Vol. 5. No. 2 R-11 September 2001
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Second and Foreign Language Learning Through Classroom Interaction

Edited by Joan Kelly Hall and Lorrie Stoops Verplaetse (2000)
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Pp. xii + 314
ISBN 0-8058-3514-8 (paper) US $29.95
ISBN 0-8058-3513-X (cloth) US $69.95

Interest in the last few years in Vygotskian social theory across the humanities generally, and among language educators and researchers particularly, has helped to consolidate a view, long held among many classroom teachers, that language learning is fundamentally cognitive development within an act of socialization. As much as these views may be present or at least intuitively held, relatively little empirical research exists that attempts to answer questions related to how teachers and learners cooperate towards constructing that socialization. This collection of papers attempts to fill some of that void. The papers, which deal with learning both in a foreign and a second language context, all address the question of interaction and its contribution to language development, but from a variety of perspectives. Certain of the papers look at issues of teacher controlled interaction, others at student-student interaction, and still others at learner strategy development within interactional contexts.

The book, the editors tell us in their preface, was born out of preliminary discussions by interested researchers initially at two academic meetings (AAAL in Florida in 1997 and the Annual Roundtable on Sociocultural Theory and SLA in Las Vegas of the same year), and then out of more formal discussions and presentations in the context of a colloquium on the topic at AAAL in Seattle in 1998. The papers, collected and edited by Hall and Verplaetse, are from researchers with a sustained interest in the question of interaction as a factor in language development.

The structure of the volume is straightforward and serves the reader well. Following a brief preface, the editors provide a co-written first chapter that serves to introduce the volume. This is followed by Part 1, which regroups all of the papers dealing with learning in foreign language contexts (chapters 2 through 7), and then by Part 2 which regroups those papers concerned with foreign language contexts (chapters 8 through 13). The final chapter, chapter 14, though not identified as such in the table of contents, is really a conclusion in that it provides a summary of the various findings as well as their implications and directions for further research. [-1-]

A number of the papers presented here are of interest, both for the questions they ask and the methods they use in order to uncover some possible answers. Key, though, to an appreciation of the collection as a whole is the first chapter, written by Hall and Verplaetse, which provides an historical perspective to the issues raised. This is of great help to those whose research concerns might be related to questions of interaction but not necessarily precisely in line with those of the contributors. But even for those close to the subject, the chapter provides a succinct view of the concerns of language researchers and educators on the question of interaction and language learning. We are reminded that the foreigner talk studies of a couple of decades ago, through to more recent work on the roles played by non-native speakers in interaction, through to studies which have looked at teacher talk in communicative and task-based contexts have tended towards a greater concern with the development of linguistic or grammatical competence perhaps to the detriment of concerns with discourse competence or to what the editors refer to as "sociolinguistic competence." This volume, it is made clear, embraces the broad concerns of how language is shaped by the interactional contexts we as language learners and language teachers find ourselves in. It is interested in the fundamental questions of how realities such as the development of character and of personality (what H. Douglas Brown has called the language ego) are related to the types of activities in which we engage and how these in turn relate to language development. As such, the concerns of the volume are multidisciplinary, spilling over into other areas of inquiry such as cultural psychology, sociology and anthropology. The volume is also unified by consistent underlying theoretical concerns, particularly through the ideas, principally, of Vygotsky and Leontiev.

The papers included are consistently good. Apart from a shared concern with language building as a predominantly social activity and the investigation of the interactional patterns of language use, many are interesting for their method. Considering the theoretical bent of the book it is not surprising to find the use of ethnographic and discourse analytic methods in addition to the usual quantitative data presented in SLA research.

It is not my intention here to comment on all of the contributions, but perhaps brief comments on two of the chapters might help situate the prospective reader. Interesting for the questions it raises and its method is Patricia A. Duff's "Repetition in Foreign Language Classroom Interaction." In this chapter, Duff takes the often treated question of repetition of language forms in the classroom and their retention by learners but examines these in the context of classroom discourse and the roles played by participants in this discourse towards a kind of knowledge building. Duff's analysis suggests that different learning contexts (and therefore different classroom discourses) suggest different roles for teachers and learners in terms of what concepts and linguistic forms get repeated and how, always within the larger perspective of meaningful interaction between and among teachers and learners.

In chapter 9, "Teacher Questions as Scaffolded Assistance in an ESL Classroom," McCormick and Donato focus their attention on teacher-student interaction. The paper provides a way of looking at one of the roles of the teacher within an interaction-based perspective on the ESL classroom, that of questioner. Interesting here is the examination of teacher questioning as a "mediation tool" within the on-going process of classroom interaction. The authors use the concept of scaffolding (a concept that attempts to account for the expert-novice relationship within the process of problem solving) in their examination of teacher questions within an integrated skills ESL class and conclude that teacher questions need to be considered from a goal-directed perspective if they are to aid in interaction. [-2-]

Other topics that get treated include computer-mediated communication in interaction, the ability of teachers to generate student talk, the development of interpersonal relationships and identities in the classroom, and the creation of interaction opportunities for linguistic minority children.

Robert Edwards
Université de Sherbrooke
<redwards@courrier.usherb.ca >

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