Psychology for Language teachers: A Social Constructivist Approach

Marion Williams & Robert L. Burden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Pp. vii + 240.

Reviewed by Jaleh Hassaskhah
University of Guilan
Rasht, Iran

A major barrier to changing the learning environment can often be educators preconceived notions of how students should learn and how they should be taught. Accordingly, Williams and Burton s Psychology for Language Teachers: A Social Constructivist Approach, originally written in 1997 and now in its 8th printing, is written for language teachers, teacher trainers, head teachers, and inspectors interested in understanding the teaching/learning process well enough to improve it.
The first two chapters historically cover the different ways psychology has been applied to education, particularly with regard to pedagogy and its key elements: the learner, the teacher, the task, and the context. More specifically, chapter 1 opens the discussion on educational psychology by introducing behaviorism and cognitive psychology and chapter 2 explores humanism & social interactionism.
In chapters 3 and 4, the authors focus on teachers. They, in chapter 3, suggest that since all knowledge is instrumental and meaningless in isolation, learners need to know why they are required to act in particular ways. The authors further advise an inner exploration of oneself rather than a search for the outward characteristics of the perfect teacher. Then, in chapter 4, the authors move on to Mediation Theory to help teachers see what they can do to promote learning.
Chapters 5, 6, and 7 take a different perspective and deal with the aspects of learners. First, chapter 5 offers a discussion of the contribution of the individual student to the learning process, and, later, chapters 6 and 7 address the problems associated with the notion of individual differences and attempt to measure such differences.
Chapters 8 and 9 move to the issues of tasks and contexts. Here readers learn about topics such as tasks in the language classroom, different versions of a task-based syllabus, what is involved in a language learning task, and the cognitive processing approach.
Finally, chapter 10 summarizes the key points of the book by differentiating learning and education and highlighting the importance of such factors as the learners’ control of what they are learning, the teacher s role as mediator in the language classroom, the interface between teacher and learner, and the context in which the teaching/learning process occurs.
Despite the book’s many advantages,this work, like most texts, is not perfect and therefore leaves room for improvement in future editions. With regard to the writing itself, it seems that some parts were written without the necessary revision. For example, in the first paragraph on page 37 and the last paragraph on page 54, the authors begin their classification by stating first which creates an expectation of having a second and third , yet this is not fulfilled. Furthermore, contrary to the text s claim of universal readability, the book cannot be well understood without the reader having background knowledge of psychology. Thus, since the terms introduced are not operationally defined by the authors, different readers might come up with varying interpretations of the text.
Nevertheless, Psychology for Language Teachers: A Social Constructivist Approach is of significance to the field because it underscores the educator s role in preparing students to learn how to learn and enables teachers to critically reconstruct their practices.