Navigate (B1+ Intermediate)
Rachael Roberts, Heather Buchanan
and Emma Pathare
Oxford University Press 2015
Navigate evokes the metaphor of learning as a journey. For the intermediate level of this new adult General English course series it is particularly appropriate because much is made of the intermediate plateau where so many weary language travellers prematurely end their voyage. Does Navigate guide learners through these troubled waters or do they find themselves in the doldrums or, worse, having to abandon ship? Any teacher who has faced mutiny in the classroom will need to know if this title steadies the ship.
To have any chance of success, a ship needs an able captain and this is readily supplied through the series adviser, Catherine Walter, who introduces the way ahead in the opening pages of the Teacher’s Guide. Walter makes it clear that the syllabus and general thinking behind Navigate is founded rigorously on academic principles, including research into second language acquisition. To substantiate this, the Teacher’s Guide includes double-spread rationales for the treatment of key areas by experts in the field, including Walter herself on reading (pp20–21) and John Field on listening (pp22–23). These are brief overviews of their extensive research activity, but the findings go against much perceived wisdom, for example working out the meaning of new words from context is of limited value in teaching learners to read fluently and traditional listening comprehension questions test rather than teach. The end of each piece explains how the research evidence is realised in the methodology of Navigate, referring to specific activities in the Student’s Book.
The direct application of research to task design is a major departure. A common criticism levelled against coursebooks is that they are based on intuition and pedagogic tradition rather than evidence about learning or learner behaviour: Field has made this point tirelessly in his work on listening (e.g. Field, 2008). The approach hasn’t been taken too far though. There are plenty of traditional activities, including listening comprehension, while the Unlock the Code feature points out strategies for skills development. For example, (p120) learners are given practice in unpacking complex noun phrases (‘Japan has something big to aim for in the coming years’) during reading. Even if teachers choose to use the material in a fairly traditional way, they should feel reassured that the coursebook is fully informed by insights into the field.
Each unit comprises five lessons. Grammar is the ‘backbone’ of the syllabus – at last a series which acknowledges the obvious, that all coursebooks have grammar syllabuses – and lessons 1 and 2 provide two grammar points, introduced inductively. Lessons 3 and 4 treat vocabulary and skills development while lesson 5 is a video lesson. All videos are contained on the DVD that comes with the Student’s Book. The videos are documentaries or interviews which match the unit theme and, shot on location, they have very good quality images and audio, which is just as well because one impact of the pace of technological change is that any material has to be outstanding to cope with learners’ increasing sophistication and expectations. Nothing looks worse now than video material done on the cheap. A Review page finishes off each unit and I estimate one unit to involve around 12 classroom hours, meaning a whole course of between 140–160 hours depending on how much of the extra material you incorporate. (It’s odd how coursebooks, including this one, are loathe to give time estimates for individual lessons or the whole course.)
Of course, most users want an easy ride. A comforting feature then on the Teacher’s Support and Resource Disc which accompanies the Teacher’s Guide is a video lesson overview by Walter mapping each double-spread. Thus for lesson 4.2, Walter explains how the lesson fits together around the theme of ‘forest bathing’, or opening yourself up to nature. These short summaries will save teachers planning time and focus their thoughts. By the way, the same disc also includes progress tests, photocopiable activities, worksheets to go with the vox pop videos, and wordlists for each unit. I found the latter particularly useful as the lists come with transcriptions, example sentences and a space for a translation, and the vocabulary is drawn from the Oxford 3000, a list of the 3,000 most frequently used words in English.
And what sights will travellers take in on the way? The topics are angled as ‘information-rich’ according to the blurb, meaning that wayfarers can be expected to be informed as well as entertained. Forest bathing referred to earlier illustrates this as it is an interesting variation on the usual tired environmental topic. Through a radio interview, and some evocative artwork, learners are encouraged to explore the concept of nature as a space for emotional and spiritual renewal, culminating in a final speaking task where learners discuss how forest bathing could relate to their lives. Another unit uses the contemporary topic of ‘crowd funding’ to focus on the passive voice and finishes with a communicative activity in which learners try to sell a crowd-funded project. Because of the content-rich approach, almost CLIL, the topics do seem more ‘serious’, with a small s, than most competitor titles and are probably better suited for motivated adults than unimpressionable older teenagers, even though they have a depth and freshness which should engage all.
As usual, the Workbook mirrors the coursebook. There are some appealing and well-thought out texts which could be used just as well in the classroom as for self-study. For example, an exercise recycling art vocabulary offers an intriguing text on the Las Meninas painting by Velázquez and its various interpretations. Novel are the Reading/Listening for pleasure sections to encourage extensive practice, with texts like the (abridged) excerpt from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.
Preparing for a journey is not the same as going on it, but Navigate puts teachers and students into a strong position, not just to get to the end of the course but to enjoy the passage.
Field J (2008) Listening in the Language Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wayne Rimmer is author of Cambridge Active Grammar, a practice grammar for teenagers.