Between Worlds: Access to Second Language Acquisition
According to the authors, the title of this book, Between Worlds, is meant to help readers recognize that second language students have to contend with a variety of factors in two very different worlds, the school and the larger society. The authors observe that many students are unable to move successfully between these two worlds because they are never fully integrated into the mainstream school community, are marginalized by instruction and attitudes, and are not fully prepared to live in and interact with the greater society around them. Other students succeed in school, but become alienated from their home communities because they have not maintained their own language and culture and can no longer comfortably communicate with family and friends.
The premise of this book is that if second language learners are to benefit from both worlds--the school and their larger social context--both must be taken into consideration in the development of curriculum. The stated goal of the authors is to "identify the factors within those contexts that influence learning and suggest specific ways that teachers can enrich the context for their students to provide them with opportunities to develop both language and academic content knowledge" (p. 2). The authors' belief is that no one factor (e.g., English proficiency) determines the success or failure of a particular student, but that the factors influencing success or failure are much more complex, including: family, community and school perceptions of the student; the level of acceptance by mainstream society; background knowledge and experiences; view of (language) learning held by teachers; the curricular approach used; teacher and peer response to the student; the value of education to the family and community; and the students' own expectations of what education is. The subtitle of this book, Access to Second Language Acquisition, was chosen because the authors believe that it is these different psychological and social factors which interact to permit or deny students access to the acquisition of a new language.
Consequently, this book is organized around the basic question "How can teachers provide students who are between worlds access to second language acquisition and to the content area knowledge they need for academic success?" (p. 7). To address this question, the text is divided into three parts, "Inside the Classroom," "Outside the Classroom," and "Back in Again." [-1-]
"Inside the Classroom" includes chapters 1-8, with each chapter posing specific questions that are addressed. Chapter 1 asks the questions, "Who are our English language learners, and what factors influence their school performance?" The purpose of this chapter is to provide a series of case studies to provide examples for the research and theories that will be addressed in later chapters.
Chapter 2 poses the question, "What influences how teachers teach?" As the title suggests, the authors overview the factors--including beliefs, theories, education and practices--that influence teaching.
Chapter 3 investigates the question, "How does learning take place in explorer classrooms?" The authors believe that teachers need to promote what they call "explorer" students, students who ask questions, initiate investigations, are involved in diverse experiences, constantly interact with others, and engage in meaningful activity. This chapter develops a general theory of how children learn and promotes explorer classrooms as a model for stimulating learning.
Chapters 4 and 5 focus on second language acquisition, addressing the following two questions: "What do we acquire when we acquire a language?" and "What are the principle theories of second language acquisition?" These two chapters provide an overview of the theory and research that has been done in second language acquisition (SLA). The authors also outline their own view of the SLA process which, as could be guessed from the title of the book, has a strong social interaction component to it that is influenced by one's enculturation (or lack thereof) into the surrounding community.
Chapters 6 to 8 focus on the teacher and how s/he can address the SLA theory that has been presented and put it into practice in the classroom. Chapter 6 explores the question "How do explorer teachers provide all their students with access to second language acquisition?" Chapter 7 asks the question "How do explorer teachers focus on learners and build on their strengths?" Chapter 8 poses the question "How do explorer teachers celebrate students' first languages and cultures?"
The second section of this text, "Outside of the Classroom," is addressed in chapters 9 to 13. In keeping with the authors' view that language acquisition is a factor of social interaction, these chapters focus on the greater societal context for education, including the community, teachers, and parents. The questions addressed in chapter 9 are, "How do community attitudes and the politics of English Only affect bilingual students?" Chapters 10 and 11 explore the question of attitudes, first by asking, "What influences student and teacher attitudes?" and then by asking, "How [-2-] do teachers recognize and resolve value conflicts?" Chapter 12 presents the question "How can teachers develop an intercultural orientation?" The last chapter in this section focuses on the role of the parents by asking, "How can schools involve parents?"
The final section of the book, "Back in Again," is dealt with in a single chapter, which discusses the question "How can teachers improve their practice through classroom-based research?" In this section, the authors seek to encourage teachers to investigate the factors which have an impact on their students, both in the school and in the wider social context, so they can modify their instruction to help these students more successfully navigate between their two worlds.
Between Worlds is a very powerful book for the simple reason that it is tied to real-life contexts. The authors address current theory in second language acquisition, and every chapter also provides multiple examples, case studies, and/or caveats of educators interacting with their students in a supportive, effective manner. This is not a book that presents a lot of ideas but then leaves it to the readers to figure out how to apply them in their own classrooms or school contexts. A second strength of this book lies in the sections at the end of each chapter called "Applications." These applications consist of a set of questions and activities that provide an opportunity for the readers to investigate more thoroughly the concepts raised in the chapters. As an instructor for an undergraduate ESL methods course, I appreciate the fact that these applications do not presume that the readers have had a wealth of teaching experience or an extensive background in education or linguistics. They encourage students to start where they are and with the experiences that they have had and to use these to help internalize the concepts that are being discussed.
The one caution that must be given about this book is that it is not an exhaustive review of the field of second language acquisition. If one's goal is to gain a thorough understanding of the theories and academic debate that exist concerning SLA, as a graduate level course on SLA might, this would not be the best text. The authors clearly have an agenda in this book about how they believe students should be taught and they focus on the theory which supports their views. However, for anyone looking for help in how to digest and apply current thinking in SLA research, no other book I've seen does it better.
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