Sorry to insist! But is using or not really the question?

I’m sorry to insist on this! But is coursebooking or not coursebooking really the question that Geoff is asking? Or is/was he actually talking about “LEARNING” and “EMPOWERMENT”.

Anthony Schimdt who is one of my favorite teachers out there writes another amazing post. And it would have been even more amazing if he had written an analysis of the type of the CB which Geoff and my last post talk about: Structural syllabus or at least close to it. I work with EGP, and none of the coursebooks I use are pure grammar-based. It’s fair to say that nowadays grammar-based CBs come in all packages in order to be marketed.  The’ve received a new layout to incorporate the communicative era and have been revamped from time to time.

Has anyone seen structural syllabus mixed with communicative activities, or disguised as Communicative? I’m sure you all have.

But instead of discussing this, we are discussing something else which is also valid but adds very little to the original discussion which is why grammar-based syllabus still dominating when research (and we from experience know that as well) has shown that it does not match its purpose? And let’s be clear that a shift in paradigm changes also assessment as we know today. SLA might not have all the answers, but have already showed that such focus  is a waste of learners time. Have those arguing against Geoff’s argument that teachers should ban coursebooks and come up with their own material actually tried to do things in the other way around for a good while to see the benefits of it and how quick teens and adults improve their English? After all the best examples of language learners are those who immersed in order to understand the language and really put their attention in order to use it well.

Am I against coursebooks? NO. I’m against the grammar-based ones.

Despite Brazil being a big market for teaching material, it hasn’t been very successful and please do not patronize teachers in the process of explaining why that has been so. Odd , but not a bit surprising. Politicians and Corporations are indeed in debt with education. A country that mostly approach language teaching using the traditional grammar paradigm where practicing rules  makes one use language accurately shows that in practice this is a fallacy. A fallacy that continues to be perpetuated because we avoid looking at our classes critically.

Now, taking the books Anthony writes about in his post and the fact that they do not fall into the obvious category Geoff’s presentation talks about. I’d like to see him analysing, in the same way, a grammar-based book that he is either working on or have worked with, and then discuss the outcomes he observed through the eyes of learners and learners’ progress for the sake of the discussion. Otherwise, we will continue to go in circles here. By having material writters defending their position (which is not Anthony’s case) and teachers who find PPP a useful teaching model going around denying the obvious implications of such syllabus.

And although I’m taking Anthony’s concern as begin simply that the discussions might be trashing coursebooks all together, I hoped that my previous post focused on the principles that underlies coursebooks/textbooks in language courses and regular schools which is common practice in Brazil, and I suspect that is true for most places in the world. Let’s make clear that ESP/ EAP and skill based CBs do not fall into this category. As such, they do not really contribute to the discussion.

That said, any visit to publishers catalogue will show us the variety of CBs and that a great number of them fall into English for General Purpose.  The ones in Anthony’s post ARE NOT the common CB for general purpose. But it is a great post nonetheless and as I’m interested in ESP and EAP right now, quite helpful. Perhaps the discussions we are having would be much more fruitful if we focus on talking about the same thing.

Second point from Geoff’s presentation (and no so much in my previous post) is that teachers must have the right to become critical of what they are doing. There is so much talk about TD, PD and autonomy, creativity, reflective practice and so on, but very little room for any of this to become real. One thing is to talk about education and another thing is to talk about the business of language teaching. In my blog, I discuss education and how as a teacher I want to serve my students better. After all, I didn’t invest so much on my PD to simply learn how to adapt coursebooks. And in my country there are tens of thousands of teachers who are great language learners themselves and smart students who are able to take learning in their own hands. I support that.

ps. *sorry for my lack of creativity in choosing a title. AT this point, I think I can’t really care to make this post “nice”. It’s easy to give things a nice package, but it doesn’t mean the product is really good. If you want to be a teacher that makes the difference, stop thinking of teaching and start from learning.

ps** This was originally a comment in Anthony’s post. I decided though that it would be a good follow up of my previous post and then I can link Anthony’s post to my blog.


9 thoughts on “Sorry to insist! But is using or not really the question?

  1. Hi Rose,

    Great post! Thanks for responding to my post with a post. It’s very flattering.

    Let me get to the point: I deliberately chose non-grammar based books because the claim is against “coursebooks” with little to no specificity. I am arguing that a blanket claim is not only inaccurate but misdirected. I think these arguments might be marginalizing a lot of people who do use “coursebooks” and feel under scrutiny and attack. Also, I think Geoff’s arguments are highly applicable to the profession of teaching in general, not just coursebooks. I think we are agreeing here, but it’s not 100% clear!

    I used a book recently called “Focus on Grammar 1” to teach a grammar course to beginner adults. It most certainly followed the grammar-based syllabus, starting with the present tense, nouns, subject pronouns and ending with future tense and indirect object pronouns. How did that reflect in my teaching? For example, did I assume that knowing how would lead to automaticity (assumption 1)? Did I teach the rules in accumulatory fashion (assumption 2)? Did I think the learners learned everything I taught them based on their developmental needs (assumption 3)? The short answer is NO, because, as you know, a coursebook does not (or should not) define how you teach. I taught in a way that led to noticing of grammar rules, meaningful and communicative practice, implicit AND explicit rule understanding (I wanted to make sure they had the declarative knowledge because it is an essential building block and it helps when I give them feedback), and ultimately learning the language points they needed the most (based on student analysis, on going assessment, and student requests). Out of the 30+ units, I covered about 8 in a way which was non-structural and wholly communicative.

    This is why I say teacher agency (and by extension plausability) is much more important than coursebook choice. Again, I think we are agreeing here!

    And I also agree that you didn’t become an educator just to adapt a textbook, but you did learn how to evaluate and assess materials to determine its best usefulness for yourself and students. Everyone adapts, from kindergarten teachers to university professors – its part and parcel of the profession. So, in a way, skillful adapting is an important job skill, not something ancillary or beneath you. That is but one way of taking education in your own hands, isn’t it?

    Liked by 4 people

    • “I think Geoff’s arguments are highly applicable to the profession of teaching in general, not just coursebooks. I think we are agreeing here, but it’s not 100% clear!”

      Totally agree!

      Although Geoff made clear in his comment below that he isn’t talking about GB CBs only but ANY CB, my criticism to GB CBs for GEP in EFL contexts remains.

      I wonder if the course you described above was part of the EAP program.

      You wrote:
      “Everyone adapts, from kindergarten teachers to university professors – its part and parcel of the profession. So, in a way, skillful adapting is an important job skill, not something ancillary or beneath you. That is but one way of taking education in your own hands, isn’t it?”

      Because this is how the business of teaching is. I don’t feel less because of that. And while Geoff is tackling the learning issue from research findings in SLA and how we might not really be taking learners into account when we impose a syllabus on them, I’m leaning towards hidden syllabus that is at full play and usually ignored. In Pedagogy Studies in Education, curriculum design is studied from an interdisciplinary view.
      A book I discovered recently when I was looking for something in ELT about hidden syllabus was this one.


  2. Hi Rose,

    More good grist to the mill – onward thru the fog!

    First, I want to acknowledge
    (1) the influence that Dogme’s founders, Meddings and Thornbury, have had on what I’ve said recently, and
    (2) Scott’s post on “Granularity” where he succinctly states the 3 fallacies on which so much of ELT materials currently rests.
    Scott’s 3 fallacies correspond to my 3 false assumptions quite closely, I think; and Dogme has as one of it’s key components a plea for teachers to stop using coursebooks, because, in the authors’ view, good ELT practice is being drowned by a tsunami of materials.

    Second, while coursebooks for general English which are informed by a grammar-based approach were the focus of my criticisms, my argument is that ANY coursebook is likely to be based on at least 2 of the 3 the false assumptions I outlined, although there will inevitably be exceptions to this generalised assertion. Anthony makes an excellent case for 2 such exceptions, but I personally am not convinced that even they are the best materials a teacher could use to deliver the courses in question. Coursebooks which don’t respect what we know about the development of interlanguages are one thing; coursebooks which impose a pre-determined syllabus on learners, who have little voice in what is “done to them” by the book and the teacher, are another – and I suggest that they’re both driven by mistaken ideas about teaching and learning a second / foreign language.

    What you and I agree about is that ELT should be learner-centred, that materials should be used to do what local teachers judge, in conversation with their learners, to be the most useful, that teachers should organise locally to share resources and support each other in the fight for better pay and conditions, and that big business ….. Woooops!

    Still, these are all wide brushstrokes so to speak which need more careful inspection, which you, now Anthony, and so many others are providing. I don’t know, but I get the feeling that there’s a growing movement for change.

    Liked by 5 people

    • “What you and I agree about is that ELT should be learner-centred, that materials should be used to do what local teachers judge, in conversation with their learners, to be the most useful, that teachers should organise locally to share resources and support each other in the fight for better pay and conditions, and that big business ….. Woooops!”

      Absolutely right on that!

      I don’t have yours or Luke and Scott’s eagle eye to analyse all CBs out there (yet), hence my focus on grammar-based syllabus. I know by experience and thinking critically about my own practice what doesn’t work and I’m learning to negotiate with learners (with or without a coursebook). It was when Dogme discussions came up that I started questioning what was going on in my classes, raising questions and reading to find solutions, and then, I felt unsure how to deal with the complexity without a clear syllabus to follow. Today, I understand it is about negotiating, but most of us don’t have the support or space for that to happen. It’s not easy for most teachers out there and we have to take that into account. We go back to the political aspect of these discussions that very often are totally ignored.

      Actually, fighting grammar-based syllabus is much easier than fighting culture! 😉 But I guess, we just have to keep going. 🙂 Right? I’m certainly not giving up.


  3. Hi Rose,
    I’m replying here to your question on Twitter: “I read ur comment on @thornburyscott latest blogpost n wonder where I can find + abt how u do to develop learners autonomy” because Twitter isn’t the place for in depth discussions.

    I’m not sure which of my comments you’re referring to. :-/ My memory’s never been very good and it gets worse every day.

    So I need to remind myself of what Geoff and Scott have already said in relation to the deficiencies of General English Coursebooks:

    Geoff Jordan’s 3 false assumptions:
    1) Declarative knowledge is converted to procedural knowledge by the presentation and practice of discrete items of grammar.
    2) SLA is a process of learning these discrete items one by one in an accumulative way.
    3) Learners learn what they’re taught when they’re taught it. .

    Scott Thornbury’s 3 fallacies
    1) The taxon fallacy. The units of language acquisition are not ‘tenses and conjugations’ (English has no conjugations, for a start). The units of language acquisition are words and constructions.
    2) The proceduralization fallacy. Another legacy of a long tradition of transmissive teaching: it is the belief that declarative knowledge (e.g. knowing that the past of ‘go’ is ‘went’) automatically converts to procedural knowledge, i.e. that it is available for use in real-time communication.
    3) The accumulated entities fallacy, described by Rutherford (1988: 4) as the view that ‘language learning … entails the successive mastery of steadily accumulating structural entities, and language teaching brings the entities to the learner’s attention’.

    I agree with both of them but I’d go further and reject the usefulness of anything but the very occasional use in a General English Course of any kind of “materials”. I’m sure Hugh Dellar is right “coursebooks are wildly heterogeneous in both their world views and their presentations of language” From my point of view the content is irrelevant. What is significant is that materials, whatever they are and whoever they’re chosen by, are not produced on the spot by the students themselves. They’re not what the students are feeling “here and now”.

    I’d like to add a 4th fallacy: the capacity to speak a language is directly related to “input”. (Sorry, Krashen.) What I observe in everyday life is that people do not mainly discuss articles they’ve read or films they’ve seen – they express their thoughts and feelings about the trivia of their daily lives as they’re living them. That’s what my students did in class. I didn’t really develop their autonomy, I just allowed them to apply it in a context where it’s usually suppressed. I didn’t follow a syllabus, I didn’t “teach” them anything: not only not grammatically points but not (pseudo) communicative situations either. The students were responsible for the content, not me, not the coursebook, not photocopies, not stuff projected on interactive whiteboards, or whatever.

    It often took them a little while to understand what I was asking of them but when they did nearly all of them appreciated it because they felt they were being treated as responsible adults. Because I wasn’t “teaching” I had time to observe my students and give them constant, immediate feedback on their English to help them express themselves better: be precise, more accurate (I mean, closer to Standard International English on every level: pronunciation, grammar, register, style…). Providing a student with the word “went” when they need it to describe something they did yesterday that was important to them is quite different to either a teacher telling them “‘went’ is the past of ‘go'” or reading a text where the word ‘went’ happens to be used.

    You probably already know about Dogme which also respects student autonomy. The approach I chose is fairly similar but less well-known: the Silent Way. You can read an introductory article here: or have a look at the videos here:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: BrELT Chat 28/05 sobre uso de livros didáticos: sugestões de leitura | #BRELT

  5. Pingback: Coursebooks: the Thick and the Thin End of the Wedge | Freelance Teacher Self Development

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