Storybridge to Second Language Literacy: The Theory, Research, Practice of Teaching English with Children's Literature
reviewed by Amanda Sugimoto - July 02, 2014
Title: Storybridge to Second Language Literacy: The Theory, Research, Practice of Teaching English with Children's Literature
Author(s): Irma-Kaarina Ghosn
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623962773, Pages: 262, Year: 2013
Search for book at Amazon.com
The curriculum of the ELT classroom is increasingly being guided by publisher-created coursebooks that tend to focus on the communicative approach to language acquisition. Students are asked to memorize lexicon and situation specific syntax, and then use their newly acquired linguistic skills to participate in teacher initiated call and response lessons or coursebook guided dialogue with other students. While this has become the norm of many ELT classrooms, some teachers of young English Learners continue to seek supplemental strategies to effectively teach their students who are simultaneously learning academic content as well as an additional language. In her book, Storybridge to Second Language Literacy, Irma-Kaarina Ghosn addressed these issues, as well as the complex issues of identity development and psychosocial development that young second language learners engender in the classroom. From the outset, the author declared that the intended audience for this book is preservice and practicing teachers of TESOL, TEFL or ELT; however, the significant research found in the theoretical foundation and the authors own research in Lebanon make this book engaging for anyone interested in the potential place of story in the ELT classroom.
In her words the goal of this book, is not to promote literature-based instruction as a method but rather to show that storybooks are a valid medium for teaching young learners (Ghosn, 2013, p. xvi). With this aim in mind, Ghosn crafted four sections designed to support her assertion that quality literature should be used in classrooms with young ELT learners, including: (a) theoretical foundations for literature in the classroom; (b) research supporting literature-based instruction; (c) vignettes from Lebanon; and (d) closing thoughts.
The first section details the theoretical foundations for literature-based instruction. Ghosn argued that the language used in literature more closely mirrors the language that children will use in their daily life and is, therefore, more usable and engaging than the language of ELT coursebooks. Along with decontextualized language, Ghosn detailed the issue of cultural (mis) match between coursebook content and the sociocultural reality of young English Learners. Ghosn argued that literature-based instruction could alleviate the mismatch, in that literature can be chosen or created by the teacher to reflect the many different realities of students everyday lives.
The second section reviewed international large-scale, small-scale, retrospective, and experimental studies about the effects of literature-based instruction in the classroom. Relevant research addressed reading and writing development for second language learners through literature-based instruction, as well as the types of interactions and discourse fostered by a storybook-based curriculum versus a coursebook-based curriculum. This latter body of research was particularly compelling as it drew on scholarship from various researchers and made the argument that coursebooks tend to create very limited classroom interactions, in which students are forced to take on the identity allowed to them by the parameters of the role-playing or dialogue activity. For example, imagine a child in a rural school having to choose between going to the mall or to the movies for her weekend fun, even though the closest version of these places is more than thirty miles away and is not a part of her normal weekend plans. Through storybooks, Ghosn argued, young children can explore the larger world through their own identity and worldview without having to temporarily suspend their actual reality.
The third section of this book presented vignettes from Ghosns own work with young English Learners in Lebanon. This section is intended to outline a four part practical model for using literature as a pedagogical tool in the ELT classroom. The model starts before the students even read the storybook and progresses through actions teachers can take during the reading of the story to strategies teachers can use to promote students reviewing the story. The model ends by connecting the storybook to other curriculum and content. Ghosn was cautious in outlining her model so that it was not overly prescriptive. By making the model flexible, Ghosn argued that teachers could tailor the structure to suit their pedagogical style and classroom context; however, this apparent strength may also be a drawback. Specifically, I am thinking of the preservice or early career teachers who may still be shaping their pedagogical plan of action or exploring their schools context. One of the attractions of ELT coursebooks is that typically there is a very specific plan of action for teachers to follow and the sometimes overly generalized suggestions provided in Ghosns model might be somewhat daunting for new teachers who are still learning how to teach.
Ghosn ended the book by synthesizing her argument for using literature in ELT classrooms and presented some considerations teachers should follow when selecting books for language teaching. Overall, this book presented a coherent and well-supported case for the use of storybooks in classrooms where young children are learning another language and academic content. Additionally, the reflection questions at the end of each chapter gave the reader an opportunity to reflect on their own practice and school milieu so as to identify areas for potential storybook-based reform. Given Ghosns compelling argument for the academic, cognitive, emotional, linguistic, and social benefits of storybook-based instruction for young English Learners, ad hoc implementation of publisher-created coursebooks or school curriculums that do not include quality literature may hinder the cognitive, social, and linguistic development of young second language learners in schools.
Ultimately, Ghosns argument might cause teachers and the research community to re-examine the traditional coursebook-based, communicative approach to language learning to determine what truly works with young students. Is it enough to teach and repeat manufactured dialogue that may be far removed from students own lives or do teachers need to open safe spaces for linguistic practice and meaningful communication within their classrooms through reading and revisiting storybooks? By opening the ELT classroom up to focus on childrens socio-emotional and identity development, the storybook classroom may create opportunities for young learners development above and beyond their second language acquisition.