How Important are Textbooks After All?
Can they decide the fate of our Students?
By Enrique Rojas R. M.A.
Taking a look at schools around the world, at its different levels, we can notice that textbooks, and textbook series in the case of foreign language teachers, have acquired, for a sizable number of years now, but still in the increase, an enormous importance in the view of parents and school authorities alike. This is so much so that when there is an issue at a school in foreign language teaching there will always be someone who will contend that the problem could be solved just by changing the book series.
This is placing too much reliance on the textbook, which although being enormously useful, shouldn’t comprise the strainer that separates success from failure in the classroom. Not when there is a professional teacher to stir the helm of learning.
It is true that textbooks have made unquestionable progress in later years, in content as well as appearance. Now they come in digital versions, boasting beautiful and profuse photos and illustrations, all in glorious Technicolor, not rarely offering an ultramodern layout, containing DVDs and links to stimulating websites; and they come accompanied by posh workbooks and all of these centered on topics and characters especially appealing to the age group for which they are directed, since the segmentation of the publics to which these books are destined have been carefully worked out. On top of all this uppermost linguists and globally recognized professors are hired by the editorial houses to make these books even more knowledgeable and enticing.
And yet, these series are made for all kinds of students in the world. It is only the individual teacher who knows their own students and their characteristics. It is only them who know what they need and what they lack, which is the best approach to reach them, what is and what is not that makes them vibrate.
The National Council of Teachers of English in the United States (http://www.ncte.org.) asserts that “It is the teacher who acts as facilitator, resource person and language model for the second- language classroom” and adds: “In developing units, the teacher needs to predict the possible needs of the students and have communicative language activities readily available to meet these needs.”
This means that the role of the teacher is not to follow the instructions of the textbook to the letter. This should be a tool in their hands and not their master. What motivates Asian students, for example, may not set in motion the creativity of our own learners. Even the different regions that our country possesses offer different opportunities and demand diverse approaches to teaching. The activities planned around the students’ interests and dealing with subjects about which they have more knowledge, will always prove more successful.
Another piece of advice from the Council of Teachers is: “While remaining the person with whom the students will communicate most often, one of the main functions of the teacher will now be to discover or invent ways to encourage students to communicate meaningfully with each other.” This appears as the essence of the communicative approach.
Some of the ways in which language textbooks are very useful to us are that they can actually train inexperienced teachers, help provide ideas on how to plan and teach lessons, make available the basis for the content of the lessons, the balance of skills, the kind of language practice, provide structure and a syllabus for a program, deliver effective language models and input and offer a variety of learning resources, among others.
On the negative side, it is not uncommon that they present a romanticized view of the earth, may not reflect the students’ needs, may contain inauthentic language and, perhaps, occasionally disqualify the teacher. (Richards) Another point, important in a country like ours, is their high price.
Summing up, although it is true that “much of the language teaching throughout the world today could not take place without the extensive use of commercial textbooks,” it is also correct that it is the teacher who will aim to set up conditions for meaningful practice in the classroom and then let his disciples take on the role of resourceful people, leading them to acquire the capacity of becoming successful independent language learners.
Richards, Jack C. The Role of Textbooks in a Language Program.
Retrieved July 4, 2016
Retrieved July 4, 2016
Graduated in Journalism at the PUCP, Peru, Enrique Rojas R. holds a MA in Journalism and MA in Inter American History from Southern Illinois University, USA; an MA in Literature from University of the Americas, Puebla, Mexico, all the coursework for a MA in TEFL at Universidad de Piura, Peru and BA in Education from Universidad Federico Villarreal. He has also obtained Certificates of Proficiency in English both from Cambridge University and the University of Michigan and the Diploma for EFL Teachers from Universidad del Pacifico. He is an Oral Examiner for the Cambridge University exams and has been awarded the title Expert in E-Learning from Asociacion Educativa del Mediterraneo and Universidad Marcelino Champagnat. He has worked as a professor in universities in Peru, Mexico and the United States; as a newscaster and a producer in radio and television stations in the United States and Mexico, and as a writer and editor in daily newspapers of the same countries. He has been in the staff of CIDUP for 17 years teaching English and Spanish specializing in International Exams, English for Business, ESP and Teacher Training. He is a member of the Research Area of Centro de Idiomas de la UP.