Vol. 7. No. 2 R-7 September 2003
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Linking Literacies: Perspectives on L2 Reading-Writing Connections

Diane D. Belcher and Alan R. Hirvela (Eds.)
Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
Pp. xii + 351
ISBN 0-472-06753-2 (paper)
$29.95 (also available in cloth $50.00)

We all know that great writers tend to be avid readers. Right? What is the relationship between reading and writing? Specifically, how to reading and writing interact in the learning of a second language. Linking Literacies addresses these questions, and in the process begins to fill a gaping hole in L2 research.

Linking Literacies is divided into four sections. The first section, Grounding Practice: Theory, Research, and History, includes essays by William Grabe and Paul Kei Matsuda which effectively define the history and present of the area of inquiry. Grabe's essay is expertly methodical, cataloging the holes in the research to date, but also pulling together diverse research to show where progress has been made. This chapter alone is fertile ground for those seeking dissertation topics. Matsuda, in a characteristic historical critique of the field, examines trends in L2 methodology which have influenced our attention to reading and writing in the L2 classroom. Add to these Joan G. Carson's contribution, which describes a project in which undergraduate and graduate student writing in different types of classes was analyzed in order to determine student needs, and this volume has some serious momentum right out of the gate. Carson's article is exciting not only because she includes graduate students in her project, but because it is one of those projects which can be carried out in some shape at any educational institution, meaning that we could see a stellar body of information spawned from replication studies.

Part 2, In the Classroom: Teaching Reading as Writing and Writing as Reading, opens with a piece by Alan Hirvela in which the role of literary texts in the L2 classroom is propounded and various methods of using literature to teach writing in the L2 classroom are described. This is one of the more practical articles in the volume, reading almost like a teacher's cookbook of writing assignment ideas - though each idea is presented in the context of its original methodology. In this second section, articles (Hirvela's as well as Newell, et al.) sound more like descriptions of L1 writing classrooms -- from a decade ago -- than L2 classrooms. But whether L2 writing lags slightly behind L1 writing in methodology is somewhat unimportant in light of the fact that form and content are now being considered as key factors in a writing course (per Newell, et al.). [-1-]

While there have been at least two complete volumes dedicated to the issue of plagiarism in recent years, the topic is by no means dead, and merits careful consideration when dealing with L2 writers. The third section of Linking Literacies, (E)Merging Literacies and the Challenge of Textual Ownership, offers up three different approaches to the issue. Most notable is the contribution by Parks and Watts, who tend to embrace a more positive, pro-active attitude toward the issue than we often encounter. Parks and Watts build on the suggestions of previous studies in plagiarism, which have repeatedly suggested ESL writers need more instruction in Western citation conventions, and present useful guidance in instructing ESL writers on how to borrow from texts. While teachers will still need to make their own activities, at least we now have some guidelines for what to teach.

Technology-Assisted Reading and Writing, the fourth and final section, travels from low-tech bound dictionaries to the contemporary software solution found in CommonSpace. The title of this section led me to expect something other than a discussion of books, with a few pages about electronic dictionaries stuffed in at the end, as was the case with Odlin's article. But Odlin's work is valuable whether the title of this section is misleading, or not. Likewise, Jabbour's discussion of lexis and grammar gets mired down into a taxonomy of the different fields of language studies, as she spends most of the article defining terms which most people picking up this volume ought to be familiar with: corpus linguistics, word frequency, and collocation, for example. Not even a full page of text is left before the conclusion by the time the heading Potential Class Implementation appears. Again, my disappointment with this article is due more to the promise of technological teaching solutions suggested by the section's title than with the article itself. The one contribution which does not seem out of place here is Bloch and Brutt-Griffler's piece on CommonSpace. Finally, an article that really deals with some technology, and which hints at the pitfalls to using it as much as it suggests that benefits might exist.

Though there are four sections to this book, there is one more aspect to discuss, and that is the non-article contributions. Most texts of this sort are launched (or nudged) forward by a foreword and/or introduction. After that, though, the articles are left to speak for themselves. In Linking Literacies, however, we have a continually recursive consideration of the interplay of the ideas in the individual articles. This is provided by an interlude (authored by Ilona Leki) and an afterword (authored by Andrea Abernethy Lunsford). As readers, we sometimes bound through a book without proper time to reflect on its contents. These added perspective pieces grab our attention and direct back at the articles we have just read, leading, I believe, to deeper consideration of the issues and a fuller personal understanding.

The table of contents in Linking Literacies reads like a Who's Who of L2 literacy studies. The articles collected here are a library unto themselves on a topic which has been on the minds of L2 teachers for decades, but has never been collectively explored in such breadth and depth as it is here. This volume has the feel of being a vanguard: opening the route for extensive, coordinated research in an area where mostly isolated studies have been conducted to date. Even if its contents did not demand one's attention, the issues contained between its covers beguile us. I suspect that this volume will be a cherished cornerstone of L2 literacy studies for some time to come.

Eric Prochaska
International Graduate School of English

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