The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (1)


posted by Jürgen Kurtz, Karlsruhe University of Education, Germany

It is very interesting to see that even though textbooks and related teaching and learning materials/media have been adapted continuously to the ever-changing and growing challenges and demands of learning English as a foreign language, to new findings in foreign/second language research and theory construction and to advances in information technology, scholarly views on the role of the textbook and recommendations on how to use it in everyday classroom practice very often reflect little more than personal opinion and/or common sense. To  illustrate this, here are some exemplary statements I have come across while working on an upcoming publication (a few quotations in English first, then some more in German, followed by a very provocative statement in English again, published last year).

In my view, the many metaphorical expressions used in this context (i.e. the textbook as a dictator, a tyrant, a necessary evil, a straitjacket, a dungeon, a corral, a stone quarry, etc.) clearly indicate that much more classroom-based research on this is needed worldwide.

***

Rivers (1968: 475): „The importance of the textbook cannot be overestimated. It will inevitably determine the major part of the classroom teaching and the students’ out-of-class learning.”

Williams (1983: 251): „In situations where there is a shortage of trained teachers, language teaching is very closely tied to the textbook. (…) The textbook can be a tyrant to the teacher who, in his or her preoccupation with covering the syllabus, feels constrained (…).“

Sheldon (1988: 237): „ELT coursebooks evoke a range of responses, but are frequently seen by teachers as necessary evils. Feelings fluctuate between the perception that they are valid, labour-saving tools, and the doleful belief that masses of rubbish is skilfully marketed.”

Hutchinson & Torres (1994: 315): “The danger with ready-made textbooks is that they can seem to absolve teachers of responsibility. Instead of participating in the day-to-day decisions that have to be made about what to teach and how to teach it, it is easy to just sit back and operate the system, secure in the belief that the wise and virtuous people who produced the textbook knew what was good for us. Unfortunately this is rarely the case.”

***

Mangold (1892: 9): Der “freie mündliche, nicht der auf ein Buch sich stützende Unterricht soll den Mittelpunkt und den leitenden Teil des unterrichtlichen Geschehens bilden.”

Münch (1911: 39): “Das Haupthemmnis der wünschenswerten Lebendigkeit möchte in dem Fortleben des (von den alten Sprachen übernommenen) buchmässigen Charakters des Sprachunterrichts zu sehen sein. Ihm gegenüber muss sich vor allem der Lehrer selbst zur Freiheit und Lebendigkeit […] erziehen.”

Karpf (1915: 39-40): Die Unterrichtenden dürfen sich nicht “durch die abgliederung der lektionen einpferchen lassen” und diese “mit zeremonieller langweiligkeit” erledigen; erst die “freie Übung” kann das Interesse der Schülerinnen und Schüler erwecken.

Raith (1967: 76): Das Lehrbuch sollte als ein “Steinbruch” im Sinne eines Angebots betrachtet werden, aus dem entsprechende unterrichtliche (Bau-)Steine auszuwählen sind.

Heuer (1968: 15): Das Lehrbuch darf nicht zum “didaktischen Diktator” werden und den “Aktionsradius des Englischlehrers” einengen.

Billows (1973: 69): “Wir dürfen nicht zulassen, daß die Fremdsprache zwischen die Seiten eines Buches eingekerkert wird und dort erstarrt. Es gehört zur Aufgabe des Lehrers, die Beziehungen der Schüler zum Buch in die rechte Relation zu setzen, indem er ihre Erfahrungen aus ihrer Umwelt aufgreift und sprachlich realisiert, bis sie schließlich die Welt des Buches mit einbeziehen.”

Bludau (1988: 84): “Das Lehrbuch soll keine Zwangsjacke sein.”

Kahl (1990: 82): “Die starke Bindung des Lehrgangs an das Buch birgt die Gefahr, daß die Schülerinnen und Schüler die neue Sprache eher als eine Abfolge von Units oder Lektionen, die nacheinander durchgearbeitet werden müssen, erleben, denn als ein Kommunikationsmittel, das Bezug zu ihrer eigenen Lebenswelt hat. Trotz mancher Versuche, den Unterricht freier und offener zu gestalten, trotz des Bemühens, durch den Gebrauch audio-visueller Medien für Vielfalt und Abwechslung zu sorgen, scheint das systematische Fortschreiten auf dem durch das Lehrbuch vorgezeichneten Weg nach wie vor für die meisten die bessere (oder bequemere?) Alternative zu sein.”

Butzkamm (1995: 193): “Die Vielfalt vorgefertigter Buchübungen (Lehrbuch und workbook) sind eine ständige Verlockung für den Lehrer. […] Der Lehrer muß jeweils einen Teil des Unterrichts buchfrei unterrichten, indem er Gesprächsgegenstände aktualisiert und auf die besonderen Klassenbedürfnisse eingeht.”

Gehring (1999: 149): … das “Problem der Lehrwerkdiktatur” im Englischunterricht …

***

More recently, Tomlinson (2008: 3) has argued that “many ELT materials (especially global coursebooks) currently make a significant contribution to the failure of many learners of English as a second, foreign or other language to even acquire basic competence in English and to the failure of most of them to develop the ability to use it successfully. They do so by focussing on the teaching of linguistic items rather than on the provision of opportunities for acquisition and development. And they do this because that’s what teachers are expected and required to do by administrators, by parents, by publishers, and by learners too.”

What do you personally think of his? How should the textbook (and the related materials) be used in everyday learning and teaching practice?  Stay tuned, more to come.

References:

Billows, Lionel F. (1973). Kooperatives Sprachenlernen. Techniken des Fremdsprachenunterrichts. Heidelberg: Quelle & Meyer.

Bludau, Michael (1988). Was kann, was soll der Englischunterricht auf der Mittelstufe leisten? Der fremdsprachliche Unterricht 21 (4), 4-6.

Butzkamm, Wolfgang (1995). Unterrichtsmethodische Problembereiche. In: Bausch, Karl-Richard; Christ, Herbert & Krumm, Hans-Jürgen (Hrsg.), Handbuch Fremdsprachenunterricht. Tübingen: Francke (UTB), 188-194.

Gehring, Wolfgang (1999). Englische Fachdidaktik. Eine Einführung. Berlin: Schmidt.

Heuer, Helmut (1968). Die Englischstunde. Unterrichtsgestaltung und Unterrichtsforschung. Wuppertal: Henn.

Hutchinson, Tom & Torres, Eunice (1994). The textbook as agent of change. ELT Journal, 48 (4), 315-327.

Kahl, Peter W. (1990). Die ersten Wochen im Fach Englisch. Englisch, 25 (2), 81-86.

Karpf, Fritz (1915). Das neusprachliche Können unserer Schüler. Wie kann die Sprechfertigkeit der Schüler gehoben werden? Teil 1. Die Neueren Sprachen, 23 (1), 32-45.

Mangold, Wilhelm (1892). Gelöste und ungelöste Fragen der Methodik auf dem Gebiete der neueren Fremdsprachen. Berlin: Springer.

Münch, Wilhelm (1911). Lebende Sprachen und lebendiger Sprachunterricht. In: Bericht über die Verhandlungen der 14. Tagung des allgemeinen deutschen Neuphilologenverbandes (A.D.N.V.) in Zürich vom 16. – 19. Mai 1910. Hannover & Berlin: Carl Meyer, 29-33.

Raith, Josef (1967). Der Englischunterricht. Band 1: Grundfragen. München: Manz.

Rivers, Wilga M. (1981). Teaching Foreign-Language Skills. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Sheldon, Leslie E. (1988). Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials. ELT Journal, 42 (4), 237-246.

Tomlinson, Brian (ed.) (2008). English Language Learning Materials. A Critical Review. London: Continuum.

Williams, David (1983). Developing criteria for textbook evaluation. ELT Journal, 37 (2), 251-255.

10 responses to “The Role of the Textbook in the EFL Classroom (1)

  1. Pingback: The role of the textbook in the EFL classroom « God blog you!

  2. Claudia Becker-Nürnberg

    I would be very interested in research about the role of the textbook in the EFL classroom. Is there a recent publication available? From my own experience I know that motivation is completely different when working not too closly tied to the textbook. But what about the results? Are the students really doing better than those who were taught close to the textbook?

    • OK, please read the following:

      Doff, Sabine & Klippel, Friederike (2007). Englischdidaktik. Praxishandbuch für die Sekundarstufe I und II. Berlin: Cornelsen, 143-164.

      Haß, Frank (2006). Fachdidaktik Englisch. Tradition, Innovation, Praxis. Stuttgart: Klett, 242-247.

      … and perhaps …

      Kurtz, Jürgen (2001a). Das Lehrwerk und seine Verwendung nach der jüngsten Reform der Richtlinien und Lehrpläne. Englisch, 2, 41-50.

      Kurtz, Jürgen (2001b). Zur Verknüpfung von Lehrwerk und Internet im Englischunterricht. Praxisskizze und Überlegungen zum Lehrwerk der Zukunft. Englisch, 3, 81-93.

      Kurtz, Jürgen (2002). Fremdsprachendidaktik als Ware und Dienstleistung: Verlagskataloge für das Fach Englisch unter die Lupe genommen. Englisch, 1, 8-12.

  3. The quote by Tomlinson is quite a rough one. I had students do a research task in which they were asked to find activities or exercises that resemble Audiolingualism and its methodological realizations. Few actually came up with original pattern drill exercises that aimed at habit formation. Findings were made in year 5 and 6 coursebooks, however. The majority activities still had some traces of AL, but overall entailed a great deal of communicative potential.
    I would even claim that you find in recent course books at least one example of an exercise or activity that could be related to the post-communicative approaches (like CLIL, learner autonomy or language awareness).

    However, I would definitely agree with Tomlinson in saying that it is “they”, the teachers, who use coursebooks in a particular way gives the death blow to young language learners’ motivation by the end of year 7.
    Since the first “Lernstandserhebungen” in North-Rhine-Westphalia in 2004 the administration has not grown tired yet of lamenting the large number of pupils at risk in “Hauptschulen” and comprehensive schools. One can grow tired of reading those lamentos with rather shallow promises to invest in these groups of learners. Thus, if Tomlinson is right, then it is high time to do some research on the relationship between teachers’ use of textbooks and the learning outcomes of low proficiency learners in particular.
    Coursebooks are a wonderful resource – for the learner. And that’s the way they should be used.

  4. Alissa Dalabayeva

    I am a student of the 4th course. And I should say that the best textbook can be misused by TEACHER!

  5. Personally I find that my lower level learners mistakes are almost entirely based on their translation ‘errors’ from Spanish. Textbooks provide little provision for this. If we start to accept that Stds translate and always will then we can go directly to the problematic areas. Instead of wading through 8 units of a textbook to get to a particular grammar point – usually meaning 8 weeks – I can deal with those issues in a few lessons, then we get on with real communication. Global textbooks delay the learning process. We need contextualised ‘reference books’ to help in designing a course with plenty of material to choose from that can be adapted to the cultural context.

  6. I like textbooks, but I use more than just textbooks. I’ve used textbooks with “news articles” in them. By the time these books are published, the “news articles” are no longer news. Hence, I substitute the “news” sections with current events (real news).

    • Dear Annet,

      thank you very much for your comment. Yes, this is a core problem. However, authentic material can easily overburden learners (in terms of target language vocabulary, grammar, underlying cultural concepts, etc.). How do you enable EFL / ESL learners used to reading adapted texts primarily to understand and talk about “real news”? How do you bridge the linguistic / intercultural gap? In Krashen’s terms, perhaps, how do you make authentic input comprehensible? (How) Do you integrate the textbook and the related materials and media in this process? How does it change the role or function of the textbook in the classroom (and beyond)? Sorry, lot’s of questions. I am very interested to hear your thoughts about this.

  7. I tried to introduce authentic materials in different ways. One time I asked learners to simply read the news article and they were not interested. Now, I would introduce the vocabulary and relevant grammar point. If the material is too difficult, I would have to simplify it. I don’t like changing the material because that’s no longer authentic. However, for many learners, adapted authentic reading material is a starting point for reading the real news. I would also create comprehension questions and learners would have to answer them after reading the news. The textbook is important; it acts as a guide for the teacher. I wouldn’t call it the dictator, but it’s a starting point. Learners need to be able to relate the classroom content to the reality. A textbook is not as exciting as the breaking news or an award winning film. Finally, to understand culture, learners need to be part of it. Let them play the boardgames that most people play at parties. The classroom should not be just a textbook reading place; learners need to have some excitement too.

  8. We youngsters often pride ourselves that the “course-book as source-book” idea is the hallmark of our generation. Your quotations allow us to trace this idea back to the beginning of the 20th century. Super interesting, awe-inspiring!

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