September 1998 — Volume 3, Number 3
Academic Encounters: Reading, Study Skills, and Writing. Content Focus: Human Behavior
Bernard Seal (1997)
New York: Cambridge University Press
ISBN 0-521-47658-5 (paper)
Pp. xx + 220
Academic Encounters is a text for students who are starting in an academic environment with an intermediate to high intermediate English level. It uses material taken from textbooks used in North American university or community college psychology and human communications courses. The author has restricted his sources of material to these two areas to help students build better background knowledge. The texts are abridged and reorganized, although at the sentence level little has been changed. The text book successfully develops students’ study skills by teaching highlighting, note taking, and test preparation skills. It emphasizes reading skills by broadening vocabulary and focusing on grammatical structures that commonly occur in academic text. Additionally there are opportunities for practice of academic writing skills.
The book has five units broken down into two chapters each with a preview and four readings in each chapter. Each unit provides the instructor and students with up to 20 hours of classroom material, resulting in a 100-hour course when the five units are completed. The duration of the course could be easily modified, however, by deleting some exercises or assigning them as homework, or by adding supplementary materials.
Each unit is divided into two chapters, and every chapter contains four readings. Each reading contains two types of pages, text pages and task pages (marked by a colored vertical bar). These pages contain the pre- and post-reading activities. Using unit 1, chapter 1 as an example, the chapters are organized as follows: The chapter begins with a pre-reading exercise, “Thinking about the topic.” This provides the students with a context for the reading. Then there is a short ranking exercise, followed by a pair work activity. Students check their work against that of the text they are about to read. Finally there is a discussion about how the reading might relate to the students’ home countries. The students are then assigned the reading of the two-page text, “What is Stress?” After reading, there are three reading tasks. Task 1, highlighting, is broken into three parts. The first asks the student to find words and phrases and highlight them. Next they must highlight different aspects of the work (for example, find a definition of stress and stressors). Finally, students compare their answers with classmates. Task 2 is based on building vocabulary by guessing from context. Task 3 prepares students for a short answer quiz by reviewing with them the [-1-] kind of questions that would likely be on such a quiz. To start the task, students write four questions that they think a professor might ask about this text. Next they exchange their questions with a partner and compare them. Then they choose the two best questions and write answers to them. This is followed by a whole class activity where the questions are reviewed again and the answers are assessed for completeness. The rest of the readings in the chapter are related to the same topic: “Stress and Illness,” “Coping With Stress,” and “Psychology and Cancer.” Other chapters follow essentially the same pattern.
This content-based approach is appropriate for most students encountering academic material for the first time. For ESL/EFL students the challenge presented by academic material is formidable. In Academic Encounters the readings are short and there is sufficient scaffolding provided by pre-reading activities, which are heavily emphasized since they are regarded as a crucial step in the reading process. Students learn to quickly find the main idea by skimming and surveying the text for headings, graphic materials, and terms in boldface that can provide content clues. The readings are progressive and presented in a format that would normally be encountered by students in any content course at the community college or university level. The text encourages students to approach the writings as they would a content course. After the readings students are given various tasks that aid them in developing their understanding. These include reading comprehension questions, drawing a graph, or performing a role play. Some tasks ask students to analyze the structure of the text, looking for main ideas, supporting details, and author’s comments. Some language tasks focus on vocabulary and the unique grammatical features of academic text. Both are critical to students’ future academic success. Students learn how to highlight a text, take notes in the margins and in a notebook, and practice test-taking skills. There are opportunities for essay writing, text summaries, journal writing, and writing short answers. While doing the above students learn how to work with the organization and style expected in academic writing. With such a variety of tasks and task types, students can acquire the skills needed for success no matter how diverse their learning styles.
I have used selected chapters from the book with students at the first and second year of university in Tokyo. In this EFL setting, the students are in a much lower proficiency range then the target for whom the text is intended. Most of the them, however, could do the assigned work. Pre-tasks and post-tasks were challenging, but the students gained confidence by completing them. The pre-tasks also served their stated purpose of making the readings more accessible. I believe the author has been too restrictive in his target group of intermediate to high intermediate students, since my groups of Japanese first- and second-year students successfully completed this material. [-2-] All in all, I found the book to be reasonably complete and was satisfied with the presentations in the text. If you are looking for a well thought out and carefully planned academic skill text for ESL/EFL students, I would recommend this one.
Clark A. Richardson
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