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Evaluating coursebooks

August 27, 2008

Hello again,

I noticed recently that a leading English bookshop has published a list of the top-selling ELT course books. Once again the Headway series tops the list. I guess one way of choosing a new course book...

... is to go with the flow and select what everyone else seems to be using. However, if a D.O.S. does want to buck the trend, how should he or she go about evaluating new books?

L. Sheldon, ( 'Evaluating ELT Textbooks and Materials', ELT Journal,
Volume 42/2, 1988) suggests that the choice of an ELT textbook is an important
decision involving is considerable professional, financial, even political investment. A
careful evaluation is important to ensure that the book can meet the needs of learners and teachers. Textbook evaluation is in fact a useful skill for all teachers, helping them to reflect on their classroom activities and making them aware of the range of materials available.

The skill of evaluation lies in knowing exactly what your school’s needs are. Do you need a package that means students will have to buy a student’s book and the teacher will be supported by audio and visual materials, CALL, supplementary reference material and tests: in other words a comprehensive course that will be followed in order and from start to finish? Or do you need something more flexible that allows teachers to adapt frameworks to students’ needs and can be used in the order that the teacher wishes? Much depends on the level of the teachers’ experience and their ability to take initiatives. Students’ preferences must also be considered: are they willing to buy a book; do they like to follow a pre-determined programme; do they like group work; do they want lots of grammar exercise? It is as well to be clear what you are looking for before you make any decisions.

A. Cunningsworth Cunningsworth, (Choosing Your Coursebook. Heinemann, 1995)
(1995) proposed four criteria for evaluating coursebooks:

1. They should correspond to learner’s needs. They should match the aims and objectives of the language-learning program.

2. They should reflect the uses (present or future) learners will make of the language. Textbooks should be chosen that will help students use language effectively for their own purposes.

3. They should take account of students’ needs as learners and should facilitate their learning processes, without dogmatically imposing a ‘rigid’ method.

4. They should have a clear role as a support for learning.

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