AL Forum

AL Forum News, Volume 24:2 (March 2004)

by User Not Found | 11/02/2011
ALIS Masthead.
In This Issue...

From the Chair
From the Editors
Sociocultural Theory and Applied Linguistics
Teaching Grammatical Theory in the L2 Classroom: Vygotsky's Theory of Concept Development and Gal'perin's Systematic-Theoretical Instruction
Embodiment, Gesture, and Second Language Learning
From Writing in Discourse Communities to Literate Activity in Sociohistoric Networks
Should We Be Teaching Grammar or Not? Comments on the Revised TOEFL Test
Erratum From Issue 24.1
TESOL 2004 Applied Linguistics Academic Session
Other Notices
Call for Submissions: The AL Forum Welcomes Your Contributions!
Open Leadership Positions
About This Member Community

From the Chair

By Steven G. McCafferty,

At TESOL's 2003 convention, there was a good deal of consternation about members being able to continue receiving a hard copy of the IS newsletters. Provisions have since been made. Members who do not have Internet access will automatically receive a hard copy of newsletters. (TESOL's database tracks whether members have e-mail.) Moreover, upon request, members who have e-mail may opt to receive a hard copy of the newsletter. Requests may be sent to (Note: this request may impact other electronic communication with TESOL.)

As you might suspect, there is a big technology push going on, and by the end of TESOL's 2004 convention in Long Beach, California, in the United States, TESOL will have completed work on the first phases of a major advance toward integrating the membership database, Web sites, and e-newsletters. All of this will lead to greater access and communication down the road--something, of course, we should be happy about. Also, IS members currently have the opportunity to vote online for leadership positions, confirm our delegates before the conference, and so forth; although we have yet to take advantage of this.

Even though the 2004 TESOL convention has not yet arrived, please keep in mind that there are things to think about for next year. First, please consider the possibility of pursuing a Special Project. This could include a special focus for the newsletter (as with the sociocultural and sociohistoric focus of the current issue), a reception for members of other ISs regarding a topic of concern or mutual interest, or putting together a booklet that could be distributed among the members of the ALIS. These are examples of more typical projects, but other possibilities are encouraged as well. TESOL funds these projects beyond the limited resources available to the ALIS. Should you have any ideas in mind, let someone in the ALIS leadership know.

Another potentially enriching activity for the ALIS is to have an Intersection with one or more of the other ISs as part of the annual convention. If you might be interested in this idea, please get in touch with the ALIS leadership. Intersections always prove fruitful, and of course applied linguistics interfaces with most of the other ISs in TESOL.

Again, as in the last newsletter, I would like to make a plea to ALIS members to be involved in leadership. Applied linguistics plays an important part in TESOL worldwide, but that level of involvement is not reflected in the number of people who show interest in leadership positions at the national level. There is a lot to do to keep things running, and the more people who pitch in, in one way or another, the easier and smoother all of that becomes. This is especially important now that the American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL) conference has moved to a different time and venue (May 1-4, 2004, in Portland, Oregon, in the United States--mark your calendars!) So please come to our ALIS annual meeting at TESOL's 2004 convention.

Finally, I hope you enjoy the articles in this issue of the newsletter.

See you in Long Beach,

Steve McCafferty photo.

Steve McCafferty

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

From the Editors

By Stefan Frazier,, and Isaiah W. Yoo,

This edition of the newsletter is the second e-newsletter since the decision was made last year to migrate from a hard copy to an electronic version of the newsletter. As such, we would be interested in your comments on this new format, either to us individually or in discussion at this year's ALIS meeting at TESOL's 2004 convention in Long Beach.

With this issue we are proud to present a selection of articles in the exciting field of sociocultural/sociohistoric theory: three summaries from the TESOL 2003 ALIS Academic Session (Leo Van Lier, James Lantolf, Eduardo Negueruela, and Steven McCafferty) and one piece on sociohistoric theory in composition pedagogy (Paul Prior). In addition, Phillip Markley has written a piece detailing his concerns about recent changes to the TOEFL test.

Happy reading!

Stefan Frazier
University of California
Los Angeles, California

Isaiah W. Yoo
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Sociocultural Theory and Applied Linguistics

By Leo van Lier,

Sociocultural theory (SCT) was scarcely if at all mentioned in applied linguistics and second language acquisition textbooks before the early 1990s. In little more than a decade, however, it has become a major influence in the field of applied linguistics, as evidenced by a large number of publications and numerous (and very well-attended) presentations and colloquia at major conferences.

In a sense, this relatively recent and sudden emergence of SCT as a force in applied linguistics is curious, because SCT is largely based on the work of Lev S. Vygotsky, a Russian psychologist who died in 1934 at the age of 38. Vygotsky's work was virtually unknown outside the Soviet Union until MIT Press published a translation of his book Thought and Language in 1962. The book was introduced by the well-known educational philosopher and psychologist Jerome Bruner and enthusiastically reviewed by a number of prominent intellectuals, including philosopher of science Stephen Toulmin, who called Vygotsky "the Mozart of psychology," while some other reviewers didn't think much of it at all (Fodor, 1972). Since then, a number of other publications by Vygotsky have appeared (including much-improved translations of the original book).

The main tenets of Vygotsky's educational psychology are mediation, the relationship between learning and development, social and cultural activity, the zone of proximal development (ZPD), and inner speech.


Just as people use tools to till the earth and to join two pieces of wood together (e.g., ploughs, hammers, nails), people use tools to get along in the socially, historically, and culturally constructed human world. People's thought, learning, and lives are mediated by physical, social, and symbolic tools and signs, chief among which is language. Language itself is also mediated, by gestures, facial expressions, references to the surrounding world and to memories, and so on.

Learning and Development

Vygotsky proposed that learning is only effective when it is ahead of development. He acknowledged that there are developmental patterns such as the ones that Piaget began to describe in the 1920s, but Vygotsky argued that the interaction between developmental (genetic) and social-historical-cultural processes was the key to human development, education, and learning. He criticized approaches that advocated waiting for mental properties to mature before engaging in instruction and instead insisted that social and interactional processes were instrumental in developing functions that were in the process of maturing.

Social and Cultural Activity

Vygotsky held that central to learning was not subject matter or content, but the activities in which children or learners engaged with their parents or teachers. He conducted many experiments showing that interaction between an adult and a child led to the emergence of higher forms of functioning or thinking.

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)

This is the most famous of Vygotsky's concepts, one that captures the imagination of most educators; but it is one that is the most open to misinterpretation. Vygotsky defined the ZPD as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (1978, p. 86). In other words, learners can always accomplish more under guidance than on their own; and, in fact, learning in collaboration with others is the natural vehicle for human development, both general and academic. These processes of social, activity-based learning have been the subject of much study and controversy. Jerome Bruner developed the notion of scaffolding, the idea of providing temporary assistance with the purpose of handing over control and agency whenever possible and as soon as possible. Others have questioned if simplifying language and/or content (e.g., in some interpretations of comprehensible input or proposals for modification of subject matter for nonnative speakers) is still within the spirit of Vygotsky's ZPD.

Inner Speech

Piaget originally proposed that children talk to themselves because they do not yet know how to use language for social communication. He called this language use egocentric speech. However, Vygotsky argued convincingly that such private speech is social in origin and that, in fact, social language is developmentally prior to mental or private language. Social speech is progressively internalized, and the various manifestations, either as private speech (talking to oneself) or as inner speech (thinking to oneself), mediate between social activity and mental development (de Guerrero, 1994).

What does all this mean for applied linguistics? Perhaps the five thumbnails above suggest some useful consequences for teaching and learning. Many of the consequences of SCT are still being hotly debated in the applied linguistics literature, which, after all, is still very young. However, there are now a number of publications that offer a good range of studies conducted from an SCT perspective, and I list a brief selection in the bibliography below.


Brooks, F. B., Donato, R., & McGlone, J. V. (1997). When are they going to say "it" right? Understanding learner talk during pair-work activity. Foreign Language Annals, 30(4), 524-541.

de Guerrero, M. C. M. (1994). Form and functions of inner speech in adult second language learning. In J. P. Lantolf & G. Appel (Eds.), Vygotskian approaches to second language research (pp. 83-115). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Donato, R. (1994). Collective scaffolding. In J.P. Lantolf and G. Appel (Eds.), Vygotskyan approaches to second language research (pp. 33-56). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based language learning and teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fodor, J. (1972). Some reflections on Vygotsky's "Thought and language." Cognition, 1(1), 83-93.

Lantolf, J. (Ed.). (2000). Sociocultural theory and second language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCafferty, S. (2002). Gesture and creating zones pf proximal development for second language learning. The Modern Language Journal 86(2), 192-203.

Ohta, A. S. (2001). Second language acquisition processes in the classroom: Learning Japanese. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Swain, M., & Lapkin, S. (2000). Task-based second language learning: The uses of the first language. Language Teaching Research, 4(3), 251-274.

Thorne, S. L. (2000). Beyond bounded activity systems: Heterogeneous cultures in instructional uses of persistent conversation. Proceedings of the Thirty-Third Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (CD-ROM). Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society.

van Dam, J. (2002). Ritual, face, and play in a first English lesson: Bootstrapping a classroom culture. In C. Kramsch (Ed.), Language acquisition and language socialization: Ecological perspectives (pp. 237-265). London: Continuum.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and language. (A Kozulin, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). Thinking and speech. (N. Minick, Trans.). In The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky, Volume 1: Problems of general psychology. New York: Plenum Press.

Leo van Lier is a professor in the Graduate School of Language and Educational Linguistics and director of the Max Kade Language and Technology Center, both at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, in the United States. His Web site is .

Teaching Grammatical Theory in the L2 Classroom: Vygotsky's Theory of Concept Development and Gal'perin's Systematic-Theoretical Instruction

By James P. Lantolf,, and Eduardo Negueruela,

Based on Lev Vygotsky's theory of concept development and Piotr Gal'perin's Systemic-Theoretical Instruction (STI), our presentation at an academic session at TESOL's 2003 convention in Baltimore argued for explicit instruction on conceptual grammatical meanings in the second language (L2) classroom. In Vygotskyan theory the relationship between thinking and speaking and the relationship between instruction and development come together to form a conceptual unit for promoting development. "Thought is restructured as it is transformed into speech. It is not expressed but completed in the word" (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 251). Human consciousness develops and is transformed qualitatively through the internalization of speech in communication with others. The connection between thought and word "originates, changes, and grows in the course of the evolution of thinking and speech" (p. 211).

Vygotsky's Concepts

Thus, central to the development of higher forms of human consciousness is Vygotsky's notion of concepts. Vygotsky (1986) distinguishes between spontaneous or empirical concepts and theoretical or academic concepts. Theoretical concepts, developed in instructional settings, are essential for creating taxonomic ways of thinking that avoid the ad hoc nature of everyday functional reasoning. A theoretical concept is not only an abstract idea, but a word meaning whose features are interrelated: it is general and abstract, although it has emerged from concrete activity; it is systematic (in the sense of being connected to other concepts); it can be brought to the fore and explained (through conscious awareness); it is context-independent (it can be recontextualized); and it can be used at will (through voluntary control). Because formal schooling is the privileged place where the development of theoretical conceptualizations is fostered, the relationship between properly organized learning (i.e., instruction leading development) is crucial.

As Vygotsky (1987) points out, L2 learning is the mirror image of first language (L1) learning. In formal L1 learning, children become aware of the existence of the symbolic communicative tool as a prerequisite for achieving mastery over the L1 (Markova, 1979). In this sense, language is invisible for children until they begin to study it in formal settings (see also Karpova, 1977). In tutored L2 learning, the opposite process is at play: students need to automatize a communicative tool that is very much visible at the beginning of instruction. Thus, explicit instruction is necessary as a means to promoting awareness and control over the developing meanings of the L2. L2 learners begin their learning process by becoming aware of the L2, an awareness that needs to become automatic so they can focus on communication.

Creating Social Meaning

To develop a sociocultural approach to the teaching of L2 grammar, our presentation introduced Markova's (1979) views on communication as a process of making meaning out of personal sense and conscious transgression of socially established language norms. That is, social meanings that emerge in communications are constructed through personal intentions and references. Meaning is not stable but depends on the agent. We explored the notion of theoretical concepts as an instructional tool for teaching grammar to L2 learners. As an alternative to the empirical approach to grammatical understanding, which privileges pedagogical rules of thumb that simplify the meaning behind grammatical features by describing all possible scenarios where grammatical points are used (e.g., use imperfect tense for expressing age in Spanish), we argued for conceptual explanations of grammar (e.g., use the concept of lexical and grammatical aspect to explain the meaning behind the verbal aspect). We presented data from two sources: students' notebooks and students' classroom definitions of grammatical points that showed the inconsistency and simplified nature of students' understanding of grammar. Providing learners with a more sophisticated understanding of language and its conceptual meanings is the first step to achieving awareness and voluntary control over the new language (i.e., a higher level of development).

Gal'perin's STI

In Gal'perin's STI (see Haenen, 1996), developing a sound conceptual explanation is only the first step. Grammatical concepts need to be the object of learning--as presented to learners--but, more importantly, they also need to become a tool for understanding. Hence, together with finding a pedagogical unit of instruction--in this case, the grammatical concept--learners' tangible awareness of grammatical concepts needs to be enhanced through teaching aids and didactic models that represent the full complexity of the objects of study and that can be used as tools for understanding in different learning tasks. Finally, verbalization strategies are the last essential condition to transforming material grammatical concepts into mental ones. Learners need to be guided in talking to themselves (i.e., private speech) as a means to understanding the complexities of the L2. Different activities can be designed for the classroom (such as peer explanations of grammatical features based on concepts) and for homework (learners record themselves when using grammatical concepts as a tool for explaining their own grammatical performance).


Haenen, J. (1996). Piotr Gal'perin: Psychologist in Vygotsky's footsteps. Commack, NY: Nova Science.

Karpova, S. N. (1977). The realization of the verbal composition of speech by preschool children. Paris: Mouton.

Markova, A. K. (1979). The teaching and mastery of language (M. Vale, Trans.). White Plains, NY: M. E. Sharpe.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987) The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky: Vol.1, Problems of general psychology. Including the volume Thinking and speech. (R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton, Eds; N. Minick, Trans.). New York: Plenum.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

James P. Lantolf is the director of the Center for Language Acquisition at Pennsylvania State University in University Park, Pennsylvania, in the United States. Eduardo Negueruela is an assistant professor in the Spanish and Portuguese Department at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts, in the United States.

Embodiment, Gesture, and Second Language Learning

By Steven G. McCafferty,

Lev Vygotsky compared the dualistic Cartesian perspective on mind and body to thinking about heat as separate from the sun, suggesting that it is " ascribe it independent meaning and to ask what meaning this heat may have and what action it can perform" (Vygotsky, 1997, p. 114). In further explicating mind-body relations within the Vygotskyan tradition, Gal'perin (1989) tied mental action to concrete material action, arguing that mind and body are unified in activity. For example, when planning to move a piece of furniture in a room, how else would you imagine this process if not in an embodied manner?

The Growth Point

Given this perspective, it is not surprising to suggest that thought in relation to communication is an embodied process as well. Indeed, McNeill (1992) theorized that thought, speech, and gesture converge through dialogical interaction, eventually presenting a single cognitive representation; speech provides a linear, sequential structure to thought, and gesture supplies synthetic, holistic, and imagistic dynamics. Moreover, for McNeill, speech and gesture arise from what he terms the Growth Point (GP), in other words, from the conception of what is to be communicated: "the speaker's minimal idea unit that can develop into a full utterance together with a gesture...[i]n keeping with Vygotsky's conception of minimal units of a microgenetic process" (McNeill, 1992, p. 220). In a further elaboration, McNeill and Duncan, again following Vygotsky, contended that "sign and context are inseparable" (2000, pp. 156-157) and thus that the GP is part of both the interpsychic and intrapsychic psychological planes at once.

Kita (2000) expanded the Growth Point Hypothesis to include a spatio-motoric mode of thinking. For example, Goldin-Meadow, Alibali, and Church (1993) found that children used gestures in coordination with the division of space to solve procedural aspects of arithmetic problems. Also, in a recent study (McCafferty, 2004) I found that a second language learner, when speaking of historical relations between three countries, did much the same thing; he constructed a virtual map of the region of the world he was referring to in the gesture space in front of him, using it both to organize his discourse and structure his thinking.

Enacting Meaning Through Gesture

In the case of people whose primary exposure to a second language comes from living within the contexts of the culture, it would not be surprising to find that they come to enact meaning not only through the new language but through gesture as well, in other words, that there is a recognition that, for example, the psychological associations of words and gestures are socioculturally based (see McCafferty and Ahmed, 2000). However, the extent to which such transformations take place remains arguable. In a counterexample, Negueruela, Lantolf, Jordan, and Gelabert (2004) found that thinking-for-speaking patterns, as determined by the GP in relation to gesture, did not change for native Spanish speakers who were advanced speakers of English in the production of motion events in English, despite the fact that these events unfold quite differently in the two languages, particularly with regard to path and manner. (Example of a motion event in the recitation of a Tweety Bird cartoon: The bowling ball rolls along the gutter, then into the drainpipe and down the side of the building.) Negueruela et al. believe that the embodied history of the first language accounts for this durability.

The idea that language is not a disembodied phenomenon is still relatively new in applied linguistics. Cognitive linguistics, on the other hand, has embraced the study of gesture to a much larger extent, as was readily apparent at the 8th International Cognitive Linguistics Conference this past summer at the University of La Rioja in Spain. Perhaps with time and exposure, more applied linguists will come to see the value of exploring second language teaching and learning from this perspective.


Gal'perin, P. (1989). Mental action as a basis for the formulation of thoughts and images. Soviet Psychology, 27(3), 45-64.

Goldin-Meadow, S., Alibali, M. W., & Church, R. B. (1993). Transitions in concept acquisition: Using the hand to read the mind. Psychological Review, 100(2), 279-297.

Kita, S. (2000). How representational gestures help speaking. In D. McNeill (Ed.), Language, culture & cognition 2: Language and gesture (pp. 162-185). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McCafferty, S. G. (2004). Space for cognition: Gesture and second language learning. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 14(1), 150-167.

McCafferty, S. G., & Ahmed, M. (2000). The appropriation of gestures of the abstract by L2 learners. In J.P. Lantolf (Ed.), Sociocultural theory and second language learning(pp. 199-218). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McNeill, D. (1992). Hand and mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

McNeill, D., & Duncan, S. D. (2000). Growth points in thinking-for-speaking. In D. McNeill (Ed.), Language, culture & cognition 2: Language and gesture(pp.141-161). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Negueruela, E., Lantolf, J. P., Jordan, S. R., & Gelabert, J. (2004). The "private function" of gesture in second language speaking activity: A study of motion verbs and gesturing in English and Spanish. International Journal of Applied Linguistics 14(1), 113-147.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1997) Mind, consciousness, the unconscious. In R.W. Rieber & J. Wollock (Eds.), The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky: Vol. 3. Problems of the theory and history of psychology (pp. 109-121). New York: Plenum.

Steven G. McCafferty is an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, Nevada, in the United States.

From Writing in Discourse Communities to Literate Activity in Sociohistoric Networks

By Paul Prior,

Whether as theorists, researchers, or teachers, applied linguists need to move beyond the notion that learning how to write means learning the written genres of (structuralist) discourse communities. Rooted in calls by Lev Vygotsky and Valentin Voloshinov to reconceptualize the disciplines of psychology and linguistics as ones whose proper object is the concrete historical activity of persons-in-societies, sociohistoric theory is a critical resource for rethinking that notion.

Reimagining Writing as Activity

Vygotsky's (1978, 1987) fundamental insight was that people become human through day-to-day engagements in the cultural practices of their environment--engagements in which they encounter, selectively appropriate, use, and refashion for others' use material and semiotic resources and tools. Central to this view is the notion that individual activity is mediated by sociohistorically produced tools and practices (e.g., languages, technologies of writing, practices of classification). Mediated activity points to externalization (speech, writing, action, the construction of objects and devices) and co-action (with other people, artifacts, and elements of the social-material environment) as well as to internalization (learning). I do not, for example, fully internalize the car and the road when I drive, the computer and its graphic software when I draw with them, or the other person when I converse with her; in each case, action and cognition are distributed.

Writing has generally been understood as cognitive knowledge and textual form, not as distributed activity. Phelps observed that writing researchers and theorists are often caught up in textual or cognitive "rhetorics where abstractions like the fictive audience (textual representation) and the cognitive audience (mental representation) are more salient than the actual exchanges of talk and text by which people more or less publicly draft and negotiate textual meanings" (1990, p. 158). Brandt (1990) noted that literacy is often defined based on features of texts (e.g., the portability of texts leading to the notion that writing is decontextualized and impersonal). Sociohistoric theory encourages people, instead, to see writing and reading as distributed practices.

A sociohistoric account of writing thus begins with four fundamental axioms. First, writing is embodied activity (not a mental program we run). Second, writing is always situated in the moment-to-moment flow of activity. Third, writing is mediated; it is never solo, cognitive-only activity. Finally, writing is dispersed; focal texts and moments of textual inscription are no more autonomous than the spray thrown up by white water in a river, and like that spray, literate acts today are far downstream from their sociohistoric origins. From these axioms, it follows that writing is not just about thinking and inscribing text, but it also weaves together reading and observing, talking and listening, feeling and gesturing, and, as accounts of writers display (Prior & Shipka, 2003), structuring and shaping environments (the time and place of writing, music, food, interactions with others, etc.) This notion of writing as embodied, situated, mediated, and dispersed is the basis for a notion of literate activity (Prior, 1998, 2001), located not in acts of reading and writing, but as cultural forms of life saturated with textuality.

From Synchronous Communities to Sociohistoric Networks

Voloshinov (1973) critiqued theories of language, like those of Saussure or more recently Chomsky, that assume that some abstract system of shared rules and a shared lexicon governs performance. Voloshinov argued that linguistic systematization makes living languages dead, turning streams of discourse (full of social, ideological, and affective meaning, spoken and written by particular people in concrete situations) into signals emptied of all but a marginal, fixed denotative sense, uttered by no one, nowhere, at no time. Such structuralist notions of language are buoyed by powerful folk theories and metaphors: the conduit (or transmission) metaphor of communication, territorial-national models of communities, and Western models of individual selves. Voloshinov concluded as follows:

Underlying the theory of abstract objectivism are presuppositions of a rationalistic and mechanistic world outlook. These presuppositions are least capable of furnishing the grounds for a proper understanding of history--and language, after all, is a purely historical phenomenon. (1973, p. 82)

This fundamental shift--seeing language as a purely historical phenomenon--explains why Voloshinov and Bakhtin (1986) rejected the notion that language resides in some neoplatonic realm of dictionaries, grammar books, and books of social etiquette (whether located in society or in the individual).

Applied linguistics is very familiar with critique of abstract objectivist or structuralist theories. The field has long absorbed Hymes' response to Chomsky that competence must be seen as communicative rather than linguistic and as grounded in diverse speech communities rather than national languages (or species-wide universals). In relation to writing, most applied linguists today would assume that the task for the learner is to acquire the genres of specific communities of writers and readers. However, notions of communicative competence, speech communities, and discourse communities have rarely questioned the fundamental structuralist trope that abstract rule systems govern performance, generally taking two more limited tacks: expanding the range of phenomena to be explained (e.g., rules of language use as well as language form) and shrinking the jurisdictions of those abstract systemic governors. This balkanization of knowledge and language into speech and discourse communities has prompted close attention to, and real progress in, studies of discourse; however, it has also left intact a number of structuralist ways of doing business.

Sociohistoric theories have pointed toward alternative notions of communities as concrete, dynamic, and heterogeneous. Lave and Wenger rejected the notion of a shared core of abstract knowledge and language that people internalize to become expert members, seeing communities of practice as defined by "a set of relations among persons, activity, and world, over time and in relation with other tangential and overlapping communities of practice" (1991, p. 98). Nevertheless, the territorial image of a community continues to draw us toward structuralist notions (see Prior, 2002; Scollon, 2001). A better account can be found in Latour's (1987, 1999) descriptions of sociotechnical networks, with their rhizomatic linkages across times, places, and people that do not privilege folk mappings of sociocultural worlds.

In place of territorial communities with rules for membership, a sociohistoric theory points to complex networks of activity--chains of utterances, chains of actions, the trajectories of people and objects as they are produced and transformed through time and space. Because activity is dialogic, heterogeneous, and distributed, each interaction must also be understood as laminated (Goffman, 1974) with multiple mutable, dynamic frames that are relatively foregrounded or backgrounded (Goodwin & Duranti, 1992). Finally, what holds together such complex networks are the notion of co-genesis and the recognition that coordination and communication can be realized heuristically and through partial intersubjectivity. People, schools, workplaces, families, public institutions, and their associated artifacts and practices have co-evolved historically and hence can afford adequate grounds for practical coordination and communication (which do not require the kind of totally shared codes and schemata that communication devices require).


Learning to write for some purpose in some genre to some (layered) audience is not a question of acquiring the knowledge to participate in a discourse community but of participating in the literate activity of a sociohistoric network. For learners and those working (whether as teachers, administrators, or activists) to facilitate literacies, the goal then is to align histories, not only to bring individuals into coordination with the stream of literate activity but also to facilitate change in the social practices and literate ecologies themselves. This situation presents the theoretical and empirical challenge of accounting for the complex patterns of coordination and discoordination that arise as co-genetic histories intersect with social practices. (Imagine this task as a respecification of the project of contrastive rhetoric.) Applied linguists need to learn how to identify the kinds of historical grounds and interactional principles that allow writers to successfully weave together hybrid materials in particular literate activities.


Bakhtin, M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays. (Vern W. McGee, Trans.). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Brandt, D. (1990). Literacy as involvement: The acts of writers, readers and texts. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Goodwin, C., & Duranti, A. (1992). Rethinking context: An introduction. In A. Duranti & C. Goodwin (Eds.), Rethinking context: Language as an interactive phenomenon (pp. 1-42). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (1999). Pandora's hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Phelps, L. (1990). Audience and authorship: The disappearing boundary. In G. Kirsch & D. Roen (Eds.), A sense of audience in written communication (pp. 153-174). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Prior, P. (1998). Writing/disciplinarity: A sociohistoric account of literate activity in the academy. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Prior, P. (2001). Voices in text, mind, and society: Sociohistoric accounts of discourse acquisition and use. Journal of Second Language Writing, 10, 55-81.

Prior, P. (2002). Disciplinarity: From discourse communities to dispersed, laminated activity. Plenary address at the Hong Kong University 2nd Conference on Knowledge and Discourse, Hong Kong, People's Republic of China. Available at

Prior, P. & Shipka, J. (2003). Chronotopic lamination: Tracing the contours of literate activity. In C. Bazerman & D. Russell (Eds.), Writing selves, writing societies: Research from activity perspectives (pp. 180-238). Fort Collins, CO: WAC Clearinghouse and Mind, Culture, and Activity. Available at

Scollon, R. (2001). Mediated discourse: The nexus of practice. London: Routledge.

Voloshinov, V. (1973). Marxism and the philosophy of language. (L. Matejka & I. Titunik, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygtosky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987) The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky: Vol.1, Problems of general psychology. Including the volume Thinking and speech. (R. W. Rieber & A. S. Carton, Eds; N. Minick, Trans.). New York: Plenum.

Paul Prior is an associate professor in the Department of English and the associate director of the Center for Writing studies, both at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Illinois in the United States.

Should We Be Teaching Grammar or Not? Comments on the Revised TOEFL Test

By Phillip Markley,

There has been a lot of discussion in the applied linguistics community about the new Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) test. It appears that grammar will no longer be tested directly as a separate category, but will be incorporated into the testing of the four skill areas (TOEFL, 2003).My understanding is that it will be assessed in the speaking and writing sections but only as a subcomponent of the broader speaking and writing proficiency assessments. For example, scoring in speaking will include scores for completion of task, length and complexity of response, intelligibility range and precision of grammatical and lexical features, overall fluency, and coherence. These elements will then be combined into one speaking score.

Incorporating Grammar Into the Four Skills

The idea of incorporating grammar into reading, writing, listening, and speaking is not a new one, probably having originated in the 1950s and 1960s. During that time, many studies found no correlation between the teaching of English grammar and the students' writing abilities. Perhaps the most famous study is a report by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) entitled Research in Written Composition (1963), by Richard Braddock, Richard Lyons-Jones, and Lowell Schoer; the report found that the teaching of formal grammar has a negligible effect on writing performance.

As an applied linguist, I am happy to hear that TOEFL is incorporating grammar into the four skills. To be able to use grammar or apply grammar is what most of us believe to be the best way of knowing grammar. For many years the applied linguistics community has been pushing TOEFL to change the test so students will be encouraged to apply the rules rather than simply memorize them. I am sure most applied linguists have had the experience of students reciting long lists of grammar rules but being unable to apply them to their own writing or speaking. This inability to apply rules is often most notable in composition classes.

Could Grammar Fall Through the Cracks?

The change at TEOFL does, however, present a possible problem. If TOEFL does not explicitly test grammar, many intensive English language programs may eliminate it from their curriculum. In this case, students may not learn enough grammar for them to be able to discuss language problems with their teachers.

I currently teach a fundamentals of English grammar class designed to review English grammar for native speakers, although there are also many nonnative speakers in my class who are U.S. citizens with gaps in their knowledge of English. The course I teach is designed to address students' lack of knowledge of English grammar. Although studies may not be able to find a correlation between English grammar and writing ability, if students do not know English grammar, they do not have the shared vocabulary necessary to discuss writing problems in English. This lack of knowledge of principles of English grammar also creates problems when students elect or are required to learn a foreign language. For example, I have also taught university-level Spanish, and in that course I have found it necessary to address some of the same issues as the fundamentals of English grammar course. Any foreign language teachers will tell you that they actually have to teach the basic vocabulary of English grammar to their students; otherwise, the students will be unable to follow any grammar explanation about the foreign language.

Herein lies my fear. I know that many ALIS members work in or for ESL/EFL programs. Since TOEFL will now no longer explicitly test grammar, I fear that applied linguists may decide to eliminate grammar from their syllabi. Many of them have taught composition and know that it is much easier to discuss students' problems if the students know how to speak about grammar and share a vocabulary with teachers. I am afraid that we as teachers may encounter the very same problems native-speaking English teachers and foreign language teachers have--students do not know enough about the principles of grammar to discuss their problems, requiring teachers to spend time teaching grammar in addition to regular course content.

Therefore, I would like applied linguists to think about how they are going to respond to the new changes on the TOEFL test. I believe these changes will help push students to integrate grammar into their language use, which will make them better communicators. But at the same time, keep in mind that teachers and students need a common vocabulary with which to discuss language problems, and that lingua franca is grammar.


Braddock, R., Lloyd-Jones, R., & Schoer, L. (1963). Research in written composition. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

TOEFL. (2003, December). Next generation TOEFL: Focus on communication. Retrieved January 9, 2004, from

Phillip Markley is a Teaching Associate in the Division of Spanish and Portuguese Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, in the United States.

Erratum From Issue 24.1

In Peter Master's article in issue 24.1, entitled "Pedagogical Frameworks for Learning the English Article System," there is an error in Table 4. Under "Main Exceptions to Canonical Position" on the right-hand side of the table, the second example should read "They measured the length of the room," not "The tornado damaged many houses."

TESOL 2004 Applied Linguistics Academic Session

Organized by David Olsher,

For TESOL's 2004 convention in Long Beach, I have organized an exciting academic session with relevance to teachers in a variety of TESOL contexts. Top researchers in the microanalysis of classroom interaction from a variety of perspectives will participate, providing insights from their research that can inform choices made by teachers and language educators. There will also be plenty of time for you to ask questions about the research and how it can apply to your own questions and experiences. I hope to see you there! Please see below for detailed information.

Micro-Interactional Research and Language Classrooms

Wednesday, March 31, 8:30-11:15 am

Abstracts of Individual Papers

A Microgenetic Approach to the Study of Language Learning

Joan Kelly Hall, Pennsylvania State University

This presentation gives an account of a microgenetic approach to research. Drawing from Vygotsky's theory of learning, the method involves a high density of observations of action over a specified period of time. Data from three studies are included to illustrate its utility for the study of classroom-based language learning.

Investigating Speaking Practices in TESOL Talk

Irene Koshik, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; David Olsher, Bowling Green State University

Conversation-analytic research in TESOL contexts is useful for discovering fine details of specific speaking practices and the social actions they are used to perform. This paper presents examples of teacher-initiated sequences that assist students to correct errors and students' speaking practices that contribute to language learning in small groups.

Pedagogical and Cultural Influences on Turn-taking in ESL/EFL Classroom Interaction

Deborah Poole, San Diego State University

For teachers of ESOL, knowledge of factors that affect classroom turn-taking can increase understanding of student participation and inform instructional choices. This paper presents interactional data to illustrate how the structure of classroom activities and students' prior cultural experiences can influence turn-taking and participation in the ESL/EFL context. Pedagogical implications are also discussed.

Examining Interaction Patterns in Mainstream Classrooms: Challenges for English Language Learners

Patricia A. Duff, University of British Columbia

This paper examines discourse from mainstream high school classrooms and focuses on aspects of intertextuality, turn-taking, and positioning that pose significant challenges for English language learners. The analysis suggests that teachers need to be more aware of the impact of their questioning behaviors, turn-allocation, and the background knowledge implicit in texts in order to accommodate newcomers more successfully into their content courses.

Other Notices Special Networking Reception for all 2004 TESOL Convention Goers

Wednesday, March 31, 7-8:30 pm
Renaissance Hotel, Ballroom 4 & 5

This networking reception is being sponsored by four interest sections--Intercultural Communication; English as a Foreign Language; Refugee Concerns; and Speech, Pronunciation, and Listening--and the TESOLers for Social Responsibility Caucus. All TESOL convention attendees are invited.

For more information, contact Armeda Reitzel, cochair, Intercultural Communication Interest Section, at or 707-826-3779.

TESOL Convention Graduate Student Forum

Tuesday, March 30, 8:30 am-5:30 pm
Long Beach Convention Center

The 4th Graduate Student Forum (GSF) will feature 80 paper presentations and 20 poster sessions. To present at or attend the GSF, you must register for the TESOL 2004 convention. While there is no extra registration fee, online registration is required because space is limited to 160 participants. More information about the 4th GSF can be found at

TESOL International Research Foundation Call for Research Proposals 2004-05

The TESOL International Research Foundation (TIRF) invites proposals for Doctoral Dissertation Grants and Priority Research Grants in the fields of applied linguistics and English language education. The deadline for receipt of complete proposals is May 31, 2004 (11:59 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time). All Priority Research Grant proposals must be directly related to the stated topic: "The demonstrable effects of the use of computer-based technology on students' learning of English as a second or foreign language." Please consult the foundation's Web site for more information (

Call for Submissions: The AL Forum Welcomes Your Contributions!

The Applied Linguistics Forum welcomes your submissions of articles, opinion pieces, announcements, reports on conference presentations, and book reviews in any area of applied linguistics research that is of interest to the diverse ALIS membership. Your suggestions and ideas are also welcome. Submissions may be edited for length and style. For more information, please contact Isaiah W. Yoo ( or Stefan Frazier (

Open Leadership Positions

The ALIS invites volunteers to run for chair-elect. The chair-elect serves for several years, first as chair-elect, then as chair, and then as past chair, with different duties for each job. The chair-elect is expected to attend leadership meetings at the annual TESOL convention the year he or she is elected and again the following year. The main duties as chair-elect are organizing the academic session panel for the annual TESOL convention and, in cooperation with the chair, organizing the discussion sessions. This involves inviting a variety of discussion leaders to supplement submitted proposals.

Elections will be held at the annual business meeting at the 38th Annual TESOL Convention in Long Beach, California, in the United States. Candidates should expect to attend the business meeting. A 2-year commitment is expected. If you are interested, have some expertise or experience, and have time to devote to contributing to TESOL, please contact past chair Virginia LoCastro ( or chair Steven McCafferty (

About This Member Community Applied Linguistic Interest Section (ALIS)

Applied Linguistics explores language learning and communication. Members apply research and theory to real world contexts through discussion, information exchange, and joint research.

ALIS Leaders, 2003-2004

Chair: Steven G. McCafferty,
Chair-Elect: David A. Olsher,
Past Chair: Virginia LoCastro,
Newsletter Co-editor: Isaiah WonHo Yoo,
Newsletter Co-editor: Stefan Frazier,
Webmaster: Ruth A. Becke,

Discussion E-List: Visit to sign up for ALIS-L, the discussion list for members of this community, or visit if already a subscriber.