The Reading Matrix
Vol. 2, No. 2, June 2002

Steps and Plateaus: The Basics of Academic Reading, 2nd ed.
Jean Zukowski/Faust (2002)
Boston: Heinle & Heinle/Thomson Learning.
Pp. iv + 280
ISBN 0-03-033987-1
US$ 21.56

Out of the Ordinary: Refining Academic Reading Skills.
Jean Zukowski/Faust (2002)
Boston: Heinle & Heinle/Thomson Learning
Pp. vii + 238
ISBN 0-15-506033-3
US$ 29.95

Across the Board: Building Academic Reading Skills.
Jean Zukowski/Faust (2002)
Boston: Heinle & Heinle/Thomson Learning
Pp. iv + 271
ISBN 0-03-032482-3
US$ 29.96

Reviewed by Dilys Karen Rees
Universidade Federal de Goiás, Brazil

The textbooks written by Jean Zukowski/Faust are part of a series of five books that emphasize the building of academic reading skills. They do not have to be used in a linear progression but may be chosen, at random, according to the necessities of the students.

Steps and Plateau: The Basics of Academic Reading is intended as a basic reading text for new readers of English. According to the author the main objective of the text is "to help students develop the language and thinking skills" they need to become "successful, proficient readers of English" (p. i). It is intended for adult ESL/EFL students. The progression of the texts used in the book is done via the readability level, which takes into consideration the highest-frequency words in English. Sentence length is also controlled, limited to just five to eight words in the first units. Only simple transition words, such as, and, but, and as are used. In later units because clauses and if/then constructions are used.

The book is divided into a total of fifteen steps and three plateaus. The steps are the basic units and the plateaus are sections that summarize and review what has come before. In each step there is a text with a "Before You Read" section that contains questions which encourage discussion about the topic of the reading. After the text, there are exercises in the "Let's Learn From Reading" section that focus on the main points of the reading. These exercises are done via questions, completions, and multiple choice. The "Let's Practice" section is designed to give opportunities to use the new vocabulary, understand details, and categorize. It is done via true and false questions, word group exercises, and so on. In the "Let's Talk" section the students are encouraged to relate the topics of the text to their lives by using English orally. In the "Let's Write" section the students use the new vocabulary learned about the topic in different types of writing exercises. The "Let's Find Out More About You" section gives the students an opportunity to express their reactions to the themes of the reading text. The units also offer extension activities in the form of extra readings, charts, and games.

The Plateau sections are organized in much the same way as the Steps. There are five or six small texts to read in these sections that review and summarize what the students have seen in the Steps.

Some of the topics used in this textbook are: "Let's Read Magazines," "Always Read the Label," "The Importance of Good Health," "Money in the Bank." The texts are illustrated with drawings. The book ends with a word list that gives the word, its grammatical classification, and a page where it is found; for example, beef (n) 11, describe (v) 1.

Out of the Ordinary: Refining Academic Reading Skills is intended as a text for high beginning/low intermediate readers of English. Each reading is between 625 and 850 words in length. The topics are developed around extraordinary people and situations. The author suggests the readings be used in sequence.

The twenty units begin with pictures in black and white that can be used as a stimulus for pre-reading activities. There is also a "Prepare to Read" section with questions that can elicit a discussion about the topic of the reading. For each reading there is an "Answer These Questions" section that focuses on the main points of the reading. Next, there is a "Learn the New Words" section which has a vocabulary list with definitions. The student can practice using these words in the "Practice the New Words" section, which contains various exercises such as filling in the blanks, joining synonyms, and so on. There is also a section that helps the student find the details of the text using skimming and scanning and a section in which the students can give their opinions about the reading. The "Make Some Inferences" section of each unit helps the students extend the information of the text. In the "Find the Main Ideas" section, the students learn to weigh the relative importance of the ideas and decide which ones are central to the text. Finally, in the section "Write Your Thoughts" the students are given written exercises about the topic. When it is relevant, the units also contain exercises that practice the sequencing of events. All the units are organized in the same manner. The book ends with a word list that gives the grammatical classification and a page in which the word can be found.

Across the Board: Building Academic Reading Skills is intended for the intermediate level. Each reading varies in length from 700 to 1,500 words. According to the author, the grade level on common readability scales measures between 3.2 and 5.2 on the readings themselves.

The fifteen texts are true stories. They are told in the first and in the third person from the perspective of a mother, daughter, son, and father. The topics range from home, marriage, and family relationships to hospitals and health. The texts are illustrated with an initial black and white picture with smaller pictures inserted within the texts.

The units begin with a "Before You Read the Story" section intended to encourage pre-reading discussion. There is also a "While You Read the Story" section to be used as the story is being read. After the story, there is a "Words and Idioms List" which encourages the students to figure out the meanings from context. There are several different kinds of exercises in each unit to practice the new vocabulary. The academic skills of finding the main point, drawing conclusions, making inferences, understanding sequencing, understanding details are all practised in specific exercises in each unit. These exercises vary in form, from specific questions about the text, to multiple choice, true and false, problem solving questions, finding differences, and so on. The book ends with a vocabulary list that gives the grammatical category and the page on which each word is found.

The books would probably best be used in an ESL/USA setting as many of the topics are very much linked to the American way of life. For example, in Out of the Ordinary, there are texts that discuss the Navajos, the Boys Choir of Harlem, and turquoise jewellery that require a fair amount of background information specific to an American setting in order to be understood. In Across the Board, there is a recipe for Sauerkraut Soup that requires, amongst other ingredients, 1 can of sauerkraut and 1 can of sliced potatoes with the liquid. Another recipe requires 8 oz of cubed meat. These simple recipes would require an explanation about how foods are processed and measured in the USA since in many parts of the world canning foods is rare and the metric system is used. In this book as well, there is a statement, "You can tell an American from a mile away. We stick out like sore thumbs. We walk with the hip-swinging freedom of walking, not the from-the-knees shuffle of the broken spirited" (p. 124), which could be construed in an EFL or other ESL setting to mean only Americans are free, whereas others are broken-spirited.

It is not that these books cannot be used in an EFL or other ESL setting, but that there would be an added level of difficulty in their use. Their reading would require more background knowledge, a discussion of cultural differences and, in my opinion, a discussion of the place and influence of the USA in the world today. Probably the easiest book of the three to be used in a non-USA setting would be Steps and Plateaus, as the topics are quite general and are applicable to many settings. For example, the section Plateau I is entitled "Around the World" and has various texts that discuss different ways of life in varied parts of the world.

In addition, it is interesting to note that frequency lists do not necessarily make texts easier to understand in terms of vocabulary. For the student reader who speaks a Romance language Latin derived words, which are often not on the frequency lists, are easier to understand. This is because they are frequently cognates of words in their own language. Thus, for the speaker of a Romance language, when considering vocabulary, the less Latin based words the more difficult the text.

These points aside, it is apparent on examining these textbooks that the author has thought them out and organized them carefully with the objective of improving reading skills in the academic setting. As various types of skills are practised throughout the books, the books fulfill what the author has proposed, which is to build academic reading skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dilys Karen Rees teaches language and literature of the English language at Universidade Federal de Goiás, in Goiânia, Brazil. She is working on her doctoral degree in "Letras: Estudos Lingüísticos" at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais. Her research interests are ethnography in the classroom; culture teaching and learning; and reading comprehension.