New literacies for ESL children : communicating with peers in an online chat
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The purpose of the study was to explore young L2 learners’ experiences and impressions when engaged in synchronous CMC activities. Nine elementary ESL students living in the United States participated in two groups in a total of ten chat sessions during which they contributed postings to three types of tasks. Data sources included the written chat transcripts, questionnaires, interviews, essays, field notes, and pictures. Data were presented as two case studies of each group’s experiences. Results were presented in the following five categories: (a) the children’s participation patterns based on their quantitative output; (b) their language use within messages (recognition of an error, language play, and non verbal cues); (c) their interactive patterns (playful resistance, tension in the groups, and group dynamics); (d) the influence of task type on their CMC participation; and (e) the children’s various impressions of the online chat. The children seemed fond of the CMC experiences due to its hybrid combination of oral and written language use features, writing that resembles the immediate flow of a conversation. The hybrid nature of CMC encouraged the children to enjoy conversational elements by freely suggesting ideas on various subjects and sharing opinions with their peers. Moreover, the children had opportunities to make self-corrections and to provide corrective feedback to other children in the group. Additionally, results indicated that in terms of new literacies for the new age of the Internet, the children were already proficient in managing the CMC medium and were able to develop new skills during a short span of time. They were sophisticated enough to allow themselves to engage in various types of language play in this carnivalesque environment (Bakhtin, 1984). Also, the children employed numerous strategies to compensate for the lack of non verbal cues in the chat room: emoticons, other symbol systems, capital letters, and repetition. However, an unpleasant and aggressive atmosphere often emerged due to the children’s adept abilities at playing around, teasing, and resisting the task online. Nevertheless, children claimed in interviews that the CMC chat was “fun” and that they generally believed that such an activity could help them learn English.