Language and Development in Africa "discusses the resourcefulness of languages, both local and global, in view of the ongoing transformation of African societies as much as for economic development.. "
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Author: Commins, Nancy L., Ofelia B. Miramontes Title: Linguistic Diversity and Teaching Series Title: A Volume in the Reflective Teaching and the Social Conditions of Schooling Publication Year: 2005 Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Karita Laisi, Department of Romance Languages, University of Helsinki.
The book is a part of a series ''Reflective Teaching and the Social Conditions of Schooling. A series for Prospective and Practicing Teachers.'' Before this, the series has produced ''Reflective Teaching: An Introduction; Culture and Teaching and Gender and Teaching.'' Commins's and Miramontes's book follows the same format and is principally a course book for prospective teachers and practicing teachers. According to the name of the series, the book aims at reflection and reader participation.
The book is divided into three parts: 1) Case Studies and Reactions; 2) Public Arguments; 3) Final Arguments and some Suggestions and Resources for Further Reflection. The three parts are further subdivided so that the first part is formed by four case studies; part two, the Public Arguments, is composed of three ''arguments'' and the Final Arguments comprises five main chapters. The book has 169 pages.
Part one, The Case Studies (pp.1-102). The cases are composites of the personal experiences of the writers and not real, specific cases. The aim of the cases is to create questions, learning and change of attitudes through reader reflection. Cases are constructed problems that the prospect teacher and practising teacher are to solve. Each case is first introduced, then presented, commented on briefly by anonymous teachers and students and finally left for the reader to comment.
The case composites are: First, ''The Cycle: Frank and Vu,'' which ''examine[s] one teacher's experience in trying to respond to the needs of a second language learner without adequate information or background knowledge about what to do.'' (p.xv) The second case is ''Marisa's Prospects'' which focuses on a junior high learner and her teacher who decides to do more than the ''normal'' effort to reach out to the student and her family. The case shows how the teacher has to revise her prior assumptions and how she learns about the linguistic diversity affecting her teaching. The third case, ''Friendship, Professionalism and Programs'' is about one teacher's struggle to make changes in the structure of her school where the student population has greatly changed during the last few years. The last case, ''What is Equal Treatment?'' explores the issue of assessment and how linguistic diversity is a challenge for appropriate assessment.
Part two, The Public Arguments (pp.103-135), so called ''public voices'' are three commonly presented opinions about linguistic diversity and teaching. These opinions are in fact ''clusters of orientations organized around general values rather than sets of hard and fast principles to which all who speak in that ''voice'' must adhere. The opinions are: English is the Glue that holds Our Nation Together; Bilingual Education is a Must and finally, A Pragmatic Approach. According to the writers, these ''present the most common reasoning put forth in the debate over how best to educate students in linguistically diverse settings.'' (p.105) The cases of part one are then viewed according to the ''Public Arguments''.
The last part, Final Arguments and Some Suggestions and Resources for Further Reflection, begins with the writers' own perspective. It is followed by advisory section ''Things every teacher can do'', Summary and Final Comments, Exercises for Further Reflection, and a Conclusion.
The book has its clear merits that are the writers' micro and macro level understanding and obvious experience of linguistic diversity and teaching, both in the classroom and in the wider political context of their country. The strongest part of the book is the last part where the writers finally articulate their own perspective and give practical suggestions (pp.137-169). The glossary is also interesting and valuable, as the selection of the explained terms gives hints of the problems encountered in teaching with linguistic diversity in the US (pp.171-173). The participatory writing style is at times fruitful but in the end it can also be exhausting and time consuming, leaving the informative value of the paragraphs low.
The book is designed to be useful material at any stage of training for all prospective and practicing teachers (back cover). The book essentially has to be viewed in the teacher training process as the writers' speech, their attitude towards the reader is very much that of a teacher trainer or a supervising colleague. In this one has to add, that as the book specifically responds to the problems and needs of teacher training in the USA, it is very local and perhaps doesn't meet the expectations of an international reader. The book's teaching is based heavily on assumed common information, experiences and level of knowledge that the readers share. Here I don't mean knowledge of linguistics, bilingualism or bilingual teaching methodologies but the cultural context, information and values assumed to be shared by the readers. An important question is how much the writer can assume shared information on nation and culture among the readers, when she is imagining writing to compatriots? Isn't that where the question of diversity and homogeneity lies?
My criticism mainly concerns the case study composites that are highly subjective, intentionally designed and pre-processed as well as the public opinions that are constructed by the authors without any source or reference to the process of how they became ''public opinions''. The book doesn't tell the way the public opinions were collected. When and where these opinions were presented? In what context? By whom? The reader needs indications of time, place and source to go with the opinions, feelings, fears and experiences.
Using or forcing to use the composed ''public opinions'' as a channel through which one has to view the composed imaginary cases has the danger of fortifying stereotypes of teachers, students, parents, the ''public'' and bilingual education (pp. 103-135). It is also a process controlled by the writers - couldn't it be expected that the reader, a university student or a practicing teacher, is able to spot the public opinions and common arguments in the cases? Especially so, when the public opinions are based on the assumed common and shared knowledge of the culture and society.
The surplus of introductions, questions and comments tends to impede the objective of authentic reflection, because these give the lenses of how to read the ready-made cases and public opinions. The cases are already interpreted in the introduction: ''Specifically the case describes what happens when a fourth grade teacher with limited experience with second language learners acts in ways that to him seem logical when making decisions about what is best for one of his students'' (p.1). Reactions, as well as the comments of teachers and students, were grouped under headings and sometimes commented and explained further. This created at times unnecessary repetition and difficulty for the reader to practice independent thinking.
The structure of the book is in theory simple and interesting. However, the short paragraphs, multiple voices, repetition, comments and questions didn't support the objective of reflection and independent analysis that a course book should aim at. The otherwise coherent book that does make an introduction to the area of study, remains a collection of thoughts, suggestions and opinions around linguistic diversity and teaching.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Karita Laisi, M.A., is currently writing her thesis on Guatemalan language policy in the Department of Romance Languages in the University of Helsinki. She participates in an international research project, funded by the Finnish Academy, called "Right to language and mother tongue education. Linguistic research as a means of strengthening the intercultural bilingual education in Nicaragua and Guatemala."