31 maio 2014 An A-Z of Dysfunctional ELT: C is for…
#3: C is for Coursebooks
Sadly, there are coursebooks whose job seems to be to perpetuate or reinforce stereotypes, like the one below. Happily, that’s not the case in mainstream publishing. Instead we have generic pap – UHT coursebooks aimed at everyone and landing nowhere.
ELT publisher seem to be a bit like political parties – all fighting for the same centre ground, coming up with policies (or products, in this case) which are designed to be inoffensive and look good. They end up appealing to no-one in particular and become the same as musak in supermarkets – something that has to suffered in order to get past the checkout.
Inside we have the same recycling of themes and and ideas. Students and teachers are pretty tired of the ENVIRONMENT, as they have grammared it and lexicalised it for years and years across multiple coursebooks and multiple publishers. Does this worthiness make the planet a better place? I suggest the opposite, we end up hating the bloody Amazon or whatever bit of the planet the book focusses on. And how many times does a teenager need to see Edinburgh castle or Stonehenge? And why insist on the exact same structure for every unit? That’s just makes it seem even more predictable and boring than it already is.
And what’s with those inane soap operas in those coursebooks aimed at mostly teens? You know the ones, the homogeneous group of friends who are trying to save the youth centre, or get a talent show organized, often with a bit of love interest or jealousy thrown in. With terrible acting. Starting every unit. EVERY unit!? Are we supposed to take them seriously? Are the students supposed to take them seriously? They can be a good source of poking fun at the writing and acting, but I’m not sure that’s their purpose. Where are the teens stuck in the middle of a messy divorce, those struggling with their sexuality, those fighting cancer, the bullying, or those who suffer the shame of having an outdated phone? There’s real drama in real life that real teenagers might recognise.
Talking of recordings, I’ve just been using a coursebook where the publisher was a bit lazy when it came to finding variety in voice talent, using the same voices in many disparate recording. One lovely distinct voice used again and again meant we ended the semester with a vision of a chicken-rearing, laughter therapist who was also an active amateur scientist.
Almost finally, please can we have more space, please, please, please? What’s the point of gapped sentences if there’s not enough space to write in? Why not have blank pages alternating with content for the students to write on?
There’s a lot more I could drivel on about, most of it no doubt wrong-headed and bad-tempered, but let’s end with two things: the prices we pay.
The average price of a mainstream coursebook in Brazil is between 130-180, and that’s not including the workbook or other additional items. That’s up to 25% of the minimum salary. Think about that for a minute.
The other price we pay is even heavier. The COURSEBOOK is an AUTHORITY. If we let it, it can take control away from us and leave us as mere automatons A teacher’s job is to bring the material to life, to make it relevant, to make it interesting, to personalise it,to lift it from the pages and into the dynamic of the classroom. It is, isn’t it? We do that for our students, and we owe it to ourselves to take the coursebook as a challenge – bend it, warp it, adapt it, and improve it.