In our upcoming December eNewsletter, we list Teaching Unplugged as one of our Top 10 favourite books in 2009. And although I think this book’s ideas have a definite place in our industry, I simply must express one of my biggest irritations about this approach.
I am reacting, not so much against the idea of ‘Dogme’ or the importance of student-centred teaching, but in looking at an unwarranted casualty in the embrace of this approach. My annoyance lies in the poor treatment of something I have long considered a friend and guide in my teaching career – the coursebook.
Some of the opinions backing the ‘Dogme’ approach, have slighted and criticized the role and importance of the course book – and I believe unfairly so. Dogme supporters advocate ‘teaching light’, and where almost all content is student-generated. OK – that sounds good to me too, but I have a few misgivings about this.
When I think back to my first few years of teaching, the coursebooks and teacher development and activity resources were the best way I could fill all those mental folders I now have of ideas, techniques and information that enabled me to gain the confidence and knowledge I needed to be an effective teacher. Having an initial structure gave me the confidence to experiment and some of those coursebook writers had some fab ideas.
So here’s my list to support coursebooks:
· It has always been easier to adapt materials that already exist than to create from thin air, so a huge bonus for me is that coursebooks save me time
· Coursebooks give students a clear record of what they have worked on – without the mishmash of dog-eared photocopies
· They give newer teachers confidence, structure and much needed guidance
· Good coursebooks incorporate current best practices and new ideas emerging from second language acquisition research – in fact, they are often the way teachers are forced out of old habits and into new ways of teaching
· Students value them – they provide an organized record of what was covered, allow recycling and revision of language and give students a sense of achievement and progress – all things often connected to meeting expectations and motivation levels
A colleague of mine once said, “The coursebook is a fantastic tool and a terrible master” and I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know any coursebook writer that would argue their book was to be used slavishly - where teachers go through activity and exercise after exercise without considering how it would be adapted, lifted off the page and made more relevant to one’s students.
Blaming the course book is like blaming a whiteboard for restricting information to a 2-dimensional plane. We have tools at our disposal (and frankly, if we are lucky!) and how we choose to use them is what teaching is. The real crux of the matter is being able to identify the underlying aims of the different activities in the book and then deciding if you can keep what is there or if you need to adapt, replace or supplement.
I want to spend the bulk of my prep time figuring out best techniques for set up, student engagement, feedback, lesson structure and clarification of language, not in trying to reinvent the wheel.
Posted by Tania