Woe is me! I Chose the Wrong Coursebook!

Amongst an educator’s greatest frustrations is none other than our misplaced faith in the educational materials we have before us. The potential of reciprocating our students’ desire and capacity to learn can assuredly be achieved via the textbooks we prompt them to purchase. But what of a possible blunder on our part? Could we have actually chosen the wrong coursebook? One which will be indefinitely utilized in the classroom for the foreseeable future? Although the responsibility may not lay solely upon our shoulders be it last minute additions of newcomers to the existing structure, the fluctuation of comprehension and command of the language, the indifference on our students’ behalf towards the book’s main characters and story, we are called upon to shed light on this predicament and alleviate everyone’s frustrations – with the ultimate goal of getting through the school year intact!

Where to start? Half my class differs in level as to the one designated by the materials at our disposal. There’s no way a coursebook can cater to such a diverse demand. Or can it? It goes without question that the prospect of having a harmonious group of learners with identical educational needs is wishful thinking. For those of you out there that claim this might be the case, I guarantee you it’s not. If one would meticulously evaluate each student’s strong points, a plethora of variations would come to light. Many schools fail to offer concrete assessment before registration and induction in a class. The most common approach is to simply offer a multiple-choice test that may or may not reflect the learner’s true skillset. The repercussions of such misjudgment can have a detrimental effect on a learner’s experience and progress.

Nonetheless, hope is not completely lost as immediate action must be taken before utilizing the materials at hand. The first step is to evaluate our young learners. What are their strengths and weaknesses? Which elements demand our immediate attention? This can be done by assessing them extensively in both productive and receptive skills during the first lessons. Have their thoughts shared and their voices heard. Allow them to briefly express their opinion in written form and offer them the opportunity to collaborate. Who is a team player and how can each student contribute to the overall learning process? Questions which beg answers as we move to our next course of action.

The second step is to evaluate the coursebook itself. What can it offer to address our students’ educational demands? Can it be tailored to do so? Which components do you consider lackluster? Do you have what it takes to enhance said components? How supportive is the publisher?

A coursebook is created with the intention of keeping the student motivated throughout the lesson. Admittedly, what might appeal to an author might not always resonate with students as they might consider the main characters of the book boring and the story development repetitive and tedious. A coursebook, however, is not just what the students hold in their hands. A whole division of advisors and writers stands behind the pages and, most often than not, offer a multitude of alternatives and approaches in the accompanying materials they offer, be it in the form of the so-called ‘Teacher’s Book’ or as times have dictated, within online resource banks provided to us by the publishers.

Even if we deem them inadequate, a teacher’s job is to facilitate the smooth transition from paper to experience. Spicing up the coursebook with extracurricular activities, integration of AI, gamification, even role models can be effective! Adding texts and visuals as regards the personalities who inspire them can also be beneficial. They’ll definitely glow up as this would motivate them to make an extra effort. How about aspects associated with their personal pastimes? Look no further than superheroes or characters they admire in films, comics, manga and anime. Not their cup of tea? The first day in class should be invested in getting to know your students better, familiarizing yourself with their pastimes and preferences – trust me, you’ll thank me later.

All of these efforts, will ignite a new invested interest in the lesson as we carefully set out new challenges for them to face. This approach will benefit the students who have already attained a higher command of the language in comparison to their textbook, while inspiring and boosting students at a lower level to reach that of their peers.

There’s no such thing as a ‘wrong’ coursebook. There’s also no such thing as a ‘strong’ or ‘weak’ student. The capacity to adapt and tailor a coursebook to a diverse range of educational needs is and always be a taxing challenge, one which we should approach with determination instead of dread. Our identities as educators brings out the best in us, and this challenge is one I wholeheartedly accept.


Katherine Reilly

Katherine Reilly

Author & Academic Lecturer, English Literature | LGBTQIA+ Business Consultant | Public and Motivational Speaker