Reviewed by Diego Pascual y Cabo, University of Florida
In this book, Kerwin Anthony Livingston proposes a teaching method better suited to students’ needs and conducive to improved second language acquisition that combines the task-based language teaching (TBLT) and cooperative language learning (CLL) approaches into a mixed methodological model (MMM).
TBLT considers language primarily a means of constructing meaning. To this end, students perform meaningful tasks in the target language, with stress on the outcome rather than on grammatical accuracy (Rod Ellis, Task-based language learning and teaching, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). CLL is based on effective interaction in the classroom through work in small groups (Carolyn Kessler, CooperativelLanguage learning: A teacher’s resource book, New York: Prentice Hall, 1992). In his study, L hypothesized that (i) this novel perspective on language teaching is an effective way of acquiring Spanish as a foreign language, and that (ii) students improve their Spanish language skills by focusing on a specific thematic task.
In a semilongitudinal study, L analyzed the performance of eighteen intermediate adult college students by means of quantitative differences in language proficiency on a pre- and a post-test. These tests were taken at the beginning and end of the study-abroad program at Concepción University in Chile. While in Chile, participants attended classes regularly in a totally immersive atmosphere. In class, the innovative methodology was implemented in a course entitled ‘Chilean customs and habits’. As suggested by the MMM, participants were given agentive roles in collaborative task-based activities. These activities consisted of structured exchanges of information among small groups of students who needed to cooperate in order to fulfill a group task. Under the MMM, the classroom became an interactive social context where students had the opportunity to improve their language skills.
The post-test results were very favorable indicators of the students’ improvement across the board. Student’s t-test applied to pre- and post-test results yielded statistically significant results, suggesting that the MMM is an effective educative tool that promotes communication and meaningful social interactions.
However, the lack of a control group leaves one unable to attribute the improvements to the methodology itself. Crucially, the importance of total immersion in the second language culture, including education in other classes and residence with a host family for four months, goes largely unnoted. In conclusion, it is clear that even though the results of applying the MMM accompanied a significant positive outcome in the students’ performance, there are important unresolved issues that prevent the reader from drawing any conclusion on the relative effectiveness of this approach.