Volume 2:1 Reviews (November 2008)

by User Not Found | 10/25/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • From the Book Reviews Editors
  • Reviews
    • Teaching CALL With Principles
    • Participating in the Technological Discussion
    • What You Should Know as an ESL Student: Questions into Opportunities
    • Grammar’s Role on the Writer’s Stage
    • Where English Meets History

Leadership Updates From the Book Reviews Editors

Maria Ammar mammar@frederick.edu and Linda Barro barrol@eastcentral.edu

Welcome to the special Reviews issue of the HEIS Newsletter!  Along with informative reviews in each regularly published HEIS Newsletter, we offer 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 CALL, along with three textbooks for levels basic to advanced, as well as grammar and listening.

Ana Wu discusses how Tips for Teaching CALL:  Practical Approaches to Computer-Assisted Language Learning can assist teachers in working effectively with CALL materials in the classroom.  She shares with us an overview of how CALL can be utilized to help learners in a variety of language skills.

Keeping the focus on technology, with her review of Technologies in the second language composition classroom, Linnea Spitzer outlines the text’s approach for the L2 writing environment, with stress on viewing these environments as individual literacies. A chapter-by-chapter breakdown is provided.

Shifting gears a bit, Megan M. Siczek outlines some of the questions answered and approaches discussed in What every ESL student should know.  She also offers suggestions and academic environments for which the book may be used.

Annie Greenhoe explains that Top 20:  Great grammar for great writing is useful in fulfilling the needs of students who just require a review of common grammar difficulties.  She writes about how she used Top 20 with her own students and how she found that it provided exercises that any teacher would find useful in teaching grammar.

Academic listening encounters: American studies is the last text reviewed in this issue.  Robyn Brinks Lockwood uses her classroom experience using the text to illustrate her points as she breaks down the units and philosophy of the authors.

We appreciate the efforts of our reviewers in making this issue possible.  Thanks also to the publishers for continuing to send us copies of texts to examine, scrutinize, and discuss, especially in this budget-strapped time. If you’re interested in writing a review for HEIS News, we’d love to hear from you.  Just send us an email (mammar@frederick.edu or barrol@eastcentral.edu).

Best wishes,
Maria Ammar & Linda Barro

Reviews Teaching CALL With Principles

Ana Wu, awu@ccsf.edu

Chapelle, C., & Jamieson, J. (2008). Tips for teaching CALL: Practical approaches to computer-assisted language learning. White Plains, NY. Pearson Education, Inc.

The use of technology in the classroom has greatly expanded in scope over the years. By going online, learners can see how language is used in different formats: blog, audio, video, song, image, and plain text. They can also develop language skills through CD-ROMs or software applications. As language teachers, we want to provide students with classroom opportunities to be engaged in meaningful collaborative tasks that are based on sound language teaching foundations. Because using computers is very much part of our lives, how can we use technological tools to support second language acquisition? This book was designed for teachers who need foundations when creating pedagogical activities using computers or choosing educational software for learning tasks.

The book starts with an introduction addressing the question “What Is CALL?” This pre-chapter gives a very brief review of English language pedagogies and offers a reason for using computers. It also explains why CALL is special and how it can effectively fit into the classroom.

Each of the book’s eight chapters introduces the reader to a different language skill—Vocabulary, Grammar, Reading, Writing, Listening, Speaking, Communication Skills, and Content-Based Language—with a summary of teaching principles, some tips and suggestions for teaching based on what researchers say, and some recommended Web sites and commercial software (see Table 1). Every reference comes with its URL address and description, targeted learner proficiency level, and authors’ notes. In the accompanying CD-ROM, readers may try simulations and watch interactive video clips and demonstrations of learners using the materials. Each chapter finishes with a chart listing focus questions to help instructors create effective activities and evaluate them critically.

Table 1. Organization of Text


Suggested number of materials* (Web sites or software)

Suggested number of materials* that are free



















Communication Skills



Content-Based Language



*Note: Some of the suggested materials were repeated in different categories.

In the conclusion, the “After Class” chapter, the authors describe the case of two students who, after being engaged in CALL activities, became autonomous learners, using technology as a resource. Finally, they discuss potential issues when using computers and reflect on possible solutions.

At the end of the book is a long bibliography list with over 100 references.

Some of the strengths of the book are that in each chapter the authors offer guidance in selecting appropriate materials for each skill, based on research and theory. Instructors can also learn how to provide opportunities for learners to interact with the computer, and effective ways to offer feedback or evaluate learners’ performance. With CALL activities and examples selected for each skill, instructors are encouraged to experiment with the materials.  Teachers can easily incorporate or adapt them into their unit context.

Another significant feature of the book is that for every specific skill, the authors, who are committed to conceived methodological approaches, explain why students need to develop learning strategies. The rationale is followed by practical, hands-on ideas for what teachers can do. As an instructor, I found this part especially noteworthy.

The visuals are another strong component. First, the screen shots come in good size and colors, with sufficiently clear print. Also, the CD-ROM is very user-friendly with simple and easy steps to follow.

My only criticism of this book is that I wanted to see more free materials, especially because it was written for EFL teachers (as well as ESL instructors). I noticed that 14 of the suggested references were from the Pearson Longman multimedia collection while many of the Web sites require a subscription.

I still do not hesitate in recommending Tips for Teaching With CALL. Novice, in-training, and experienced instructors will be inspired by the examples in this friendly reference book. As they review second language acquisition principles based on research, they can create more effective lesson plans using technology and selecting CALL materials that promote interaction between learners and computers.

Ana Wu, born and raised in Brazil, currently teaches ESL at City College of San Francisco. Find out more about her students and projects athttp://fog.ccsf.edu/awu. She is also the webmanager of the NNEST IS (http://nnest.asu.edu).




Participating in the Technological Discussion

Linnea Spitzer, linnea.spitzer@gmail.com

Bloch, J. (2008). Technologies in the second language composition classroom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

It is difficult if not impossible to deny the influence of technology on our everyday lives. Visit any café, travel on any form of public transportation, or merely walk down the street, and you will see people on their cell phones and computers, text messaging, blogging, checking e-mail, or chatting online. Indeed, developments in communication have drastically changed the ways in which we interact but, as Joel Bloch writes in his new book Technologies in the Second Language Composition Classroom, this trend is not a new phenomenon. 

According to Bloch, technology has been changing the nature of composition since the advent of written language. Following the transition from spoken to written language, each subsequent development, from the printing press to the word processer, has likewise had a dramatic effect on the way people compose and convey their thoughts. In light of the effects brought by these developments, Technologies begins by discussing the importance of multiple literacies. Rather than seeing technology as a potential tool for teaching print literacy, Bloch encourages his readers to view new technologies as their own distinct literacies. In this sense, designing a webpage or writing for a blog should not be seen as training for writing an academic research paper. Instead, these tasks require different sets of skills, only some of which may be transferable to a traditional printed form.

The book is divided into six chapters, beginning with theory and moving to practice. Chapter 1 addresses issues related to using technology in the second language composition classroom. It begins with a discussion of literacy and its relationship to technology. The issues addressed concern technology and composition theory, language learning, intercultural rhetoric, and authorship. Throughout the chapter, Bloch addresses theoretical concerns involving the use of technology in each area of the classroom.

Chapter 2 discusses the potential of new technologies, from word processing to computer-mediated discourse (CMD), like blogging and chatting online. Although the bulk of this chapter focuses on Internet-based technologies, there is also a section on the use of corpus linguistics in the teaching of grammar. Following this discussion is a presentation of both a systematic and a critical view of technology. According to the systematic perspective, no technology can exist independently of the others. Furthermore, in order for technologies to be used effectively, composition theories must also evolve to include the relevant technological developments. Bloch critically evaluates the use of technology by discussing many issues, including the ambiguity of property rights with concern to digital media. Bloch concludes the chapter by suggesting that although new technologies may at times present more problems than they might solve, the inability to use them may also lead to the inability to function in a changing world.
Chapters 3 through 5 suggest ways that the technologies introduced in the first two chapters can be integrated into the L2 composition classroom. Chapter 3 focuses on the computer and Internet, identifying the benefits and challenges of posting writing online. Here, the book discusses the use of hypertext quite extensively as an example of developing visual literacy. Bloch discusses at length the use of classroom Web sites as well as the successes and challenges of asking students to design their own webpages. Chapter 4 continues this discussion by expanding on the use of CMD in the classroom, largely regarding the advantages and disadvantages of synchronous (like chat rooms) versus asynchronous (like blogs or electronic mailing lists) CMD. It notes that CMD can serve as a decentralizing force in a classroom, as well as provide a forum for some students who might naturally be quieter in the classroom to become more expressive in online class discussions. Chapter 5 addresses the implementation of corpus linguistics in the classroom. While the points discussed here might be a little technologically advanced for some of us (like building one’s own concordancing interface on a Web site), this chapter does contain some useful information regarding publicly available corpora and concordancers.  

Chapter 6 sums up the book by reminding readers that technology is both a liberating and cumbersome force in the world. Despite this, Bloch asserts that an awareness of the theoretical basis for new technologies can help teachers determine whether they are useful and appropriate tools for the L2 composition classroom. As he states, “History teaches us that it is not necessarily the technologies but the quality of the theories that underlie how they are implemented that will ultimately determine how well technology is used. . . .” As the book mentions, there is no way to predict where the next advances will lead us, but it is imperative that we, as consumers and teachers, know how to deal with what is out there.

This book claims that its primary goal is to give teachers the theoretical background that will allow them to make the decisions about which technology to use in the future. For the most part, Bloch accomplishes his goal admirably. His creative and personalized use of technology in his classrooms is encouraging for teachers who see technology as a rigid and rather intimidating plaything of computer scientists. However, in some respects, the book is a bit too advanced to be an entry-level text. While Bloch’s theories regarding multiple digital, print, and visual literacies were well-developed and easy to digest, the descriptions of available technologies like MOOs left me a little bewildered. I could have used a little more explanation of some of the technologies themselves in order to fully grasp how they could be used in the classrooms.  
Technologies does not set out to convince teachers to use technologies in the classroom. Rather, it seeks to make teachers more aware of the types of technologies currently available to them and the theoretical background behind these technologies. What Technologies conveys is that teaching practices will be ultimately shaped by advances and, like it or not, one must learn to become a discerning consumer of technology if one is to be an active participant in shaping pedagogical theory.

Linnea Spitzer is a recent graduate of the MA TESOL program at Portland State University and currently teaches at Capstone English Mastery Center in Portland, Oregon and at Clark Community College in Vancouver, Washington.

What You Should Know as an ESL Student: Questions into Opportunities

Megan M. Siczek, msiczek@gwu.edu

Flores, Kathy Ochoa. (2008). What every ESL student should know: A guide to college and university academic success.  Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

In a field where acronyms carry a particular connotation about how non-native speakers of English are grouped, and the types of classes that follow from this categorization, this book does well to use the acronym ESL.  The language is most certainly targeted to a teenage or adult “ESL” learner; its easy-to-read style and conversational tone make it an audience-friendly read.  The author’s advice represents the conventional wisdom of the field, and in some ways justifies the format of the traditional ESL classroom. 

The book is divided into ten easy-to-digest chapters, in which the author reassures readers about common concerns that many foreign language learners share.  For example, for the question “Should I use a Dictionary while I Read?” (chapter 1), the author’s response is a mixture of her own personal experience reading in a foreign language and practical advice about how to streamline the reading process by not laboring over every word in a text.  The question “Is it OK to Make Mistakes?” (chapter 3) is met with the response “…you MUST make mistakes” (23).  Though the author often reinforces what seems to be common sense, a recurring theme in her advice is that there is no magic formula for learning English and that the pay-off comes from taking a risk and engaging yourself in the language-learning experience. 

Several chapters of this book are also dedicated to questions that relate to the nature of a typical ESL classroom.  In a way, the author’s responses to questions such as “What Are the Benefits of Diversity?” (chapter 6) and “Why Should I Work in a Group?” (chapter 7) appear to be included so as to pre-empt criticisms ESL students may have about the American ESL classroom, including not being able to understand their classmates’ pronunciation or feeling their personal accomplishment is limited when they are required to participate in group activities.  The dominant theme in her responses to these questions is:  find your own opportunity in whatever learning situation you are put in.   At the same time, she helps prepare students for what to expect in terms of American classroom culture so that, again, students make the best use of their learning opportunity.  For example, when describing an ESL classroom context, she comments that the “classroom environment in America is very informal” (41) and that “teachers tend to be very friendly with their students, rather than authoritative” (43).   For these reasons, this book would serve as a nice topical introduction to the ESL classroom environment.  As I emphasized at the beginning of this review, however, much of the wisdom that this book conveys is applicable to a particular classroom setting, which in this reader’s mind is a communicative course for adult or immigrant ESL learners.   

This leads to my main concern about this book, which stems from the second half of its title “A Guide to College and University Success.”  While the book’s advice is practical in a general sense, I would not necessarily assign this book to a group of students who have matriculated in a degree program at an American college or university.   While building common ground and confidence are critical in any language-learning context, not all college and university learning environments are as open and flexible as the spaces described in this book.  Though advice like “you must come to class prepared” (33) and “go to your teacher’s office hours” (37) is applicable in any English-learning classroom, some of the advice in this book might not feel “concrete” enough to meet the needs of students that are fully immersed in an academic program at an American institution of higher education. 

The most academically useful strategies in this book are presented near the end.  Chapter 10, “How Can I Increase My Vocabulary?” offers some strategies that may engender a more specific type of academic success.  Not only does the author make mention of the fact that students are “surrounded by new words” (96) but she also offers specific techniques for vocabulary acquisition.  The appendix also contains usable strategies, including reading lists, links to websites for vocabulary learning, and a cluster diagram to demonstrate how to make new vocabulary words “stick.”

All in all, I would recommend this pocket-sized book to new students in an ESL context, those who hope to acquire a functional level of communicative competence but may not know exactly how to go about it.  It would also be a useful tool for generating conversation in an ESL classroom since each chapter has a set of discussion questions.  By tapping into the shared experience, students may then recognize that they are not alone in their questions or concerns about learning English in the U.S.  I would not necessarily recommend this book to instructors who teach courses with a higher level of academic content.  In that context, its simple formula might not offer advice that is as relevant to student concerns.

Megan M. Siczek teaches academic research and writing courses at a university in Washington, DC.  Her research interests include the relationship between English language acquisition and power in a global context.


Grammar’s Role on the Writer’s Stage

Annie Greenhoe, greenhoe@pdx.edu

Folse, K. S., Vestri Solomon, E., & Smith-Palinkas, B. (2008). Top 20: Great grammar for great writing (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Thomson Heinle.

As students navigate higher levels of grammar use and production, a continuum of instruction between instructor and student bends toward the student at an accelerated rate as the student prepares to leave the ESL classroom. As students move from an introduction to a grammar point to mastering the grammar point, the students have less need for a teacher’s guidance. Scott Thornbury (Uncovering Grammar, 2005) graphs this continuum as “Instructor + ↔ Instructor –” (p. 32). Instructor + is defined as a teacher-fronted classroom with grammar rules, correction, and form-focus with accuracy, whileInstructor – is a learner-centered self-study acquisition with real context, exposure/immersion, and meaning-focus with fluency. Top 20 supports thisInstructor + ↔ Instructor – continuum in an intermediate to advanced ESL classroom. 

The 20 chapters were selected based on input from “many experienced teachers, student writers, textbooks, and course curricula” (p. viii). Chapters 1 to 3 cover nouns and articles, while Chapters 4 to 6 detail verb usages. Chapters 7 (“Prepositions”), 10 (“Gerunds and Infinitives”), and 17 (“Better Sentences: Variety, Fragments, Run-ons, and Comma Splices”) contain useful material to support the student’s burgeoning control of his or her own writing. Other chapters are helpful in a writing class that covers different types of essays. For example, the adjective clause (Chapter 14) lends credence and detail to research; modals (Chapter 9) support persuasive writing; the passive voice and participial adjectives (Chapter 11) are necessary for analytical reports; and the conditional (Chapter 12) augments the argumentative essay. Chapters 19 (“Confusing Words and Structure”) and 20 (“Editing It All Together”) are springboards to prepare students for editing longer pieces of writing.

Top 20 is not intended to be an introduction to new grammar points, but only a review of certain common uses and mistakes in ESL writing. Each chapter has a pretest, which is a useful opening device to a discussion of the grammar point. This discussion is important because, as the authors explain, the intent of this book is to help “students focus their attention on the gap between what they are writing and what they should be writing” (p. viii). The discussion sheds light on the student’s individual production concern with each grammar point.

All readings and examples in Top 20 are from academic textbooks in “seven academic disciplines most common to [ESL] students: law, history, psychology, humanities, communication, study skills, and physical science” (p. vii), so there is not an overtone of contrived material. In addition, seven different exercises interspersed throughout the text build on students’ awareness of their own writing: (1) comfortably familiar multiple-choice exercises; (2) selecting the correct form; (3-5) editing sentences and paragraphs, and locating errors; and (6-7) soliciting from the student the grammar point in original sentences and an original paragraph at the end of each chapter.

The appendices are also handy, containing reviews of the parts of speech, constructions of comparative and superlative forms of adjectives and adverbs and irregular verb forms, and logical connectors with their individual functions.

The Thomson-Heinle Web site (http://elt.thomson.com) also offers both student and instructor sites. The Top 20 student page is accessible to the public, while the instructor page needs a log-in and password which is provided from the publisher on request. No purchase is necessary to enter the site. The student site contains useful tools to employ in a writing class: Understanding the Writing Process: The Seven Steps and two pages of editing symbols for the grammar of Top 20. It also has an Internet activity that instructors can suggest for additional practice. The instructor site contains quizzes and keys.

I used Top 20 this summer for a bridge class in an intensive English language program (IELP), which, like many bridge classes, is a mix of study skills, test strategies, research writing, and, of course, grammar. In this bridge class, the student level varied from Generation 1.5 to students who successfully completed an IELP program to international students who had multiple graduate degrees from their home countries and TOEFL scores of at least 550 on the paper-based test or 213 on the computer-based test.

With this breadth of student skills, I struggled to find an applicable grammar text that can be flexible enough to fit the individual needs of these students while not requiring excessive supplements. For the 8-week course, I assigned all students four chapters, one chapter due every other week. On alternate weeks, I assigned individual students a chapter based on my assessments of their class writing. The individualized exposure and practice supports research by Dana Ferris (2008) that mini-lessons should be based on teacher’s and student’s analysis of the student’s needs in supported self-study.  After completing a chapter, students downloaded, completed, and submitted the Internet Activity. They also used the Original Paragraph prompt provided at the end of each chapter and participated in a peer review in the weeks that they completed the same chapters. On the weeks that they were focused on individual points, I gave them direct feedback. The course design mandated students to be in control of their exposure to the assigned grammar point, and allowed instructor support for their most pressing grammar needs. This combination of grammar and essay writing helped create an individualized context that supported learners in each of their continuums of grammar as they left my classroom, and prepared them to become more adept critics of their own writing.

Ferris, D. R. (2008). Students must learn to correct all their writing errors. In J. Reid (Ed.), Writing myths: Applying second language research classroom teaching (pp. 90-111). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Thornbury, S. (2005). Uncovering grammar. Oxford, England: Macmillan Education.

Annie Greenhoe has worked with English language learners for about 7 years, and is an instructor in the IELP at Portland State University.

Where English Meets History

Robyn Brinks Lockwood, robynb@swbell.net or rbrinks@stanford.edu

Sanabria, K. & Sanabria, C. (2008). Academic listening encounters:  American studies. New York, NY:  Cambridge University Press.

The text is helpful for students who need to prepare for the TOEFL® iBT or hope to pursue further study in a college or university setting.  While this text covers American history and culture, other books in the series focus on sociology and psychology.  Additionally, the listening component for each of the three topic areas also has a reading/writing/study skills text.  By concentrating on a discipline that students are likely to encounter in future study, the series as a whole teaches the skills necessary for success in any general education area.

The Academic Listening Encounters:  American Studies text has five units that are each divided into two chapters.  Four sections comprise each chapter:  an introductory listening exercise, informal interviews, a project or presentation, and a lecture.  Each is accompanied by tasks designed to improve listening and note-taking skills while covering interesting and challenging topics such as diversity, constitutional issues, equality, and American values and culture.

One aspect I found most appealing about this text was the actual listening material.  Listening passages include both informal interviews and formal lectures.  Among all the passages in the book, students are introduced to many types of oral discourse and a variety of voices speaking at different speeds.  I listened to several on my own and then played them for my own students.  One of our favorites was the lecture on conservative and liberal values in American politics (Chapter 8).  My class focused on speaking and the Getting Started activity (detailing the two political parties) and the lecture spurred a lively conversation.  It sparked student interest in the election process and current candidates—local, state, and national--and created what I believe could be an ongoing interest in the political system and voter issues.  Not only could this text be used in a listening or speaking course, but it might also lend itself well as a supplement for discussion in a citizenship or American culture class.  

The tasks are well-structured and presented in “commentary boxes” at first mention.  Boxes not only explain the skill, but the authors also mention their attempt to detail why the skill is important to learn.  Students appreciate knowing the reason for a lesson that might not be obvious to them and it saves the instructor time in explaining the “whys.”  Note-taking is taught thoroughly for this level and because lectures are divided into smaller chunks, it’s not overwhelming to the students.

Another aspect I appreciated was the wealth of opportunities to speak about American culture that often followed the listening and note-taking portions.   There are plenty of activities for students to work alone, in pairs, in small groups, and/or as a class.  Detailed projects, which can be incorporated as the instructor sees fit based on class time and content, allow students the opportunity to conduct research, give oral presentations, or role-play.  Chapter 8 again is a good example.  The text guides students through the process of conducting a survey, requires them to speak to people outside of the classroom, and then asks questions that could spur additional discussion and lead to critical thinking and the analysis of results. 

For a more traditional classroom, classes with longer meeting times, or teachers with little planning time this book is suitable.  Each chapter could easily fill hours of class time.  For shorter classes, covering all the material could be challenging.  A drawback, which could be easily overcome, is noted in the “Notes to the Instructor.”  The chapters ideally should be used in order since vocabulary and tasks become more complex as the book progresses.  Depending on class time, this might not be an issue.  For instructors who don’t have the luxury of extra time or who would like to use this book as a supplement, some preparation and research is necessary to determine what topics and skills have already been covered should they use the chapters out of order.   The authors note that the detailed “Plan for the Book” and the “Task Index” can aid teachers in this process.  Also, it should be noted that high intermediate or more advanced classes might not find using the book out of order to be a handicap.  For the purposes of this review, I encountered few issues when experimenting with Chapter 8 of this intermediate level text and my high-intermediate and advanced students.  The other books in this series, Life in Society and Human Behavior, are designed for higher levels:  intermediate to high intermediate and high intermediate to low advanced respectively.

Overall, I find the book accomplishes its goal.  Students will have been provided a nice overview of American culture and history and the text does teach skills that students can, and hopefully will, apply to other disciplines after they leave the language classroom.

Robyn Brinks Lockwood is a freelance materials writer and editor and teaches in the English for Foreign Students and American Language and Culture programs at Stanford University.