Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A new book

I've just been reading Alex Case's article on the subject and he makes some interesting points, many of which I agree with. These are my own random conclusions.

I will admit that I am very biased towards the material of the late 80s and early 90s and I even have a sneaking admiration for material written even earlier- even stuff based on the Functional Syllabus. What they all had in common is that they were looking for a new and better way to help students learn and some of them were damned good at it. Many newer books don't even pretend to do that. It's almost like cut and paste, the same dreary topics with the same shoehorned grammar points.

As Alex correctly observes they are many ways to learn. There are also many ways to teach. Modern books do not allow or help us to do that. It is either some Guided Discovery or something very clever that no-one really understands. It is often then down to the experience of the teacher to be able to wring something from the material.

I don't believe that there is anything intrinsically wrong with any method but some methods are built on stronger foundations than others. What we should always be looking to use is that which is most transparent to learners. EFL has always been prone to faddishness. Every so often something very good comes along and publishers ape each other in trying to re-assemble it and avoid plagiarism.

Where I diverge slightly is on what a book is. A book is often a crutch for a student. On that basis it does need to have a path through it that they can see. This is very often visual in my experience and students almost need to see large titles on each page. They also need to see the words Grammar or Writing or Reading. It is highly reassuring. But this does not mean that teachers can't say I am going to look at this differently. And this is where books do let both the teacher and student down.

In this I agree on the some form of needs analysis. My own take on this is a negotiated approach. Usually this can come in the form of a questionnaire. Any learner training questionnaire will suffice.

The new book , as I see it must have an overall purpose and not the blurb on the back. It needs to address the key blocks of language. For example many books pay scant attention to pronunciation and its effect on learning and speech.

More importantly it must leave scope for further explorations. Most important of all it must recycle language appropriately at regular intervals. It also needs to remind learners that they are the ones doing the learning and no matter how skillful the teacher is progress is dependent on them as well.

This is where I would diverge on what a new book should be. Learners in my experience are resistant to change. Grammar equates learning for many of them. Vocabulary is what helps them talk about things. And most importantly the teacher teaches.

This is where a new book can help. The map of the course should be just that; a map for students. Let them see where they are going but also provide them with options of how to approach the course. Should it be topic-based, grammar or lexis-based, or simply sequential? For elementary and lower-level learners it would most likely be sequential but more advanced learners should be encouraged to make their own choices.

Maybe it's even time to throw out unit numbers completely but then where will that leave us?
Fundamentally I feel, in a position where we can work out, in conjunction with our students, how we want to approach the material and more importantly their learning. And that could make it interesting for all of us and potentially very rewarding.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Teach Well?

I have met all kinds of teachers. Short of sitting in on classes I have no idea how well they do it. o-one however dedicated is going to be exceptional every time. I have had many off days myself over the years. But you can tell a lot by watching what kind of books they reach for and how they prepare their lessons what they are doing. But when you do step into a class, remember that they are the customer and they expect the teacher to deliver. They are expecting to learn. So before you get there think of why you might be doing what you are doing. If it's clock watching you are doing yourself and everyone else no favours. Instead of just copying another game check whether it will do what you want it to do in your class.
Just because the book says it will produce certain language is no guarantee that it will.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Where have all the good books gone?

Recently I have looking around at books and I can't seem to find many of the older books. Not surprisingly the ones that still remain have been jazzed up. They still retain their quality. Much of the rest horrifies me and reminds me of the revolution in primary school books. There are all very shiny, with very limited aims and almost used as an excuse for companies to release a new book.

Now that is fine for a summer course . No-one has any expectations of them. But faced with the same light revision courses for a whole academic course is neither pleasant nor desirable. Many trees are sacrificed in the process. Coursebooks by their nature tend to be the crutch that comforts students. They are also a very good way to design and build a syllabus that will best serve students.
Beyond some of the revamped oldies like Headway and the very good New English File there doesn't seem to be an awful lot to work with. More is the pity.

A TEFL blog

This is a blog about TEFL. Through the many years I have been involved in it I have seen a lot change. Some for the better , some not so good. These are my musings on it all.