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16 thoughts on “Jabba”

  1. Alisa Shapiro

    We as a group are (unwittingly?) promoting the use of textbooks by insisting that everything be mapped out in advance. In the private school setting where I am consulting right now, I could feel the fear of the Ts as the cat was let out of the bag – the all inclusive curric they were using is hideously boring and unaligned with the SLA research. But they don’t know what to ‘teach’ in its place, and don’t want to have to create content all the time. A ready-made off-the-shelf “turn key” system that all the other private schools are also using makes for ease…
    So there’s a distance learning resource that has compiled lots of songs, texts, poetry, newspaper articles, video content…and I am showing them how to comprehens-ify that – select and plan from readings, even as I push the extemporaneous face to face communication piece and how to make and keep it comprehensible. The treasure chest of already made stuff is like a security blanket – so I had to re-imagine my training and take smaller steps with them…
    One thing I’m going to do is have them record lessons and send to me, and I will provide feedback, like we’ve done here on the PLC. I am also sending them lots of video resources incl Tina’s CI Liftoff videos.

    Fear of the unknown, fear of extra work, fear of criticism from other stakeholders helps keep prefab curric producers (textbook companies) in business – the same way any other product that promises something comprehensive and easy does – a diet book or pills; a quit smoking program, or any other lifestyle product that says “this is THE silver bullet… – you’ll never have to think (or really relate to your students) again.

  2. I read the article, and here are a few preliminary thoughts.

    A good place to start a critique is with presuppositions, and this article is full of them. A basic one seems to be that traditional language programs, i.e. grammar-driven programs, are good.

    In the Introduction, Richards lists ways in which textbooks are used. Since this is, for the most part, descriptive rather than prescriptive, I won’t say much. A couple of items deserve comment, though:

    For learners, the textbook may provide the major source of contact they have with the language apart from input provided by the teacher.

    If this is true, it is horrendous. Textbooks feature grammar descriptions and “exercises” rather than genuine communication. This does not lead to fluency or acquisition because you cannot “practice language” in the same way that you practice isolated skills any more than you can “practice soccer” without actually playing the game. Languages are learned through communication, not through drills and exercises. Target-language texts occupy only a small space in the typical textbook, and these generally are unprepared and introduce far too much unknown and incomprehensible vocabulary.

    In the case of inexperienced teachers, textbooks may also serve as a form of teacher training – they provide ideas on how to plan and teach lessons as well as formats that teachers can use.

    The unspoken presuppositions in this statement include 1) the belief that this kind of “training” is quality training and 2) the belief that the lessons that the textbook trains an inexperienced teacher to plan and teach have value, but we know that grammar lessons do not have value if the goal is acquisition and fluency.

    Much of the language teaching that occurs throughout the world today could not take place without the extensive use of commercial textbooks. Learning how to use and adapt textbooks is hence an important part of a teacher’s professional knowledge.

    The major presupposition here is that the “language teaching that occurs throughout the world today” is the kind of language teaching that should be occurring. However, since Vietor (and even earlier), a strong criticism of the “language teaching that occurs throughout the world” has existed. “Much of the language teaching that occurs throughout the world today” should not be taking place, and the extensive use of commercial textbooks helps perpetuate a practice that is detrimental to students and their acquisition of a language. Therefore, “learning how to use and adapt textbooks” as they currently exist should not be taking place and most certainly is not an important part of a teacher’s professional knowledge. It may be an essential part in some settings and schools, but it is not important and distracts the teacher from what is important.

    There are other faulty presuppositions and statements throughout the piece.

    Rather than trying to refute them individually, though, the real argument lies in the presuppositions. If we grant the author’s presuppositions, then his arguments make a certain amount of sense. We should not stipulate to the presuppositions but oppose them:
    1. A textbook should not be the primary source of language for a learner for a number of reasons, including the fact that it was not written to communicate anything of value in the target language.
    2. The kind of “training” for “inexperienced teachers” provided by a textbook has no value because the goal – planning and teaching lessons that do not lead to acquisition or fluency – is not what a language class is about; people who want to study grammar should take grammar or linguistics courses, but schools should not be defrauding students by telling them they are in a “Spanish/German/French/Italian/Chinese/Arabic/etc. Course” when they are not.
    3. Praising a textbook for accomplishing a bad outcome – the perpetuation of a harmful system – is utterly out of place. Effectiveness in accomplishing a bad outcome deserves condemnation, not commendation.

    Okay, just some initial thoughts.

    1. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and assuming that he is serious because he has never questioned the presuppositions. Once you accept the presupposition that a grammar-driven syllabus is effective and leads to acquisition, then everything else makes sense.

      That’s why we need to critique these kinds of writing at the level of their presuppositions rather than starting with individual objections.

      With that said, here is one of the “advantages” of a textbook that particularly troubled me:
      6. They can provide effective language models and input.
      Textbooks can provide support for teachers whose first language is not English* and who may not be able to generate accurate language input on their own.

      *Richards is writing from an ESL perspective; other teachers would substitute their target language in this statement.

      I cannot say what textbooks in ESL provide, but this statement is simply false for foreign language textbooks. They do not provide effective language models and input.

      In addition, let’s change the content area and make that same statement:
      “Textbooks can provide support for teachers who are not well versed in Algebra and who may not be able to generate accurate mathematical input on their own.”

      Would anyone tout this as an advantage of textbooks? No, because no one would find it acceptable to have math teachers who can’t do math. Does it happen? Yes, but no one finds it a point of praise for textbooks; it is a situation that needs to be remedied. Same thing with foreign language instructors: there needs to be content competence, i.e. they need to be able to speak the language (not perfectly, and not necessarily “like a native” – although that should be the goal toward which we language teachers are working).

      Okay, I’m leaving this afternoon for Germany and will only check in occasionally while I’m gone. I’ll give your regards to everyone at Agen.

      1. Robert, if I remember correctly, you’re going to be at Beniko’s and Kathrin’s SL-workshop in Erlangen. I f that is the case, I’m looking forward to meeting you face to face. I have five weeks to go but then it’s off to the workshop!
        All the best to you in the meantime!

  3. Larry Hendricks

    I’m so glad now that I’m retired from full-time teaching in public schools. I’m glad to be rid of that perpetual conflict with the other language teachers who in every way they could would check up on me to make sure I was using those boring textbooks. Textbook-driven teaching was like putting on a straitjacket.

  4. Larry I wonder how many teachers still use the textbook. Does anyone have any guesses what the percentage is of second language teachers who still use the textbook? I’m sitting here w Tina in Cascadia and she says 85%.

    1. Larry Hendricks

      I would say Tina is very close to the mark, at 85%. Like Udo Wegner says below, for many of us it was mandatory. When I was hired by the Dept. of Defense to teach on an Army installation, the principal at the elementary school there picked up the textbook and said to me, “This is our curriculum.” Period. So I used the book, as sparingly as I could while still meeting the requirement. I once asked the other Spanish teacher there, who was sold on the textbooks, how much language did the children retain, in her opinion. She said, “Not much.” See, there’s the proof in the pudding, right there.

  5. In Bavaria/Germany textbooks are mandatory until year 10 I believe at least at the Realschule (Middle School).
    I gave extra lessons to a girl who has just taken her final Realschul exams (that’s year 10) and she had a textbook and in my oppinion they only did fake comunication/speaking exercises. When I tried to just chat in English her profiviency was very elementary and there was hesitation continually after six years of textbook instruction. That for me is proof enough that this approach is a waste of time and especially motivation!!!

    1. I arrived in Stuttgart yesterday with my GAPP (German American Partnership Program) students. This morning we were greeted by the partner school’s principal, who speaks very limited English. She chose to give the greeting in German but tried to use what she considered “international words” (i.e. cognates and close cognates) as much as possible and spoke slightly slower than normal (i.e. about right for a formal speech).

      Later in the morning, I asked the students how much they understood. Here’s the breakdown of what they said:
      1 student, who has never taken any German, was totally lost
      1 student, who has not taken German but stayed with a German family, got a little bit
      1 first-year German student didn’t understand much
      1 second-year German student got the gist of it
      3 third-year German students got most of it with only a couple of words they didn’t understand (and the words were definitely not “international words”)
      1 fourth-year German student had no problems at all

      My students all commented on how glad they were that I teach the way I do, because they are used to conversations and people talking.

      No textbook teaching in my courses.

      1. Robert, I’ll arrive at Erlangen at the morning of the workshop hopefully with a colleague whose appetite I tried to wet. Perhaps we could talk during breaks? Looking forward to meeting you!

        You said: No Textbook teaching in my courses.

        Right on! No textbook teaching in my courses either. But I fear that those people at the Bavarian Ministry of Education don’t want to see the light bc in their opinion textbook courses work just fine. I don’t think they realise that at least some parts of the exams are just fake or maybe they just can’t bring themselves to study the research in detail and with an open heart. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t study the relevant research at all bc as you may well know many Bavarians tend to be very traditional – let’s not think outside the box, it could change our way of living!!!
        Sorry for being sarcastic but I can’t help myself when it comes to bad teaching for the kids.
        I read an article by someone from the ministry and he was clearly a 4-percenter and if those people run the show, language teaching will stay the same bc he could enjoy his success as a language learner. He didn’t relize that he had success despite the way of teaching not because of it.

  6. Alisa Shapiro

    The textbook and ancillary tests, discs, web resources, levels, pre-and post assessments, formative, summative and everything in-between-ative is like a giant CYA (Cover Your Ass) for school admins…
    No one takes the blame if everyone is trotting out the same drivel…
    I guess it’s the teachers’ and kids’ fault that no one is gaining any proficiency?

  7. Only now after 40 years in this field am I starting to see what a horror show well-intentioned administrators bring into school buildings. A Finnish teacher married to an American taught for a few months in the U.S. and had to quit because she found it destructive to her mental health, citing the administrator driven drivel you refer to above, Alisa.


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