Analysing course books
This one may prove interesting: the aim of today’s class was to analyse the coursebook. My students all brought in the books they use at their schools (well, actually, they brought in a series of books used in one of their classes – some schools use different books for different levels). Where to start? But which way to go?
“Analyse the course book” hmm, why? Well, that’s just it – as a department we haven’t specified what the aim is, so I’m fairly free to determine my own aim. My aim can actually be split up into various different sub-aims and I’m pretty sure that if you read through my aims you’ll note a certain ‘undertone’…I don’t believe anyone could help students to analyse a book thoroughly without being at least a tad biased! I provided the ‘outline’ (the path and the vehicles) and they got on with course book analysis.
- to have an overview of what skills are offered and if all skills are offered evenly or if there’s a heavy emphasis on one or more skills.
- to have an overview of the grammatical structures dealt with in the books.
- to have an overview of the vocabulary offered in the book.
- to get an idea as to whether the book is appropriate for it’s public (up to date, culturally appropriate, relevance of texts etc).
I grouped the students according to the books they used/had brought with them and handed them a list of questions to work through and the Cambridge top 3000 words list. I also opened up the British and American national corpus online for the students who wanted to look at the relevance of certain words/idiomatic expressions the pupils had to learn receptively/productively. The students then got to work and I wondered around – this suited me fine and was designed in this way as I had a sore throat and no voice left after a heavy cold and cough. One student even suggested I prod him whenever I wanted the group together again so that he could jump up and call them to order!
We had two feedback sessions – one half way through the lesson (45 minutes) and one just before the end. What were the general findings? (no surprise here)
- some books were considered too colourful and busy and therefore didn’t appeal to the men/boys
- some books had such tiny fonts they were illegible; others had too many fonts.
- some books were 100% deductive and therefore not very appealing
- some books had only 1 grammar exercise to consolidate the new material and this was considered insufficient
- only one book made a distinction between receptive and productive vocabulary
- most books used words and idioms which pupils were expected to use productively which my students (C2 level!) had to look up in dictionaries!
New Headway proved the most popular (design, grammar input, texts etc) BUT the students found the texts unsuited to young teenagers and more for adults (mortgages, driving cars etc) and found the listening texts pretty fake.
Advice to teacher trainees?
Basically, I advise the students to see their coursebooks as signposts rather than as fixed rules telling them how (fast) they should work through the contents (though some school departments have very tight timetables and tests based on the books which the students have to follow fairly precisely). The books keep an eye on the national requirements and have chosen a particular route. The student teachers keep an eye on their pupils and can opt to take a different route – either every journey (lesson) or just on the odd occasion when they feel there is a need for a more motivational scenic route, better suited to their particular vehicle.
How do you feel about coursebooks?
Do you teach to the test and feel pressurised into using the books from a to z?
How (often) do you sidestep the materials?
the guidelines we used in class:course book analysis