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Literature in Language Education

reviewed by Yalun Zhou & Michael Wei - August 24, 2017

coverTitle: Literature in Language Education
Author(s): Geoff Hall
Publisher: Palgrave/MacMillan, New York
ISBN: 1137331836, Pages: 340, Year: 2015
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Literature in Language Education (second edition) by Geoff Hall reviews research into literature in language education in English and modern foreign languages. Compared to the first edition, the second edition reflects the new development of literary discourse that occurs in 21st century daily life. For instance, the increasing interests of Young Learners language education, reading groups, online/Internet interactions and multimodal experience of literature.     


This book, claiming to be both practical and pedagogical, explores language, literature, and readers and culture through the lens of discourse. It provides an examination on the crossroad of research in applied linguistics and practical applications in the teaching of language and literature. The book is divided into three parts with three chapters in each part. The three parts are (a) Language, Literature and Education, (b) Exploration of Research in Language, Literature and Education, and (c) Research into Literature in Language Education. Each chapter opens with a question, discusses the most influential research into the chapter topic, and includes both classical research and important figures in the field of study.   


In Chapter One, Literary Language and Ordinary Language, the author discusses six influential areas of research into literary language. They are (a) literariness in Russian, Czech, and other Formalist writings, (b) oracy and literacy, and corpus linguistics findings, (c) linguistic creativity, (d) style, variation, and register, (e) the study of narrative, and (f) dialogics (language in use). According to the author, formalists view literature as a purposeful creative production of words. Readers approach literature through attentive reading of literatures. The more intense attention second language readers (L2 readers) pay in analyzing words helps them to remember literary forms better than native speakers. The author emphasizes that narrative or storytelling should be taught in language classrooms.


Approaches to reading literature determine the pedagogical methods of language education. In Chapter Two, Reading Literature, the author reviews some important examples of studies of literature reading (e.g., Richard, 1992; Rosenblatt, 1978). The review centers on (a) dominant theories and models for the reading of literature (how this differs from other types of reading), (b) existing problems related to second or foreign language readers of literature (good vs. poor readers), and (c) empirical research needed for the reading of literature (known vs. unknown). After analyzing literary studies and empirical findings on the reading of literature, the author concludes that reader response, a system to construct meaning rather than decontextualize the texts, is key to comprehending texts. In addition, the author highlights influential empirical research (e.g., Benwell, 2014; Grabe & Stoller, 2011) on reading comprehension of literature. Overall, the author provides a holistic overview on literary readings that interacts between texts, contexts, and readers. A consideration and lack of research on L2 reading of literature is pointed out by the author in the conclusion.


After reviewing the language and reading of literature, the author turns to discuss literature in education. Chapter Three, Literature in Education, addresses questions on the importance of authentic texts and the advantages and problems of using authentic texts in language teaching practices, as well as literary corpus by students. It centers on research in the literary curriculum, literature in second language teaching, and literature into cultural studies. The key issues the author focuses on regarding literary studies are: (a) the place of literature in educational contexts, (b) the assessment of literary readings, and (c) the relationship between culture, literature, and language. Considering the values of literature in education, the author explores how literature has been taught (i.e. the literary curriculum) and learned. Furthermore, the author argues that language and literature pedagogies help promote cultural awareness and cultural identities. In addition, the author has particularly investigated the value and assessment of literature in second language teaching. Special attention is given to the ongoing and promising directions for the sociocultural approach (Lantolf, 2000) of using literary texts to discover second language learners cultural needs and identities.


Part Two of this book focuses closely on some carefully designed research and influential studies that assist readers understanding of literary texts  and the uses of literature for language education, especially in second language education. The focus is to explore key issues that emerge from existing practices, namely, the uses of literature in second language classrooms. Part Two is comprised of Chapters Four, Five, and Six.


Chapter Four, Researching Language in Literature, summarizes research on extensive reading benefits, as well as the importance of motivation in extensive readings. The author insightfully points out the scant research findings for individual or groups of readers reading extensive texts. In Chapter Five, Readers Reading Literature, the author reviews examples of significant studies on literature reading in terms of the cognitive activities of reading, poetry reading, stories reading, and affect in literary reading. The author identifies that more qualitative research is valued in applied linguistics and in education. According to him, looking at research into poetry and stories enables researchers to find methodologies and approaches other than the verbal protocol or Think out Loud (p.180) methodologies traditionally dominant in the field. Interestingly, even though research into the reading of literature in a second language exists, its under-discussed and under-examined here. After reviewing research into readers of literature, the author turns to research into literature in language education in terms of curriculum and syllabus, assessment, pedagogy, and literature in intercultural education.


In Chapter Six, Educational Perspectives, the central question the author tries to identify through existing research findings is what type of literature to employ in the curriculum. After reviewing second language literature curricula in England, Turkey, and Singapore, the author prefers a curriculum that considers personal engagement, critical appreciation, and meaningful connections, instead of an elite, competence-assumed curriculum. The author identifies areas in second language literature teaching that have surprisingly scant research, including assessments in literature teaching in second language contexts. Another under-researched area in second language literature study is second language learners interacting with literature in the classroom. The author also highlights Europes Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which calls to educate language learners as cultural as well as linguistic mediators.


The last part of this book, Part Three, reiterates issues best studied in the learning of literature, in addition to research methodologies of approaching under-researched issues. In Chapter Seven, Research Methods for Literature in Language Education, the author overviews both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies (e.g., experimental, think aloud, survey, case studies, and ethnographic study) pertinent to this concern. He then suggests varieties of research designs that could be used in literature and language education in Chapter Eight. Finally, the author closes the book in Chapter Nine with suggested journals, Internet sites, discussion groups, and professional associations and resources for research in literature and language education.


Overall, this book provides comprehensive overviews of research into literature and language education in the current and past decades. It recommends effective and practical curriculum and pedagogies, highlights key research findings, and identifies important under-researched areas for the direction of research into literature in language education. This is a rare and excellent book that specifically addresses the research findings in this topic with specific focus on second language literature teaching and research. The key research examined the research directions indicated by the book are instrumental for applied linguistics researchers and doctoral students when teaching and designing research for literature in language education, especially second and foreign language education.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 24, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22140, Date Accessed: 10/21/2021 8:29:28 PM

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About the Author
  • Yalun Zhou
    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
    E-mail Author
    YALUN ZHOU, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the Dept. of Communication and Media, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her research interests are Applied Linguistics and Teaching/Learning English/Chinese as a second language. Her recent publications include the role of culture in academic English writing and emerging technology uses in Chinese language education.
  • Michael Wei
    University of Missouri, Kansas City
    E-mail Author
    MICHAEL WEI, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Program Director of TESOL program at University of Missouri, Kansas City. His research interests include learning English to near nativelike proficiency, reading/writing English as a second or foreign language, learning environments, early second language development, and second language acquisition. His recent publications are related to English teacher-student interpersonal relationships and the role of culture in academic English writing.
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