Is it important for teachers to know how to evaluate?
“He who pays the piper calls the tune” or in other words, the person who pays will choose. This is the scenario in many situations, where the stakeholders have the authority to choose a coursebook and the teachers have no option other than to use it. The question here is whether those people are sufficiently qualified to evaluate a coursebook and make the decision to use it. We, as novice teachers, are not experienced enough at this stage to evaluate and make such decisions. We simply have not had enough time in the field to experience the use of different coursebooks, but we cannot use this as an excuse to neglect the evaluation process, as this is an essential part of personal development. Some teacher training courses offer instruction in materials evaluation, but most of them (like mine) do not. Normally, if teachers have the authority to choose a coursebook, they will select what is appropriate to their learners’ needs and context. However, teachers do not have this control over the selection of a coursebook. The issue here is that there is no such thing as a perfect coursebook.
– Why evaluate?
Evaluation is a tool that can help teachers to judge whether the content of a coursebook is being delivered as planned, and whether the coursebook’s goals and objectives are being achieved. It will also help teachers to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the materials they are using, so that they can make improvements to the curriculum and teaching methods. So the idea is that even if we cannot make the final selection of a coursebook, we can at least contribute to the selection process by evaluation. The evaluation process will help teachers to look at materials from a different and new perspective. And one of the goals of the session we had about evaluation is how to introduce teachers to basic concepts within evaluation. Not many of us have the responsibility for evaluating coursebooks, but we are responsible for finding what is best for our learners in our own teaching situation. In this way we will be able to adapt and assign materials based on the specific needs of our learners, because the requirements of one classroom are different from those of another. In other words, the evaluation of materials can help teachers to match their own students’ needs and context.
The previous two paragraphs were part of the discussion we had in the Evaluation session in TLM25 with our tutor Paul. For this session we were asked to choose a framework and evaluate a coursebook according to this framework. To be honest, this was one of the most difficult tasks I was asked to do, as I had never experienced evaluating coursebooks before. However, while I am writing this post, I still find evaluating to be a difficult process, because it requires depth of understanding and enough experience, but it is not as difficult for me as it used to be before I took this module. The process made me start looking at coursebooks from a new perspective; Ian McGrath (2002) suggested that the purpose of evaluation is to find which coursebook would be the most suitable for your learners and context, not about finding the best or most popular one in the market.
It is all about the ‘suitability’ of a coursebook for a group of students who share the same goal and are in the same learning situation. Going back to the session we had on Evaluation, our tutor suggested a list of books and articles about the evaluation of materials that we could read to understand what evaluation is and how to evaluate a coursebook. I want to look at the checklist that Ansary and Babaii (2002) put forward, to evaluate Target English for grade 8; this is a coursebook that I used while I was teaching in an intermediate (middle) school back home in Kuwait. In my previous posts I talked about the education system in Kuwait and the Target English series.
- Dissemination of a vision (theory or approach) about
◦ the nature of language
◦ the nature of learning
◦ how the theory can be put to applied use
- Stating purpose(s) and objective(s)
◦ For the total course
◦ For individual units
- Selection and its rationale
- Satisfaction of the syllabus
◦ To the teacher
▪ Providing a guide book
▪ Giving advice on the methodology
▪ Giving theoretical orientations
▪ Key to the exercises
▪ Supplementary materials
◦ To the student
▪ Piecemeal, unit-by-unit instruction
▪ Graphics (relevant, free from unnecessary details, colourful, etc.)
▪ Periodic revisions
▪ Exercise and activities
▪ In the classroom
▪ Sample exercises with clear instructions
▪ Varied and copious
▪ Periodic test sections
▪ Accompanying audio-visual aids
- Appropriate Size & weight
- Attractive layout
- High quality of editing and publishing
- Appropriate title
- Macro-state policies
- Appropriate for local situation
- Appropriate Price
I can say that the coursebook meets Ansary and Babaii’s criteria. Of course I am not saying that it is the best coursebook, but I think it is very suitable for the learning situation, goals and learners in Kuwait. I cannot go through the whole list in one post. However, I would like to discuss some important points that make this coursebook suitable for our location. A good point to start with is that this coursebook, and the whole series, provides teachers with a guide book called the Teacher’s Book. The Teacher’s Book provides teachers with plans for every lesson and a variety of ideas and methods for teaching. The instructions are very clear and simple to follow, and the book can also be used for answers to the exercises. In addition, there are supplementary materials like cassettes for listening activities. For example in Unit Three (Sporting Life), Lesson Three, ‘The Olympic Games’, students can listen to a radio programme about the Olympic Games and decide if some sentences given in the book are true or false. On the other hand, for the students, the coursebook teaches in small units, so you find that the amount of vocabulary in every unit or lesson gradually increases with the level of the students. The coursebook also provides the students with a workbook. Different exercises and activities can be found in the workbook, offering the teacher and the students the chance to do some of them in the classroom and some as homework.
The last point I would like to mention here is that the coursebook, and the series, are carefully designed and adapted to meet the cultural and religious values of people in Kuwait. For example, Unit Two, Lesson Three is about pearl diving; this gives the students a chance to look at our ancestors’ main occupation, which formed the basis of Kuwait’s wealth (pearls) before the famous discovery of oil. Another example can be found in Unit Four which is about the Blue Mosque in Turkey. This is an example of an ancient Islamic building. This kind of topics is specifically written and designed for learners in Kuwait, and reflects our identity.
Evaluating a coursebook can offer teachers the chance to look at their materials from different and new perspectives. During the evaluation process, it is very important to focus on the ‘suitability’ of the coursebook (and other materials) to our learners and their context.
– Ansary, H. & Babaii, E. (2002) Universal Characteristics of EFL/ESL Textbooks: A Step Towards Systematic Textbook Evaluation. The Internet TESL Journal 8 (2): Available from: http://iteslj.org/Articles/Ansary-Textbooks/ [Accessed 30-June-2013].
– McGrath, I. (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd.