Taking part in this weeks’ ELTChat (www.eltchat.com) on the future of coursebooks, has got me thinking, once again, about the seeming stand off between those that like and use coursebooks and those that hate them.
At the risk of sounding like Tony Blair ;), I’m sure there must be a third way. I’d like to explore this a bit further in subsequent posts, but to kick off I just wanted to share this set of images:
Imagine, if you will, that this first picture represents a teacher’s lesson plan. The steps could, perhaps represent the ‘target language’, the boulders and plants, other elements of the lesson that he or she intends to weave in.
This second picture could represent the experience of the lesson from one student’s point of view. They get so far up the steps, but not as far as the teacher anticipated, and one of the steps is partly missing. On the other hand, there’s a nice little collection of boulders and plants in there!
For another student, the lesson might be all about the language explicitly taught. They’ve doggedly marched up those steps- and haven’t even noticed that they’re in a garden.
And this student is enjoying the garden, but hasn’t noticed the steps. And maybe he (or she) doesn’t need to if they’re getting something out of that part of the garden…..
Now, this metaphor has been couched in terms of a more traditional language lesson, where the teacher imagines (and I use that word advisedly) that they can decide in advance what the learners are going to learn. They can’t of course, because there is no way to stop the learners from wandering where they will in the garden, or even curling up in a sunny corner and going to sleep.
But, I would argue, even if a lesson is completely unplanned, organic and student led, it’s still going to be a different experience for every student in the class.
I wonder therefore if the key issue isn’t less about whether we’re using pre-prepared material or not, and more about what we are doing with it, or how we are helping the students to explore the material and take from it what they individually need?
Equally, teachers are all different and work in different ways and need varying levels of support. For some, I believe it will be very helpful for the coursebook to suggest what language could be highlighted in a text and provide clarification and practice. I know I learnt an awful lot about how to exploit texts from using coursebooks. But the coursebook certainly shouldn’t be used as a bible; at least I would hope any material I have written is not used this way. It’s a resource, pure and simple, just like any other resource, such as a newspaper or a recording. The only real difference is that someone has already thought about ways that you could choose to work with the material and, if you find it helpful, you could benefit from their experience and knowledge.
Use it, don’t use it, use part of it, use it in a different way… whatever you do the learners will undoubtedly be learning what they are ready to learn and what they choose to learn.