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Teacher's Roles in Second Language Learning: Classroom Applications of Sociocultural Theory

reviewed by Lauren M. Shea & Therese B. Shanahan - May 08, 2014

coverTitle: Teacher's Roles in Second Language Learning: Classroom Applications of Sociocultural Theory
Author(s): Bogum Yoon & Hoe Kyeung Kim (eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617358479, Pages: 304, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com

L. S. Vygotsky (1978) theorized that learning occurs through engaging in social interactions with others who are more knowledgeable. Individuals bring background knowledge to learning situations and, in a Zone of Proximal Development, expand this knowledge through guidance and collaboration with others. A teacher’s role is to recognize the learner’s current state and support him to his potential developmental level where he can act independently. Vygotsky’s ideas about learning form the basis of sociocultural theory. Because of its applicability to language development, sociocultural theory (SCT) has gained solid footing in the field of second language acquisition. Under this framework, language development occurs through social interaction, mediation, and application of funds of knowledge.  

In an attempt to demonstrate real-time practice of sociocultural theory in classrooms, editors Bogum Yoon and Hoe Kyeung Kim collected studies to create the book Teachers’ Roles in Second Language Learning: Classroom Applications of Sociocultural Theory. The book consists of fourteen small-scale, qualitative studies in which observed classroom teachers attempted to focus on language development through the construction of collaborative learning environments. Corresponding to the key concepts within SCT, the chapters are organized into three perspectives: linguistic, cultural, and social. Each study attempts to connect classroom applications to the practices and principles that underlie SCT.  Researchers connect their work to a specific area of SCT, present their data, and interpret their findings.

In the first perspective of the collection, six chapters offer the reader an opportunity to understand how linguistic practices relate to SCT. Each language-based study focuses on teachers demonstrating applications of SCT through mediation of language and linguistic scaffolding. Researchers attempt to gain insight about teachers’ various language learning techniques (such as gesturing, teacher language choice use, questioning, and mediating) in relation to the underlying principles of SCT. For example, Boyd focuses on how one teacher’s contingent questioning allowed for student-talk and risk-taking to form a collaborative culture. In addition, Martin-Beltrán highlights two teachers’ use of specific pedagogical strategies that support mediation of students’ cooperative learning opportunities: modeling, targeted intervention in peer interactions, and creation of a context for languaging. Upon finishing a chapter, teacher educators or classroom teachers might self-reflect on their own practice to determine the extent to which they create a culturally and socially situated environment focused on linguistic development.  Because these studies primarily aim to demonstrate how the application is related to SCT, researchers do not associate teachers’ linguistic practices with student outcomes.  The implication, then, is that readers cannot empirically conclude that use of the SCT applications will ensure student language learning.  

Connection to, and validation of, students’ funds of knowledge is an integral component of SCT and therefore manifests itself in the second section of the collection. In its four studies, the cultural perspectives component illustrates teachers’ purposeful connection to the home life of their students. In both foreign and domestic contexts, the authors show teachers’ use of culture-based strategies within an SCT framework. In each study, researchers present examples of teachers who (a) utilized expertise in relation to students’ funds of knowledge and (b) implemented a varied repertoire of strategies through cultural connections. For example, in Kim and Lee’s study, the teacher used his own as well as his students’ funds of knowledge to promote learning. In Carbone’s chapter, the teacher promoted the academic writing of students by connecting it to their everyday lives. The teacher in Yoon’s study built relationships and trust through personal connections with the students. Lastly, Bezdicek and García describe a teacher who utilized community-based paraprofessionals as liaisons with students’ families.  Although the strategies each researcher attempts to illustrate are appropriate for each social context, the cultural perspectives section is the weakest component of the book in regard to practicing-teacher utility.  The section is lacking student work samples to support their conclusions that the highlighted strategies made a difference in students’ learning.  

In the section highlighting social perspectives, four studies attempt to describe the various roles of the teacher using language within the social setting of a classroom. In the first study, de Jong presents a careful discussion of two teachers’ interactions during student-to-student conversation within a think-pair-share format. She describes how SCT informs a classroom where the teachers’ roles progressed from (a) helping students maneuver within a language-based activity to (b) providing access to content to (c) supporting language development and finally to (d) extending student language production. Kim’s study reports that the teacher supported students to act asknowledge sources by using evidence to substantiate statements with “because” clauses. Whereas de Jong outlines four teacher roles with respect to language development, Smiley and Antón describe four teacher roles’ in a social setting while they prepared the classroom and created a sense of community. In Akrofi, Janisch, Zebidi, and Lewis’ chapter, the teacher’s actions and recognition of student contributions allowed English Learners to improve status. Within this social perspectives section, some of the conclusions are general and oversimplified. For example, one study finds that teachers should be aware of cooperative learning strategies—a fact that most educators know. In addition, it states teachers should avoid using a deficit model, but does not present ideas on howthis can be accomplished. Furthermore, the authors’ use of education jargon unfamiliar to practitioners is problematic for a resource that purports to provide educators with useful information for their classrooms.

In the foreword, Leo van Lier states that this collection can serve to “help teachers and teacher educators to bridge the gap between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ ” (p. x). As teacher educators and former classroom teachers, we agree that these studies might support teachers in understanding how particular language learning strategies can promote a classroom grounded in sociocultural theory. Because teachers of language learners need an extensive toolkit to address the needs of their students, these chapters might offer possibilities for teachers to enhance their skills in constructing socially-interactive and culturally-supported classrooms. On the other hand, these chapters do not offer educators research-based, empirically proven strategies to increase student language development. We had to remind ourselves throughout the book that it was designed to show applications grounded in SCT and not written to demonstrate specific, effective strategies. The pedagogical implications of teachers’ use of language learning strategies and student impact remain an area for future research. As the editors anticipated in the introduction, this book can provide educators with opportunities to converse about strategic language applications within SCT.


Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: May 08, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17526, Date Accessed: 12/3/2021 5:15:43 AM

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About the Author
  • Lauren M. Shea
    University of California
    E-mail Author
    LAUREN M. SHEA is the director of the California Science Project at the University of California, Irvine. Her current work centers on integrating language development strategies in the content area of science. Before conducting research in language-based classrooms, she was a classroom teacher and site-coordinator in a Dual Immersion school. Her most recent publications include Using science as a context for language learning: Impact and implications from two professional development programs (2012) and Incorporating English language teaching through science for K-2 teachers (2012).
  • Therese B. Shanahan
    University of California
    E-mail Author
    THERESE B. SHANAHAN is a Lecturer and Science Academic Coordinator in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine. She co-teaches Classroom Interactions I and II as well as Complex Pedagogical Design, among other courses in the Cal Teach program, an alternative credential program in which undergraduates earn their degrees and their teaching credentials as seniors upon graduation. Her most recent publication is Using science as a context for language learning: Impact and implications from two professional development programs (2012), and she continues to bridge research- and practitioner-based science education practices.
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