Making an Inventory of the Resources Provided by a Textbook Required for Use in a Courseby Patricia Byrd
A Module on the Teaching of Modern Languages
published by the Center for Applied Linguistics
Understanding the Sequencing and the Format of the Text | Conclusion
Table 1: Inventory of Language-Oriented Content of a Chapter
Table 2: Inventory of Topics and Other Non-Linguistic Content in a Chapter
Table 3: An Inventory of Activities in a Textbook Chapter
Table 4: Inventory of Potential Uses of Exercises
Table 5: Inventory of Materials Addressed to or Intended for the Teacher in the Complete Textbook
Using a required textbook that has been selected by someone else is a frequent experience for teachers, especially when first joining a program but also in situations where textbook selection is carried out by a committee or by an administrator. The following guidelines have been developed to provide guidance for a teacher in developing plans for a course in which a required textbook must be used. Other guides have been developed to help teachers in the process of evaluating texts and materials (i.e., Skiero 1991). Such guides are valuable in the early part of the process of text selection and use, a task which involves comparative evaluation of various possibilities for text content and organization. Evaluative questions are essential in the initial selection of texts and in making decisions about continuing to use a text. Evaluative guidelines can, however, point in unproductive directions when used in analyzing a required text in the limited time generally available to a teacher before beginning a new course. In the days--and sometimes only hours--before walking into a classroom to use a textbook, a teacher needs to focus on the resources that are available and on plans for turning that script into a class that is productive and satisfying for the teacher as well as for the students.
Creativity can be exercised by a teacher in many different aspects of the teaching process. Creation of materials is only one of the many interesting challenges for a teacher. A useful metaphor for the classroom pictures the interaction of students and teacher as a dramatic presentation: the teacher takes the roles of director, producer, and actor while the students are primarily actors but can have other responsibilities for the unfolding action. The metaphor is especially helpful in clarifying the relationship of the teachers and students to textbook materials. The text is a script that needs interpretation and selection before it can come to life. As in the making of films and in the theater, creativity is not limited to the writing of the script, nor are all of the participants expected to be effective writers of the materials upon which the production is based.
Textbook authors are generally classroom teachers who have been thoughtful about providing resources and guidance for other teachers to use. Teachers should remember that texts are planned with their needs in mind, too; teachers as well as students are the audience for textbooks. Because we have been trained to be judges of materials in the selection process, it is sometimes difficult to let loose of judgmental attitudes and language. A first step can be to re-label the task of analyzing a textbook at this point in the process. "Evaluation" is the judgmental process in which decisions are made about liking or disliking, choosing or rejecting a text. "Inventorying" is the later task of learning in detail the resources of content and activities that are provided in the assigned text.
Answering questions such as the following, a teacher can develop a descriptive overview of a text that can be a resource for the rest of the term.
1. What is in this book? What resources does the book provide?TOP
Second language textbooks have two basic strands of content: (1) One strand has to do with the language being taught (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, etc.) and (2) another stand has to do with the ideas and information presented in the readings, examples, illustrations, and activities. Many texts also include a third strand having to do with communication strategies or types (apologizing, introducing, questioning, etc.). Yet other texts will include a fourth strand having to do with development of particular skills needed by the students in other arenas (academic skills, survival skills, and so forth). Textbooks are usually conceived of by their authors as holistic units--as "books" for "courses."
Thus, effective use of a text depends on recognition of the existence of these strands and the ways in which they have been woven together. Table 1 illustrates how a linguistic inventory might be organized: (1) the linguistic areas, (2) the questions to guide the inventorying of the linguistic materials, and (3) questions to inventory the teacher's knowledge of those areas. An inventory of topical content could be developed using a format such as that in Table 2: for each chapter or subdivision, the inventory provides a list of the topics that will be covered during the term. Similar tables should be developed for other content material provided by the text.Table 3 shows how an inventory of the activities in a textbook chapter might be organized--looking at the choices that teachers have for working with the content of a course. Table 4 approaches the the selection of activities from an organizational perspective. This inventory provides the teacher with information on activities that can be used for a variety of teaching purposes, in or out of class, in various organizational patterns, and appealing to various learner types.
As was mentioned earlier, textbooks are written for the teacher as well as for the student. An inventory approach can clarify which parts of the text are addressed to the teacher and need to be given special attention by the teacher. At the same time, such an analysis can reveal those parts of the text that appear to be addressed to students but are in fact intended for the teacher. For example, it is conventional to address instructions to the student but in reality information about how to do an activity is meant for the teacher. Thus, instructions can seem to be more linguistically complicated than the activity. The textbook author is expecting the teacher to interpret the instructions in ways that make them understandable for students. Table 5 can be used to find those parts of the text that are intended as practical help for the teacher.
The completed inventory will reveal areas of the text that the teacher might choose to supplement with other materials. That is, the inventory can be used as the basis for a plan for choosing additional materials to complement the resources already available in the text. For example, if the text has a variety of pair work for practice of communication, the teacher does not need to provide additional such materials. That same text might not include as much work as the teacher would like for assessment of the students' linguistic knowledge. Swales (1980) noted that some ESP teachers and programs were developing materials locally that did not seem much different from or better than the materials already available in published textbooks. He noted that so much energy was given to the creation of materials that not enough time and energy were left over to think about the most effective ways in which to use those materials. The textbook inventory is intended to help teachers avoid this waste of time, energy, and resources. With detailed knowledge of what is already available in the text, a teacher can be more efficient in using time to develop additional materials. As importantly, the teacher can have more time for planning creative ways to implement the materials.
It might very well be that initial negative attitudes that some teachers experience toward a new textbook derive from feelings that they have about other aspects of their teaching: fears caused by being in a new situation can be projected onto the textbook or dissatisfaction about not having been part of the selection process can lead to the rejection of a book. When experiencing such feelings, teachers should be careful about problems that can result from telling students that they do not like the book. Negative statements from a teacher undermine the students' confidence not just in the text but in the course and in the teacher, too. This nonjudgmental inventorying has been developed to provide teachers with a helpful approach to use in taking a clear look at what is really going on in a required text and in making a descriptive analysis of the text to use in planning and carrying out a course that will be useful and pleasant for the students and for themselves.
Byrd, P. (2001). Textbooks: Evaluation for selection and analysis for implementation. In Marianne Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (3rd Ed.), pp. 415-442. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Swales, J. (1980). ESP: The textbook problem. The ESP Journal 1(1), 11-23.
Skiero, A. (1991). Textbook selection and evaluation. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.) Teaching English as a second or foreign language (2nd ed., pp. 432-453). NY: Newbury House.
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