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The Canadian Modern Language Review / La revue canadienne des langues vivantes 62.4 (2006) 637-640
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World making through language is a narrative of power, durability and inspiration. It is the story of how we make the world known to ourselves, and how we make ourselves known to the world.
This edited collection of papers, Language Education and Teacher Education: A Sociocultural Approach, makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of what it means to teach and learn a second or foreign language from a sociocultural perspective. While the field of research in L2 learning and instruction is informed by multiple disciplinary traditions, including linguistics, psychology, anthropology, and education, as the field has developed, it has experienced several distinct phases of research, each of which can be linked to a specific psychological theoretical orientation. Each of these orientations has had distinct consequences for the research and teaching of second languages. In this volume, the contributors draw on sociocultural theories of mind to frame a discussion of key issues in L2 learning and teacher education in order to highlight the educational transformations that are possible within this perspective. [End Page 637]
The volume is rich in insights, narratives, and emotions, as the very language, topics, and research questions found within sociocultural approaches differ from those of more traditional L2 research. The contributors include teacher educators, language teachers, and researchers from the United States, Australia, and South Africa. Throughout the book they argue for a reformulation of theory in L2 education to replace the binary oppositions that have long structured our educational practices with a theory of cognition emphasizing the mutual constitutions of persons and the experienced world. This reformulation challenges the pedagogical value of viewing language as a stable system organized as a hierarchy of processing levels. In its place the contributors articulate a view of language that draws on the theoretical contributions of Vygotsky's sociocultural theory of human development (1978, 1986); Halliday's view of language as social semiotic (1978); and Bakhtin's theory of discourse and the self (1981, 1986). From this perspective, rational processes are understood as social activities, since knowledge and learning arise out of the interaction of people and activity contexts. Therefore, if we are to examine teaching and learning practices, it must be in the context of the specific communities in which they exist. Contrary to a common belief, however, sociocultural theory is not a theory of the social environment but, rather, a theory of mind mediated by language and cultural artifacts. The construction of iden-tity is both enabled and constrained by the appropriation of linguistic and rhetorical conventions. Within this perspective, the issues of interest focus on how humans make meaning, develop identities, and build knowledge. Throughout the book, the recurring themes pertaining to language teaching and learning speak of literacies, discourses, culture, community, ideology, social justice, equity, identities, co-construction, narrative, and meaning.
The volume is effectively structured to engage readers with the ways in which a sociocultural approach orients language teaching and teacher education over diverse practices. Each of the chapters presents an accessible articulation of theory fluidly integrated with narratives of pedagogical practices. The introductory chapter briefly highlights each of the authors' papers, which describe in rich detail the accomplishments and challenges of teaching and learning within a sociocultural approach. The book has four main sections. In the first section, 'Sociocultural Perspectives on Language and Learning,' Gee presents a theoretical framing of language as a social practice to explain [End Page 638] how literacy and language learning are really about teaching and learning specific social languages. Gee's theoretical perspective is then taken up in subsequent chapters, whose authors describe their teaching and learning in a range of learning environments and research contexts around the world. The next two sections of the volume - 'Sociocultural Approaches to Teacher Education' and 'The...