Under the Lens: A Look at the American Media
Carol Keiser Bishop (1997)
Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press
Pp. xx + 165
ISBN 0-472-08403-8 (paper)
ISBN 0-472-08429-1 (paper)
Students at the advanced levels are more than willing to explore topics that may generate controversy and difference of opinion. They demonstrate competency in basic and intermediate grammar structures, and are prepared to tackle more complex reading and writing assignments. Under the Lens provides such students with content that challenges them not only linguistically, but also intellectually.
Different types of activities open the chapters, in order to draw the students into the topic. For example, students are asked to choose their favorite form of media (from among newspaper, radio, and television), to do a listening comprehension exercise, or to listen to a recording of various radio programming. Unfortunately, since I didn't have access to the cassette tapes, I cannot comment on the quality or pertinence of their selections. With the exception of the first chapter, all chapters include a section titled "A Look Behind/A Look Ahead," which reviews what the students have already learned and outlines the goals of the chapter. Students are also invited to assess their achievement in reaching a number of listed objectives. Content objectives are listed in the student books, "while teachers are provided with both content and language objectives in the teacher's manual" (p. vi). As described above, many activities follow, more it seems than can be covered in one three-hour class; the teacher may have to pick and choose, or assign the reading exercises for homework. The chapters end with a journal entry assignment.[-2-]
Using a content-based approach in teaching language can be a challenge for teachers, because they may not have the necessary background in the subject matter. The teacher's manual explains that the teacher "need not have knowledge of the discipline," and that "this book should give you all the information that you need" (TM, p. 1). As all of us have had close contact with radio, television, and newspapers, the recommended background reading in communications ("a basic freshman-level communications text is a good place to start" [TM, p. 2]) should not be too arduous. And primary material is readily available, although the author reminds us that these materials are protected by copyright. The teacher's manual mirrors the student book and gives the background and techniques necessary to carry out the activities successfully in class, the answers to exercises (where applicable), and the tapescripts.
I assume that most teachers use newspaper and magazine clippings regularly in class; many anthologies of radio and television segments exist with permission for broadcast in class (I think of the Prentice-Hall Focus On series of videos, or the excellent collection of Garrison Keillor's radio broadcasts). PBS also serves as an excellent source of material, and many of its programs permit off-air taping (see http://www.pbs.org). With the vast array of material available, Under the Lens helps both the teacher and the student make sense of the organizational, intellectual and linguistic challenges of the subject. While the text would be useful for any advanced-level course, it would be particularly relevant for an English for Special Purposes (ESP) classroom, such as the teaching of reading to students in communications and other social sciences. [-3-]
Having reviewed two of the books in this series, I feel confident that the others as well live up to the high quality shown here.
 Reviews of three other books in this series were published in TESL-EJ 2(4) and 3(3):
Varieties of English (Gass & Lefkowitz, 1995): http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/ej08/r2.html
Ecology and the Environment (Tickle, 1996): http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/ej08/r5.html
Discovering American Culture (Delk, 1997): http://www-writing.berkeley.edu/TESL-EJ/ej11/r2.html
Université de Montréal
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