As presented in section 4, central to the current study were two major themes: group solidarity and language learning. These two themes emerged from this coteaching context. The interrelation between them generated coteachers’ maturation, peer learners’ maturation and the collective maturation of the whole class. The three types of maturation were supported by the theory of the ZPD. During the process of creating the ZPD, the development of coteachers’ learner autonomy was evident.
The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
Coteachers’ maturation was referred to as the second stage of generating a ZPD in figure 1. It consisted of their independent learning, their coteaching group mates’ help and the teacher’s guidance. In this study, students were all beginners of Chinese and they were at a similar level of Chinese right after each Chinese lesson. In order to conduct coteaching, coteachers had to share ideas (Tobin and Roth 2006; Murphy and Scantlebury 2010) in order to ensure their individual accountability by enhancing their own knowledge of Chinese (Murphy and Scantlebury 2010). In the preparation for coteaching, they all worked with each other in groups of three or four in order to accomplish the unified teaching objectives (Gallo-Fox 2010). The process of preparation also responded to some of the key elements of Villa, Thousand and Nevin (2008), such as face-to-face interaction and positive interdependence where the success of the coteaching activity was dependent on each individual in the coteaching team. As stated in section 4.1, coteachers considered peer learners as their friends and wanted to help them to learn. This factor encouraged coteachers to master their own material before teaching. Coteachers’ responsibility applied to both the whole Chinese class where they were teachers and the coteaching groups where they were in cooperation with their fellow coteachers. This sense of group solidarity was created by the implementation of coteaching through face to face interaction and is a realisation of positive interdependence. It had a positive impact on coteachers’ learning (Roth and Tobin 2005). However, the data, derived from the short course, did not explicitly demonstrate if coteachers developed their interpersonal skills as a result of the activity nor how they monitored their coteaching progress. Honigsfeld and Dove’s (2010) mutual trust among coteachers was not highlighted either.
As the third stage of Figure 1 illustrates, peer learners improved their subject knowledge under the guidance of coteachers. Their maturation was generated through mediation of coteachers’ guidance. Their increased knowledge of Chinese responded to Villa, Thousand and Nevin’s (2008) claim that learners would benefit from coteaching as coteachers present knowledge and skills though different approaches. From peer learners’ perspectives, they considered themselves part of the Chinese class along with coteachers. They wanted coteachers to do well and gave them necessary support by taking active participation in learning. Peer learners’ support became part of the group solidarity which applied to the whole class cohort including both coteachers and peer learners. This finding responded to Jennings and Di’s (1996) finding that students benefited from teaching each other. There was a major difference between coteachers’ maturation and peer learners’ maturation. As discussed above, coteachers took the initiatives to generate their maturation. They were both knowledge receivers and producers. They had to enhance their knowledge level and help peer learners to learn. Unlike coteachers, peer learners acted as knowledge receivers. They generated their personal maturation under the guidance of coteachers. However, a commonality between coteachers and peer learners was that they all strengthened their knowledge level when they wanted to be supportive of each other in the classroom (Assinder 1991; Carpenter 1996).
All students were at a similar linguistic level right after each lesson (Level 1). As illustrated in Figure 1, when coteachers generated a ZPD, they were a step ahead of peer learners in terms of linguistic competence. When peer learners generated a ZPD right after coteaching sessions, they improved their linguistic level (Level 2) as coteachers had done during stage II in Figure 1. However, Level 1 and Level 2 were different. Level 1 was all students’ linguistic competence before their generation of a ZPD in Figure 1. Level 2 was developed out of Level 1. The development from Level 1 to Level 2 demonstrated the distance by which the Chinese class as a whole progressed during each of the coteaching sessions. The progression of the whole class represented the collective maturation which was generated though the cooperation among all students acting in different roles in each of the coteaching sessions (Wells 2000; Fani and Ghaemi 2011). As a result, the coteaching context generated three types of maturation: the maturation of coteachers, the maturation of peer learners and the maturation of the whole class. The maturation of coteachers was the foundation for the maturation of peer learners. And the combination of these two types of maturation created the possibility for the maturation of the class as whole.
Figure 1. Four stages of the process of generating a ZPD in a coteaching context.