Book Review: Language Teaching in Blended Contexts

 

AliyeAliye Karabulut-Ilgu, PhD; Post-doctoral researcher, Iowa State University, Ames IA

bilki_photo (1)Zeynep Bilki, PhD; Adjunct Faculty, Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, IA

OzkoseCagri Ozkose-Biyik, PhD; Assistant Professor, Yasar University, Izmir Turkey

Language Teaching in Blended Contexts offers an insight into the key aspects of blended language teaching by providing practical examples and recommendations for language teachers and language teacher developers. Edited by Margaret Nicolson, Linda Murphy, and Margaret Southgate, the book is organized into five sections. The first section (chapters 1-4) focuses on the learning context; the second section (chapters 5 and 6) explores the role and nature of assessment in blended environments; the third section (chapters 7-12) addresses the implementation of synchronous and asynchronous instructional technologies as part of blended teaching contexts; the fourth section (chapters 13 and 14) discusses issues specific to community and indigenous languages; and the final section (chapters 15-17) examines the key factors influencing the role teachers play in blended language contexts and focuses on implications for teacher development.

SECTION 1, CHAPTERS 1-4

The Learning Context

In Chapter 1, the editors situate blended learning and teaching as an approach for creating flexible learning environments in response to rapid changes in all areas of life today. Highlighting new demands placed on language teachers as a result of the growing need for flexible learning environment, the editors aim to bridge the gap between language teachers and researchers by providing practical examples and advice for teachers as well as teacher developers.  In Chapter 2, Linda Murphy and Margaret Southgate list a range of modes, tools, and resources and provide practical examples of how we can use these effectively to reach different learning outcomes. In particular, the authors focus on the roles teachers adopt as they interact with different modes (e.g. synchronous vs. asynchronous), tools (e.g. telephone, forums), resources (i.e. text-based, audio, and video), and assessment techniques. Then, in Chapter 3, authors Helga Adams and Margaret Nicolson discuss the importance of understanding and responding appropriately to diversity in language classrooms. They define diversity in a language learning context as a multi-fold phenomenon that includes multiplicity of cultural, psychological, and generational factors as well as the variety of ways in which people learn. They argue that positive understanding of learner diversity promotes learner agency, a necessary component for automatization. Next, in Chapter 4, Linda Murphy and Stella Hurd focus on learner autonomy and motivation in blended language learning contexts.  They highlight how instructional design choices (i.e., teacher and learner responsibility, learner control, and motivational factors) help foster learners’ metacognitive awareness.

SECTION 2, CHAPTERS 5 AND 6

Assessment

In Chapter 5, Annette Duensing and Felicity Harper discuss the role and nature of assessment in blended language learning contexts and provide recommendations for planning, developing, and executing assessments in those environments. They also address key issues such as the role and the nature of assessment. The authors present alternative assessments – collaborative tasks, peer- and self-assessment – that can be used to assess speaking, writing, and receptive skills in blended environments. Then, in Chapter 6, written by Maria-Rosa Amoraga-Piqueras, Anna Comas-Quinn, and Margaret Southgate, there is discussion of the use of assessment as a teaching tool. The authors argue that establishing a productive teacher-learner dialogue through feedback is essential in blended language learning environments where face-to-face contact between the teacher and the learners is limited. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how to provide feedback on written and spoken tasks using different tools and technologies.

SECTION 3, CHAPTERS 7-12

Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching in Blended Contexts

In Chapter 7, Margaret Nicolson, Margaret Southgate and Linda Murphy provide language teachers with an overview of practical issues related to planning, implementing and evaluating language learning in blended contexts. They offer suggestions on how to create successful thematic integrity and exercise flexibility to build confidence among participants.  In Chapter 8, Bärbel Brash and Margaret Nicolson explore the management and delivery of teaching via a traditional tool, the telephone.  The authors discuss important areas to consider in planning telephone teaching sessions (e.g., the optimum number of participants) and implementation (e.g., turn-taking versus spontaneity and interruption). They also present examples of tasks that work well in that teaching mode and address practical assessment issues. Next, in Chapter 9, Sylvia Warnecke and Loykie Lominé claim that synchronous online sessions provide opportunities for social interaction and negotiation of meaning that are needed for effective language learning. Then, they examine steps in preparing and planning synchronous online teaching sessions using different kinds of synchronous conferencing tools (e.g., FlashMeeting, iLinc, Elluminate or Skype). In chapter 10, Loykie Lominé, Sylvia Warnecke and Elke St.John focus on the delivery of synchronous online teaching sessions by exploring logistical and practical considerations; they also offer guidelines and practical examples for managing interactions, group work, task time, communication flow, and technology.

In Chapter 11, Margaret Nicolson and Sylvia Warnecke outline considerations for planning face-to-face segments of blended courses (e.g., use of time and interaction) and provide sample activities and suggestions for managing the learning environment. The authors argue that while face-to-face teaching sessions in blended contexts may not be different from their traditional precedent forms, some differences do exist with respect to promoting students’ meta-cognitive awareness and learner autonomy.  And in Chapter 12, Hannelore Green, Elke St. John, Sylvia Warnecke and Vikki Atkinson focus on one of the key components of any blended learning context, asynchronous online teaching. The authors first describe which aspects of language teaching and learning are best served using asynchronous online tools. They then present an overview of the features of three asynchronous tools- forums, blogs and wikis. The overview is followed by examples of the kind of tasks best suited to each asynchronous environment.

SECTION 4, 13 AND 14

Community and Indigenous Celtic Languages

Chapter 13 begins with definitions of community and heritage languages and extends the discussion to the various motives behind studying these languages. Subsequently, authors Peter and Shi emphasize that regular second language learners and community language learners have different needs, which require different pedagogical approaches. In the second half of the chapter, the authors identify challenges as well as advantages of teaching in blended community language teaching environments based on their own survey data. Then, they provide suggestions and practical hints that might come in handy in such contexts. Following that, in Chapter 14, authors Newcombe and Southgate start by providing detailed information on Gaelic, Welsh and Irish as examples of indigenous Celtic languages in the UK and Ireland. Then, they present cultural, political and personal reasons that motivate learners of these languages.  The authors also share ideas and resources such as web-based reading materials for teaching indigenous languages.

SECTION 5, CHAPTERS 15-17

Teacher Development and Final Reflections

Unlike the previous sections that focused on theoretical and practical issues concerning language teaching, Section 5 concentrates on teacher development in blended contexts, mainly targeting teacher developers. In Chapter 15, the topic is explored with reference to three areas: technology, methodology and pedagogy. Drawing on Kubanyiova’s (2009) ought-to teacher self, Hampel and Stickler’s (2005) pyramid of skills for online teaching and Kumaravadivelu’s (1994) ideas on teacher development, the authors outline various frameworks for professional development.  Chapter 16 complements the previous chapter by offering practical suggestions for teachers and teacher developers, focusing on techniques such as  peer observations, workshops and micro-teaching. The authors also suggest useful resources (e.g., shared resource banks, virtual staff rooms, forums, wikis) to help teachers connect with their communities of practice.  Finally, in Chapter 17, Margaret Nicolson, Linda Murphy and Margaret Southgate identify and describe four principles about teaching in blended contexts that emerge throughout the book: responsiveness, creativity, openness, and pragmatism. They conclude by sharing recommendations for teachers who want to further their professional development beyond the contents of Language Teaching in Blended Contexts.

Overall, the edited volume is a valuable reference for language teachers who have limited experience teaching in blended contexts as it provides a good summary of the relevant issues.  Moreover, the book clearly attains its main objective by bridging the gap between research and practice. Nonetheless, the addition of more modern and emerging technologies to the discussions would have expanded the audience for the book. Additionally, while practical suggestions offered in the work are useful for language teachers in higher education, the K-12 context seems to have been overlooked. Even so, information in the book can be adapted for use by secondary and post-secondary language teachers who are beginning to teach in blended language learning environments.

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