Recently the topic for the weekly Twitter chat addressing world language teaching issues, #langchat, was the role of the textbook in the classroom. Teachers on Twitter just seem naturally more progressive to me anyway, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how many teachers are working to break their chains to the textbook.
What’s wrong with the textbook?
You may feel like something is not quite right with your textbook-based class, or you may love your textbook and how easy it makes your world and wonder what I’m talking about. In a nutshell, these are my problems with textbooks:
- They’re written by people who have to care about politics. Textbook companies, in order to maximize their profits, have to do whatever it takes to get their textbook adopted by the maximum number of school systems.
- They’re out of date as soon as they’re printed. Your textbook may know that Hugo Chávez hates America, but does it know that he’s dying, or how his last election went and why?
- They consistently contain almost no communicative input. Instructions are not communicative. Charts are not communicative. Not in a real-world setting anyway.
- They contain too much information. You may expect students to study 150 words and 4 verb charts per chapter, but you can be it won’t do anything for their proficiency and the school-lovers who do well will forget this information by next month at the latest.
- They are unmotivating. Seriously, when’s the last time even your nerdiest student was motivated by a textbook after the third week of school.
And that’s just a few off the top of my head.
BUT… developing your own curriculum is time consuming and can be overwhelming. I know some teachers who have thought about quitting after their first year because they were only trained to teach from the textbook and found it such a time-consuming struggle to develop their own materials. Where do you start? Watch for an upcoming series on tips to step outside the textbook (and I’m really thinking about writing a book on this topic), but for now, here are a few keys that have made it much easier for me.
- Take baby steps. One message that was loud and clear during that #langchat last month: no one who ditched the textbook did it all at once. For me, it was about a three-year journey before we were textbook-free. Don’t feel like if you think teaching without the textbook is better, you have to throw it out the window today.
- Start with the end in mind. In a system called backward design, you set your goals first and then work backward from there. In our case, decide on the proficiency-based assessments you’ll have at the end of the unit, and then ask yourself: what activities will get my students there? In this way, it takes me a few hours to plan a unit but then I have all my activities (and basically, lesson plans) done for the next 4-6 weeks, depending on the length of the unit.
- Hone your Google skills. Learn how to find better authentic sources by using the right key words. Or…
- Let students do the work. They’ll learn better (and develop more life skills) and you’ll stress less if you let students investigate the theme/question on their own. This is especially easy if your students have their own devices or you have access to a computer lab.
I hope you are encouraged to take some small, effective steps toward more communicative teaching than a textbook can offer.
Photo credit: Pablo Municio