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ESL Textbook Review


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ESL Textbook Review

  1. 1. Sherrie  Lee            @orangecanton    ESL Textbook ReviewHeadway Academic Skills 3: Reading, Writing, and Study Skills Students BookSarah Pilpot and Lesley CurnickOxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.SHERRIE LEETemasek Polytechnic, SingaporeHeadway Academic Skills 3: Reading, Writing, and Study Skills Students Book bySarah Pilpot and Lesley Curnick aims to equip students in higher education with acomprehensive range of academic skills ranging from vocabulary strategies to essayplanning in ten tightly packed units. It is an impressive and ambitious plan but will likelycause the student to be overwhelmed.DescriptionThe ten units in Headway Academic Skills 3 cover the following topics: educationand learning, health and medicine, urban planning, natural resources, international trade,history conservation, modern engineering, the Olympics, describing statistics and trends,and communication and technology. Each unit covers academic skills in four mainsections in the following sequence: reading, language for writing, writing and vocabularydevelopment. In three of the units, the topic of research skills is covered as well. At theend of each unit is a review section which brings together the reading and writing skillslearned in the unit. The main sections generally follow the presentation, practice andproduction (PPP) approach (Shehadeh, 2005, p. 14), that is, the presentation of specificlanguage items and/or reading or writing strategies (termed “study skills” in the book) isfollowed by practice through exercises such as gap fill, spotting language features andcompleting graphic organizers, and finally the production stage where students use the
  2. 2. ESL TEXTBOOK REVIEW 2target language and skills with less guidance. The review section itself serves as anoverall production stage where students are expected to reproduce the language items andstudy skills covered in the unit more independently. The appendix contains a word list ofthe main vocabulary used, complete with word class and pronunciation. There is aseparate Teacher’s Guide which contains tests and additional activities but is not part ofthis review.Intended AudienceAccording to the book summary, Headway Academic Skills 3 functions as abridge between general and academic English, and can be used either independently oralongside a general English course. While it does not specify the proficiency level ofstudents, the book will be helpful to both native speakers, as well as advanced ESLstudents who have just begun university.Strengths and WeaknessesThe overall goal of Headway Academic Skills 3 is to equip students in highereducation with academic skills such as note-taking and essay-writing, as stated in thebook summary. However, since the units are content driven rather than skills driven,there is more breadth than depth in the treatment of academic skills. One exemption isreading skills which are adequately explored in each unit, as well as reinforced acrossunits, highlighting strategies related to external text features (e.g. skimming and scanningfor information), as well as internal text features (e.g. text structure and signal words).Other skills like writing and vocabulary development, however, are not as wellintegrated; the language features and strategies are introduced once in the unit but arehardly mentioned again in other units, thus limiting students’ opportunities for
  3. 3. ESL TEXTBOOK REVIEW 3developing those skills. Furthermore, the PPP approach, as stated by Shehadeh (2005),does not allow students to develop both accuracy and fluency in using language items asstudents tend to either end up focusing primarily on form and not fluency or focusprimarily on meaning without incorporating the target language at all (pp. 14-15). Thusthe lack of integration of academic skills across units and the weakness of the PPPapproach undermine the very purpose of the book.Apart from its main weakness of not providing integrated and appropriateopportunities for students to fully develop academic skills, the book also features topicswhich may be too impersonal for young adults to identify with. While the topics representdiverse cultures and are appropriate for a higher education audience, the approach takendoes not lead students to be personally interested in the material. Activities revolvearound the given reading passages or writing tasks with few opportunities for students toprovide their viewpoints or creatively interact with the material provided. This lack ofpersonal interaction is reinforced by the largely similar nature of the tasks such asunderlining words and phrases, filling in gaps and matching items with correspondinganswers.Despite its instructional flaws, Headway Academic Skills 3 offers severalstrengths. One of them is the use of near authentic materials such as journal articles, newsreports and letter to capture the range of expository writing material a university studentwould likely to be exposed to. Even though some of the materials were probably re-written with a more appropriate level of grammar and vocabulary, it is more important forthe materials to be more easily understood while simulating authenticity than for
  4. 4. ESL TEXTBOOK REVIEW 4materials to be presented in its original but less comprehensible form, especially forstudents who struggle with such texts (Flowerdew & Peacock, 2001, p. 185).Another strength is that the book can be adapted for use with either native Englishspeakers or ESL students. While ESL students would probably appreciate thestraightforward and simplified language used, all students will find it beneficial to learnspecific reading and writing strategies. For first language students, teachers can considerusing more challenging supplementary reading material for students to practice theiracademic skills.Finally, Headway Academic Skills 3 does well in having visually appealinggraphics and layout. For example, most of the photos used are clear, colorful andinformative. In terms of the layout, the different sections are color-coded for easyreference. In addition, important information like study skills and language rules arehighlighted in boxes and placed at the side so as not to interrupt the flow of the text.However, one minor complaint I have about the layout is that there is hardly any whitespace on each page and the limited spacing between tasks and sections. Thus the readerwill find it difficult to focus on the text at first glance.ConclusionHeadway Academic Skills 3 succeeds in introducing a comprehensive range ofreading and writing skills and strategies but falls short in providing integrated andmeaningful practice across the units for students to master the skills. While the brightlycolored photos and pages may standout, those elements will not be sufficient to engagestudents. Teachers who choose to use the book may make up for the lack of depth in thecoverage of academic skills by being selective about which language items and strategies
  5. 5. ESL TEXTBOOK REVIEW 5to focus on and bring their students’ attention to these items in other units in the book orwith supplementary material. Alternatively, teachers may design their own lessons anduse the book’s activities as supplementary material. Either way, teachers should notoverlook what is useful in the book for their purposes in teaching academic skills.
  6. 6. ESL TEXTBOOK REVIEW 6ReferencesFlowerdew, J., Peacock, M. (2001). The EAP curriculum: Issues, methods, andchallenges. In J. Flowerdew M. Peacock (Eds.), Research perspectives on Englishfor academic purposes (pp. 177-194). New York: Cambridge University Press.Philpot, S. & Curnick, L. (2011). Headway academic skills 3: Reading, writing, and studyskills students book. In L. Soars & J. Soars (Series Eds.), Headway academicskills. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Shehadeh, A. (2005). Task-based language learning and teaching: Theories andapplications. In C. Edwards J. Willis (Eds.), Teachers exploring tasks in Englishlanguage teaching (pp. 13-30). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.