LINGUIST List 12.2731

Thu Nov 1 2001

Disc: Review: Toohey, Learning English at School

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Jo Tyler, Disc: Review: Toohey, Learning English at School

Message 1: Disc: Review: Toohey, Learning English at School

Date: Thu, 01 Nov 2001 09:09:22 -0500
From: Jo Tyler <>
Subject: Disc: Review: Toohey, Learning English at School

Ron Sheen (Linguist 12.2718) has raised a couple of questions
regarding my review of Learning English at School by Kelleen Toohey
(Linguist 12.2711). I attempt to answer them below based on my
reading of the book.

1. Does Toohey provide any linguistic details of the developing
linguistic competence [of the focal children in the study]?

As stated in my review, Toohey provides extensive transcripts of their
language use over a 3-year period. This data illustrates the
students' developing linguistic competence. However, Toohey provides
no structural linguistic analysis of the students' language
development through this data. As stated in my review, Toohey's focus
was on the social context of the primary classroom as an environment
of language acquisition. She chose not to systematically analyze the
structural linguistic competence of the children. The topic of
language proficiency comes up only in terms of its impact on the
students' identity development as discussed in Chapter 2 of the text,
and as mentioned in my review.

2. Does Toohey address the difference between the acquisition of
aural comprehension and oral production?


3. Did the children receive any language instruction? If so, what

Explicit language instruction was not a focal topic addressed in
Toohey's book. She briefly mentions that in Kindergarten the children
attended a voluntary ESL class after their Kindergarten class was
over; she did not describe that experience. No other specific second
language instruction was mentioned in the book. In their regular
classrooms, which were the focus of Toohey's study, language
instruction took place, particularly during second grade language arts
lessons which were the source of the transcript data of Chapter 5. As
described in my review, Toohey provided analysis of the discourse
practices used in these lessons and discussed how these discourse
practices affected the students' opportunities for language
development and use. In Toohey's description of these lessons, there
was no discussion of explicit instruction on structural aspects of

In my review of Toohey's book, I noted that her goal was to provide a
perspective on second language acquisition (SLA) that was
intentionally poststructuralist and that she drew a contrast between
her approach to SLA research and traditional approaches. I maintain
that it is for this reason that neither Toohey's book nor my review of
it (nor the earlier review posted on Linguist List 12.214) addressed
the questions posed in Ron Sheen's posting.

On rereading my review, I realize that I did not clearly describe the
classroom environment in which the students were observed for Toohey's
study: they were observed in their regular classrooms (not in ESL
classrooms) which consisted of a majority of native English speaking
children. I apologize for that oversight, and I am indebted to Ron
Sheen for bringing it to my attention.

Jo Tyler
Assistant Professor of TESL and Education
Graduate and Professional Studies
Mary Washington College
Fredericksburg, VA 22406
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