Sunday, March 18, 2012

The predictability of a textbook

During a long, 12-hour flight to Glasgow where I’m presenting a talk at IATEFL about how technology can improve students’ speaking skills, integration and motivation (soon to be posted here) I had plenty of time to reflect upon what a student had told me a couple of weeks before:

Me: So, now let’s open our books to page 15. You’re going to listen to an (abruptly interrupted)
Student: I know exactly what you’re going to do (sepulchral silence in the room)
Me: Excuse me? (flabbergasted)
Student: I know what comes next! You’re going to ask us to listen to some conversation between him and her and then you’ll tell us to discuss about it and fill in the blanks with information from the listening. Isn’t that right?
Me: ….. (absolutely no reaction)

If you think this exchange looks familiar. You’re not alone. I have been questioned on the predictability of a coursebook! And I had no immediate reaction whatsoever. What would you do? Have you been through that?

Much has been discussed about how good or bad textbooks are. Dogmeist believe that teachers should take a more natural way of teaching without having to rely on materials. One of the many possible interpretations I (emphasis here) have is that textbooks have their own rationale, and as such they cannot by their nature cater for all levels, every kind of learning styles, and every category of learning strategies that exist in any class. Thinking this way teachers have no freedom to adapt their teaching because they must rely on the content of an imposed textbook.

More traditional teachers, on the other hand, claim that without a textbook learners would feel lost and might lose interest more easily, and perhaps more susceptible to becoming teacher-dependent, and perhaps most importantly is that newbie teachers feel safer since they see a textbook almost as an organism that provides support, security and guidance.

However, very little has been discussed about the predictability of the content and the way textbooks are organized. So, what’s the future of publishing in ELT industry? Teachers become authors. Authors write books which are reviewed by teachers. Some of the important aspects of a good textbook are:

· - Vocabulary work;

· -Consistency of the work on the basic linguistic, pedagogical and psychological beliefs;

· -Its cultural content and relevance;

· - Topics that are interesting for different learners;

· - Appropriateness in sequencing the syllabus and activities;

· - How grammar is presented, dealt and worked on.

Sadly, however, many fail to realize the importance of introducing some unpredictability into ELT materials, to create something new out of the ordinary, to improvise and change when possible and necessary. Actually what they fail to see is that our students are no longer interested in those cookie-cutter kinds of books that their parents have had in the past. The idea of one size fits all is no longer acceptable. (and I’m not mentioning the obvious cultural differences between nations in the world!) . Students should nowadays become co-authors of a lesson, co-authors of a syllabus, and (why not?) co-authors of textbooks! Engaging students is no easy task, we all know that. Unless we allow them entry to the way we plan what happens in our classes they will miserably just take things in with no critical thinking to back them up.

In my opinion, ELT materials deserve thumbs up when (they):

- - Reflect the reality of the students;

- - Provide enough mental challenge;

- - Culture is ubiquitously disseminated;

- - Offer periodic review ;

- - Include purposeful and objective activities;

- - Are well organized (artistically and pedagogically speaking);

- - Give theoretical orientations to the teacher;

- - And of course, provide some unpredictability!

What would you add and why?

You can always do something different out of the same lesson, the same activity and the same lesson. However, it takes up time, will and creativity.

What would you choose? Be the same cookie-cutter kind of teacher or innovate ALWAYS?


Stephen Greene said...

Hi Bruno,

Am interesting post and I agree that textbooks can get predictable. However, so can the stuff we create ourselves if we are not careful and don't have enough time to either just think about stuff or be creative.

I am in the fortunate position of not having to use textbooks anymore but there are times when I miss them. I also think some students like the idea of knowing that something has been tried and tested and that there is a programme to follow.

If I were to buy any material I would make sure there was lot of pronunciation activities. I don't just want the normal activities which are usually concerned with individual phonemes, but I want to practise features of connected speech, intonation etc. This is the only thing I would add to your list.

Lu Bodeman said...

Hey Bruno! :)

I like the idea of using books, but totally agree with you about the importance of carefully selecting a book that fits our/ss's needs, and not being enslaved to one - especially if teachers are not part of the selection process.

By the by, I like Jack Richards' spelling transfer: from "course book" to Source book". Pretty much says it all, way I see it.

Your list looks great. Awesome post!
Have a great time in Glasgow!!

Rachael Roberts said...

I agree, one size definitely can't fit all. I see a coursebook as perhaps like a favourite recipe book. New or less confident cooks will follow it to the letter, others will create their own versions of the dish to suit their palates (or those of their guests)
Incidentally, I have just uploaded a talk on this subject (shameless self promotion, sorry, but it is definitely relevant) on my blog

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