Dream Team 3. Student's Book
N.Whitney & D.McKeegan (2002)
Oxford: Oxford University Press
ISBN 0-19-435952-2 (paper)
To balance communication and grammar without sacrificing one for the other is one of the daunting problems in language teaching. Dream Team 3, which includes a workbook, a teacher's manual, a teacher's resource pack, and a cassette, is designed to solve the problem by focusing both form and meaning. The target population for this book is teenagers who are at level three (the book does not explicitly mention the total number of levels and the proficiency of the level 3 students). In order to make students communicate fluently and accurately, the authors claim (in their teacher's manual) that they employ two approaches: (1) they emphasize how to use language in real-world situations through careful attention to grammar (here, grammar refers only to structure), vocabulary, and pronunciation (2) they incorporate four language skills (i.e., reading, speaking, listening, and writing) necessary for communication.
Dream Team 3 consists of six units and each unit has four parts. The first part includes (1) Presentation, a dialogue which introduces new functions, grammar and vocabulary, addressing topics interesting to teenagers such as rollerblading in the park and graduation; (2) Comprehension, questions regarding the dialogue; (3) Communication, exercises for the main language functions (i.e., apologies and offers) presented in the dialogue; and (4) Pronunciation, exercises for English vowels and consonants, including poems. In the second part, Grammar introduces new structures through rule explanations or an example of rules, and provides transformation exercises for new grammatical structures. Also in this part, Study Skill introduces language learning skills (i.e., How do you practice English?). The third part consists of two sections: Vocabulary and English across the Curriculum or Cultural Studies. The Vocabulary section introduces a new vocabulary set through matching, fill-in the blank, and combining activities. The English across the Curriculum or Cultural Studies section includes reading passages regarding cultural topics such as Chicago and the world of sport, and academic topics such as science and varieties of English. The reading passages which are not authentic have four short paragraphs whose sources are not provided. The fourth part contains (1) Writing (i.e., model sentences and paragraph, and writing tasks); (2) Communication Activity (i.e., a cross-reference to the communication activity for each unit); (3) Song (i.e., listening exercises for songs); and (4) Progress Review (i.e., the checklist of the new language learned in the unit). Besides the main six teaching units, this book contains an optional introductory unit (a grammar review), three revision units (grammatical activities for review), three bonus units (reading passages), two optional stories (cartoons), and reference materials (grammar explanations and a word list). [-1-]
As we can see by these numerous components in the book, Dream Team 3 has a rich assortment of activities necessary for language. The book introduces various structures, functions, vocabulary, and pronunciation. In addition, by incorporating four language skills, students listen to songs and poems, and speak in communication activities, while they are given reading passages and writing topics. Furthermore, Dream Team 3 considers the other important aspects of language learning such as language learning strategies, by including study skills and progress checkup lists.
In order to make language meaningful, as the authors claim, this book includes focus on form techniques, as named by Long and Robinson (1998). The book has communicative activities in each unit where a grammatical structure is dealt with in meaningful contexts. For example, in an information gap activity on page 72, students use the present perfect in meaningful situations, that is, what the authors call a real word situation, where student A and B have different information about job applications and must share information with each other while using the present perfect. Likewise, there are vocabulary activities that draw learners' attention to meaning in context. In these activities, students guess meanings of the word and find an expression and a word from reading passages.
Despite the advantages of this book, the most serious problem is that activities in this book are not congruent with the authors' claims of using communicative grammar activities and incorporating four language skills. The authors claim that this book aims to make students use grammar effectively in communicative situations. Even though the book includes communicative activities, the book presents formal aspects of language explicitly and practices them in a controlled manner. Most of activities in the Grammar section ask students to transform the given form according to the rule. The emphasis on forms in these transformation activities does not necessarily help foster communicative fluency in that grammar is more than just form. Larsen-Freeman (2001) suggests a three-dimensional grammar framework where grammar consists of form, meaning, and use. She states that "grammatical structures not only have (morphosyntactic) form, they are also used to express meaning (semantics) in context appropriate use (pragmatics)" (p.252). The book needs more activities that enable students to use linguistic forms meaningfully and appropriately as well. In transformation activities (p.14) where students are supposed to change given verbs to past simple and present perfect, students simply apply the rules to change the forms of verbs without understanding the meaning of the sentence and usage of the past and the preset perfect.
In addition, communicative activities in this book do not necessarily allow students to use grammar through "true communication" characterized by exchange of opinions and negotiation of meaning. Savignon (2001) looks at communication in terms of interpretation, expression and negotiation of meaning. Communication is not simply imitating a word or sentence through repetition, but interpreting meaning, producing opinions and interacting to solve mutual misunderstanding. However, as implied by many communicative activities in the book, the authors seem to assume that communication is to ask questions and answer them using given language forms and to practice language functions in a dialogue (i.e., p.13, activity 3, 4). In these activities, students do not choose language that they will use and do not have any chance to create their thoughts since they can just repeat language without thinking. Even in information gap activities where students are supposed to interact, students do not have to be involved in interaction and, in particular, negotiation. For example, in a communication activity on conditionals (i.e., p.74 and p.76, activity 6), student A asks "What would Rick buy if he was rich?" and student B can answer easily because he has the picture of Rick who says "If I was rich, I'd buy a big house in the United States." In this activity, students do not need to think about how to use the conditional in context and practice the conditional form itself if they answer simply "a big house." [-2-]
Dream Team 3 also has problems with the other claim of the authors about incorporating the four language skills. Instead of building up the four language skills efficiently, this book uses the four skills to shower students with structure, vocabulary, and pronunciation. For example, many listening and reading activities focus narrowly on vocabulary and lack comprehension activities (p. 53, activity 2, p.55, activity 1). In particular, too much attention to certain specific language features in reading and listening comprehension activities prevent students from understanding the meaning of the text. In a listening activity (p.55 activity 2), students are supposed to count the number of times the pronouns we and you appear while they are listening. According to Peterson (2001), listening instruction needs to incorporate both bottom-up processes in which listeners focus on specific language features such as similar sounds or grammatical forms, and top-down processes in which listeners largely rely upon their background knowledge to process information. However, in the listening activity, students do not have to understand the text to answer the questions. Likewise, translation activities are not appropriate to check reading and listening comprehension because substituting English words or phrases for equivalents in another language does not always facilitate the comprehension process.
Another problem of this book is its unattractive layout. Materials should be attractive, appealing, and easy for students to read. Usually the book has three parts on a page with more than five activities and colorful pictures. This is not clearly organized since the book includes many optional units (i.e., three bonus units, review units, two optional cartoon stories) considering the relatively small number of units. These optional units might be useful for large classes with mixed ability students, as the authors claim. However, the emphasis on flexibility reduces simplicity of the book.
In conclusion, Dream Team 3 fails to achieve the authors' goals to help students communicate accurately and fluently. The extensive and mechanical practice focusing on the forms in this book does not guarantee their successful use in communicative situations. In this book, students are only exposed to the formal aspects of grammar and are not allowed to engage in true communication where the target form can be used for interaction and negotiation. In addition, this book fails to promote four language skills in meaningful ways because of activities that direct students' attention only to certain linguistic features.
Michigan State University
Larsen-Freeman, D. (2001). Teaching grammar, In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 251-266). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Long, M. H., & Robinson, P. (1998). Focus on form: Theory, research and practice, In C. Doughty & J. Williams (Eds.), Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition (pp. 15-41). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Savignon, S. J. (2001). Communicative language teaching for the twenty-first century, In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 13-28). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Peterson, P. (2001). Skills and strategies for proficient listening, In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 87-100). Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
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