Is an ESL course book as valuable a resource as it once was? Our publisher-friends would doubtless assure us that it is, but I have found increasingly from speaking to other colleagues that schools are adopting a more flexible approach to their use of teaching materials. In an age of unprecedented access to information at the swipe of a screen is it necessary, or preferable, to be ploughing through units of exercises and tasks according to a scheme devised entirely by someone else?
Whoa there, hold your horses… Let’s just remember for a moment all the things that the course book has going for it. For a start, there is a valid point to be made about convenience. Most course books present a similar, tried and tested sequence of learning objectives that most fallible, human English teachers would be hard-pressed to come up with by themselves. Not because we don’t have the capacity to, but because our time-contraints are already such that an endeavour of this sort would seem an unlikely proposal. Besides, if we all had the time to be writing material akin to course books we would be course book-writers, wouldn’t we (at least on the side)?
Course books then give use structure, coherence from lesson to lesson, and, if you’re in the habit of requiring your students to buy books too, they provide a secure awareness of these very things for the students themselves. But let’s not forget also the expertise and experience that has gone into the writing of the course book. Sure you can browse the net for effective ways of introducing negative adverbials with inversion to a group of upper-intermediates, but anyone, as we know, can put anything online, and with the lack of responsibility that anonymity affords.
I personally feel that the course books that stand upon our resource shelves are invaluable, and should not be sidelined in the rush towards flexibility and differentiation of lessons. Although we do not follow books as such at Peartree, we have our favourites, as I’m sure you do too, books that we know and trust. Those that we use, however, are employed in the service of our own curriculum, and adapted to meet the needs and learning objectives of our students.
So let’s here it for the humble course book… this is your chance to wax lyrical about your favourite and explain to our readers what puts it above the rest!
Director of Studies