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Coursebooks and technology

If you ask me, nothing good can come out of too much or too little of anything. If we go to extremes, we’re bound to miss out on one or two (at least) good things from the other side of the argument. I’ve been thinking about this because of a couple of things I’ve been reading and reflecting about. I guess we should always try to live life to the fullest, but we can never forget or simply let go of our obligations. If as people we understand this, this is also something we, as teachers, should try to pass on to our learners. I don’t think any of this is news to anyone, but I’d like to add my two cents on this specific topic.

One of the first things people usually say upon hearing that I like the principles of Dogme is, “How come? You love all of these new tech things, and you do use a coursebook with your students.” Well, to be fair, most people I have the chance to talk to in person either have never heard anything about Dogme or know too little about it and never cared to actually find out the truth by themselves. Dogme celebrated its 10th anniversary, and yet there wasn’t a single presentation about it in the last National Conference I attended. Had I known I’d be attending, I guess I’d certainly submit a proposal on the matter. But I digress…

We can’t simply put things on a good / bad table and either swear by them or shun their use. I honestly believe that, even behind the “evil purpose” of publishers of making money, they hire authors who are committed with  learning. Coursebooks which are written based on Corpus research, which have got activities that have been thought of in terms of rational and principles that keep the learners’ best interests at heart do exist. The problem, though, lies in teachers using the coursebook as if it were the Holy Bible. Coursebooks are flawed as well, especially if they’ve been designed to be used all around the world. It is up to teachers (and teacher trainers/developers) to understand that not everything that’s written there has got to be done in class. Teachers should know when there’s a lack of something that needs to be supplemented by means of extra materials or activities, or when something is just useless for his or her learners. It’s not the coursebook that’s good or bad, it’s the use you’ll make of it that will turn it into good or bad.

The same thing is true for use of technology. We can’t expect teachers to be forced to use technology simply because it’s there. Technology is a tool, not and end in itself. If we understand that people learn differently and that teachers should try as hard as they can to cater for the different learning styles in the classroom, we must come to terms with the fact that this will hardly ever be achieved by the use of one tool only. Slips of paper, debates, pictures, social media, books, magazines, Internet… these are all examples of tools available for teachers to use. I’m in favour of using all of them – but using them wisely. What I don’t agree with is teachers using the same PPT over and over again with different groups, with different backgrounds and all the other differences that come with each group of ours. This, if you ask me, is laziness. Do you really think you can have one magic PPT that will suit all of your learners, no adaptation or change needed? Just like the use of coursebooks, technology should also be used conscientiously.

Finding balance is essential in any part of life, and it certainly shouldn’t be any different when it comes to teaching. Being able to hold a conversation and truly listen to your learners and identify needs is paramount when dealing with people.

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  1. August 18, 2010 at 12:03 am

    I agree with your views. In fact, many times I have seen in class the use of a simple white board and marker overpowering a ppt presentation more than once. Then again I have also seen a couple of slides move a class forward miles!
    The use of a tool and the understandment that the text is “sacred” and “one must NOT challenge it, only for the sole reason it is printed on the textbook, damages the whole learning process, sometimes making simple mistakes or type-Os to get burned in the minds of the learners.
    Amazing post,
    Congratulations,
    Diego “Lestat” Damasio

    • August 19, 2010 at 9:42 pm

      Hi Diego,

      First of all, thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment! :)

      As you well said, it all depends on the use that is made of the tool. And we go back to teacher training, development and education so that teachers are capable of judging what to use and what not to use to make sure his or her learners benefit from the class as much as possible.

      Cheers!

  2. August 18, 2010 at 1:58 am

    Henrick,

    I could not agree more with you when you say that teachers should not rely solely on one tool, or use a textbook as if its content was set in stone. However, good teachers know what best practices are all about. Focusing on the learner and providing quality teaching and materials are paramount to every English language student. Good teachers also know that the student population they serve is culturally and linguistically diverse and they should be taught differently. I believe that the issue is that most of the professionals out there might not be seeking for ways to better serve their students. Replicating the same old slides and lesson plans is much easier. It is hard for them to leave their comfort zones. On the one hand, they not only stick to the materials and resources they have at their workplaces, but also to what their administrators tell them to do. They fear that taking risks and doing what is best for students might become a threat to their teaching positions. On the other hand, they seem not to find ways of becoming better ELT professionals. Most of them come up with the lamest excuses that to become a more qualified professional they need to have more money. We know that there are quality webinars and teacher discussion groups online that cost nothing but time. It is up to us who enter the classrooms each day, attempting to make the best out of the precious minutes we have to share and learn with our students, to seek for professional development. This quote by John Cotton Dana illustrates that and has turned out to be my motto since I began teaching “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” To my knowledge, and in light of the many changes ELT has undergone lately, by “never cease to learn” Dana meant not only to learn how to differentiate instruction by meeting students’ needs, but by varying the use and application of the “fantabulous” web tools and texbooks available to date.

    Keep up with the posting.

    Wallace Barboza
    ESL Teacher
    Cabarrus County Schools

    • August 19, 2010 at 9:49 pm

      Hi Wallace,

      What a thorough comment! I couldn’t agree more with what you said! The problems I see are: a) how often do teachers have the proper guidance in order to improve? b) how often (and how many) teachers are actually thinking about developing? and c) how many administrators actually care about teacher development?

      I think the problem goes way beyond the classroom, teachers and administrators. It’s got a lot to do with the way that society as a whole sees education. If a country were to take education seriously, they’d accept nothing but the best professionals as teachers. People who would push their children to their limits and make sure they actually learn something. Instead, we seem to be drowning in a sea of incompetence and lack of standards. The educational system has been reduced to printing certificates and that’s it! It doesn’t really matter what you know, but where you got your diploma. This will, obviously change sometime. However, in the meantime, we’re stuck in a time in which the teacher is most often the one to blame for low student performance, regardless of what the student has (or hasn’t) done.

      Thanks for the comment! Really appreciate it! :)

      Cheers!

  1. August 17, 2010 at 4:21 pm

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