Vol. 1. No. 3 — March 1995
The Orange Grove and Other Stories
Rosanne Keller (1992)
Pp. 90., ISBN 0-88336-558-8 (paper)
Syracuse, NY: New Readers Press
The Kite Flyer and Other Stories
Rosanne Keller (1992)
Pp. 90., ISBN 0-88336-560-X (paper)
Syracuse, NY: New Readers Press
Note from the Book Review Editor: The following is one of four reviews written by students in a Practicum in ESL course at the University of Idaho. An endnote, written by the instructor, explains the goals of the course and the procedures for writing the reviews.
Rosanne Keller’s purpose in writing these books is to provide interesting multicultural reading material for both ESL learners and adult new readers. Each book contains four complete stories illustrative of current life styles and depicting characters representative of different cultural groups in today’s changing U.S. society.
These societal changes are reflected in both of Keller’s books. The first story in The Orange Grove and Other Stories deals with the age-old theme of how young love triumphs over adversity; it describes the simple love story between two migrant Hispanic farm workers who wish to marry against the wishes of the girl’s disapproving father. In the process of reading the story, the reader learns to appreciate the values of another culture. Of the three remaining stories in this book, “The Granny Group” deals with the frustrations encompassed by growing old and how three particular ladies, who meet daily at a senior citizens’ center, find a resourceful way of solving their problems. “Stranger at the Door” tells the story of how Makeda, a beautiful young Ethiopian woman, is rescued from becoming the victim of a cruel scam through the timely intervention of her ESL teacher, while “Midnight Anger” deals with another Hispanic family, where the conflict can be attributed to low wages and overcrowded living conditions.
The second book, The Kite Flyer and Other Stories, is equally as diverse as the first in its attempt to provide characters representative of today’s changing global society. “The Kite Flyer” itself deals with the universal human problem of “empty nest syndrome,” while the other stories in this volume contain topical issues such as the harrowing plight of illegal Mexican aliens in [-1-] their struggle to build a better life for themselves in this country.
While acknowledging that Keller’s attempt to provide multicultural reading material for the ESL market is highly laudable and much needed–not only from the perspective of ESL readers but also from the viewpoint of all readers–her writing style follows the predictable formulaic pattern characteristic of simplified text, which would be suitable for only the low-beginner proficiency level among ESL learners.
The author is writing to a readability formula to produce a simplified text which she believes will aid the comprehension of ESL and new readers. By averaging three one-hundred word samples from different parts of the book, a Fry Readability score of approximately a grade two reading level can be determined for this text. The finished product is similar to graded readers used in the primary grades in elementary schools.
The content of the books, together with the writing style, appears more appropriate for elementary school children than for adult ESL learners. Even for grade-school children, however, the text is repetitive and unchallenging, because simplified text removes the necessary linguistic markers which must be learned in order to proceed to a more difficult reading level; linguistic simplification, therefore, can be self-defeating.
Current ESL reading research (Yano, Long & Ross, 1994) points to there being no significant difference in the comprehension of students exposed to simplified text, of which these texts are an example, and elaborated text, which does contain the appropriate linguistic markers necessary for progress to the next level of reading difficulty. The research does, however, show a significantly lower rate of comprehension for students exposed to only native-speaker text. This raises a question: If there is no significant difference in the comprehension of students exposed to simplified and elaborated text, then why bother with the former? Elaborated text, being more closely related to native-speaker text, has the advantage over simplified text of providing the challenge necessary to facilitate the ascent to the next reading level–which the simplified text in these books fails to accomplish.
Keller’s commitment to the provision of multiethnic books for ESL and new adult readers is highly commendable. The prime way to break down the barriers of racial prejudice is to work toward correcting misunderstandings between people of different ethnic groups arising from misperceptions they may have of each other’s cultures, and Keller’s stories attempt to do just that. However, the method she has chosen to accomplish her goal–simplified text–is rooted in poor pedagogical theory, and she would fare better if [-2-] she used her admirable talents to produce elaborated text, as described in current research.
These books are perhaps suitable for elementary school children and useful for the low-beginner proficiency level among adult ESL learners and adult new readers. However, even grade-school children would quickly tire of this simplistic style of writing: the value of the high interest stories does not compensate for the pedagogically flawed writing style.
This material could actually be used most effectively for a purpose not envisioned by the author: as working text for an advanced ESL class to hone their sentence-combining skills, the objective being to re-write the stories in elaborated text, or for a really advanced class, in native-speaker text.
Yano, Y., Long, M. & Ross, S. (1994). The effects of simplified and elaborated texts on foreign language reading comprehension. Language Learning, 44, 189-219.
Christine I. Hawkes-Lewis
University of Idaho
Hands-on teacher education: Book reviews in the ESL practicum
The goal of the Practicum in English as a Second Language at the University of Idaho is to prepare participants to assume responsibilities in a variety of areas of TESOL. These responsibilities include administration, curriculum and syllabus design, materials and resource development, classroom practice (methods and techniques), and assessment and evaluation. One concrete objective for the course is for participants to be able to make educated recommendations for and actual choices of classroom materials. To this end, during the practicum participants are [-2-] exposed to a variety of textbooks and other ESL resources. Building on discussions of optimal classroom language learning environments, and with a list of possible issues to address, participants are assigned to choose any three texts/resources to evaluate; they then prepare written reviews of these materials. Following examples/ guidelines published by journals in the field, graduate students in the class must then prepare one of the three reviews for publication. The reviews are revised as many times as necessary for clarity, content, and structure. The review intended for publication is then submitted to the appropriate journal; however, the course grade does not depend on whether or not the review is actually accepted for publication.
This activity reinforces for participants in the practicum the value of a broad overview of available resources and the importance of sharing ideas with colleagues. As a result of the assignment’s unfamiliarity, participants learn the necessity for organization and planning that is crucial to ESL professionals. The result of this assignment, as seen below, is a diverse set of informative text reviews; they are written in different styles and concern a variety of content. Most importantly, this assignment has given the course participants encouragement to become involved in professional activities and has initiated the growth of their professional identities.
University of Idaho
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