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Frame Work in Language and Literacy: How Theory Informs Practice

reviewed by Guangwei Hu - 2004

coverTitle: Frame Work in Language and Literacy: How Theory Informs Practice
Author(s): Judith Felson Duchan
Publisher: Guilford Press, New York
ISBN: 1572309490, Pages: 240, Year: 2003
Search for book at Amazon.com

When I received an invitation from TCR to review Judith Felson Duchan’s latest book, Frame Work in Language and Literacy: How Theory Informs Practice, I immediately accepted the task, assuming that the book would be on theory and practice in language education, an area that I have been working on for years. But I realized I had made a mistake upon receiving the book and glancing through the blurb and series editors’ note. It is a book devoted to work on language and literacy disabilities, a field that is outside my specialization. The subject of language and literacy disabilities conjured up esoteric medical theories, lengthy pathological diagnoses, tedious therapeutic treatments, and mouthful terminology. I decided to return the book to TCR with an apology. I also made up my mind that I would plod through only one chapter for what I could use to justify my decision in the letter of apology.


I did not stop at the end of Chapter 1, though. To my surprise and relief, I found the book a highly smooth, informative, and enjoyable read. It does not require much specialized knowledge, covers much ground in a well-integrated manner, and discusses complex issues with admirable clarity. The lucid exposition, the myriad well-chosen examples, the skillful use of graphical representation, and the helpful section/chapter summaries all contribute to a highly accessible text. Furthermore, most of the theoretical perspectives covered in the book reflect common trends and developments in mainstream (language) education and many other professional contexts; hence, they can be readily appreciated by professionals working in these contexts.


As its title makes explicit, the book addresses various conceptual frames that fundamentally shape clinical and educational work carried out to help children with language and literacy disabilities. Uncovering and analyzing these conceptual frames, the author argues, and I quite agree, can open up more avenues for supporting children with special language and literacy needs, allow more effective intra-disciplinary communication among professionals, and foster better inter-disciplinary understanding and communication. The book consists of eight chapters that examine conceptual frames informing different aspects of language and literacy work with disabled children. The first seven chapters are appropriately characterized by the author as reflection on action; that is, a reflective scrutiny of the language, thought, and practice of professionals in the field to uncover the multiple mental frames that govern their actions. The last chapter presents frames for reflection on frames.


Chapter 1, Interpretative Frames, lays the theoretical ground for the rest of the book. Drawing on a growing literature on conceptual frameworks, the chapter defines interpretative frames, explicates the relationships between frames and professional practices, and delineates the scope of the shaping influence exerted by frames. In addition, the chapter distinguishes between three types of conceptual frames according to the level at which they operate: reality frames, models (also called paradigms or schemas), and metaphors. Based on the useful tripartite distinction, a taxonomy is developed to include a large number of conceptual frames that are to recur in the subsequent chapters. Finally, the chapter discusses how different frames can merge or clash with one another and briefly considers how frame conflicts can be resolved.


Chapters 2 to 5 examine various frames underpinning different areas of professional work in special language education. Chapter 2 focuses on metaphoric frames that are commonly associated with the diagnosis of children with language and learning disabilities. These metaphoric frames share a causal logic and are typically embedded in an overarching medical model that subscribes to biological determinism. Chapter 3 looks at groups of conceptual frames that inform assessment practices. These include information-processing models, linguistic models, psycholinguistic models (i.e., blends of information-processing and linguistic models), and growth models. Assessments informed by these models are designed to identify, respectively, problems in information processing, deficit areas of knowledge about language, language processing difficulties (i.e., those rooted in both knowledge representation and information processing), and barriers/opportunities for growth viewed in biological, constructivist, or behavioral terms. Chapter 4 examines conceptual models that frame service for children with language and literacy disabilities. Clearly, this is an area where the influence of frames on practices is most deeply felt and where various frames interact in most complex ways. Depending on whether a medical, educational, or sociocultural frame is adopted, teaching practice may take the form of intervention by remedying diagnosed deficits, instruction aimed at achieving curricular goals, and/or support by creating opportunities for children to access and participate in life situations. Chapter 5 addresses frames that undergird outcome measures designed to evaluate change/progress not only in children with language learning difficulties but also in professionals working with those children. Two prevalent conceptual frames—the objective and subjective reality frames—are discussed in detail. These reality frames give rise to different ways of measuring change/progress and lead to different concerns (e.g., replicability and ecological validity in the case of the objective reality frame, and authenticity, authorship, privacy, and power relationships in the case of the subjective reality frame).


Unlike the previous chapters, which examine frames governing work in both language and literacy, Chapter 6 focuses on literacy alone and the mental models guiding literacy practices. The chapter outlines several overriding and often contrasting paradigms in mainstream literacy work before it zooms in on those associated with practices that deal with literacy difficulties or disabilities. Among the former are reading readiness versus emergent literacy frames in relation to early literacy and phonics versus whole language paradigms, skills-based versus meaning-based approaches, and teacher-centered versus student-centered models in relation to later literacy. Included in the latter are the medical model, the linguistic model, the information-processing model, and the cognitive model. The objective and subjective reality frames are also examined for their shaping influences on approaches to addressing literacy disabilities.


Chapter 7 takes a broader perspective and analyzes how conceptual frames of various kinds operate at the institutional level, with a particular emphasis on practices concerning children with communication problems. The analysis shows how different frames of service delivery (e.g., transdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and multidisciplinary) define the social and working relationships between professionals as well as how various metaphoric frames (e.g., those of growth, causality, banking, and social participation) guide the design and implementation of Individualized Education Programs and give rise to different construals of the school curriculum. The highlight of the chapter, however, is the section that explicitly discusses how political, economic, cultural, and legal reality frames impact on school practices and may lead to clashes in scope of practice and between or within disciplines.


The concluding chapter is, in my opinion, the most valuable part of the book. Here, the author takes a critical stance and moves beyond reflection on action to reflection on frames per se. Drawing on reflective practices in education and other disciplines, the author advances a cogent argument for adding “a critical frame to our clinical and educational approaches, one that examines practices for whether or not they are empowering” (p. 19). It is crucial, the author argues, for professionals in the field of special education to become aware of the frames guiding their work, to “move into a metareality frame” (p. 175) and reflect critically on their taken-for-granted assumptions arising from their adopted frames, and to combine, adapt or create frames that can bring about practices best supporting children with language and literacy disabilities. Importantly, the author demonstrates how diagnosis, assessment, intervention/instruction/support, evaluation, literacy, and school practices can be critically framed. The chapter concludes with a useful set of reflective practices and the recommendation of values-based reflection as an important way of evaluating conflicting frames and selecting appropriate ones.


Frame Work in Language and Literacy represents a brilliant effort to uncover the conceptual bases of current teaching and clinical work with children who have language and literacy disabilities. It elucidates a multitude of conceptual frames that differ in scope and complexity, explicates the complex ways in which they are embedded within or clash with one another, and provides a coherent perspective on them. More importantly, its various chapters illuminate, through numerous concrete examples, how different conceptual frames fundamentally affect ways of helping children with language learning difficulties. The book, however, is not flawless. One flaw, as I see it, lies in the author’s decision to “try not to be judgmental” (p. xii) in her discussions of the various frames in all the chapters but the last one. I would suggest exactly the opposite—to be critically judgmental throughout the book. This is because a critical evaluation of the frames that is grounded in sound, critically framed research is a more effective way than a non-judgmental discussion to stimulate practitioners, especially seasoned ones, to scrutinize the frames that guide their work. To refrain from being critically judgmental for a major part of the book is to miss numerous opportunities to invite the readers to reflect critically.


Despite this flaw, the book is an invaluable effort to help special education professionals become cognizant of the conceptual frames governing their practice, to facilitate professional communication and understanding, and to provide a point of departure for reflective practices aimed at removing barriers that prevent children with language and literacy difficulties from experiencing success and a good quality of life.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 12, 2004, p. 2277-2280
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11363, Date Accessed: 5/24/2022 4:55:30 PM

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About the Author
  • Guangwei Hu
    National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
    E-mail Author
    GUANGWEI HU (Ph.D.) is an assistant professor at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His main research interests are psycholinguistics, second language acquisition, and language teacher education. His recent research has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including International Journal of Educational Reform, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural development, Language, Culture and Curriculum, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, and the Teachers College Record.
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