Students' Dynamic Assessment Via Online Chat

Students' Dynamic Assessment Via Online Chat

Ana Oskoz 513


Students’ Dynamic Assessment

Via Online Chat


University of Maryland, Baltimore County

While there is ample documentation on the use of synchronous computer-mediated

communication (SCMC) in the foreign language classroom for instructional

purposes (Beauvois, 1994, 1998; Beauvois & Eledge, 1996; Chun, 1994; Darhower,

2002; Kelm, 1992, Kern, 1995; Warschauer, 1996), research devoted to

assessment in this area is quite rare (Heather, 2003; Oscoz, 2003). One reason for

this lack of research is the process-oriented nature of SCMC that demands new

research and evaluation tools (Furstenberg, Levet, English, & Maillet, 2001).

This study explores the possibility of applying dynamic assessment (DA), which

focuses on process rather than on the product, to SCMC. The study draws on the

work of Antón (2003), who examined students’ performance in oral interaction

following DA techniques and on Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s (1994) 5-level scale

(based on the frequency and type of assistance provided to the learner) to assess

learners’ language development in SCMC. The data presented in this study

shows that the application of the 5-level scale makes it possible to obtain a more

accurate picture of learners’ stage of development. In spite of the benefits of DA,

the study also suggests that the traditional modes of assessment are still required

to assess students’ performance in SCMC. As Johnson (2004) stated, both modes

are needed to obtain a richer and more complete understanding of students’ language



Synchronous Computer-mediated Communication (SCMC), Dynamic Assessment (DA),

Assessment in SCMC, Process in SCMC


There is ample documentation on the use of synchronous computer-mediated communication

(SCMC) in the foreign language classroom (Beauvois, 1994, 1997a,

1997b; 1998; Beauvois & Eledge, 1996; Chun, 1994; Cononelos & Oliva 1993;

Darhower, 2002; Kelm, 1992, 1996; Kern, 1995; Nicholas & Toporski, 1993;

Warschauer, 1996, 1997). Most studies, however, address only instructional applications.

Research devoted to assessment in this area is quite rare (Heather, 2003;

Oscoz, 2003) and limited in scope. Instructors evaluating students’ performance

CALICO Journal, 22 (3), p-p 513-536. © 2005 CALICO Journal

514 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3

in SCMC have primarily looked at whether students participated in completion of

the assignments (Kelm, 1996).

Two possible reasons emerge for the deficiency in research on student performance

in SCMC. First, when reviewing research on assessment in technology, one

notes that most technology applications in second language (L2) assessment are

related to standardized testing and adaptive tests. Published research has focused

primarily on development of computer-based testing (CBT) or computer-adaptive

testing (CAT), or on comparisons between CBT and paper-and-pencil tests. Studies

have analyzed item-bank construction, item selection, student performance,

scoring, and test delivery and administration (Brown, 1997; Chalhoub-Deville,

1999; Chalhoub-Deville & Deville 1999; Dunkel, 1999). Some researchers have

called for a widening of the scope of this research on technology and L2 testing.

Laurier (2000), for example, criticized the “domination of adaptive testing in the

research on the use of computers for language testing and assessment” (p. 98) and

called for a greater attention to the link between technology assessment and the

instructional process. Thus, if we agree with Laurier’s critique, it seems logical to

assess students’ performance in SCMC.

Second, assessment in SCMC seems a difficult task to undertake because students’

work is situated within a new medium—network-based communication,

within a new learning environment—collaborative rather than individual, and it

is process- rather than result-oriented (Furstenberg, Levet, English, & Maillet,

2001). The pedagogical shifts (from individual to collaborative and from product

to process) “demand new evaluation tools and new research agendas that are both

congruent to the goals and the context” (Furstenberg et al., 2001, p. 92). Dynamic

assessment (DA), which focuses on the learning process rather than on the

product, may serve as a useful framework for assessing students’ performance in

SCMC. Rather than focus on what learners know and can do at a given moment in

time as measured by their performance on a set of tasks, DA focuses on learners’

potential development.

In this article, I propose that, through DA, students’ L2 performance can be assessed

in SCMC. The article begins with an overview of DA and how it is rooted

in Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development, in particular, in the concept of

zone of proximal development (ZPD). I distinguish between DA and ‘static’ assessment

(SA). I focus on the work of Antón (2003), one of the few studies in L2

research that applies DA techniques to assess students’ performance. Aljaafreh

and Lantolf (1994), while not rooted in DA literature per se, discuss the difference

between learner’s actual development level and potential development level in

the L2 context and provide a 5-level scale to measure students’ development. The

5-level scale can also be applied to measure students’ performance in pair interaction

(Ohta, 2000). I also review research in L2 assessment in SCMC (Heather,

2003; Oscoz, 2003) and point out how this research has ignored that SCMC is a

process- and collaboration-oriented medium that demands new research agendas

and new assessment tools (see Furstenberg et al., 2001 above). I will then review

findings in SCMC that provide evidence of how learners guide each other in the

Ana Oskoz 515

process of linguistic problems (Lee, 2002; Pellettieri, 2000). Finally, I present and

analyze data collected from SCMC following Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s (1994) 5level

scale. Contrary to traditional testing, which measures learners’ actual level

as demonstrated by their performance on specific tasks or tests, DA focuses on

learners’ potential development as seen in the interactions that take place in the

ZPD. This article does not propose DA to replace time-honored testing practices.

Rather, it demonstrates how each type of test has a purpose in assessing learners’

performance (Johnson, 2004) and proposes that using a combination of both types

of tests results in a more complete picture of learners’ interlanguage development.


DA refers to the “interaction between an examiner-as-intervener and a learneras-active

participant, which seeks to estimate the degree of modifiability of the

learner and the means by which positive changes in cognitive functioning can

be induced and maintained” (Lidz, 1987, p. 4). DA has its roots in Vygotksy’s

theory of cognitive development. In particular, it is based on the concept of zone

of proximal development (ZPD) and mediation.

Vygotsky (1978) defined the 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 adult guidance or

in collaboration with more capable peers” (p. 86). In his work, Vygotsky distinguished

between functions that were already mature and functions that were in the

process of maturing (Minick, 1987). The already mature functions are manifested

in the child’s independent cognitive activity and can be assessed by traditional

assessment techniques. The functions in the process of maturing are manifested

when the learner is working with an expert or a more capable peer. These functions

can be assessed in the ZPD. Vygotsky did not see the analysis of the ZPD as

a means of assessing learners’ potential or learning efficiency because, as Minick

(1987, p. 127) pointed out, Vygotsky was convinced that “although a child might

attain a more advanced level of mental functioning in social interaction than when

acting alone, the child’s current state of development skills limits the kinds of

behavior that are possible.” Thus, by analyzing the ZPD, it is possible to obtain a

more accurate picture of the learners’ actual level of development.

DA, then, focuses on the learning processes and serves as a means of measuring

the ZPD and is opposed to SA that focuses on already learned products (Lidz,

1987). There are several theoretical and methodological differences between DA

and SA. From a theoretical point of view, the main difference between DA and SA

lies in a different understanding of the future (Poehner & Lantolf, 2003). To explain

this difference, Poehner and Lantolf drew on Valsiner’s work (2001) in developmental

psychology. Valsiner distinguished three models that theorize about

the future: essentialistic models, past-to-present models, and present-to-future

models. Because of their focus on the process of development, Poehner and Lantolf

(2003) focused on the difference between past-to-present and present-to-fu-

516 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3

ture models. According to Valsiner (2001), in the past-to-present models, the past

life of an organism leads to its present stage of functioning. Thus, “development

is seen as a sequence of stages” (Valsiner, 2001, p. 86) that “a person is assumed

to pass through on the way to some final stage” (Poehner & Lantolf, 2003, p. 3).

As Valsiner claimed, “the underlying assumption that is axiomatically accepted

here is that the dynamic changes of the past that have led to the present can also

explain the future” (p. 86, italics in original). Applied to assessment, for example,

achievement tests are designed to know how well students are meeting the expectations

of a program (Bachman, 1990). Achievement tests are not intended to

make predictions of the future, but rather to know exactly what the learner can

accomplish at one specific moment in time. However, as Poehner and Lantolf

continued, testing is also used to make inferences about the future, and still in

those cases, “past-to-present models of development are typically employed” (p.

3). Proficiency tests, for example, “assume that the future and the present are

equivalent” (p. 4) and that learners’ future performance is understood to be a close

reproduction of the performance on the test.

Present-to-future models, on the other hand, focus on “the future-in-the-making”

(Valsiner, 2001). These models “focus on the processes of emergence—or

construction—of novelty” (p. 86). Thus, the focus of these models is on the new,

that which could not be accomplished before. These present-to-future models allow

us to see the development before it occurs and to participate actively in the

developmental process itself (Poehner and Lantolf, 2003). According to Poehner

& Lantolf, present-to-future models predict the future on the basis of what a person

can accomplish in cooperation with other human agents. In the area of testing,

“ability is not seen as a stable trait of an individual but as a malleable feature of

the individual and the activities in which the individual participates” (Poehner &

Lantolf, 2003, p. 4). Thus, “performance on an aptitude test of any type, including

language, is not complete until we observe how the person behaves in response

to assistance” (p. 4). In this perspective, it is necessary to investigate the ZPD in

order to fully understand the individual’s potential to develop in the future. It is

important here that “while gaining a perspective on the person’s future, we are at

the same time helping the person attain the future” (p. 4). In this case, a learner’s

performance is not that of the individual, but rather a product of the dialogue

between interactants. Therefore, while past-to-present models observe learner’s

performance up to one specific moment in time, present-to-future models allow

examination of what learners could accomplish in the future.

In addition to these epistemological differences, Stenberg and Grigorenko

(2002) also distinguished three major methodological differences between SA

and DA. The first refers to the respective roles of static states versus dynamic

processes. While SA focuses on the developed stage, DA focuses on the developing

process. The second difference refers to the role of feedback. In SA, “an

examiner presents a graded sequence of problems and the test-taker responds to

each of the problems” (Stenberg & Grigorenko, 2002, p. 28), and there is little or

no feedback until the assessment is completed. In DA, however, either implicit or

Ana Oskoz 517

explicit feedback is provided. The third difference involves the relation between

the examiner and the examinee. In SA, the examiner is as neutral as possible

toward the examinee. In DA, the traditional one-way test situation is modified

and becomes a two-way interactive relationship between examiner and examinee.

These differences between DA and SA are especially relevant to assessment in

SCMC. SCMC is a process-oriented and collaboration-oriented medium in which

learners interact with one another. In this interaction, learners become guides for

one another (Beauvois, 1992), and provide each other either explicit or implicit

feedback that will potentially provide a more accurate picture of the learners’

language development.


DA, or the idea of focusing on the process rather than on the product, has been

recently applied in the L2 context (Antón, 2003; Scheneider & Ganschow, 2000).

In addition, although not directly related to the literature in DA, Aljaafreh and

Lantolf (1994) and Ohta (2000) discussed the notion of examining students’ potential

level of development. These studies provide us with the basis for pursuing


Antón (2003) reported on the work done on the use of DA interactive procedures

to place Spanish majors in advanced Spanish language classes. In her

study, students were evaluated on pronunciation, fluency, grammar, vocabulary,

and comprehensibility. Two students were asked to narrate a story in the past.

Initially, both students had problems using the past tense. One of the students,

however, when provided with feedback and the opportunity to narrate the story

again, was able to appropriately narrate the story using the past tense. The other

student, in spite of the interaction with the interviewee, was still unable to produce

the correct verb form without assistance. Thus, while both students would have

been placed in the same classes based on their initial performance, in reality they

were at different levels of potential development based on their interaction with

the interviewer and, therefore, placed in different classes. While Antón was aware

of the limitations of the small sample of her study, she asserted “there is no doubt

that intervention during assessment results in rich information on their linguistic

capabilities that may be used for the development of individualized instructional

plans” (p. 15). DA techniques provide a deeper and more accurate understanding

of students’ interlanguage.

Based on the idea that test scores are not guarantees that two learners are “at the

same stage in their interlanguage growth” (p. 473), Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994)

advocated for assessment practices that include “learners’ potential level of development”

(p. 473). The potential level of development is examined through a

microgenetic analysis. Wertsch and Stone (1974, cited in Donato, 1994) defined

microgenesis “as the gradual course of skill acquisition during a training session,

experiment or interaction” (p. 42). To determine the microgenetic development

in the learner’s interlanguage, Aljaafreh and Lantolf developed a 5-level

scale utilizing two principles: the frequency and the type of assistance required

518 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3

by the tester during the dialogic interaction with a tutor. The 5 proposed levels

represented different development stages: from other-regulation—when learners

rely on the tutor’s help to notice and correct an error—(levels 1-3) to self-regulation—in

which feedback is self-generated and automatic—(level 5), passing by

partial regulation—when learners are able to correct an error with minimal or no

obvious feedback—(level 4).

Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s 5-level scale was applied by Ohta (2000) to examine

two Japanese learners’ interaction and microgenetic process. The learners, Hal

and Becky, engaged in a form-focused collaborative dialogue during a translation

task. Ohta found that through the conversation with her partner, Becky—the

less proficient of the two learners—moved to Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s Level 4,

where she was able to correct a few of her own errors. Additionally, Ohta found

that Hal—the more proficient partner—also evidenced development through the

process of interaction. Therefore, Ohta’s study shows that learner’s interaction

emerges in a ZPD that promotes L2 development. Furthermore, by applying Aljaafreh

and Lantolf’s 5-level scale, Ohta was able to observe the different stages

of potential development of both learners.

The relevancy of these two studies to L2 assessment is that Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s

work provides a scale to assess learners’ interlanguage development that

can be applied to both examiner-examinee and examinee-examinee interaction.

According to Johnson (2004), the principal theoretical assumption behind a scale

using Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s two principles of type and frequency of assistance

is that “the more explicit assistance the candidate requires, the less advanced the

candidate is in his or her potential development within the ZPD” (p. 186). Using

this scale or one similar to it, learners’ potential development can be rated according

to the level of assistance required to complete the tasks successfully.


Originally, SCMC was used in the L2 classroom because it provided a nonstressful

environment that encouraged students to participate in the target language

(Beauvois, 1992; 1993; 1994; Kelm, 1992). Because students and teachers were

more concerned with the content of what they said than with the accuracy of

their production, Kern (1995) suggested that accuracy was not one of the main

goals of SCMC. In addition, given that SCMC seemed an appropriate environment

in which students could express their opinions freely, assessment in this

medium might have seemed cumbersome because “assigning a letter grade to an

assignment that was designed to allow students to openly communicate feelings

and opinions is especially difficult” (Kelm, 1992, p. 453). This is probably the

reason that, until recently, teachers have typically given students either full credit

for participation or no credit at all (Kelm, 1996). However, there is some recent

research that examines how to assess students’ performance in SCMC (Heather,

2003; Oscoz, 2003).

Heather (2003) examined the validity of making inferences from computermediated

discourse to oral discourse by comparing 24 third-semester French stu-

Ana Oskoz 519

dents’ performance on two tests: a computer-mediated communicative test and

a group oral exam. For his study, Heather compared students’ performance in a

series of tasks both in SCMC and small group interaction. He found that although

students’ scores were not statistically different, their discourse differed in linguistic

and interactional features. Even though the results of the study did not support

the interchangeability of SCMC assessment for face-to-face assessment, Heather

did not rule out the use of computer-mediated communicative testing. Instead

of considering SCMC as an alternative to oral assessment, Heather argued for a

“better convergence and integration of instruction and assessment in classes that

utilize CMC” (p. 230) and suggested that testing using this electronic medium

should be understood within the instructional context in which it is used.

Given that SCMC is an integral part of teaching practices (Bearden, 2001; Beauvois,

1992; Blake, 2000; Chun, 1994; Fidalgo-Eick, 2001; Fernández-García and

Martínez-Arbelaiz, 2003; Kelm, 1992; Kern, 1995; Lee, 2002; Pellettieri, 2000;

Sotillo, 2000; Warschauer, 1996), Oscoz (2003) considered it necessary in online

chat to include tasks which are normally used in the classroom to assess students’

performance. Oskoz compared 30 fourth-semester Spanish students’ performance

in SCMC in two tasks that are frequently used in this medium—jigsaw and free

discussion—on four different measures: quantity of output, syntactic complexity,

accuracy, and negotiation of meaning. As expected from previous research in

second language acquisition (Foster & Skehan, 1996; Pica, 1987; Pica, Young, &

Doughty, 1987; Robinson, 1995) and language testing (Chalhoub-Deville, 1995a,

1995b; Henning, 1983; Shohamy, 1983), students performed differently on these

four measures depending on the task. Students performed higher on quantity of

output and syntactic complexity in free discussion and higher in accuracy and

negotiation of meaning in jigsaw tasks. Only in reference to negotiation of meaning,

Oskoz acknowledged the extent to which interaction affects students’ performance.

Swain (2001) stated that the use of pair and group tasks for testing brings new

assessment needs. In small groups, Swain pointed out, “the performance is jointly

constructed and distributed across participants” (p. 296). Research in small-group

and pair testing (see, among others, Berry, 2000; cited in Swain, 2001; Fulcher,

1996; O’Sullivan, 2002) has found that interaction with another participant either

supports or handicaps test-takers’ performances. However, in spite of the understanding

that interaction between individuals affects the other’s performance,

research that examines how learners (or examinees) can benefit in their interlanguage

development from the help of another interactant is scarce (Antón, 2003).

Similarly, studies that assess students’ performance in SCMC provide students’

scores based on their language production without acknowledging the processoriented

nature of this medium.

In their discussion of assessment in computer-mediated communication, Furstenberg

et al. (2001) stated that shifts in pedagogy from an individual orientation

to a collaborative one as well as from a product-oriented medium to a processoriented

one results in the imperative for new evaluation tools and a new research

520 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3

agenda that are congruent with the goals and context of instruction. DA, focusing

on the process rather than on the product, presents itself as an alternative approach

to assess students’ performance in SCMC. Donato (1994) and Ohta (2000) have

already shown that the ZPD occurs not only in collaboration with an expert, but

also in peer interactions. SCMC also creates an environment in which learners

become guides for one another in a process of scaffolding in the ZPD (Beauvois,

1997a). The collaborative nature of SCMC (given that students interact in pairs

or small groups) reduces some of the potential problems with the use and administration

of DA in the classroom, such as time needed to conduct the assessment

(Antón, 2003). It is also possible to go back to students’ transcripts to provide a

more accurate diagnosis of learners’ potential level of development.


Beauvois (1997a) pointed out that SCMC creates “a new manifestation of the

process of ‘scaffolding’ and Vygotsky’s theory of ‘ZPD’” (p. 166). When learners

discuss ideas in the networked computer environment, their thoughts become

visible on the screen, thus making it “possible for students to become guides for

another” (p. 166). Through the collaborative construction of knowledge, “the process

of production changes” (p. 166), and learners are able to achieve a performance

that they are unable to accomplish by themselves.

Extensive research has been undertaken in the area of SCMC (Bearden, 2001;

Beauvois, 1992; Blake, 2000; Chun, 1994; Fidalgo-Eick, 2001; Fernández-García

& Martínez-Arbelaiz, 2003; Kelm, 1992; Kern, 1995; Lee, 2002; Pellettieri,

2000; Sotillo, 2000; Warschauer, 1996). However, most of these studies tended to

compare students’ performance in SCMC to students’ oral performance (Bearden,

2001; Warschauer, 1996). Researchers initially investigated whether the interaction

patterns found in oral exchanges regarding negotiation of meaning would

transfer to the SCMC medium (Blake, 2000; Fidalgo-Eick, 2001; Fernández-

García & Martínez-Arbelaiz, 2003; Lee, 2002; Pellettieri, 2000), and whether

students would produce greater quantities and more syntactically complex language

in SCMC than in oral interaction (Chun, 1994; Kelm, 1992; Kern, 1995;

Warschauer, 1996). During this process, researchers became aware that the characteristics

of the medium influenced students’ performance in ways that were

different from oral interaction (Fernández-García and Martínez-Arbelaiz, 2002;

Lee, 2002). They realized that the characteristics of the medium, such as visual

saliency, allowed learners to help each other in the process of acquisition of L2


Pellettieri (2000) investigated whether or not the negotiated interactions between

dyads in SCMC fostered the provision of corrective feedback as well as

the incorporation of target-like forms in the subsequent dialogue. The analysis of

the data on 20 Intermediate-Spanish students showed that learners were provided

with both explicit and implicit feedback that pushed them to make modifications

to target-like forms. In addition, Pellettieri found that as students were producing

speech, they were also correcting themselves. Students even backspaced to make

Ana Oskoz 521

syntactic elaborations, which, in turn, pushed their utterance to a more advanced

level of syntax. The visual saliency of the SCMC form enables learners to think,

see, and edit their own production, thereby possibly increasing the opportunities

for learners to notice their errors with minimal outside feedback and take subsequent

responsibility for error correction.

Lee (2002), aware of the value of the social interaction in SCMC, examined

the types of devices that learners used in their interactions. She found that her 34

third-year Spanish students worked collaboratively to construct knowledge and

provide feedback to each other. Lee observed that through collective effort, learners

were able to successfully solve lexical and morphological problems, such as

the use of the preterit or the imperfect, depending on the context. Analysis of the

data also showed that students engaged in self-correction of their linguistic errors,

which suggested to Lee that self-correction might be more frequent in SCMC than

in oral interaction. That is, because the messages are displayed on the screen and

students can see what they have written, they are more likely to correct mistakes

when necessary. Although frequent use of incorrect forms did not prevent students

from understanding each other or from continuing the conversation without any

attempt to correct each other, Lee’s study shows how SCMC provides an environment

in which students “help each other to achieve a performance that they typically

cannot execute alone” (p. 276).

Therefore, studies in SCMC show that it is possible to observe how students

in SCMC assist each other and work collaboratively to construct knowledge by

providing either implicit or explicit feedback to each other.


Given that SCMC is a process- and collaboration-oriented medium, it seems appropriate

to examine the extent to which learners acquire L2 competence through

social interaction. The data presented in this article comes from online classroom

activities conducted at a public university on the East Coast. Five intact classes

at three different levels (two classes of Elementary Spanish I and II and one class

of Intermediate Spanish I) from the winter 2005 session participated in a series

of online activities (jigsaw puzzles, information-gap activities, role plays, and

free discussions). The activities were tailored to the students’ different levels of

proficiency. For each task, students were given 10 minutes to read, underline,

and take notes and then 20 minutes to complete the task. These different types of

tasks were selected because they are commonly used in the classroom. To avoid

the systematic and construct-irrelevant effects of proficiency level, gender, or personal

factors that might influence the results of the studies, the students were randomly

paired, and the same dyads were maintained over all tasks. Aljaafreh and

Lantolf’s (1994) 5-level scale was applied to the data (see Table 1).

522 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3

Table 1

Levels of Internalization from Interpsychological to Intrapsychological Functioninga

Level Description

Level 1 The learner is unable to notice or correct the error, even with


Level 2 The learner is able to notice the error, but cannot correct it, even

with intervention, requiring explicit help.

Level 3 The learner is able to notice and correct the error, but only with

assistance. The learner understands the assistance and is able to

incorporate the feedback offered.

Level 4 The learner notices and corrects an error with minimal or no

obvious feedback and begins to assume full responsibility for error

correction. However, the structure is not yet fully internalized since

the learner often produces the target form incorrectly. The learner

may even reject feedback when unsolicited.

Level 5 The learner becomes more consistent in using the target structure

correctly in all contexts. The learner is fully able to notice and

correct his/her own errors without intervention.

aAdopted from Ohta (2000)

The fragments below were selected from Elementary Spanish I and II classes to

show that learners can help each other even at lower levels of proficiency.

Example 1 (Elementary Spanish I)

Alicia: yo comica!

[I funny (feminine singular)]

Alicia: ***oops, tu comica

[***oops, you funny (feminine singular)]

Brian: comico

[funny (masculine singular)]

Alicia: si …

[yes …]

Brian: mires por el masculino y femanino

[(you) look for the masculine and feminine]

(see activity in Appendix A)

In a previous turn, Brian had made a comment to which Alicia responded that

her partner, Brian, was a funny person. First, Alicia refers to herself (yo ‘I’), but in

her next turn she self-corrects by changing ‘I’ for ‘you.’ However, in both turns,

she assigns feminine gender to the adjective. Brian corrects the gender of the adjective

from feminine to masculine. Although Alicia acknowledges the correction,

Brian further explains that Alicia should pay attention to the gender of the referent.

Ana Oskoz 523

The learners finished the task at this point, so it is not possible to know whether

Alicia would have incorporated Brian’s advice to attend to the gender agreement

in the future. In this case, Alicia is first able to notice one of her own errors with

no obvious feedback regarding the personal pronouns and moves from yo to tu.

It is not possible to know whether she internalized the structure, but at least it is

possible to observe that there was an error for which she takes full responsibility

(level 4). Alicia, however, does not notice that she produced the incorrect gender

in comica, and it is Brian who notices it and provides Alicia the assistance to correct

the gender from comica to comico. Alicia understands the assistance, which

would imply she is a level 3 in the Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s scale. Since they finished

the conversation at this point, it is not possible to know whether Alicia was

able to incorporate the feedback into her interlanguage.

In the following dialogue, John and Lori were discussing two different topics.

The first topic was a reading about differences between men and women regarding

the time spent on house chores. The second topic was a role play in which

students were preparing a surprise party for the Spanish class.

Example 2 (Elementary Spanish II)

John: como se dice think en español

[how do you say “to think” in Spanish]

Lori: tu piensas tus padres y tu son diferente en los tipos de trabajar?

[do you think your parents and you are different in the types of works]

Lori: pensar

[to think]

(see activity in Appendix B)

Lori: si… yo pienos tambien

[yes … i think too]

John: pienos = to think?

[think = to think?]

Lori: okay pensar is the verb to think

[okay, pensar is the verb to think]

Lori: it is stem changing

[it is stem changing]

Lori: therefore penar in the yo form is pienso

[therefore penar in the yo form is pienso]

Lori: tu pienasa

[you think (incorrect spelling)]

Lori: piensas

[you think]

John: si


(see activity in Appendix C)

524 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3

In the first fragment of the conversation, John asked Lori how to say ‘think’ in

Spanish. Incidentally, Lori had just produced the verb pensar in the first person

pienso in the turn following the question. Lori provides the meaning of ‘think,’

pensar. Later on, when they are talking about the party, Lori misspells pienso as

pienos. John questions the use of pienos and asks whether it means ‘to think.’

This starts a metalinguistic explanation by Lori who explains that pensar is a

stem-changing verb, and, therefore, the first person is pienso, the second piensa.

Even here, when she makes another spelling mistake, Lori is fully aware of her

error and corrects it without any other intervention on the part of John. Lee (2002)

pointed out that it is difficult to know whether incorrect forms are due to lack of

typing skills or lack of appropriate knowledge. In this case, given the explanation

Lori provides about pienso being a stem-changing verb, it can be argued that it is

a typing mistake and that she has the stem changing rules internalized (level 5).

However, if we examine John’s discourse, it is possible to observe how he moves

from not knowing how to say pensar to understanding that it is a stem-changing

verb. In this process, John asks for help twice when he does not know how to say

pensar and when he has questions about the misspelled pienos. Lee (2000) and

Fernández-García and Martínez-Arbelaiz (2002) pointed out that the use of incorrect

forms does not keep learners from continuing the conversation as long as they

understand each other. The fact that John asks for help a second time suggests that

he still needs assistance from his partner. Because pensar did not appear in the

transcripts again after he acknowledges Lori’s explanation, it is not possible to

know whether he is able to incorporate the feedback offered by Lori.

In contrast to Example (2), which could have been considered a spelling mistake

on Lori’s part, Example (3) shows how the learner corrects herself with no

feedback from her partner.

Example 3 (Elementary Spanish II)

Jennifer: estudias el fin de semana pasado?

[do you study last weekend?]

Amy: no


Jennifer: *estudiaste

[*you studied]

Amy: no


Amy: escribe el papel de español y no estudiar

[writes the paper for Spanish and not to study]

Jennifer: yo tambien no estudiaba

[I also did not studied (use of imperfect instead of preterit)]

(see activity in Appendix B)

In this situation, Jennifer asks Amy whether she studied the previous weekend

but uses the form of the present tense estudias instead of the correct form of the

Ana Oskoz 525

preterit, estudiaste. However, Jennifer takes full responsibility for error correction

and produces the correct form estudiaste with no intervention from her partner.

Lee (2002) suggested that because learners are able to read their postings once

they are displayed on the screen, this type of self-correction might be frequent in

SCMC. However, later on, when Jennifer wants to say that she did not study either,

she uses the first person of the imperfect, estudiaba, instead of using the first

person of the preterit form, estudie. Thus, while Jennifer is aware that she needs

to use the preterit and knows how to produce it, the distinction in use between

preterit or imperfect is not internalized. Therefore, this fragment would suggest

that Jennifer would be in level 4 of Aljaafreh and Lantolf’s (1994) scale.

The following fragment, however, shows that Jennifer seems to be at a stage in

which she is internalizing some of the rules that have been taught in the class.

Example 4 (Elementary Spanish II)

Jennifer: soy aburrido

[I am bored (use of ser instead of estar)]

Jennifer: *estoy aburrido

[*I am bored (use of estar)]

(see activity in Appendix B)

In Spanish, there are two different forms for the verb ‘to be’ (ser and estar), and

it is not uncommon for students to confuse them. In this case, Jennifer uses the

form soy instead of estoy, both of which (soy and estoy) would be the equivalent

of ‘I am’ in English. Jennifer is able to notice and correct her error without any

intervention. Because Jennifer does not repeat this form again in the dialogue, it

is not possible to know whether she internalized it. However, based on her performance,

it could be argued that Jennifer is at or somewhere between levels 4 and


The following fragment is an example of a student who is initially able to notice

an error but cannot correct it later, even with intervention.

Example 5 (Elementary Spanish II)

John: le gusta cake?

[does she like cake?]

John: 2 pm?


Lori: si me gusta cake

[yes, I like cake]

John: no, le gusta cake, te gusta

[No, you don’t like cake, you like it]

John: le (amigo)

[le (friend)]

Lori: yo comprende

[i understands]

526 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3

Lori: bueno!!!


Lori: que musica te gusta

[what music do you like]

John: le gusta metal

[he likes metal]

Lori: te gusta swing?

[do you like swing?]

John: no le gusta swing

[he doesn’t like swing]

(see activity in Appendix C)

In Example 5, when John asks Lori whether she likes cake, John uses the form

le appropriate for third person él/ella or second person formal usted (which was

not the appropriate form in this case because students were accustomed to the

informal form tú). Lori disregards John’s error and simply answers his question

by saying that si, me gusta cake ‘yes, I like cake.’ John, however, notices his error

with no obvious feedback, and produces the correct form when he says no, no

le gusta cake, te gusta, and adds that le is for a third person—for a friend. Lori

acknowledges that she understood what John intended to say (yo comprende) and

continues with the conversation by asking John que musica te gusta. Although

John was able to correct his own performance before, instead of using the form me

gusta for ‘I like’ he uses le gusta, again in the third person. Lori does not correct

John but continues with the conversation asking him whether te gusta swing to

which John answers le gusta swing again using the third person singular of gustar

instead of using the first person singular me gusta.

In this dialogue, then, we observe how John at one point was able to notice the

error and correct it, which would imply he is at level 4. However, in spite of this

initial correction, we also observe how John has not internalized the structure

because he repeats the same error later on and does not correct it. Further, Lori

provides implicit feedback when she uses the second form of gustar (te gusta)

to ask her questions. Although not directly stating that there is an error in John’s

performance, Lori is making it evident that different forms are used for the verb

gustar. One could wonder if John is not correcting it because the error does not

imply a breakdown in the communication and he continues with the conversation.

But John’s insistence on the form le gusta instead of me gusta would suggest that

he is unable to notice his error, even with Lori’s implicit feedback.

These examples show us that it is possible to apply DA techniques to L2 assessment.

A question that immediately arises is how we are to measure the process

of learning (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2002). Poehner and Lantolf (2003) distinguished

two different perspectives within the DA movement: the interventionist

approach and the interactionist approach. The interventionists “tend to follow a

quantitative approach, and so lend themselves to a more psychometric orientation”

(p. 6). In this tradition, the learner is first tested while working alone. In a

Ana Oskoz 527

later stage, the examiner provides a series of standardized strategies of interventions.

The standardization of the aids and prompts used, “and the number of points

assigned to each prompt can be reported along with an individual’s score or grade

on the assessment” (Lantolf & Poehner, 2004, p. 3). By contrast, the classroom

environment provides opportunities for more interactive approaches. These approaches

are more interested in “gaining insight into the kind of psychological

processes that the [learner] might be capable of in the next or proximal phase of

development” (Minick, 1987, p. 127) independent of frequency and/or type of

assistance. In these cases, the examiner provides help and feedback as required

by the examinee. Poehner and Lantolf (2003) pointed out that whether one “opts

to use an interventionist or interactionist approach depends on the goals and circumstances

under which assessment is to be conducted” (p. 22). With large populations,

Poehner and Lantolf continued, interventionist standardized approaches

would be more appropriate. Interactionist approaches, however, “are likely to be

more useful in a classroom setting” (p. 24). Therefore, for situations as the one

described in this study, an interactionist approach seems appropriate. An analysis

of the interaction would be an exceptional source of information regarding the

learning and instructional processes.

DA, however, is not intended to replace more traditional forms of assessment.

Each one has its function (Johnson, 2004). While “the traditional method measures

the learner’s actual level of language development, what the learner can

do without any assistance at a particular moment in time” (Johnson, 2004, p.

187), DA will help assess the learner’s potential development. For example, Antón

(2003) provided students two scores based on what students could do with

help and without help. The students were evaluated based on the descriptors of

the ACTFL proficiency guidelines for Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced levels.

The numerical score of each student was also accompanied by a qualitative assessment.

This assessment reported the examiner’s observations during the oral

interview, the assessment of the learner’s strengths and weaknesses, and specific

recommendations for improvement. Similar assessment techniques can be applied

to SCMC. For example, as in the data presented above, it is possible to observe

the difference in language development levels of the students. Some students will

be at the expected level, others below, and others above. Therefore, there is still a

need to assess students’ mastery of the linguistic codes to measure learners’ actual

level of development using SA techniques as well as assessment of students’ potential

ability utilizing DA procedures.


This study has explored the possibility of applying DA to SCMC. Given the process-oriented

nature of the electronic medium (Furstenberg et al., 2001), DA,

which focuses on process rather than on the product, seems to be an appropriate

means to assess students’ performance in SCMC. Antón (2003), when assessing

students for placement purposes, proved that this type of assessment is viable in

the L2 classroom. Aljaafreh and Lantolf (1994), although not explicitly rooted

in DA literature, provided a 5-level scale based on the frequency and type of as-

528 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3

sistance provided to the learner that helps to assess the stage of the learner’s language

development in both learner-tutor (Aljaafreh & Lantolf, 1994) and learnerlearner

interaction (Ohta, 2000).

The current study has applied this 5-level scale to students’ interaction in SCMC,

and analysis of the data shows that it is possible to observe students’ potential

level of development in online chat. The study does not imply, however, that

traditional modes of assessment are not required to assess students’ performance

in SCMC. While SA provides information regarding the actual level of development,

DA provides information regarding the potential level of development. In

SCMC, Heather (2003) and Oscoz (2003) provided scales and guidelines to assess

students’ current level of development in this medium. Likewise, Aljaafreh and

Lantolf’s (1994) scale, or a more finely honed one which will better suit the characteristics

of the SCMC medium, will provide information regarding students’

potential development. By utilizing techniques from both SA and DA in SCMC, it

will be possible to obtain a richer and more complete understanding of student’s

interlanguage development.


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532 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3


Activity based on Impresiones. Salaberry, R., Barrette, K., Elliot, P., and Fernández-García,

M. (2004).

Even though it is the second month of classes, you still don’t know some of your

classmates well. You approach someone you don’t know well and ask the person

a few questions about weekend activities. Because you are a naturally curious

person, you ask a lot of questions that start with words like ¿Cuándo? ¿Cómo?

¿Por qué? ¿Cuál?, etc.

Use the blank spaces to write information about your partner. Follow the example:

Tú: Hola, ¿cómo estás?

Compañero/a: Bien, gracias, ¿y tú?

Tú: Muy bien. Oye, ¿estudias español los fines de semana?

Compañero/a: No, no estudio español los fines de semana.

Tú: ¿Cuándo estudias español?.

Compañero/a: Estudio español durante la semana, los lunes, martes, miércoles y


Tú: ¿Estudias español por la mañana o por la tarde? ¿Cuántas horas estudias español?

Compañero/a: …

Tú: …

Los fines de semana DE



Caminar por

el parque

Lavar la rope

Hablar por


Visitar a mis




Leer el


Comer en un



Ana Oskoz 533

Correr en el


Ver un video



Tocar el


Cantar tangos



Asistir a la



The following paragraph has been adapted from the Spanish magazine Ahige

(Asociación de Hombres por la Igualdad de Género). According to this magazine,

women still spend more time working at home than men do. Do you think

that, in general, women spend more time than men in doing the traditional “house

chores” such as sweeping, washing, ironing, cleaning the house, etc? Do you

think that men still play the more traditional role of fixing the car and watching

football on the weekends? How is it in your family? Do you think there is a difference

between your parents’ generation and your generation in how each divides

the house chores? Do you think men and women spend their free time engaged in

the same activities as the other?

La mujer se multiplica en el hogar y con la familia,

mientras el hombre disfruta de más tiempo libre

Medio ABC Fecha 25-07-2003

Autora E. MONTAÑÉS La Encuesta de Empleo del Tiempo del INE revela que

las tareas domésticas siguen con acento femenino. Ellos trabajan más horas y

practican más deporte.

MADRID. El título de «amas de casa», como el propio vocablo indica, sigue

recayendo en nuestro país sobre las mujeres. Concretamente, si ellas destinan a

las labores domésticas cuatro horas y media diarias, los hombres emplean una

hora menos para los mismos trabajos, es decir sólo tres horas y media. Por contra,

los varones permanecen en sus ocupaciones laborales un promedio de cuatro

horas y media diarias, y las mujeres dos horas y media. Son estos sólo algunos

de los datos que conforman el avance de resultados de la Encuesta de Empleo del

Tiempo por los españoles que el Instituto Nacional de Estadística dio a conocer

534 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3

ayer. A pesar de ser algo provisional, las conclusiones a las que ha llegado el INE,

después de encuestar a unos 24.000 hogares y después de 9 meses de trabajo, ofrecen

diferencias significativas en la distribución que hombres y mujeres hacemos

en nuestros quehaceres diarios.

Ellas, menos tiempo libre

Los datos de la Encuesta de Empleo del Tiempo ofrecen, en pleno siglo XXI, un

claro predominio de la mano femenina en la plancha, la escoba o la vajilla. Casi

4 horas y media diarias dedican las mujeres al cuidado tanto del hogar como de

su familia, mientras los hombres prefieren hacerlo sólo durante una hora y media.

Como consecuencia de esa superior carga doméstica, ellas disponen de una hora

al día menos que los varones para actividades propias del tiempo libre. El ocio

ocupa en la jornada femenina 4 horas y 13 minutos, mientras para los hombres son

5 horas y 15 minutos de tiempo libre.

En el reparto de estas horas de ocio, tanto españoles como españolas conceden la

mayor importancia a su vida social, ya que más del 60 por ciento de la población

emplea casi dos horas diarias a las relaciones con amistades y conocidos. El deporte

y las actividades al aire libre aparecen después, si bien los hombres son

más aficionados: cuarenta hombres practicantes de cada cien emplean 2 horas y

11 minutos al día, y treinta y cinco mujeres de cada cien emplean una hora y 36

minutos diarios en este tipo de acitivdad. Otras actividades, en cambio, como la

atención a los medios de comunicación y las aficiones personales, no presentan

casi distinciones entre sexos.

Ellos, más tiempo en el trabajo

Los datos más significativos forman parte del reparto del tiempo laboral. Las distancias

por sexos se hacen patentes en el hecho de que los hombres efectúan

trabajo remunerado o estudian durante 4 horas y 26 minutos al día y la mujeres

no más de 2 horas y 35 minutos. Lo cual implica una jornada laboral pagado de

menos de 32 horas a la semana entre los varones de nuestro país, y de sólo 18

horas entre las mujeres.


Partner A

Your friend has convinced you to plan a surprise party for the Spanish class. Now

you and your partner have to decide on a few issues such as food, drinks, place,

time, guests, etc. Of course, you are also busy with your classes (exams, assignments,

quizzes) and with your other friends. With your partner, discuss how you

are going to organize the party. You foresee some problems with the arrangements

… as a matter of fact, you are also a little worried and hesitant about the party.

Ana Oskoz 535

• You are taking 5 classes this semester. You have History, Biology, English,

Web Development and Spanish. You are pretty busy the whole week. You

are only available on Friday nights and weekends.

• You think preparing the whole party by yourselves is too much work and

that you should ask other people in the class to help too. If needed, you can

ask a commercial company to help you organize it. But, of course, that’s

way too expensive … around $350-$400.

• You are a control freak. You need to have everything organized: you must

have a guest list, you need to know who is coming, the exact time of the

party, the location, everything needs to be clean. Also, who is preparing the

drinks? You do not drink (as a matter of fact, you are happy with water or

a coke), but you know other people would like to have a drink or two, and

you want to make everybody happy. And what kinds of drinks would the

other guests like?

Chat with your partner and discuss the party arrangements. This might require

that you make some compromises. Be reasonable, and try to have realistic expectations

about the arrangements for the party.

Partner B

You have convinced your friend to plan a surprise party for the Spanish class.

Now, you and your partner have to decide on a few issues such as food, drinks,

place, time, guests, etc. Of course, you are also busy with your classes (exams,

assignments, quizzes) and with your friends. With your partner discuss how you

are going to organize the party. It might be a little too much work at this time of

the semester, but, in spite of all the work, you are so excited about the party. It is

going to be a lot of fun!!!!!!!!!!!

• You are a social butterfly. You know everybody on campus, and would

like to invite all your friends to the party. You have already talked to a few

friends and they are delighted to come to the party. Isn’t that fun?

• You love to cook. In fact, you are a great chef who is always looking for an

opportunity to show off your cooking abilities. Therefore, you insist that

you and your friend do the cooking for the party. It adds a personal touch

to the event.

• You love dancing. You believe that a party without music is not a party.

You can dance to everything: hip hop, swing, disco, salsa, meringue, etc.

You are “a dancing fool” queen (king)”. You have a great collection of

dance music, from Madonna to Juan Luis Guerra (the famous Dominican

singer), and many more.

Chat with your partner and discuss the party arrangements. This might require

that you make some compromises. Be reasonable, but make sure it is going to be

a fantastic party for everyone.

536 CALICO Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3


Ana Oskoz is Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Maryland Baltimore

County (UMBC). She is interested in second language acquisition, classroom-based

assessment, and integration of technology in the classroom. Her research

interests are the use of asynchronous and synchronous CMC for target

culture and language development.


Ana Oskoz

Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

1000 Hilltop Circle

Baltimore, MD 21250

Phone: 410/455-2997


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