Do we only learn from coursebooks?

For most educators, the textbook represents the main source of ideas for teaching. Therefore little attention is paid to other resources such as videos, interviews, popular TV series adapted for teaching, songs suitable for teaching on Youtube, virtual tours, and visits to places of interest –museums, galleries, libraries, archaeological sites, and universities- all readily available at a click of a button.

These additional resources make the lessons interesting and engage the students in the most effective way; they also expose learners to language as it is used in the real world. In most EFL settings there is limited exposure to the language outside of the classroom, and often limited opportunity to use it. In addition, the burden of providing the cultural dimension to the curriculum very much rests with the teacher.

Text by: Anastasia Spyropoulou

Teaching becomes more complicated by the fact that teachers are usually non-native speakers of English who may lack opportunities to use the language outside of the classroom, or lack confidence in using it. In such situations, it is important for the materials to provide rich and diverse linguistic input that EFL learners encounter in the real world.

So what is the reason for such dependence on the coursebook? Lack of time? Lack of self-confidence? Inability to evaluate the appropriateness of digital materials? Lack of ICT skills? Preference on the easiest way to go?

The main reason, in my opinion, is that coursebooks provide a linear model of learning, which creates the illusion that students learn incrementally, and allows teachers to provide “evidence” of “success”. This is useful for private and state institutions, both of which are accountable to their stakeholders.

“We have finished the book so the level has successfully been achieved.”

Private ELT institutions need to sell their courses as “products”. Using a series of books that ostensibly “cover” each “level” of English allows them to offer this.

In our country it’s possible to call yourself, and be regarded as a qualified English language teacher with limited qualifications that can’t provide the knowledge and skills required to be good at designing your own tasks and activities, so many teachers have to rely on pre-published materials. They are a captive market.

Teachers in most contexts are contracted to teach as many hours as their employers feel they can get away with giving them. If the employer provides a coursebook that can be used without the teacher having to do too much planning (or none at all), this reduces the need for planning time and increases their potential to spend more time in front of a class.

Most coursebooks avoid selecting topics that might potentially make students feel “uncomfortable”. The result is that many teachers lack the skills to effectively manage class activities that are centred on some of the most serious issues dominating the world today. Instead, they prefer to focus only on topics that are bland and inoffensive.

What does the future hold for coursebooks? We’ll still have coursebooks because we have been trained to rely on them, and our school managers will still want us to use them, and our students, who are familiar with the norms of the English language classroom, will still expect us to use them.

ELT practice tends to be informed by Applied Linguistics research. However, research and academic literature that relates to general education play a relatively minor role in shaping our teaching practice. This means that the whole idea of education as a transformative, emancipatory act, and its potential to contribute towards creating a fairer, more equitable world, is often absent from discussions about effective language teaching.