The Success of NorthStar: Enduring, Evolving, Engaging

2014_FrancesFrances Boyd

The prize-winning academic English series NorthStar continues to meet the needs of students and teachers all over the world. In its fourth edition, the series endures by retaining its essential qualities. Yet NorthStar also evolves with updated content and expanded online tools. And the books continue to engage and challenge the hearts and minds of learners.

Enduring
Why have secondary and tertiary institutions all over the world continued to rely on NorthStar to help students reach their academic goals? What qualities have endured in the fast-changing textbook landscape?

The NorthStar series takes high-beginners to an advanced level in carefully scaffolded units. The series pioneered the two-strand design, offering both a listening & speaking and a reading & writing volume on each proficiency level. Students work with authentic or semi-authentic listening and reading material that respects their intellect and feeds their curiosity. Exercises and activities constantly integrate skills and recycle language. In addition, students engage in critical thinking on virtually every page of every book. This seamless blending of intelligent content and rigorous language study has been a hallmark of the NorthStar series from the start. Continue reading

Four Key Academic Challenges

CarolNumrich Carol Numrich 2014_Frances_BoydFrances Boyd

Each year, teachers face new, more complex challenges in their classrooms. As students’ interests and motivations for learning English evolve, so must the ESL teacher’s pedagogical resources and techniques. Four “A’s” identify today’s key challenges:

Attention

How can classroom teachers attract and maintain students’ attention in this fast-paced, tech-driven world? Students are all multi-tasking, but studies suggest that multi-tasking doesn’t work. So, how can teachers get students to attend?

Compelling themes and topics can be carefully chosen to arouse student interest. Scaffolding of content and skills helps maintain student interest as content is deepened and language skills are developed.

 Authenticity

Students may have difficulty attending because the material with which they are provided is not always relevant to their lives. In a world where so much information is found with just a click of the mouse, students are not willing to spend their time reading or listening to texts that are not “real.” They know the difference between “ESL texts,” material that has been created for the second-language learner, and material that is meant for native ears and eyes. They may “tune out” when asked to participate in activities that do not seem genuine.

Teachers can seek to provide authentic materials and real-life language activities whenever possible, even at the intermediate level.

Accountability

In ESL classes, students are often not held accountable for producing the new language they are taught. They study new vocabulary and idioms, grammatical structures, and writing techniques, but then they may never actually use this new language in their own writing or speaking assignments. This could be because students do not get enough exposure or opportunities to practice, or it could be because the contexts in which they learn this new language may not be the most conducive to reaching the goals of language production. How can students be held more accountable for producing new language in their oral and written production? How can teachers lead students to a more natural production?

A purposeful recycling of language is essential if students are to produce new language on their own. Students need multiple exposures to new language in a variety of contexts to ensure their production of that language. Assessments must be well aligned to the language-learning goals of a particular course.

Academic Preparation

Students may struggle with meeting the expectations of an academic program. For example, discourse synthesis is a skill required in both high school and college-level courses, but ESL learners may feel overwhelmed with the task of writing about a topic with reference to multiple texts. They may need help in selecting, summarizing, and organizing texts.

In addition, performing well in college-level classes and on tests requires a variety of critical thinking skills. L2 learners from cultures that do not teach critical thinking may be especially challenged.

ESL teachers can teach organization and synthesis strategies and inference comprehension skills as part of their language curriculum. Higher-level critical thinking skills can also be incorporated to prepare students for the demands of an academic program.

Teaching Critical Thinking from Both the Psychologists’ and Philosophers’ Perspectives

CarolNumrichCarol Numrich

When language educators include critical thinking activities in their lessons, not only do they raise student interest and motivation, but they also prepare students for one of the key 21st-century skills needed in today’s world. Though most educators agree that critical thinking is an essential skill, there is not always agreement on how to define or teach it. In fact, over recent decades, two camps have developed: psychologists, who believe that problems have correct answers and definable solutions, and philosophers, who argue that problems are complex, ambiguous, and often have no solutions. Interestingly, both views can contribute to more successful learning of a second language. Continue reading