Meaningful Action: Earl Stevick’s influence on language teaching
Edited by Jane Arnold and Tim Murphey
Cambridge University Press 2013

This book was published in May 2013, just before Earl Stevick’s death in August. It is a celebration of a great educator and the profound influence he had on language teaching. Many successful teachers and teacher trainers have found reading Stevick’s Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways a career-changing, if not a life-changing experience. Indeed, Scott Thornbury acknowledges on his popular blog that Stevick’s book marked a milestone in his own professional development. This tribute to Stevick includes contributions from 19 ELT authors and academics who have all been influenced in some way by his work.

The title, Meaningful Action, is a reference to Stevick’s exploration of how individual learners can engage with activities that appeal to their sensory and cognitive processes, resulting in the construction of meaning according to the learner’s own characteristics, together with their relationship with the teacher and other learners in the class. The book is divided into three parts, each of which explores a different aspect of meaningful action.

Part A (Meaning-making inside and between the people in the classroom ) looks at the intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects of learning, and includes chapters by Jane Arnold, Scott Thornbury, David Nunan, Herbert Puchta and Carolyn Kristjánsson. Kristjánsson, for example, demonstrates how support from teachers can aid the development of identity, agency and community among the students in a class, while Herbert Puchta looks at what ELT can learn from neuroscience and educational theory in general. 

Part B (Meaningful classroom activity) considers ways of moving classroom activity away from that which is unproductive towards that which will result in real learning. Contributors in this section are Zoltán Dörnyei, Penny Ur, Diane Larsen-Freeman, Tim Murphey and Alan Maley. 

In Part C (Frameworks for meaningful language learning), attention turns to the structures and conditions that support the language learning process. Here, there are chapters by Leo van Lier, Donald Freeman and Madeline Ehrman. 

The book ends, appropriately, with an Epilogue by Carolyn Kristjánsson which assesses the influence of Earl Stevick and his contribution to the field of ELT, and a series of tributes to him by those who found his work inspirational.  

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