Vicky Saumell - Coursebooks as guides

Language learning has long been dependent on the coursebook.

Language learning has long been dependent on the coursebook. And coursebooks have been the recipients of both praise and criticism. We probably need to look at the coursebook from a different perspective.
When the coursebook becomes the syllabus, we run the risk of becoming too tied up with its contents and probably oblivious of other important aspects that the coursebook may not address adequately.

Coursebook writers try to create their option of the best possible sequence of contents that follow a certain methodology or approach for a general audience. As teachers, we know that there are many different contexts in which coursebooks are used. These are related to cultural differences, teaching and learning beliefs, number of students, type of school, reason for learning the language, among others. It is practically impossible for a writer to come up with a one-size-fits-all solution embodied in a coursebook. And that is where teachers and administrators who believe the coursebook is there to be followed blindly, fail to acknowledge effective ways to maximize the potential of coursebooks.

When we understand that a coursebook is an ally instead of a master plan, we can start making choices that will result in more effective teaching and learning.

So here are some perceived disadvantages of coursebooks and my suggestions for overcoming them:

  • The topics are ok for my context, but the specific readings are not.

Find other readings that can relate more to your specific class and context. Find something more local.

  • The contents’ sequence is not adequate for my context

Do not be afraid to change the sequence of the units or contents within a unit. Look for a more organic and meaningful order for your class.

  • The language presentation methodology is the traditional Presentation, Practice, Production

If you want to try an inductive approach to language presentation, look for a reading or listening text in the coursebook in which you can find the target structure and do that first to expose students to the language, then ask students some guiding questions to help them discover the rule by analysing the examples in the text, only then show them the language presentation section in the book and finally move on to the practice tasks. This approach is called Guided Discovery.

  • Some contents are developed superficially

Find extra material to supplement these contents.

  • There is too much emphasis on certain aspects and little on others

It may be that a coursebook is weak on pronunciation and intonation tasks, for example. Create a custom-made parallel thread to develop that aspect.

  • The suggested ideas for teaching in the teacher’s book are not adequate for my context

Create your own learning paths for certain content: add warmers or icebreakers, skip other suggested tasks, make sure you personalize the learning experience.

  • There is no multimedia component

Look for videos to complement the topics in the coursebook.

  • Some readings present outdated information

Find updated readings or videos and have students compare what has changed.

  • There is no integration tasks to consolidate the learning

Create a custom-made project at the end of each unit which integrates the concepts and vocabulary and that fits your students interests and learning preferences.

If you have an option to choose your own coursebook, try a shorter coursebook that allows you to create a more personalised learning experience based on your learners’ interests and preferences and according to your own objectives and beliefs as a teacher. Nobody knows your students better than you. Trust your intuition and knowledge! And remember we can probably have better experiences if we consider coursebooks as guides.

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