1. THE READERS UNDER REVIEW
The following textbooks will be reviewed in this article: New World Interactive English Reader 5, and New World Interactive English Workbook 5. They are written by Anjali Dere (formerly Vice Principal of St. Xavier's School in New Delhi) and Uma Mani (formerly PGT English Mother's International School & Springdale's School, New Delhi) for use in Indian schools. They are published by Macmillan India Limited, 2000.
Additional resources available with these materials are the teacher's manual and audiocassettes. These were not available for review.
2. A GENERAL OVERVIEW
A note from the publisher at the beginning of each book states,
This series has been written specially to meet the needs of a generation emerging at the turn of the millennium with specific and unique language needs. The cultural relevance of the book will help the learners to reach out to the changing world as much as to root into our soil.
This is one of the first distinctions one notices in these texts. They are geared toward Indian culture. Many of the illustrations reflect Indian clothing and design. Many of the stories come from the wealth of Indian folklore and history. One will find various names of people and places that are Indian.
At the same time, the books reflect Western culture. Several of the illustrations depict people in Western clothing, and many of the stories come from Western folklore and history.
3. WHY THESE GRAPHIC STORIES WITH GORY DETAILS IN A TEXTBOOK?
While the texts are quite an interesting mix in this respect, they remain distinctly Indian in their whole presentation. A Westerner might, indeed, be rather surprised by some of the graphic stories in the reader - not necessarily things we would find at level 5 in our own materials in the United States.
For instance, there is a story about a cemetery for pets; the activity following the story calls for students to design tombstones for dead animals.
Another activity for discussion asks students,
How would you react to the following situations? (a) A loud pounding on the door at night, which stops every time you ask, 'Who's there?' Then, within a minute it starts again; (b) When you hear screams in the night coming from a flat you know is unoccupied; (c) A torn note slipped under the door saying - Meeta, I'll murder you tonight; (d) The telephone ringing and being cut off (whenever you lift the receiver)
Do the writers want their students to be scared, or introduced to the genre of detective and scarry fiction? Is this kind of "dark sayings" really necessary as an educational goal?
One of the final stories in the reader is about a little girl named Matilda - she tells lies. She said that the house was on fire so the firemen came and hosed it down, though it wasn't really burning. Then, when the house truly did catch fire no one believed her, so she burned up with the house.
To my eyes these stories seem rather morbid, but should I force myself to imagine that they are in no way culturally inappropriate for their target audience? Yet, is this really a desirable addition? Or is it simply following the older ways of narrating stories in traditional textbooks in Indian languages and Indian contexts?
4. ADDRESSING INDIAN SOCIETAL VALUES
Besides these stories, we find the tale of William Tell, excerpts from the diary of Anne Frank, poetry by famous poets, and various other popular stories. Many of these stories address Indian societal and cultural values. One of them is particularly intriguing - it is a story about the necessity of learning to read so that you don't get cheated by those who may have more knowledge than you. They understand and are conveying the idea that knowledge is power.
5. AUTHORS ARE TALENTED TEXTBOOK WRITERS
On the back of the books there is a statement concerning the authors,
Mrs. Anjali Dere and Mrs. Uma Mani have had years of teaching experience in highly reputed schools of New Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. They have conducted workshops for teaching training in innumerable schools. This has enabled them to design this course material with interesting dimensions to cater to the specific teacher/learner needs.
This skill is obvious in the presentation of the book. The texts are easy to read, using 14 pt. font, bold headings, thought bubbles, etc. They make good use of illustration and seem well designed to hold students' attention. There is sufficient space given for activity sections in both books, and all in all the layout of the texts are pleasing to the eye.
6. VIEWED FROM THE USE OF LANGUAGE SKILLS
To move into more specific evaluation, we will look at the books in light of the four basic language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Listening in English is attending to and interpreting oral English…Listening prepares students to understand the speech of the native speakers of English as they speak naturally in a normal speed and normal manner. (Thirumalai, 2000).
As stated earlier, there are audiocassettes available with this curriculum. The text states, "Model reading of some lessons, poems and listening inputs for teaching listening add an interesting dimension to the series." While these audiocassettes were not available for review, it is safe to say that they would be a key resource for the listening facet of learning English.
There also seem to be many activities geared toward listening. There are various questions students must answer based upon how well they listened to a story/passage that was read. As well, there are discussion activities and games geared toward listening. All in all, both the Reader and the Workbook seem to be well rounded in this area.
As Bowen et. al (1985) points out, 'successful learners should be able to produce their thoughts in a way that will make their message accessible to native speakers of English who have no special training in linguistics or in the native language of the speaker.' (Thirumalai, 2000).
Speaking is also very well provided for in both the workbook and the reader. There are many questions geared toward discussion and making the students reproduce their own thoughts in English. Students are allowed a great amount of opportunities to speak on the lessons they have just learned, as well as to build upon previous lessons. Both books are more than adequate in this area.
. . . the ultimate goal of reading is not the process of reading itself, but the unraveling of the meaning represented by the words, phrases, and sentences. (Thirumalai, 2000).
In my opinion, these texts do a wonderful job in covering the reading aspect of learning English.
First of all, there is an interesting and informative selection of passages for students. They are culturally and age-relevant, as well as an offering of different styles including short story, poetry, comic strip form, etc. These will definitely hold students' attention and interest.
As well, the activities are geared toward exactly what is stated in the above quote. There are various opportunities requiring students to analyze the passages being read, enabling them to find clear meaning from each text. They are often asked to reproduce stories or poems in similar format, as well as discuss how the passages are relevant to their lives. Altogether, the texts present an excellent opportunity for students to be challenged in their reading skills.
Writing is an individual effort and work, but it must follow the rules laid down. (Thirumalai, 2000).
Again, these textbooks do an excellent job of addressing this language skill. The workbook as well as the reader provides a wealth of activities that require students to utilize their writing skill. These include free writing activities as well as grammar-skill activities. All of these are more than adequate for this area.
We can conclude from this review that these texts are excellent resources for teaching English to Indian children. Admittedly, there are some grammatical and punctuation errors, as well as some outdated word usages and misspellings. But these do not mar the presentation of these books as a whole, and these faults could be easily fixed if it were possible to have the texts proofread by a native English speaker. The relevance of teaching poetry in a textbook that focuses on learning a foreign language is not well established. Some of the stories could be replaced with other more suitable and interesting ones. Length of the lessons could be shorter.
In all, the texts really meet up with the statements made concerning them found on the back of the books:
. . . born out of exhaustive field research through our interactions with thousands of teachers across the country; written specially to meet the needs of a generation, emerging at the turn of the millennium with specific and unique language needs; comprises passages chosen to cater to the different ability groups; takes into account classroom constraints as well as teacher variables; and has a strong grammatical base with a well-defined grammar syllabus and repeated practice for new language items learnt.
Altogether it is a wonderful resource and a credit to those who put it together.
Dere, Anjali & Mani, Uma. New World Interactive English Reader 5. Macmillan India Limited, Chennai, India. 2000.
Dere, Anjali & Mani, Uma. New World Interactive English Workbook 5. Macmillan India Limited, Chennai, India. 2000.
Thirumalai, M.S. An Introduction to TESOL. Experimental Textbook. Bethany College of Missions, Minneapolis, MN. 2000. Also available in Language in India, April 2002.