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Textbooks: Blueprint or just guidelines

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While teachers should not be a slave to a textbook, meaning that it is okay to skip some parts in a lesson they feel are not needed, are too easy or too difficult, or are just something they do not like, there is still a strong need to follow the book from unit to unit. 

Teachers often find themselves discussing what part of a coursebook should be supplemented or even avoided. PURICH TRIVITAYAKHUN

While adding supplementary material to a textbook with additional material specifically created for a particular class or based on a topical theme is useful in encouraging students to undertake further practice, assigned textbooks, regardless of their suspected weaknesses, should be followed on a regular basis.

Student versus teacher interest

The first reason for trying to follow through the lessons in an assigned textbook is that while a topic might not appeal to teachers, it may be something students like. As there is often quite a difference in age between teachers and students, along with a wide cultural gap when non-Thais teach Thais, teachers may not be the best judge of topics that students will find interesting.

In addition, while some classroom teachers may have an idea as to the variety of knowledge needed to participate in other classes or to help understanding when taking standardised tests, most teachers are probably not aware of the content employed in reading and writing tests.

Vocabulary and grammar

While many textbooks are no longer based on grammatical themes, perhaps in favour of a task-based curriculum, a well-thought text should have incorporated the same pattern with grammatical structures in that ideas are often encountered long before they are actually taught.

While some grammar and vocabulary items will remain a problem for some students even after the topics have been presented, not all students learn at the same pace. With this in mind, the early introduction of ideas can help students to employ language-learning skills that can help to build an enhanced ability to learn a language and a greater acceptance of not having to know everything.

If a potpourri of materials is selected based on what is easy or fun, this gradual introduction, presentation and repeated review of both grammatical structures and vocabulary may be curtailed or, even worse, eliminated.

Expectations

Another important consideration is that it takes students time to understand how to study a textbook in terms of what they need to do and what teachers will expect.

Once a few units have been studied, classes can move into a comfortable period where expectations are understood, and, in lieu of struggling to understand what to do, students can invest their energies in undertaking classroom exercises both the teacher and the textbook writer believe will best encourage learning.

Pacing

The final reason for sticking with a textbook, while supplementing it with some extra material, is the inability of many teachers to find appropriate material that meets the students' level and needs and/or material that other teachers have not used before.

First, if material is too easy, it can prove to be a waste of time. If too difficult, it can be very frustrating. Second, if students are given the same material at different levels, it can also de-motivate them and present problems when explaining why an exercise considered to be of one level by one teacher is treated as being of another level by another teacher.

With experience, teachers will know what supplementary material works best to reinforce learning, to provide review or to add variety and fun to a class. However, as we are professional educators, I firmly believe that it is our job as professionals to make the most of the material we have been given and to make it come alive.


Dr Timothy Cornwall has been teaching EFL for 30 years and is part of the Shinawatra University faculty. Co-founder of Thailand Educators Network, he can be reached through thaiednet.org , through his web site speechwork.co.th , at

tim@speechwork.co.th or on 081-834-8982.

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