[A note on this post: I'm referring to course books used as a course, not course books being used as a tool or resource]
Course books do NOT help teachers learn how to teach. In fact, they all too often do the exact opposite. Following on from the last post, I’d like to continue looking at some of the negative effects of course books.
Following from my last post, a number of commentators in the dogme debate often claim that only experienced teachers can do it. There seems to be the idea that course books not only offer structure and guidance for teachers, but that they also teach them how to teach. Nobody is claiming this, but it follows logically from the idea that new teachers need a course book and, after learning from it, they can move on to other approaches that don’t require such crutches.
I would argue that course books actually unteach teachers. Quite honestly, I have never observed a single teacher that analyzed their course book to see what it’s doing and why (although I’ve met some trainers who do). I’m not saying some teachers don’t do this, I’m just saying I’ve never observed one.
On training courses teachers learn how to create lessons from scratch. They learn to identify aims and reflect on their practice. Course books tend to destroy this. I’m not saying this because I believe in it as a theoretical construct, I’m saying it because it is what I’ve seen again and again and again at schools I’ve worked at. With course books, there is a very strong tendency to take the book as is, walk into the class, run through the activities, and then finish. How many teachers actually look at the aims of the lessons and see if they are handled appropriately by the book, especially for their particular students? Not too many I’ve met. Instead, you often hear teachers say that someone very experienced wrote this course book and so I shouldn’t question them. They must have done a good job. Suddenly all analysis and reflection is thrown out the window!
What is it exactly that course books supposedly teach teachers? If they are actually teaching teachers something, why is it so hard for so many teachers to leave the course book behind? If the course books were somehow teaching teachers how to create effective lessons by osmosis, we wouldn’t see this issue. Instead, many teachers are completely lost the first time the book is taken away.
Now, there is one thing teachers seem motivated to learn from course books, and that’s the grammar. Most course books are still designed around grammar mcnuggets and 90% of all conversations in the teacher’s room is how this grammar point works and how to teach it. In fact, course books don’t actually teach grammar to the teachers. Usually the teacher has to go to a grammar book, ask an experienced teacher, or research on the Internet to really get a hold of a grammar point. Interesting, isn’t it? If the teachers can’t learn the grammar from the books, why do we assume the students can?
Because all the course books focus on is grammar, that’s what most teachers identify as a good teacher – one who has a lot of grammar knowledge. In effect, the course books are teaching teachers the wrong thing.
As we’ve seen, rather than help teachers develop, course books actually take away the need to become capable identifying aims, creating lesson material, analyzing material for appropriateness, and reflecting. They also give the false impression that good teaching is dependent only upon grammar knowledge. None of this even gets into the negative impacts it has on the way students and government administrative bodies view language learning because of them.
As I’ve stated many times and places before – there are some advantages to course books but these are severely outweighed by their disadvantages.
Some reasons for using coursebooks can be found here, so I’d prefer not to rehash that too much. I’d like to focus comments on these 3 issues:
1) Do you think that course books can have a negative impact on teaching & specifically teacher development?
2) In your own experience, how many teachers critically engage with their course books?
3) Do course books promote the idea that a good teacher is nothing more than a grammar guru?