This month we are publishing the second edition of Sociocultural Theory in Second Language Education by Merrill Swain, Penny Kinnear and Linda Steinman. In this post, the authors tell us how the new edition came about and also how their students have responded to the textbook in their classes.
When Multilingual Matters contacted us at the end of 2013 about whether we wanted to make changes to our textbook, Sociocultural Theory in Second Language Education we quickly agreed that we wanted to. Our motivation was not entirely based on wanting to update and improve the book. Committing to making changes meant that we could meet and talk about sociocultural theory, explore the new research being done from an SCT perspective and share our experiences of using our textbook. And because it was about the book, we could prioritize those meetings over some of our other responsibilities. We found as we read and re-read the chapters that we were still delighted with the book. We also found in our explorations of new research that we had much more to choose from. More work is being done firmly grounded in SCT.
We had a lot to share about the book. Even though we had each used it with different classes we found that our students all responded to the narratives. Almost all of our students read and empathized with Grace (Chapter 5, Affect and Cognition). The chapter prompted sharing and discussion of their own language learning or teaching, the frustrations, hesitations, fears, triumphs and joys. The connection between affect and cognition developed much richer and more complex connections beyond the simple ‘affective filter’. It seemed to make the contrast between SCT and more traditional SLA theories more salient.
Chapter 2 (Madame Tremblay: A French immersion story) sent students back to their own memories of indelible language teaching characters. Discussions in these classes were often accompanied by gales of laughter and more stories. The stories challenged students’ conceptualization of the zone of proximal development as a place, prompted discussions about what counts as good teaching and where the ZPD fits. As discussions continued we heard students trying to ‘verb’ their own ZPD.
Yang’s recount of being assessed (Chapter 7) triggered passionate discussions about how, why and the repercussions of current assessment practices at all levels of language instruction. By the time any of us had reached this chapter in our classes, we had also seen how the unfamiliar words of mediation, mediational means, public and private speech had infiltrated student discussions. We could hear students expressing their growing understanding of sociocultural theoretical concepts as they used the narratives to create their own ZPDs around the fundamental concepts of sociocultural theory.
If asked, none of us can claim an absolute favourite among the chapters and their stories. We are each attached to them in different ways, have our own memories of the authors or the process of bringing a story into the book. One thing we are all agreed on: we made the right decision when we took a risk and designed our introductory textbook around a collection of narratives. Our students have told us how the stories, together with the discussions, have made SCT accessible and useful to them.