Intersection of Service and Learning: Research and Practice in the Second Language Classroom
reviewed by Alina Pruitt - September 12, 2013
Title: Intersection of Service and Learning: Research and Practice in the Second Language Classroom
Author(s): Gregory Thompson
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617358924, Pages: 180, Year: 2012
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Intersection of Service and Learning is a relevant and recent contribution of service learning research in second language classrooms. The author explores and highlights the diversity of second language university classrooms throughout the work. This book contains eight chapters but they could easily be divided into three sections and a conclusion. The first section contains the first two chapters, which focus on the history of service learning in second language classrooms and contemporary theories about the field. These chapters are highly informative, giving comprehensive perspectives on the history and theories behind age-ranges, assessments, purposes, instructional styles, and curriculum formats in the second language classroom. The key aspects of service learning are reciprocity, reflection, meaningful service, diversity, and development, and the author discusses how they are useful and helpful in any second language context. The theoretical chapter gives background on service learning theory, second language acquisition theory, and language pedagogy theory. The background on theory is thorough but not overwhelming. It provides the skeletal framework on which the rest of the book can stand in order to focus on the empirical studies rather than the theory.
The next section of three chapters focuses on important aspects language acquisition: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and cultural knowledge. Though reading is mentioned as a gateway to effective writing, the author focuses on the complexities of necessary organization and proper development components in service learning classrooms. Studies cited in the text show that writing should not only reflect students' learning, but students should be able to come back to their writing and revisit their experience with a community organization. Although most of the research cited was not directed at the second language classroom, the author claims that the writing activities can transfer smoothly to the second language classroom.
Chapter Four addresses the speaking and listening skills of language acquisition. The author goes through two major studies. One is set in Florida; non-native and native English speakers at an undergraduate college and the majority of participants had positive comments on the experience. The second study was a longitudinal four-year study at small, private, liberal arts college in the United States. It was shown that students increased their vocabulary acquisition and developed intercultural and communicative skills. These studies at the college level looked at fundamental language acquisition issues. One helpful aspect of service learning pointed out by the author in this context is simply in the increased time that it allows the second language learner to spend creatively practicing the target language. It also allows for the language learner to practice with real people and real situations, both of which have been shown to enhance language learning.
Chapter Five looks at the relationship between language acquisition and cultural appreciation. Cultural appreciation is not limited to non-native speakers; heritage speakers gain appreciation because in service learning you get to hang out with people in different socioeconomic backgrounds. The chapter starts with critical consciousness theory before moving to a look at motivation and the acquisition of culture. Service learning can greatly benefit the acquisition of cultural knowledge when students receive explicit instruction on what to expect from community interactions. Most success has occurred when students are able to reflect on their own values and thus develop attitudes that are more favorable towards other cultures. The reflection process makes students aware of their own beliefs, which is essential in developing cultural competencies. The goals for this social justice model of service learning stress responsible investigation of what community members define their needs to be, which is important in terms of forming mutually empowering relationships.
The third section of the book focuses on heritage language students. Heritage language speakers often do not use their heritage language professionally or academically, but rather at home and with family. Community and professional connections need to be designed into the second language curriculum. This is the only chapter that contains a rather progressive call to action in which heritage students take on the role of cultural ambassadors. Chapter Seven looks at how study abroad programs can be more interactive when homestay opportunities are encouraged. Getting students more involved with families and communities while studying abroad is recommended. Building and developing more personal relationships within communities tends to encourage linguistically productive behaviors, more effective language acquisition, and oral proficiency.
Chapter Eight investigates the future of service learning by exploring the variety of research pursuits and new models of design for the university classroom. While certain colleges affirm service-learning research, others discourage professors from conducting studies in the field. Alongside higher education anxieties regarding the academic rigor of service learning, professors see time commitment as a barrier in their work toward tenure. One way to encourage more attention and research on service learning is through the development of certificates or other types of recognition for hours completed. The language classroom seems to be a reasonable location for using service learning and instructors are becoming more aware of the benefits in cultural courses and literature classes as well. More research is needed to know if the same approaches used for nonnative students are equally as beneficial for heritage students. Research also ought to focus on where students are most beneficial in service and what types of experiences are most beneficial in their professional and academic development.
The book repeatedly demonstrates that service learning can facilitate language acquisition. Service learning does allow students to apply language learning in a real way and also aids students in meeting proficiency standards. It shares possible applications for learning cultural knowledge and linguistic modes. Much of the work is about acquiring certain modes of English (Academic English, conversational English, etc.). For people who are interested in service learning, it is a useful introduction to the field due to the history, theory, and practice found within it. The future of service learning in the language classroom seems promising, with more research necessary and more emerging insights on the horizon.