Textbook Review: Stand Out 5

By Maja Carbonara

A review of:
Johnson, S., & Jenkins, R. (2016). Stand out 5. Boston, MA: National Geographic Learning, Cengage Learning

Stand Out 5 is an advanced-level English textbook specifically designed for adults who are interested in attending college and pursuing a career. All of the material covered in the eight units is designed with evidence-based learning in mind. All of the units are designed to help students master all four aspects of learning a language: reading, writing, speaking, and grammar. The exercises vary, with multiple choice answers, matching definitions, and open questions, just to name a few. In addition, all of the units are created to mimic real-life situations and overall are a great introduction to vocabulary one might need if faced with similar situations in real life. Titles of units are something we all have, in a certain capacity, dealt with in our lives: Unit 1 - “Balancing Your Life”, Unit 2 - “Personal Finance”, Unit 3 - “Automotive Know-How”, Unit 4 - “Housing”, Unit 5 - “Health”, Unit 6 -“Retail”, Unit 7 – “The Office “and Unit 8 – “Civic Responsibility.”

Reaching for perfection has been an everlasting quest of ours. We as human beings are always searching for perfection, trying to be perfect in every sense—at home, at work, perfect daughter, perfect son, perfect husband, perfect wife, perfect neighbor, etc. The same sort of principle has its roots in our profession as well. We try to be the perfect teachers, who, in an ideal world, would teach from just one perfect book. Rightfully so, this is no exception. This book is really trying, or should I say, the authors have really tried to arrange all the material in a perfect layout. Overall, they have succeeded somewhat—I would say that three out of the four aspects were covered beautifully, but one remains an eyesore. It would be safe to say that the end result does not align perfectly with the authors’ enthusiasm. I will demonstrate why in the remainder of my review. I shall focus first on some of the positives and will leave the constructive criticism for the end.

Each of the units has been designed to have all four aspects of language learning covered. At the very beginning of each unit, there is a picture related to the material covered and two questions related to the picture. So, even before a student is engaged with the material, he/she is engaged with critical thinking. When it comes to the vocabulary being introduced, students are not always encouraged to look words up in the dictionary. Some of the matching exercises, where words are given on one side and the definitions on the other, are created so students try and infer the meaning from given definitions, which, in my opinion, is much more efficient. (In everyday situations, do we really have time to look up every word we do not know, especially during face to face conversations?) Another thing I really liked is that each unit has plenty of listening exercises. A CD accompanies this book and on average about 50 percent of all the material in each unit is related to listening or pronunciation exercises, which is absolutely great! In almost every unit, when reading an article, students are asked to reflect on similarities with their own personal experiences or build on their existing knowledge, which, in terms of retaining newly gained knowledge in long-term memory, does the job beautifully. At the end of each unit, students are asked to either summarize what they have learned or give their opinion on something they have read, so, again, in a masterful way, writing skills are being targeted as well as reading, listening and speaking.

Let’s take, for example, the second unit, “Personal Finance.” At the very beginning of this unit, there is a photo depicting a young man performing for change on the street, and many passers-by who are window shopping and minding their own business. As stated earlier, there are a couple of questions related to what students see, and both questions lead students to engage in pre-reading strategies. Students are asked to guess what people mostly spend money on and if they think the young man makes a decent amount of money by playing the guitar on the street. All this, I think, is a fantastic introduction to the unit, which deals with organizing one’s personal finances. After the initial talk, students are given some key words in the Vocabulary Builder portion and are asked to talk to their partners and try to figure out the meaning of the words. Another thing I like is that there is a clear pattern in each unit where students are asked to work either in pairs or groups and exchange ideas. The students are then asked to listen to a couple of conversations and write down some of the ideas participants had in terms of saving money. There is also a section where they need to determine if answers are true or false. The lesson goes into detail explaining about investment strategies and deals in-depth with principles of establishing good credit—all of which are musts if you want to have a successful life in the U.S. Since a good portion of this unit focuses on planning ahead and setting up some short-term and long-term financial goals, the grammar section covered here is the future perfect tense. Because it is one of the more complicated tenses, one would think that the authors would spend a good amount of time explaining this grammatical structure and its usage. Sadly, this is not the case. The way that grammar concepts are introduced is actually the biggest downfall of this book.

The authors present this grammatical section, like the other grammatical sections, thinking that each student has already been introduced to these specific topics and this is only meant as reinforcement to already possessed knowledge. This unfortunately could not have been further from the truth. Even though my students in Adult Education are all in the same Advanced level class, they do not all possess the same advanced skills in all four major aspects of learning a language. Some might be better in writing than speaking. Some might be better in speaking than reading, some better in reading than in grammar, and some might have very low abilities in grammar. So what should you do when you have a broad spectrum of students whose skills are so varied when discussing grammar? Look for another source of grammar material, of course. You will need something with plenty of explanation as to why certain things are done. And this is exactly what I have been doing ever since we were told to use Stand Out books in our curriculum. I have looked for other sources of grammar explanations and have had much greater success that way.

In conclusion, there are many benefits to using this book, but as always, since perfection is far from attainable and, as such, one cannot find it in teaching materials either, one is always looking to tap into the brilliant minds of other authors who have created textbooks for ESL learners. This particular approach makes our jobs as teachers even more interesting because, through these teaching techniques, we are constantly surrounded by different ways of approaching students and helping them to reach their educational goals. Otherwise, our lives would be so boring because, in my own humble opinion, I think that we as teachers perform the best when challenged.

Maja Carbonara has been teaching ESL in Chicago City Colleges for 12 years. She holds a B.A. degree in English Language and Literature and is currently enrolled at Northeastern Illinois University, pursuing an M.A. in TESOL.
ITBE Link Fall 2020 - Fall 2020