The Reading Matrix
Vol. 1, No. 2, September 2001
Content-Based College ESL Instruction
Loretta F. Kasper. With Marcia Babbitt, Rebecca Williams Mlynarczyk, Donna M. Brinton, Judith W. Rosenthal, Peter Master, Sharon A. Myers, Joy Egbert, David A. Tillyer, and Louise S. Wood. (2000)
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers
Mahwah, New Jersey
Pp. xiv + 227
Reviewed by Lola Grau
Centro de Formación, Innovación y Recursos Educativos (CEFIRE) de Godella, Spain
Based on the need of English Second Language (ESL) students to become competent users of English in order to enter and to succeed in mainstream college courses, the book states in the preface that Content-Based Instruction (CBI) is as a mean for these ESL students to be successful in an English-speaking academic environment. At the preface it is said that "content-based college ESL instruction effectively increases students' English language proficiency (...) In a content-based course, ESL students use English to expand their existing knowledge bases (Kasper, 1998), as they are presented with interdisciplinary material in a meaningful, contextualized form in which the primary focus is on the acquisition of content area information (Brinton, Snow, & Wesche, 1989). The result of this type of instruction is that ESL students gradually acquire greater control of the English language, enabling them to participate more fully in an increasingly complex academic and social environment (Kasper & Singer, 1997)." (p. viii)
Content-Based College ESL Instruction is a collection of articles, twelve essays written by different authors, about many and varied issues in Content-Based Language Instruction (CBLI). The book is divided into three main sections, with four chapters in each one. These three sections are: "Laying the Groundwork for a Content-Based Pedagogy", "Building English Language Skills Through Content-Based Instruction", and "Incorporating Technology into Content-Based Instruction". Each of the twelve essays has a suggested bibliography for further reading; and, several of them also include appendices with some exercises the authors put into practice.
The first part, "Laying the Groundwork for a Content-Based Pedagogy", describes and analyses in depth how to implement CBL courses. Theory and practice are given through the first four chapters. The necessary information to design and plan different kind of CBLI courses (theme-based, sheltered and adjunct courses) is provided. These articles address issues such as how to train faculty, how to choose the right course model, how to design and implement it, how to coordinate departments, how to involve administration, etc. And, also some information is provided about how to assess and assist students, and about curriculum development and pedagogy concerns
The four chapters which integrate the second section, "Building English Language Skills Through Content-Based Instruction", offer concrete pedagogical activities to build and enhance English language skills of ESL students with different levels of language proficiency, and prepare them to incorporate into the mainstream college. Each of the four chapters addresses different linguistic contents, but they have in common that they talk about how to improve the four linguistic skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing. The first chapter focuses on the development of grammatical proficiency in content-based contexts. The second chapter tells us about the use of topical short stories to introduce academic content-based topics for the lower level of ESL students. The third chapter clarifies how visual media provides reinforcement of printed texts and how it may also be very useful to teach different types of written discourses. Finally, the last one explains how teacher-prepared materials may help to focus on student's needs.
Section three, "Incorporating Technology into Content-Based Instruction", sets out the importance of integrating technology into the classroom for second language learning, and, especially how CBI may be improved through computer based activities. The three first essays offer the authors' reflections in this specific pedagogical issue, and they describe and comment their experiences. They agree with the idea that the incorporation of these powerful tools into CBLI courses can create learning contexts that support real world language use by interaction with native speakers and by a cultural approach among learners. The last article focuses on the relevance of technological literacy for the students' future success not only in college, but also in their jobs.
Content-Based College ESL Instruction is an interesting book. It provides readers with an extensive and current overview of the new field of content-based ESL instruction. Each of the essays is independent, and they have their own theoretical and practical framework, so they can be read separately. But all of them together offer clear information about different aspects related to the implementation of CBL courses for ESL students. One of the most useful aspects that the authors present in this book is the educational practices for the classroom, which are based on their own experiences. In my opinion, Content-Based College ESL Instruction is an advisable book for professionals who are interested on or working in the field of second language acquisition and, it may also provide some ideas and orientations for those in foreign language teaching.