1 May 2010

The Fabulous Functionall Resource Review

Provoking Thought: Memory and Thinking in ELT by Hall Houston

As promised, here is the first installment of my new ESL/EFL resource review. One of the new goals of this blog is to help you sort through the overwhelming number of language resources available to choose the materials that are right for your language learning or teaching journey. Not only is there a plethora of resources, they don't come cheap. Let this old hat do some research and save you some time and money. Lord knows, we teachers need more of both!

Before I share my thoughts on Hall Houston's title, I think it is important to acknowledge two things:
1) my "angle" is one of usefulness and practicality; teaching is one of the most time-consuming professions in the world and a text that can educate both teacher and student in the most effective, engaging, and efficient way is a great gift to the world of language teaching. The "star rating" reflects this philosophy.
2) one teacher or student's textbook treasure is another's junk; just like movies and novels, what makes one person jump for joy may make another shake his or her head. I endeavour to consider the global appeal of a language resource and hope that my reflections help both treasure-seekers and junk collectors.

Without further ado, here is:

Followed by:

Provoking Thought opens with a general introduction to the whole concept of thinking, which in turn leads to a brief presentation of Benjamin Bloom's "taxonomy of thinking skills" and Anderson and Krathwohl's updated version of the same. Houston also touches briefly on error correction, focus on form, and reflective teaching. It is a concise, practical introduction that offers good theoretical reminders for both new and experienced teachers.

The five chapter's in Provoking Thought are organized as such:

Chapter One: Thinking
Chapter Two: Memory
Chapter Three: Creativity
Chapter Four: Critical Thinking
Chapter Five: Organizing Ideas on Paper

and each chapter follows the same formula: a brief introduction and discussion of the Chapter's chief focus, followed by 20 or so classroom activity/lesson outlines or plans. Each chapter also ends with a short essay or interview from a language expert or two.

My first impression is that there is great value, both pedagogically and monetarily, in Houston's resource. It certainly belongs on the shelves of most resource rooms I've been in:

  • It offers a good balance of theory, pedagogy, and practical exercises.
  • It explores and presents activities in a straightforward and accessible manner.
  • It clearly defines the aims, time, and preparation required for each activity or lesson.
  • The lessons and activities are student-centred.
  • The lessons and activities mostly involve little preparation.
  • It has an index (although page numbers would be useful).
My confession is that I will probably never tap this wealth of theoretical and practical information because of its format and all those darn words. As a visual learner, I am also a visual teacher and frankly, all that text just puts me off. You do have to read through each activity even to get a sense of its purpose and flow. On my resource room or a bookstore shelf, I would likely mistake it solely for a theoretical text and leave it well enough alone until my next PD day or TESOL conference. But as I said, that would be a mistake because there is some great classroom material here as well as some pedagogy to help you brush up. Worth a look.

So there you have it! One down, 5 billion to go. Please leave comments below and especially if you have used Houston's book, let us know which activities were most successful in your classroom. Please also feel free to suggest another title for my next review. Thank you to Eric Roth for this great suggestion.

Coming with the next review: Do your own Review @ a Glance for any ESL/EFL language learning or teaching title with a Review @ a Glance Form.

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