Reader Response Journal

Teaching and Learning in a Multilingual School: Choices, Risks and Dilemmas by Tara Goldstein

Tara Goldstein’s Teaching and Learning in a Multilingual School is the outcome of a four year ethnographic study she conducted in the late 90s at a Toronto high school with a large population of immigrant students from Hong Kong. (At the school just 38% of the the students were L1 English speakers and 35% spoke Cantonese as their L1). Each chapter includes large quotations from the participants themselves, as well as Goldstein’s analysis and suggestions for the pedagogical implications of the themes discussed in the chapter. The first section of the books contains chapters which introduce Northside, the school and the context of the study, explore the ways teachers at Northside chose to enact multilingual or monolingual practices in their classes and their reasons for their decisions, and examine different understandings of the role of student silence in the classroom, particularly in regards to the tensions of working in small groups for multilingual students. The second section focuses on linguistic discrimination, with chapters on resisting linguicism and anti-immigrant discourse, the challenges of giving oral presentations in class, with a focus on the shared burden of communication between non-native speakers and native listeners and how non-native speakers can develop the discourse competence needed to present effectively, and a conclusion on the ways school policies, which explicitly valued multilingualism as an asset at the same time they set English as the schools language of instruction, both challenge and support students’ multilingualism. Most interesting for me was the inclusion of the play Hong Kong, Canada, which Goldstein wrote based on the same ethnographic data, which is included in its entirety in an appendix. Also includes in appendices are Goldstein’s discussion of the decisions she made in her approach to ethnography and presenting her participants voices (including her question whether this story is in fact hers to tell) and the text that one of her research assistants used to teach students oral presentation skills.

All told, there’s quite a lot in this book that was interesting, and it read incredibly quickly and easily, probably since it’s designed as a teacher education textbook rather than a book targeting other academics. It’s based on a lot of scholarly work I’m pretty familiar with, notably Rosina Lippi-Green’s work on linguicism, accent discrimination and the burden of communication, and Bonny Norton’s theories of identity and investment. I thought the in depth descriptions of the context were compelling and it was great to see so much of what her participants had to say in their own voices. I appreciated the fact that she didn’t just end with the analysis of the ethnography and instead took it a step farther to include the pedagogical discussions, since bridging the divide between research and practice is an incredibly important step that I wish more TESOL researchers incorporated deliberately into their work. But by far the most valuable piece of this is the play itself. Ethnodrama is an area that I’m increasingly interested in learning how to do myself, since it so obviously combines my areas of interest, and it’s great to see how research data can be turned into compelling art, which gives us another lens of looking at the material. I used a scene from the play as part of a workshop I did on drama for social justice in TESOL, and it was clear how much there was in her text for actor/teachers to dive into. For that reason alone, I’d recommend reading this.

Goldstein, T. (2003). Teaching and Learning in a Multilingual School: Choices, Risks and Dilemmas. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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