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Advanced Learners

Offers the experienced and the inexperienced teacher new ideas and new perspectives on teaching high level learners.
Reviewed for TEFL.net by James Taylor

Advanced Learners by Alan Maley

Advanced Learners

Advanced Learners by Alan Maley is part of the Oxford University Press series Resource Books For Teachers. It is designed to give teachers ideas on how they can enable advanced learners to move to the next level of proficiency. As the author points out, this is an area rarely dealt with in ELT material, and as such occupies a spot in an underappreciated, undervalued and yet important element of the student ability spectrum.

The book consists of nine chapters, each concentrating on a particular area of study, such as grammar, the tools of the trade (dictionaries, thesauruses etc) and the four skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). Maley’s best work is in the first chapter, which concentrates on goal setting, an essential component of a student’s study program, and particularly important at the higher levels of proficiency where students may find it harder to have a tangible sense of progress. It also encourages learner autonomy, which is essential for maintaining the motivation of the student, particularly at that stage of their learning.

Maley also does an effective job of providing original and stimulating activities in the chapters that deal with receptive and productive skills. His activities are clearly focused on enhancing the student’s pre-existing skill set. This is achieved by assuming that by this point in the student’s English studying life they will have been exposed to a limited range of activities. Here, students will receive and produce in a way that will provide them with an alternative to the exercises that they will have encountered on scores of occasions. While the book does not contain anything designed to revolutionise the classroom, it will undoubtedly enable the student and the teacher to be more actively engaged in the classes, which is surely a benefit for both.

Due to the particular nature of the target students of the book, the activities tend to concentrate on very specific areas. This highly focused approach results in exercises with aims such as “To raise students’ awareness of things which cause irritation in cross-cultural contexts”, and “To raise students awareness of verbal strategies used by participants in television interviews.”

This narrow approach is appropriate, because as Maley points out in his introduction, “‘getting by’ is no longer an option for many advanced students of English”. However, the range of materials that has traditionally been available to them, and indeed to their teachers, is at best limited. Often the teacher is required to improvise, a duty more experienced teachers will happily perform, but something more difficult for those who are less experienced, particularly in this very specific area of ELT. That isn’t to say that those teachers with a greater collection of activities to fall back on cannot use this book. As with many of these resource books (often, in the case of OUP, edited by Maley himself), they can offer equally the experienced and the inexperienced teacher new ideas and new perspectives.

The book has been written with three possible uses in mind (self-study, one to one, and small groups) and as a result, many of the activities, if performed as written, would appear to be a little on the dry side. However, resource books are, by definition, meant to provide teachers with either a framework or a spark from which they can adapt the exercises to the particular needs of their students. Maley himself states that “you will certainly find new ways of adapting these activities and of creating others I have not even dreamt of.” With this book, the author has continued his substantial contribution to that process.

Reviewed for TEFL.net by James Taylor
December 2009 | Filed under Teaching
James Taylor has taught English as a foreign language to adults in Brazil, South Korea, Belgium and Costa Rica. He is the current President and a co-founder of BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers Association. He can also be found moderating #ELTchat, a twice-weekly discussion on Twitter with teachers from around the world, presenting the #ELTchat podcast, mentoring teachers for iTDi, and blogging. His website is theteacherjames.com.

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