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August 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 4

ISSN 1755-9715

Sociocultural Theory and the Pedagogical Imperative in L2 Education: Vygotskian Praxis and the Research/Practice Divide, reviewed by Ke Ma, Australia

Ke Ma is currently a Master of Applied Linguistics student in School of Culture and Language, the University of Queensland, Australia. As an advocate of explaining and exploring second language acquisition (SLA) from sociocultural theory (SCT) perspective, she wrote down this book review.


The prime goal of this volume is to bridge the problematic gap between second language acquisition (SLA) theory/research and second language (L2) instruction. Specifically, it takes a sociocultural viewpoint, which regards theory/research and practice as integrated, to explore ways that SLA research implications inform L2 pedagogy. The volume goes beyond previous works' discussion of sociocultural theory (SCT) foundations and pays more attention to the practical application of the current version of SCT, especially the extension of Galperin’s (1992) systemic-theoretical instruction (STI) and Luria’s (1961) dynamic assessment (DA) in classroom practice. The two authors Lantolf and Poehner, as key figures of applied linguistics, specialize in SCT and SLA and have published numerous works on these two areas. Therefore, the expected readers of this book comprise those who work in the realm of applied linguistics and Vygotskian psychology, with the latter is the origin of the SCT approach.  

By and large, the book, as its title suggests, intends to promote the value of SCT for pedagogical imperative in L2 education. After a preface briefly outlines the book, there are nine chapters in the book. The first three chapters, as the introductory part of the book as well as the discussion of SCT basis, are theoretically thick. To be specific, Chapter 1 discusses the theory/research-practice gap, some early proposed solutions for overcoming it and argues a correct understanding of the relationship between them. The two authors regard the new dialectical approach that many of their selected SCT-L2 research (mostly in Chapter 5 and 8) rely upon as the pedagogical imperative and end this starting chapter with an overview of core SCT concepts. Chapter 2 elaborates on Vygotsky’s materialist dialectical philosophy and his argument of praxis as the foundation of language development with concepts and examples. Also, through discussions of Vygotskian-relevant theories, this chapter initiates the discussion of SCT and psychological development, which is the topic of Chapter 3. Therefore, Chapter 3 exclusively centres on the significant role of the social environment for higher mental processing, that is, environment and individuals are connected in a dynamic dialectical way. It states that, in the case of L2 education, social mediation in class affects L2 development and this development helps to rebuild the learning environment.

Chapter 4, 5 and 6 concentrate on STI. Following the discussion of Chapter 3, Chapter 4 introduces the first education-developmental theory STI and ways of implementing it in L2 education. The concept of schema of a completing orienting basis (SCOBAs) and its foundation cognitive linguistic are also explored for detailing procedures in L2 classrooms. Chapter 5 presents three STI based experimental-developmental studies, with two of them focus on L2 French and Chinese education separately and one on STI and the phenomenon of sarcasm. Chapter 6 introduces another three STI-oriented research, but the teaching contexts change to L2 Spanish, Chinese and English classrooms. It is worth mentioning that the above two research-chapters, instead of entirely focusing on the six experiments themselves, also leave space for exploration of associated STI concepts. Chapter 7 and 8 analyse the zone of proximal development (ZPD) and its relevance with DA in L2 teaching contexts. From a theoretical perspective, Chapter 7 seeks further in-depth comprehension of ZPD and introduces mediated learning experience as a theoretical account of achieving DA. From a practical point of view, Chapter 8 explores DA for L2 development from several specific aspects, such as teaching contexts, target teaching forms, quality in L2 DA and further challenges. Chapter 9 relates SCT to teacher education and suggests that teachers training program should apply only one developmental theory, like SCT, to provide preservice teachers with an in-depth understanding of learner development.

The structure and content of the book are well-organized to achieve the purpose of linking SCT theory/research with L2 classroom pedagogies. In terms of content, the book starts with the gap itself in Chapter 1 and proposes that SCT could be an alternative in Chapter 2. Then, after a broad discussion of social environment in Chapter 3, all the following chapters focus on SCT and L2 education. The same clear logical order could also be identified for book structure. Broadly, the whole book can be divided into four parts, namely theoretical introduction (chapter 1, 2 and 3), STI (Chapter 4, 5, and 6), DA (Chapter 7 and 8) and recommendation (Chapter 9). It is this double guarantee ensures the attainment of the goal.

One noticeable shortcoming of this book may be the challenge for postgraduates and L2 teachers to read it. Accordingly, it might be failed to attract the interest of these two groups, though they are mentioned to be the target audience of the book. Nevertheless, the book maintains as an excellent work in its topic. Firstly, the presentation of all book chapters is precise and well managed, with each chapter has their subheadings to manifest the key points. Other prominent merits include the large number of concepts and examples in the book, the elaboration on each essential framework to support the no-gap position, the objective attitude to critiques, the discussion of the field dilemma. Moreover, although as an exploration and collection of SCT theory/research and L2 education, it goes beyond this limited scope by adding a solution for teacher education.

The most significant contribution of this book falls on its endeavour of enhancing the relevance of SCT theory/practice and L2 pedagogical practice. By studying the implications of STI and ZPD (also DA) in L2 teaching settings, this volume proves the value of SCT for developmental education. In detail, it introduces plenty of concepts and principles, while at the same time addresses some critiques of SCT in the broader field of SLA, especially Flucher’s (2010) numerous critiques on the nature and scope of SCT. In this manner, the book, as a whole, promotes SCT as a coherent theory of developments that regards theory/practice and practice have no gap exist, and researchers and teachers are not fundamentally different.

To end this review, I would like to reflect on my work with it. The most significant acquisition was a comprehensive understanding of DA through Chapter 8, which provided me with numerous examples of studies based on it. Chapter 2 extended my knowledge of Vygotsky’s theory by introducing theories ground it and derive from it. Also, although I previously knew STI as concept-based instruction, this book introduced SCOBAs to me for the first time. The last chapter impressed me with its very innovate suggestion for teacher training.



Galperin, P. I. (1992). Stage-by-stage formation as a method of psychological investigation. Journal of Russian & East European Psychology, 30(4), 60-80.

Fulcher, G. (2010). Practical language testing. London, England: Hodder Education.

Lantolf, J. P., & Poehner, M. E. (2014). Sociocultural theory and the pedagogical imperative in L2 education: Vygotskian praxis and the research/practice divide. New York, NY: Routledge.

Luria, A. R. (1961). Study of the abnormal child. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 31, 1-16.


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