Thursday, January 26, 2012

The importance of choosing the right book

The decision has been made: we want to change our English coursebook. So, we have already had two meetings with the most important publishing houses and next week, we are going to have a final presentation before we start to discuss all available options.

This experience has really made me think about what to expect from a good book and the importance of the extra components and other ''benefits'' that go with it. Apart from it, when you´re faced with so many colourful and multimedia-packed, supercool books, you can get totally confused and lose your most important objectives of sight. That's why I thought that it would be a good idea to just sit down in peace and quiet and try to come up with some guidelines on how to choose a good coursebook for the primary stage.

While we, as teachers, can have different views on how to use the coursebook, that is, whether we rely on it 100% or we just use it as little as possible, but frequently enough to make the parents happy, I think we could all agree that a bad book can make a teacher´s life pretty miserable! I've been experiencing this myself for more than a year now. The book we are using is, to put it mildly, a nightmare, mostly, because it's very impractical and, from my point of view, very poor when it comes to its methodological solutions.

Why do I hate my book so much? Maybe if we concentrate for a short while on what a BAD coursebook is, by contrast, we can have a clearer picture of what a GOOD book is?

First of all, I don´t agree with the vocabulary it choses to introduce and I don't understand why it totally ignores the classroom language. I´ve always assumed that we should teach our students in the most natural way, taking into consideration their needs, environment and the language itself so that it can be useful, fun and practical.

Well, let´s take the first grade. My kids are 5 to 6 years old and the key to motivate them to learn English is, basically, to get them curious and interested. Moreover, the vocabulary we´re dealing with should be familiar and useful. Unit 4 in my book revolves around the house and the furniture. Nice topic. And these are the furniture items it introduces:
bed, fridge, cooker, sink, drawer, wardrobe, bath

I agree with bed and fridge, maybe the wardrobe, too. But...sink? drawer? cooker? What's the point? Wouldn't the mirror, cupboard, carpet and some basic parts of a house, like, door, window, floor, roof make more sense? Needless to say that even my brightest students and after two weeks of recycling these words, they are still struggling with the wardrobe and the drawer.

Now the grammar part. Unit 2. The book introduces ''This is'' and ''These are''. Right, I could agree, although the kids have forgotten pretty quickly about ''these are'', but never mind, could be useful. But then, in the workbook (sorry, nowadays workbooks are called activity books, for whatever, maybe a purely marketing reason?) the exercises are designed to practice...''it is'' and ''they are''. The kids are confused and so is their teacher.

I could write many more paragraphs evalulating the books methodology, usefulness, etc, but let's just summarise these ''bad''   points quickly. So, a bad book:

- choses to introduce vocabulary that is not perceived by the kids as useful or fun
- introduces too much or too little grammar and does it in a confusing way
- makes some units really hard, while some are too easy, there is no balance in this respect.
- has boring songs or songs that are mostly too difficult to learn
- does not introduce enough functional language (oh, this is sooo important and soo lacking in my book), which, in return, does not give a proper base for kids to speak and understand English in the classroom.
- has boring and not motivating readings, chants, poems, etc
- last but not least: is not accompanied by any extra teaching materials, such as, flashcards, additional and photocopiable worksheets for mixed-ability classes, exams that include listening comprehension tasks (and, depending on the level, other skills, too), CD-roms with games or films.

Unfortunately, all of the above holds true when it comes to the book we are using. in our school.No wonder that we are tired of dancing around the book to make it more bearable for the kids. When you have, as it is in my case, 8 groups and more than 200 students, the coursebook should AT LEAST make your life easier, and not more difficult!

To sum it up, the book we will be looking for should:

- be adequate for the number of English classes that kids have per week (in our case, 4 hrs weekly)
- be entertaining, but at the same time promoting good values and helping the kids to develop their social skills
- be preferably focusing on short activities (naturally, getting longer on the higher levels) that are varied in terms of the teaching goals
- be accompanied by various teaching materials, both audio and visual
- be accompanied by a good teacher's book that provides the teacher with plenty of ideas and flexibility
-  include a short summary of the learning contents (e.g. a picture dictionary for each unit, a grammar summary,etc) preferably at the end of the book, which would also help the parents assist their children while revising, for example, for an exam.
- include editable and protected from the outside world tests

I do realize this is a lot to be asking for and that we will probably have to give up on some of the above mentioned points... I'll let you know as soon as we make the decision!

1 comment:

  1. What did you choose in the end? I feel the same way :/