Community-Based Language Learning: A Framework for Educators
reviewed by Ricardo González-Carriedo & Nichelle DeVaughn - August 08, 2019
Title: Community-Based Language Learning: A Framework for Educators
Author(s): Joan Clifford & Deborah S. Reisinger
Publisher: Georgetown University Press, Washington, DC
ISBN: 1626166366, Pages: 208, Year: 2018
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In Community-Based Language Learning, authors Joan Clifford and Deborah Reisinger present the idea that languages are a tool for social change (p. 2). Whereas service learning in the language teaching context is often conceptualized within international travel, the authors justify the use of local language communities to offer students in higher education immersive experiences in their second language.
Chapter One provides a theoretical framework for Community-Based Language Learning (CBLL), defined as service learning activities that engage students with their communities (p. 5). From the onset, the authors distinguish between working for and working with communities. Individuals and organizations working for communities often adopt charity-based models, providing some specific help or support, then withdrawing. This model is problematic as it may be based on a deficit thinking perspective that presupposes an inability of the recipients to identify their needs and take action to meet those needs. In CBLL, however, participating students work alongside communities, exploring intellectual and social issues through engagement, discussion, and reflection. To be change-oriented, instructors of CBLL should be both deliberate and transparent in selecting and monitoring the complex reciprocal relationships students establish in the community (p. 14). CBLL is, therefore, based on solidarity and reciprocity but also on the notion of transformation. The authors succinctly review Mezirows Transformative Learning Theory and Kolbs Experiential Learning Theory, connecting both with critical pedagogies to provide a definition of critical service learning as a way to redistribute power and strive to develop authentic relationships (p. 21).
Chapter Two presents an instructional framework for the use of CBLL in higher education classrooms. After outlining the benefits of CBLL, the authors present a case for the use of an intentional curricular model based on a backward design approach where the starting point is the identification of the desired learning outcomes. It is important to note that the proposed model, consistent with the idea of reciprocity described in the previous chapter, emphasizes including community input at the curricular design stage. This input needs to be based on the principles of fairness, equity, and inclusion (p. 36). Additionally, an intentional model is one that takes into account the process of language learning. The second part of Chapter Two briefly describes some of the main theories of second language acquisition as well as instructional approaches for the teaching of a second language. It also explains how organizations such as the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) have created national standards for the teaching of world languages that are applicable in the context of CBLL. Remarkably, the authors propose the inclusion of an additional standard, that of consciousness, focused on recognizing ones role in systems of privilege, then using that acknowledgement to promote equity (p. 59).
Chapter Three addresses the assessment of CBLL models. The authors, consistent with previous notions of reciprocity, support the inclusion of community partners when designing and implementing assessment tools. Critical thinking tools during and after the experience ought to go beyond self-reporting measures to include critical reflection. Here, Clifford and Reisinger connect the concept of assessment to Kolbs theoretical framework for understanding of the learning process, affirming that the learning styles enumerated by Kolb provide students with pathways to express their learning. Critical reflection, central in the CBLL experience, can be supported through different models, such as the DEAL model (Describe, Examine, and Articulate Learning). For a linguistic assessment component, the authors propose using three modes of communication included in the ACTFL performance guidelines: interpersonal, presentational, and interpretive. Each is described in detail, including assessment products. For example, when assessing writing skills, teachers may use journals and blogs or writing prompts, among other products. Multimodal assessments incorporating all three modes are discussed, as are quantitative assessment methods.
The involvement of minoritized communities in CBLL models requires examining the concepts of identity, language, and power. Chapter Four explores how these constructs interplay in society, informing CBLL programs about ways in which structures supporting domination may be challenged. This domination takes place through otherization, a term to describe the dominant White, Anglo groups unrelenting efforts to disenfranchise those who do not conform to their cultural or linguistic norms. An example is the special status afforded to the English language in the United States in contraposition to languages that, despite their historical or social relevance, occupy marginalized spaces. Another important point is the role that students identities play in the CBLL context. The authors carefully highlight the range of experiences students may have when interacting within communities. Some, for example, may go through a form of cultural taxation and, using the authors words, be tokenized when asked to perform activities others are not able to perform (e.g., interpret and translate during a meeting). Thus, Clifford and Reisinger stress awareness of our own positions of privilege to maintain an atmosphere that does not discriminate, stereotype, tokenize, privilege, or somehow treat students unfairly (p. 114). A critical pedagogy based on social justice is the first step in this direction.
Chapter Five delves into the transformative learning of CBLL in depth, connecting it to dissonance and resistance. The authors address the processes that occur in a CBLL experience, beginning with Mezirows notion of disorienting dilemma and continuing with Kielys transformational service-learning model. Clifford and Reisinger show special interest in dissonance, the tension that may arise within relationships in CBLL. The authors deftly analyze possible origins of dissonance and resistance, differentiate between constructive and unhealthy instances of both, and provide strategies to support students through challenges. The analysis of different triggers will be of interest for those planning to implement CBLL programs. Some triggers include second language use, lack of confidence, and frustration with societal systems.
The final section revisits the idea of reciprocity, providing a model for designing authentic and ethical community partnerships. Like the previous chapter, Chapter Six delivers specific tools for designing and implementing both transactional and transformational community partnerships. A fundamental aspect is adopting ways of thinking and acting consistent with compassion and humility.
Community-Based Language Learning: A Framework for Educators is an excellent resource for instructors at all levels wanting to incorporate community-based experiences into their world language courses. In addition to the theoretical depth attained, numerous instructional tools, exercises, and vignettes provide students with opportunities to practice and apply conceptual ideas inherent to CBLL. As the authors emphasize, language has the potential to be a tool for social change. CBLL provides a model for educators preoccupied with social change and equity issues in todays world.