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Review ~ Teaching English Language Learners through Technology

A reader-friendly book for those who want to link theory and practice in CALL while putting their students first
Reviewed for Teflnet by Jesús García Laborda
Teaching English Language Learners through Technology

Teaching English Language Learners through Technology

The number of books on computer-assisted language learning or technology-based language learning has increased dramatically in the last two or three years. It seems like everyone now working in teaching methodology or preparing books for teachers has to complete or reshape the topic just a bit and “computerize” or “technologize” their titles. I have to say that by the time I received this book I had already reviewed many similar ones, at least in title and contents, so when I first opened this volume I was wondering whether I would really find anything new here. One heading that immediately caught my attention was “Not all ELLs [English Language Learners] are the same” (p. 32), about when and how to teach with technology. That was indeed new! In a way, I feel the same about the rest of this volume – it is not only another book on the topic, but also very versatile and adaptable to each individual’s needs.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first part (titled “Your English Language Learner”) consists of eight chapters, and each addresses different aspects of teaching needs or realities of different students such as the process of second language learning and teaching, the features of the best TESOL programs, how to orientate bilingual education, adjustment to different kinds of learners (one of my favorite parts of the book), technology-based language pedagogy, how to apply technology with students of different cultural origins, and the role of parents in educating with technology.

The second part (“What we know from research”) links classroom practice with theory. This part begins with a revision of the implications of Social Constructivism in language teaching and learning, putting special attention on aspects such as social origins, the mediating process which is a crucial aspect in teaching with technology, the process of regulation, and explaining aspects of Sociocultural Theory in second language acquisition. This part stresses the importance of accommodating technology to different types of students. This idea is what directs the contents in the third part.

The last part, a very practical one, introduces tips and approaches for language teaching practice. For instance, among the topics included here the reader will find out how to create their own resources, activities and e-tools to facilitate communicative classrooms, with clear distinctions between oral and written receptive and productive activities. They will also find the two most innovative aspects of the book, which are tools for alternative assessments (portfolios or quizzes for example) and teaching through virtual learning environments (such as Second Life).

The book concludes with an interesting list of Internet resources, a list of print materials for teachers, and a few documents that may be relevant for American teachers (but not so much for the international audience) such as the ISTE National Educational Technology Standards, the ISTE NETS Performance Indicators and the ISTE Flexible Grouping Chart.

Within the book, the readers will find four main features that will be of most utility for teachers:

  • “Implications for the classroom” facilitates the creation of balanced lesson plans
  • “Teaching tips” has a number of resources not only for the classroom but also for extension activities
  • There are vignettes that help to establish relations with real life cases
  • There are clear graphs and tables that help readers to understand, summarize and assimilate the contents

In addition, the book includes a number of references that can prove valuable to those interested in continuing with personal extra readings.

Overall, this is a reader-friendly but well-documented volume. One of the most interesting characteristics is its capacity to link specialized literature with daily practice and a sense of technology applicability that is difficult to what is seen in other books of the same kind. In my opinion, this work can be placed among the top ones in the field, along with titles like How to Teach English with Technology (Pearson), Tips for Teaching with CALL (Pearson), and A Practical Guide to Using Computers in Language Teaching (University of Michigan Press). However, this book has a better balance between theory and practice than those and, in a way, it feels more realistic. Thus, this book will certainly benefit students and researchers alike, but I would say that it is most suitable for teachers who already deal with CALL but want to improve their teaching skills and find more theoretical support for their teaching activities and principles.

Reviewed by Jesús García Laborda for Teflnet January 2011
Dr Jesús García Laborda teaches in the Masters of EFL teaching and the Faculty of Business at Universidad de Alcalá (Madrid, Spain). His main research interests are testing and CALL.

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Teflnet : TEFL Book Reviews : Teaching : Review ~ Teaching English Language Learners through Technology