UsingCoursebooks:Do We? Why Do We? How Do We?AndHow Could We?
“Heinemann ELT is carrying out major research into the waycoursebooksare used and received in ELT adult and young adult classrooms around the world.
We are looking for classroom teachers and directors of studies who would welcome the opportunity to help us with our research which will investigate teaching contexts and the relationship between thecoursebook, the teacher and the learners.’Heinemann ELT (1993).Folio.2/1, 24.
Do We UseCoursebooks?
A glance at any language teaching journal in the last ten years gives the impression that in most language classes these days learners are using computers, tablets and mobile phones rather thancoursebooks.The reality though is that the vast majority of language classes around the world are still beingtaught.And they are being taught by teachers usingcoursebooks.(See for example, British Council (2008); Tomlinson (2010), Saw, (2016))
Why Do We UseCoursebooks?
According to my experience and research (e.g. Tomlinson, 2010) it’s because:of compulsion;of (excessive)reverence;of face validity;it saves the teacher time (see, if you can, Tomlinson, XXXX);it gives confidence to inexperienced teachers;it provides texts for the teacher to make use of (see Tomlinson, XXXY;it makes teaching easier (especially as these days mostcoursebooksare clones of each other);It makes teacher training easier;it helps administrators to timetable andstandardise;it’s the norm.
But does using acoursebookhelp the learners?It does provide security and system, it does satisfy expectations and it does provide a source of reinforcement and revision.But does it typically facilitate language acquisition for the learners?Hadley ( 2014)says it does. But then his pre- and post-tests were mainly discrete itemcoursebookplacement tests.(See Tomlinson & Masuhara (2018, pp. 25-28) for a discussion of the value or otherwise ofcoursebooks).
How Do We UseCoursebooks?
My observation, reading and research tells me that teachers do one or more of the following:follow theircoursebookas a script;augment theircoursebook;adapt theircoursebookto increase its potential effectiveness;use theircoursebookas a resource (e.g. as a stimulus for interaction; as a trigger for in-house teacher development);satirisetheircoursebook;make token use of theircoursebook;use thecoursebookas an incentive to do something else (e.g.Meddings& Thornbury (2009); Tomlinson & Masuhara (2018, pp. 28-29).
For research studies on how we usecoursebookssee Harwood (2014), McGrath (2013), Tomlinson and Masuhara (2018, pp. 29-31; pp. 82-116).
How Could We?
My question has three meanings:How could we have written so many unengagingcoursebooks?How could we have used so many unengagingcoursebooks?How could we usecoursebooksin more engaging and effective ways?
How could we have written so many unengagingcoursebooks?We’ve done so because of:misunderstanding what facilitates language acquisition;the need to achieve face validity;the demands of synthetic syllabuses and knowledge testing examinations;the need for teachers to set and mark classroom tests;the cloning of best-sellingcoursebooks;publisher censorship of topic content.
2.How could we have used so many unengagingcoursebooks?We’ve done so because of:excessive reverence;lack of choice;fear of innovation;CONVENIENCE.
3. How could we usecoursebooksin more engaging and effective ways?1We could add a lead-in text (i.e. a potentially engaging text which readies the learners’ minds for the core text in thecoursebook)For example, I’d tell the following ‘personal’ story about a computer help shop before the students turn to 5.1 ‘The advantages and disadvantages of modern technology’ inSpeak Out Intermediate(Clare & Wilson, 2012).
2 We could supplement (or replace) conspicuously inauthentic texts with potentially engaging authentic texts connected to the topic.‘Fora wide range of discourse features (includinglexicogrammaticalitems, speechacts, genericstructure, and interactional features of contingent talk), ELT textbooksoften providelearners with distorted or partial representations of the target language towork from, and these are likely to impact negatively on students’ developingcommunicativecompetence.’This is the conclusion of Gilmore (2015) who refers to forty four sources of information about such distorted input.
3We could make small changes whichopen up closed activities(Tomlinson, 2017) andthusstimulate valuable peer to peer interaction (Sato & Ballinger, 2016).For example we could turn A on p. 125 ofPre-Intermediate Outcomes(Dellar&Walkley, 2010) into a creative activity.
AComplete the sentences by addingbecauseorso.1 That part of the city is new ………you don’t see any old buildings there.2 People don’t go out between 12 and 3 ……… it’s very hot.3 The city was really polluted ……… I moved to the country.4 Lots of tourists visit the museum ……..it’s home to a lot of wonderful art.Teacher – ‘In your group use your four sentences to help you to write a short story calledSunset at Midnight.’
4Wecould make small changeswhichpersonaliseactivities.For example we could turn the grammar exercises on p. 55 of global intermediate(Clandfield&Robb Benne, 2011) into apersonalisedcreative activity.
The grammar section gives examples of modals of permission and necessity in relation to robots and then gives the following instruction:1 Read sentences 1-8. Match the words in bold with a meaning a-d.1 A robotmaycreate another robot.2 A robothas toknow that it is a robot.I’d tell a joke about robots, do the exercise above and then add the following activity:
1 Write the beginning of a short story in which you’ve bought a robot and taken it home. In the extract from your story show the robot your home and talk to it about its duties.2 Swop stories with other students in the class.3 If you are interested in robots and in stories read Ian Mc Ewan’s new novelMachines Like Me.
5We could make small changes whichadd the potential for affective and cognitive engagement.For example, we could add imaginative activities to the section on time travel on page 109 ofSpeakoutIntermediate(Clare & Wilson, 2012).There is an expository text on time travel which the learners have to answer three surface questions on and then they the text to ‘underline eight phrases withcome,give, have andmake,’
I would add:Think about a time in the past or the future which you would like to go to.Think about a place and an event at that time.Imagine you are now in that place and time observing the event taking place.See pictures in your mind of what is happening.Suddenly there’s a problem.See yourself being involved in the problem.
In groups of three tell each other what happened during your time travel.Then as a group choose one of your accounts and write it as a story.Exchange your story with another group and then add an ending to their story in which the problem is solved.
6We could perform thecoursebookin orderto bring thecoursebooktolife.Thecoursebookcan be performed by:the teacher;the students;interaction between the teacher and the students.
Here’s an example of a teacher and student performance of the text onp. 45 ofglobal intermediate(Clandfield& Benne, 2012).TheWallT. Couldyou just remind me of your names.I’m going to act for you the beginning of a story.There are two characters in the story, A and B.I’m playing both characters. As you’ll see they both look alike and sound alike. That’s because they’re twin brothers and I’m hopeless at accents.As you watch and listen try to imagine where they are and what they are doing.
You know something funny. I’ve forgotten which side is which.You’ve what?I’ve forgotten which side we’re supposed to be guarding from the other.You idiot. Some soldier you are.Whichis it then?To our right we have our glorious homeland and to our left the barbaric wastes.Now?T. What’sthe problem?Whatdo you mean ‘Now’? Home is always on my right hand side. I’ve memorized it.It can’t always be on your right because if you turned around then your right would be where your left is.Oh.T. Inpairs solve the problem. Then act outthe scene with a solution added.
Then the students read the text and answer post-reading questions.Not the closed questions from thecoursebook(e.g. ‘What are the men’s jobs? ‘Find a positive adjective.’But open-ended think questions such as ‘What does the wall remind you of?’ and ‘What do you think of the idea of building a wall between two countries?’
For more examples of how small changes can add engagement and effect tocoursebookssee:Faneslow(2018),Timmis(2016), Tomlinson (2017).
If small changes can make acoursebookmore engaging and effective what are the implications for:coursebookdevelopment?teacher development?One implication is the need for hands on workshops in which writers and teachers gain experience in making small changes.A MATSDA Workshop?
And what about the learners?What do learners do withcoursebooks?This is something we really need to find out.A topic for a future MATSDA Conference?
1 Let me conclude with an example of a very small change to 1a on page 36 ofThe Big Picture Intermediate(Goldstein, 2012).Choose the correct option to complete the sentences.1 It’s amazing/amazed how many things today can be called ‘art’. I think a lot of it is rubbish.Choose the correct option to complete the sentences. Then add a response to the sentence so it becomes the beginning of a conversation.
2 And finally a couple of quotations.i) Wecannot solve our problems with the samethinkingweused when we created them.AlbertEinsteinii) Ifat first you don’tsucceedTry, try, and try again.BUT DO IT DIFFERENTLY.Tomlinson (15/6/2019)
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