HEIS News

Volume 1:1 Reviews (May 2007)

by User Not Found | 10/20/2011

In This Issue...

  • Reviews
    • From the Book Reviews Editor
    • Book Review: Practical Teaching Strategies for Oral Communication
    • Book Review: A Truly Essential Tool for Writing Teachers
    • Book Review:Sharpening Skills Through Values Discussions
    • Series Review: A New Take on the “Form, Meaning, Use” Distinction
    • Book Review: Writing for Academic Success
    • Book Review: Another Look at Academic Vocabulary

Reviews

From the Book Reviews Editor

Gena Bennett genabennett@yahoo.com

Welcome to first special Reviews issue of the HEIS Newsletter!  Along with informative reviews in each regularly published HEIS Newsletter, we are now offering a newsletter filled exclusively with reviews of classroom texts as well as professional development materials relating to higher education.  With so many great publications available for ESL/EFL professionals and students, we hope the Reviews editions of the newsletter will help make your jobs as program directors, instructors, and members of our profession easier.

In This Issue
This issue contains reviews of two professional development books to further our knowledge of teaching language skills, along with four textbooks for lower and intermediate levels, as well as grammar, speaking, and writing.

Meredith Bricker discusses how Essentials of Teaching Academic Oral Communication efficiently and effectively offers any oral communication ESL teacher valuable concepts that are both easy to digest and easy to implement in the academic oral communication classroom.  Angela Dadak shares howEssentials of Teaching Academic Writing is, indeed, essential, for instructors who would like to experience the same level of success in teaching that they aim to inspire in their students' writing.

Craig Machado explains that Speaking of Values is a well conceived and thoughtfully produced series which helps students sharpen their oral/aural productive and receptive skills by engaging them in values discussions.  Howard Williams concludes that the Grammar Sense series stimulates a global assessment of the 'form, meaning, use' distinction in grammar pedagogy. Keri Mayes discusses how College Writing I offers an easily accessible, student-centered approach to teaching academic writing.  Lastly, Marti Sevier brings us more insights into teaching vocabulary, believing that learners will appreciate Essential Academic Vocabulary specifically for its use of "real" textbooks and wide variety of topics.

I thank these reviewers for their contributions to our community, and I hope the information and reviews here will help you feel more informed. There will be a regular issue of the newsletter in your inbox in August, so if you would like to submit a review, please contact me, or if you would like to submit an article, please contact Maria Parker (mgparker@duke.edu).  [Please note: the deadline for us to receive draft articles or reviews for possible inclusion in the August–September issue is June 30, 2007 for articles and May 30, 2007 for reviews.]  We also hope to have another special Reviews issue to you in November. 

Best Wishes,
Gena

 


Book Review: Practical Teaching Strategies for Oral Communication

Meredith H. Bricker, meredith.bricker@gmail.com

Murphy, J. M. (2006). Essentials of teaching academic oral communication. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

I read John Murphy's contribution to the Houghton Mifflin English for Academic Success series, Essentials of Teaching Academic Oral Communication, shortly before first using the corresponding Houghton Mifflin student textbook, College Oral Communication 3 (Delk, 2006). Although I had previously taught academic oral communication using other textbooks, Murphy's practical strategies for professional development and effective instruction for this type of course provided me with a firm footing on which to build my confidence in teaching oral communication in the EAP environment. Through concise yet thorough presentation of strategies and lesson suggestions, Murphy's book efficiently and effectively equips teachers with valuable concepts that are both easy to digest and easy to implement both in the classroom and in the general EAP environment.

Murphy presents his methodology for teaching oral communication by stressing "speaking-to-learn" and "listening-to-learn" activities. He defines these as speaking and listening activities that "college students need in order to participate interactively with professors and classmates while learning the challenging content featured in mainstream courses" (p. 20). The explicit definition of these terms and emphasis on them throughout the book remind teachers of the pedagogical reasons that students need academic oral communication courses. As stated in Ferris and Tagg (1996), it is important for EAP students to learn the skills needed to participate successfully in discussions with both fellow students and professors. Murphy's emphasis on speaking-to-learn and listening-to-learn helps teachers focus their attention on implementing the most effective and appropriate procedures for achieving this goal.

By clarifying the focus for an academically based oral communication course, Murphy also encourages teachers to move beyond the more obvious oral communication tasks such as lecture note-taking and student presentation skills. He provides a solid rationale for other, less-traditional types of activities that are equally necessary for students' academic development. Sections such as "Teach Speaking-to-Learn Behaviors" (p. 55) and "Things Students Can Do" (p. 53) include suggestions for teaching students pragmatic language skills such as polite interruption and disagreement phrases, as well as behavior skills for developing a productive relationship with instructors and native English speaker classmates. These skills equip students with the tools needed to succeed in an American university setting. Thanks to Murphy's emphasis on these types of skills, I was encouraged to devote more class time to presenting pragmatic guidance in my own course, discussing professors' expectations and perceptions of students in a typical classroom. I found that students responded positively to these pragmatic activities and in general appreciated the importance of developing skills for communicating more effectively with native speakers.

Not surprisingly, the techniques and types of activities in Essentials for Teaching Oral Communication coordinate smoothly with College Oral Communication 3(Delk, 2006). Both books recommend the syllable-stress pattern originally created by Murphy (Murphy & Kandil, 2004), and they focus on similar language strategies and general principles of academic oral communication. However, on the basis of my experience using other academic oral communication texts, I can also see how this book would be an excellent companion for any oral communication text. While its strategies may correspond directly to the other books in the English for Academic Success series, the book's principles are self-contained enough that they can be easily integrated with and added to other academic oral communication curricula.

Furthermore, though Murphy's guidance is specific to the academic oral communication classroom, this book is also relevant to EAP instructors' needs beyond the boundaries of teaching oral skills. Murphy anchors the text in professional strategies and teaching methods that are relevant to all EAP courses and personal teacher development. In part one, "Starting Off Right," Murphy focuses on internal and external preparation for teaching, including questions for self-reflection and techniques for developing as a professional within the setting of a particular university environment. Tips such as researching the specific course objectives of the university's EAP program are included alongside perhaps less obvious but equally important concepts such as the following: "It is fine to ask questions of administrative assistants and colleagues, but some answers may be found in policies and procedures materials. You do not want to give an initial impression of being a pest" (p. 7). At the end of the book, Murphy also presents classroom research suggestions and a reference list of 44 sources to help teachers easily further their study of oral communication and pedagogy in general. This type of preparatory information can help instructors become more successful in any setting and is a helpful guide for new teachers seeking to make good impressions on students and colleagues.

In the life of a busy teacher, Essentials for Teaching Academic Oral Communication is valuable for several reasons. Its easily digestible length is a feasible read in the hectic days before beginning a new course, and its thoroughness is evident not only in the content of its pages but also in the plethora of additional information available for further research on the Houghton Mifflin Web site (www.college.hmco.com/esl/instructors). Overall, its direct approach truly captures in manageable form the pedagogical fundamentals necessary for effectively teaching academic oral communication.

References

Delk, C. (2006). College Oral Communication 3. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Ferris, D., & Tagg, T. (1996). Academic oral communication needs of EAP learners: What subject-matter instructors actually require. TESOL Quarterly, 30(1), 31-58.

Murphy, J. M., & Kandil, M. (2004). Word-level stress patterns in the academic word list. System: An International Journal of Educational Technology and Applied Linguistics, 32(1), 61-74.

Meredith Bricker is a visiting instructor in the Intensive English Program at Georgia State University. In addition to oral communication, her research interests include second language writing and classroom applications of corpus linguistics.


Book Review: A Truly Essential Tool for Writing Teachers

Angela Dadak, adadak@american.edu

Reid, J. (2006). Essentials of teaching academic writing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Consider the following two scenarios:

A graduate with a brand-new MATESOL degree, head filled with swirling theories and practical ideas, gets ready to face his or her first writing class of intermediate-level students. "Hmmm, I could have used that 'teaching of writing' class that I didn't take."

An experienced ESOL instructor who has worked with international students for years, helping them acquire the listening and speaking skills they need to participate in U.S. class discussions, has an opportunity to change focus and teach a writing class with a mix of international and U.S. resident multilingual writers.

In either case, the instructor could use a resource to guide him or her through key ideas and important decisions needed to design and teach the writing class. Preferably, this work would include a mix of theories and specific practices and be accompanied by example texts at a variety of levels.

Intended for both new teachers and teachers new to writing, Essentials of Teaching Academic Writing by Joy M. Reid is that work. Reid aptly handles the Herculean task of addressing a wide audience and an immense topic in a small volume by introducing a variety of philosophical and practical questions to consider (e.g., "What role(s) can/should teachers play in the response process?" "Are there overhead projectors in the classroom?") and specific activities to implement (e.g., detailed process for marking and addressing revision). References throughout the book help expand its scope by providing direction to more information on each topic.

The volume takes the teacher/reader chronologically through a writing course. The book's 13 chapters are organized into four parts. The first part, "Before the first class meeting," begins with a chapter on analyzing particular EAP programs: what questions to ask about resources, how to examine a program's assumptions from previous syllabi and textbooks, what further resources are available, and so on. In chapter two, Reid introduces the reader to the types of students who typically find themselves in EAP writing courses. She begins with an overview of international students—"eye learners"—and U.S. resident students—"ear learners" (Reid, 1998). In chapters 3 and four she focuses on the resident learners "[b]ecause teachers of ear learners have fewer resources" (Reid, 2006, p. 4).

The four chapters in part two concentrate on "Possibilities for the First Two Weeks of Class." Moving from background information about students and programs into the course itself, chapters 5 through 8 cover a wide range of topics, from the importance of having lesson plans to the social-cognitive approach to writing, and include sections on diagnostic writing, revisions, and possible themes for the course. Part three turns to "Classroom Methods and Activities" with chapters on working with essay maps and summaries, designing assignments, and teaching research strategies—including of course, concepts of academic integrity and using the Internet for research. Several of the activities in this part of the book have examples and samples aimed at a variety of proficiency levels.

Part four addresses feedback and evaluation of student writing. Reid outlines instructor-, peer-, and self-directed forms of feedback in chapter 12, and then takes the instructor through preparation-to-respond, response, and assessment stages. The book concludes with a chapter about the place of grammar in the composition classroom. Reid clearly describes how the extent to which grammar should be taught is based on a host of factors, such as the language proficiency of the students, their educational background, and their learning styles and strategies. Reid argues strongly that any grammar in an EAP writing course needs to be contextualized and specifically identified for the academic reading and writing the students are doing for each particular assignment. She then briefly explains and outlines how to use discourse analysis to select and prioritize grammar structures for the class.

Essentials of Teaching Academic Writing is one of the four "teacher reference books" that accompany Houghton Mifflin's English for Academic Success (EAS) series. The 20 books in the EAS series are divided into four skills (oral communication, reading, vocabulary, and writing) over four levels (low intermediate through advanced), and four Essentials of . . . teacher references complete the set. Though Essentials of Teaching Academic Writing fits neatly into the EAS system, it also functions well as a stand-alone reference.

In keeping with its purpose as a reference text, the book's layout is user-friendly and easily scanned, with numerous lists, outlines, charts, brief writing samples with annotations, and references for further information. One of the useful types of lists scattered throughout the book is "assumptions about . . . ." Introduced toward the beginning of several chapters, these lists set the stage for working with multilingual writers in an informed and positive manner. For example, in the second chapter, "Assumptions about EAP Writing Students" begins with "The writers have good intentions" (p. 17). "Assumptions about Students, Academic Research, and Citation" contains the line "Students know they do not know enough about citation and referencing" (p. 85). In the midst of a course, it is possible to lose sight of these ideas, and the explicit reminders can positively refocus teaching efforts.

Throughout Essentials of Teaching Academic Writing are references to the companion Web site for further examples (note: a password is necessary to access the site). Most valuably, the endnotes for the chapters lead to a plethora of further readings that could be found in any graduate "Teaching ESL Composition" course.

Joy Reid brings her decades of work in teaching, teacher education, and textbook publication to each page. She has truly essentialized this breadth and depth of experience for newcomers to the field so that they may experience the same level of success in teaching that they aim to inspire in their students' writing.

References
Reid, J. M. (1998). "Eye" learners and "ear" learners: Identifying the language needs of international students and U.S. resident writers. In J. Reid & P. Byrd (Eds.), Grammar in the composition classroom (pp. 3-17). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Angela Dadak has taught academic English writing for international students on both coasts of the United States and currently advises multilingual writers and their mainstream composition instructors at American University in Washington, DC. 


Book Review:Sharpening Skills Through Values Discussions

Craig Machado, CMachado@ncc.commnet.edu

Schoenberg, I. E. (2004). Speaking of values, Vol. 1:  New York:  Pearson Longman.
Mills, R. (2006). Speaking of values, Vol. 2:  New York:  Pearson Longman.

In my advanced ESL writing workshop course this semester—just one step away from English composition—not only is there a range of writing ability among students, but there is also marked diversity in terms of speaking. One student still cannot distinguish between the vowel sounds in paint versuspant; another stumbles through a paragraph from a weekly news magazine we are using for research essay material, garbling some words while muffling others that he is not sure how to pronounce. Our writing-based ESL program has been successful, judging from the pass rate of former ESL students in English composition (higher than the all-college average); yet, some ESL and non-ESL instructors complain that some of their students still have serious pronunciation problems or cannot make themselves understood to them or other students.

Those ESL programs that focus on academic writing have done so to prepare their students for general college writing tasks, and unless they offer an intensive curriculum covering listening and speaking skills in separate courses, their students will most likely have to master these somehow on their own. Our success in preparing students to read and write well enough to pursue degrees or other professional preparation is tempered by the realization that some students are, nonetheless, weak in listening comprehension and struggle to correctly pronounce words such as the pair mentioned above.

In the preface to volume I of Speaking of Values, the author, Irene Schoenberg, addresses the issue this way: "There has been an increased emphasis on listening comprehension skills, not just as an aid to better speaking but also as a way of understanding language that is more complex than the language a student can produce."

Likewise, in volume II, author Robin Mills states: "The difference between weaker and stronger students, after the basic level, is often a difference of lexical ability. Stronger students appear more fluent because they have a greater variety of phrases at the tips of their tongues."

Thus, the purpose of the Speaking of Values series is to help students sharpen their oral/aural productive and receptive skills by engaging them in values discussions through self-contained units such as "Good Neighbors," "Borrowing and Lending," "Pets," and "Money." These topics, from the first intermediate-level text, are contrasted with more complex and sophisticated ones in the second volume, including "Is Your Privacy Really Private?" "How Important Are Family Ties?" and "A Good Place to Work."

Each unit in the two-volume series conforms to the following activity sequence: "Think About the Topic," "Talking About Your Experience," "Problem Solving," "From the News," "Act It Out," and "Beyond the Classroom." Major differences between volumes I and II deal mostly with the difficulty of the reading selections, vocabulary and idioms, and lexical items such as word forms. Each unit contains two major listening components: one, a conversation based on the unit's theme (and some follow-up comprehension questions); two, recordings of the problem-solving activities (i.e., students read and listen to a recorded text). Volume I also provides some recorded pronunciation activities and recorded readings of the "news" articles that have been simplified for the level. The volume II "news" articles, on the other hand, are unedited and unrecorded (sources for each volume are listed at the beginning under "Text Credits").

What I find appealing about this series is the problem-solving core of each unit and the use of believable ethical dilemmas that people face daily. For example, in the second volume, the first unit, "Is Your Privacy Really Private?" presents issues related to the selling of personal information for marketing purposes, the use of surveillance cameras to catch employees who lie about taking a sick day to go to a shopping mall, and the right of employers to monitor their employees' personal use of workplace computers. Students are asked to respond to possible solutions to each of these scenarios (provided by the text) or to come up with their own. Furthermore, they can enter into a discussion of what constitutes privacy across cultures and how cultural differences may lead to very different notions of what is morally right and wrong.

Another worthwhile aspect of the series is the inclusion of sayings and proverbs that often crystallize what societies value or find problematic. In the same chapter on privacy there are quotes from famous American movie stars such as Judy Garland, Marlon Brando, and Marilyn Monroe, which lead to discussion about what parts of a person's life should be considered private versus what the public wants to know about its celebrities. This discussion could prompt students to talk about famous people from their own cultures and the public/private boundaries there that may be different from those in America.

Either of the Speaking of Values texts can be used as solo coursebooks in classes devoted to listening and speaking and could, conceivably, take up a semester-long segment (texts are composed of 12 units each); in shorter courses the instructor could choose those units of greatest interest as there is no progression based on difficulty or mastery of past material. The texts might also be used in conjunction with a pronunciation text and/or course to provide content for more significant discussion and language development beyond structured drills and repetition. They would have less currency as self-study texts because their main goal is to use listening activities in group discussion and problem solving. However, Speaking of Values could be an added component to courses in a writing-based program to help students with weaker listening and speaking skills gain more confidence in academic discourse.

Though the quality of the audio CD recordings is quite good (students can buy the text with a companion audio CD), the conversations are staged, not based on authentic sources such as interviews with real people (contrast this with the Consider the Issues and Face the Issues texts by Carol Numrich, which incorporate news interviews from National Public Radio). This is a minor critique of an otherwise well-conceived and thoughtfully produced series.

Craig Machado is ESL program director at Norwalk Community College. In 2005, the program was honored by the National Council of Teachers of English for outstanding work in the area of developmental English.

 


Series Review: A New Take on the “Form, Meaning, Use” Distinction

Howard Williams, howwil@aol.com

Pavlik, C. (2003). Grammar sense (Vols. I & II). New York: Oxford.
Bland, S. K. (2003). Grammar sense (Vol. III). New York: Oxford.

The movement toward contextualization in grammar instruction came as the field of language teaching rejected the "mechanical" activities in audiolingualism and other approaches as misguided, if not counterproductive. There were many interrelated arguments: Learning is more than the result of repetition and imitation; the process of L2 learning matches that of L1 learning more than was previously imagined; much L2 learning does happen naturalistically; learners get more out of exercises couched in subject matter that is of inherent interest to them; and so on. This change in thinking eventually led to a myriad of ESL/FL materials that emphasized "contextualization" as their strong point. Is there anyone who thinks the language teaching field is not much better off as a result?

It has recently become common in grammar materials writing at least to pay lip service to a dimension of contextualization that is encapsulated in the three-part distinction of "form, meaning, and use" (FMU), whose most vocal proponent has been Diane Larsen-Freeman (Larsen-Freeman, 1991; Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, 1999). Though the distinctions can sound oversimplified from the point of view of a theoretical linguist, it is easy to grasp thegeneral point of FMU and hard to dismiss it. FMU is inspired by a look at pedagogical grammar materials that are sometimes thought to treat grammar as "form" alone. In fact, so far as these materials have students read, hear, and invent accurate and comprehensible sentences using whatever structures are being focused on, we can say that actual coverage is on both form and meaning; what typically suffers is the dimension of use, where "focus on use" roughly means attention to the ways in which particular grammatical phenomena are closely associated in discourse with specific discourse purposes. Often the distinction comes into focus best where speakers/writers are faced with a choice between two clear-cut structures that would express the same semantic meaning but have different pragmatic effects. Thus the required coupling of the modal can with a plain verb stem have is purely an issue of form; the semantic mapping of can have onto a real-world reading (roughly, "able to possess" is about meaning; the fact that can I have is most often framed as a request, and the fact that it is perceived as less polite than could I have, are issues of use.

To approach grammar from a FMU point of view is, then, to contextualize it in a way that should lead to more naturalistic production down the road. The latest series to make use of the distinction in a wholesale way is Grammar Sense (GS). GS consists of three leveled volumes, with heavily overlapping topic units, that roughly match those of the Azar series and of Elbaum's Grammar in Context in terms of targeted skill levels. Each volume is composed of readings, explanations, practice exercises, and opportunities for creativity with structures; there is a nice balance of pair-work, whole-group, and individual activities, with enough of each that teachers and students have some freedom to choose from among them; and chapters show a fair balance of oral, aural, and written tasks and include fieldwork activities as well (e.g., "go out and find 4 examples of structure X . . ."). As with other leading grammar series, a great deal of attention is paid to verb tense/aspect/modality in the first book, while each successive volume integrates a useful review that does not presume familiarity with any earlier volume; at the same time, GS elaborates issues of use from level to level. Though nothing much is made of the common time-line diagrams found in Azar or Elbaum, more space is devoted to explanations, comparative examples, and instruction-related drawings of generally high quality and clarity; for example, a series of pictures illustrate use of past progressive in volume I (p. 214). Each volume includes a CD that provides students with the additional benefit of being able to hear sentences pronounced; this may be of special benefit where various kinds of suffixes that might be cognitively marginalized when exposure is limited to readings alone are given an aural focus. The feature may also help to make the series useful in semi-independent learning-lab-type classrooms, where direct input from teachers and classmates may be limited. The series ends the main part of each chapter with review exercises that attempt to integrate everything in the chapter and can serve as self- or other assessments.

Chapter sequencing in the three volumes is not greatly different from that of other comparable series. Volume I begins with the verb be and moves on to imperatives; nouns; adjectives and pronouns; present tense; past tense; articles, quantity expressions, and there is/there are; more quantity expressions; expressing future time; modals; can/could; objects, infinitives, and gerunds; and comparatives and superlatives. The volume II chapters are on past; present; future; modals; using modals in speech acts; tag questions "and other additions" such as both/and and either/or; nouns, quantity expressions, and articles; indefinite and definite articles; adjectives and adverbs; comparatives and superlatives; gerunds; infinitives; and phrasal verbs. The sequence in volume III is present; past; future; present perfect; present perfect continuous; past perfect; modals of possibility; past modals; passive (two chapters), gerunds, and infinitives; indefinite and definite articles; relative clauses (two chapters); conditionals and wishes (two chapters); noun clauses; and reported speech. Volume I, incidentally, will not work well for complete beginners because of the complexity of language used.

FMU plays out in interesting ways in chapter structuring. Chapters begin with published readings (with vocabulary endnotes) that in general look accessible and engaging. A "Form" section follows that integrates explanation, often including paradigms or other charts, with examples and exercises. Next is a "Meaning and Use" section that returns to explanation using example sentences and is followed by exercises; the review section follows. Interspersed among these sections and following the review are additional features including "Beyond the Sentence," in which structures are modeled in stretches of longer written discourse. One recurrent sidebar feature is "Informally Speaking," where grammar interfaces with fast/reduced speech phenomena: We read about gonna in volume I (p. 271); oughtahasta, and gotta in volume II (p. 207); and deletion of the first auxiliary in You been here long? in volume III (p. 108). A possible complication with some of these is the appearance of International Phonetic Alphabet script.

It is worth examining in some detail how GS deals with a single structure in ways different from other well-known series. Here, the comparison made is to the third volume of Elbaum's Grammar in Context (GIC) (3rd ed., 2001). One key area in which early texts neglected the use dimension is passive voice. While GIC covers passives in both volumes II and III, GS gets around to them only halfway through the last volume, spreading the treatment over two adjacent chapters and ultimately devoting about the same amount of space to the topic as the advanced GIC book does.

Both books present the formal aspects of passive voice quite well in chart form with notes (though GS never goes beyond main-clause passives, which means no modeling of sentences like She likes being given compliments, nor is the topic ever reprised later in the book); both cover standard cases where passivization is rare or impossible. GS might get the edge in its looping/layered approach, in which simple and continuous passives are presented in the first passive chapter and then, after issues of use are tackled and some practice activities done, future/perfect/modal forms are presented in the next chapter and put to use in new activities; in the process, there is a certain amount of elaborated repetition of prior explanations. This cyclic organization seems more cognitively digestible than the usual linear block-type approach to presenting a formal structure; the effect is certainly less monotonous. GS and GIC both address why one might choose to use the passive voice (i.e., why one might want to demote an agent and/or promote the receiver), though GS goes further by including an audio segment describing a research project (in which passive is the norm and agents are typically suppressed). While both books address whether to include agent by-phrases or drop them entirely, and while both provide exercises focusing on just that point, GS again takes the lead in the second part of the chapter, where learners are actually brought to the task of making these choices themselves based on context of utterance (p. 219). True, this may make the choice of "correct vs. incorrect" responses more murky for teachers-after all, people may reasonably select different relevant contextual factors in making these decisions—but isn't the ultimate goal to get students to apply both formal and functional guidelines and to grasp that structural choices are often not as clear—cut as the forms themselves are?

Passivization can be a means of promoting thematic continuity (Thompson, 1987). In a sequence such as Smith began working at the company in 1988; he was promoted to vice-president in 2002, passive is preferred to active in the second clause because Smith is the discourse topic; the active counterpart sounds disjointed by comparison. Seasoned native writers may key into flow-of-discourse principles intuitively without reflecting on the "how," but neither ESL grammar texts (including GIC) nor mainstream style manuals (which may still disdain passivization in general) have found a place for this subtle but important observation about discourse flow. GS gets to the point toward the end of the first passive chapter (starting on p. 206), inducing learners to make active/passive choices on their own based on the discourse provided to that point; learners then are asked to apply the principle in cued free-written paragraphs. At the end of the second chapter (starting on p. 221), the problem of identifying linguistic register is integrated into a listening exercise; even newspaper headlines with truncated passives get some attention.

Overall, then, the range of contextualization types in the GS passive chapters is impressive. Given that the GIC chapter is of approximately the same length, it is worth asking what is lost in the bargain. The biggest loss is the lack of attention to a form/meaning issue, the issue of -ing versus -edparticiples used as adjectives, which can encompass either an active/passive or an ongoing/completed distinction. For many learners, making the systematic distinction between, for example, an interesting versus interested person is notoriously difficult and worthy of prolonged focus. While Elbaum's book devotes no less than eight pages (pp. 97-105) to the topic, GS pays no attention to it in this or (so far as I have been able to determine) in any other chapter. Elbaum also covers the distinction between dynamic and stative passives (101f), while GS conflates the two types in example sentences. Finally, though GIC does not offer quite the range of written exercises, there are more overall, and they are generally longer; some learners will benefit from the extra practice.

The basic inspiration of an FMU approach derives from the failure of past pedagogical approaches to enlighten students about the uses of the structures they were studying. In the case of passives, the prevailing idea is that students should not learn the structures as a syntactic transformation of active voice without addressing thematicity as well. Likewise it does not serve learners well to teach the form of it-cleft sentences (It was my friend who wanted the car) without mentioning their implicating role (i.e., it was not someone else who wanted the car). These cases are straightforward; one can argue that the genesis and maintenance of such structural alternatives in language are related to certain recurrent discourse needs. At the same time, it does not follow that FMU is necessarily the best pedagogical approach for every identifiable "structure," however defined.

First, it can be questioned just how far FMU can usefully act as an organizational principle that rigidly guides the organization of topics. Where the topic is "passive versus active" or "clefts versus regular subject-verb-object declaratives," the value of FMU seems clear enough. On the other hand, to highlight the functions of copulas or of wh- (as opposed to yes-no) questions seems of questionable utility to an ESL student—perhaps as much as it would be to mainstream writing students using the St. Martin's Guide. While some languages may not have a syntactic passive voice construction, and while languages that do have one may put it to somewhat different uses than English does, the same can hardly be said about the information function of wh- questions (Vol. I, p. 33) or the warning function of imperatives (Vol. 1, p. 49). Thus, an exercise that asks learners to discuss why someone might use an imperative in the sentence Turn right on Grand Ave seems rather pointless. (At the same time, more vital functional information is sometimes missed—such as the fact that including you in an imperative can come across as rude or condescending [Vol. 1, p. 50]).

The second problem is empirical: The recent move toward FMU may tend to lead toward the dogma of a one-to-one (even a one-to-many) correspondence between structure and function such that we come to expect a characteristic structure-function pairing in any given case. While well-researched grammar-function interfaces do exist, some of the quasi-connections made in GS are more happenstance and tenuous, which creates the potential to mislead. It is true that one can use present progressives in the act of complaining (Vol. 3, p. 16), but it would be a mistake to somehow associate this tense/aspect combination with complaints in the same way that passive is associated with thematicity. The choice of progressive is often held to lend vividness to a description; because vividness involves heightened emotional states and that complaining is related to one such state, it would make sense to find out that progressives are statistically more frequent than usual in the context of complaining. But this is not quite the same as to say that a characteristic "function of progressives" is to express complaints—certainly not as long as progressives could be plausibly employed in expressing just the opposite (e.g., We're really impressed at the way you're always helping us out in the office). Likewise, a person can "mak[e] critical remarks with stative verbs" (exercise heading in Vol. III, p. 19), but then too, one can make critical remarks with activity verbs or punctual verbs as well. In short, students grasping for regularities from the data may be induced to take some of these connections in the wrong way; clarification in the text, if not overly time-consuming, might be a solution.

The worry, then, is that FMU, though well motivated and valuable in making important connections for language use that were not made previously, may be led in a direction similar to the notional-functional syllabus, which had enormous appeal until it became clear that not everything important about language learning could be usefully cast in terms of notions and functions. Still, to the extent that this is a global drawback of the GS series, it is hardly an overwhelming one. Considered as a whole, GS should sit well alongside existing similar volumes; with its innovations, learner-friendly presentation, and attention to real-world language and skill integration, there is a great deal to recommend in the series.

References

Elbaum, S. (2001). Grammar in context (Vols. 1-3, 3rd ed). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Larsen-Freeman, D. (1991). Teaching grammar. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as second or foreign language. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Larsen-Freeman, D., & Celce-Murcia, M. (1999). The grammar book: An ESL/EFL teacher's course. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Thompson, S. (1987). "The Passive in English: A Discourse Perspective." In R. Channon & L. Shocky (Eds.), In honor of Ilse Lehiste. Dordrecht: Foris.

Howard Williams is a lecturer in the TESOL/Applied Linguistics Programs, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York.

 

 


Book Review: Writing for Academic Success

Keri L. Mayes, kerimayes@gmail.com

Walsh, K. E.(2006). College writing I. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Because of the growing number of nonnative-English-speaking students enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities, instructors need textbooks and instructional materials geared toward meeting the needs of these diverse students. On the basis of extensive research and in response to the expressed desires of ESL students and their instructors, Houghton Mifflin has created a program of materials for ESL students at four different levels—low intermediate, intermediate, high intermediate, and advanced—in four language proficiency areas: oral communication, reading, writing, and vocabulary. The English for Academic Success series builds on students' present levels of knowledge and scaffolds the skills they acquire as they progress through the material. A closer look at the organization and content of College Writing I, the first in the four-level series on writing, by Karen E. Walsh, reveals a user-friendly, student-centered approach to teaching academic writing with the express purpose of developing basic writing skills and preparing ESL students for future college study.

Aimed at low-intermediate nonnative-English-speaking students new to U.S. academic culture, College Writing I seeks to demystify both the U.S. college experience and academic writing by incorporating content relevant to these students and presenting information in a clear and easily accessible fashion. The academic content of the chapters is derived from the disciplinary fields of the social sciences, education, business, and computer science and is especially relevant to students who will be taking courses in these disciplines. The author also includes actual college writing assignments students may encounter in future courses. For example, in chapter four, students are introduced to the case study and asked to analyze and respond to the case of a couple with financial problems. In this group assignment, students must decide how to help the couple improve their financial situation, create a new budget for them, and write a paragraph in which they offer advice to the couple. This writing assignment presents several tasks students will likely have to do in future business courses. Other assignments are similarly applicable to other types of courses.

College Writing I consists of five chapters, approximately 40 to 60 pages each, filled with an assortment of exercises and writing tasks for students with different learning styles and interests. The chapters are rather lengthy because the textbook also serves as a workbook and provides ample space for students to do activities in the book. Also, appealing and helpful visuals such as charts, graphics, and model essays comprise the bulk of the chapters' content. Teachers may not be able to complete the entire book in a semester-long course because of the sizable number of activities and assignments; however, because every writing assignment has its own writing and grammar skills sets and vocabulary, teachers can choose those tasks most relevant to their students' needs.

At the beginning of each chapter are three to five academic writing objectives that commence in chapter one with instruction on how to write complete sentences and conclude in chapter five with three approaches to organizing paragraphs. Following the objectives is an informational grid listing the content, purpose, writing skills, grammar, graphic organizers, and vocabulary to be discussed in the chapter. Also, in every chapter, two to six writing assignments address an interest or concern pertinent to the student, including taking tests, evaluating learning styles, setting goals, and sending e-mails to instructors. Each writing task builds on the skills learned throughout the chapter, and authentic models of student writing are included. Each chapter concludes with additional writing topics for practice and assessment as well as a reflection of the chapter. Also, an appendix corresponds to each chapter and includes charts for recording new vocabulary, self-assessment and peer review tools, surveys, and goal-planning worksheets.

In addition to the wide variety of exercises and activities, each chapter includes special sections such as "Master Student Tips," which offer writing strategies and advice; "Power Grammar," which introduces students to grammatical structures fundamental to successful academic writing; "Web Power," which presents links to additional exercises on the Internet; and "Spotlight on Writing Skills," which provides important information about different components of academic writing.

Houghton Mifflin also offers ancillary materials such as workbooks, instructor and student Web sites, the Houghton Mifflin English for Academic Success series of vocabulary books, and Joy M. Reid's Essentials of Teaching Academic Writing (editor's note: Reid's book is reviewed elsewhere in this newsletter). They provide supplemental activities and exercises for teaching and learning basic writing skills.

Overall, College Writing I is an ideal text for a semester-long course introducing low-intermediate ESL students to academic English writing. From its use of interesting writing topics that address fundamental aspects of U.S. academic culture to its clearly organized and easily accessible content composed of lists, charts, and graphic organizers, this textbook offers a wonderful starting point for initiating ESL students into academic writing and the writing process. More important, College Writing I empowers students by respecting and building on their present levels of knowledge. By incorporating activities for students with different learning styles and strategies, it helps ESL students begin to learn the language skills and rhetoric they need in order to write successfully in U.S. college courses. Perhaps the primary drawback of College Writing I is that it is almost too simplistic in its discussion of the writing process. Its checklists and exercises fail to account for the discursive nature of the writing process and may erroneously suggest that it is nothing more than a series of steps to be followed—but we know that the writing process is not so clear cut. All in all, though, College Writing I provides a refreshingly straightforward approach to teaching academic writing by using content relevant to ESL writers new to the U.S. college experience.

Keri L. Mayes is a doctoral student at Middle Tennessee State University. Her research interests are the interactions between literature and second language writing. 


Book Review: Another Look at Academic Vocabulary

Marti Sevier, msevier@sfu.ca

Huntley, H. (2006). Essential academic vocabulary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Colleges and universities are teeming with vocabulary books these days. Like Schmitt and Schmitt's Focus on Vocabulary (reviewed in HEIS News 25:1), Helen Huntley's Essential Academic Vocabulary utilizes Averil Coxhead's (2000) Academic Word List (AWL) as a basis for a wide range of vocabulary activities. Geared for both native speakers and ESL learners (though the weblinks, perhaps tellingly, contain ESL in their URLs), Essential Academic Vocabulary uses research on vocabulary cited in Schmitt and Schmitt's (1995) article, "Vocabulary Notebooks: Theoretical Underpinnings and Practical Suggestions."

This research comes from a variety of sources and perhaps because of this, seems at times to be going into opposite directions—for example, a recommendation that students use word pairs to increase learning efficiency seems to go against the advice that "the best way to remember new words is to incorporate them into language that is already known" (Huntley, 2006, p. vii). Also somewhat controversial is the information that "The deeper the mental processing used when learning a word, the more likely that a student will remember it" (Huntley, 2006, p. vii). Concerns related to this point are summarized in Hulstijn and Laufer (2001), who proposed the involvement load hypothesis as an alternative; they found that exercises that require learners to retrieve vocabulary in writing compositions resulted in greater retention of words learned than did either simply reading or doing a gapfill exercise. This is because writing requires greater involvement—a combination of need, search, and evaluation of suitable vocabulary. Folse (2006) went a step further, having determined that repeated exposure is a stronger factor than is involvement load in promoting retention of words learned. 

Huntley has taken great care to cover her theoretical bases with a wide range of practical and appealing tasks: The variety of activities in Essential Academic Vocabulary and the methodical recycling of material ensure that both involvement and repetition will assist in the learning and retention of new words. The book is organized into 20 chapters (every fifth chapter is a review chapter), with appendices on topics related to vocabulary learning, including suggestions on the use of dictionaries, vocabulary notebooks and vocabulary cards, paraphrasing, and summarizing. The text also offers web support in the form of an online instructor guide, review tests and keys, answer keys to the exercises, and a sample syllabus. Links to other vocabulary resources are also given. Unfortunately, access to the Web sites for both learners and instructors requires a few clicks beyond the URLs given in the book. For both the ESL learner and the time-stretched instructor, this makes visiting the Houghton Mifflin Web site more tedious than it ought to be. However, the effort required to find the Instructor's Guide alone is worthwhile because of its detail: Suggestions for methodology, ideas for oral work, and even vocabulary games are abundant, ensuring multiple exposures to the items covered.
Chapter readings are sequenced in order of the complexity and length (from approximately 300 words on "Learning Styles" in chapter one to over 1,000 words in chapter nineteen, "Information Science and Technology") of the academic texts on which they are based. Conveniently trawled from textbooks published by the mother ship, Houghton Mifflin, the texts are on topics that range from business to economics and linguistics, among others, to the "harder" science areas of environmental science and chemistry. 
Each chapter, which Huntley says is designed to take a week, begins with a list of 40 words from the AWL and preview questions on the reading. After reading, the learners move through a range of exercises, looking at vocabulary in context, comprehension, inference, dictionary skills, word forms, collocations, and word parts, and ending with writing and speaking activities. Although these aspects of vocabulary are consistently worked on in this order, the actual exercise types used vary from chapter to chapter. 
The instructor will be glad to see Huntley's exercises in writing and speaking because they offer learners the opportunity to retrieve vocabulary learned and use it in their own voices. The writing activities range from the structured, giving practice in a variety of genres including summaries, lab reports, formal speeches, and letters, all well-salted with vocabulary items from the chapter, to the less structured, which give practice in writing paragraphs using six to eight vocabulary words. Similarly, speaking activities move from formal presentations of different types to less formal role plays.
The review chapters, including the final cumulative review, are shorter, without the preliminary texts, and aim mainly to give repeated exposures of previously learned items through quick exercises such as matching, gap-fill, and "odd word out."    
Learners will find this book useful and relevant. They will appreciate the use of "real" textbooks, and the wide variety of topics means that all interests have a good chance of being accommodated. Essential Academic Vocabulary would, of course, work well as a vocabulary course but given the breadth of topic areas, a class set, i.e., a copy of the book for each student to use, would give useful supplementary material for an EAP course in reading or writing or speaking. Instructors will appreciate its ease of use and the scope of teaching possibilities it provides. 

References
Coxhead, A. (2000). A new Academic Word List. TESOL Quarterly, 34(2), 213-238.

Folse, K. (2006). The effect of type of written exercise on L2 vocabulary retention. TESOL Quarterly, 40(2), 273-293.

Hulstijn, J. H., & Laufer, B. (2001). Some empirical evidence for the involvement load hypothesis in vocabulary acquisition. Language Learning, 51(3), 539-558. Retrieved October 1, 2006, from Blackwell Synergy database.

Schmitt, N., & Schmitt, D. (1995). Vocabulary notebooks: theoretical underpinnings and practical suggestions. English Language Teaching Journal, 49(2), 133-143.

Marti Sevier teaches academic skills in the English Bridge Program at Simon Fraser University. She is a member of TESOL and BC TEAL.