Sunday, December 7, 2008

Textbook Selection

Textbook selection is one of those things that perhaps gets undervalued by those who don't teach, but I think almost any ESL/EFL teacher would say that it can make or break a class. By way of example, I teach 2 different types of classes. One is my "regular" job consisting of freshman English, for credit classes. These are mandatory. My university also has a for-credit program that is optional and only for those wanting additional exposure to English. We volunteer to teach these classes.

In the first case, at my regular job, the textbook (World Link, Level 1) is amazing. Each week, there is a wealth of good material to teach, such that I can't cover what I think is decent material just for the sake of time. The teacher's manual is full of good suggestions for additional activities. It also has a whole section about teacher development that is very helpful. There is also a teacher's resource book that comes with an interesting, generally well thought-out activity for each unit. Of the 24 units, I probably used about 15 of them in class. This textbook made my life very easy! For a 2 hour class, I was easily able to do all my prep in under 2 hours. The lessons were easy to make interesting and engaging with not that much of my own additional mental energy or effort.

In the second case, we use Touchstone, Levels 1-3 for the various levels. This textbook is quite bad. They focus upon "real" language but in a way that is just weird for any ESL student to use. ESL students at the beginner levels don't neccesarily need to talk like an American teenager I think. Also, the articles and things they talk about are just not interesting for my students. I'm not really sure if it's a matter of a bad textbook, or just bad for students in Korea. Anyway, it just doesn't work. The students don't like the book and neither do I. I've seen motivation just get lower and lower as everyday they study stuff they just don't care about. I can't blame them. I spend an exhorbant amount of time trying to find (or make) additional things to supplement the material but it's extremely hard to work with what they've given me. I think this program is headed down the path to obsolete if the administrators don't take action on this issue!

So textbook...make it or break it in terms of the overall success of a class.


Justin said...

Students in Korea are EFL not ESL students. That makes a big difference in how an English educator should look at his/her students and environment.
Also, textbooks don't make or break a class. Good approaches to language teaching/learning, choosing a methodology consistent with the goals and aims of the students and university, and a general love of teaching are far more crucial.

Jackie Bolen said...

Yes, I know the difference between ESL/EFL but I think they are used pretty interchangeably outside the academic world so I don't worry too much about it on my blog. My experience is limited to the EFL setting and so I really have nothing to compare it to in the ESL World.

Things like methodology and love of teaching are more important than textbook selection. I would definitely agree with you.

However, I still think a textbook can make or break a class. If the book is interesting, engaging and well-thought out, the teacher is happier because of not having to do a lot of additional prep and the students are happy because they will feel like they haven't wasted their money in buying the book. While a good teacher can overcome a poor book selection, it's just easier not to have to be in that position in the first place by having a good book. Or, alternatively, having no book at all and teach entirely to the student's need/teacher's style could work too. But fitting a bad book into the bigger picture just annoys me!

Jesse said...

Thanks for your views on those textbooks, Jackie. I'm picking out books now and was actually really curious about Touchstone; I found this blog through my Google searches for it. I'll still take a look at it for myself, but your opinion and experience with it in your classroom certainly will make me approach it less enthusiastically than I was about to.

(I agree that, if not 'break' a class, make it pretty miserable to get through You're expected to teach the thing, after all.)