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Date: Sun, 9 May 2004 17:59:39 +1200 From: Elke Stracke 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.
Elke Stracke, University of Otago, New Zealand
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.
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.
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:
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.