LINGUIST List 28.290

Fri Jan 13 2017

Review: English; Applied Ling: Farr (2015)

Editor for this issue: Clare Harshey <clarelinguistlist.org>


Date: 16-Aug-2016
From: Skyler King <skylerrkinggmail.com>
Subject: Practice in TESOL
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/27/27-137.html

AUTHOR: Fiona B. Farr
TITLE: Practice in TESOL
SERIES TITLE: Edinburgh Textbooks in TESOL
PUBLISHER: Edinburgh University Press
YEAR: 2015

REVIEWER: Skyler King, University of Massachusetts at Boston

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry

SUMMARY

‘Practice in TESOL,’ by Fiona Farr, is part of the Edinburgh Textbooks in TESOL published by Edinburgh University Press. It is the 5th volume in a series that presents English Language Teaching (ELT) concepts and research issues simply in order to inspire undergraduate and graduate students to conduct their own research and even pursue their interests in a PhD. The book is made up of ten chapters (an introduction, eight core chapters, and a conclusion), preceded by a table of contents, a list of abbreviations, a series editors’ preface, and acknowledgments; the text is followed by appendices, references and an index.

Chapter Structure

In ‘Practice in TESOL’, each of the eight core chapters contains a five-part structure: an introduction, input (with three content sub-sections each containing three tasks), further reading (with two tasks), a summary, and a list of suggested additional readings. For instance, section 3.4 of Chapter Three “Thinking about Your Materials”, asks readers to consider corpus-based materials (or activities centered on a computerized database of ‘real life’ instances of language use) with tasks such as: 1) creating a corpus-based activity specifically for your language learners, 2) comparing and contrasting a textbook’s findings on a language point (a modal verb, a tense, etc.) with that of a selected corpus (provided in Appendix 4), and 3) exploring and trying in class a selected activity from specific corpus websites. Each of these tasks concludes only once you “share your findings with your peers” (41). In the ‘further reading’ section of the chapter is then presented separate summaries of two related articles or chapters with regard to materials development. Two in-depth questions follow each summary and invite further reflection and engagement with the chapter topic.

Book Structure

Effectively comprising what can be considered the ‘first section’, Chapters Two through Six discuss what are considered by the author to be five essential elements that make up the TESOL Teaching Practice (TP) and upon which a TESOL instructor must reflect: learner background (Chapter Two), materials (Chapter Three), effective classroom observations (Chapter Four), the lesson plan (Chapter Five), and the classroom environment (Chapter Six). While this ‘first section’ offers some unique evidence-based tasks, the author persuasively claims in the ‘second section’, Chapters Seven through Nine, that a TESOL instructor’s role extends beyond classrooms and assignments and into regular reflective practice. Sustaining such an effort is founded in not only an increased devotion to “reading research findings” but also “to conducting [one’s] own research” (172), particularly Action Research (AR) as one key element to Reflective Practice (RP).

This research-driven teacher development emphasis reflects the author’s larger assertion that in order to critically identify a teacher identity or role in each classroom one must not only conduct “intuitive reflection” (158) when assessing those five key TP elements to the classroom setting but also employ the following three developmental aspects of RP that reciprocally inform one’s classroom approach and practice. They are: teaching practice feedback (Chapter Seven), reflection and continuing professional development, or CDP (Chapter Eight), and the more investigative approach to RP that is AR (Chapter Nine). According to the authors, AR focuses on social situations, usually involves collaboration, consists of systematic data collection, and is exploratory by nature (158). It is neither experimental with formal controls nor generalizable in terms of quantitative results: it is a localized, qualitative and “systematic reflection” (154) within the constraints of one’s own professional and personal circumstances that does not necessarily apply to other teaching contexts.

EVALUATION

True to its title, ‘Practice in TESOL’ challenges beginner and novice ESL teachers to practice what is read because eight of its ten chapters provide 11 tasks each (88 total) that direct the reader to research and implement suggested practices and specific language learning materials. What is ideal for TESOL student teachers and practicing teachers is that each chapter strongly and frequently encourages “early-career teachers” (173) to present these reflective and exploratory findings to a small group of interested individuals (hopefully peer teachers). For Farr, continued collaboration is key to professional development. And Farr’s engaging evidence-based discussions and guided tasks are divided into two main topics with regard to how beginner teachers can successfully integrate 21st century technology and classroom-based research into their own TP and RP.

As an “early-career teacher” myself, starting my second year as an ESL/English composition adjunct and entering my third year as the director and trainer of nearly two dozen college ESL tutors (all of whom have a BA in linguistics or English or another language), I have already adapted many of these principles, particularly that of TP with some RP. In this concerted, yet admittedly novice application, I have learned that creating and having a productive TP Feedback experience can prove quite a challenge for isolated adjuncts who ‘freeway fly’ and teach at multiple colleges, or for a new TESOL teacher who enters an unsupportive department unfamiliar with such structured TP feedback and RP as Farr advocates. In addition to this realization, it is easy to agree with Farr who acknowledges the most common obstacles confronting effective TP and RP are simply the following: limited resources, limited time, and a lack of teacher motivation (158). However, Farr persuasively argues that despite such ubiquitous obstacles, even the least devoted TESOL teacher-researcher can successfully implement TP and RP because each of the combined eight elements concerns “practice-based issues” allowing the teacher to “focus directly on…ongoing, everyday activities” (152), not on creating and implementing an experimental study whose results are analyzed for weeks.

The book’s weakness, limiting its reach, relates to its asserted aim that it can be effectively used by individuals through self-study as well as in groups. Granted, many tasks can be completed alone and in collaboration with language students from the classroom. However, if the reader does not have a group of teaching individuals with whom to regularly share these findings then such a self-directed reader can be left with a somewhat unfulfilled reading and learning experience. Every chapter’s set of 11 tasks contains multiple web-based tasks that require implementation in the classroom with the expectation of reporting the findings to a group (in fact, 34 of the 88 (38%) tasks direct the reader to online sources). For instance, while the reader is directed to explore educational material on various publisher websites (29) or to compare and contrast corpus-based tasks to those found in your own course books and to conduct a corpus-based analysis (41), a teacher is also directed to research the attitudes of a small group of more experienced teachers regarding the rigors of lesson planning (77) and to ask a fellow observer to watch how you interact to a second “colleague telling you about a recent difficulty they had while teaching” (139) with the expectation of sharing the results with one’s teaching group. For a book purporting to be self-directed, what is particularly challenging is that beginning in Chapter Seven, the reader is expected to find a mentor instructor or tutor who offers face-to-face teacher reflection as a means of creating an active professional relationship that fosters ongoing cooperative TP feedback (113).

In fairness, my reading of the text was relegated to a more expedited approach for purposes of review. Therefore, my criticism of this weakness in claim of application in self-directed fashion can be qualified were I or any other solitary reader able to more collaboratively absorb the text over a longer period of time such as over a semester or quarter equivalent to three or four months and actually find a mentor instructor. Nevertheless, the more independent reader must commit to the understanding that some activities will not be fully completed to some degree. In fact, it appears that some ‘section two’ RP activities become decreasingly achievable alone; external observation and peer feedback along with structured discussions of teaching practices comprise the focus of the RP guided activities. At that point, the weakness is minor, for the evidence-based perspective and the amount of individual reflective practices abound even if the reader is unable to regularly meet with peers to share findings.

Finally, while each chapter adheres to the aforementioned five-part structure, it proves cumbersome if read cursorily and not as intended: to introduce a topic and thoroughly explore it, reflect upon it, and then discuss student impact with other teachers. Gleaning implications for one’s own classroom from this text takes active time: considering and completing the guided activities and then discussing your findings with other teachers. While this reflective structure itself exemplifies the self-directed yet collaborative aim, the text is most clearly understood from the broader perspective of its two main focuses: assessing your own TP in the classroom environment and then informing the concomitant practice through devoted RP.

In sum, I heartily recommend this text to any beginning language teacher because its guided activities help beginner teachers make sense of copious amounts of/three decades of research on language teaching and learning. Farr achieves the intended effort that the reader become “a self-directed and independent learner…ready to take responsibility for your ongoing development as a teacher” (173). Furthermore, in order to fully appreciate how Practice seeks to help beginning teachers improve their teaching practice (TP) or Reflective Practice (RP), I suggest being enrolled in a training or certificate course that utilizes it as a course text, or find a committed group of teaching peers that are also willing to embark on a powerfully critical journey of professional teaching development tailored to the 21st century. Either way, beginning and novice language teachers (and even veteran teachers trained without various portions of RP) will find this concise yet thorough text an indispensable guide to improving their own self-directed teaching and reflective practices.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Skyler King is an English/ESL adjunct at southern California colleges and directs the Language Success Center at Chaffey College. He also teaches and trains undergraduate students in TESOL pedagogy with Brigham Young University, Idaho. He is interested in phonetics and phonology, intelligibility, native speaker listener skills in TESL teacher training programs, and evidence-based pedagogy. Currently, he is pursuing admission to PhD programs in Applied Linguistics and TESOL.

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