Linking ELF and ELT in Secondary School through Web-Mediation: The Case of Fanfiction

Enrico Grazzi


This chapter addresses the pedagogical implications of a research project carried out between 2010 and 2012 (Grazzi 2013). The project involved the design and implementation of networked-based activities for the English classroom, whereby two small communities of practice (CoPs) (Wenger 1998), composed of volunteer Italian students of English from five distally-located schools, were required to simulate an ELF-mediated setting and carry out several cooperative assignments. The overall aim was to provide English teachers and ELT practitioners with a model that could be developed and implemented to carry out international educational projects online, via the use of ELF.

The aim of this chapter is to describe and analyse from a pedagogical perspective examples of fanfiction1 and creative writing tasks. These tasks were aimed at the production of original extracts that were supposed to integrate or change parts of famous English novels and short stories; examples of these activities may include a) adding a description, a dialogue, or a new episode, b) changing the narrator of the story or the narrator's stance, c) writing an alternative denoument, and so on.

The significance of this research project from a teaching perspective is that it takes a blended approach that draws on the results of research in parallel areas of applied linguistics in the fields of ELF (Jenkins, Cogo and Dewey 2011; see also the State-of-the-art Introduction to this volume), educational linguistics (Spolsky 1978; van Lier 2004), sociocultural theory (SCT) (Vygotsky 1978; Lantolf and Thorne 2006), cultural learning (Tomasello 2003), network-based language teaching (NBLT) (O'Dowd and Ware 2009; Guth and Helm 2010) and critical applied linguistics (CAL) (Pennycook 2001). These have lent a fresh perspective to ELT, paving the way for a reconceptualisation of foreign language education that has contributed to the development of an empirical research area within ELF studies that is particularly concerned with ESOL and teacher training (Gagliardi and Maley 2010; Sifakis and Fay 2011; Vettorel and Lopriore 2013; Sifakis 2014; Bayyurt and Akcan 2014). Its main purposes are a) to raise the English teacher's awareness of the nature of ELF and the fundamental role it plays as the main lingua franca in Web-mediated communication (Graddol 2006; Crystal 2011; Campagna et al. 2012), and b) to design new teaching materials and learning activities focused on ELF that are supposed to enrich the ELT syllabus without conflicting with the traditional English as a foreign language (EFL) curriculum.

This project follows on from previous research in the areas of networked learning (Goodyear et al. 2004) and social media language learning (SMLL) (Thorne and Black 2007, Thorne et al. 2009). Moreover, it is consistent with studies that have examined the use of ELF in Internet-based social networking and blogging (Grazzi 2011; Vettorel 2014). The distinctiveness of this project lies in how fanfiction and ELF have been integrated into online collaborative creative writing to design fresh language practice. As this chapter intends to demonstrate, the multicultural and multilingual setting provided by the Web can be used as an affordance to let ELF speakers interact with fellow social networkers. With ELF, the focus on the learner's competence shifts to the pragmatic dimension of communication and the L2-user's performance is considered to be part of a social event that is not subordinate to the standard English (SE) paradigm.

In spite of the fact that EFL and ELF are usually considered independent areas, they tend to converge when the educational context of the classroom is connected to the Internet. In this case the roles of the language learner and that of the L2-user co-occur through their performance. Therefore, the formation of the L2-user's linguacultural identity in Web-mediated discourse is a unifying element, which leads to a dynamic conception of the relationship between the process of EFL teaching/learning - that is largely based on the exonormative native-speaker (NS) model - and the emergence of ELF as social practice. The position taken in this chapter is that the evolution of ELF is part of a natural process enacted by its speakers/learners, who make this language their own through cooperative 'participatory appropriation'2 in authentic, albeit mostly Web-mediated communicative contexts, and use it as an affordance to carry out communicative tasks in a real intersubjective and intercultural dimension, where the interlocutors' identities concur in their attempt to construct and share meanings.

Kramsch's (2009: 4) critical point of view about traditional schooling and her broad understanding into the nature of the L2-user's identity can be illuminating with regards to the role of ELF in ELT:

We are fooling ourselves if we believe that students learn only what they are

taught. While teachers are busy teaching them to communicate accurately, fluently, and appropriately, students are inventing for themselves other ways of being in their bodies and their imaginations. [...] Language for them is not just an unmotivated formal construct but a lived embodied reality. It is not simply an agglomeration of encoded meanings, that are grasped intellectually, cognitively internalized, and then applied in social contexts; rather, it is the potential medium for the expression of their innermost aspirations, awarenesses, and conflicts.

The essential pedagogic principle that applies to ELF is that learners should be educated about the value of language varieties as long as these reflect the sociocultural diversity of the communities that use English globally. Hence, at the heart of language education there should be an open-minded attitude toward language change so that students are "in a position to make an informed choice by means of having their awareness raised of the sociolinguistic, sociopsychological, and sociopolitical issues involved" (Jenkins 2007: 21-22).

The following sections describe the implementation and results of the creative writing tasks involving fanfiction. It is hoped that they will provide insight into how possible it is to introduce innovative activities in second language education through the use of ELF and Web-mediated communication.

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