We recently published the 2nd edition of Learning English at School by Kelleen Toohey. In this post the author reflects on the 1st edition of the book and reveals what we can expect from the new one.
I published Learning English at School: Identity, Social Relations and Classroom Practice in 2000, reporting on three years of participant observation of children beginning to learn English at school. My son and daughter were entering kindergarten at about the same time I began my fieldwork in another kindergarten, and it was fascinating to me to observe something of what starting school is like for children and teachers. With this revision of Learning English at School, I am revisiting not only the experiences of the children I observed but also the childhoods of my own children. Together, these re-visitings have elicited mixed emotions of sadness, joy, regret, surprise and nostalgia. The sociocultural theory I used in the 2000 edition was relatively new in second language education literature at the time, and it provided me with a way to think about language learning that resonated more with my previous education in social science than psycholinguistic approaches had done.
With the 2nd edition of the book, I have worked with a new (to me) approach (new materialisms) that draws on my even-farther-back experience of majoring in philosophy in my undergraduate years. The book’s revised subtitle, Identity, Socio-material Relations and Classroom Practice reflects my interest in these ideas and my conviction that material humans, material symbolic systems, and the material world are bound together inextricably (entangled) and act together. The 2nd edition’s cover photo of flying birds was stimulated by ideas of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and psychotherapist Félix Guattari, who urged finding ways to take ‘lines of flight’ in our thinking. Looking for new ways to understand things, discourses and humans seemed an exciting way for me to rethink my observations from 20 years ago.
Deleuze has also reminded us that scholarship doesn’t advance because we wholly reject what has come before, and that scholars should adopt attitudes of ‘and, and, and’. For these reasons, in the 2nd edition, I re-present my initial observations and my sociocultural analyses, but I also discuss, where relevant, how a new materialism perspective might document and analyse these events somewhat differently, and how such a view might lead language education in new and challenging directions (‘lines of flight’). In those sections of chapters in which I present new materialist interpretations, I discuss additional possible ways of understanding what was going on. I hope the comments I make about new materialism and new ways of telling classroom stories, stimulate other researchers to aim their lenses at matters in addition to the human interactions in their research sites.