Many teachers use coursebooks, also referred to as textbooks (though there is, strictly speaking, a difference), which they frequently end up having a love-hate relationship with. On the one hand, having your lessons planned out for you for months ahead takes away the dread of actually having to prepare lessons yourself. On the other hand, you'll find yourself relegated to a mere mouthpiece of the material prepared by others: "Open your books, please, at Unit 1. Exercise 1..."
Ironic comments are sometimes made about students having been given a thorough needs analysis to establish their exact requirements, followed by the subsequent happy discovery that the school's chosen coursebook happens to exactly fit those needs.
Coursebooks can be designed for general English, business English and so on.
Beyond the coursebook
Teachers wishing to leave the coursebook behind may create their own topical class and other materials to replace or supplement the coursebook - or even go the whole hog and use dogme. Freelance teachers will have the most flexibility in this regard.
Cunningsworth’s four guidelines
In Choosing Your Coursebook (Oxford, 1995 Heinemann ISBN 0 435 24058 7) Alan Cunningsworth set out four guidelines for choosing coursebooks:
- They should correspond to learners' needs. They should match the aims and objectives of the language learning program.
- They should reflect the uses (present and future) learners will make of the language and help them to use language effectively for their own purposes.
- They should take account of students’ needs as learners and should facilitate their learning processes, without imposing a rigid method.
- They should have a clear role as a support for learning.
Coursebook publishers have a habit of updating their books just a little bit every year, just enough to make them incompatible with the previous year. This means that the only way that a teacher or his students can be sure of having exactly the same set of books in class is to buy complete new sets every year.
Beginner, Elementary, Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, and Advanced.
By way of illustration the full set of the intermediate coursebooks and other material is:
Student's book, Student's book A, Student's book B, Teacher's book, Teacher's resource book, Workbook without key, Workbook with key, Class CDs or audio cassettes, Student's workbook cassette or CD, Interactive CD-ROM. Those wanting an absolutely complete set can also buy the video, academic skills books, Headway pronunciation course and Headway PET practice tests.
The end result of this is that keeping up with the annual replacement of these coursebooks is a hideously expensive affair.
Criticism of coursebooks
Coursebooks have been criticised for a number of generic failings. However, given the nature of what coursebooks are trying to do and the nature of the markets at which they are aimed these alleged failings may be inevitable.
- It's highly unlikely that the material will be relevant to and of interest to all students (due to differences in age groups, professions, socioeconomic factors, etc.), and may not be relevant to any student.
- Coursebook material tries to be relevant to all countries (or not offensive to any country) and this reduces the scope of subjects which can be covered.
- Teachers become unimaginative and predictable when they simply follow a coursebook.
- Coursebooks are highly susceptible to the washback effect in which the material being taught is dictated by the existence of any external exam which the student may be going to take.