It’s been over a year since I last wrote about textbooks. I freely admitted back then that I avoided using them. During the past year, however, textbook usage has been necessary, and I have a bit more experience with them.
Mostly, those experiences are bad. I can see why textbooks are necessary in establishing a curriculum, and in taking an organized and standardized approach to language learning in schools. What is really objectionable is poorly written textbooks – that is to say, textbooks that are unnecessarily complicated.
English is a pretty simple language in some senses – one-word sentences are common (particularly as responses to questions), for example. By and large, children are taught at schools a more “correct” and in fact more difficult form of English that is not really in use in the modern vernacular. This clunky type of English is common in textbooks that teach such phrases as ‘I am very well, thank you. And how are you?’
Has any native speaker (outside of Cambridge) used that sentence in the last 50 years? Whereas, how many textbooks carry the much more common response ‘Alright, cheers’, or ‘Not bad, thanks’?
Jurgen Kurtz, in his blog Foreign Language Education in the 21st Century, makes some other valid points about textbooks in the EFL classroom. In quoting Adrian Underhill, Jurgen shows that the textbook puts a barrier between you and the student, effectively creating an almost robotic method of teaching that can be reduced in its simplest form to a “list of things to do”.
For many teachers, the choice of whether to use a textbook or not is not theirs to make. Working for an employer often means using defined methods and materials. Depending on the targets of your learners, though, you can adapt materials and teach more practical lessons by selecting your lesson plans and going beyond just the textbook. By doing that, you can help your students to become better speakers, and you can connect with them more easily in the lesson.
What are your experiences of using textbooks? Leave your comments below!