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Review of Language Teaching Research and Language Pedagogy
SUMMARY Since Chaudron’s (1988) classic SECOND LANGUAGE CLASSROOMS, much research has been published on language teaching and learning in second language (L2) classrooms. In this book, Ellis synthesizes a wide range of classroom research and aims to provide insights into language teaching, learning, and research. Each of the eleven chapters deals with a hot topic in the current language research, including research methods in second language classrooms, classroom discourse and interaction, teaching pedagogy, second language learning and individual learner differences.
Chapter 1, “Introduction: Developments in language teaching research”, provides a clear overview of language teaching research. The author carefully defines language teaching research and distinguishes “language teaching research” from “second language classroom research”, “language classroom” from “language classrooms”, and “classroom research” from “classroom-oriented research”. A brief introduction to topics dealt with in later chapters is also presented. This concise overview lays a solid foundation for the following chapters.
Chapter 2, “Methods for researching the second language classroom”, provides a general account of research methods in second language classroom. The purpose is to describe rather than evaluate methods. The chapter begins by distinguishing between practitioner research and formal research, with examples. Qualitative (“descriptive”) and quantitative (“confirmatory”) research methods are then discussed as two main research traditions in terms of theoretical underpinning, research design, data collection, and data analysis.
Chapter 3, “ Comparative method studies”, focuses on the comparative research method favored by many language teaching researchers. The author synthesizes a total of 16 studies employing this method from 1917 to 2010. Research methodology and research results of each selected study are presented and discussed. The chapter concludes with six methodological problems in the studies.
Chapter 4, “Second language classroom discourse”, highlights classroom discourse as language learning process research in different discourse analytical frameworks. The author organizes classroom discourse research in terms of various discourse analytical systems, reflecting its development over the past 40 years. Following the chronological development of the model, the discourse analytical systems introduced are respectively early interaction analysis systems that consist of discreet categories, discourse analytical systems that describes interactional structures, conversational analysis, sociocultural theory and language socialization. The author reviews studies in each system, assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the systems. A summary of key characteristics of classroom discourse concludes.
Chapter 5, “Focus on the teacher”, examines teacher behaviors and beliefs in L2 classrooms. A focused examination of second language classroom teachers is presented on teacher-student talk, teacher questions, teacher’s use of the learners’ first language or code-switching, teacher’s use of metalanguage, corrective feedback, and teacher’s beliefs about language teaching. The ultimate goal is to understand how teachers can best facilitate language learning. At the end of the chapter, the author illustrates “focus on the teacher” from cognitive and socio-interactional perspectives in a table.
Chapter 6, “Focus on the learner”, centers on research that investigates learners’ contribution to L2 classrooms. Although there is less research on the learner’s contribution to classrooms than on the teacher’s, the author reviews a number of longitudinal studies investigating the paths of learners’ grammatical development, pragmatic development, and socialization. The characteristics of learner talk in classroom and in small group work are also examined and summarized.
Chapter 7, “Investigating the performance of tasks”, addresses the design and the implementation of tasks in language classroom. The author carefully defines “task” and differentiates it from “exercise” following four criteria. Design and implementation variables that influence task performance are presented. Ellis posits that how a task is designed and implemented will influence learners’ language production. Research evaluating tasks concludes.
Chapter 8, “Interaction and L2 learning in the classroom”, investigates whether and how interaction is conducive to language learning from two theoretical perspectives -- sociocultural theory and interactionist-cognitive theories. The author first provides clear explanations of “development” in sociocultural theory and “acquisition” in interactionist-cognitive theories. Studies that examine the relationship between interaction and language learning in both theoretical frameworks are reviewed. Ellis’ review of several oral corrective feedback studies provides evidence for the efficacy of corrective feedback in language learning. After synthesizing findings, the author concludes that interaction facilitates acquisition in L2 classrooms.
Chapter 9, “Form-focused instruction and second language learning”, further extends the discussion of interaction and instruction. The author explores a specific type of pedagogy in L2 classrooms -- form-focused instruction (FFI). FFI, a type of popular language pedagogy in communication-based and content-based classrooms, has aroused increasing interest in recent years. The author claims that the role of FFI in language learning is to “facilitate” rather than “teach”. He proposes an options-based approach with concrete instructional activities to investigate FFI. Early and recent FFI research investigating FFI options is reviewed. Problems of measuring FFI effects are then briefly mentioned. Ellis identifies the need to measure implicit knowledge and calls for work on how to measure implicit knowledge.
Chapter 10, “Instruction, individual differences and L2 learning”, explores how learners’ individual factors interrelate with language instruction and learning outcomes. The author examines individual difference factors of language aptitude, working memory, language anxiety, willingness to communicate, and motivation. Moreover, learning strategy training is also discussed. Learner individual factors are complex and dynamic. The author cautions that characterizing learners as “types” can be dangerous in individual learner difference research.
Chapter 11, “Conclusion: research and language teaching”, discusses key methodological issues in language teaching research and suggests ways to apply research to teaching practice. Drawing on Chaudron (1988), Ellis reexamines the following issues: measures of classroom process and products, research design, data analysis, and theoretical issues. He proposes that training teachers, raising teachers’ awareness, and the promotion of practitioner research are three possible ways to apply research findings to actual teaching.
EVALUATION Language teaching research and language pedagogy are complex and dynamic topics with a rich research tradition. Ellis succeeds in this volume in synthesizing a wide body of research, with a comprehensive overview of work since his earlier book entitled ''SLA Research and Language Teaching'' (1997). The author has fulfilled his goal with the book by providing valuable information about language teaching, learning, and research. Both language teachers and researchers can benefit from this informative volume. Teachers can familiarize themselves with research findings and apply them into their classroom teaching. Researchers can refer to the book for highly condensed summary of various research issues and to assist them in their own research.
The book has several strengths. First, the author provides a holistic updated picture of diverse topics in the field. Key constructs in language teaching and learning are incorporated and Ellis addresses issues such as the role of FFI, explicit and implicit knowledge, the roles of input and output, consciousness-raising, the acquisition of pragmatic competence, task evaluation, individual difference factors, etc. Second, the author highlights a number of issues that need more attention from researchers. For example, in Chapter 9 Ellis points out the need to measure implicit knowledge. To the best of my knowledge, other than a few attempts (such as Norris & Ortega, 2000; Ellis, 2005; Erlam, 2006; Erlam, Loewen & Philp, 2009) there is little research on how to measure implicit knowledge. Third, the author bridges language teaching research and teaching practice. Insights and suggestions are provided throughout to make research findings into practical technical knowledge for language teachers.
If there is a second edition, a concluding chapter with more evaluation of the key issues discussed in the previous chapters would be very welcome. Critical evaluations would contribute to the development of future research and the practice of language teaching.
To sum up, this book is a valuable addition to language teaching research. It contributes to second language acquisition research in both theoretical aspect and practical aspect.
REFERENCES Chaudron, C. (1988). Second language classrooms: Research on Teaching and Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ellis, R. (1997). SLA research and language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ellis, R. (2005). Measuring implicit and explicit knowledge of a second language: A psychometric study. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 27(2), 141–172.
Erlam, R. (2006). Elicited imitation as a measure of L2 procedural knowledge: an empirical validation study. Applied Linguistics, 27(3), 464-491.
Erlam, R., Loewen, S., Philp, J.(2009). The roles of input-based and output-based instruction in the acquisition of L2 implicit and explicit knowledge. In Ellis, R., Loewen, S., Elder, C., Erlam, R., Philp, J. and Reinders, H. (eds). Implicit and Explicit knowledge in second language learning and teaching. Bristol, Multilingual matters, 241-261.
Norris, J. & L. Ortega (2000). Effectiveness of L2 instruction: A research synthesis and quantitative meta-analysis. Language Learning 50(3), 417–528.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Qin Wang is a doctoral candidate in language development at Boston University, USA and associate professor of English at Dalian University of Foreign Languages, China. She has English and Chinese language teaching experience at the college level in both China and the USA. Her research interest is in language development and second language acquisition. Her current research is on corrective feedback. Her work is supported by a research grant from the Dalian University of Foreign Languages (2012XJQN10).