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Review of Identity and the Young English Language Learner
Date: Wed, 11 Dec 2002 07:50:55 -0800 (PST) From: zohreh eslami Subject: Applied Linguistics: Review of Day (2002), Identity and the Young English Language Learner
Day, Elain M. (2002), Identity and the Young English Language Learner, Multilingual Matters Hardback: ISBN: 1853595985, Pages: 120, Price: Â£49.95 / US$79.95 / CAN$99.95 Paperback: ISBN: 1853595977, Pages: 120, Price: Â£19.95 / US$29.95 / CAN$39.95 Book URL: http://www.multilingual-matters.com
Reveiwed by: Zohreh Eslami Rasekh, Texas A&M University, USA.
Elaine Mellen Day in her book 'Identity and the young English learner' examines the language socialization experiences of Hari, a Punjabi-speaking English language learner. Her study concerns identity practices and their effects on access to language. Her personal background as a 'minority language child' gives a personal and enlightening touch to her discussions. Her book makes a significant contribution to the body of literature on language socialization in educational contexts. She shows how a young English second language learner develops his identity through the process of interacting with peers, teachers, and at home.
Elaine Mellen Day uses sociocultural, critical and poststructural theoretical perceptive to explore the intimate connection between learning, identity and social membership in Hari's learning path. She also highlights the effects and political dynamics of classroom relationships and their unconscious as well as conscious dimensions to those who are learning English as a second language. She examines the experiences of one English language learner in his relationship with others, using combined theoretical perspectives in conjunction with critical psychoanalytical theories. Through taking a broad theoretical framework she shows how emotional commitments and affectivity interconnect with power relations and shows the complexity of human relationships and deals with how actual subjectivities are constructed in everyday practices.
Day's work uses Wenger's (1998) theory of learning to trace Hari's opportunities for learning in his classroom which involves many sub-communities in the class, and as a result, taking diverse roles. The complexity of power relations in the classroom and how these affected Hari's access to practice is explained through this framework. To illustrate the complexities and intricacies of social relations in the child's everyday interactions, Day uses Bakhtinian and contemporary poststructural theories. In this framework, language learning is viewed as a socioculturally situated social practice that engage learners' social identities; from this perspective, questions of access to, and participation in, various forms of learning activities are critical. (Day, 2002, p.108).
By examining Hari's experiences, Day shows the complexity and variability of peer relations in the kindergarten classroom and the critical role they play in the identities learners could participate and access. It is interesting to note that Hari reveals a different identity when participating in different social networks and when involved in different oral discussion. In particular situations, such as conversation with other English language learners (who are all girls), Hari is able to lead and contribute to the discussion. He assumes a powerful identity in those situations and learns that he can be at the same time challenging and communal. However, when Hari sits with other anglophone boys, he seems to be positioned as not worthy of attention; his involvements are not active as communicating with other English language learners (especially girls).
Hari establishes relationships with some of his classmates, and he especially affiliates with an anglophone boy-Kevin. Hari's relationship with Kevin is dynamic and variable. Kevin supports Hari in interactions with other peers, however, he also rebuffs Hari sometimes. Later on, Hari establishes a solid relationship with a new comer-Casey, an anglophone boy. Casey positiones Hari as worthy and encourages his identity as a master or expert, and gives support to his utterances. Through these observations, Day shows that learning involves the construction of identity, and identity and social membership entail one another.
In addition, Hari's teacher- Miss Clark- also plays an important role in his learning process. We can find this by observing the interactions between Hari and his teacher-Miss Clark. The interactions suggest that Hari has a special position in Miss Clark's eyes, and this has lead Hari to be willing to contribute and participate in classroom discussions. Teacher's interactions with Hari demonstrate the power relations and unconscious emotional factors operating in the relationship between Hari and Miss Clark. In this relationship, Miss Clark motivates Hari, and he is confident about doing practices, and is willing to participate in classroom discussions. According to Day, this presents the importance of viewing learning as relational, and suggests the need to incorporate psychoanalytic understandings into the current framework of identity and second language learning.
Through her observations and discussions, Day shows how the critical interactions between peers and teacher lead Hari to different positions and how he negotiates the access, participation and opportunities for English language learning. It also shows that powerful empowerment from the teacher can lead students to contribute and get involved. Day clearly demonstrates how an ESL (English as a second language) learners' self-searching of identity by interactions with dynamic political and socicultuarl situations is accomplished. Day suggests that it is important to explore the role of imagination in second language education, consider alternative structures that facilitate social relations in the classroom, and give high value to children's home language and cultures. It is important for every ESL educator to know that language and culture can not be separated from each other, and it is significant to understand that language involves diverse dimensions and we can not only teach language for its own sake.
It should be noted however; that the account presented in this book is based only on author's interpretations of classroom events. It does not bring the teacher's voice, or the voice of Hari, or his parents and his classmates. The interpretations of other parties involved in this language socialization process would definitely add to our understanding of such a complex and multifaceted issue.
Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Zohreh Eslami Rasekh is an ESL/EFL teacher educator at Texas A&M University. She has a Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition and Teacher Education from the university of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests include issues related to sociocultural aspects of second language acquisition, linguistic politeness, cross-cultural speech act studies, and pragmatics in language teaching. She has published several papers in the areas mentioned above.