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Understanding SLA through peer interactions in a Chinese classroom: A sociocultural perspective

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Lei Wu
Abstract:
Second language learning and development is a complex process that is situated in sociocultural settings. Classrooms provide such daily life settings in which language acquisition occurs via social interactions among peers and the instructor as well as other mediated means. The purpose of this research study was to examine the roles of peer interaction in a Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) classroom and how different types of peer interaction affect learners' second language development in a classroom setting, and what roles peer interactions played in such a setting. Based on the sociocultural theory, the study explored the opportunities for learning that occurred during peer interactive work. Data included personal history interviews, language reflection journals, audio and video recordings of CFL learners in pair or group work, and Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPIs). The participants were seven students from different cultural backgrounds in an intermediate Chinese as a foreign language classroom. Findings indicated that peer interactions played an important role in the Chinese classroom. Mutual assistance in various forms provided various learning opportunities, in which not only the more capable peers assisted less capable peers, but also the reverse situation occurred in different tasks. The study also revealed the changeable nature of peer roles in their interactive routines, in which learners' perspectives and orientation could be changed during peer collaboration process, sometimes dispite of the learners' original goals. However, although task design may affect the degree of a learner's participation, both motivated and less motivated learners benefited from the participation of peer learning activities in which an unmotivated learner might feel impelled to engage in a shared activity. The findings of this study support the sociocultural view of SLA and point to the benefits of assisted performance in L2 peer interaction. These findings also help broaden the understanding of the role peer interaction plays in a second/foreign language classroom. In addition, the results have both theoretical implications as well as practical implications in second language learning and instruction in the classroom.

UNDERSTANDING SLA THROUGH PEER INTERACTIONS IN A CHINESE CLASSROOM: A SOCIOCULTURAL PERSPECTIVE TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER 1 1 INTRODUCTION 1 Statement of the Problem 1 Theoretical Framework 3 Purpose of the Study 8 Research Questions 9 Main research question: 9 Sub-research questions: 10 Significance 10 Assumptions and Limitations 11 Definition of Terms 13 Chapter Summary and Organization of Remaining Chapters 17 CHAPTER II 19 LITERATURE REVIEW 19 A Brief Look at Language Learning: Social or Cognitive? 20 Sociocultural Theory and SLA 29 vi

Language as a Mediational Tool 29 Internalization and Private Speech 32 Scaffolding and Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) 36 Activity Theory 47 Chapter Summary 54 CHAPTER III 55 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY 55 Overview 55 Research Design 55 Research Setting 59 Research Participants 61 Data Collection 62 Measures and Instruments 63 Personal History Interviews 65 Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPI) 66 Collaborative Classroom Interactions 68 Participant Observation 72 Data Analysis 73 Transcriptions of Verbal Interactions and CA Methodology 74 Transcription Conventions 78 Tracking L2 development 80 Ethical Considerations 81 vii

Credibility of the Researcher and Role of the Teacher 85 Chapter Summary 88 CHAPTER IV 89 DATA ANALYSIS AND RESULTS 89 Overview 89 The Data 90 Personal History Interviews 91 OPI Interviews 96 Managing the Data 97 The Research Questions , 97 The main research question: 98 Research Questions 1: 98 Research Question 2: 99 Research Question 1: Peer Interactions and Mediation 99 Interactional Routines in the CFL Classroom 100 Initiating Conversations 102 Asking or Providing Assistance 115 Prompting and Modeling 121 Correcting Errors 127 Positive L1 Use 141 Negative Off-task Action during Peer Work 154 Conclusion of Research Question 1 155 viii

Research Question 2: Peer Interactions and L2 Development 158 Results: Learners, Perspectives, Participation, and SLA 158 The Learners 159 Narrative 1: JT 159 Personal History Interview Recap 159 JT's Changing View on Peer Interaction - Self Reflection. 160 Participation in Peer Interaction and L2 Development 163 Narrative 2: XB 172 Personal History Interview Recap and Self Reflection on CFL Learning 172 Participation in Peer Interaction and L2 Development 176 Narrative 3: TW 190 Personal History Interview Recap and Self Reflection on CFL Learning 190 Participation in Peer Interaction and L2 Development 193 Narrative 4: JM 198 Personal History Interview Recap and Self Reflection on CFL Learning 198 Participation in Peer Interaction and L2 Development 201 Narrative 5: MD 206 Personal History Interview Recap and Self Reflection on CFL Learning 206 Participation in Peer Interaction and L2 Development 209 Narrative 6: PL 217 Personal History Interview Recap 217 ix

Perspective towards CFL learning and Participation in Peer Interaction 219 Narrative 7: XL 224 Personal History Interview Recap 224 Perspective towards CFL learning and Participation in Peer Interaction 225 Evidence of L2 development from comparison of two OPIs 229 Conclusion of Research Question 2 240 Main Research Question: Roles of Peer Interaction 241 Peer Interaction Mediates L2 Learning 242 Peer Interaction Promotes Individual Development 247 Chapter Summary 251 CHAPTER V 254 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION 254 Overview 254 Discussion of the Findings 255 Discussion of Research Question 1 255 Discussion of Research Question 2 263 Discussion of Main Research Question: Roles of Peer Interaction 271 Theoretical Implications 273 Sociocultural theory 273 Second Language Acquisition (SLA) 276 Conversation Analysis (CA) 279 x

Practical Implications 280 Limitations of the Study 284 Conclusion 289 LIST OF REFERENCES 290 APPENDIX A: INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARD LETTER 304 APPENDIX B: CONSENT LETTERS 306 APPENDIX C: ACTFL NATIONAL STANDARDS IN FOREIGN LANGUAGE EDUCATION 309 APPENDIX D: FORMAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS 311 APPENDIX E: ACTFL PROFICIENCY GUIDELINES - SPEAKING 313 APPENDIX F: NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR CHINESE LANGUAGE LEARNING 315 APPENDIX G: SAMPLE QUESTIONS FOR STUDENT REFLECTION JOURNALS 318 APPENDIX H: ORAL PROFICIENCY INTERVIEW QUESTIONS 320 xi

LIST OF TABLES Table 3.1: Overview of Instruments 65 Table 3.2 Transcription Conventions 79 Table 4.1 Peer Interaction Data - Transcription Dates 90 Table 4.2 Summary of Participants' Background Information 91 Table 4.3 Types of Positive On-Task Actions through Peer Work 102 Table 4.4 Types of Negative Off-Task Actions through Peer Work 154 Table 4.5 Comparison of Two OPI Ratings 236 xii

ABSTRACT UNDERSTANDING SLA THROUGH PEER INTERACTIONS IN A CHINESE CLASSROOM: A SOCIOCULTURAL PERSPECTIVE By Lei Wu University of New Hampshire, September 2009 Second language learning and development is a complex process that is situated in sociocultural settings. Classrooms provide such daily life settings in which language acquisition occurs via social interactions among peers and the instructor as well as other mediated means. The purpose of this research study was to examine the roles of peer interaction in a Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) classroom and how different types of peer interaction affect learners' second language development in a classroom setting, and what roles peer interactions played in such a setting. Based on the sociocultural theory, the study explored the opportunities for learning that occurred during peer interactive work. Data included personal history interviews, language reflection journals, audio and video recordings of CFL learners in pair or group work, and Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPIs). The participants were seven students from different cultural backgrounds in an intermediate Chinese as a foreign language classroom. Findings indicated that peer interactions played an important role in the Chinese classroom. Mutual assistance in various forms provided various learning opportunities, in which not only the more capable peers assisted less capable xiii

peers, but also the reverse situation occurred in different tasks. The study also revealed the changeable nature of peer roles in their interactive routines, in which learners' perspectives and orientation could be changed during peer collaboration processes, sometimes despite of the learners' original goals. However, although task design may affect the degree of a learner's participation, both motivated and less motivated learners benefited from the participation of peer learning activities in which an unmotivated learner might feel impelled to engage in a shared activity. The findings of this study support the sociocultural view of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and point to the benefits of assisted performance in second language (L2) peer interaction. These findings also help broaden the understanding of the role peer interaction plays in a second/foreign language classroom. In addition, the results have both theoretical implications as well as practical implications in second language learning and instruction in the classroom. xiv

CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Statement of the Problem Learning a foreign language is a complex task because it poses multiple challenges for the learner, such as linguistic, pragmatic, cultural and sociocultural knowledge of the target language. While research in second language acquisition (SLA), especially in the areas of social interaction for second language development, has proliferated in the last decades (e.g., Lantolf, 2000; Long, 1983; Pica & Doughty, 1985), findings are mixed and often inconclusive, leaving many open questions. In addition, most studies to date have been conducted in the areas of western languages, and only recently, studies in second language (L2) research have started to examine classroom interactions in the areas of non- western languages (e.g. Ohta, 2001; Rylander, 2004; Takahashi, 1998), but they are mostly done in college level foreign language classrooms. This study therefore was set to examine peer interactions in a Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) classroom at a secondary level of an independent school in the United States. In recent years, SLA research has been going through some significant changes that reject a narrowly-framed SLA research model such as the input- interaction-output model (Block, 2003). In the past two decades, this research has encouraged a broader frame that integrates the narrow approach into a 1

broader sociolinguistically-driven model. According to the perspective stated in National Standards by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Project (1999), students will need to have access to the richness of the cultures of the languages being studied. In addition to the experience with the language system, they need to learn about everyday life and social institutions, about contemporary and historical issues that are important in those cultures, about significant works of literature and art, and about cultural attitudes and priorities. In addition, students should also learn how their own culture is viewed by the people whose language they are studying. This expanded view of language learning undoubtedly challenges the current research agenda in SLA as well as how language teachers teach in the classroom. There is a growing interest among second language teachers and researchers in understanding how language development occurs through situated interaction in the classrooms. The current literature on second language learners' interactions in the classroom is supported by many studies that examine developmental processes from a holistic perspective as they occur moment-by-moment in the interaction of learners (e.g., Johnson, 2004; Ohta, 2000). However, none of these studies have examined the roles of peer interactions towards learning Chinese in particular and how second language development in this particular language is manifested in such a classroom context qualitatively, especially at a secondary level. Therefore, a qualitative study examining Chinese learners at secondary level could make a valuable 2

contribution to understanding learners as well as teaching methodologies in teaching Chinese as a second/foreign language in the U.S. school setting. Theoretical Framework The L2 classroom is a social context to which learners bring themselves and their past experiences, and in which they establish certain relationships and attempt to participate and engage in tasks in ways that best fit their social needs. Therefore, describing their activities in relation to the other learners as social beings is an important part of the description of their L2 learning. Language is acquired through the use of language in settings of daily life, and L2 classrooms are such a daily life setting in which language acquisition occurs through social interaction. Peer interaction studies emphasize collaborative learning through pair work or small group tasks in the classroom, which has become a focus of many L2 researchers. Why did I choose to use sociocultural theory to guide my study? While there are several competing theories that underlie SLA, much of the research supports an interactionist position, underscoring the concomitant effects of the external linguistic environment and internal individual learner variables on language acquisition (Ellis, 1994; Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991). Sociocultural perspectives on language learning, as influenced by the work of Vygotsky (Lantolf & Appel, 1994; Warschauer, 1997), provide a complementary position that considers language learners in direct relation to their social and cultural surroundings and condition. This theoretical background - reflecting both 3

interactionist and sociocultural perspectives on second language acquisition - was crucial to frame the discussion in attempt to conceptualize SLA in the Chinese classroom. As the questions of this study were closely related to the sociocultural aspects of second language development, especially within the limited classroom environment, it was important to examine the roles of peer interactions holistically, not only looking at the types of peer interactions, but also questioning how language development was manifested through such interactions within this particular second language environment. Understanding the roles of peer interactions in a Chinese as a second/foreign language classroom will inform significantly how teachers can help students from diverse backgrounds interact more productively in the process of learning Chinese as a second language. Studies in the sociocultural framework support the idea of bringing peer collaboration into the L2 classroom. While these studies are discussed in the next chapter, a few remarks should be made here concerning the selection of Vygotskian sociocultural framework to guide this investigation. According to Vygotsky(1981), Any function in the child's cultural development appears twice, or on two planes. First it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological plane. First it appears between people as an interpsychological category, and then within the child as an intrapsychological category. This is equally true with regard to voluntary attention, logical memory, the formation of concepts, and the development of volition.... [I]t goes without saying that internalization transforms the process itself and changes its structure and functions. Social relations or relations among people 4

genetically underlie all higher functions and their relationships (p. 163). He argues that intrapersonal knowledge and skills originate in interpersonal activity. Based on his theory, learning is conceptualized as development that moves from the intramental (social) to intermental (individual) through transformational internalization (Lantolf & Appel, 1998; Wertsch, 1985). Intermental, however, is not to be interpreted as equivalent to cognitive in the traditional sense, as thinking is not believed to be located solely in the brain. Rather, "the mind extends beyond the skin" (Wertsch, 1991, p. 14). This developmental law may be applied to L2 learning settings because this construct aptly describes interactive processes whereby what was initially social becomes a resource for the individual through the process of meaningful social interaction (Ohta, 2001). Peer interaction in second language classrooms reveals such a meaning making process that is visible to promote language acquisition. In Vygotsky's view, just as humans do not act directly on the physical world but rely on tools and labor activity, which allow us to change the world, and with it, the circumstances under which we live in the world, we also use symbolic tools or signs to mediate and regulate our relationships with others and with ourselves and thus change the nature of these relationships (Lantolf, 2000). As with physical tools, humans use symbolic artifacts to establish indirect or mediated relationship between the world and ourselves. This is a rather ambitious yet essential goal, to understand the far-reaching educational implications of the claim as stated in Wertsch (1991). Learning, including the 5

learning of second languages, is a semiotic process attributable to participation in socially-mediated activities. Additionally, this mediation becomes the eventual means for mediating the individual's own mental functioning. Through socially- mediated activity and the eventual 'individual(s)-acting-with-mediational-means', the social and the individual planes of human psychological activity are interwoven (Wertsch,1993; Wertsch 1998). Understanding peer interaction in a CFL classroom from this perspective means understanding the functional roles of mediational tools within the activity of learning Chinese as a second or foreign language. Thus, learning to speak a second or foreign language, is primarily social rather than individual, like any other human activity. In order to investigate the roles of peer interaction and the impact it has on L2 development, in the study presented herein, daily conversations in pairs and groups in participants' interactive routines were recorded to provide insight into learners' microgenetic development, which is one of the concepts central to SCT. Arguing that higher mental functions, such as learning, are based on sociocultural history, Vygotsky (1987) proposed four genetic (developmental) domains - phylogenetic, sociocultural, ontogenetic, and microgenetic. The phylogenetic domain is concerned with how human mental functions developed over time to be unique from that of animals. The sociocultural domain concentrates on how different cultures developed into distinct communities. The ontogenetic domain explains how children develop into mature members of society. Finally, the microgenetic domain is concerned with short-term 6

development in learning a task, or even learning a word. This study investigated microgenetic development of learning Chinese as a second/foreign language both within a few instances (within language-related episodes) and over a period of an academic semester, as students participated in their interactive routines in peer interactions. Microgenetic development cannot be understood without knowing the context in which it occurs. The context of L2 learning such as the Chinese classroom provides a social place for all the participants to go through a process of incorporating the L2 into their interactive and cognitive processes as they use the L2 with others. All the participants who bring their own experiences of language learning and cultural backgrounds help create a unique learning context. Language learning in this sense is seen not as an individual activity, but as a social one in which learners engage themselves during collaborative activities. How students interact with each other to promote their L2 learning and development is under investigation here. The interacting elements include: each individual's personal history, the interactive routines in the classroom in which two or more students engage, their perspectives through interviews and reflection journals, and their performance in language-related assessments. Another resource available here is the teacher researcher whose involvement plays a part in the context, but will not be discussed extensively here in this document for the purpose of this study. 7

Most studies in classroom interactions of SLA have been conducted in English as a Second Language or in other western languages on college campuses. This research will contribute to less commonly taught Chinese in a CFL classroom at a secondary level of a U.S. school. Even in less commonly taught languages, many past research studies have focused on pure linguistic aspects such as vocabulary acquisition, role of grammar in second language classroom, and learning strategies. However, the new conceptualization of SLA classroom research calls for a new way to look into second and foreign language data in a more holistic manner within the sociocultural framework. The sociocultural framework affects research methodology in the following ways: a) Human activity, including L2 learning, is best studied through observation and analysis of verbal interaction during their interactive routines; b) Investigations should take into consideration of a participant's cultural background, learning histories, and the social context in which the interaction takes place; and c) The focus of empirical studies should be on development over time. Purpose of the Study This dissertation stems from research findings in the field of SLA and foreign language education, as is more specifically extrapolated in the next chapter. As communicative teaching becomes more important in the language classroom, the field of second language acquisition and teaching is compelled to investigate how second and foreign language learners develop their language 8

skills through their daily interactive routines in the classroom. The purpose of this study was to examine the different roles of peer interactions and to understand how students co-construct language learning experiences in a Chinese as a second language classroom. Most of the studies within the work of classroom interactions, as is reviewed in Chapter 2, have examined the role of both teacher-student interactions and peer interactions in SLA. Many have also looked at native- speaker versus non-native speaker (NS-NSS) interactions. However, relatively few studies in this body of literature have examined peer interactions in a less commonly taught language classroom at a secondary level in the U.S. school setting, especially in the field of CFL research. The need for further research into such second language context is important and will shed light on second language acquisition research in general and Chinese in specific. Therefore, the specific purpose of the present research was to: (a) investigate the role of peer interactions among culturally diverse learners within a CFL classroom, (b) examine the different types of peer interactions, positive and negative, and (c) examine how second language development is manifested through peer interactions. Research Questions Main research question: What roles do peer interactions play in a second language classroom? 9

Sub-research questions: 1. How do peer interactions mediate second language learning in a Chinese as a second language classroom? 2. How is second language development manifested in peer interactions over the course of the semester? Significance As Pica (2005) points out, the theory and practice of second language learning and teaching are dynamic enterprises, subject to continued debate, development, and change. With respect to second language acquisition research, it was hoped that the present research would provide additional information on the nature of peer interactions in the second language classrooms, especially in CFL classrooms. Additionally, it was hoped that the findings from this study would provide a better understanding on the linguistic and social environments of learners from diverse cultural backgrounds, the nature and impact of specific types of peer interactions among these learners, and how second language development is manifested in the interactive routines among these learners. Lastly, it was hoped that this investigation would contribute to the research in second language acquisition in terms of examining peer-to-peer interactions with CFL participants within an educational setting that has not been included in the literature on L2 classroom interaction research. In addition, in this study, peer interaction was not approached from the traditional input/output model of language that places the process of language 10

learning within the brain of the individual students. Again, sociocultural theory views learning as a social activity. While researchers who apply sociocultural theory and its research tradition have been productive in the past decade, very few investigations have targeted peer interaction in a CFL classroom from a sociocultural perspective. Therefore, this study furthers the understanding of peer interactions in a L2 classroom in three ways. First, it offers a principled investigation into a relatively new context of peer interaction among diverse learners of Chinese as a foreign language. Second, it uses sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978,1981) and the related Activity Theory (Leontiev, 1981) as framework for the investigation, thus alleviating theoretical and methodological constraints which have in the past limited traditional second language acquisition research. Finally, it will also give both teachers and researchers a better understanding of the situated processes of L2 development in the classroom, and thus has important implications on practice in the second language classrooms. As Donato (2000) argues, the role of instruction is central to second language development in the classroom. When read and interpreted in light of classrooms, sociocultural theory is both overarching and emerging in its application to language instruction. Assumptions and Limitations This study was conducted as a classroom-based case study as this design is most compatible with the research methodology of sociocultural theory (Smogorinsky, 1995). As with all human activity, research is situated in a 11

sociocultural context. Therefore, the researcher, the participants, and the data cannot be seen as neutral, but rather as interacting elements of the setting. In undertaking the current study, the researcher made three basic assumptions and identified three limitations. The underlying assumptions regarded the nature of language and language learning in the classroom setting. The first assumption is that language development involves a complex process that is situated in sociocultural settings. Language learners are social beings, and their ability to use language emerges from social interactions, even in the L2 classroom settings. The second underlying assumption of the present study is learning occurs through the internalization of knowledge when individuals engage in the process of joint creation of meaning and co-construction. It is possible to observe the learning process in the discursive practices between individuals (Harre & Stearns 1995), and thus gain psychological insights through microgenetic analysis. The concept of learning adopted for the present study is discussed in more detail in the next chapter. The third assumption is that peer interaction and the learner's environment have important impact on second language development. Within the sociocultural framework, social interaction plays a significant role in second language acquisition. For the purpose of the present study, all aspects fundamental in second language learning, including phonological, morphological, 12

lexical, and syntactical aspects of language, are to be encountered in examining the roles of peer interactions in the Chinese classroom. Important limitations of the current study are inherent in the methodology selected by the researcher. First, microgenetic analysis is a form of qualitative enquiry, and as such, seeks to describe specific instances of behavior in limited contexts. The detailed examination of the dialogic processes permits insights into the ways in which learners construct knowledge, and may be transferred to similar situations. However, no claims for generalizability are made. Second, the analysis here is restricted in time to individual interactions between pairs and in groups in the effort to establish how the conversation is structured and the processes of learner assistance that is observable across pairs or groups within the small classroom environment and therefore, does not make claims for long-term gains in competence. Finally, the participants in the current study reflected a purposive sample, drawn from a natural level 4 Chinese class at the school where the researcher was teaching. The students were at least at an intermediate or a high intermediate level of a Chinese class. The conclusions, therefore, are limited to the specific type of learners chosen for this particular study. Definition of Terms The definitions of relevant terms found in this dissertation are presented below: 13

Adjacency pairs: An adjacency pair is a unit of analysis within prototypical examples for conversation analysis. Adjacency pairs are sequences of questions and answers as described by Sacks and Schegloff (1973). Co-construction: Co-construction indicates the joint creation of meaning through dialogic process. Collaborative dialogue: Collaborative dialogue indicates the interaction between peers when they are engaged in a pair or group interaction. Conversation analysis: Conversation Analysis (CA) is a method used to examine conversational structure and the practices used among interlocutors for achieving comprehensible communication (Heritage & Atkinson, 1984; Markee, 2000). Within CA sequences of adjacency pairs and initiation/response/follow-up structures were determined. Corrective feedback: Corrective feedback is a term used to indicate error correction studies by second language teachers and researchers. More specifically, for the purpose of this study, the term corrective feedback is defined as feedback moves that are provided by learner-to-leaner interactions or corrective feedback to the group member's errors. Emic: Using an emic approach, a researcher strives to observe, describe, and understand a phenomenon from the perspective of those involved. Teachers and students have an emic (insider's) perspective on their own classroom. The opposite of emic is etic: the outsider's perspective of a phenomenon. 14

Error. An error, for the purpose of this study, is defined as a non-target (ill- formed) utterance that is unacceptable in the target language. Input.The language to which a learner is exposed. Input can be modified to comprehensible to the learner. It is frequently associated with an information processing view of language, in which language input is processed in the brain. Internalization: Internalization is a series of transformations through which external activity is "reconstructed and begins to occur internally" (Vygotsky 1978, p.57). It implies movement of language from environment to brain. Language focused episode (LFE): LFE indicates sequences within a dialogue during which the participants pay attention to the phonological, morphological, syntactical, and lexical aspects of language. /.//This is an abbreviation for first or native language. In this investigation the L1 of most students is English, but two students' L1 is Korean and one other student's L1 is Hondurian. Z.2.This is an abbreviation for second or foreign language. The abbreviation L2 is frequently used in contexts where no distinction is made between foreign and second language learning. Second language learning generally refers to learning a language other than one's native language in a country where that language is the official language, for example, a native speaker of English who is learning Chinese in China. 15

Full document contains 336 pages
Abstract: Second language learning and development is a complex process that is situated in sociocultural settings. Classrooms provide such daily life settings in which language acquisition occurs via social interactions among peers and the instructor as well as other mediated means. The purpose of this research study was to examine the roles of peer interaction in a Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) classroom and how different types of peer interaction affect learners' second language development in a classroom setting, and what roles peer interactions played in such a setting. Based on the sociocultural theory, the study explored the opportunities for learning that occurred during peer interactive work. Data included personal history interviews, language reflection journals, audio and video recordings of CFL learners in pair or group work, and Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPIs). The participants were seven students from different cultural backgrounds in an intermediate Chinese as a foreign language classroom. Findings indicated that peer interactions played an important role in the Chinese classroom. Mutual assistance in various forms provided various learning opportunities, in which not only the more capable peers assisted less capable peers, but also the reverse situation occurred in different tasks. The study also revealed the changeable nature of peer roles in their interactive routines, in which learners' perspectives and orientation could be changed during peer collaboration process, sometimes dispite of the learners' original goals. However, although task design may affect the degree of a learner's participation, both motivated and less motivated learners benefited from the participation of peer learning activities in which an unmotivated learner might feel impelled to engage in a shared activity. The findings of this study support the sociocultural view of SLA and point to the benefits of assisted performance in L2 peer interaction. These findings also help broaden the understanding of the role peer interaction plays in a second/foreign language classroom. In addition, the results have both theoretical implications as well as practical implications in second language learning and instruction in the classroom.