Both textbooks mention that another workbook is available to accompany the lessons. The companion "Bonus Practice Book" was available to me for the Success textbook, but not the Spectrum workbook. The introduction stated that the Bonus Practice Book contained activities on "listening for information, taking dictation, using grammar in context, researching current events, and writing your own articles and stories." We will look at this workbook in greater detail under a later heading within this paper.
3. PHYSICAL PRESENTATION
At first glance, the textbooks differ greatly in their presentation. The Success book is filled with full-color photographs and illustrations throughout, and is printed on slick, magazine-type paper, with a thick, shiny cover. The page layout is in columns like a newspaper or magazine with captioned photos and information boxes scattered throughout.
The Spectrum book is printed on ordinary newsprint-type paper with black-and-white illustrations. At first glance, the book appears to be a reading textbook with a very uniform format: stories or poems with questions and writing activities following each.
Without judging the merit of the information and activities included, but based only on sight, the initial impression is that a student would more likely be captivated by or interested in the Success book over the Spectrum book, based upon the color photos, the differing layouts of each page, and the apparent variety of topics covered.
The Success textbook follows a particular pattern of being divided into four sections, each set up to look like a magazine with a different topic (Travel, News, Art). Within each "magazine," are articles that cover topics such as: world news, scientific discoveries, technology, travel, human interest, celebrity news, biographies. There are also poems, essays, short stories, even a recipe! Intermingled with the articles are simulated elements of newspapers and magazines such as advertisements, letters to the editor, horoscopes, and classified ads.
The Spectrum book contains fourteen prose lessons and 8 poems. The stories include subjects ranging from history (particularly Indian history), biographies (Walt Disney, Indira Gandhi), folk and fairy tales, to humorous fiction, and a play. The poems cover subjects such as nature, national pride, and childhood activities like riding a bicycle.
It appeared that many more aspects of English-speaking life and culture were covered in a variety of ways using the magazine format of Success. Students were exposed not only to American history, biography, or literature, but also to current events in the United States and around the world, media personalities and news, and information on handling new technological advances such as "smart cards" or making airline reservations without going through a travel agent. This is information that students would conceivably encounter in everyday life in a native English-speaking country, and it is cleverly woven into their learning experience. The practice of including sample advertisements and asking the students to gather information from the ads to answer relevant questions is a useful skill that the student will use in daily life. A student who has worked through all levels of the Success series would most likely be well-prepared to handle any written media he would encounter in the United States.
The Spectrum text has a narrower focus, with history and biography covering primarily Indian or American topics, and the rest of the content focusing on literature. There were no articles or information on practical matters of everyday living. This is a drawback. Using English for immediate needs does not seem to be sufficiently emphasized. Because the literature chosen was either historical or fictional in nature, a student would not necessarily gain a true perception of everyday life in the United States or other native English-speaking countries, or even India. There was also some use of antiquated language such as "often did he have dreams," or frequent use of the word "shall," further giving a distorted impression of current English usage to the second language learner.
5. COMPONENTS OF LEARNING A FOREIGN LANGUAGE
As noted in standard textbooks in teaching English as a second or foreign language, (see for example, An Introduction to TESOL
by M.S. Thirumalai), there is a hierarchy of how to teach a language: first focus on listening, secondly on speaking, then reading, and lastly on writing. And integrate these skills in a balanced manner. Using these four components of learning language, we can judge how much emphasis is put on each by the two textbooks.
- Since both textbooks are at an intermediate to advanced level, there is no instruction on beginning sound discrimination; it is assumed to be understood at this level.
- The Success textbook includes activities recorded on cassette tape that require the student to listen and then answer questions. In one exercise, the students were to listen to a simulated radio broadcast about "travel in Africa," then answer multiple-choice questions about what they had heard. They were encouraged to read the questions first to know what information to listen for, and also to listen to the tape twice to better concentrate the second time.
- Any language-teaching curriculum that includes tape-recorded activities is providing a useful tool for students for a number of reasons: the exercise can be listened to again and again as needed for the student to catch all the necessary information; the students may not have access to English speakers outside the classroom, and might be able to take the tapes home for extra study in training their ears to hear the nuances of spoken English; the teacher may not be a native English speaker, and the tape may provide a more accurate representation of the RP (Received Pronunciation), which is the "accent" most widely accepted in the country where the language is used.
- There are no particular exercises in the Spectrum textbook dealing with listening skills. The teacher may well choose any number of activities to teach listening such as reading the story or poem aloud, asking students to listen for information, speaking only in English when giving directions, or showing English-speaking movies to students as an adjunct to the lessons; but the curriculum itself provides no direct opportunity to strengthen listening skills.
- The Success textbook provides discussion questions at the end of each magazine section, encouraging the students to speak about topics they are familiar with. Following an article about trains, one section asks, "Is there a scenic train route in your country? Describe what you would see on the way. Compare 'train stories' with your classmates." Activities such as this would benefit the student by asking him or her to speak about something that he or she is familiar with. Asking them to speak with their classmates on a subject is less intimidating than answering questions directly to the instructor, minimizing feelings of self-consciousness in the student. It would also presumably be done in small groups, encouraging the student to "try out" his English among others who are also just learning. There is also a section titled "Roleplay," which can be read as a dialogue between two people, or asks a question that can be roleplayed extemporaneously by two students. Again, the teacher is always free to add any activities he/she can develop to teach speaking, but this textbook does provide some opportunity to do so.
- The Spectrum textbook has no particular activities geared toward involving the students in productive speaking practice. There is a section titled "Speech" after most lessons that focuses on pronunciation with directions like, "Read the following words with particular attention to the sounds sh and ch," or "Practice saying the following compound words with attention on stress." These activities do get the students speaking aloud, but do not force them to produce original thoughts or sentences in English.
- Since these two textbooks are not at a beginning level, there are no activities geared toward associating sounds with letters, phonetic decoding of words, or learning phrase and sentence structure. These are all assumed to have been learned prior to this point. Both texts emphasize the development of intermediate to advanced reading skills: reading for information and/or enrichment.
- The Success text has unlimited opportunities to involve the students in reading. The format allows for reading aloud or reading silently for information, comprehension or enjoyment. The Bonus Practice Book includes exercises coordinated to each section of the textbook focusing on comprehension, grammar or interpretation. Testing methods include true/false questions, fill-in-the-blanks, matching, crossword puzzles, and comprehension time trials (to develop speed in reading).
- Since, according to An Introduction to TESOL, the first rule of materials selection is "student interest and usefulness," the Success series is an excellent choice for reading due to the great variety of topics covered which would be of interest to males and females alike, rural or urban students, those with high or low incomes, young or old. The usefulness is evidenced, again, by the activities that deal with practical, realistic scenarios that the students will likely face in English-speaking countries. The magazine and newspaper-like style of the textbook mimics the types of publications the students would find themselves reading in an English-speaking country.
- One area in which the Spectrum textbook does shine is its emphasis on prose and poetry. It provides a variety of selections, as stated, from history, biography, folk tales to poetry and drama. The emphasis is heavily on comprehension, based upon the number of questions asked after each story, under headings such as: "Comprehension," "Surface Understanding," and "Deeper Understanding." The Preface, itself, admits that "The exercises present practice material that obliges the pupils to refer to the text repeatedly." This would indicate an emphasis on reading over listening, since in a listening context, the information is provided only once. It is certainly possible that the teaching and learning conditions come to dictate the method followed in the Spectrum textbook.
- Following the "first rule of materials selection"--student interest and usefulness--we can assume that students would likely enjoy the stories presented in Spectrum. There is variety that would be enjoyed by different types of students. The emphasis on comprehension and interpretation would also provide the students with the opportunity to do some deeper thinking--using their reasoning skills and imagination--that leads to more satisfaction than simply doing rote drills.
- The usefulness of the many prose pieces is, however, questionable. They are useful for learning vocabulary and usage and for personal enjoyment or enrichment, but not useful in the same way as exercises that involve daily reading tasks such as reading the newspaper, classified ads, transportation schedules, weather forecasts, forms to be filled out, etc.
- Again, the textbooks are at an advanced level and do not deal with the mechanics of writing the Roman script, but deal with "writing with a purpose"--the student taking the vocabulary he or she has learned and putting it together with the appropriate use of grammar and sentence structure to communicate in an understandable way.
- The Success book has opportunities for writing by using fill-in-the-blanks exercises, "Interview" exercises where the student is given "answers" gleaned from an article and is asked to write the corresponding questions, and puzzle exercises. There are also writing exercises such as: "Write a letter to the credit card company to tell them about the mistake on your bill," which would require a full understanding of sentence structure, grammar and vocabulary. The Bonus Practice Book has many drills that cover grammar rules, teaching and reinforcing parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives), subject and predicate, etc.
- The wide variety of topics covered in the Success textbook provides the teacher with many options when asking the students to perform writing exercises such as guided composition, parallel writing, note-taking, dictation, dicto-comp, preparing lists of objects and other inventories, storytelling, sentence combining, filling out forms, writing business letters, etc.
- The Spectrum book is geared very strongly toward developing writing skills. There is a section called "Writing" after each lesson that asks students to answer questions in paragraph form that pertain to the text just read: "[Narrate] the circumstances that led Miss Grave Face to hand in her notice." The next exercise is to "describe in about 200 words why the Robot was invented and how it made Miss Grave Face decide on staying in Doctor Dumbo's house." Then a non-textual question follows: "Collect the picture of any Robot and describe it in about 10 lines." In one lesson, students are asked to write a letter to a friend describing a beautiful garden they've visited; in another, they are asked to write an essay on the thought content of a poem. All of these activities force the student to use his knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure and usage.
- On the negative side, there is not nearly as much diversity of material as the Success textbook to give the teacher a wide variety of topics to choose assignments from; but a creative teacher could work with the stories available and devise some alternative activities. There are no writing drills that involve practical, everyday living-type activities such as reading newspapers, filling out forms, etc. There are many drills that teach vocabulary, grammar and usage, but, again, one drawback might be the more formal or antiquated English words and phrases used throughout the book which might not prepare the student well for dealing with colloquial English.
- Miscellaneous Observations
- One item of interest was how the American textbook, created in a land renowned for equal opportunity and free speech, had no mention of God or religion, but included a simulated advertisement for a psychic, horoscopes, questions and information about paranormal experiences like ESP, deja vu, and clairvoyance, plus questions relating to whether or not students had experienced any of these! The Indian textbook included a story titled, "How to Love God," (admittedly a term that could be interpreted variously by Hindus, Muslims and Christians, although the English term may be said to point to God in the Christian sense), and a poem called, "I Love All Beauteous Things," that prompted the questions: "What is the best way to praise God? Whose creations are the beautiful things?" Two other poems also made reference to God. It's interesting that in India, it is acceptable to make reference to God in public school curriculum materials, even so far as to be considered an enriching topic, while references to God and religion in curriculum are generally opposed in the United States. At the same time, though, references to occultic or New Age practices are not questioned.
According to An Introduction to TESOL by M. S. Thirumalai, until the Reformation in Europe, learning a language was synonymous with learning the written language. After that time, teachers began to "focus more on oral aspects of language." These two ends of a spectrum generally sum up the differences between the two textbooks, Success and Spectrum.
The Indian textbook seeks to develop fluency in the written language by focusing on reading and writing English, while the American textbook focuses on oral usage and practical application of language skills to everyday living. In the hands of a creative teacher, both texts could be successful, but the Success textbook has more to offer a teacher by providing more variety of material presented in a more appealing fashion, that can be used or adapted to teach listening, speaking, reading and writing the English language.
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