Open Mind Advanced

Steve Taylore-Knowles and Dorothy E. Zemach
Macmillan Education 2015

Open Mind AdvancedAt one point in Open Mind Advanced, students are asked to discuss the differences between authoritarian, committee, consensus and majority-rule decision-making styles, then follow up with research into the way laws are passed in their own country. Academic? Challenging? Requiring life experience? Yes, yes and yes. But this is precisely what Open Mind is: a course for adults hoping to gain valuable professional, academic and person-to-person skills, as well as language improvement. The maturity of the user is a prerequisite for some of the topics, for example bartering, sustainable shopping, personal finance, artistic licence, vehicle automation and identity theft.

The premise on which the book is based is that today’s learners need ‘life skills’ – the higher-order skills such as critical thinking, organisational and learning skills – as well as language tools. In each unit there is a life skills focus, such as Self and Society, Work and Career and Study and Learning. These sections are linked to the unit topic and carry titles like Recognising contradiction, Anticipating cultural differences and Understanding decision making styles, none of which sound riveting, but which the authors feel are essential and transferable skills.

In the main, the contents pages give a clear overview of what is covered in each of the 12 units. However, in the Pronunciation column, as well as staples such as intonation and attitude, vowel length before final consonant sounds, final clusters, assimilation and contrastive stress (all valid and understandable descriptions), in Unit 8 we see ‘Words ending in -ical’, when calling it ‘Shifting stress’ would be much clearer. Similarly, Unit 10’s mysteriously titled ‘Words – thought groups’ actually refers to pausing and chunking in a sentence. I also found some of the naming of activities misleading.

One of the things this coursebook does well is to include independent learning features throughout, such as Notice!, Reflect and How are you doing? boxes. This seems a sensible way of encouraging learner self-reflection and self-levelling, and can be a useful starting point for tutorials. Also included are clear answer keys, audioscripts, a unit-by-unit grammar reference, a list of irregular verbs and pronunciation symbols, as well as a useful grammar review, which could be used diagnostically on day one of a course.

In terms of looks, the Student’s Book is visually attractive, with vibrant colours, crisp photography and a pleasing colour scheme to herald the start of each unit. It has a fresh look, with many photos being eye-catching and exploitable. What I would say, however, is that some of the pages feel crowded, with too many exercises, sections, boxes, fonts and visuals assaulting the eye. As a teacher-user, what I found bewildering was the use of little ‘cog’ symbols, some of which also had a little backwards-pointing arrow over them. These cogs refer to ‘on’ and ‘off’ skills: ‘on’ skills are the ones developed through sub-skills and ‘off’ skills are the ones that are practised. The arrowed cogs are the recycled ‘on’ skills. Confusing. And their purpose only becomes clear in the Teacher’s Book, where we learn that the two ‘on’ skills developed in Unit 1 are practised in Unit 2 as ‘off’ skills, while the pattern is reversed in Unit 2, and so on alternating.

The first two pages of each unit set the scene by means of a ‘striking combination of two photographs’ but some I found a little weird. One looks like a woman writing a maths equation onto a lawn and another seems as if three teenagers are rifling though shopping bags while sitting in a scrap metal yard.

Each unit opener poses simple questions or tasks, which aim to help the students familiarise themselves with the upcoming unit. These initial questions are a good idea to kick off but some are outside most students’ realm of experience: How do examples help you to understand a writer’s point?; Why do you think some speakers don’t state every idea directly?; What do you think ‘softening language’ is?

Reading training is given in understanding text organisation, understanding explanations and definitions, and understanding intent. Texts have been taken or adapted from authentic sources and tagged accordingly. They are not terribly long for C1 level. Some have general interest – Ice Cream Causes Shark Attacks, Bats About Bats, The Art Of Graffiti – whereas others are more suitable for a very adult class (ones on fracking, food labelling, automation) and will require the teacher to spark learners’ interest.

Three of the six writing sections deal with genre rather than the narrower sub-skills of topic sentences or cohesive devices, the rationale being that advanced-level students are ready to tackle the broader challenge of genre writing, such as a wiki entry, an editorial, a proposal, and a personal statement for university entry. A writing workshop comes at the end of alternate units and gives extra practice via a model text and self-assessment of the writing types students might meet in TOEFL and IELTS exams eg. a for-andagainst essay, interpreting charts.

Grammar is practised through a fivestep structure. First, it is contextualised in a reading or listening passage and students are encouraged to Notice! the form or function, before they Analyse (guided inductive approach) the examples from the text. A What’s right? feature draws their attention to common learner error. Then comes Practice (controlled, written) and finally a personalised Now you do it activity. I agree that advanced students can cope with an inductive/discovery approach, but the amount of practice in the coursebook is often limited and students will need to access the online materials for more. For instance, Unit 10’s inversion with negative expressions presents the items in a short passage and there are only five practice sentences.

I was surprised to see so little overt focus on lexical development at this level. There is, for example, very little on phrasal verbs. There is more on affixation but I would have expected wider coverage of collocation, semantic precision and nuance, but perhaps I have become used to the way that vocabulary is traditionally covered. Open Mind Teacher’s Book makes it clear that there are no independent vocabulary sections and that vocabulary has been integrated into reading and speaking activities and linked to specific contexts. Personally, I love exploiting stand-alone sections like idioms, colloquial words, borrowings and loan items or ‘hot verbs’ collocations with my students, so this approach to lexis is a little unnerving.

A good Teacher’s book is a bonus, and this one doesn’t disappoint. The Premium Pack includes sections on the course philosophy, methodology and suggestions for approaching the teaching of grammar, skills, etc. Unit contents are mapped to the CEFR competence statements and there is a useful breakdown of timings on the opening page of each unit. There are also culture notes and suggestions for extra bits of grammar, speaking or homework. Answers are helpfully encased in grey boxes for easy access. Audioscripts are at the back, along with the Workbook Answer Key. There is some interesting background reading too – a four-page article about Kagan Structures and their hallmarks of communication and co-operation (admittedly, I’d never heard of Kagan before), which teachers are encouraged to implement in their classrooms. Three sample Kagan structures are suggested for teachers to try out.

The Teacher’s and Student’s Resource Centres provide support materials and audio/video. The TRC includes video worksheets with notes and answer keys, extra unit opener lessons, extra Life Skills lessons and tests (placement, unit, midcourse, end-of-course). The Presentation Kit is the digital version of the coursebook, with embedded video and class audio. For students, the Online Workbook and Resource Centre, accessible via an activation code in their book, has language practice, videos and wordlists.

Clearly, Open Mind Advanced is for older adults. I can’t help thinking that the topics necessitate life experience and world knowledge. I can see this book being put to good use on an intensive course for mature learners who are in the university system or in the workplace. If, in my own teaching context, I had a class of highly-focused, self-aware, worldly C1 learners who wanted to develop the speaking skills of hedging, modifying statements and softening language, this would be the course for them.

Clare Henderson has been a teacher at Bell Cambridge since 1994 and her interests are Contemporary English and Testing.