LINGUIST List 11.2519

Wed Nov 22 2000

Review: Hall & Verplaetz: SLA thru classroom, part 1

Editor for this issue: Andrew Carnie <>

What follows is another discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect these discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for discussion." (This means that the publisher has sent us a review copy.) Then contact Andrew Carnie at


  1. Ronald Sheen, Review - Part 1

Message 1: Review - Part 1

Date: Wed, 22 Nov 2000 15:32:12 -0500
From: Ronald Sheen <Ronald_SheenUQTR.UQuebec.CA>
Subject: Review - Part 1

Joan Kelly Hall and Lorrie Stoops Verplaetz (Eds.) "Second and foreign
language learning through classroom interaction." Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates. 314 pages.

Reviewed by Ronald Sheen, UQTR

This book proposes a new perspective on second language acquisition (SLA)
in contrast to what it characterizes as "a traditional psycholinguistic
perspective" which perceives SLA as the acquisition of a discrete set of
linguistic systems.". - a somewhat curious characterization given the
pains to which many leading figures in the field of SLA go to in order to
dispel that very perception. (See, for example, the introductory chapter of
Doughty & Williams, and particularly, Long & Robinson's chapter therein,
1998). This new approach entails a "broader, sociocultural perspective of
language and learning with practical concerns for nurturing classroom
communities of successful second and foreign language learners." (p. 2)
Studies based on this approach are viewed as laying the foundation for "a
set of principles for identifying and sustaining classroom interactional
practices that foster additional language development.". Apart from the
first chapter by the editors which discusses these principles, there are
thirteen chapters offering examples of such studies which are divided into
two parts. The first six of these chapters constitute Part 1 and are
concerned with foreign language learning in language classrooms whereas the
chapters in Part 2 are concerned with second-language learning in content
classrooms. One of the editors, Joan Kelly Hall, provides a concluding
synthesizing chapter in which she examines "theoretical and practical
implications for second and foreign language learning.". (p. 16)

In this review, I will first provide synopses of the content chapters and
then proceed to a critical review of the proposed approach in general and
of the chapters in particular, concluding with comments on Hall's final

Part 1.

Ch. 2. "Learning the pragmatics of solidarity in the networked foreign
language classroom" by Celeste Kinginger.

This study is concerned with the acquisition by anglophones of the French
subject pronouns "vous" and "tu" and examines how interaction with French
peers by means of e-mail modifies the students' initial conception of the
meaning of these two forms. She concludes that it is that interaction
which "...facilitates the learners' development of everyday communicative
skills and abilities.".

Ch. 3 "Rethinking recasts: A learner-centred examination of corrective
feedback in the Japanese language classroom" by Amy Snyder Ohta

Ohta examines the role of self-addressed utterances during teacher-fronted
interaction in which the speaker of those utterances is not directly
involved. She concludes that such language activity is as crucial to
language development as is direct involvement in teacher-fronted

Ch. 4 "Spoken artistry: Performance in a foreign language classroom." by
Patricia N. Sullivan.

Sullivan takes as her focus the effect on language learning of the
"discourse of one teacher as he incorporates storytelling and wordplay into
his teaching" of EFL in Vietnam. (p. 13). She concludes that this teacher
strategy engages the students' attention, promotes inter-student-solidarity
and prepares them for conversation outside the classroom.

Ch. 5. "Teachers' action and student oral participation in classroom
interaction" by Douglas Altamiro Consolo.

Consolo examines the difference between native-speaker as opposed to
non-native-speaker teachers in terms of their potential for promoting
classroom interaction. Though he finds no overall difference, he does
single out two NNS's who appear to encourage greater interaction and
endeavours to account for this.

Ch. 6. "Repetition in foreign language classroom interaction" by Patrica
A. Duff.

Duff focuses on the role of repetition in foreign language learning and
derives her data from three different situations: one from a high school
content classroom in Hungary and the other two from university courses in
German and Hebrew in the USA. She examines the role of repetition both as
a means of promoting inter-student solidarity and actual language learning.
She concludes that the multiple functions of repetition deserve closer
examination and study..

Ch. 7 " Social interaction and language development in a FLES classroom"
by Etsuko Takahashi, Theresa Austin and Yoko Morimoto.

These three authors examine the learning of Japanese as a foreign language
in the kindergarten and elementary classroom at three points during a 2.5
year period with 15-minute daily classes. Their particular concern is with
what is seen as the positive effect of actual language learning on the
process of learning, itself, by both the learners themselves and their
fellow students. The study focuses on " (a) how students learn about the
Japanese language (forms and use) over time, and (b) how they learn and
become competent in the interactional patterns of the classroom.

Part 2

Ch. 8 "How teachers can build on student-proposed intertextual links to
facilitate student-talk in the ESL classroom" by Maureen Boyd and Valerie
Miller Maloof.

As the title indicates, Boyd and Maloof focus on the positive effect of the
teacher's exploitation of student-proposed intertextual links by which is
meant student-initiated digressions from the text topic. By means of a
micro-analysis of one 90-minute class, the authors demonstrate how the
teacher can transform these digressions into useful teaching tools.

Ch. 9. "Teacher questions as scaffolding assistance in an ESL classroom" by
Dawn E. McCormick and Richard Donato.

McCormick and Donato examine the role played by teacher questions in the
language learning process both as "instructional tools and their links to
expressed instructional goals." (p. 184) Their study is based on the
analysis of one teacher's questions in a semester-long integrated skills
ESL class. They conclude that the teacher's questions "created supportive
conditions for comprehension, comprehensiblity, and the participation of
the students in the language lesson.".

Ch. 10 "Identity and ideology : Culture and pragmatics in content-based
ESL" by Diana Boxer and Florencia Cort�s-Conde.

Boxer and Cort�s-Conde compare the effectiveness of two teachers of ESL
content-based classrooms as facilitators in "promoting student interaction
and student relational identity." (p. 15) In addition to bringing out
differences between the effectiveness of the two teachers, the authors also
argue that overall effectiveness may be increased by stimulating discussion
by the students of their own cultural values rather than the teachers
themselves dominating discussions.

Ch. 11 "Mr. Wonder-ful: Portrait of a dialogic teacher" by Lorrie Stoops

Verplaetse offers a quantitative and qualitative analysis of three teachers
in content-based courses for limited English-proficient students, but
singles out one highly dialogic middle school teacher in the USA for
particular attention. She points out two patterns he uses which she finds
effective in promoting interaction: one is his "wondering aloud" about the
topic under discussion and two is his provision of non-judgmental
paraphrase of students' responses as feedback. She further identifies two
interactional strategies which encouraged English language learners "to
hear and practice extended academic discourse." (p. 15)

Ch. 12. "A different teacher role in language arts education: Interaction
in a small circle with teacher" by Resi Damhuis.

Damhuis exploits Krashen's input hypothesis (1985) and Swain's output
hypothesis (1985) in demonstrating how a teacher in dialogue with small
groups of 4- and 5-years olds can encourage them to engage in "rich
interaction at high cognitive levels." (p. 17) The author's qualitative
analysis shows that the teacher achieves this by abandoning the traditional
judgmental teacher role and acting more as facilitator in accepting all the
students' contributions as valuable and worthy of pursuit rather than
imposing her own values.

Ch. 13. "Creating a language-promoting classroom: Content-area teachers at
work." by Maaike Hajer.

Hajer's study is based on linguistic minority students learning Dutch as a
second language at the middle school level. By means of tracking the same
group of students as they experience two teachers' approaches in teaching
two content-subjects (geography and biology), she is able to use a
quantitative analysis to demonstrate how different teacher behaviours have
a direct effect on the degree of interaction. She further posits a vital
difference between teacher-fronted situations and those involving
individual exchanges between seated students and teachers in promoting
interaction, the latter being the more productive. Hajer also contends
that the greater the cognitive and linguistic demands made by the teacher,
the greater will be the return in fruitful interaction.

Critical Review:

It is instructive to be aware of the background to this book. Firth and
Wagner (1997) contended, as do the editors of the book under review, that
assumed tensions among practitioners in the field of SLA render necessary a
reconceptualisation thereof with the aim of broadening the purview thereof.
in order to include the social and community aspects of interaction leading
to language learning. This was perceived as an unjustified attack on
mainstream SLA and provoked the expected responses from SLA-ers (See
Kasper, 1997, Long, 1997, Poulisse, 1997, and Gass, 1998, for example).
The thrust of these rebuttals was essentially that Firth and Wagner had
misunderstood the nature of SLA and had thus confused SLA with the more
general domain of L2 studies and had, therefore, mistaken research on
language use for studies of acquisition. More specifically and of greater
relevance to this review is the crucial, valid and trenchant criticism made
by Long, 1997, which pointedly asks (p. 318) "So what evidence do Firth and
Wagner provide in support of the claimed superiority of their approach...?"
He answers his own question as follows: "Well, to be charitable, very
little." It is, regrettably, difficult not to agree with this.
Furthermore, as this review will demonstrate, the findings of the various
studies in this volume provide little reliable empirical evidence of actual
language learning in terms of improvement over time. In fact, it is this
major failing which ultimately bears witness to the error of proposing a
radical new approach which entails abandoning various of the features
related to data-gathering and the analyses thereof which have enabled the
so-called traditional approach to SLA to accumulate an invaluable body of
findings in this field..

It is perhaps because of this lack that Firth and Wagner rely largely on
theoretical argument founded almost wholly on the assumption that
interaction between learners and instructors will result in accurate
learning - without providing for a crucial role for some type of
form-focused instruction. There is every reason to be sceptical of the
validity of this position. (See Doughty & Williams, 1998, for frequent
discussion of this issue.) However, as the editors of this book and its
contributors embrace the Firth and Wagner approach, one might be justified
in looking to them to provide findings demonstrating the efficacy of the
approach. Were they to do so, then clearly investing more time, effort and
funds therein would be justified. Were they not to do so, it would be
difficult not to endore the dismissive conclusion reached by Long, 1997:
"The other major problem I have with F&W's polemic remains my skepticism as
to whether greater insights into SL (second language) use will necessarily
have much to say about SL acquisition." (322). Unfortunately, the book
under review fails to offer any substantial rebuttal of the general
criticisms made of Firth and Wagner and in particular, makes no attempt to
invalidate Long's crucial conclusion. Thus, while it discusses at great
length various aspects of interaction, it actually says precious little
about the nature of SL use, and even less about SL acquisition.

The editors, as already stated, claim that their approach will produce "a
set of principles for identifying and sustaining classroom interactional
practices that foster additional language development.". There is little
doubt that their approach is successful in identifying various means by
which teachers and educators, in general, can so organize second/foreign
language activities in order to maximize interaction in the learning
process. Consequently, the book provides much of interest to those who
ascribe priority to that aspect of classroom learning and teaching. The
crucial question, however, must surely lie in the second part of the
citation. That is the part concerning "additional language development".
In order for scholars to be able to verify that there has been such
language development, there is a clear need for empirical data to provide
evidence of that development. It is, therefore, upon this aspect of the
studies that this review will concentrate in the comments on the individual
chapters to which I now turn.
Mail to author|Respond to list|Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue