Where teachers meet and learn

Focus on oral interaction

Book Review: ETAS Journal Volume 33 No. 2 Spring 2016

Rhonda Oliver and Jenefer Philp

Oxford University Press (2014)

ISBN: 978-0-19-400084-0

162 pages, paperback

Speaking and listening are key communication skills, yet they are often taken somewhat for granted. To what extent and how should they be practised in the classroom? In Focus on Oral Interaction, researchers Rhonda Oliver and Jenefer Philip examine the role of oral communication in a wide range of classroom contexts. Drawing on current research conducted worldwide, they highlight advantages of focusing on oral language acquisition in second and foreign language teaching in primary and high school classrooms. Throughout the book, Spotlight Studies highlights relevant research findings, while a series of activities encourage the reader to reflect on the transfer of theory to practise. The book also features Classroom Snapshots, which are transcriptions of research data and serve to illustrate classroom realities, for example non-native and native speaking student interactions during a peer-to-peer task.

This book is part of the Oxford Key Concepts for the Language Classroom series, edited by Patsy Lightbown and Nina Spada. This series makes recent research developments in second and foreign language teaching accessible to teachers and motivates them to reflect on their own practice. It is aimed at primary and secondary school teachers wanting to further their professional development. It is suitable for self-study and group discussion; especially as a series of activities, it encourages readers to relate the theory to their own teaching context.

The focus of this text is on oral interaction theory and research. It should be of interest to second and foreign language teachers and to teachers with heterogeneous classes that include children with immigrant backgrounds. Although the focus is often on young learners, chapter four specifically explores oral interaction in the high-school classroom.

The book is well structured and the writing is clear, with little repetition. The chapters build up on each other, but can also be enjoyed separately. Chapter one introduces the reader to the basic theories of oral interaction and compares speaking and writing as tools for language acquisition. It also introduces the notion of BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) and CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). Chapter two examines the purposes and possibilities of learning language through oral communication channels, for example by examining different approaches to scaffolding learning (peer vs. teacher scaffolding).

Chapter three focuses on examples of student-teacher and student-student interaction in the language classroom and highlights the benefits of peer and groupwork. In this chapter, the authors contend that teachers need to be aware of the types of interaction they afford their students, including the amount of ‘teacher talk’ (the teacher talks while the class listens) they indulge in. The last part of chapter three focuses on the benefits of peer interaction, especially in classes with a mix of native and non-native speakers.

Chapter four looks at the realities of practising oral language with adolescent learners in a high school context. The metalinguistic abilities of teenage learners – who can discuss language form – as well as their more highly developed social skills, allow them to problem-solve collaboratively. However, adolescent learners also face social challenges (peer pressure), which can hinder productive oral interaction in the classroom.

Chapter five summarizes the current state of research in the field as presented in chapters one through four. The reader is invited to reflect on what she has read by means of a task set out in chapter one and discussed in chapter five.

The book introduces key concepts clearly and appropriately and includes a glossary at the back of the book. The classroom snapshots serve to illustrate key points in the text and are excerpts of real conversations from a variety of classrooms from around the world (including Japan, Canada, and Australia). The authors draw on current, relevant research in the field of second and foreign language acquisition. This book makes an important contribution to the field of second and foreign language teaching.

Eva Göksel