I’ve recently just finished teaching an Elementary business group, as part of which some extensive record keeping was required, and for the first time I actually kept a bibliography for the course. It makes interesting reading and what struck me most was the sheer number of supplementary works referred to. Is that normal? Am I over-reliant on materials? Why so many?
I’ve had to stop and think and go back to some of my other lesson records to check, but it does look like I supplement a lot. Now in this case, the course book I was using was possibly not designed for a course of this length or heft, and wasn’t helped by the fact that the group was mixed ability, so there are two very pragmatic reasons for supplementing right there – to keep the challenge going for the stronger members of the group and basically to make sure there’s enough going on in the lessons (and I’m aware of the in-drawn hiss of breath coming from certain members of the audience as I write that…).
Fundamentally however, I think what I see when I look at that list is that I have a real problem with course books. Put simply, they aren’t up to the job. Two of the course books I’m using at the moment are WOE-ful. WOE-ful in the sense that (a) they cause me sorrow and misery on a regular basis and (b) every time I open their pages I’m struck by the feeling of What On Earth (WOE) am I meant to do with this? Actually, that’s not quite the expression I use but this is a family friendly blog…
So what do I supplement for?
Most of the time it’s to give the learners something to do with the language. It is shocking how few productive activities or tasks are included in course books. Obviously some books are better than others, but by and large if you open any course book to a double page spread there’s not much there to prompt the learners to actually use any of the language they’ve theoretically been learning. Not that I have high expectations of learner production anyway, but if you don’t even give learners the chance? It does rather beg the question what you’re doing in the classroom in the first place.
The other reason I supplement is to find engaging ways of helping the learners get to grips with the target language in the first place. There is a course book I’m using at the moment (not listed below), which I find is terrible for language work. It’s the same approach every time and employs a watered down, dull and un-motivating version of guided discovery which does little in the way of guiding and presents rather than allowing for discovery. It is not a book that deserves space on anyone’s shelf and would frankly be better used as kindling. So given that, I supplement to find more interesting, useful and memorable ways of introducing the target language.
What does it say about my teaching?
Well, that’s quite a difficult one to answer and I think what it says about my teaching is that I use PPP a lot more than I think I do. I don’t know that this is necessarily a bad thing – detractors of PPP are invariably trying to promote their own next big thing at the expense of PPP and I have yet to see any evidence, other than anecdotal, that any particular methodology is superior to any other methodology. Nonetheless, I’m slightly uncomfortable with finding that out about myself. I thought my teaching range was broader.
Maybe it’s time to do some more experimenting…
Ultimately though, and as Richards points out in “The Language Teaching Matrix”: “Studies of the effectiveness of specific methods have had a hard time demonstrating that the method itself, rather than other factors, such as the teacher’s enthusiasm or the novelty of the new method, was the crucial variable” and I think that what this course bibliography really says is that I spend a lot of time trying to find interesting and engaging ways to help learners learn. Which is probably more important than “slavish adherence to a method” anyway. Right?
- Clarke, Simon. (2010). “In Company Elementary Student’s Book – 2nd Edition”. Macmillan Publishers Ltd: Oxford
- Cotton, David; Falvey, David and Kent, Simon. (2007). “New Edition Market Leader Elementary Course Book”. Pearson Education Ltd: Harlow.
- Cunningham, Sarah; Moor, Peter and Eales, Francis. (2005). “New Cutting Edge Elementary Student’s Book”. Pearson Education Ltd: Harlow.
- Eales, Francis; Cunningham, Sarah; Moor, Peter and Redston, Chris. (2005). “New Cutting Edge Elementary Teacher’s Resource Book”. Pearson Education Ltd: Harlow.
- Emmerson, Paul. (2002). “Business English Frameworks”. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
- Gerngross, Günter, Puchta, Herbert and Thornbury, Scott. (2006). “Teaching Grammar Creatively”. Helbling Languages: Cambridge.
- Grant, David; Hughes, John and Turner, Rebecca. (2009). “Business Result Elementary Student’s Book”. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
- Kay, Susan. (1997). “Reward Elementary Resource Pack”. Heinemann ELT: Oxford
- Kay, Susan. (1997). “Reward Pre-Intermediate Resource Pack”. Heinemann ELT: Oxford
- Lloyd, Angela & Preier, Anne. (1996). “Business Communication Games”. Oxford University Press: Oxford
- Maggs, Peter & Hird, John. (2002). “Timesaver Speaking Activities”. Mary Glasgow Magazines: London.
- O’Dell, Felicity & Head, Katie. (2003). “Games for Vocabulary Practice”. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
- Thornbury, Scott. (2001). “Uncovering Grammar”. Macmillan Heinemann: Oxford.
- Ur, Penny. (1988). “Grammar Practice Activities”. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge
- Viney, Brigit; Walker, Elaine and Elsworth, Steve. (2007). “Grammar Practice for Elementary Students”. Pearson Education Ltd: Harlow.
- Wallwork, Adrian. (1997). “Discussions A-Z Intermediate”. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.
Thursday 17 January 2013 at 12:59
Great question, really thought provoking.
I don’t currently teach from a set coursebook but when I did at my last school I used to supplement it a lot. Sometimes it was just so that we made the most of the time in class, to revise or because the topic/activity was just boring for my student.
I’d love to keep a bibliography and see what it says about my course!
I’ll do that for this term.
Thursday 17 January 2013 at 17:33
Let us know what you find out!
Thursday 17 January 2013 at 15:31
An interesting post.
That does seem like a rather long list. One of the reasons I got out of teaching at a schools was the amount of paperwork, but I never had to keep track of anything like that. I shudder to think what it would have revealed.
Do you spend a lot of time searching for activities in course books? Or do you know the books pretty well and so are able to remmebr that page 33 on that book has a better way of presenting/practisicing this language point? The reason I ask is that if you are spending a lot of time going through course books then it might be better if you started creating your own material.
I think the main problem with using any method all the time is that students (and teachers) get used to it and so, eventually, bored by it. I doubt there is anything wrong per se with any method if it is used intelligently and sparingly.
Thursday 17 January 2013 at 17:41
Actually the bibliography was a company requirement, not a school one. I think what I spend most time doing is trying to find ways to adapt the coursebook to make it more meaningful and memorable for the students. Usually, once I’ve got a hook for the lesson I can either come up with my own activities or I know where to find other activities I’ve used successfully in the past fairly rapidly. I think you’re right about method overkill – variety is the spice of life in teaching as much as any other aspect and my over-riding view of learning is that it should be fun!
Thanks for commenting,
Friday 18 January 2013 at 11:26
I had the same feeling about texts books until I started my TESOL MA and took a course on material evaluation and design. I thought text books were dull and didn’t really address the student needs. However, after a research project into materials design I changed my views on text books. I read a book by McGrath who says that text books are necessary in order to provide structure. Especially in longer course structure is the most important thing. The text book also gives the student something to refer back to and to find out what they will learn next.
In short, I’ve come to appreciate text books for what they offer. We can use them, adapt them supplement them. But at their core, textbooks give us a base to follow, which I think is the best thing about them.
Friday 18 January 2013 at 12:21
I would take issue with McGrath in the sense that I don’t think text books are “necessary” to provide structure. I think other things can do that, for example, curriculum and syllabus documents, combined with a course plan. But I was talking to a student in one of my other classes the other day who likes to read through the materials before the lesson, saying he feels more prepared that way. So I guess there is that aspect to it.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely anti-course book. I’m just anti bad course books. There are some books that I rate quite highly. I just don’t happen to be using any of them….
Thanks for commenting!
Tuesday 28 January 2014 at 14:22
The use of bibliography challenges many teachers, I think, myself included. I’m doing my Delta course at this time and while I was putting my thoughts about “what kind of teacher I am” down to paper for the PDA, I must say I realized that I have many alter-egos, each of which are heavily related to the materials I use on each occasion.
I do agree that a text/course book helps us keep on track, it serves as a compass. On the other hand, when one works for schools where the course book is seen as the “holly-bible”, inevitably they’ll start feeling suppressed and deprived of the right to be creative. To make matters worse, there is always the chance that the imposed course book will carry a rather long list of supplementary booklets (workbook, grammarbook, who-knows-what-else book etc) behind. If the evaluation and selection is not at the teacher’s discretion, but instead all these mighty booklets have to be covered from front to back cover, then quite possibly the teacher will develop an aversion to the use of course book. And, as you may guess, this is what has happened to me.
When I teach independently (out of the box/school), I feel I’m quite a different-and much better a- teacher and that’s because I don’t use a coursebook. Of course, I don’t imply that the question is “to use or not to use” one. But this imposed over-reliance on it has caused me a lot of trouble (trouble with the DOS, trouble with those colleagues who find it fine, trouble with myself trying not to “drop out of schools”).
What lets me down the most is that changes take a long time to come true. Only after two years of arguing, did we (the “new generation’s” teachers) manage to talk our DOS around to substituting the workbook with production and process-oriented activities designed by the teacher, to the disgruntlement of other “old-school’s” colleagues.
It’s a harsh world, isn’t it?