Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Co-construction: An Introduction. By Sally Jacoby and Elinor Ochs

Far as I can tell, co-construction means the joint creation of shit. All kinds of shit, by all kinds of people, in all kinds of ways.

I'm not impressed. But I can see that it will be a useful term to use.

Shaping up an idea for this study that I'm to propose. Am reading a study right now-- will report more on it later-- observing non-native speakers working in group projects with native speakers. To what degree are NNSs regarded as collaborators with equal ability to contribute, and to what degree are they regarded as burdens, who have little to add?

I'm reminded of the microteach I did last semester with B, a woman from Thailand. I dominated it-- I came up with the idea, and as we led the class, when I felt that she wasn't moving discussion along in the right way, I went ahead and moved it along. She acquiesced. Why? 1) I was impatient. 2) We didn't spend enough time in real preparation, clearly outlining one another's roles and clarifying mutual (or separate!) goals for the session. 3) We didn't play to her strengths? She has much more teaching experience than I do; I'm more comfortable with American culture and the English language than she is-- perhaps we divided labor in the wrong way?

But that's a tangent. I'd like to build on this idea of collaboration in a slightly different way-- hierarchical, but with the NNSs as the experts and the NSs as the novices. NNSs as the teachers, mentors, or research partners of NSs. So while the tendency is for NS-NNS interactions to become hierarchical with the NSs as the experts, the institutional design of the interactions I'm looking at will have a reversed hierarchy-- the NNSs are teaching, tutoring, grading or advising the NSs.

So we've got tension-- the hierarchy wants to be NS --> NNS , but it's been institutionalized as NNS --> NS . The NS has to acknowledge the NNS, despite language deficiencies, as the expert in the subject matter. And the NNS has to acknowledge the NS's English expertise in a meaningful and constructive way. So ideally, this is a co-construction and a collaboration

NNS --> NS expertise in subject matter <--> expertise in language
NNS <-- NS

The goal is to succesfully communicate the subject matter so that the student can successfully carry out assigned tasks-- complete the labs, perform well on tests, master the material. The NNS's English ability is incidental, mattering only inasmuch as it facilitates or inhibits successful communication.