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June 2003 — Volume 7, Number 1

Interactions 1: Reading (4th ed.)

Elaine Kirn and Pamela Hartmann (2002)Tina B. Carver (Editorial Director) and Annie Sullivan (Series Editor)New York: McGraw-Hill Contemporary

Introduction and Series Organization

This review focuses on one book in a 19-book series, whose target audience is young adults and adults who are academically minded ESL/EFL learners. With the exception of one book that combines reading and writing, each book in the series focuses on one of the following language skills: listening/speaking, reading, writing, and grammar. Additionally, each book in the series targets a particular proficiency level, ranging from beginning to low advanced.

The book Interactions 1: Reading is the subject of this review. It is the second book in the reading series, and the first to focus specifically on the skill of reading (the first book in the reading series is a combination reading/writing textbook). Interactions 1: Reading targets high beginning and low intermediate learners. The reading topics are geared towards adult learners rather than children or teenagers, as illustrated in the introduction to the first chapter, which states: “You will read about international students in higher education around the world. You will look at experiences and opinions of college life in different places.”(p. 1)

Chapter Organization and Reading Skills Covered

Interactions 1: Reading is divided into 12 chapters, with each chapter being divided into four parts. The first part has three subdivisions: pre-reading activities, the reading selection, and post-reading activities. The pre-reading activities, in accordance with reading comprehension research, target schema activation (Grabe 1991; Wilson & Anderson, 1986). This section also includes a vocabulary preview, another activity well supported by L2 reading research that has found L2 vocabulary to be the most significant determiner in reading comprehension for L2 learners with low L2 language proficiency levels (Bernhardt & Kamil, 1995; Carpenter & Just, 1986; Haberlandt, 1988; Upton & Lee-Thompson, 2001). Following this well-designed pre-reading section is the reading passage and numerous post-reading activities. The post-reading activities focus on recognizing paragraph structure, main ideas, and topic sentences. Strategies for reading, such as using punctuation clues to decode meaning and recognizing author intent, are also included in some of the chapters. Many of the chapters also include an activity aimed at improving learner vocabulary skills as a post-reading activity, and all include a class discussion activity, allowing students to integrate oral skills with the reading objective. <-1->

Noticeably absent from part one are any activities to be completed while reading the passage; however, this is an integral component of part two, in which a second but related reading passage is provided. Examples of such activities include underlining topic sentences, titling paragraphs, and identifying topic sentences. Skimming and learning to infer information are activities found in the later chapters of the book, and all chapters include a summarization task for part two. These tasks are aimed at helping learners develop strategies for reading comprehension.

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In part three of each chapter, vocabulary and language learning skills are showcased. The skills include synonyms, recognizing parts of speech, antonyms, suffixes, and prefixes. Chapter 11 also includes training in using a dictionary. Part three emphasizes the authors’ awareness of the critical need for lower L2 proficiency learners to develop vocabulary learning strategies in order to aid them with L2 reading. Part three also includes authentic L2 texts–such as maps, menus, signs, various newspaper ads, greeting cards, and questionnaires. The use of authentic texts is an integral part of the communicative approach to language teaching, as they provide a valuable bridge between classroom activities and real-world applications (Celce-Murcia, 2001, p. 8). Part four of each chapter includes video activities with guided pre-watching and post-watching activities. While video watching actually targets skills other than reading–namely, listening–it is useful in sustaining student interest and may be useful in an integrated skills learning context.

The readings in each chapter cover a variety of themes–such as education, weather, directions, eating habits, health, media, holidays, and science. Additionally, teachers will find the treatment of cultural diversity within many reading selections especially accommodating to classroom populations with multi-ethnic backgrounds. For example, the thematic focus of chapter three is eating habits, and the typical diets of multiple countries are used as examples. Similarly, in chapter four, the laws of several countries are provided as supporting details to the main topic of community laws. This technique serves three useful functions. First, since the texts are not heavily biased towards any particular ethnic group, they are appropriate for use in a multi-ethnic classroom, such as might be found in many college-EFL/ESL departments. Second, by providing multi-cultural examples the texts invite the learner to personalize the content by comparing her own experiences with those conveyed in the reading. The ability to engage with the texts in such a way is consistent with adult learning motivation theories (Cross, 1981; Merriam & Brockett, 1997). Third, despite the fact that the authors label almost all the reading selections as either descriptive or expository, by offering a variety of cultural perspectives on a given topic, the text structure masquerades as a compare-contrast format. Reading comprehension research informs us that readers comprehend such compare-contrast formats better than purely descriptive texts (Just & Carpenter, 1987; Meyer 1987); and since the targeted learners are at low L2 proficiency, providing them with easier text structures is beneficial.

Evaluation

This text has many strong features. Perhaps most significant is the authors’ attempt to create reading lessons that are informed by research on L2 reading strategies, as noted in the description above. This includes the use of pre-reading schema building activities and the devotion of significant attention to vocabulary and vocabulary building exercises. The inclusion of authentic texts, emphasized as a necessary component of materials use in a communicative language teaching tradition (Brown, 2001, p. 35), is to be lauded. Moreover, the use of culturally sensitive reading materials may contribute to establishing an environment of respect for learners and may lower affective barriers. <-2->

There are, also, a few weaknesses in this text. In particular the repetition of task activities in all phases of the book comes at the risk of boring learners. To help maintain student interest and to expose learners to a variety of reading strategies, it would be important for instructors to supplement the text. The use of activities such as graphic organizers or the completion of charts might prove especially meaningful for visual learners. The inclusion of predicting activities would also be useful; these allow learners to form hypotheses about the reading and then check and amend their expectations, a helpful skill in academic reading (Scott, 1995). Finally, the inclusion of kinetic activities, such as art responses or role-playing, would add variety in follow-up activities for the students.

These shortcomings do not undermine the strong theoretical foundation upon which this reading textbook is built, and I believe it would be a good cornerstone for most reading curriculum. The organization of this textbook makes it very user friendly and easy for manipulation by teachers who target multiple skills in one class. A given chapter of this text could easily accommodate listening/speaking skills through use of the video supplement and could accommodate writing skills through design of writing activities to accompany the reading. In conclusion, with creativity and limited supplementation this textbook represents a valuable tool for instructors who teach L2 learners how to read.

References

Bernhardt, E. B. & M. L. Kamil. (1995). Interpreting relationships between L1 and L2 reading: Consolidating the linguistic threshold and the linguistic interdependence hypotheses. Applied Linguistics, 16, 15-34.

Brown, D. (2001). Teaching by principles: An interactive approach to language pedagogy (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Addison Wesley Longman, Inc.

Celce-Murcia, M. (2001). Language teaching approaches: An overview. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (3rd ed.). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Cross, K. P. (1981). Adults as learners: Increasing participation and facilitating learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

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Grabe, W. (1991). Current developments in second language reading research. TESOL Quarterly, 25 (3), 375-406.

Haberlandt, K. (1988). Component processes in reading comprehension. In M. Daneman (Ed.), Reading research: Advances in theory and practice, Vol. 6 (pp. 67-107). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Just, M. A. & P. A. Carpenter. (1987). The psychology of reading and language comprehension. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Merriam, S. B., & Brockett, R. G. (1997). The profession and practice of adult education: An introduction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Meyer, B. J. F. (1987). Following the author’s top-level organization: An important skill for reading comprehension. In R. Tierney, J. Mitchell, & P. Anders (Eds.), Understanding readers’ understanding (pp. 59-76). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Scott, V. M. (1995). Rethinking foreign writing. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Upton, T. A., & L. Lee-Thompson. (2001). The role of the first language in second language reading. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 23, 469-495.

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Wilson, P. T. & R. C. Anderson (1986). What they don’t know will hurt them: The role of prior knowledge in comprehension. In J. Orasanu (Ed.), Reading comprehension: From research to practice (pp. 31-48). Hillsdale, NJ: LEA.

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