Merits and demerits of using textbooks to teach English | Greenwatch Dhaka | The leading online daily of Bangladesh

Merits and demerits of using textbooks to teach English


Masum Billah
Language teaching needs five important components such as students, teachers, materials, teaching methods and evaluation. Using materials mostly indicating textbooks gets third importance in language teaching. Now the question is can we teach English in our country without using textbooks? Let us see the comments of two language experts in this regard. Dick Allwright who is a senior lecturer in Applied Linguistics at Lancaster University, UK says that tudents should have materials that mean textbooks for ideas and activities for instruction. From Allwrights’s point of view, textbooks are too inflexible to be used directly as instructional materials. Robert O’ Neill, in contrast, argues that materials may be suitable for students’ needs, even if they are not designed specially for them that textbooks make it possible for students to review and prepare, their lesson, that textbooks, are efficient in terms of time and money and that textbooks, can and should allow for adaptation and improvisation. O’ Neill also argues for the use of published textbooks materials as basis on which to mould the unpredictable interaction which is necessary to classroom language learning. It is also suggested that learners who do not work from textbooks may be being deprived of useful medium of orientation and study outside the classroom. Allwright emphasizes that materials control learning and teaching. It is true that in many cases teachers and students rely heavily on textbooks and textbooks determine the components and methods of learning, that is, they control the content, methods and procedures of learning. Students learn what is presented in the textbook, and the way the textbook presents materials is the way students learn it. It is also true that experienced and highly motivated teachers can teach English without textbooks as they develop various sorts of teaching materials to cater to the needs of the students according to their grades and age. But many teachers cannot afford to do that and many teachers actually don’t have time to make supplementary materials, so they just follow the textbooks. Textbooks therefore play a very important role in language classes. So, textbooks are the most common and popular teaching materials in any country.
Since the end of 1970s, there has been a movement to make learners rather than teachers the center of language learning. According to this approach to teaching, learners are more important than teachers, materials, curriculum, methods, or evaluation. Still I have questions? Do the students of this country get that sort of importance. I have visited several schools in two districts of Sierra Leone which tells me that students don’t get due importance as necessary. As a matter of fact, curriculum, materials, teaching methods, and evaluation should all be designed for learners and their needs. Here textbooks are very good for language and grammar teaching but students don’t have these materials with them. Very strange situation indeed!It is the teacher’s responsibility to check to see whether all of the elements of the learning process are working well for learners and to adapt them if they are not. Materials include textbooks, video and audio tapes, computer software, and visual aids. But the rural students of Sierra Leone don’t have access to any of these materials.
Though students should be the center of instruction, in many cases, teachers and students rely on materials, and the materials become the center of instruction. Since many teachers are busy and do not have the time or inclination to prepare extra materials, textbooks and other commercially produced materials are very important in language instruction. But commercially produced teaching materials are lacking quality. Therefore, it is important for teachers to know how to choose the best materials for instruction, how to make supplementary materials for the class, and how to adapt materials. Littlejohn and Windeatt (1989) argue that materials have a hidden curriculum that includes attitudes toward knowledge, attitudes toward teaching and learning, attitudes toward the role and relationship of the teacher and student, and values and attitudes related to gender, society, etc. Materials have an underlying instructional philosophy, approach, method, and content, including both linguistic and cultural information.
Merits of using textbooks: Using textbooks has its share of benefits and advantages such as having a well organized content with a consistency in the topics and genres for the four skill areas such as listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Teachers who adopt a textbook may also find it easier to teach since most of the preparation, including the types of activities, audios and in some cases, achievement tests, are already done by the writer. This would be a great help to those inexperienced teachers who are just getting started into teaching. Textbooks have a clearly identified set of achievement objectives which include what the learners are expected to be able to do and what to expect next.
These ready-made syllabi contain carefully planned and balanced selection of language content that can be easily followed by teachers and students (Kayapinar, 2009). Many inexperienced teachers may find textbooks to be useful and practical because the ready-made activities and lessons are easy for them to prepare. Having a textbook means teacher’s less engagement. They need not work hard.
Some demerits of using textbooks: Most textbooks contain a lot of activities where students do questions and answers or similar kind of activities in many lessons which students find boring and uninteresting.
Again some textbooks contain very brief information and they often fail to present appropriate and realistic language models as well as fostering cultural understanding. The lack of challenging reading materials could also slow the students’ language development creating a plateau effect.
Most college students expect their English courses to be something different from their high school English classes. So when they find textbooks are similarly designed as their past learning materials, the students quickly lose their interest and motivation to study. Think of our SSC and HSC syllabus and questions formats. Our HSC students find the similar kind of activities such as true, false, multiple choice questions, matching, reordering. As they did the same activities in their SSC level, they find little interest to learn English.
Outside reading materials could also enhance student motivation especially if they find the reading passages from the course book too easy or uninteresting. In some textbooks the stories/contents are quite short and they often fail to present appropriate and realistic language models as well as fostering cultural understanding. The lack of challenging reading materials could also slow the student’s language development creating a plateau effect.
The textbook is designed as the sole source of information. To make materials interesting and effective, we must search various sources. Textbook-based materials are considered as the sole source which may not satisfy the desired needs of the students.
Textbooks contain old or outdated information or materials. It ceases information gap. In our country every ten or fifteen years we see new curriculum. In this long period many information and messages change. Teachers should be updated with the latest information to cater to the needs of time. Definitely they cannot depend only on textbooks.
Textbook questions tend to be low level or fact-based. Students seem that learning is simply a collection of facts and figures. Textbook does take not students background knowledge into account. Teacher does not tailor lessons to the specific attributes and interests of students.
Sometimes reading level of the textbook is too difficult. Students cannot read or understand important concepts. Students’ creativity gets hampered particularly when the teacher give the same activities from the textbook.
Conclusion: Many experts say that languages are not learned from a textbook; research has proven that adults need real-world input for effective learning.
However, nothing in the world is perfect and teachers need to somehow solve the issues and problems that may come with text books. These issues and problems may include finding ways to motivate students and teaching students academic skills not found in the course books. In this sense, the teacher’s job is not as easy as it seems.
English textbooks should have correct, natural, recent, and Standard English. Since students’ vocabulary is limited, the vocabulary in textbooks should be controlled or the textbooks should provide information to help students understand vocabulary that they may not be familiar with.
For lower-level students, grammar should also be controlled. Many textbooks use narratives and essays. It would be useful to have a variety of literary forms, so that students can learn to deal with different forms. The cultural information included in English textbooks should be correct and recent. It should not be biased and should reflect background cultures of English. It should include visual aids to help students understand cultural information. English textbooks should be useful, meaningful and interesting for students. Materials should be slightly higher in their level of difficulty than the students’ current level of English proficiency. Materials at a slightly higher level of difficulty than the students' current level of English proficiency allow them to learn new grammatical structures and vocabulary. English textbooks should have clear instructional procedure and methods, that is, the teacher and students should be able to understand what is expected in each lesson and for each activity. It is necessary for the teacher to prepare and develop other activities, especially extensive reading to keep the classroom atmosphere more interesting and the students more interested in what they are learning. Materials developed by teachers can satisfy the needs of students more than a fixed textbook. However, we cannot deny using textbooks in the classroom. But using it continuously will surely bring boredom for the learners.
(Masum Billah Works with BRAC Education Programme as an specialist and writes regularly on various national and international issues Email:


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