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Review of  Linguistic Diversity and Teaching

Reviewer: Karita Laisi
Book Title: Linguistic Diversity and Teaching
Book Author: Nancy L. Commins Ofelia B. Miramontes
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 18.275

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Author: Commins, Nancy L., Ofelia B. Miramontes
Title: Linguistic Diversity and Teaching
Series Title: A Volume in the Reflective Teaching and the Social Conditions
of Schooling
Publication Year: 2005
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Karita Laisi, Department of Romance Languages, University of Helsinki.

The book is a part of a series ''Reflective Teaching and the Social
Conditions of Schooling. A series for Prospective and Practicing Teachers.''
Before this, the series has produced ''Reflective Teaching: An Introduction;
Culture and Teaching and Gender and Teaching.'' Commins's and Miramontes's
book follows the same format and is principally a course book for
prospective teachers and practicing teachers. According to the name of the
series, the book aims at reflection and reader participation.


The book is divided into three parts: 1) Case Studies and Reactions; 2)
Public Arguments; 3) Final Arguments and some Suggestions and Resources for
Further Reflection. The three parts are further subdivided so that the
first part is formed by four case studies; part two, the Public Arguments,
is composed of three ''arguments'' and the Final Arguments comprises five
main chapters. The book has 169 pages.

Part one, The Case Studies (pp.1-102). The cases are composites of the
personal experiences of the writers and not real, specific cases. The aim
of the cases is to create questions, learning and change of attitudes
through reader reflection. Cases are constructed problems that the prospect
teacher and practising teacher are to solve. Each case is first introduced,
then presented, commented on briefly by anonymous teachers and students and
finally left for the reader to comment.

The case composites are: First, ''The Cycle: Frank and Vu,'' which
''examine[s] one teacher's experience in trying to respond to the needs of a
second language learner without adequate information or background
knowledge about what to do.'' (p.xv) The second case is ''Marisa's Prospects''
which focuses on a junior high learner and her teacher who decides to do
more than the ''normal'' effort to reach out to the student and her family.
The case shows how the teacher has to revise her prior assumptions and how
she learns about the linguistic diversity affecting her teaching. The third
case, ''Friendship, Professionalism and Programs'' is about one teacher's
struggle to make changes in the structure of her school where the student
population has greatly changed during the last few years. The last case,
''What is Equal Treatment?'' explores the issue of assessment and how
linguistic diversity is a challenge for appropriate assessment.

Part two, The Public Arguments (pp.103-135), so called ''public voices'' are
three commonly presented opinions about linguistic diversity and teaching.
These opinions are in fact ''clusters of orientations organized around
general values rather than sets of hard and fast principles to which all
who speak in that ''voice'' must adhere. The opinions are: English is the
Glue that holds Our Nation Together; Bilingual Education is a Must and
finally, A Pragmatic Approach. According to the writers, these ''present the
most common reasoning put forth in the debate over how best to educate
students in linguistically diverse settings.'' (p.105) The cases of part one
are then viewed according to the ''Public Arguments''.

The last part, Final Arguments and Some Suggestions and Resources for
Further Reflection, begins with the writers' own perspective. It is
followed by advisory section ''Things every teacher can do'', Summary and
Final Comments, Exercises for Further Reflection, and a Conclusion.


The book has its clear merits that are the writers' micro and macro level
understanding and obvious experience of linguistic diversity and teaching,
both in the classroom and in the wider political context of their country.
The strongest part of the book is the last part where the writers finally
articulate their own perspective and give practical suggestions
(pp.137-169). The glossary is also interesting and valuable, as the
selection of the explained terms gives hints of the problems encountered in
teaching with linguistic diversity in the US (pp.171-173). The
participatory writing style is at times fruitful but in the end it can also
be exhausting and time consuming, leaving the informative value of the
paragraphs low.

The book is designed to be useful material at any stage of training for all
prospective and practicing teachers (back cover). The book essentially has
to be viewed in the teacher training process as the writers' speech, their
attitude towards the reader is very much that of a teacher trainer or a
supervising colleague. In this one has to add, that as the book
specifically responds to the problems and needs of teacher training in the
USA, it is very local and perhaps doesn't meet the expectations of an
international reader. The book's teaching is based heavily on assumed
common information, experiences and level of knowledge that the readers
share. Here I don't mean knowledge of linguistics, bilingualism or
bilingual teaching methodologies but the cultural context, information and
values assumed to be shared by the readers. An important question is how
much the writer can assume shared information on nation and culture among
the readers, when she is imagining writing to compatriots? Isn't that where
the question of diversity and homogeneity lies?

My criticism mainly concerns the case study composites that are highly
subjective, intentionally designed and pre-processed as well as the public
opinions that are constructed by the authors without any source or
reference to the process of how they became ''public opinions''. The book
doesn't tell the way the public opinions were collected. When and where
these opinions were presented? In what context? By whom? The reader needs
indications of time, place and source to go with the opinions, feelings,
fears and experiences.

Using or forcing to use the composed ''public opinions'' as a channel through
which one has to view the composed imaginary cases has the danger of
fortifying stereotypes of teachers, students, parents, the ''public'' and
bilingual education (pp. 103-135). It is also a process controlled by the
writers - couldn't it be expected that the reader, a university student or
a practicing teacher, is able to spot the public opinions and common
arguments in the cases? Especially so, when the public opinions are based
on the assumed common and shared knowledge of the culture and society.

The surplus of introductions, questions and comments tends to impede the
objective of authentic reflection, because these give the lenses of how to
read the ready-made cases and public opinions. The cases are already
interpreted in the introduction: ''Specifically the case describes what
happens when a fourth grade teacher with limited experience with second
language learners acts in ways that to him seem logical when making
decisions about what is best for one of his students'' (p.1). Reactions, as
well as the comments of teachers and students, were grouped under headings
and sometimes commented and explained further. This created at times
unnecessary repetition and difficulty for the reader to practice
independent thinking.

The structure of the book is in theory simple and interesting. However, the
short paragraphs, multiple voices, repetition, comments and questions
didn't support the objective of reflection and independent analysis that a
course book should aim at. The otherwise coherent book that does make an
introduction to the area of study, remains a collection of thoughts,
suggestions and opinions around linguistic diversity and teaching.

Karita Laisi, M.A., is currently writing her thesis on Guatemalan language
policy in the Department of Romance Languages in the University of
Helsinki. She participates in an international research project, funded by
the Finnish Academy, called "Right to language and mother tongue education.
Linguistic research as a means of strengthening the intercultural bilingual
education in Nicaragua and Guatemala."

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0805827366
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 208
Prices: U.S. $ 22.50