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Reviewed by:
  • Teaching Languages to Students with Specific Learning Differences by J. Kormos & A.M. Smith
  • Paul Neufeld
J. Kormos & A.M. Smith (2012). Teaching Languages to Students with Specific Learning Differences. Toronto: Multilingual Matters. Pp. 232, CDN$30.97 (paper).

A book written with the intent of helping "language teachers work effectively and successfully with students that have SpLDs [specific learning differences]" (p. xi) is important and timely, and I commend Kormos and Smith for writing one. Increasingly, students are living in contexts where learning additional languages (L2s) is common for a variety of reasons. Moreover, the trend toward including students with special learning needs in general education settings means that such students are increasingly enrolled in L2 classes. And yet, there are few good resources for teachers to turn to as they seek to provide effective L2 learning experiences for students who find learning challenging. The authors of this book have taken on a complex and difficult task, as the body of research on teaching L2s to students who find learning challenging is not large. As a result, they have had to draw from and try to integrate work from a variety of different sources, most notably research conducted in first language (L1) contexts. It is with this in mind that I write this review.

The book begins with a chapter focusing on what the authors characterize as the "discourses of disability" (p. 2) wherein they present very brief introductions to medical, legal, social construction, educational, and inclusive perspectives on disability. I was pleased to find a chapter focused on the different lenses through which one might consider, explore, and respond to disabilities in a book of this type. It contains some useful information, to be sure. However, placed within the context of the larger book the chapter is quite confusing. For instance, Kormos and Smith place their "specific learning difference" view of dyslexia within an "inclusive discourse" in which dyslexia is viewed not as a problem, but instead as a to-be-expected diversity [End Page 236] (see Figure 1.2, p. 6). Hence, it is surprising that in the subsequent three chapters they document the difficulties and deficits that make learning difficult for students with the different disorders they review, but make no reference to the kinds of institutional arrangements and practices that might cause students to struggle with L2 learning. The approach taken in these later chapters is more in keeping with a cognitive perspective on disabilities than with what the authors characterize as an "inclusive discourse."

To achieve their aim of enabling language teachers to provide effective educational experiences for students who struggle with learning, Kormos and Smith believe it is necessary for language teachers to understand the "nature of SpLDs" and the effects they have on learning processes in general and on L2 learning in particular. Thus, chapters 2-4 provide an overview of research on the cognitive, behavioural, and learning processes associated with various specific learning difficulties and related disorders, including: dyslexia, specific language impairment, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and Asperger's syndrome. While the provision of this foundational knowledge is a strength of the book, I found the authors' review to be wanting on two levels. First, in my view, while the content of the review is basically sound, it assumes too much prior knowledge to make it useful in an introductory course; and yet, I found the content that is covered to not be richly developed enough for an advanced course in this area. To be useful for that purpose, these chapters would need to be supplemented with other resources. Thus, overall, I found this section of the book to be not well developed given its intended purpose.

The latter half of the book (Chapters 5-9) focuses on applied issues related to supporting students that struggle with learning in language classrooms and includes chapters with the following titles: Identification and Disclosure; Accommodating Differences; Techniques for Language Teaching (focuses on instruction in areas such as spelling, vocabulary, reading, writing, speaking, and listening); Assessment; and Transition and Progression. On the surface, the inclusion of chapters on such topics makes good sense, but while some useful information is included, there is, overall, very...


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