SHOULD YOU TEACH LANGUAGES WITH A TEXTBOOK OR CREATE YOUR OWN PROGRAM?
There are a lot of conversations about the pros and cons of using textbooks in the foreign language classroom. Some schools carefully chose which textbook their school/district/state will adopt, having preview committees, review functions and lively discussions then votes. Others wish they had all that, but find out that there is no money for textbooks. Still others don’t even have textbook conversations. They instead make (or allow) the teachers to piece together their own materials.
For those of you new to the debate (winging it versus using a textbook) and possible recently educated, you may know only one way. It might be time to consider the following:
Why some teachers don’t want to use a textbook:
· They don’t like using books in the class as they find them restricting
· They don’t like using the vocabulary/grammar presented
· They don’t like their pictures/activities/cultural snippets
· They have a different methodology which they design in accordance to their class make-up or needs( TPRS) or others.
· They may be teaching language incidentally, through immersion with academic content. activities, games, or just living (as a first language is learned) and language teaching textbooks just have no room in their curriculum.
Why many teachers use textbooks in their classes:
"We love the textbook and always use it."
· Their schools or districts demand that all teachers use the same curriculum/books.
· They trust the collective knowledge and abilities of the large group of authors of the textbook.
· They enjoy the many colorful (copyrights cleared) photos and other art in the books.
· They want uniformity and accountability from all their teachers to make vertical alignment more seamless.
· They benefit by the large array of basic and ancillary materials available and related (controlled, on - level vocab and grammar). The worksheets, digital games and activities, self-correcting assessments, links to authentic materials and much much more.
· They like the freedom to design their curriculum according to the abilities and interests of their particular student while still staying within the school’s need for “uniformity of content”.
· It frees up the teachers from having to create worksheets, games or other materials that they may not be qualified to create.
"I'll follow the textbook, use it as a guide
but not ONLY the textbook"
Most teachers have been trained to intelligently choose materials, methods and how to deliver them. Also, although fluent and proficient, teachers have different levels and abilities. Some may only know one type or region of the language and not be able to expose their students to other ways of saying things. Sometimes native speakers know what sounds right, but may not instinctually know how to explain the whys and hows to non-natives. Others are great at using others’ materials but have no idea of what and how to create their own. This is not a complaint, just a fact. The majority of teachers can benefit from some sort of “road map”, which is what a textbook provides.
What if you are a creative, experienced and independent type of teacher who loves to write and create materials?
Go for it. It’s a lot of work. It may take a number of years until you have all of your materials ready. If you are lucky, maybe you only teach one level and therefore have only about 180 hours worth of materials and activities. If not, like many of us, you teach 3-4 different classes, you would require quadruple the amount of work. That probably would make you 1 - crazy and 2 - asleep for your own class. Because no man is an island, you should enlist a cadre of proof-readers when possible of competent, intelligent and well - traveled teachers. Educated native or near native speakers (and quite literate, of course) are also good proof-readers to have on board.
SO WHATS THE FINAL ANSWERS? SHOULD YOU TEACH LANGUAGES WITH A TEXTBOOK OR CREATE YOUR OWN PROGRAM?
A new teacher asked me, “So what’s the problem with textbooks? I hear some language teachers smugly bragging that they didn’t use the textbook, like a badge of honor. Are textbooks bad? Am I less of a teacher because I use one?“ I laughed since that has become a frequent discussion in language teacher chat rooms, and in my then upcoming (this) blog. My answer to him:
Yes, sometimes there is some degree of smugness or air of superiority when some teachers brag that they don’t use the textbook. Some teachers don’t use textbooks because their schools or states can’t afford them. More often than not, other teachers have unique ways of teaching so they don’t, can’t or won’t use a textbook. However, many, if not the majority of language teachers, use the textbook in some capacity or another. It saves time, paper, and headaches. Some use the textbook and many of its extras almost exclusively. Some pick and choose what they want to use and then supplement what they want or need to. For them, the textbook and the extras, is just one of their many tools in their teacher’s tool bag.
Some items you might want to consider for your language teacher's toolbox or tool bag:
Example of some cultural
readings and activities
- Plenty of appropriate music and accompanying activities
- Short or long videos with or without accompanying activities/worksheets
- Cultural activities, coloring pictures, maps, dances, foods, customs explained...
- Games to further language learning
- Flashcards and other visuals
- Slide shows that teach or review
- Interactive white board activities
- Textbooks for use or as reference for teacher and/or students
Example of some legends
Example of excellent visuals
Example of cultural coloring