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LINGUIST List 25.1573

Thu Apr 03 2014

Review: Applied Linguistics: Walsh (2013)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>

Date: 21-Nov-2013
From: Debra Vinci-Minogue <dminoguedom.edu>
Subject: Classroom Discourse and Teacher Development
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-2689.html

AUTHOR: Steve Walsh
TITLE: Classroom Discourse and Teacher Development
SERIES TITLE: Edinburgh Textbooks in Applied Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Debra Vinci-Minogue, Dominican University

SUMMARY
This textbook introduces new insights about the reflective practice of
language teachers and classroom discourse. It is intended to appeal to
language teachers, new and experienced, language teacher educators, and
researchers in applied linguistics. The overarching theme is that reflective
practice should be refocused by asking teachers to put classroom interaction
and discourse at the forefront of their reflections.

The introductory chapter makes a case for putting an understanding of
classroom discourse at the forefront of second language teacher education
programs. The author also provides a brief layout of the book, describing and
reviewing its fundamental features. This chapter concludes with the statement
that one of the main tenets of the book is that reflective practice is
currently an accepted activity, but that it does not have a correlated
data-driven foundation to describe its value. If reflective practice is to
survive, it must be reformed.

The second chapter, “Classroom discourse: an overview”, begins with an
overview of classroom discourse for readers with little or no knowledge of
this field. The author defines the terms discourse and discourse analysis, and
provides excerpts from English language lessons throughout this chapter to
serve as examples. The next section (2.2) offers information about the
specific features of classroom discourse. The features presented include
teachers’ control of interactions, teachers’ use of speech modifications, and
teachers’ use of elicitation techniques, how teachers deal with errors,
student-student interaction, and computer use in the language classroom. In
the final section (2.3), the author examines a commonly used structure in
classroom discourse, Initiation, Response, Feedback (IRF).

Chapter Three, “Classroom interactional competence”, begins with the author’s
explanation of interactional competence. The suggestion is made that the focus
of language education should be directed towards helping students use their
existing skills and knowledge to interact by making the focus of attention
interactional competence (Kramsch, 1986: 367). ‘Confluence’ is defined as the
act of making spoken language fluent with another speaker (McCarthy, 2005),
and the author proposes that being confluent is more important to effective
communication than being fluent.

In section 3.2, the author uses data excerpts to demonstrate the strategies
available to teachers and students to increase and advance opportunities for
learning in classrooms. Some salient features that show evidence of classroom
interactional competence include the use of longer wait-time, the use of
requests for clarification, minimal use of response tokens that indicate to
the other speaker that an understanding has been reached (right), (mmhh),
teacher feedback -- the teacher responds to the content message as opposed to
the linguistic forms (Carr, 2006). In the final section (3.3), an outline of
possible methodologies is suggested for how classroom teachers might develop
their own classroom interactional competence as part of their professional
development.

Chapter Four, “SETT: self-evaluation of teacher talk”, presents a framework
designed to foster teacher development via classroom interaction. In the first
section (4.1), the author posits that the classroom is a real social context
and that what takes place in a classroom is as real and authentic as what
takes place outside. In section 4.2, the SETT framework designed by Walsh
(2006) was intended to help teachers gain a closer understanding of their
local context, describe the classroom interaction of their lessons, and
develop an understanding of interactional processes. The SETT framework is
comprised of four classroom micro-contexts called modes and thirteen
interactional features called interactures. Classroom discourse is presented
as a series of intricate and interrelated micro-texts. Meanings are
co-constructed by teachers and learners and learning takes place through the
consequent talk of teachers and learners.

The author reiterates in section 4.3 that the SETT framework is a generic
instrument intended to be representative rather than comprehensive. The
remainder of the section describes how SETT can be used as a tool for
reflective practice in the teacher development process.

In Chapter Five, “Researching classroom discourse”, alternative approaches for
researching classroom interaction are presented. Throughout the book, the
author argues for teachers to become researchers of their classroom practices,
this idea is summarized in this chapter. Section 5.1 addresses some issues
associated with recording, transcription, and ethics.

Section 5.2 summarises three main approaches to researching classroom
discourse: interaction analysis, discourse analysis, and conversation
analysis. An overview of corpus-based approaches is introduced in section 5.3.
Finally, in section 5.4, a combined approach of corpus linguistics and
conversation analysis (CLCA) is presented.

Chapter Six, “Reflective practice revisited”, begins with Walsh arguing for a
need to embark upon reflective practice in a more thoughtful and structured
manner. The practice has become tired, overused, and outdated. The author
suggests that classroom interaction should be the main focus of teacher
reflection.

Sections 6.1 and 6.2 offer definitions and challenges of reflective practice.
The work of early researchers like Dewey and Schon are highlighted since they
attempted to define reflective practice. Russell (2005:48) concludes that “one
reason for the undervaluing of reflection as a skill lies in the lack of a
universally agreed definition of what constitutes reflection”. The author
proposes in section 6.3 an approach to reflective practice that is more
data-driven, more dialogic, and makes better use of appropriate tools used for
reflection. Walsh makes a case for this approach by providing the reader with
explicit rationales. for each point.

In Chapter Seven, “Conclusion”, the issues discussed in previous chapters are
reviewed and Walsh reflects on the future direction each topic might take. He
reviews the current perspective on teacher development and classroom discourse
and then considers what the future could bring in research and professional
practice. The chapter reviews current perspectives on classroom discourse
(7.1) and teacher development (7.2).

EVALUATION
This textbook is a valuable contribution to the field of language teaching and
learning and teacher education. Unlike most texts in this field, which are
generally verbose and not explicit in focus, this text has a tight focus on
introducing new approaches to reflective practice in language teacher
education. The reader can see the integral point that classroom interaction
should be the focus of teacher reflective practice. The topic is explored in
detail, and there is good balance between theoretical background information
and the presentation and discussion of current research. The book is easy to
read and the suggestion for implementing classroom interaction as the focus of
reflective practice seems possible.

The simple yet innovative approach to reflective practice suggested by Walsh
is refreshing as it invites the teacher to reflect on what takes place in the
classroom. Walsh should be applauded for his position regarding the language
classroom as a “real” social context. As noted above, Walsh contends that
“what takes place in a classroom is as real and authentic as what takes place
outside -- it is a genuine context in which we engage in real communication
and interaction” (p.70). This approach is refreshing in that reflective
practice has indeed become tired and overused. This challenges language
teachers to investigate their practices at a deeper level and to share the
benefits of such practice.

This is a thought-provoking textbook that will hopefully invite further
research. It is recommended for language teachers, teacher educators,
researchers, linguists, and anyone interested in the field of language
teaching.

REFERENCES
Carr, D. (ed.) (2006) Teacher training DVD series (set of fifteen DVDs).
London: International House.

Kramsch, C. (1986) From language proficiency to interactional competence.
Modern Language Journal, 70(4), 366-372.

McCarthy, M.J. (2005) Fluency and confluence: what fluent speakers do. The
Language Teacher, 29(6), 26-28.

Russell, T. (2005) Can reflective practice be taught? Reflective Practice,
6(2), 199-204.

Walsh, S. (2006) Investigating classroom discourse. London: Routledge.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Debra Vinci-Minogue is a former French teacher and current Assistant Professor
at Dominican University in River Forest, IL. Her research interests include
foreign language teacher preparation, foreign language classroom discourse,
and foreign language classroom anxiety.
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