Unit 18  Evaluating and Adapting Textbooks


Aims of the unit

      1. What are textbooks for?

2. Why and what do teachers evaluate and adapt?

      3. How should teachers evaluate textbooks?

      4. How should teachers select textbooks?

      5. How should teachers adapt textbooks?

I. What are textbooks for?

      Textbook is a book used for standard work for the study of a particular subject.

In all modern school systems the textbook has long served not only to support instruction but to symbolize that instruction, in other words, the textbook defines the curriculum.

1. Textbooks or teaching materials

      Nowadays, textbooks in traditional pedagogy have evolved into a great variety of resources used in language classroom such as audio cassettes, videos, CD-ROMs, dictionaries, grammar book, readers, workbook, teacher’s books, photocopied materials, flashcards, and other authentic materials, such as newspapers, photographs, advertisements, radio/TV programmes, etc. In many cases the term “ma­terials” is used in place of “textbooks”, which refers to anything that is used by teach­ers or students to facilitate the learning of a language. The term “textbooks” is still widely used, but its reference has expanded from books to all the materials used around or independent of the books.

      2. Textbooks and language resources

Task 2

      Think about your English learning experience and make a list of the materials you used. Try to be as specific as possible. Then based on the list, answer the following questions:

l       Did you particularly like or dislike any of them? Why?

l       Were the materials on your list widely used?

l       Are they still used now?

 II. Evaluating textbooks

We often hear teachers say “Oh, this is a good textbook” or “Well, I don’t think my students will like this book”. These comments are usually based on ad hoc evaluation(凭印象的评估), that is, impressionistic evaluation based on intuitions, experience of classroom use or ‘just first impression”. Contrary to ad hoc evaluation, systematic evaluation of textbooks is based on specification of objectives, principles and procedures. An ideal systematic textbook evaluation would be a longitudinal one, which includes pre-use evaluation, whilst-use evaluation and post-use evaluation.

1.     On-the-page evaluation; evaluate the textbook itself irrespective of its users.

2.     In-the-use evaluation: evaluation is done based on the users’ opinions (teachers’ as well as learners’)

3.     External evaluation:

l       Look at the claims made by the authors of the textbook.

l       Look through the table of contents and other details in the textbook.

4.     Internal evaluation:

l       The grading and sequencing of the materials, natural and appropriate?

l       The language input selected, interest and level.

l       Practice of skills and strategies.

l       Activities and tasks. Suitable or not.

l       Student- centered

The core of systematic textbook evaluation is to examine how well a given textbook matches the needs of a language programme and how effectively and efficiently it can realise the objectives of the programme. Therefore needs analysis has to be done prior to textbook evaluation.

5. Features of good textbooks

Based on Tomlinson’s (1998) conception of what constitutes effective language teach­ing materials, we believe good textbooks should have the following features.

   Good textbooks should:

      • Attract the students’ curiosity, interest and attention.

      • Help students to feel at ease.

      • Help students to develop confidence by providing tasks or activities that students can cope with.

      • Meet students’ needs.

      • Expose the students to language in authentic use.

      • Provide the students with opportunities to use the target lan­guage to achieve communicative purposes.

      • Take into account that the positive effects of language teaching are usually delayed.

      • Take into account that students differ in learning styles.

      • Maximise learning potential by encouraging intellectual, aes­thetic and emotional involvement which stimulates both right and left brain activi­ties.

Task 3

      Take a textbook that you have used or you are familiar with. Look through the book and see to what extent the book has reflected the features of good textbooks outlined above. When you are ready, go into groups and share your findings.

  (provide textbooks for primary students or junior student)

 III. Selecting textbooks

      When we evaluate a textbook with an intention of adoption, we try to match what is offered by the book with the needs of our language programme. However, this is no easy job for teachers. For one thing, teachers may be overwhelmed by the rich contents of the textbook, which usually has several volumes. For another, teachers do not al­ways have a clear awareness of what their students need. In order to make the job of textbook selection easier, materials researchers have developed several practical and operational checklists for classroom teachers (See Grant, 1987).

      Look at the questionnaires on page 299

Choosing a textbook: questionnaire (part 1)

Does the book suit your students?

Choosing a textbook: questionnaire (part 2)

Does the book suit the teacher?

Choosing a textbook: questionnaire (part 3)

Doest the book suit the syllabus and examination?

Task 4

      Choose two similar textbooks which are used in the middle schools or colleges in the place where you are studying. Use Grant’s questionnaire and make a detailed evaluation of the two textbooks. Then compare the two textbooks based on the evaluation results.

 IV. Adapting textbooks

      Despite the great effort that textbook writers make to meet the needs of the intended users, textbooks are subject to adaptation when they are actually used in the class­room. After all, most commercial textbooks are not written for any particular class.

1. How do adapt materials?

Maley (1998:281) suggested the following options to adapt materials:

      • omission: the teacher leaves out things deemed inappropriate, offensive, unpro­ductive, etc., for the particular group.

      • addition: where there seems to be inadequate coverage, teachers may decide to add to textbooks, either in the form of texts or exercise material.

      • reduction: where the teacher shortens an activity to give it less weight or emphasis.

      • extension: where an activity is lengthened in order to give it an additional dimen­sion. (For example, a vocabulary activity is extended to draw attention to some syntactic patterning.)

      • rewriting/modification: teacher may occasionally decide to rewrite material, espe­cially exercise material, to make it more appropriate, more “communicative”, more demanding, more accessible to their students, etc.

      • replacement: text or exercise material which is considered inadequate, for what­ever reason, may be replaced by more suitable material. This is often culled from other resource materials.

      • re-ordering: teachers may decide that the order in which the textbooks are pre­sented is not suitable for their students. They can then decide to plot a differentcourse through the textbooks from the one the writer has laid down.

      • branching: teachers may decide to add options to the existing activity or to suggest alternative pathways through the activities. (For example, an experiential route or an analytical route.)

      2. Three levels of textbook adaptation

1) Macro adaptation: which is ideally done before the language programme begins. After comparing what is covered in a textbook and what is required by the syllabus or examination, the teacher may find that certain areas or even whole units of the book can be omitted, and certain contents need to be supplemented.

     2) Adapting a unit. This could be reordering the activi­ties, combining activities, omitting activities, rewriting or supplementing exercise ma­terial, etc.

3) Adaptation of specific activities in a unit. Occasionally an activity is regarded as valuable, but it is not well-designed or it is not feasible in a particular class. If the teacher does not want to give up the activity, he or she needs to adapt it.

      Very often, adaptation involves supplementation, that is, teachers add materials from other resources to the textbook they are using. It is believed that authentic materials are better than non-authentic materials for supplementation. So teachers who make a point of collecting authentic materials find it much easier to adapt textbooks. This is especially true in ELT contexts where authentic English materials are not always readily to hand.

V. Conclusion

      In this unit we have briefly talked about textbook evaluation, selection and adaptation.  The value of these actions is so obvious that no one would argue against it. However, these actions can be done only when three conditions are met.

      Firstly, teachers need to have the authority to evaluate, select and adapt textbooks.

      Secondly, teachers have to have the initiative to evaluate, select and adapt textbooks.

      Thirdly, teachers need to know how to evaluate, select and adapt textbooks.