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In the process of learning a second or a foreign language, individuals vary extremely in their ability to master the language. There are a number of individual characteristics which play crucial roles in the way that they learn and perform in a language (Atkinson & Schiffrin, 1968; Gardner & MacIntyre, 1992; Grandman & Hanania, 1991; O'Malley & Chamot, 1990; Oxford & Ehrman, 1993; Skehan, 1986). The study of individual differences (IDs) in second language (SL) learning has received considerable attention over the last decade (Ellis, 1994; Oxford 1992; Skehan, 1989, 1991). Gardner & MacIntyre (1992) mention that "there are probably as many factors that might account for individual differences in achievement in a second language as there are individuals" (p. 212). In the field of second language acquisition (SLA) research, age, gender, aptitude, motivation, attitude, intelligence, etc. have been stated as variables which influence success in learning a language. Among these factors aptitude has been cited as playing a significant role in the process of learning (DÓ§rnyei, 2005; Doughty & Long, 2005; Ellis, 1994; Gardner & MacIntyre, 1992; Robinson, 2001; Skehan, 1989, 1998). Aptitude has been considered as one of the most prominent IDs in relation to Foreign Language (FL) learning success (Skehan, 1989, 2002). Furthermore, aptitude is often conceptualized as a special skill which is different from and independent of other skills such as intelligence, motivation, personality type, the opportunity to learn or the learning environment, which may affect success in learning a language (McDonough, 1981).
Gardner and McIntyre (1992) divide the factors responsible for IDs in second language acquisition (SLA) into two broad categories: affective and cognitive. Robinson (2005) views language aptitude within a cognitive information processing model saying that "second language aptitude is characterized as strengths individual learners have in the cognitive abilities information processing, draws on during L2 learning and performance in various contexts and at different stages" (p. 46). Gardner and McIntyre (1992) consider aptitude as a kind of "cognitive sponge in the sense that new skills/knowledge are naturally attached to existing skills/knowledge with which they can be readily associated" (as cited in Ellis, 1999, p. 134).
According to Carroll (1981), aptitude refers to the "specific ability for language learning which learners are hypothesized to possess" (p. 36). Carroll (1981) defines general aptitude as "capability of learning a task, which depends on some combination of more or less enduring characteristics of the learner" (p. 84, as cited by Ellis, 1994, p. 494). In L2 learning, aptitude as "one of the most promising areas of SLA research" has been defined as "language learning ability" (DÓ§rnyei, 2005, p. 32). Carroll and Sapon (1959) explained aptitude as a concept for "basic abilities that are essential to facilitate foreign language learning" (p. 14). Aptitude has been expressed by Carroll (1974) as "some characteristics of an individual which controls, at a given point of time, the rate of progress that he will make subsequently in learning a foreign language" (as cited in Sawyer & Ranta, 2001, p. 310). Language aptitude has been proposed as "â€¦ one of the central individual differences in language learning" (Skehan, 1989, pp. 25, 38 as cited by Harley & Hart, P. 379). He further conceptualizes that aptitude "predicts the rate of progress an individual is likely to make in learning under optimal conditions of motivation, opportunity to learn and quality of instruction" (p. 40). Carroll and Sapon (1959) describe aptitude as "basic abilities that are essential to facilitate foreign language learning" (p. 14). It has also been stated as the single best and the most consistent predictor of one's success and achievement in learning a foreign language (DÓ§rnyei, 2005, p. 61; Skehan, 1989, as cited by Harley & Hart, P. 379; Sparks, Patton, Ganschow and Humbach, 2009).
The simplest view of aptitude is the preposition that "some people have greater levels than others, and that those who are blessed in this way are likely to make faster progress in language learning" (Skehan, 1998, p. 190). Carroll (1981) assumes that "while all people can learn a language, not everyone is able to learn language at the same speed. People who can learn quickly and easily have high aptitude, and people who cannot have low aptitude." (p. 86)
Language learning aptitude is generally defined as a largely innate, relatively fixed talent for learning languages (Carroll, 1981, p. 85). This individual characteristic differs considerably within normal individuals and has been found to be relatively independent of other factors, including general intelligence, personality, attitudes toward the language to be learned, and the motivation to learn it (DÓ§rnyei & Skehan, 2003; Novoa, Fein, & Obler, 1988; Ross, Yoshinaga, & Sasaki, 2002).
Carroll (1981) proposes that learners' aptitude is hard to alter through training. He states that language aptitude is "relatively fixed over long periods of an individual's life span, and relatively hard to modify in any significant way" (p. 86). Skehan (1989) also shares Carroll's view. He explains that aptitude provides a more accurate evaluation of "language processing ability and the ability to handle decontextualised language" (as cited in Ranta & Sawyer, 2001, p. 331). Therefore, aptitude is a powerful predictor of language learning success. However, later Carroll (1993) restated the relative stability of aptitude by saying that
"to the extent that cognitive abilities are at least relatively stable and relatively resistant to attempts to change them through education or training and at the same time are possibly predictive of furure success, they are often regarded as aptitudes." (p. 16)
As McLaughlin (1995) argues "it is not necessary to think of aptitude as a fixed capacity". Instead, he "conceptualizes aptitude as modifiable by previous learning and experience. Novices can become experts with experience" (p. 381).
Additionally, according to ThomaÑ- Alexiou (2009) "language learning aptitude is not language specific. It indicates a learner's capacity to do well in learning any language. It is a skill which is not influenced by the language background of the learner or the language which is being learned. Hence, a learner with high aptitude will do better at learning any language than a learner who has low aptitude, all other thing equal" (as cited in Nikolov, 2009, p. 48).
Generally researches in the field of aptitude have been more test-based in orientation (Carroll, 1993). Research into this area has attempted to determine the specific talent of individuals for learning languages and the structure of such a talent (Skehan, 1998).
The concept of Scaffolding has become prevalent since the Mid-1970s. It is based on the work of Vygotsky, who proposed that with an adult's assistance, children could accomplish tasks that they ordinarily could not perform independently (Bruner, 1975). As Vygotsky (1978) argues, "through collaborative interaction with peers, learners apply the tools at hand to linguistic and interactive problems as they work to do assigned tasks, learning the language as they use it for particular purposes. Language is acquired as learners interact in the zone of proximal development (ZPD)". He defines ZPD as "the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" ( p. 86). Scaffolding is a process in which students are given support until they can apply new skills and strategies independently (Rosenshine & Meister, 1992). Gibbons (1999) defines scaffolding as "the process by which a mentor helps a learner know how to do something, so that they will be able to do it alone in the future" (p. 26). Ellis (2003) states that scaffolding is "a dialogic process by which one speaker assists another in performing a function that he or she cannot perform alone" (p. 180). Scaffolding means providing support at the right level of the current skill while a student is performing the task and then slowly fading out of assistance (Järvelä, 1995) or providing assistance to students on an as-needed basis with fading out of assistance as the competence increases (Pressley, Hogan, Wharton-McDonald, Mistretta, & Ettenberger, 1996). Scaffolding engages learners actively at their current level of understanding until the point where the support is no longer required (McLoughlin & Marshall, 2000). Scaffolding has also been viewed as a form of explicit teaching: "a deliberate intention to teach" (Wells, 1999, p. 346); or "assisted performance" (Poehner & Lantolf, 2005, p. 259). Van Lier views scaffolding as learner-driven rather than teacher-driven, and occurring when the scaffolder responds to a learner's readiness to learn: "in the interstices between the planned and the unpredictable ... when planned pedagogical action stops" (Van Lier, 2004, p. 162). As stated by Wood (1988) "scaffolding is a tutorial behavior that is contingent, collaborative and interactive" (p. 96).
Jones & Saxena (1996) broadly applied the term to bilingual ESL classrooms, who see local teachers' use of L1 as scaffolding the building of knowledge: a means through which connections can be made between "the knowledge acquired by students through the medium of their first language(s) and the knowledge of the school mediated through ... the language of instruction" (p. 9). The scaffolding metaphor has also been used to describe the positive use of L1 by students during group work aimed at producing L2 texts (Brooks & Donato, 1994).
Complexity, Accuracy, and FluencyS
In SLA research several measures have been proposed to assess linguistic performance of learners. In so far as writing proficiency is concerned, almost all studies including tasks have investigated the role of learners' task performance with respect to three aspects of linguistic performance, complexity, accuracy, and fluency. Skehan defines these three aspects of linguistic performance as follows:
Complexity: The collaboration or ambition of the language that is produced (1996b, p. 22);
Accuracy: A learner's capacity to handle whatever level of interlanguage complexity s/he has currently attained (1996a, p. 46);
Fluency: The learner's capacity to produce language in real time without undue pausing and hesitation (1996b, p. 22).
Skehan and Foster (1999, pp. 96-97) attempted to translate these aspects of linguistic performance into more tangible term. They define linguistic complexity, accuracy and fluency as the following:
Complexity: The capacity to use more advanced language, with the possibility that such language may not be controlled so effectively. This may also involve a greater willingness to take risks, and use fewer controlled language subsystems. This area is also taken to correlate with a greater likelihood of restructuring, that is, change and development in the interlanguage system.
Accuracy: The ability to avoid error in performance, possibly reflecting higher levels of control in the language, as well as a conservative orientation, that is, avoidance of challenging structures that might provoke error.
Fluency: The capacity to use language in real time, to emphasize meanings, possibly drawing on more lexicalized systems.
Aptitude as a learner variable and peer-scaffolding have received increased attention in second language acquisition research since the last decade. Yet, no empirical study has investigated the relationship between aptitude, peer-scaffolding and learners' performance in an L2/FL environment. To help address this gap, the present study aims to examine the separate and joint effects of aptitude and peer-scaffolding on L2 learning.
Significance of the study
With the emergence of the post method era, a new period which revolutionized the notion of methodology, a turning point in the history of English language teaching appeared (Kumaravadivelu, 1994). The main promise of this new trend concerns with differences among L2 learners (Brown, 1993; Kumaravadivelu, 1994; Oxford, 1993). However, the new post method era in the field of ELT still requires a great deal of research about learners' variables in different second language contexts.
In a recent research, Kormos and Trebits (2012) have shown that aptitude as a learner variable can affect task performance. Yet, until recently the research literature in this significant area has had little impact on SLA and aptitude was a neglected area of research for many years. Moreover Lightbown and Spada (1993) support that knowing the strengths and weaknesses of learners can assist teachers "ensure that their teaching activities are sufficiently varied to accommodate learners with different aptitude profiles" (p. 54).
Furthermore, in recent years, researchers support the notion that peer-peer interaction can encourage collaborative learning through effective scaffolding (De Guerrero & Villamil, 2000; Donato, 1994; Ohta, 2000). Wells argues that learner development does not require a teacher, thus "whenever people collaborate in an activity, each can assist the others, and each can learn from the contributions of the others" (Wells, 1999). Swain & Lapkin (1998) findings support this argument.
Most, if not all, of the previous studies viewed aptitude and peer-scaffolding as separate mechanisms for efficient learning. In addition, with regard to the general perception that the traditional, teacher-fronted classrooms continue to play a major role in education this study aims to shed light on aptitude as an innate learner variable which can be utilized in an optimal way and peer-scaffolding to maximize learning languages.
Purpose of the study
In view of the previous research this study has two specific goals:
First, it intends to contribute to the existing literature aptitude and peer-scaffolding by further testing whether there is any relationship between the participants' aptitude and the way that they scaffold their partners.
Second, this study will attempt to evaluate if peer-scaffolding affects learners' performance in terms of accuracy, complexity, and fluency.
To answer the research questions, this study includes one independent variable, aptitude. The two dependent variables are peer-scaffolding and linguistic output in terms of accuracy, complexity and fluency. The research questions are as follows:
Is there any relationship between the participants' aptitude and peer-scaffolding?
Does peer-scaffolding in pairs with low-low aptitude have a significant effect on complexity, accuracy, and fluency of their output?
Does peer-scaffolding in pairs with high-low aptitude have a significant effect on complexity, accuracy, and fluency of their output?
Does peer-scaffolding in pairs with high-high aptitude have a significant effect on complexity, accuracy, and fluency of their output?
Is there a significant difference between the three groups in terms of complexity, accuracy, and fluency of their output?
The null hypothesis
The research hypotheses are as follows:
There is no significant relationship between the participants' aptitude and the way that they scaffold their partners.
Peer-scaffolding in pairs with low-low aptitude has no significant effect on complexity, accuracy, and fluency of their output.
Peer-scaffolding in pairs with low-high aptitude has no significant effect on complexity, accuracy, and fluency of their output.
Peer-scaffolding in pairs with high-high aptitude has no significant effect on complexity, accuracy, and fluency of their output.
There is no significant difference between the three groups in terms of the complexity, accuracy and fluency of their output.
Definition of key terms
Aptitude: Aptitude refers to the natural ability to acquire language at a fast and easy rate (Ellis, 1994; Grigorienko, Sternberg, and Ehrman, 2000; Skehan, 1991, 1998; Sparks and Ganschow, 2001). It has been defined as "language learning ability" (DÓ§rnyei, 2005, p. 32). Carroll (1974) holds that aptitude is a characteristic which controls the rate of progress that an individual will make in learning a foreign language.
Scaffolding: Wood (1976) characterizes scaffolding as a form of support "that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task or achieve a goal which would be beyond his unassisted efforts" (p. 90). He states that scaffolding is a tutorial behavior that is contingent, collaborative and interactive (1988, p.96). Scaffolding is defined as "â€¦ the dialogic process by which one speaker assists another in performing a function that he or she cannot perform alone" (Ellis, 2003, pp. 180-181). It is a process in which students are given support until they can apply new skills and strategies independently (Rosenshine & Meister, 1992).