The TeacherSource series
Donald Freeman, Series Editor (1998)
Boston, MA: Heinle and Heinle
This is a combination review; I have looked at three of the books in the TeacherSource series to get an idea of the intent and structure of the overall series. Individual texts will be reviewed in their own right as well; I will discuss the books on bilingual education by Suzanne Irujo, writing by Cherry Campbell, and teacher research by Donald Freeman. In another review in this issue, John Graney examines the book on second language reading by Neil Anderson.
Teacher education or development texts usually present models and suggested methodologies. In contrast, TeacherSource wants to draw on the experiences of both the authors and the readers. In the series preface, Freeman writes that these books come "as a story, not as a directive, and [are] meant to create a relationship with you" and to assist you to "make sense of what you do" (Freeman, p. ix). Neil Anderson, author of Exploring Second Language Reading in this series, said that Freeman impressed on the writers his "philosophy of NOT telling inservice and preservice teachers what to do, but allowing teachers to see how other teachers have arrived at their own philosophies" (personal communication, May 1999).
This narrative approach is accomplished in several ways. In each book there are sections called Teachers' Voices. Woven into each book in slightly different ways, Teachers' Voices provide windows into actual classroom settings. In addition, throughout the book are questions intended to lead readers to actively examine their own teaching situations. These Investigations try to make the text more overtly interactive. Finally, the tone used in each book I read is quite personal and direct, more like a faculty room chat than a formal training text. Sometimes this tone is very effective; sometimes it is less so.
The third strand (to use Freeman's term) is called Frameworks, and presents the theoretical underpinnings of each author's work. Rather than being the dominant component, as would normally be the case in a teacher development text, these marginal notes, asides, and interspersed chapters give more food for thought than heavy, indigestible doses of theory. The bibliographies and hints of further things to read are helpful, and I have already gone looking for some of these sources. [-1-]TeacherSource is an interesting experiment in drawing the reader into a more interactive relationship with the text. For teachers out in the trenches for a number of years, these books are refreshing and personal, bringing up the issues that arise when planning lessons and evaluating one's effectiveness. TeacherSource readily lends itself to teacher development, either in a formal program or informal study group. Neil Anderson, my former professor for methodologies, commented that "as I have now used some of these books in classes I teach I find it is consistent with my philosophy of letting teachers explore and discover what will work for them in the classroom. There is not ONE way to approach the teaching of reading (or any other skill)" (personal communication, May, 1999).
Just as with all experiments, the results vary. For readers used to a more academic tone, seeing I so often could take some getting used to. The personal narrative touch helps the reader to reflect, however; I certainly thought a lot about my own teaching while reading these books. The reduced theoretical content in the texts places a greater burden on the professor or individual reader, but this is not inappropriate and it may encourage less theoretically-inclined teachers to investigate what interests them the most. Overall, I highly recommend this series, for coursework or individual consumption.
Doing Teacher Research: From Inquiry to Understanding
Donald Freeman (1998)
Pp. x + 258
ISBN 0-8384-7900-6 (paper)
Donald Freeman is not only editor of the TeacherSource series, but also author of one of the books. Doing Teacher Research involves the reader in a journey, a process of discovering what it means for teachers to conduct research. It is an interesting expedition into asking the right questions, questions about which the author has definite opinions. However, I found failings in this book that are common to introspective works: it is often redundant and chatty.
The author's writing style is intentional, of course, as part of the TeacherSource series, but it is a style that works better in the other two books reviewed below. In reading Doing Teacher Research, I got bored with the overextended metaphors and continually recycled points. This books meanders, so do not try to read it straight through. However, if one were reading a chapter at a time as part of a class or study group, the storytelling aspect might more readily generate discussion. [-2-]
Another reason to read this book as part of a study group or class is the thread of activities that runs through it, the Investigations. These questions and exercises do a good job of leading readers through an inquiry into their own teaching situations, practices, and research aims. This helps alleviate the lack of solid conclusions; Freeman encourages his readers to explore ideas rather than just accept any opinions he might have.
The book is composed of eight chapters, plus five appendices on activities and techniques. Chapter 1, "Starting Anew," is an appropriate title with an interesting discussion of what it means to balance being both a teacher and researcher. The second chapter, "Framing the Teacher-Research Cycle," begins the storytelling of this book, leading the reader into different concepts through illustrative vignettes from teachers.
Chapter 3, "Carnival Rides," is completely devoted to one teacher's experience in investigating what was going on in his classroom. It is a gamble to give an entire chapter over to another writer, but Freeman argues that "to go public with the process of teacher-research and the understandings that result from it, helps establish a new professional community" (p. 39). He says that teachers should become a more valued part of the research process, because for too long the fields of linguistics and psychology have dictated the norms of research in education (pp. 10-13). To become part of the research community, teachers need to develop a means of conveying their findings (pp. 15-16), such as the narrative of this chapter.
The next four chapters, "Forming an Inquiry," "Collecting and Analyzing Data," "Researching Teaching Continued: Teacher Feedback on Student Writing," and "Going Public," discuss steps in the teacher-research cycle which Freeman describes in chapter 3. They are full of vignettes exemplifying points and activities leading the reader into inquiries.
"Beyond the Cycle," the last chapter, returns to issues raised earlier: what it means to be a teacher-researcher, and how narrative plays a role in relating findings to a larger community. The overwhelming narrative style is the most difficult thing for me to get used to in this book, being accustomed to more academic genres. However, Freeman is arguing that this is a logical style for teacher-research to adopt since "much of teachers' knowledge is built on interpersonal relationships" (p. 185) and this knowledge is best expressed in stories. In any event, these stories must arise from a disciplined inquiry, and be valued by the field, before they can overcome "the problem of recognition and status" and be accepted as a means of disseminating findings (p. 187). [-3-]
It is difficult to come to a conclusion about Doing Teacher Research. I appreciate Freeman's grappling with questions about the relationship between teaching and researching, but am put off by his style. Still, this text is a gamble in purpose as well as style, and I agree with him that classroom teachers must play a greater role in the professional discourse on education. There has been too much pendulum swinging; researchers often develop methodologies too broad for successful implementation in individual teaching situations or too much in touch with specific settings for adaptation to other conditions. Perhaps through telling our stories along with our research, we will learn how to develop and adapt more broadly effective teaching practices.
Teaching Second Language Writing: Interacting with Text
Cherry Campbell (1998)
Pp. xi + 95
ISBN 0-8384-7892-1 (paper)
The first chapter of Campbell's book immediately brings in the narrative focus of the TeacherSource series: "Reflecting on Your Own Experiences Studying Writing" is an account of Campbell's own development of an awareness of writing and authorship. This first chapter is a nice stepping-off point into a book that handily brings together major issues in the field of writing and deftly leads the reader into self-examination. Teaching Second Language Writing is an engaging text that effectively balances a narrative style and a strong pedagogical focus.
Writing under Freeman's editorial guidance, Campbell utilizes the three strands found throughout the TeacherSource series: Teachers' Voices, Investigations, and Frameworks. Rather than continually weaving these three strands back and forth in the book, however, Campbell keeps each chapter dedicated to a general pedagogical question and uses commentary from teachers to introduce examples of aspects later discussed in the theory-based Frameworks. The Investigations primarily show up at the end of each chapter, presenting a series of questions and activities based on the topic under discussion and immediately followed by suggestions for further reading to help teachers explore their own situations. The result is a focused book, allowing chapters to be absorbed individually without having to flip back and forth to reread different sections of the book. [-4-]
The chapters run the gamut of the general topics in writing under discussion these days: process writing, peer editing, computer technology, evaluation, and teacher response. The topics themselves are not new; what is impressive is that they are all addressed in a single book of manageable size. Teaching Second Language Writing is an excellent overview of current concerns in teaching writing and a good way to open discussion of these issues. The practice-centered chapters are "Addressing Various Student Writing Processes," "Integrating Writing and Reading Through Academic Writing," "Integrating Writing and Reading Through Creative Writing," "Integrating Writing into the Multiskills Course with Computers," "Getting Writing Students to Review Each Other's Drafts," "Responding to Written Work and the Writer's Process," and "Responding to the Writer and His or Her Overall Progress."
As the chapter titles indicate, integrating skills and responding to text are key aspects of Campbell's interactive approach to writing. This is also expressed in her subtitle, Interacting with Text. In discussing the standard dichotomy between process and product, for example, Campbell avoids coming down on one side or the other. Instead, she puts the onus on readers to examine our own teaching situations. This is because "in striking the balance between process and product pedagogy you will find that rather than teaching writing per se, or reading, or any other separate skill, what you are doing is guiding your students to interact with text" (p. 13). That interaction helps determine to what extent a specific pedagogy, methodology, or approach is appropriate.
How to interact with text is what we are ideally teaching our students, whether that text is spoken, written, read or heard, personal or assigned. For example, Campbell points out that "interpreting assigned topics . . . and interpreting the underlying expectations of the professor . . . are more important issues for us to work on in academic writing courses" (p. 32). Peer review, she says, helps students focus on the revision process, but "most important is that the students become deeply engaged in the content of their papers and that they revise extensively" (p. 58). Ultimately, regardless of the specific focus of an assignment, "as a 'writing teacher' I choose to teach students ways to admire, imagine, appraise, and fabricate text while they read and write" (p. 78). This is an empowering look at the writing classroom.
My copy of Campbell's book is now inundated with scribbled notes; while reading, I continually had to stop and jot down ideas for a writing course that I will be teaching this summer. Some of these ideas came from Campbell's theoretical Frameworks but the majority came in reaction to specific activities that other teachers had tried. Teaching Second Language Writing is full of teachers' voices: copies of handouts, explanations of activities, and rationales for choices made in the classroom. This helps readers examine our own choices. [-5-]
The TeacherSource goal was accomplished for me; reading Campbell's book enabled me to reexamine and plan for my own situation. I will not use anything wholesale, but bits and pieces of these other teachers' practices and philosophies will find their way into my English 101 class this summer and have already entered my ESL classes this semester. I plan to reread the book while I plan for my fall classes as well; I suggest that other teachers, ESL/EFL or not, do the same.
Teaching Bilingual Children: Beliefs and Behaviors
Suzanne Irujo (1998)
Pp. vi + 134
ISBN 0-8384-6098-4 (paper)
In Teaching Bilingual Children, the reader is introduced to Matilde and her students, and Irujo's observations of this classroom are so fresh that we are there with her in the room. This is a strength of the TeacherSource focus on teachers' experiences: the concrete examples make the situation real to the reader and allow the author to discuss theoretical frameworks in a meaningful way.
The specific situation in the book, a Spanish-English bilingual class in second grade, is just an example; "the same kinds of things occur with children from other language backgrounds, and most of the issues discussed are applicable to all bilingual children, regardless of whether they are in bilingual classrooms" (p. 5). I would go further: this book can spark useful discussion about all learners, adults as well as children, and developmental classes as well as ESL or bilingual settings.
The subtitle, Beliefs and Behaviors, is an important aspect of Irujo's purpose. The "Beginning" chapter of the book introduces not only Matilde, but also the author and how her own philosophy developed over time. Irujo says that early in her career she ran into a conflict between what felt right in the classroom and what other teachers told her was right. "I now believe I was doing it 'right' when I first started to teach," she writes, because "I was doing things that made sense" (p. 7). It is important to follow intuition as well as looking at what the experts say, because the teacher is the one in contact with a particular group of students. So, it is natural that "no approach, whether it's whole language, cooperative learning, or another, is a question of 'all or nothing,' and no two teachers will implement these approaches in exactly the same way" (p. 114). [-6-]
Teaching Bilingual Children is not really organized into chapters. Instead, Irujo divides her work into sections, including a "Beginning," an "Ending," an appendix, a glossary, references, and the three major sections of Investigations, "The Teacher," and Frameworks. These are the same parts found in each of the TeacherSource books, but Irujo has separated them more than other authors in the series. This organization works; one is able to select the most personally interesting part and read that aspect first, as the author advises (p. 9). I like theory, so I read the Frameworks before accompanying her in observing Matilde's class in the section on "The Teacher."Irujo has centered her theoretical component around nine precepts:
This list of themes represents "'maxims' that reflect [the author's] beliefs about how children learn best" (p. 63). Rather than dictating these to the reader, though, Irujo invites us to "investigate" them immediately, thereby reinforcing the theme that individual teachers have a right and a need to develop beliefs and philosophies based on their own experience. As each maxim is discussed in the Frameworks section, the author blends examples of her own and other teachers' experiences with the theoretical foundations she has built her beliefs on. At the end of each point, readers will find suggestions for further reading, with Irujo's "key works" described in addition to a bibliographic entry. [-7-]
Irujo's entry in the TeacherSource series is important for the light it sheds on the learning process of both the students in Matilde's class and of teachers. Freeman's preface to this book points to this as a "small-scale ethnography" (p. vi) for good reason: careful investigations like this are guides that encourage us to examine our own teaching situations, to look at ourselves from the outside and wonder what we are trying to accomplish and how to best achieve those results. Our students, whether bilingual or ESL, child or adult, will benefit when we enter class with a clearer sense of purpose and a heightened responsiveness to their needs.
Cumberland County College, New Jersey
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