It was expected that each course would have a coursebook and my job was to organise lessons around the coursebook and to make sure we worked our way through the book. As I progressed in my career, gaining experience, reflecting on my practice and completing further qualifications, I came to notice there are a couple of issues with the Coursebook Approach:
- The coursebook is a universal book: it does not and cannot take into consideration the specific needs of your learners.
- It is a one-size-fits-all approach: every single upper-intermediate learner hasn't yet mastered the Present Perfect, right?
- The lessons are never ready-to-go: you have to redesign the pages, so that the lesson is effective.
- The teacher's book is nothing more than an answer book.
Let's take a closer look at each of these below.
Due to the nature of mass publishing, a coursebook cannot take into consideration the needs of your individual learners and groups. As a result, certain assumptions are made when preparing a coursebook. For example: topics should be wide-open, so as to allow for as much discussion and scope as possible. This generally works well but fails, for example, when you have a unit on popular music but you are teaching in Saudi Arabia where western pop music is banned. Another example is using the ubiquitous Star Wars as a text or a listening in a coursebook - you would think this would go down a treat just about everywhere in the world, unless you are teaching in Poland where no one knows Star Wars.
The solution? Look through the coursebook and pre-select those pages which are relevant to your learners.
ONE SIZE FITS ALL
This is the idea that all learners at a given level are going along the same learning journey. For example: Pre-Intermediate learners will need to refine their knowledge of past verbs and have yet to learn the Present Perfect.
Of course, it can never be the case that every learner at a given level is at the same linguistic stage. Groups of learners can vary dramatically. This means you could be teaching Unit 2 of coursebook, because that is what is next in the book, but the whole of the class already know it.
The solution? Look through the coursebook and pre-select those topics which are relevant to your learners.
READY TO GO
This is the issue that you expect coursebooks to be in a ready-to-go format, with the lessons already planned out in the teacher's book and the materials in the coursebook and all you have to do is 'deliver it.' However, that very rarely is the case. In most cases, teachers take a look at the two page spread and then go about redesigning it.
The reasons for redesigning what is in the book could be numerous but, to my experience, they often boil down to two things:
- The desire to avoid apparent ease and boredom by not doing things in order (exercise 1, through 2, 3 and 4, to exercise 5)
- The desire to change the lesson framework. For example: changing the book's Present-Practice-Produce approach to a Task-Based Learning approach.
The solution? Plan and deliver the lesson you want according to the framework you want, but go through the book and pre-select the exercises, texts and listenings which are relevant to your lesson.
THE TEACHER'S BOOK
The teacher's book, as I originally understood it, is supposed to be the part of the coursebook package where all the procedure to delivering the lesson can be found. In other words, the teacher's book is essentially supposed to be a ready-to-go lesson plan.
However, few teachers I know actually use the book in that way. To my experience, most use it as a the answer booklet for exercises - that way you don't have to worry about figuring out the answers yourself.
That all sounds well and good but there are two issues with this:
- Teacher's books aren't perfect: they contain mistakes
- By not doing the exercise yourself, you don't go through the motions your learners go through when doing an exercise, so you are less informed about the nature of a given task or exercise
The solution? Go through the teacher's book and pre-select what is useful and relevant to you.
A FINAL WORD
All too often, the materials in a coursebook drive our lessons, but really what shoul dbe happening is that the lesson is driven by its aims and the coursebook helps you achieve those aims.
I hope the notes above help to make that message clear and practically applicable. You can read more about that notion in this post on my blog.