The never-ending search for the 'perfect' coursebook

Every teacher knows that students need a coursebook in the language learning process because the coursebook is an essential element in any course, no matter how young or old the students are. Teachers worldwide search for the ‘perfect’ coursebook. The same do writers, researchers, editors, graphic designers, technology experts and of course publishers, who make huge investments in coursebook development, production and promotion. 

Why is a course book needed? Any good teacher will say that he or she always brings other materials into class anyway. Does that mean they do not use a course book and that they create different materials for every lesson? Doubtful. Offering the students an endless parade of photocopied pages (from other course books undoubtedly) is regarded as less professional.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Coursebooks 
A growing body of research examines the advantages of using a coursebook. 
a) Coursebooks are psychologically indispensable for students since their progress and achievement can be measured concretely.  
b) Published materials have more credibility for students than teacher-generated or ‘in-house’ materials. 
c) Coursebooks are usually sensitive to students’ needs. Even if they are not written specifically for them, they allow for adaptation and improvisation to suit the requirements of a given teaching situation. 
d) Coursebooks need little preparation time for lesson planning, whereas teacher-generated materials can be defective in terms of time, cost and quality. 
e) Coursebooks serve as additional support for less experienced teachers who may be lacking in confidence. 
Despite the above undeniable benefits of coursebooks, however, coursebooks have been criticized for the following reasons: 
a) They are not flexible and generally simply mirror the pedagogic, psychological and linguistic preferences of their authors. 
b) They are often too contrived and artificial in their presentation of the target language. 
c) They may prevent teachers’ creativity if teachers are obliged to follow the coursebooks sequence to the letter. 
Both the benefits and limitations of the use of coursebooks need to be considered in the critical process of coursebook selection. If the coursebook being used in a programme is judged to have some negative consequences (e.g. it does not stimulate a specific group of students’ interest) remedial action should be taken, e.g. by adapting or supplementing. 

Coursebook Selection 

Choosing a course book is not a frivolous matter. The choice should be based on a clear, detailed analysis of what the coursebook offers and what your students need. 
Many researchers have compiled checklists and guidelines for choosing appropriate coursebooks for different students. Some are more detailed, but all deal with more or less the same issues. 

Below are a few basic questions (to help get you started) that should be asked when you are in the process of choosing a coursebook. 
• Do the principles stated in the introduction reflect my own principles?
• Is the teacher’s guide comprehensive?
• Does it offer many extra ideas?
• Does the book follow the rationale of the current English curriculum?
• Are the topics covered in the book appropriate for my students?
• Is the language authentic?
• Is the book appealing to me?  Will my students also find it appealing?
• Is the font size or style appropriate for the age of my students?
• Would I enjoy using this book? 

Once you’ve analysed the book you initially found attractive, you will know, clearly and wholeheartedly, that you have made the right choice. Never settle for second best.

Anastasia Spyropoulou
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