time the project ended, a year-and-a-half later, the participants were in the ninth grade and were 14-15 years old.
All three schools that participated in the project are average public schools in the same ward (county), and all three are in close proximity. Schools N and T are within approximately 2.75 km and 1.75 km, respectively, of school K. The enrollments of the schools varied. School T had only two classes of eighth graders: they averaged over 37 students per class. School K had three classes that averaged over 32 students per class, and school N had four classes which averaged over 30 students per class.
Given that the schools are situated in the same ward, the curricula for the three schools are uniform and are mandated by a combination of the Japanese federal agency responsible for education (the Ministry of Education or Mombusho) and the ward education committee. Mombusho provides general educational guidance, while the ward committee chooses textbooks and makes other day-to-day administrative decisions.
The students attended three 50-minute English classes per week, which were taught by their Japanese English teachers, based largely on the grammar-translation approach. Dependent on the year of the student, the classes included 9-18 classes per year that were team-taught by a Japanese English teacher and a native English speaker, in an effort to bring more of a communicative approach to the classroom. The curriculum sequence was dictated by a textbook common to all of the middle schools in the ward.
The purpose of the study was to investigate the pedagogical efficacy of peer-to-peer dialogue journals. In addition to the journals themselves, three sets of data were collected and analyzed: a free-writing quiz, a free-speaking quiz, and term-end surveys. The journals themselves, the free-writing quiz, and the free-speaking quiz were transcribed using the CHAT format.
In the third term, 290 eighth graders at all three schools took a surprise ten-minute free-writing quiz. A one-way MANOVA showed that the journal participants statistically significantly outperformed the journal non-participants on measures of fluency, accuracy, and syntactic complexity.
In the fourth term, 96 eighth graders at one school took a surprise recorded three-minute free-speaking quiz. A one-way ANOVA showed that the journal participants statistically significantly outperformed the journal non-participants on the measure of fluency.
After each of the first four terms, the participants completed written surveys to gauge their attitudes toward their partners, the activity, and their feelings about their linguistic improvement. In general, the responses indicated that the participants enjoyed the project, and they felt that the journal contributed to increases in their writing and reading proficiencies, less so to their listening and speaking proficiencies. They also felt that on occasion they learned something from their partners.
After the project, the journals were analyzed, using repeated-measures ANOVAs, for trends over the five terms in measures of total words and word types per entry, mean length of utterance (MLU), and for common errors. Only the MLU showed no significant term-to-term changes over the five terms. The trends were generally down in Terms 2 and 3 (six entries apiece) and back up to Term 1 levels in Terms 4 and 5 (four entries apiece). The trends did not show marked improvement in any of the measures, however, the journal participants statistically significantly outperformed the journal non-participants on both the free-writing and free-speaking quizzes.
This type of activity is one that adolescents enjoy because of their desire to socialize, and doing so in English probably contributes greatly to linguistic improvement. Furthermore, because teachers do not intervene at all, the workload on supervising teachers is minimal.