In a social constructivist (Vygotsky) international online learning environment, a common social-cultural context needs to be created where language use is appropriately focussed and modulated to meet different capabilities. Whereas in discussions and reading and writing cohort participation can absorb a range of capabilities within individually identified zones of proximal development (Vygotsky), grammar and genre intermediation needs to target those specific students that demonstrate a need for additional review, practice or individual coaching. This is where the idea of parallel development makes sense, allowing for the supplemental online or F2F teacher-directed teaching of content and/or process in support of identified need.
To meet the requirement for individualised support and practice online, a bank of digitised and indexed content should be made available or created. Scanned and digitised content can be taken from, for example, old texts where copyright has expired, and that can serve in the creation of such indexed resources. Old texts tend to be designed much more linear that modern texts and lend themselves particularly well to creating digitised content.
To meet the requirement of an authentic and motivating social context suitable for social constructivist learning, we suggest cohort recreational literature study or professional literature study. Their simulated socio-historical contexts are seen to be ideally suited for second language students with the potential for multiple associated cross-cohort activities that will, in the process, highlight specific language issues that need individual attention, easily drawn from our digitized resources previously mentioned. It is in the work of these socially interactive activities that cognitive growth is generated, mediated, modulated and solidified for long-term memory access in accordance with social constructivist pedagogical principles.
In fact, Suzanne Miller (2003) in an article named How Literature Discussion Shapes Thinking suggests that the opportunity for open-forum cohort discussions exists particularly where multiple perspectives on the text are invited, with opportunities available to examine individual interpretations in conversation with others. With this socio-cultural approach in mind, thinking and mediation based on disequilibrium and equilibration originates in such collaborative dialogues, which are subsequently modulated and internalized as ‘inner speech‘.
Such online open-forums in online social constructivist literature study in ESL/EFL settings, need to be organized so that the curriculum allows students within a cohort to collaborate, interact, and raise questions of both F2F and online classmates and the teacher. Crouse and Davey (1989). According to Gould (2005) constructivist frameworks challenge teachers to create innovative environments in which they and their students are encouraged to think and explore. Learners must play an active role in selecting and defining the activities which must be both challenging and intrinsically motivating. There must be appropriate teacher support as learners build concepts, values, schemata, and problem solving abilities. Teaching this way is not easy. It requires a considerable degree of flexibility and a strategic allocation of workflow and resources within student cohorts, such as student-to-student mentoring and group work to take the focus off the teacher, but guided to ensure outcomes.