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ESL considerations in the language of mainstream college textbooks

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ESL considerations in the language of mainstream college textbooks
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Hansen, Amanda Kay
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English
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vii, 74 leaves : ; 28 cm

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College textbooks ( lcsh )
Academic language ( lcsh )
Students, Foreign -- Books and reading ( lcsh )
Academic language ( fast )
College textbooks ( fast )
Students, Foreign -- Books and reading ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 72-74).
Statement of Responsibility:
Amanda Kay Hansen.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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710978883 ( OCLC )
ocn710978883
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LD1193.L54 2010 H45 ( lcc )

Full Text
5
ESL CONSIDERATIONS IN THE LANGUAGE OF MAINSTREAM COLLEGE TEXTBOOKS
by
Amanda Kay Hansen
B.A., University of Nebraska Kearney, 2008
A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado Denver in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts English
2010


This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by
Amanda Kay Hansen has been approved
by
Hong Guang Ying
Michelle Comstock
Date


Hansen, Amanda Kay (M. A., English)
ESL Considerations in the Language of Mainstream College Textbooks Thesis directed by Associate Professor Hong Guang Ying
ABSTRACT
This thesis addresses textbook transparency, or the ability of textbook information to be transferred easily from texts to the students who use them. I focus specifically on ESL students but also note ways in which linguistic features in textbooks can present problems for native speakers. As my model textbook, I use The Origins and Development of the English Language by John Algeo. I perform context-sensitive text analysis in order to determine how features of this text's composition might make this a difficult text for ESL students as well as native speakers. Ultimately, I offer suggestions on factors that teachers should keep in mind when selecting and implementing textbooks in order to facilitate comprehensibility and understanding of textbook content.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication
Signed
Hong Guang Ying


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
I would like to thank my advisor, Hong Guang Ying, for his guidance as I completed this thesis project. I would also like to thank the members of my committee, Michelle Comstock and Amy Vidali, for their support, encouragement, and insight.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. ESL CONSIDERATIONS IN THE LANGUAGE OF MAINSTREAM COLLEGE TEXTBOOKS.............................1
An Anecdote........................................1
Purpose of this Study..............................2
Scope of this Study................................3
Arrangement........................................4
2. REVIEW OF LITERATURE..................................5
Chapter Overview...................................5
Textbook Selection.................................6
Textbook Function.............................7
Content Concerns..............................8
Language Concerns............................10
Summary...........................................31
3. AN EXPLORATION OF TEXTBOOK TRANSPARENCY..............34
An Introduction to Algeo's Textbook...............34
Informal Language in the Text.....................37
Sarcasm in the Text...............................44
v


Subjective Comments Audience Address ....
49
51
Summary.............................................55
4. CONCLUSION: HELPING STUDENTS PROCESS TEXTBOOK INFORMATION.............................................. 57
Teachers and Textbook Implementation............... 57
Knowing the Textbook............................. 58
Explicit Instruction............................... 60
Gauging Student Comprehension of Textbook Material. 62
Textbook Reevaluation.............................. 64
Interdisciplinary Knowledge-Sharing.................65
APPENDIX
A. END OF THE TERM STUDENT TEXTBOOK REEVALUATION QUESTIONNAIRE.............................................68
END NOTES.......................................................69
WORKS CITED.....................................................72


CHAPTER 1
ESL CONSIDERATIONS IN THE LANGUAGE OF MAINSTREAM COLLEGE TEXTBOOKS
An Exploration of Textbook Transparency in the Selection and Implementation of College Textbooks: Introduction
An Anecdote. In the spring of 2009,1 took a class on the history of the English language. I soon befriended one of my classmates, a young Korean woman pursuing a masters in Applied Linguistics as I was. Before each exam in this class, we would meet and review the exam material, which included information from the required text for the class. My friend would bring any questions that she had regarding our textbook to these review sessions. Several times her questions regarding the textbook resulted not from a confusion with the concepts themselves. Rather, the questions resulted from the style in which the author of the textbook had written. For instance, the author would occasionally use sarcasm, and my Korean friend, though proficient enough in her reading and writing ability in English to be successful at the graduate level of study, entirely missed the author's sarcasm. As a result, she also missed certain information the author was trying to relay. When my friend pointed out such confusing passages in our textbook, I would explain to her that the author was using sarcasm in the passages. I would then convey to her the points the author was trying to make in my own words, and she quickly understood the concepts that had previously been muddled by their presentation within the textbook.
1


Purpose of this Study. As I recently reflected on the experience I had in my history of English class, I realized the need for clarity in the language of mainstream college textbooks in order to aid understanding for both English as a second language (ESL) students as well as native speakers of English. At the same time, I recognized that when clarity is lacking in a textbook already in use, the teacher has a responsibility to accommodate for linguistic shortcomings to aid full comprehension of textbook material. Therefore, I embarked on this research endeavor in order to examine the linguistic shortcomings that hinder what I am calling textbook transparency. I define textbook transparency as the ability of textbook information to be transferred easily from texts to the students who are using them. My study focuses on the needs of ESL students in mainstream, introductory undergraduate courses; however, even the language of well-written textbooks can present comprehension problems for native speakers. While I will be focusing the majority of my attention on how features of a textbook's composition can hinder comprehensibility for ESL students, I will also consider how these same linguistic features might hinder comprehensibility for native speakers.
In order to demonstrate the potentially negative impact that certain linguistic features of a textbook might have, I will be using as my model textbook John Algeo's The Origins and Development of the English Language, the sixth edition. Algeo's textbook is the same textbook required in the history of English class my friend and I took in the spring of 2009, referenced in the anecdote. I have identified in Algeo's
2


textbook four linguistic features of the text's composition that might hinder textbook transparency: informal language, sarcasm, subjective language, and audience address. In chapter three, I will define these features in greater detail. While I might have chosen other characteristics to focus on, I selected these four so I could provide a more in-depth discussion of my examples from Algeo's text. Furthermore, these four characteristics are the most prominent features of the textbook that might impact comprehensibility. I isolated these features in Algeo's text by performing what composition scholar Thomas N. Huckin calls context-sensitive text analysis (84). My context-sensitive text analysis of these four features will illustrate how such linguistic characteristics might make passages in texts like Algeo's difficult for ESL students and even native speakers to understand. I will describe context-sensitive text analysis in more detail in chapter three.
Scope of this Study. I have focused my attention in this project on textbooks written for the undergraduate level, especially introductory textbooks. Furthermore, I concentrated on mainstream classes as opposed to classes geared towards ESL students. ESL classes are specifically designed to meet the needs of ESL students. Likewise, teachers of ESL classes are typically trained to work with ESL students. In mainstream undergraduate classes, however, teachers often have little or no training to help meet the needs of ESL studentsESL students who exhibit English literacy skills that vary significantly. Finally, I have narrowed my focus to ESL students in mainstream classes in order to provide more concrete, purposeful examples, although
3


I also point out how linguistic features discussed might impact native speakers. In the concluding chapter, I will provide some suggestions for application of the results of this study.
Arrangement. I have divided this study into four chapters, the first of which comprises this introduction. The second chapter is a review of the current literature on textbook transparency, ending with the gap that I perceive in the current scholarship on this topicthe rationale for this current study. The third chapter focuses on my model text, John Algeo's The Origins and Development of the English Language, the sixth edition. Using this text, I isolate and illustrate the four linguistic features introduced briefly above that might hinder textbook transparency. The final chapter discusses how teachers from various disciplines can address linguistic ambiguities while implementing textbooks, linguistic ambiguities that may be present either in texts they are already using or texts that they are considering. The goal of these recommendations is to help mainstream teachers better meet the needs of their ESL students as well as their native English speaking students. This study concludes with an appeal for interdisciplinary knowledge-sharing, a cause for which this study represents but one small offering.
4


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
Chapter Overview. My discussion of textbook transparency will be examined through the lens of textbook selection and implementation, as the emphasis of textbook transparency in the literature is best seen when reviewing the processes educators, administrators, and researchers have developed to evaluate textbooks. I would like to begin by explaining the distinction I am making between textbook selection and textbook implementation. In Textbooks: Evaluation for Selection and Analysis for Implementation, Patricia Byrd addresses textbooks from two perspectives.1 First, she discusses the process by which teachers select a book for use in their classes, what she terms evaluation for selection (415). Second, she describes the steps taken to implement the book in class, a process she calls analysis for implementation (415). In Byrd's estimation, these activities represent two distinct processes even though many of the concerns for both textbook activities overlap. I agree with Byrd that these are two processes with unique considerations. Therefore, I will outline the process of textbook selection in this review of literature as I anticipate the features that need to be considered regarding ESL students when first selecting a textbook for mainstream, introductory, undergraduate classes. My discussion of textbook implementation will wait until chapter four, as I consider possible avenues for application of the points made throughout this study. In the final
5


section of this chapter, I will focus my attention on some areas of textbook transparency that remain under-examined in the literature, the rationale behind this current study.
Textbook Selection. In Byrd's discussion of textbook evaluation for selection, she highlights the intricate, multifaceted process by which textbooks are selected, including the role played by teachers. While some teachers have considerable freedom in the textbook selection process, Byrd explains that other teachers have little or no freedom in selecting textbooks. She asserts that often text selections are made by administrators or by committees of teachers (415). In Textbook Selection and Evaluation, ESL instructor and curriculum developer Alexandra Skierso asserts that regardless of the amount of freedomif any at all that teachers have in selecting textbooks, they still need to know on a daily basis how to evaluate the text in order to utilize its assets and compensate for its limitations in applying it to the needs of the students and the objectives of the class (432).2 With this in mind, I will now examine the initial process of knowing how to evaluate the text by highlighting some of the major categories through which textbooks are evaluated for selection. Respectively, the categories I will focus on are textbook function, content concerns, and language concerns. As I explore language concerns, I will spend extensive time reviewing the criteria often set forth in readability formulas, some of which will be featured in chapter three in my exploration of numerous passages from Algeo's textbook.
6


Textbook Function. Textbooks are used for different purposes in different classes and school systems, and the current literature recognizes such differences of textbook function. Byrd addresses the role of the textbook in the classroom as she discusses the importance of the fit between the materials and the curriculum (416). In larger school systems, school systems with considerable purchasing power and various methods for control of content, Byrd states, the fit between the textbook and the curriculum is assumed to be a reasonable and achievable goal (416). In other words, for large programs, the textbook is often subordinate to the curriculum. However, Byrd states, For smaller programs and individual teachers, the fit between curriculum and textbooks can be harder to achieve because programs do not have clearly articulated curriculum statements, whereby the text itself becomes the curriculum or because a program is too small for publishers to provide textbooks based on its individual curriculum statement (417). In this regard, textbooks function as a single tool among several used to present the content of the curriculum, or the textbook itself determines the curriculum.
Some teachers seek to minimize the textbook's role in the classroom, so that alternatives to textbooks have become increasingly popularsuch as materials created by the teacher or institution (Crookes and Chaudron 31). Furthermore, the ease of access to all kinds of supplementary resource materials and stimulus materials via the Web has helped teachers supplement textbooks (31). Richard J. Paxton notes that some teachers past and present even want to dispense with the use of textbooks
7


entirely (318).3 In this vein, Penny Ur presents common arguments that have been made for and against using textbooks, such as inadequacy, or the reality that, Every classin fact, every learnerhas their own learning needs: no one coursebook can possibly supply these satisfactorily (185). Another complaint is homogeneity, or that textbooks have their own rationale and chosen teaching/leaming approach. They do not usually cater for the variety of levels of ability and knowledge, or of learning styles and strategies that exist in most classes (185).
Despite these arguments against the centrality of textbooks in the classroom, there are many benefits to be considered. For instance, Using a textbook provides the luxury of having a uniform body of information that is accessible to each student (Robinson 415). Furthermore, Unlike listening to lectures, reading a textbook enables students to go at their own pace and even stop and reread difficult sections (415). In addition, Ur asserts that not only do teachers prefer to have a text, but students, particularly ESL students, also prefer to have a textbook (193). She states, those classes which I have tried to teach on the basis of a selection from different sources have complained of a sense of lack of purpose, and, interestingly, that they feel that their learning is not taken seriously (193). I will consider students more in depth later on in this chapter.
Content Concerns. Literature on textbook selection often highlights textbook choices that focus on the content rather than on the style in which the content is
8


written. In this vein, education professor Gary L. Steinley states, if my experiences are typical, textbook selection is based first of all on content (114). Only after Steinley is satisfied with the content of a textbook does he attend to how the content is delivered (114). At the same time, Steinley admits, it is easy to forget that for students the order is reversed. They must get through the howthe form of the text and its languagein order to get to the what, the content. What is for me a second priority in choosing texts is for students a first and necessary step in comprehending them (114). In these statements, Steinley brings up some important points. First, Steinley highlights the two most important features scrutinized when educators and textbook selection committees select textbooks: content and form. He also subordinates form to content; however, Steinley acknowledges that students must use the form to get to the content. I will now focus on several content concerns that appear frequently in the literature and are most pertinent to this study: excessive, vague information. After these concerns of content have been addressed, I will spend the remainder of the chapter addressing issues of form.
Excessive, Vague Information. The appearance of excessive or vague information in textbook writing are often interrelated concerns, but I will explore each separately. In terms of too much information, reading and comprehension scholar Bonnie B. Armbruster states that since publishers provide an encyclopedic coverage of topics textbooks often suffer from superficial treatment of content (712). As a result, Armbruster states, By sacrificing depth for breadth, textbooks
9


often fail to explain concepts and clarify the relationships among ideas in a way that matches the topic knowledge of the reader and would thus facilitate learning (712). Similarly, others cite the appearance of overly broad coverage that promotes shallow discussion and obstructs deep reflection (Paxton 324). Suzanne F. Clewell and Anne M. Cliffton also note, The degree to which the author sticks to the topic (220) impacts comprehensibility.
Additionally, scholars note that the information presented in textbooks is given insufficient detail. One instance in which textbook authors have been too vague is when introducing new vocabulary. Steinley states, Authors regularly define or explain words that they know are new to students and that are essential to understanding concepts in a particular chapter (116). However, Steinley implies that authors do not always provide clear definitions for this new vocabulary. Rather, Many textbooks tend to list informationto 'mention,' as one critic put it (116). Consequently, students must infer the main points being made in such texts (116). Steinley asserts that textbook authors should not merely mention; they should explain and explain well (116).
Language Concerns. Once the content of a text has been deemed satisfactory, the degree to which the language of the text is accessible and transparent for students must also be assessed. As previously noted, the focus of textbook transparency in the literature is best seen when reviewing the processes educators, administrators, and researchers have developed to evaluate textbooks. I will now briefly describe some of
10


these processes, spending considerable time on the recurring criteria in these textbook selection tools by which a textbook's transparency is often determined.
Textbook Selection Tools. The criteria by which textbooks are selected are often articulated in what have variously been referred to as a checklist (Byrd 416), a guide (Clewell and Cliffton 220; Skierso 435), a readability formula (Chall and Dale; Charters 94; Giordano 32), a textbook inventory (Giordano 32), or a framework (Steinley 114). According to Byrd, textbook selection tools generally provide checklists built around numerous aspects of teaching and student-teacher interactions (416). In accordance with other scholars (Steinley 114), Byrd states that flexibility in application of such checklists is crucial: making a comprehensive yet reasonable checklist for evaluation of textbooks is an enormous challenge that requires different lists for different types of courses in different settings (416). However flexible a checklist is, Byrd emphasizes that the main issues textbook selection criteria must address are the fit between the material and (1) the curriculum, (2) the students, and (3) the teachers (416). We have already looked at content issueswhich correspond to the curriculum in Byrd's discussion. I will now primarily focus on textbook selection tools as they seek to make the fit between textbooks and students.
Textbook selection guides that provide a set of open-ended questions are common.4 Steinley presents such an adaptable tool for the process of textbook evaluation in his article A Framework for Evaluating Textbooks. In the construction
11


of his framework, Steinley relies upon the work of three scholars in the field of reading and comprehensionMerlin C. Wittrock, Bonnie B. Armbruster, and Thomas H. Anderson. Steinley states that the guidelines for his framework are offered here not as a complete checklist for text selection, but more as a framework to keep in mind while selecting materials (114). From Wittrock, Steinley incorporates into his framework the concept that text comprehension is based on the reader generating two kinds of relationships: (1) relations between ideas in the text and the reader's stored knowledge and experiences and (2) relations between parts of the text (114). Steinley uses these two related but separate parts of the comprehending process (115) proposed by Wittrock to organize his textbook evaluation framework.
Influenced by the guidelines for both evaluation of existing materials and development of new materials found in Armbruster and Anderson's 1981 work Content Area Textbooks, Steinley develops the criteria in his framework for evaluating the quality of writing and comprehensibility of a text (115). Some of the features, or rhetorical devices, that Steinley addresses are examples and analogies, style, explanation of vocabulary, headings, and sentence and paragraph coherence
(115-117). I will go into more detail about pertinent rhetorical devices that appear in textbook selection frameworks, like Steinley's, shortly.
Another prominent type of textbook selection tool are readability formulas, and one of the most widely used readability formulas of the twentieth-century is the Dale-Chall Readability Formula, first developed in 1948. Jeanne S. Chall and Edgar
12


Dale define readability formula as, an equation which combines those text features that best predict text difficulty (79). Their readability formula, like other classic readability formulas, once focused exclusively on word difficultywhether measured as word frequency, familiarity, or word length as well as sentence length (Chall and Dale 5). The revised version of the formula, also referred to as the New Dale-Chall Formula, is still based on the two most potent factors in classic readability measurement: semantic (word) difficulty, and syntactic (sentence) difficulty (6). However, the New Dale-Chall Formula has taken cues from continuing research in reading and comprehension and now also provides guidelines for making an optimal match between texts and readers by estimating reading abilities of the intended audience, their background knowledge, motivation, purposes for reading, and the availability of assistance from teachers or knowledgeable peers (6). In addition, the revised formula suggests ways to make judgments about the influence of cognitive-structural factors on the reading difficulty of written texts (6). Many of the features highlighted in the Dale-Chall Formula will receive greater attention shortly.
Textbook selection materials have often been criticized. First of all, readability formulas have been decried as being narrow in scope. In his article, Pre-Testing a College Textbook, W.W. Charters, Jr. states, Readability formulas, as mere statistical predictions of difficulty, give limited insight into ways of improving passages the index points out as hard. Many other questions on organization and form
13


of presentation, of course, cannot be answered (86). Chall and Dale also recognize the limitations of readability formulas, stating that, No readability formula is a complete and full measure of text difficulty. It measures only a limited number of the many characteristics that make text easy or hard to read and understand (6). In their article Readability Formulas May Be Dangerous to Your Textbooks, Bonnie B. Armbruster, Jean H. Osborn, and Alice L. Davison further articulate issues that readability formulas raise. First, they state, readability formulas fail to take into account many characteristics of text that are known to affect comprehensionfor example, content difficulty and familiarity, organization of ideas, author style, page layout (18). Furthermore, Armbruster, Osborn, and Davison assert, The most popular formulas use only two aspects of a text in computing readability levels: word difficulty and sentence length (18). One other characteristic they see as problematic of readability formulas is that readability formulas neglect characteristics of readers that affect comprehensionsuch as their motivation, interest, purpose, perseverance (18). I will continue my discussion of some of the concerns cited by Armbruster, Osborn, and Davison shortly.
Readability formulas are also criticized for the variability of results within a single text as well as among various formulas. In regards to the former, Armbruster, Osborn, and Davison note, Readability levels vary widely for different passages within a single book (18). In their study, Armbruster, Osborn, and Davison selected at random four passages from a fifth grade social studies text. These passages
14


registered fourth, seventh, eighth, and eleventh grade reading levels (18). Regarding the latter, Armbruster, Osborn, and Davison assert that, different formulas predict different grade levels (18) for the same text.5 Numerous scholars note that the results of readability formulas depend upon the formula being used (Armbruster, Osbom, and Davison 19; Zakaluk and Samuels 123). Despite such criticism, all teachers rely on criteria to help guide the textbook selection process, whether such criteria is developed by the teachers themselves, criteria used by a textbook selection tool, or a combination of both.
Prominent Features in the Textbook Selection Process. I will now discuss some of the key features recurrent in textbook selection tools. While different tools highlight different features, the ones I discuss here are useful regarding the current study of textbook transparency. These features are organization, style, and characteristics of students. In chapter three, I will renew my discussion of several aspects of these features.
Organization. The organization of a textbook is an essential feature of the text's composition. Organization can refer to the layout of the entire text, such as the table of contents (Giordano 32; Skierso 439). However, the term organization can also refer to each chapter organized and read as a narrative. It is this second sense that I will focus on in the remainder of this section. Susan M. Hubbuch correlates textbook organization with the reading process, stating that reading:
is a dynamic process in which the mind of the reader actively interacts
with extended segments of written language, with the reader
15


constructing meaning through the aid of verbal and textual cues. These cues are provided by the author to signal the structure of the text as a whole, a structure that embodies the author's main point and purpose.
(204)
As a result, Hubbuch asserts, Coherent, explicit structure is particularly critical to textbooks (204). Similarly, Clewell and Cliffion state, The organization of ideas contributes to the coherence. The relationships between ideas are clear and logical (220). For Clewell and Cliffton, the term coherence refers both to unity of meaning and to the structure or organization of the information that contributes to unity (222). They conclude, poorly organized text makes greater demands on the reader, who has to infer the relationships among ideas (220). Additionally, Clewell and Cliffton state, Relationships among ideas must be clear and logical and signaled by cohesive devices (connectors, referents) (222). To this end, they note, In many passages, the structures are not readily apparent, and teachers may need to help students develop a clear and logical organization for the information presented (222). Therefore, while textbook authors should ideally compose textbooks in a coherent manner, when less coherent passages arise, teachers need to help students develop a coherent reading of the passage.
Division of Sections Within a Textbook. Another feature that contributes to the organization and coherence of a text is the various ways that sections of content are divided. Several scholars note the importance of headings in the organization of the text. Clewell and Cliffton view headings as a textual aid, or a feature intended to help readers understand the text (221). They assert, Effective textual aids support
16


and extend discourse (221). Steinley also cites the importance of headings and subheadings in the text to help with several areas of comprehensibility. He states, Central to the organizing part of comprehending is determining subordinate, coordinate, and superordinate relationships among ideas. In other words, the reader must construct a hierarchical structure of ideas that accounts for the ideas in the text (117). According to Steinley, headings and subheadings help to establish such relationships among ideas. Furthermore, Steinley states, In addition to constructing hierarchical relationships, the organizing reader must see how ideas are related by such patterns as sequence, cause/effect, whole/part, comparison/contrast, problem/solution, and so on (117). Steinley implies that headings and subheadings help students make these kind of connections among ideas (117).
Clewell and Cliffton note that it is important for teachers to consider what kind of instruction, if any, is required to help students understand and use the information the textual aids contain (221). In addition to headings, other textual aids pertinent to organization of ideas that might be helpful to point out to students include topic sentences, summaries, and chapter overviews (Giordano 32). At the same time, Steinley states, no matter how superior the headings and subheadings might be, the reader struggling with the incoherent paragraph is unlikely to get much help from them (117). To this end, Steinley says that teachers need to be careful to look for such rhetorical techniques as adequate signal words ('for example,' 'therefore,' 'in contrast,' and so on) (117) that aid understanding. He further states, if
17


it is difficult for me, the evaluator, to make connections from one sentence to the next or from one paragraph to the nextthen we certainly must be concerned about the student reader who lacks our background knowledge to fill in the gaps and make the connections (117).
Connectors or Signal Words. Another set of tools that textbook writers use to help students connect ideas within paragraphs as well as between paragraphs in a textbook includes connectors or signal words. Connectors are metadiscourse signals that clarify the purpose or direction of a particular passage, acting as guideposts for the reader (Kolln and Gray 138). Additionally, Paxton states, Metadiscourse is the way an author intrudes into the primary, informational discourse of a text to give opinions or direct the reader. It is how an author, directly or indirectly, tells an audience how it should embrace the ideas embedded within a text (326).
Furthermore, Paxton states, Authors express their views about the information in a text by using attitudinal metadiscourse (326). This attitudinal metadiscourse that Paxton describes is indicated by metadiscourse signals, and Paxton gives several clear examples:
emphatics, such as 'without a doubt,' that indicate an assertion's degree of certainty; saliency, such as 'still more critical,' that make clear beliefs about importance; evaluative, like 'unfortunately,' that present attitudes toward a fact or idea; and hedges, such as 'the record is unclear, nevertheless,' that indicates the degree of uncertainty. (326)
In the same vein, Clewell and Cliffion state that such Cohesive devices help to
relate ideas within texts that readers would otherwise have to infer (220). If such
18


aids as connectors or signal words are lacking and students cannot make connections among the sentence or cannot make connections among paragraphs, the result, Steinley asserts, is that, there is little hope for organizing at the level of chapters or units (117).
Memory. Good organization is also important because it encourages memory. Steinley highlights the importance of organization on memory as he discusses the influence of the research of Armbruster and Anderson on his inventory criteria. He states that as Armbruster and Anderson created their textbook evaluation criteria, they extended familiar notions of coherence and unity with contemporary research in text processing (115). To this end, Steinley relates, the relationship between organization and memory has been a given in rhetorical tradition for centuries.
Classic orators relied on organization not only to help their audience comprehend and remember their main points, but also to help themselves remember points and subpoints in noteless speeches that could last for hours (115). Tying this tradition into the modem day, Steinley relates that Armbruster and Anderson point out, for example, that structure not only influences the amount of content remembered from text but also the kind of processing that can follow comprehension (115). Stronger organization not only increases retention, but, The better organized and more highly integrated a person's memory representation of a text is, the better base it provides for such higher level thinking processes as evaluating or problem solving (115).
Clewell and Cliffton also discuss the structure of the text (220) and its
19


relation to memory. They state, The text's structure influences both the type and amount of information recalled (220). In accordance with Steinley, Clewell and Cliffton assert, The better organized the text, the better remembered the information. Moreover, readers who use the organization of a passage recall more information (220). In this way, organization is not only a feature employed by textbooks authors but also a tool to be used by readers. Hubbuch further discusses the relationship between organization of ideas and retention, stating that students are more likely to remember the content of textbooks: When authors directly express general ideas, when they place these general ideas prominently at the beginning of segments of prose, when details are subordinated to the general ideas they illustrate and support, when the relationships among ideas are explicitly expressed (207).
Style. Another prominent feature in the textbook selection process is style. In their book Rhetorical Grammar, Martha Kolln and Loretta Gray refer to style as, A writer's manner of expression, influenced by word choice, sentence length and complexity, figurative language, tone, and other sentence features (290). For this study, I will be using the term style in the same vein as Kolln and Gray. Discussing style, Steinley states, Some textbooks are written in a style that is mature, interesting, and aesthetically pleasing (116); however, he also asserts that some textbooks are stylistic disasters (116), what some have labeled textbookese (Paxton 316). To this end, Steinley asserts, it appears that many authors today, in order to meet criteria established by some readability formulae, have taken the style
20


out of their own writing (116). Similarly, Hubbuch states, In their [textbook authors and publishers] attempts to suit textbooks to what they perceive to be the needs of various levels of readers, they have over-zealously applied reading formulae and overused simple description and narration. The results, ironically, are boring or incomprehensible texts that trap students in simplistic thinking and passive learning (205). In the remainder of this subsection, I will be focusing on four subtopics in my look at style as it relates to textbook transparency, several of which are listed in the definition of style provided by Kolln and Gray. Respectively, these subtopics are words and syntax, discourse type, informal language, and audience address.
Words and Syntax. By words and syntax, I mean the choices that authors make regarding the use of individual words in their textbooks as well as choices regarding the overall structure of their sentences. In regards to individual word choice in textbook writing, the preeminent features that have been noted as criteria for textbook evaluation include determining the numbers of syllables in words, the number of words that are comprised by sentences, or the frequency with which key words appear in a passage (Giordano 32). Clewell and Cliffton likewise state, In the past, vocabulary and sentence length have been the major criteria for determining a text's comprehensibility. That is, it has been assumed that short words and short sentences make a text easier for students to understand (219). In regards to sentence-level decisions made by textbook authors, readability formulas encourage short sentences (Steinley 116) as well as simple sentence structure (Skierso 437; Steinley 116) versus
21


complex sentence structure.
While simple word choice and simple sentence structures might be
encouraged by readability formulas, leading scholars decry this suggestion. In terms
of simple word choice, Armbruster, Osborn and Davison state, simplifying the
vocabulary often involves substituting vague words for precise words and the costs
of using 'easy' words include some loss of meaning and more than a little ambiguity
(20). Clewell and Cliffton further assert that the use of simple word choice and
sentence structure do not produce the desired effect. Rather, Students'
comprehension may actually be negatively affected if texts are designed to meet the
constraints of readability formulas (219). To illustrate this, they provide a succinct
example: the use of easy but nonspecific termse.g., 'things' in place of a more
precise wordand short, simple sentences with few connectors may make ideas and
relationships among ideas more difficult for students to comprehend (219).
Furthermore, Hubbuch notes that in short sentences:
very often the words that are excised are the very words the reader needs mostconjunctions that spell out the relationships between clauses (because, unless, although, etc.) or adverbial phrases that signal a statement's function within a larger text unit {thus, for example, under these circumstances). Leaving out explicit signals forces the reader to draw inferences. (205)
In this regard, the concerns of word choice in textbook writing overlap concerns of organization of ideas, specifically the use of connectors and signal words, noted in the previous section. Armbruster, Osborn, and Davison concur when they state, Dividing sentences by separating clauses and deleting connectives such as 'and,' 'but,' 'then,'
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and 'because' often makes them harder, rather than easier, to understandbecause the reader must infer the missing connectives (20). Lastly, Hubbuch asserts that reading formulae also underestimate student ability, as These formulae overlook something which ten minutes on a playground would tell anyone: even young children understand and use complex sentences all the time (205).
Discourse Type within Textbooks. Within content-area textbooks, there appears what Suzanne F. Clewell and Anne M. Cliffton call types of discourse (223).6 Clewell and Cliffton state that these types of discourse are distinguished by the author's intentions (223). For content-area textbooks, Clewell and Cliffton state, most discourse is exposition, intended to inform readers about the world (223). The structures of exposition include: (a) description, (b) sequence, (c) cause-effect, (d) compare/contrast, and (e) problem-solution (Armbruster, Anderson, and Ostertag, Teaching Text Structures 130). These structures of exposition or what Susan M. Hubbuch calls text patterns cross disciplinary lines and signify hierarchical and logical relationships (whole/part, generalization/illustration, cause/effect, if/then, etc.) (207).7 Hubbuch further states, expository patterns underlie scholarly academic writing, analytical essays such as those found on op-ed pages in newspapers and in magazines such as Harper's and The Atlantic Monthlyand, ideally, textbooks (207). In this regard, Hubbuch asserts that familiarity with expository writing is crucial because expository writing is the discourse mode that writers in our culture use to analyze important social, political, and ethical issues (204).
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Armbruster, Anderson, and Ostertag likewise assert, Most learning from reading, both in and out of school, depends on the ability to read and understand expository texts (Text Structures 332). Therefore, the importance of being able to glean information from expository texts has implications beyond the reach of the classroom.
In terms of other types of discourse present in textbooks, Hubbuch as well as Clewell and Cliffton note the use of narration, of which Hubbuch states, Narration recounts an event as a chronological sequence of actions, sometimes including cause/effect relationships among them (206). Clewell and Cliffton also mention the use of narration to tell a story that relates a topic to the readers' background knowledge and experience, thereby stimulating interest (223). They additionally note the occasional use of persuasion in textbooks, by which the author intends to change the opinions, feelings, attitudes, or behavior of the audience (223). As a result of varying discourse types in textbooks, Clewell and Cliffton assert, Different types of discourse make different demands on the reader. When shifts from one type to another are not clearly signaled, readers may become confused and have difficulty understanding the content (223).
Informal Language. Informal language within a textbook can take on a variety of forms. For instance, some textbook evaluators are concerned with whether Standard English or nonstandard English is being used (Skierso 437). By nonstandard English, I mean any form of English that lacks social prestige and is not considered acceptable in official contexts (Akmajian et al. 583). Others note the presence of
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idioms (Rosenthal 85; Skierso 437) or slang (Skierso 437). An idiom is, A combination of words whose meaning cannot be predicted from the meaning of the individual words (Kolln and Gray 285). Skierso also addresses what she calls register, and she asks, To what extent does the text teach the register appropriate for the needs of the students (e.g., formal or literary style vs. conversational style vs. technical style)? (446). The model textbook I will be analyzing in the following chapter, Algeo's The Origins and Development of the English Language, uses more of a conversational style than the formal, rigid style of many college textbooks.
Textbook authors choose to write in a less formal style to achieve specific ends. Steinley states, Distance, both literally and figuratively, always exists between text authors and text readers. But the distance can be reduced by such writing techniques as a conversational tone, first- and second-person pronouns, homey examples, digressions, and humor (116). Less formal language, then, can be an attempt to bridge the distance found between text authors and text readers. In addition, Steinley asserts that books written in a more casual sounding voice read as more clearly written by a human for humans (116). In the following chapter, I will be looking more in-depth at several types and instances of informal language in Algeo's textbook, including an extensive look at various modes of sarcasm in his text.
Audience Address. I have placed audience address after subjective language because there is some overlap between the two categories, which I will elaborate on momentarily. By audience address, I mean the way in which the author relates to the
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target audience throughout the text. Sometimes, textbook authors directly address the target audience. In this regard, direct address is one method that textbook authors use to mediate the distance found between text authors and text readers, particularly by way of first- and second-person pronouns (Steinley 116). The use of we or you, as I have done in this study, helps establish a more conversational tone. Clewell and Cliffton also mention this relationship between the reader and the author (223), particularly focusing on whether the point of viewregardless of first, second, or third personis consistent or not (223).
Paxton refers to point of view as a literary device used by textbook authors to control their personal intrusion into texts (327). He makes a distinction between two extremes: an anonymous author writing in the third person and a visible author writing in the first person (328). He says that the highly anonymous author creates a distant relationship with the information in the text and puts forth a sense of distance and lack of importance to readers (328). For the visible author writing in the first person, Paxton holds the opposite to be true (328). Paxton also discusses the voice the author assumes in relation to metadiscourse (326). He asserts that when a textbook author uses a powerful, third-person voice, the author appears to be beyond question, or at least discourages questioning by the reader (326). In addition, this type of voice lacks metadiscourse that has the potential to guide readers by helping them understand an author's perspective (326). I will further elaborate on audience address in my analysis of Algeo's textbook.
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Textbook Selection Based on Characteristics of Students. Another recurrent theme in the literature is the importance of choosing textbooks based on characteristics of the students who will be using them. In this regard, Byrd discusses the fit between students and texts (417), framing her discussion with the three major elements of textbooks: content (and explanations), examples, and exercises or tasks (417). She highlights an important element in being able to determine compatibility between textbooks and students: the person or group making the selection needs to know enough about the students to be able to answer questions about the three major elements of textbooks (417).
Establishing a good fit between students and texts can be challenging, however, because Individual students are required to use textbooks that are designed for a generic student audience (Lester and Cheek 282). As a result of student diversity, Julie H. Lester and Earl H. Cheek, Jr. assert that the multifaceted qualities of our students warrant our attention and reflection as we try to blend the various multicultural backgrounds and individual differences of students with the various forms of content presentation found in textbooks (282). Questions important for consideration might involve age range (Skierso 432), sex distribution (Skierso 432), or the native languages and cultures of students (Gunderson 79-120; Skierso 432). In terms of how students might interact with the text, Skierso is also concerned with the manner in which culture is displayed in the text, whether it is free of biases (435). Byrd cites the importance of anticipating whether the content could be
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offensive or inappropriate for its intended audience (417). Furthermore, Ur asks whether the textbook's approach is educationally and socially acceptable for the intended audience (186). I will address a few cross-cultural concerns in my analysis of Algeo's text.
One of the major characteristics regarding ESL students involves the circumstances leading up to their presence as ESL students in U.S. higher education. ESL students at the undergraduate level of study have literacy skills that vary significantly for several reasons. Undergraduate ESL students can be broadly categorized as either international, immigrant, or refugees. International students are ESL students attending college in the United States on temporary student visas (Rosenthal 72). International students tend to have completed their secondary education in their homeland and are well read and literate in their native language (73). Lastly, before beginning their study in the U.S., they have studied English as a foreign language (73) in their native countries. ESL students can also be first and second generation immigrants and refugees (72) who are more likely to remain in the United States on a permanent basis and in time may become U.S. citizens (73). Some immigrant or refugee students have completed high school or studied at a university in their native country (73). However, other students because of political and economic problems in their native countries come to the U.S. with no knowledge of English and low literacy levels in their native language (73). All of these students find themselves together in mainstream undergraduate courses, and
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regardless of the success found in ESL instruction prior to entry into mainstream classes (if any) or acceptable TOEFEL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores, they must continue to develop their literacy skills in English in order to be successful in mainstream classes.8
Some student characteristics might be ascertained before a class begins; however, other characteristics of students must wait to be answered until the class is in progress. For instance, Gerard Giordano asserts that information gleaned from textbook formulas should be supplemented by teachers' observations about how individual readers interact with that book (32). If this does not happen, Giordano states, poor rapport with the basic features of a textbook will frustrate readers. Teachers have to gauge whether readers can interact with the structure of that textbook effectively (32-33). If students do not interact with the structure of that textbook effectively, then we obviously should seek out the reason why as well as possibly accommodate for any differences of learning styles or preferences our students might have.
Prior Knowledge. The preeminent student characteristic scholars note in the textbook selection process is the prior knowledge of students. Paxton states, For every domain of human experience, comprehension and interpretation involves an interaction of input with existing knowledge (331). Therefore, for students to successfully read their textbooks, this interaction between prior knowledge and existing knowledge must take place. Armbruster likewise states, readers build their
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own meanings from text, based on information in the text as well as their experiences and knowledge (712). At the same time, Hubbuch acknowledges, By definition, a textbook is an introduction to or an overview of a particular body of knowledge, read by individuals with little or no background in the subject for the purpose of gaining such background knowledge (204). Since students are unfamiliar with the content, Hubbuch asserts, they are especially reliant on text structure to show them how to construct a mental schema for the subject, for showing them what the 'parts' are and how these parts fit together (204). To this end, textbook form helps students construct an understanding of the content. Another way authors engage students' prior knowledge is through the use of examples and analogies. In regards to examples, Steinley states, This help is not only a matter of authors providing enough examples, but also a matter of authors using examples that are either general enough to apply to all age and experience levels or specific enough to apply to the level for which the textbook is intended (115). Similarly, in terms of the appropriateness of textbook analogies, Steinley states, It is of little value when an author attempts to clarify an abstract or obtuse process with an analogy that is equally distant from the students (115).
Clewell and Cliffton emphasize the importance of ascertaining the extent to which the text takes into account a reader's prior knowledge (219) when selecting textbooks. They state, a student's ability to comprehend a text is affected by the degree of congruence between the individual's knowledge base and the knowledge
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that the author assumes (219-220). To this end, Clewell and Cliffton state, Authors and editors make assumptions about the readers' knowledge and experience in order to determine the kind and amount of elaboration needed to support the message. The content should be accurate and explicit so that the reader does not have to rely excessively on background knowledge (221). If textbook authors assume too much prior knowledge, we may need to supplement textbook content.
Likewise, we must be careful judges of what our students are likely to know. Steinley relates how anticipating the knowledge-base of students is a complicated process. As teachers, our prior knowledge helps us to make sense out of some grossly underexplained, disorganized, textbooks (114). Furthermore, he states, We teachers encounter a text armed with years of study and experience. What for them [our students] might be a vague, wandering, irrelevant piece of prose, for us might be a well-stated explanation of a concept that all should know and cherish (114). For students, incomprehensibility in a text might result when experts do not necessarily understand how to present complex content for new, young learners (Byrd 419). In this way, such texts are not necessarily poorly written from an expert's standpoint, just from the standpoint of an inexperienced student. I will briefly return to the topic of prior knowledge of students in the following chapter.
Summary. Despite the wealth of information that I found regarding the selection of textbooks for primary and secondary education, very little addresses the selection of textbooks for mainstream, introductory undergraduate classes, especially
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the needs of ESL students in such classes. In ESL Students in the Mainstream: Observations from Content Area Faculty, Judith W. Rosenthal briefly discusses factors that contribute to difficulties, including: the subject matter, the style in which the material is written, the background knowledge that the student brings to the reading assignment, and his or her reading ability (80). However, she spends the majority of this discussion on vocabulary in the textboth general and discipline-specificas well as the significantly greater amount of time it takes ESL students to read a textbook than their native-speaking classmates (81).
In ESL (ELL) Literacy Instruction: A Guidebook to Theory and Practice, Lee Gunderson also mentions the presence of new technical vocabulary, the uses of known items in new contexts (e.g., the word conductor in a physics class), and the features of particular discourse styles (e.g., narrative versus argumentation) (33), but he does not go into great detail on these features as they affect ESL students in mainstream, introductory classes. This gap in the literature leaves content-area teachers outside of English studies with a lack of resources to turn to in order to accommodate the needs of ESL students in their classes. For this reason, I felt the necessity for this current study.
In the following chapter, the analysis I have performed on passages from John Algeo's textbook, The Origins and Development of the English Language, will present a model by which teachers from a variety of disciplinary areas might begin to recognize features of the textbooks that they are considering to use or are using
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already that might pose comprehension difficulties for ESL students in their classes. In addition, I will demonstrate how many of these same concerns can present comprehension challenges for native speakers. Following my analysis of Algeo's textbook, the final chapter will present several suggestions for the implementation of textbooks in mainstream, introductory undergraduate classes that will aid understanding for ESL students as well as native speakers.
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CHAPTER 3
AN EXPLORATION OF TEXTBOOK TRANSPARENCY
Exploring Barriers to Textbook Transparency Using John Algeo's Textbook:
The Origins and Development of the English Language
An Introduction to Algeo's Textbook. At the outset of my study of textbook transparency, I could have selected from a multitude of mainstream, introductory college textbooks to use as a model text. I selected John Algeo's The Origins and Development of the English Language, the sixth and most recent edition, for several reasons. First of all, having used the fifth edition of this textbook in two classes that I have takenone as an undergraduate and the other as a graduate studentI am quite familiar with the text and have had time to reflect upon the text, gaining a more nuanced perspective with each reading. I felt that this nuanced perspective would be more valuable than one I might have gained from selecting, reading, and analyzing a textbook simply for this study. From a comparison between the fifth and sixth editions of this text, I discovered that the two editions are remarkably similar, with the sixth edition the clearest to date. Therefore, I chose to use the sixth edition over the fifth edition because Algeo has made revisions that have heightened clarity, especially as he initially identifies and defines terms within the text.
Secondly, I selected this textbook because the subject matter corresponds to my area of study, and to this end, I can be a more critical judge of how well Algeo is presenting the content. If I had chosen, for example, a widely used astronomy
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textbook, I could have familiarized myself with the content and understood that content to a certain degree; however, I would have been a less apt judge as to whether the material was being accurately represented. Furthermore, as this textbook was the core text used in two courses at two separate universities in different states, I felt that Algeo's textbook had garnered enough respect to merit the attention I am affording it here. Lastly, in many respects this textbook is a strong, well-written one. Algeo's textbook presents foundational linguistic information in a reasonably straightforward way, and it represents the history of the English language in a manner that is fairly simple for those with little or no background in linguistics or the stages of English. For each of these reasons, I felt that this textbook was a suitable model text.
At the same time, in having chosen this text for a discussion of textbook transparency, I am also acknowledging that I notice aspects of this textbook's composition that are not as transparent as they could be, which brings me to the four linguistic characteristics that I will be focusing on in the remainder of this chapter: informal language, sarcasm, subjective comments, and audience address. As stated in the introductory chapter, I arrived at these four linguistic characteristics by performing what composition scholar Thomas N. Huckin calls context-sensitive text analysis (84), in which I analyzed specific aspects of Algeo's text while respecting the context in which they are found. In his discussion of context-sensitive text analysis, Huckin states, context-sensitive text analysis tries to account for as much of the context of situation as possible (Malinowski), without becoming overly
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speculative. It assumes that people's reasons for writing things in certain ways are influenced by a broad spectrum of contextual factors, including social, cultural, and other factors that are not readily formalizable (89). In this regard, I try to respect the context in which Algeo is writing as best as I can as I analyze passages from his text, with the understanding that there might be factors influencing the way he writes that are not readily formalizable. Furthermore, Huckin notes that this type of analysis relies openly on plausible interpretation rather than on any kind of proof....It can only try to assemble enough evidence to make a strong case for a certain point of view (89). To this end, the linguistic features I highlight in this chapter that might pose challenges for ESL students seem clearly problematic for me, but someone else using Algeo's text might not see in them the same cause for concern, especially if ESL students do not make up a significant part of the class in which Algeo's text is used. Finally, Huckin states, Although texts are usually open to multiple interpretations, the number of plausible interpretations is constrained by various linguistic conventions that are manifested in the text (86). Ultimately, it is by means of the linguistic conventions found in Algeo's text that I reach my conclusions in this chapter.
I began my analysis of Algeo's text by examining the preface, where Algeo outlines not only the goals of this textbook but also comments on the way in which the text is written. In the preface, Algeo states, The prose style throughout has been made more contemporary and accessible. The author hopes that such changes will
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help to make the book more useful for students and instructors alike (v). This statement brings up several points of interest. First, The Origins and Development of the English Language is the sixth edition of a text originally the work of Thomas Pyles. Each edition has seen subsequent treatment by John Algeo to the extent that, unlike the fifth edition, Algeo's name alone appears on the front cover. To this end, the language has been made more contemporary since the text was originally published in 1968. Furthermore, this text has also been made more accessible, increasingly in the voice of Algeo as editor.
When Algeo states that the material in this edition is presented in a prose style that aims to be more contemporary and accessible, he indicates his desire that this text be a useful learning tool for students and instructors alike. In other words, Algeo's intended goal in writing in this less formal, accessible language has been to facilitate understanding, and for the majority of the text he succeeds in this aim. However, there are numerous instances where this less formal, accessible language might impede understanding for ESL students in particular, but also for native speakers of English. For this reason, I embarked on the current study of Algeo's text. In the remainder of this chapter, I will explore passages where clarity might be compromised by certain features of the accessible language.
Informal Language in the Text. One feature that I isolated in my analysis included Algeo's use of what I am calling informal language. This informal language takes on a variety of forms in this textbook. The first variety of informal language that
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I will address is colloquial expressions, and the second is metaphoric language. I define the first of these, colloquialisms, as informal phrases that might be heard in everyday speech. Writing in a contemporary style, Algeo uses everyday turns of phrase throughout the text, some of which are more commonly used and whose meaning are easier to determine from the context of the passage. From the perspective of ESL students, however, colloquial phrases might be difficult to understand, even given contextual clues. For example, on the very first page of chapter one, Algeo discusses the first recorded account of the English language: When we first catch sight of it [the English language] in historical records, it is the speech of some none-too-civilized tribes on the continent of Europe along the North Sea (1). The phrase in this sentence that drew my attention was the verb phrase catch sight of. While this verb phrase might seem straightforward to native speakers of English, the individual words that make up the verb phrase are not as transparent as they first appear. What does it really mean to catch sight of something, especially something as intangible as spoken language? If ESL students reading this passage were to draw upon the top three uses of the word catch in Webster's, they would find: one, to seize and hold, as after a chase; capture, two, to seize or take by or as by a trap, snare, etc., and three, to deceive; ensnare (Catch, def. 1-3). It is not until the eighth definition that the verb phrase catch sight of is mentioned. Similarly, for the word sight, the top three definitions are: one, a) something seen; view b) a remarkable or spectacular view; spectacle c) a thing worth seeing, two, the act of seeing;
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perception by the eyes, or three, a view; look; glimpse (Sight, def. 1-3). It is not until after three sets of definitions that the verb phrase catch sight of is mentioned. Perhaps this turn of phrase is common enough that advanced ESL students might have learned the intended meaning or more readily ascertain the intended meaning by using an electronic dictionary. In any case, Algeo might have reduced the linguistic guesswork by shortening this three word phrase to a one word phrase, like see, which would have created: When we first see it in historical records, it is the speech of some none-too-civilized tribes on the continent of Europe along the North Sea. Not only would a substitution such as this have been more clear for ESL students, but it would have been more concise while not stifling Algeo's style.
Another example of a colloquialism in Algeo's text can be found in the penultimate chapter. This chapter focuses on the ways in which new words are created in the English language, and the very last sentence of the chapter describes an uncharacteristic manner in which new words enter the English language. In the following excerpt, I have provided the sentence preceding the one in question to provide context: Loanwords borrowed from other languages (considered in the next chapter), although once a frequent source of new words, is of relatively minor importance today. And almost no words are made from scratch (246). The phrase that piqued my interest is made from scratch. A phrase such as made from scratch is so common in everyday speech that a native speaker of English might simply overlook it as anything but a clear description of how something might be made. ESL
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students, on the other hand, may find more difficulty interpreting the intended meaning of this three-word phrase by simply looking at the most common dictionary definition for each word, especially if they do not readily come across the phrase made from scratch when consulting a dictionary. Apart from this phrase, the word scratch is most commonly used as a verb, the top two definitions being: one, to mark, break, or cut the surface of slightly with something pointed or sharp and two, to tear or dig with the nails or claws (Scratch, def. 1-2). It is not until the fourth set of definitions that the phrase from scratch is mentioned. These two phrases catch sight of and made from scratch are common enough in the speech of native English speakers, but ESL students may have a more difficult time making meaning within larger sections of text if colloquial phrases like these are numerous in the textbooks they are using.
A second variety of informal language that Algeo employs throughout his text are more literary, metaphoric turns of phrase. Kolln and Gray describe metaphor as, The nonliteral use of a word that allows the speaker or writer to attribute qualities of one thing to another for purposes of explanation or persuasion (286). One example of metaphor that Kolln and Gray give to illustrate their definition is the phrase food for thought. This is a commonly used metaphor, and when native speakers hear this metaphor, they don't think of literal food but rather a compelling idea or a intriguing suggestion. While food for thought is a common metaphor, the instances I am referring to in Algeo's text are uncommon and would not be found in casual,
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everyday speech. For the purpose of this study, when I use the term metaphoric language I mean language used creatively that has a specific meaning apart from the literal, surface meaning. In order for the intended meaning to be understood, however, the images that are conjured up using this metaphoric language must first be understood literallythe surface meaningbefore they must be applied and understood symbolically.
One example of such metaphoric language is found in chapter nine, as Algeo discusses the current form of English spoken and written todayLate Modem Englishand how this general form of the language developed. In this chapter, Algeo describes the different varieties of English currently spoken in different countries, and he discusses how England and the United States, as dominant figures in world events, have influenced the spread of English across the globe. In discussing the dominant linguistic influence held initially by England on the English language, Algeo states, The baton of influence was passed about the middle of the twentieth century, however, to the United States (183). The phrase The baton of influence is the metaphoric language in question here. The first layer of meaning in this phrase that must be properly understood to glean the intended meaning of this sentence relates to the act of passing a baton as part of a relay race. Once this literal, surface meaning has been ascertained, readers must then realize that a baton of influence is not, in this instance, a tangible, concrete object but rather an abstract reality that Algeo is highlighting in the history of the English language. While not competing in a literal
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relay race with the U.S., Algeo intends that the dominant presence in world affairs that England occupied for many years was surpassed by the U.S., about the middle of the twentieth century, and, therefore, the English of the U.S. has also become more influential. This is Algeo's intended meaning. In an attempt to aid understanding for ESL students, Algeo might have opted for more straightforward language, omitting this metaphoric phrasing. One option might have been something like, However, the United States surpassed England in influence about the middle of the twentieth century. Such a substitution would not present a metaphoric barrier to understanding for ESL students, a barrier that native speakers would most likely not struggle with. Additionally, a substitution like the one I have provided would be more concise.
A second example of metaphoric language can be found in the penultimate chapter of the text. In this chapter, Algeo discusses new words that have been added to the English language, and in the passage in question, he is focusing on the use of the suffix -ize in the creation of new words. One of the examples that Algeo gives is the word finalize. Algeo describes the entrance of the word finalize into the English language in this way: Finalize descended to general use from the celestial mists of bureaucracy, business, and industry, where nothing is merely ended, finished, or concluded (233). The phrase descended to general use from the celestial mists of bureaucracy, business, and industry is the metaphoric phrase in question here. First, for ESL students to be able to understand this sentence, they would have to recognize
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that Algeo is not referring to a concrete entity with his use of the image celestial mists, but rather the elevated position of influence for those found in bureaucracy, business, and industry. Algeo might have made this sentence more clear and concise by simply leaving out the phrase the celestial mists of or by substituting this phrase with something more straightforward like the language of, creating, Finalize descended to general use from the language o/bureaucracy, business, and industry, where nothing is merely ended, finished, or concluded. While there is still some implicit social commentary below the surface of this statement, overall the sentence is more straightforward in regards to ESL students, as well as more concise.
Colloquial expressions and metaphoric language are interwoven throughout our everyday speech and are also found in writing, whether writing for formal purposes or informal. In this regard, I am not suggesting that textbook writers like Algeo should purposefully eliminate colloquial expressions and metaphoric language from their writing. Certainly they should consider what impact such lexical choices might have on the comprehensibility of passages within their textbooks. My purpose in highlighting Algeo's use of colloquialisms and metaphoric language is to illustrate what they look like in the context of a textbook and to highlight the potential comprehension difficulties that these features might pose, particularly for ESL students. To this end, I anticipate that if more teachers make themselves aware of the way in which such features appear in the textbooks they use, they will be better able to anticipate and accommodate for any misunderstanding experienced by their
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students as a result of such features, whether ESL students or native English speakers.
Sarcasm in the Text. Another feature of the textbook's composition that might hinder full comprehension is Algeo's use of sarcasm. One example of sarcasm in Algeo's text occurs in chapter eight, in which Algeo discusses the form of English spoken and written during the time of ShakespeareEarly Modem English. For this era in the history of English, Algeo discusses prominent attitudes toward language, especially prescriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar is defined as, A grammar that aims to state the linguistic facts in terms of how they should be (O'Grady et al. 649). Algeo describes several men from this era who had very pointed ideas about how the English language should be written. Algeo asserts that this trend towards prescriptive grammar was most influenced at this time by eighteenth century scholar Robert Lowth, a man aimed at bringing English into a Latin-like state of perfection (Algeo 159). In other words, Lowth saw Latin as being in a state of perfection, and Lowthnot Algeowanted the same for the English language. Algeo states that prominent writers in the history of the English language, such as Shakespeare, have broken the prescriptive grammar rules mandated by prescriptive grammarians. Furthermore, Algeo states that men, typified by Lowth, set out in all earnestness in the midst of a busy life to do something constructive about the deplorable English written by the masters of English literature (159). When Algeo uses the phrase the deplorable English written by the masters of English literature, he is not stating a linguistic fact, nor his own opinion of the English language. Rather, Algeo is
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sarcastically relaying the misguided notions of prescriptive grammarians like Lowth. However, Algeo's statement reads like a straightforward, declarative statementthe type of statement to be expected in a textbook. Within the context of this passage as well as Algeo's discussion of the English language as a whole, this sarcastic tone is easily deduced by native speakers; however, ESL students may take this seemingly straightforward statementthat the masters of English literature wrote in deplorable Englishat face value, not expecting the author of a textbook to be using sarcasm. With such a faulty assumption, ESL students would be completely missing the point Algeo is trying to make in this section through his use of sarcasm.
Another instance of sarcasm takes place in chapter ten, where Algeo examines English words and their meanings. In one section of this chapter, Algeo elaborates different reasons that definitions of English words change over time. One reason Algeo discusses is what he calls pseudoscientific vogue words (219) that gain popularity for a time. According to Algeo, a vogue word is A word in fashionable or faddish use (298). In the following excerpt from Algeo's text, I am focusing on the second sentence, in which he uses four such vogue words. The vogue words in both sentences are italicized by Algeo: A particularly important kind of image to convey, especially for politicians, is the father image. Young people are apparently in great need of a father figure to relate to, just as they require a role model to achieve the most successful lifestyle (219). As with the first example of sarcasm, the second sentence comes across as a straightforward, declarative statement. Once again,
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however, Algeo is not stating a linguistic fact but sarcastically stating assumptions that people have made, using these vogue words to illustrate his point. If ESL students are unable to distinguish sarcasm in Algeo's writing, they very well might mistake a statement like this for advice on the needs of young people, which it is not. Such an understanding of this sentence would not accurately reflect Algeo's intent.
A particular vein of sarcasm that runs throughout Algeo's textbook is aimed at religionnamely Christianity. On more than a dozen instances in his text,9 Algeo makes sarcastic statements either directly referring to Christianity or alluding to it using language almost exclusively associated with this belief system. A discussion of the history of the English language would be incomplete without some mention of the effects of certain elements of Christianity. The Anglo-Saxons, or people of England in the Old English period, were essentially illiterate until the arrival of Christianity (Blake 56), and By the end of the eighth century, the impact of Christianity on Anglo-Saxon England had produced a culture unrivalled in Europe (McCrum, Cran, and MacNeil 65). Furthermore, the King James Bible exercised enormous influence on the development of the language (Crystal 59), and the Book of Common Prayer, when adopted in 1594, began to have an influence on English literary style (Algeo 139). Certainly, some discussion of Christianity's impact on the English language is warranted; however Algeo's sarcastic treatment of Christianity in this text might present a potential source of confusion for ESL students and native speakers alike.
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One example of this form of sarcasm in Algeo's text takes place in the fourth
chapter, where he describes the various world language groups, one of which is the
Balto-Slavic languages. Within each of his descriptions of language groups, Algeo
provides some brief historical background. The following excerpt is part of his
historical description for the Baltic language he labels Old Prussian:
Prussians, like Lithuanians and Latvians, were heathens until the end of the Middle Ages, when they were converted at the point of the sword by the Knights of the Teutonic Ordera military order that was an outcome of the Crusades. The aristocracy of the region (their descendants are the Prussian Junkers) came to be made up of members of this order, who, having saved the souls of the heathen Balts, proceeded to take over their lands. (59)
From a purely semantic perspective, as with the instances of sarcasm mentioned earlier, Algeo's sarcastic tone might elude and thereby confuse ESL students. While it appears on the surface that Algeo is making a straightforward statement about the heathen state of the Prussians, Lithuanians, and Latvians until the end of the Middle Ages, in reality, he is sarcastically describing the manner in which these people were forced to join Christianity. While native speakers would easily detect his sarcasm, ESL students might miss it, especially ESL students lacking a background in the Judeo-Christian religions.
Another example takes place in chapter eight, where Algeo discusses some of the distinctive features of the English language at the time of Shakespearethe Early Modem English period. During a discussion of relative and interrogative pronouns of this time, Algeo states:
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The King James Bible, which we should expect to be a little behind the times in its grammar, has which where today we would use who, as in 'The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field' (Matthew 13) and in 'Our Father which art in heaven.' This translation was the work of almost fifty theological scholars appointed by James I, and it was afterward reviewed by the bishops and other eminent scholars. It is not surprising that these men should have been little given to anything that smacked of innovation. (168)
There are several lexical issues I could address in this passage that might inhibit
understanding for ESL students, such as the colloquial phrase smacked of
innovation. However, focusing exclusively on the sarcasm aimed at Christianity, this
passage brings up several points of concern. First of all, why should Algeo's audience
expect the King James Bible to be a little behind the times in its grammar, any
more so than any piece of writing from this era? Clearly, Algeo expects the reader to
understand and agree that the language of the King James Bible is conservative in
nature. Whether or not this is true, the language of the King James Bible was a
product of its time, as were the words penned by Shakespeare, who Algeo goes on to
discuss in the next couple of sentences: Shakespeare, who with all his daring as a
coiner and user of words was essentially conservative in his syntax, also uses which
in the older fashion to refer to persons and things alike, as in 'he which hath your
Noble Father slaine' (Hamlet) (168). Algeo does not refer to Shakespeare as being
behind the times in grammar or lacking anything that smacked of innovation.
Instead, he uses the phrase essentially conservative to describe Shakespeare's
grammar, a less condescending way to address conservatism in writing than when he
discussed the language of the King James Bible. Furthermore, while for Algeo the
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usage of which by Shakespeare and in the King James Bible might sound conservative, for ESL students this distinction would be less readily apparent.
For each of the instances of sarcasm addressed in this study, any ambiguity in comprehension presented by the sarcasm is problematic for another reason. ESL students and native speakers might be confused not only by the use of sarcasm in the context of a textbook, but they might also fail to recognize sarcasm because of their lack of prior knowledge of the subject matter. Both times I took courses that used Algeo's text, most of my classmates had taken no prior courses in basic linguistic informationthe focus of the first three chapters of his text, as well as information essential for understanding the whole of the text. Nor did my classmates have any background in the history of English. As a result of unfamiliarity with subject matter combined with an author's use of sarcasm, native speakers and ESL students may lack the critical literacy essential to not only understand a text but also the ability and knowledge to judge whether the content has validity or is substantiated in some way (Gunderson 236). Any textbook may contain explicit and implicit meanings (238), and students' lack of experience with the content may lead them to fail to realize when texts are not neutral, represent particular views, silence other points of view and influence people's ideas (238). I will reconsider this topic in the following section.
Subjective Comments. Not only can a lack of background knowledge and critical literacy be problematic in terms of sarcasm in texts, but so can the
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appearance of subjective comments. For the purpose of this study, I define subjective comments as offerings of personal preference as opposed to factual, verifiable statements. The subjective comments in Algeo's text took on numerous forms. For instance, in chapter one Algeo discusses collocations, or The tendency of particular words to combine with each other (284). At one point in this discussion, Algeo states that unlike the common collocation, mild breeze, in the following word combinations, A 'mild judgment' would be a bit odd, and a 'lenient case of the flu' sounds like a joke (3). This claim brings up several points of interest. First of all, the statement that the collocation a mild judgment sounds a bit odd represents Algeo's opinion, rather than a linguistic fact. More importantly, for ESL students, this construction would probably not sound the least bit odd, thereby diminishing the effectiveness of his example for ESL students. What Algeo probably means, but does not explicitly say, is that for native speakers of English a construction like a mild judgment sounds a bit odd. As he does not explicitly make this distinction, Algeo provides a feeble example for ESL students and misses an opportunity to address and incorporate any ESL learners using this text.
Another instance of subjective language in Algeo's text occurs in chapter nine when Algeo discusses the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Algeo describes the OED in this way: The greatest of all English dictionaries, and indeed the greatest dictionary ever made for any language (189). Such a description is problematic for several reasons. First, by great Algeo probably means comprehensive; however, his
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word choice here leaves the phrase ambiguous. If Algeo means great as in quality, in order to make such a claim, he would need to have conducted a study of the greatest dictionary for each language in the world, and from this study, declared the OED the greatest dictionary in a qualitative sense. Not only does Algeo not allude to such a comprehensive study of dictionaries of the world's languages, but he also does not corroborate such a claim with comments made by scholars who have studied dictionaries of various world languages. Furthermore, to an ESL student, such a statement might also come across as ethnocentric. Regardless, this statement is a subjective one, the sort of statement that is unexpected in a textbook.
The use of such subjective language as seen in the examples provided here is of concern for not only ESL students but also for native speakers of English. As noted in my discussion of sarcasm, students unfamiliar with the subject matter might be unable to detect the subjective nature of the language, thereby mistaking subjective statements for factual statements. To this end, lack of a critical literacy in the content matter might leave both ESL students and native speakers with an inability to question and challenge the attitudes, values and beliefs that lie beneath the surface (Gunderson 237).
Audience Address. The final linguistic feature that I was careful to examine in Algeo's text was the manner in which he addresses the reader. As I analyzed his text, I carefully tracked Algeo's pronoun usage in addressing his reader in order to determine his target audience. Focusing on the manner in which Algeo addresses his audience is
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important to this study because, as noted in the preceding chapter, every textbook is geared toward a particular audience. Algeo directly addresses his audience throughout the text, and at times, it is unclear who that target audience encompasses. Indeed, sometimes his audience seems to change. For the majority of the text, Algeo directly addresses the reader in the first person, most frequently using the pronouns we, our, and us. Algeo uses we over three hundred times, our over one hundred times, and the pronoun us over sixty times. After I tracked the frequency with which Algeo uses particular pronouns, I analyzed the manner in which the pronouns were used in order to determine Algeo's target audience.
Upon reviewing the entire textbook, Algeo appears to be entertaining a rather broad audience at times. For instance, in the first chapter Algeo discusses the origin of language, emphasizing at one point the unique form of communication possible for humans that differentiates human language from animal language. He states, The fact that we human beings alone have vocal language but share with our closest animal kin (the apes) an ability to learn complex gesture systems suggests that manual signs may have preceded language as a form of communication (13). The phrase we human beings seems to address a broad audienceperhaps the entire human race. However, it is quite clear from other passages, such as the preface, that this is not the case. In the preface to the text, Algeo states that the audience for this text is primarily students and instructors (v), so we must reject any notion that Algeo is directly addressing all human beings in this textbook.
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Similarly, on the first page of chapter one, Algeo states, Whatever language we speakEnglish, Chinese, Hindi, Swahili, or Arapahohelps to define us personally and identify the community we belong to (1). Once again, from this sentence we might initially infer an audience boundless of language. However, Algeo makes another distinction only eight pages later indicating his target audience. Here, Algeo is discussing language as conventional. In order to illustrate this concept,
Algeo says, To the speaker of Russian it is more 'natural' to say 'Zhenshchina zanyata'literally, 'Woman busy'which sounds to our ears so much like baby talk that the unsophisticated speaker of English might well (though quite wrongly) conclude that Russian is a childish tongue (9). The phrase our ears proves false any notion that Algeo is addressing an audience boundless of language. Algeo is clearly addressing speakers of English.
Upon further analysis of Algeo's text, such a distinction of audiencespeakers of Englishstill proves to be too broad a category since English is spoken worldwide. In chapter one, Algeo asks the question, Why study the history of English? (17). He answers this question, stating that, the best place to start such study is with our own language, the one that has nurtured our minds and formed our view of the world (17). This statement implies several things. First, when Algeo refers to English as the language that has nurtured our minds and formed our view of the world, he is describing English as a language acquired since birtha native language. In this regard, he is largely disqualifying non-native speakers of English
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from his target audience. At the same time, while it might appear that his audience could still encompass all native speakers of English worldwide, further statements Algeo makes throughout the text complicate such an assertion. For instance, as Algeo discusses the sounds of the English language in chapter two, he provides a chart that focuses on English vowel sounds. Of this chart, Algeo states, Vowel symbols with keywords are those of present-day American English (25). Additionally, in chapter nine, as Algeo discusses different varieties of English spoken around the world, he spends three pages discussing varieties of American English (194-198), one paragraph on varieties of British English (198-199), and his entire discussion of world English comprises three and a half pages (199-202)of which Irish English (199-201) and Indian English (201-202) are his primary focus. Clearly, such emphases reveal that speakers of American English are his target audience.
Algeo narrows down this American audience even further, as several passages reveal. In chapter six, Algeo discusses the Middle English period, which lasted from roughly 1100-1500 C.E. The beginning of this period in the history of English was marked by the Norman Conquest, in which the Norman French invaded and conquered England (113). Of this historic event, Algeo states, The Norman Conquestfortunately for Anglo-American culture and civilization, the last invasion of Englandwas, like the earlier Danish invasions, carried out by Northmen (113). With the phrase fortunately for Anglo-American culture and civilization, Algeo hints at his ultimate audience ever so slightly. Even more clearly a few pages later,
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Algeo makes this distinction again as he discusses Middle English spelling. He says of Middle English views on spelling that, The notion that every word has, or ought to have, just one correct spelling is relatively recent and certainly never occurred to our medieval ancestors (119). Clearly, the epithet our medieval ancestors is not an accurate description of all English speakers in the U.S., not even native speakers of English. From this careful analysis of Algeo's address of the reader, it becomes clear that Algeo's target audience is native English speakers in the U.S. who are of Anglo-Saxon descent.
After this extensive study of Algeo's target audience, I was left with several concerns. First of all, I wondered whether any discrepancy between Algeo's intended audience and the audience he actually addresses might negatively impact student understanding of the text. As noted in the review of literature section, the use of first person is often an attempt to reduce the gap between text authors and text readers (Steinley 116). However, unless the readers of Algeo's textbook are native English speakers in the U.S. who are of Anglo-Saxon descent, Algeo is not really engaging them. On the contrary, Algeo might be distancing himself from certain readers despite his use of the first person. By narrowing his target audience to this degree, Algeo is also neglecting the various multicultural backgrounds and individual differences (Lester and Cheek 282) of many of the students who might be required to read his text.
Summary. As I bring my discussion of Algeo's textbook to a close, I would
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like to note that the type of analysis I performed here regarding the problematic linguistic factors found in Algeo's text is relevant not only in terms of this textbook but for any textbook used in mainstream, introductory undergraduate classes. As highlighted in the review of literature section, there are many more linguistic features to be taken into consideration when selecting and implementing a textbook than I found suitable to address in Algeo's text for the current study. For the present discussion, Algeo's textbook serves merely as a model by which mainstream teachers could use a similar approach in gauging the transparency of a textbook in order to identify problematic features for ESL students in the textbooks they are using or are considering to use. I selected Algeo's textbook only because of my familiarity with it. In the following chapter, I will discuss textbook implementation, again using Algeo as an example when necessary. At the same time, I will provide suggestions for the implementation of textbooks in mainstream, introductory undergraduate classes that will aid understanding for the ESL students as well as native speakers in those classes.
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CHAPTER 4
CONCLUSION: HELPING STUDENTS PROCESS TEXTBOOK INFORMATION
Suggestions for Application of Findings in Mainstream,
Introductory Undergraduate Courses
Teachers and Textbook Implementation. The final chapter of this study will focus on two main points. First, I will explore more of a broad application of the issues raised in this study, application that can be tailored for various content areas. Secondly, I will encourage further knowledge sharing across disciplinary bounds, one of the central objectives of this study. The first of these objectivessuggestions for broader application of the points addressed in this studyI correlate with the process of textbook implementation. As Graham Crookes and Craig Chaudron discuss textbooks in Guidelines for Language Classroom Instruction,10 they note, a surprisingly small amount of research informs teachers of how to use a textbook (30). To this end, the present study hopes to add to this neglected area of pedagogical discussion. In my discussion of textbook implementation, I will be focusing on four points of application. Respectively, these points are knowing the textbook, explicit instruction, gauging student comprehension of textbook material, and textbook reevaluation. As with my analysis of passages from Algeo's textbook in chapter three, I will highlight points of application for ESL students in mainstream, introductory undergraduate classes, but I will also mention when the same point of application
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could benefit native speakers.
Knowing the Textbook. A prerequisite for implementing any textbook is being thoroughly familiar with the textbook. In this regard, Byrd highlights the importance of reading through the entire text (418). She states, A basic rule of textbook implementation: You can only implement materials if you know they are there (418). While such a point might seem obvious, not all teachers read their textbooks from cover to cover before asking their students to. Thorough knowledge of the textbooks we use provides several benefits. First of all, it familiarizes us with the content in the text, allowing us to determine the content that is crucial for students to read and study. As we assign readings from our textbooks, we can tailor the reading assignments to fit the needs of the course we are teaching. If there are particular sections or chapters that contain irrelevant information given the purpose of the course, then we should not assign students to read the impertinent sections. Such a point is of particular benefit for ESL students, who take significantly more time to read assigned material than their native speaking peers (Rosenthal 81). Any superfluous reading assignments will heighten the already strenuous reading task ESL students face. We can only know what is essential for students to read, however, if we familiarize ourselves with our textbooks.
Not only will careful consideration of a text inform us of the content of the text, but such a review will also draw attention to any limitations the text presents. In this vein, Clewell and Cliffton state, The goal is for students to become effective
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learners, to use their textbooks independently. Only when teachers are aware of the demands a textbook places on the reader can they effectively assist students in reading text with understanding (224). The demands a textbook places on the reader can embody a variety of forms. For instance, some textbooks assume too much prior knowledge on the part of students. When this happens we need to help students fill in the knowledge gaps. Algeo's textbook assumes that readers have some prior knowledge about Christianity; however, many native speakers of English as well as ESL students may have a very limited knowledge of this belief system. If this is the case, any teacher who uses Algeo's text needs to be prepared to help students fill in this knowledge gap, perhaps by suggesting pertinent outside sources that they can consult. On other occasions, textbooks do not thoroughly address topics that we feel are particularly important. When this occurs, we need to be prepared to supplement the textbook with outside readings or other sources to fill this content gap. Again, we can only supplement such gaps in the textbooks we use if we are familiar with them.
Lastly, familiarity with our textbooks will alert us to any linguistic features in the textbook that might hinder student understanding. For example, if I had not taken the time to read through and analyze the entirety of Algeo's text, I would have been largely unaware of the features highlighted in my analysisinformal language, sarcasm, subjective comments, and audience addressthat might impede comprehension for both ESL students and native speakers. As a result, if I had been
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requiring my students to read Algeo's text, I would have been less adept at anticipating and accommodating for the less transparent passages in his text. As there are no perfect textbooks, careful study of the entirety of our textbooks is the only means by which we can anticipate and accommodate for any shortcomings in content or presentation of content in the textbooks we use.
Explicit Instruction. The shortcomings of our textbooks take on numerous forms, and some of these textbook limitations might be overcome through more explicit instruction. When I use the phrase explicit instruction, I am referring to the act of highlighting for studentswhether ESL students or native speakersfeatures of a text that may cause comprehension difficulty. Since each textbook will present different challenges for our students, we must recognize the linguistic features that might lead to ambiguity of meaning that are present in the texts we use. To this end, the analysis of Algeo's textbook in chapter three is intended to be a model by which any mainstream teacher might anticipate less transparent passages in textbooks they are using. Some textbooks might not contain metaphoric language or target such a narrowly focused audience as Algeo's does, but, as noted in chapters two and three, there are numerous other features of a textbook that can hinder transparency and comprehensibility. Once the relevant ambiguous linguistic features have been identified, an ideal time to point out challenging linguistic features to students would be before assigning a reading, so our students can anticipate and accommodate for them while reading. Particularly for ESL students, if they are aware that a particular
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section of a chapter is difficult, then they can plan ahead and allow for more time to study that section of the chapter.
As illustrated in the previous chapter, Algeo's text uses more accessible language, with a significant amount of informal language. If we select texts with a similar manner of presenting content, then we need to remember that with accessible language comes the potential for ambiguity. When textbook authors use numerous colloquialisms such as catch sight of and made from scratch, or when they make certain points while using sarcasm, then we must decide whether students in our courses will suffer in terms of comprehension as a result of these linguistic features, or whether the accessible language does not present a comprehension problem. As noted in the anecdote in the opening of this study, my Korean friend, a graduate student with considerable ability in English, was misled because of Algeo's use of sarcasm. If she had not asked me about the passages in our textbook, and if I had not explicitly explained to her Algeo's intended meaning, it is very likely that the points that Algeo was trying to make would have continued to elude her, despite her earnest attempts to understand those passages. Likewise, if the language of our textbooks does present a problem, informing students from the outset of the course of the less transparent style in which a text as a whole or certain passages are written might give all studentswhether ESL students or native speakersa better chance to anticipate and overcome such ambiguity.
When particular passages within the text might be obscured by the use of
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informal language, we might also focus more instruction on those passages. A student-centered in-class discussion is one way for us to elaborate on passages in which the content is less clear as well as for students to ask questions related to difficult passages. We might begin by eliciting from students what they gleaned from a particular passage, and if any confusion in the reading becomes apparent, we can ask students to point directly to the passages in the text where there is a lack of clarity for them.
In addition, Armbruster, Anderson, and Ostertag note, one way to learn from reading textbooks is to summarize the information (Teaching Text Structures 133). While summarizing the entire chapter might be a little excessive in most instances, having students summarize a less transparent passage might also help us gauge their understanding of less transparent passages. Ultimately, the textbooks that we select and implement are for the benefit of our students, and we should take every means necessary to assure that our students understand the content. We should not merely assume that all students will perfectly understand the content implicitly. As Steinley asserts, textbook authors should explain and explain well (116); however, if they are unsuccessful in this endeavor, we need to aid student understanding in whatever ways we can.
Gauging Student Comprehension of Textbook Material. A thorough textbook selection process followed by clear, explicit instruction of textbook content are excellent measures to facilitate textbook comprehension, but eventually we must
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engage student input in order to determine whether understanding is taking place. Quizzes and tests are standard methods for assessing what students have learned, but they are certainly not the only means by which we can seek to determine comprehension. Long before students take unit exams, they will be reading the textbook, and we will need to gauge how well they understand what they are reading as they complete the reading. Ur refers to the type of reading that needs to occur when students read their textbooks in this way: reading means 'reading and understanding'. A foreign language learner who says, 'I can read the words but I don't know what they mean' is not, therefore, reading, in this sense. He or she is merely decodingtranslating written symbols into corresponding sounds (138). Ur is focusing on ESL students, but the same could be said of native speakers. If certain passages of a textbook are incoherent, then native speakers of English, like ESL students, are merely decoding and not reading and understanding.
We must determine whether students are decoding or reading and understanding the material we assign from the textbook in between exams, and various comprehension tasks (Ur 145) might be implemented to fulfill this need. A set of reading questions or reading quizzes are simple methods of engaging students with the content of readings while allowing us an opportunity to gauge comprehension. In-class discussions are another option. At the same time, pressure to perform well on quizzes, the monotony of reading questions, the reluctance of ESL students to contribute to in-class discussions, or lackluster class discussions might
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pull student attention towards what we think is important for them to learn and away from the issues in a text that are creating comprehension difficulties for them, leaving these comprehension questions unaddressed. Therefore, we must be careful to evaluate the effectiveness of any comprehension tasks that we implement.
Textbook Re-evaluation. Just as with any other aspect of our teaching, not only is it important to thoroughly select, prepare, and present the texts we use in our classes, but it is also important to reevaluate them after we use them. Indeed, Skierso states that after a text has been used with students once, a re-evaluation of the selected text, perhaps using the identical checklist both times, would help the teacher to decide whether to continue using the adopted text or to look for a new one (441). Of course, many teachers have less freedom to switch textbooks when they are dissatisfied; however, if a textbook is less than satisfactory and there is a possibility to consider a different textbook for the upcoming semester or year, certainly a new text should be sought after.
In addition, not all of the textbook re-evaluation has to come from us. We can elicit student feedback in order to better gauge students' satisfaction with the author's presentation of material within the textbook." At the end of a term, we might conduct an anonymous student survey to gain insight into the effectiveness and clarity of the text we are currently using. For such a survey, we might want to pose more specific questions in order to avoid general responses, such as 'I liked the textbook,' or 'I didn't like the textbook.' Appendix A provides a sample questionnaire that might be used to
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gain student feedback on a textbook at the end of a term. I made this questionnaire general enough to fit the needs of any course. At the same time, I tried to employ specific enough questions so that students would be encouraged to provide more detailed, constructive answers. While such an end of the term questionnaire would not benefit the students who fill them out, we can still consider their feedback when we use the textbook the following term, or when we are deciding whether or not to use the textbook again. Furthermore, feedback gained from ESL students in the class might present avenues for improving the implementation of a text for ESL students in the following semester.
Obviously student feedback is but one factor to be considered in the textbook selection and implementation processes. Students may not be the final judge of a good textbook, but their feedback can provide a unique insight into the texts that we use, an insight that our prior knowledge of the subject matter obscures. Student feedback might also provide one more avenue of support that could be presented to a textbook selection committee for those teachers who have less freedom in the textbook selection process. A textbook selection committee might be more willing to switch textbooks if they are provided with documentation of students' consistent dissatisfaction with a textbook.
Interdisciplinary Knowledge-Sharing. As I bring this study to a close, I would like to reiterate that one of the main goals of my study is to continue an essential but lacking effort in academia to share knowledge among disciplines. This study was not
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written specifically for fellow ESL instructors nor fellow instructors in English studies. Rather, I performed this study as a contribution to interdisciplinary conversation in which mainstream undergraduate teachers have better access to the research and teaching practices they need in order to better meet the needs of ESL students in their classes. While having had numerous ESL students in their classes, many mainstream undergraduate instructors have not gained adequate preparation to work with ESL students in their pedagogical training. Such instructors need some recourse to help meet the needs of their ESL students, especially given the dramatic increase in undergraduates of limited English proficiency (Rosenthal 72).12
I hope that this current study will help to meet the needs of mainstream undergraduate instructors with little or no ESL training, so that they can increasingly incorporate teaching practices sensitive to the needs of ESL students. Obviously, I am focusing on but a single concerntextbook selection and implementation concerns specifically related to ESL students, and there are countless needs that arise for ESL students in mainstream undergraduate classes that I could not begin to address in this study. I hope that others in the field of ESL instruction take strides to reach out to mainstream teachers in other areas of classroom practice so that instruction across all disciplines and age levels can be more sensitive to the needs of ESL students. The aim of interdisciplinary knowledge-transferas this project seeks to accomplishis a worthwhile endeavor because knowledge is not really as discipline-confined as we in academia might like to assert. Furthermore, a broader knowledge-base can be
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transformative, leading to more effective teaching practices. Most importantly, better presentation of content material can provide richer learning opportunities for our students.
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APPENDIX A
END OF THE TERM STUDENT TEXTBOOK RE-EVALUATION
QUESTIONNAIRE
The goal of this questionnaire is for me to gain a better understanding of how successful the textbook was to your learning experience in this class. Your feedback will help me to improve presentation of material from this text in the future.
For the following questions, please give as much detail as you possibly can.
1. Would you suggest that I use the textbook again? Why or Why not?
2. Was the material in the textbook clear and easy to understand? If not, please explain what was unclear.
3. How would you rate the vocabulary in the text (circle one):
a. easy to understand b. challenging c. extremely challenging
4. Would you say that the writing in the textbook is (circle one):
a. below my reading level b. at my reading level
c. a little beyond my reading level d. too difficult to understand
5. If you could make improvements to the text, what sort of improvements would you like to see?
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END NOTES
1. In this article, Byrd is particularly addressing the needs of language teachers, particularly ESL or English as a foreign language teachers.
2. In Textbook Selection and Evaluation, Skierso focuses on textbooks for language study, but many of her points are relevant to the discussion at hand, especially since she specifically addresses the needs of ESL students.
3. In A Deafening Silence: History Textbooks and the Students Who Read Them, Paxton discusses the differences between history textbooks written for K-12 students and history texts written for adults. Paxton frames the purpose of his essay in this way: This article will review the body of research exploring what students learn from reading and the complex process of reasoning that goes along with interpreting their history textbooks. In particular, it will focus on how students learn from texts and on recent trends in the study of teaching and learning history that underscore the role of authorship in historical texts (316). While Paxton focuses on textbooks in the K-12 environment, several points that he makes are relevant to this current discussion.
4. In Determining Readability, Gerard Giordano offers his own question-based textbook selection tool, what he calls an Open Textbook Inventory (33). In his Open Textbook Inventory, Giordano provides a table with possible questions for the construction of an inventory on topics such as table of contents, index, summaries, chapter overviews, topic sentences, vocabulary, illustrations, potential for interest, and nonpictorial graphics (33). His article presents a general discussion about textbook evaluation in K-12 teaching environments, but many of the points that he makes are either consistent with literature at the college level or apply where literature for the evaluation of textbooks at the college level is lacking.
5. In order to establish this point, Armbruster, Osborn, and Davison applied four readability formulasthe Spache, the Dale-Chall, the Gunning, and the Fry graphto a passage from a sixth grade science text. Respectively, the grade levels that these formulas indicated for the chosen passage were: 3.1,4.2, 4, and 7 (19).
6. In Examining Your Textbook for Comprehensibility, Clewell and Cliffton discuss research on and methods for determining elementary school textbooks'
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comprehensibility. While their discussion focuses on elementary school texts, many of the points that they make are applicable for textbooks at any level of study.
7. In The Trouble with Textbooks, Hubbuch discusses issues with the language of textbooks written for primary and secondary level students.
8. Indeed, in The Acquisition of Academic Literacy in a Second Language: A Longitudinal Case Study, Ruth Spack tracked the progress of an undergraduate student from Japan, Yuko, who employed multiple resources as she gradually developed strategies to succeed as a reader and writer in a university setting (20). Spack states that, Despite several years of English language instruction in Japan, a year as an exchange student at a U.S. public high school, 10 weeks at a summer intensive English program in England just prior to matriculation, and a high TOEFL score, this student was not confident about her English as she started her life as a college student in the United States (21). She notes that Yuko was undaunted by textbooks and other sources that functioned primarily to inform (33). However, argumentative/theoretical/critical discourse remained a constant challenge throughout her undergraduate study (33).
9. Instances of such references to Christianity, whether directly or indirectly, include: a presumably God-given standard (12); having saved the souls of the heathen Balts (59); largely because of the crusade that teachers had conducted (151); he is also supposed to have some God-given power
(158); straight from a linguistic Yahweh (159); The King James Bible, which we should expect to be a little behind the times in its grammar (168); for purists love above all to catch other purists in some supposed sin against English grammar (174); but speakers tend to follow either, as the spirit moves them (169); those who regard ain't as a mortal sin (177); Despite a crusade of more than three centuries to promote the rule (179); A widespread suspicion among the laity that our language is somehow deteriorating (198); Now, alas for the wicked times in which we live, virtue is applied to few men and not many women (209).
10. Crookes and Chaudron discuss classroom instruction, including the use of textbooks in both English as a second and foreign language environments.
11. In Textbook Selection: Watch Out for 'Inconsiderate' Texts, Daniel H. Robinson also notes the benefit of student feedback. He states, the students' responses to the book at the end of the course should ultimately determine whether or not an instructor will use it again (419). While student feedback is
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certainly important, I disagree that students should ultimately determine whether a textbook will be used in subsequent semesters.
12. A survey conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles Higher Education Research Institute found that for the fall of 2009, 8.4% of incoming college freshmen nationwideroughly 117,600 studentsdo not speak English as their native language. The results of this survey are based on survey responses of 219,864 first-year, first-time students attending 297 four-year colleges and universities full time in the fall of 2009 (This Year's Freshman).
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WORKS CITED
Akmajian, Adrian, Richard A. Demers, Ann K. Farmer, and Robert M. Hamish. Linguistics: An Introduction to Language and Communication. 5th ed. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001.
Algeo, John. The Origins and Development of the English Language. 6th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.
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