The role of a coursebook

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Coursebooks are nowadays main sources of information in teaching; they help in achieving aims and objectives that have already been set in terms of learner needs. They are a useful aid for everybody who uses them - teachers as well as learners. In general, coursebooks tend to be appreciated but there are certain dangers: teachers who over-use a coursebook and thus repeatedly follow the sequence in each unit may become boring over a period of time. In many cases there is a necessity for adjustments in favour of students´ progress.

Coursebooks often serve as a syllabus. A syllabus is a document which consists, essentially, of a list. This list specifies all the things that are to be taught in the course(s) for which the syllabus was designed. Following the content of a coursebook, both teachers and students can regularly check if they are progressing as planned. Many institutions present the syllabus in terms of the main coursebook to be used: by a certain date teachers are expected to have covered a certain number of units in the book.

Viewing some lessons in advance, making estimations about future topics or finding links with items from the past can be of a great benefit. However, the tables of contents should be an aid rather than a goal and our objectives should be drawn on more factors relevant to teaching and students´ needs: When we occasionally talk about ´teaching Unit 16´, ´doing the first six chapters´, or ´teaching page 68´, it is to be hoped that we are only using a convenient shorthand way of expressing well-thought-out aims and objectives and that the coursebook has not become the main determiner of them. Teachers are consumers of other people’s syllabuses. The other people are usually experienced and skilled linguists and teachers, so, naturally, the task of creating coursebooks and their syllabuses is left to them. Teachers then get the final product, but it is important to be aware that the plans are not to be followed blindly but to be adjusted as needed.

While it is realized that few teachers are in the position of being able to design their own syllabuses, it is hoped that most are in a position to interpret and modify their syllabuses in the process of translating them into action. Teachers need to be able to fit these as much as possible to the teaching conditions, including specific requirements of the institutions, students’ needs and their own beliefs. Changes to the syllabuses are welcomed if done for a better effect. However, teachers who choose to make changes, e.g. skip some units or supplement them by other material, should make sure they do so in coordination with the syllabus where the language items planned to be dealt with usually have a specific order: the assumption being made is that these language items will be new for the students and should therefore be introduced to them in the order of the syllabus.

Evaluation and choice

By making a good choice teachers can prevent some unwanted situations in the future connected to the use of coursebooks and save time as not so much adjusting is likely to be needed. Moreover, even if teachers cannot influence the choice of the book, they can use some evaluation strategies to do the evaluation of their coursebooks, adjust it according to their students’ needs and be aware of its good and bad points in order to make the most of the first and compensate for or neutralize the second. This serves useful when considering which parts to adjust. This process of evaluation is the first step towards deciding how a book should be most profitably used in your classroom – and how it should be adapted.

If possible, the selected coursebook should be piloted. However, this rarely happens in real teaching life as there is no space for trying out the course before the actual adoption. Many teachers have to rely on their own judgement in choosing new materials. Others ask the opinion of colleagues but no one has ever asked the students themselves. It would be interesting to know how students would choose a coursebook. What criteria they would apply…probably illustrations, lay-out, colours etc. •

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