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Review of  Inclusive Language Education and Digital Technology

Reviewer: Elis Kakoulli Constantinou
Book Title: Inclusive Language Education and Digital Technology
Book Author: Elina Vilar Beltrán Chris Abbott Jane Jones
Publisher: Multilingual Matters
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 25.2546

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“Inclusive Language Education and Digital Technology”, edited by Elina Vilar Beltrán, Chris Abbott and Jane Jones, collects nine chapters on the inclusion of students with special educational needs (SEN) in modern foreign language (MFL) classrooms. The book aims to illustrate how this can be accomplished and furthermore to show how new technologies can play a key role in this process. The book’s target audience, according to the editors, is teachers, advisers, researchers, people with interest in inclusive language education, postgraduate students, heads and governors, trainee teachers and teaching assistants. The book is separated into two parts: The first, “The Key Issues”, contains the first three chapters which elaborate on key issues such as SEN and educational inclusion, MFL and digital technology. The second part, “Case Studies” includes six chapters presenting case studies from different European countries.

Chapter 1, by Jane Jones, carries the title ‘Modern Foreign Languages as an Inclusive Learning Opportunity: Changing Policies, Practices and Identities in the Languages Classroom’. The chapter consists of two sections. In the first, Jones makes reference to various important policy changes over the years concerning inclusive language education as well as the promotion of MFL. These changes have resulted in the revised National Curriculum in 2007 in the UK which promotes inclusive language education and the study of languages for all, and it is supported by principles governing the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Furthermore, Jones refers to the rise of Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) and the interpretation of this approach as mainly oral. She emphasises the integration of all four language skills in language programmes, and, by sharing some teacher practices and comments, she stresses the importance of finding the appropriate reading and writing tasks and providing learners with the necessary support to complete them. She also believes that grammar should be used as a scaffold for acquiring language proficiency.

In the second section, Jones expresses the view that inclusive language teaching pedagogy could be achieved through viewing classroom as a collaborative learning community in which teachers follow a personalised learning approach that caters for the individual learner. Moreover, she emphasises the necessity of formative assessment in which the learners’ progress is evaluated, providing them with constructive feedback, and she shows how the CEFR and the European Language Portfolio (ELP) promote this idea. In this context, she asserts the importance of motivation and positive learning experiences to the creation of an “active” and “sensitive to the needs of peers” (p. 23) learner identity.

Chapter 1 concludes by making reference to the roles of all the parties involved in the learning process; pupils’, teachers’ and leaders’. Pupils’ feedback on their learning experience could prove very useful for the teachers in improving their practices and teachers must be familiar with the different SEN that their learners may have. Teachers should also implement new technologies in their teaching working in partnership with colleagues and providing the students with the necessary skills for autonomous and personalised learning within the context of a learning community. Finally, as far as leaders’ role is concerned, they should participate actively in this change providing the ground for the integration of all the aforementioned in order for inclusive language education to be achieved.

In Chapter 2, ‘Technology Uses and Language -- A Personal View’, Chris Abbott refers to technologies used in language teaching through the times starting from audio devices in the 1960s and moving to the use of computers in the 1980s. He mentions a wide range of tools such as multimedia resources stored on DVDs and CDs, speech engines, faster networks, video-conferencing tools, online virtual environments and avatar creations, interactive whiteboards (IWBs) and mobile technologies. All these tools support the learning process in students with SEN. Abbott also makes reference to social networking and the Web 2.0 technologies through which other languages apart from English have dominated the web, and presents a taxonomy of technology uses that facilitate language teaching. The first category refers to technology for practising language learning with software for drilling. Abbott sees a place in the language classroom for such tools only if their integration is governed by pedagogy. The second category, according to Abbott, includes technology responsible for assisting language learning, in other words CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning) technologies which provide the teacher with the flexibility to offer tailor-made tasks to the learners. Moreover, the author stresses that technology also enhances assessment of language teaching and learning. Last but not least, the chapter refers to technology uses to enable language learning through computer-mediated communication (CMC). He evaluates an online automated instant translator, admitting on the one hand that it is unreliable most of the time but also seeing great potential in it. The author highlights the importance of exploiting developments in technology for language learning and teaching especially for inclusive language education.

Chapter 3, ‘Meeting Special Educational Needs in Technology-Enhanced Language Teaching: Learning from the Past, Working for the Future’ by David Wilson, presents six concepts, “lessons”, that need to be considered in MFL courses with Information Communication Technology (ICT) usage for learners with SEN. According to lesson one, the use of technology in language teaching does not have geographical boundaries since it has spread worldwide with each country making adaptions to suit its own situation. Lesson two focuses on the history of technology in the long history of language teaching with SEN students. Lesson three outlines the need to identify students as having SEN, done by SEN professionals and in cooperation with schools, teachers, parents and students themselves in securing special educational provisions and catering for the special assessment needs of such students. According to lesson four, MFL teachers need to differentiate their teaching practices and the tasks they assign to match different types of students. Through 10 case studies Wilson shows how important technology is in this effort and how important it is to be based on pedagogy. Lesson five concentrates around the view that teachers as well as software developers should observe carefully the reactions of learners with SEN when they work with technology especially if their efforts are successful since language proficiency might not always be the reason for their success. Lesson six stresses the significance of teachers’ research, their professional development and their communication and networking with other colleagues to share ideas and practices.

Part 2 begins with Chapter 4, ‘The 21st Century Languages Classroom -- The Teacher Perspective’, in which Elina Vilar Beltrán and Auxiliadora Sales Ciges present a small-scale study in the UK and Spain, investigating whether there is inclusion in the language classroom and if so in what way. The researchers examine the situation in primary and secondary schools in the two countries by first identifying the similarities and differences between the two systems and second by observing how technology is integrated in the classroom to serve inclusion. They investigate teachers’ perceptions regarding inclusive language teaching with technology via interviews conducted in both the UK and Spain. The interviews in the UK show that even though teachers receive some training in using technology in their teaching and have the help of SENCOs (Special Educational Needs Coordinators) and facilities for the inclusion of SEN students in their classes, they are concerned that students are discouraged from studying languages. The situation in Spain differs since MFLs are more prominent in the educational system; nevertheless, teachers do not receive systematic help from SEN specialists or training in the use of technologies and facilities are inadequate. Finally, the authors stress the importance of technology in inclusive classes as well as collaboration between practitioners.

In Chapter 5, ‘Using Technology to Teach English as a Foreign Language to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing’, Ewa Domagała-Zyśk asserts the significance of technology in the life of deaf and hard of hearing students. In an era in which English is considered to be a lingua franca in many countries, deaf and hard of hearing learners have to cope with distinct difficulties in learning a foreign language. According to the author, technology for these learners is a prerequisite for educational success, and there are many kinds of technological devices which can be utilised to enhance EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teaching. The author presents her personal experience working with deaf and hard of hearing EFL students in Poland, which taught her that the methodology should not differ from other foreign language teaching methodology; rather the “techniques of teaching” (p. 92) should differ by the needs of each learner. Through providing some useful practical suggestions the author suggests that teachers should use every possible technological device available and may facilitate learning, always having in mind the rules of effective communication with the deaf and also considering the challenges deaf and hard of hearing students may face when using technology.

Chapter 6 is ‘Information and Communication Technology -- An Instrument for Developing Inclusive Practice in the Training of Modern Languages Teachers’ by Lynne Meiring and Nigel Norman. The main focus is the training of MFL teachers who need to know how to cope with the needs of all language learners in an inclusive curriculum. The authors focus on the situation in the UK, and refer to the Qualified Teacher Status Standard in England and Wales (WAG, 2009) according to which teachers must understand different types of SEN and the importance of ulitising ICT in language teaching based on pedagogical practices. In order to create effective language teachers, teacher training must help teachers face various challenges, especially meeting the needs of all their learners and using ICT in order to achieve this. The authors emphasise the fundamental role of ICT in inclusive language education by referring to ICT as a means of increasing motivation, as a pedagogical tool and as an administration and resourcing instrument. They offer practical examples from the classroom illustrating the special qualities of ICT such as “speed and automation, capacity and range” (p. 115), etc., which teachers need to bear in mind. They also argue that teacher training must prepare teachers for appropriate selection of resources which should be governed by pedagogy and should be in accordance with the learners’ needs.

In Chapter 7, ‘Foreign Languages for Learners with Dyslexia -- Inclusive Practice and Technology’, Margaret Crombie suggests that dyslexic students wishing to learn a language can succeed with encouragement and suitable help from teachers and technology. She begins by explaining the terms dyslexia, ICT, inclusive education through examples from personal experiences. She states that an “interdisciplinary perspective” (p. 127) regarding dyslexia should be adopted since all perspectives must be considered in an educational setting, and discusses difficulties that dyslexic students encounter and their impacts on learning. Moreover, Crombie believes that classroom language learning should involve practice of all four language skills, despite the difficulties of dyslexic students with reading and writing. She presents principles of teaching and learning for language programmes, and she suggests that learners will be successful if their metacognitive strategies are employed and if technology is used. On this account, she provides a list with useful ICT tools accompanied by recommendations on how they can be used to facilitate learning. She advises that tools should undergo constant evaluation by teachers. Additionally, educational institutions must be appropriately equipped to accommodate the latest technologies and legislation must ensure inclusion for all learners.

Chapter 8, ‘Creative Engagement and Inclusion in the Modern Foreign Language Classroom’, investigates inclusion through engaging the learners creatively in the learning process. John Connor highlights the importance of appropriate pedagogy that should underlie the use of any interactive resources, and he quotes a seven step approach for language learning for students with learning difficulties as proposed in Coyle et al. (1994). Following this, he suggests an appropriate methodology which, he asserts, must accommodate all learning styles, involve all the senses, understand the cognition processes of students with learning difficulties and enhance spontaneity among students teaching language which can be useful to them. The author illustrates how this could be applied, and makes reference to interactive resources that increase learners’ engagement in the learning process such as websites, blogs and wikis which he considers as highly motivating since they provide students with audience and purpose, two important motivation elements. The author expresses concerns about the use of tools which relate to the filtering policies in schools for safety purposes and to the hardware availability. According to the author, interactive resources could be used to practise speaking and listening skills through the creation of avatars (for which he proposes certain tools) as well as reading and writing through the use of sites specially designed for creative writing (for which again certain sites are suggested). Finally, Connor once more asserts that the use of interactive resources should be inspired by pedagogy.

In the last chapter, Chapter 9, ‘Conflicts between Real-Time Resources and the Storage of Digitized Materials: Issues of Copyright’, Andreas Jeitler and Mark Wassermann discuss issues around the provision of resources to people with disabilities and especially blind or people with visual impairment. They approach these issues by presenting the situation in Austria and their own institution, the University of Klagenfurt, in particular. The authors explain the difficulties visually impaired people encounter with printed material; the only way they can access resources is through a combination of a Braille terminal and speech synthesiser on their computer. They continue by showing how institutions in Austria have established “workstations” (p. 159) which have certain specifications to serve the needs of visually impaired people, and explain the process of digitising printed material. Nevertheless, they note that creating and storing digital copies of materials is expensive and raises issues of copyright. Even though e-books may seem to be the solution, they are sold at high prices and accessibility remains difficult for the visually impaired. In order to eliminate these problems, institutions in Austria provide students with disabilities with the right to use personal assistance. The authors see significant improvements in legislation concerning visually impaired peoples’ rights. However, issues of accessibility and copyright still need to be addressed not only for visually impaired people but for people with other kinds of disabilities as well.

The volume concludes with the assertion that nowadays language competence and ICT skills are both very important for students and can be acquired in an inclusive context in which all learning styles and needs can be served. The editors finish with the hope that this book will contribute to the cooperation among technology experts, language specialists and SEN professionals to ensure learning of languages for all students.

In an age when inclusive language education prevails in schools internationally and competence in languages is considered to be an indispensable skill, this volume is undoubtedly a valuable contribution to language education in general. It definitely serves its purpose, to present how the notion of “languages for all”, as expressed in the nine chapters, could be achieved by exploiting all the technologies available.

The book is well structured with all the chapters forming a unified whole. The fact that the book is divided into two parts provides an opportunity to become familiar with the theoretical background on some of the most important concepts discussed in the book in the first part and with practical examples of how the theory could be realised in the second part. Therefore, the book could not only be read by teachers, researchers, stakeholders or language education students but also by anyone interested in the field of inclusive education.

Apart from nine comprehensive chapters discussing various fundamental aspects of inclusion, SEN and educational technologies, the book constitutes a catalogue of useful practical suggestions on how technology could be used in language education. Most authors provide examples of effective classroom practices across the European context. They also present various technology tools that facilitate learning in inclusive language classrooms and instructions on how most of these tools function. In some cases authors include a list of the tools they suggest, with URLs.

Despite all its merits and valuable contributions to the field of inclusive language education, there is one important aspect on which the volume does not elaborate. Even though all of the chapters make extensive reference to the key issues regarding inclusive language education and its implementation with the assistance of technology, they do not investigate in depth the role of stakeholders who have the central role in realising this aspiration. With financial constraints in education, as in every other aspect of life in most parts of Europe and other countries, appropriate educational inclusion with the use of technology is difficult if not impossible. This great challenge and the ways it could be overcome could be the topic of future research. Moreover, in the conclusion, the editors themselves identify a “gap” (p. 174) between effective teacher training and collaboration between languages, technology and inclusion specialists. This could be another focus for future research.

Coyle, D., Bates, M. & Laverick, A. (eds.). 1994. The Special Schools Dimension. Nottingham: University of Nottingham.

WAG. 2009. The Qualified Teacher Status Standards Wales 2009, No.25. Cardiff: Welsh Assembly Government.
Elis Kakoulli Constantinou is an English Language Instructor at the Cyprus University of Technology. She holds a BA in English Language and Literature and an MA in Applied Linguistics. She teaches Academic English, and English for Specific Academic Purposes. Her research focuses on English Language Curriculum Development, and she is also interested in the latest developments in Language Teaching Methods including the Integration of New Technologies in Language Teaching.

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Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781847699732
Pages: 200
Prices: U.S. $ 129.95

Format: Paperback
ISBN-13: 9781847699725
Pages: 200
Prices: U.S. $ 39.95