April 1994 — Volume 1, Number 1
Making Connections: An Interactive Approach to Academic Reading
Pakenham, Kenneth J. (1994)
New York: St. Martins Press.
Pp.xiv + 370.
Research in the acquisition of second language reading skills has shown that reading comprehension is not simply something a reader gets from a text by passing his/her eyes over the words. The reader is not passive and receptive, he/she is, in fact, involved in an active and constructive processbuilding meaning from a text, based on ability and prior knowledge. Other research suggests that the reading of academic material can be particularly challenging for ESL learners due to certain lexical and grammatical features, such as the common use of anaphoric reference, reduced relative clauses, frequent use of nominalization, and the simple fact that there is often an overwhelming amount of new vocabulary.
Making Connections is a textbook for the intermediate-high ESL student which has been written to reflect and incorporate our current understanding of the L2 reading process by helping the reader develop necessary linguistic skills and the use of effective, process-oriented reading strategies. The textbook is divided into five thematically based units: World Health in the 1900s; The Challenge of Diversity; Aspects of Language; Looking after Planet Earth; and Education and Family Life in the United States. The theme in each unit links six different readings. The first five readings are short (300-500 words) and serve three main purposes: 1) to provide background knowledge for the general theme; 2) to introduce target vocabulary and other textual elements (sentence structures, rhetorical organization, etc.); and 3) to allow for practice of various reading strategies in context. The sixth article in each unit is the main reading and is significantly longer (>3,000 words).
Prereading activities, which encourage skimming and prediction, are provided for each main reading, and all six readings in each unit have post-reading activities. These include global coherence checks, more detailed comprehension checks, topics for reader discussion and input, and listings of additional (but unexplained) vocabulary; students must use context and other strategies to figure out this additional vocabulary.
This book has several features that I feel make it an excellent text for the teaching of academic reading skills. First, all of the readings reflect the type of material that college-level ESL students will be required to read in their introductory liberal arts course; the readings are generally adapted from articles written for native speakers of English. Another major plus is the authors judicious use of figures, pictures, diagrams, and cartoons which accompany most of the readings in order to highlight key ideas. [-1-]
Probably the most impressive and unique feature that this text incorporates is the use of what are called Guided Reading and Comprehension Building Tasks (referred to as CBTs). In the words of the author, these two activities are at the heart of the books attempt to focus on the strategic nature of the reading process while students are actually reading, as opposed to focusing only on what can be done before reading starts or after reading finishes (Instructors Manual, p. 4). In the Instructors Manual, the author has listed seventeen strategiessuggested by the research literature and the authors experiencethat students should learn to use as they read a text. Examples of these strategies include checking back to clarify references to previously introduced ideas and recognizing discourse markers and mobilizing appropriate reading strategies on the basis of this recognition. While it is the instructors responsibility to introduce these reading strategies in class in a manner that works best for the instructional context (i.e., guided reading), the author includes CBTs in the left margin of every background and main reading passage in order to help students use text-appropriate reading strategies while they are in the act of reading. As an example, a paragraph of one article starts as follows: For some years now, warnings like this have been heard from… In the left margin, the author has written the following CBT: Warnings like what? Check back (p. 232). The use of Guided Reading and CBTs provides a model for and guides the L2 reader in emulating the reading strategies and behaviors of good native-speaker readers. One further feature that is a significant part of this book, and which helps to make this text very attractive to me as an ESL instructor, is the Vocabulary Practice sections. Each unit has four different types of vocabulary practice: 1) Same or Different, 2) Making Connections, 3) Synonyms and Paraphrases, and 4) Using New Vocabulary. The goal of these vocabulary activities is not limited to helping ESL readers learn the new vocabulary items introduced in the readings. They also encourage students to look beyond single words on the page and instead look at their role within the sentence and paragraph as well as to recognize how words and phrases can function as synonyms or paraphrases for each other in given contexts. Research has shown that the learning of vocabulary is greatly facilitated by introducing it and then repeatedly reviewing it in a variety of meaningful contexts. The thoughtfully designed and engaging vocabulary activities that the author has included in each unit provide this context and repetition. These activities also help ESL students to move beyond receptively understanding new vocabulary to learning how to employ this vocabulary for their own uses.
While this textbook does an excellent job in helping to prepare ESL readers to competently handle general, non-technical academic material, I do regret that it does not include a section dealing with more technical material. Biology and psychology textbooks, for example, tend to be dense with technical terminology, and frequently do not provide as many coherence markers and restatements as [-2-] textbooks written with non-technical prose do. If ESL students who complete this textbook are to be ready for full-time undergraduate study, as the preface suggests, it would seem essential that they be introduced to more technical prose as well.
All in all, I am very impressed with Making Connections There are few other ESL reading textbooks on the market that integrate as well what we know from research about the L2 reading process into a pedagogically sound and intellectually stimulating text.
Thomas A. Upton
University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire
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