[Mari Vargo & Laurie Blass. Boston: Heinle Cengage Learning, 2013. (Included: Online Workbook, Teachers’ Guide, Audio CD, DVD & Assessment CD-ROM with ExamView) pp. xvi + 224. ¥2,860. ISBN: 978-1-133-94213-9.]
Reviewed by Lynette Airey, Bunkyo University
Pathways 1: Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking, a content-based text, is the second of a five-book series aimed at improving students’ academic literacy through individual, pair, and group learning exercises using high interest and relevant themes from National Geographic material. The text is very detailed with a well-defined structure, and expresses a definite flow to which my 2nd-year university students were very responsive.
The series allows students the chance to incorporate modern technology into their language learning. The students’ Online Workbook provides students with additional exercises to work through on their own, and teachers can monitor students’ progress and provide feedback and extra activities online. All video clips and audio material are available in the online workbook. The students’ textbook includes the script of the video clips, grammar and reading skill summaries, and writing and research tips as well as a glossary. The detailed teachers’ guide provides a synopsis of the readings and videos plus websites and ideas for extension activities. Teachers can also choose to teach with a Presentation Tool CD-ROM on an interactive whiteboard or computer.
The interconnectivity of the vocabulary and reading exercises along with the writing exercises is paramount in the text. The focus on specific skills devoted to developing academic literacy, combined with the aim of invoking visual literacy, makes it a very engaging text for students. Acquisition of new words and academic material is strengthened by the frequency of speaking activities, which help consolidate new information and ideas and provide balance to a rather demanding pre-intermediate text.
There are 10 units and each unit has 20 pages, lasting about three to four 90-minute lessons. There are four sections in each unit. Two vocabulary-reading lessons (Lessons A and B), a video-listening section in the middle, and finally a writing lesson (Lesson C). The vocabulary-reading lessons provide the language, content, and academic skill, while the video acts as a content bridge, and the writing tasks consolidate the unit.
Each unit starts with discussions of colourful visuals which set the mood for the unit theme, exposing students to the key concepts they will be encountering. Next is the Preparing to Read section which is one of the strengths of the text and was well noted in the student survey I conducted. Before each reading, ten high frequency and academic words were identified in context and then reinforced with several writing and speaking activities to consolidate the words. Such work prior to reading certainly satisfies research results conducted by Hulstijn and Laufer (as cited in Lightbown & Spada, 2013, p. 64), a study that focuses on the Involvement Load Hypothesis in vocabulary acquisition. Further, some target words are highlighted according to their morphological and syntactical structures and collocation groupings, offering chances for extension activities.
The academic reading skill introduced in Lesson A is reinforced in Lesson B. However, the reading passages in Lesson A and B differ in two ways. Firstly, they both offer different perspectives on the unit theme. Secondly, the reading text in Lesson A is a straight reading passage of about 450 words, whereas in Lesson B the content is expressed in a variety of formats, including graphs, diagrams, maps, and photographs, requiring students to interpret numerical or pictorial data.
Woven throughout the text is the emphasis on critical thinking, an essential skill in an academic environment (Gibbons, 2009). Students reflect, analyze, and critically evaluate information and then express opinions and relate information to their personal experience. Several students in my class found this difficult initially but eventually enjoyed the challenge—especially after viewing the video clips, where the content in Lesson A and the video is synthesized, requiring students to think more deeply about the topic.
The writing section, Lesson C, demonstrates that academic writing requires drafting. Students write sentences in controlled situations using a basic grammar structure and a specific function, for example, speculating on a certain topic connected to the unit theme. Students then discuss their sentences between each draft and end with a peer review of their final composition. Whilst the reading section of the book is very detailed and a course within itself, the writing section on its own is insufficient but an excellent summary to each unit.
Instructors wishing to use a solid reading text that teaches a variety of academic reading and writing skills with a balance of speaking and critical thinking activities would no doubt be satisfied with this text.
Gibbons, P. (2009). English learners, academic literacy, and thinking: Learning in the challenge zone. Portsmouth, UK: Heinemann.
Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2013). How languages are learned (4th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.