LINGUIST List 15.1486

Tue May 11 2004

Review: Applied Ling: Kalaja & Ferreira Barcelos (2003)

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  1. Elke Stracke, Beliefs about SLA: New Research Approaches

Message 1: Beliefs about SLA: New Research Approaches

Date: Mon, 10 May 2004 23:58:07 -0400 (EDT)
From: Elke Stracke <Elke.Strackestonebow.otago.ac.nz>
Subject: Beliefs about SLA: New Research Approaches

Kalaja, Paula, and Ana Maria Ferreira Barcelos, ed. (2003) Beliefs
about SLA: New Research Approaches. Kluwer Academic Publishers,
Educational Linguistics 2.

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-128.html


Elke Stracke, University of Otago, New Zealand

SYNOPSIS

Beliefs about SLA: New Research Approaches offers a fascinating
collection of reports on recent research into the work on beliefs
about SLA (Second Language Acquisition). Over the last twenty years
beliefs from second/foreign language learners and teachers have become
an important field of research. This book offers an insight into this
growing research area by providing the reader with a useful summary of
the state-of-the-art in the field on the one hand, and in-depth
individual research studies on beliefs about SLA on the other
hand. The collection is a result of a colloquium held at the annual
meeting of the British Association of Applied Linguists in Cambridge
in September 2000. In addition to (four) papers from this conference,
the editors included (five) reports on other recent research on
beliefs about SLA. It should be noted that the individual
contributions can be read independently, depending on the reader's
interest, even though I think that only the whole collection gives
justice to the complexity of the research area.

In addition to the preface (by Leo van Lier), the introductory
chapter, and the conclusion by the two editors, the volume contains
nine articles on research on beliefs about SLA. There is both a useful
Subject and Author Index. The book is divided into three sections.
Section 1 discusses key issues in the research area. Section 2 focuses
on research into students' beliefs about SLA, whereas Section 3 deals
with students' as well as teachers' beliefs about SLA.

INTRODUCTION

The book opens with a helpful introduction written by the editors,
Paula Kalaja and Ana Maria Ferreira Barcelos, in which they sketch the
background to research on beliefs about SLA. They report that, since
the comparatively late arrival of beliefs as a research topic in
Applied Linguistics in the mid 1980s, there has been growing interest
in this research area. During these years, 'beliefs' has not been the
only term used for ''opinions and ideas that learners (and teachers)
have about the task of learning a second/foreign language'' (p.1), but
it is the one which the editors, as well as the contributors to this
publication, agreed upon. The increase in research into beliefs about
SLA went hand in hand with the shift in focus from the teaching to the
learning perspective, and thus to the learners. Earlier research on
beliefs has been influenced by Cognitive Psychology and can be
described by three main characteristics: its adherence to a positivist
research paradigm, its understanding of beliefs as ''stable mental
representations that are fixed a-priori constructs'' (p. 2), and an
etic perspective.

However, this collection of articles reports on more recent research
on beliefs, which takes a different stance. These studies offer new
theoretical and/or methodological insights into doing research on
beliefs, thus addressing some of the criticism raised against the
research written in the positivist research paradigm. The studies in
this volume differ from the earlier research by seeing beliefs as
''socially constructed and variable rather than stable in nature''
(p. 2). Thus, the rationale for this publication is the importance
''to understand what beliefs students (and teachers) hold and what
they make of them in their specific contexts of learning (or teaching)
a second/foreign language'' (p. 2).

SECTION 1: KEY ISSUES IN RESEARCH ON BELIEFS ABOUT SLA

In Chapter 1, ''Researching Beliefs about SLA: A Critical Review'',
Ana Maria Ferreira Barcelos offers a review of earlier research on
beliefs about SLA. The novice as well as the expert in beliefs about
SLA will find her critical overview of research on beliefs as well as
on the different labels and definitions for the concept very
useful. Barcelos then groups these studies according to the
researcher's respective definition of beliefs, methodology, the
relationship between beliefs and actions, and their advantages and
limitations, into three categories: the normative, metacognitive and
contextual approach. Barcelos concludes that the more grounded
studies are more suitable in trying to understand how students and
teachers use belief to interpret situations and make decisions in the
language learning/teaching process. Grounded studies allow meaning to
emerge from the data compared to studies which apply a priori
categories as a framework for analysis. It follows that it is, in
particular, the contextual approach that forms the uniting framework
to the studies collected in the present volume. Typical features of
the contextual approach are its understanding of beliefs as
contextual, dynamic and social. Studies within the contextual approach
use a variety of different methodologies. With regard to the
relationship between beliefs and actions, these studies investigate
beliefs within the context of their actions. The main advantage of the
contextual approach lies in its emic perspective, thus taking into
account students' own words as well as the context of their
actions. Its greatest drawback is that this type of research is very
time-consuming and, consequently, can be conducted with small samples
only.

SECTION 2: NEW APPROACHES TO DOING RESEARCH ON BELIEFS ABOUT SLA:
FOCUS ON STUDENTS

Section 2 contains four contributions that focus on beliefs about SLA
held by language learners, from children to adults, from Finland and
the United States (L2 English or Spanish).

In Chapter 2, ''Evidence of Emergent Beliefs of a Second Language
Learner: A Diary Study'', Carol Hosenfeld adopts Bakhtinian thinking
and focuses on his concept of Voice. Her contribution underlines the
emergent nature of beliefs, which she contrasts with the earlier
understanding of beliefs as stable. Hosenfeld's self-study, based on
her own Spanish learning journals, provides clear evidence of the
emergent nature of beliefs and the relationship between beliefs and
learning behaviours/actions.

Chapter 3, ''A Sociocultural Approach to Young Language Learners'
Beliefs about Language Learning'', by Riikka Alanen views the study of
learner beliefs from a neo-Vygotskian sociocultural perspective to
mind. Her goal is the construction of a theoretical and analytical
framework suitable of how learners' beliefs come about. She defines
learner beliefs as types of psychological and cultural tools used by
the language learners to mediate their learning. Above all, it is
through dialogic speech that beliefs are being constructed. Alanen
gives evidence of this by reporting on her study on the development of
learner beliefs in young children, in which she studied the dialogues
between the interviewers and the children.

In Chapter 4, ''Research on Students' Beliefs about SLA within a
Discursive Approach'', Paula Kalaja puts forward a discursive
approach, which has its origin in the work of discursive social
psychology (on attributions). Kalaja sees beliefs as ''a property of
discourse, or as views held on aspects of SLA given by a student on
specific occasions of talk (or writing) and used for specific
(rhetorical) purposes'' (p. 87). She illustrates her research with a
high-school absolvent drawing on oral diary and discussion data. Her
study also underlines the emergent nature of beliefs as well as their
variability. Variability in beliefs can show over time as well as on a
single occasion, as her data illustrates.

Chapter 5, ''Metaphor and the Subjective Construction of Beliefs'', by
Claire Kramsch ends Section 2 with yet another approach into beliefs
about SLA held by learners. Following recent research in cognitive
linguistics and the understanding of metaphor as a cognitive
construct, Kramsch also moves away from looking at beliefs as
stable. She argues that learners (and teachers) construct
representations of themselves, their experience etc. through metaphor,
seen as mental spaces. Kramsch illustrates convincingly her approach
by drawing first on an analysis of college students' explicit
metaphors for language learning, and, secondly, on a metaphoric
analysis of students' essays. Kramsch observes a high degree of
individual paradoxes in her data.

SECTION 3: NEW APPROACHES TO DOING RESEARCH ON BELIEFS ABOUT SLA: FOCUS 
ON STUDENTS AND TEACHERS

Whereas Section 2 focused on students' beliefs, the contributions in
Section 3 deal with students' as well as teachers' beliefs. The
teachers are foreign language teachers, in particular EFL/ESL teachers
in Canada, Finland, Japan, and the United States of America.

In Chapter 6, ''Beliefs in Dialogue: A Bakhtinian View'', Hannele
Dufva adopts Bakhtinian thinking and a dialogical approach. The reader
will recognize the parallels between Dufva's and Hosenfeld's and
Alanen's approach (cf. Chapters 2 and 3). Dufva stresses the
dynamicity of beliefs. Like Kalaja's study, her theoretical
reflections as well as her data analysis point to the changeable
nature of beliefs over time as well as in specific situations
(cf. Chapter 4).

In Chapter 7, ''A Case Study: Beliefs and Metaphors of a Japanese
Teacher of English'', Keiko Sakui and Stephen J. Gaies report on a
self- study by a Japanese EFL teacher (one of the authors of this
contribution) and her beliefs about writing and teaching writing, as
revealed in diary entries and interviews. The findings point out the
importance of teachers' beliefs on action as well as the close
relationship between beliefs and identity. These issues are being
explored by an analysis of the metaphors used by the teacher under
investigation.

Chapter 8, ''Teachers' and Students' Beliefs within a Deweyan
Framework: Conflict and Influence'', by Ana Maria Ferreira Barcelos,
reports on another ethnographic study. Adopting a Deweyan framework
she emphasizes the role of context in studies about students' and
teachers' beliefs about SLA. Her case study on the beliefs of one ESL
teacher and her student shows that students' and teachers' beliefs
about SLA and actions both shape and are shaped by context. Like Sakui
and Gaies, she also emphasizes the interrelationship between beliefs
and identity (cf. Chapter 7). An interesting new aspect in this
contribution is the mutual influence of students' and teachers'
beliefs.

In Chapter 9, ''The Social Construction of Beliefs in the Language
Classroom'', Devon Woods is faced with the goal of outlining a
constructivist and process-based decision- making model of the
'management of language learning'. This model is based on the notion
of event structuring. Woods applies this model by drawing on data from
an ongoing project in a Canadian ESL college classroom, in which the
data was collected by a variety of means (case studies, interviews,
etc.). His study reveals the types of decisions that students and
teachers make and how their beliefs influence this process.

CONCLUSION: EXPLORING POSSIBILITIES FOR FUTURE RESEARCH ON BELIEFS 
ABOUT SLA

In their concluding remarks the editors underline the unity and
diversity which characterize the contributions in this volume. There
is unity with regard to terminology, namely the use of the term
'belief', and the fundamental understanding of beliefs as socially
constructed. Every article can be grouped within the contextual
approach (cf. Chapter 1). All researchers opted for an emic
perspective and investigated beliefs in their specific context. Last,
but not least, the editors call attention to the qualitative or
interpretative nature of their work. The unity among the contributions
is complemented by their diversity regarding the theoretical
framework, definitions of beliefs, research questions, and
methodology.

The editors stress that the acknowledgement of the emergent,
contextual and dynamic nature of beliefs, as convincingly demonstrated
in this volume, has important implications for future
research. Understanding beliefs as related to students' and teachers'
contexts and goals instead of seeing them as internal traits
emphasizes the social nature of beliefs. Furthermore, a variety of
research methods is needed and can yield valuable results, as seen in
the individual research studies, which this volume brings
together. The editors conclude by raising a number of varied questions
for further research.

CRITICAL EVALUATION

This book presents a broad collection of more recent research on
beliefs about SLA in a variety of settings and countries. This variety
is complemented by a good sense of cohesiveness thanks to the editors'
well-written and clear introduction, Barcelos' critical review
(Chapter 1), and the concluding remarks. These parts of the book are
extremely valuable to the reader, as they make the publication as a
whole very readable. Thus, the novice reader in the research area does
not run the risk of being overwhelmed by the diversity encountered,
but might wish instead to read more studies which deal with students'
and teachers' beliefs about SLA. The individual chapters are likewise
clearly written and provide precise information regarding the
theoretical framework and the methodology used by the researchers. The
detailed description of the data analysis process is exemplary in most
contributions, which adds to the high standard of this work written in
the qualitative research paradigm. In fact, for novice researchers in
the field, or any other field in SLA which requires innovative
research methods, this book is a true gold-mine of how to collect data
and analyse it.

This book is also of particular use to expert researchers in the
field. They will welcome the publication of a book which pulls
together some of the growing research dealing with beliefs, opinions,
views, folkloristic theories, subjective theories, etc. Possibly, in
the next step, maybe in another volume, the editors could aim to cover
research from other countries and settings. In this volume the focus
is on English as L2. It would be interesting to add to and compare
these studies with research focusing on other L2s. This would also be
in line with the call for giving more importance to the social nature
of beliefs.

In his preface, Leo van Lier draws our attention to the somewhat late
arrival of research on beliefs about SLA in educational
linguistics. In psychology and anthropology the notion of beliefs has
been studied long before. This publication is definitely a big step
towards reducing this 'delay' in research on beliefs in Applied
Linguistics. At the same time, this book adds to the growing body of
research literature written in the qualitative paradigm and
illustrates the fascinating possibilities of interpretative research.

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Elke Stracke is a lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the University of
Otago, New Zealand. Her research interests focus on learner autonomy,
students' and teachers' views/beliefs, computer-assisted language
learning, and language teacher education.
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