Vol. 8. No. 4 R-2 March 2005
Return to Table of Contents Return to Main Page

Access Reading 1: Reading in the Real World

Tim Collins (2004)
Toronto: Thomson Heinle
Pp.xvii + 112
ISBN 141300772-4 (paper)

Tim Collins' Access Reading is a comprehensive series that includes four levels of texts, teacher's editions, audio resources and supplementary website activities. In the "To the Teacher" preface, Collins provides a brief orientation to the series as a whole, highlighting its specific focus on the application of skills and the practicality of units as they relate to themes that are deemed pertinent to the lives of contemporary adults.

Designed for use with both the adult and young-adult populations, the series is comprehensive and explicitly aligned with three competency scales for adult education: Equipped for the Future (EFF), CASAS (a life-skills taxonomy), and SCANS (a US government taxonomy on skills for workers in the 21st century). In the scope and sequence, each unit is correlated with the units' reading topic, targeted reading strategy, graphic organizer, study skill and the three aforementioned competency scales.

Within each of the ten units, there are two readings and reviews relating to each of the "key roles adults play throughout their lives, identified in the EFF standards: family member/parent, community member, and worker" (Collins, viii). The unit themes are general and address financial, social, and practical concerns such as saving money, exercise and finding an apartment. Each unit is paired with an emphasis on a specific reading strategy and a graphic organizer skill. These are explicitly outlined in the introduction (pp. xiv-xv). The text of each reading strategy objective is direct and simple enough for intermediate English-speakers to comprehend with little teacher support. In addition, each reading skill is elucidated by a basic example of the strategy.

Within the unit, the reader will recognize sub-sections that are consistent throughout the series. Black and white icons each accompany the sub-headings Accessing Information, Giving Voice, Study Skill, Reading Strategy, Taking Action, Bridging to the Future and Workplace Connection. Within these subsections, Collins includes exercises that pertain to the reading and skill focus of the unit.

In conclusion of each unit is a one-page review which contains a short article with two follow-up exercises pertaining to skills taught during the unit and the reading strategy which has been targeted throughout the unit. Following this review, the author recommends reteaching before use of a reproducible test found in the teacher's manual.

Immediately following the end-of-unit review is a supplementary portfolio activity and a section entitled Summing Up which allows the student to literally check-off the specific skills learned, "provid[ing] the learners with a sense of pride and accomplishment" (Commins, xii). [-1-]

Perhaps one of the better features of the series is the type of input provided to the students. As numerous researchers have attested, input should be both authentic and modified in order to provide the richest, most comprehensible input for the second-language learner (Long, 1996). Another important pedagogical concern is addressed in Collins' compilation of texts. The series includes texts that are high in "readability" for a low-intermediate second-language reader (Carrell, 1987), therefore allowing the students access to the content and to practice their reading skills efficiently.

The importance of activities that are not simply time-fillers but, rather, rich in practice or application of practical skills can not be underestimated (Ur & Wright, 1992). This is evinced in each chapter's "Teamwork" section in which pairs of students role-play different scenarios that pertain to their topic. These realistic activities range from answering questions about a business card and interpreting a time-sheet to answering an advertisement for an apartment, replete with common "Classified" abbreviations.

Indeed, the textbook's focus and clearly aligned standards are certainly practical. The benefits of integrating this textbook into an existing or new adult-language program are clearly delineated. However, the first book of the series appears stilted at times, with its simplified, all encompassing themes.

The units appear to go by on a pre-determined eight to ten hour schedule­whether or not the student has mastered its content. Some of the exercises are less than five minutes in duration­for example, the follow-up questions in "After you read" are simple and sparse. The reader is asked to circle the correct answer from a multiple choice bank with three possible answers. This is followed by a yes or no question. More responses requiring discussion, role-playing and written composition of sentences would strengthen the quality of this book. This text in particular is designed as an interactive workbook and would benefit from more space for students to respond in written form, rather than multiple choice letters or true/false answers. However, Collins does supplement his text exercises with companion exercises on his website, http://accessreading.heinle.com.

Collins presents an authentic assessment system, which does appear to be an asset of this series. His comprehensive portfolio assessment appears to suggest the collection of self-chosen, student work that demonstrates their mastery of reading strategies and content in an organized manner (Moore, 1994; O'Malley & Valdez Pierce, 1996). Collins specifically includes a portfolio that spans the period of instruction from beginning to end of the series which, he proposes, will be maintained by the student, creating a sense of autonomy over their work.

Finally, the physical layout of the textbook is worthy of mentioning. Although maximizing space, each page is crowded with images, text and exercises. The black and white photographs, averaging 10 per chapter, are accompanied by focus boxes and black and white computer graphics with two to three student exercises on each page. Each unit introduction could stand to be colorized, and more attention-grabbing, as often the students are asked to refer to these photos in their reading. This would be especially helpful in the unit on "Our History" which incorporates famous, would-be color murals and requires students to create their own mural.

Despite its weaknesses, the consistency and practicality of Reading in the Real World must not be overlooked. Collins has incorporated interesting, current articles into each chapter. His explicit directions on reading skills are pertinent for those learners with strong L1 reading skills and for those who have not learned these techniques in their native literacy programs. In the field of English-language texts for adults, all too often are the strategies of good readers sacrificed for grammar drills and/or out-of-context activities. It is refreshing to see, the inclusion of reading skills and graphic organizers to aid the second language learner in their acquisition, enjoyment, and perhaps most importantly, access to the practical applications of speaking and reading in English.


Carrell, P. L. (1987). Readibility in ESL. In R. Lynch, Authentic, Performance-Based Assessment in ESL/EFL Reading Instruction.

Moore, Z. (1994). The portfolio and testing culture. In C. Hancock (Ed.), Teaching testing and assessment(pp. 163-182). Illinois: National Textbook Company.

O'Malley, J. & Valdez Pierce, L. (1996). Authentic assessment for English language learners: Practical approaches for teachers. USA: Longman.

Ur, P. & Wright, A. (1992). Five-minute activities: A resource book of short activities. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Dana Horning
Arlington Public Schools, VA
<Dana_Horning apsva.us>

© Copyright rests with authors. Please cite TESL-EJ appropriately.

Editor's Note:

Dashed numbers in square brackets indicate the end of each page for purposes of citation..
Return to Table of Contents Return to Top Return to Main Page