Universal Characteristics of EFL
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Universal Characteristics of EFL/ESL Textbooks: A Step Towards Systematic Textbook Evaluation Hasan Ansary and Esmat Babaii ansary2877 [at] yahoo.com Shiraz University (Shiraz, Iran) We would like to outline here what we perceive to be a summary of common-core characteristics of standard EFL/ESL textbooks. This is the result of an attempt to indirectly discover whether or not a de facto consensus exists at all over what makes a good standard EFL/ESL textbook. This is in fact a good-faith, though invidious, effort to (a) look for some theory-neutral, universal, and broad consensus-reached characteristics of EFL/ESL textbooks, and (b) draw up some guidelines for the generation as well as systematic evaluation of EFL/ESL textbooks. What we offer here is based on a close scrutiny of a corpus of 10 EFL/ESL textbook reviews plus 10 EFL/ESL textbook evaluation checklists conveniently sampled. No one is really certain whether these characteristics are actually operative in all EFL/ESL textbooks. Note also that not all the characteristics described here would be present and simultaneously adhered to in each and every textbook. The elements presented, we hope, may come together to make textbooks prime examples of what Brown (1993) calls "canonizing discourse." They might lead to the development of universal textbookevaluation schemes which may be used in EFL/ESL departments to record in-house textbook assessments or, on a more modest level of optimism, to a revamped standard format for EFL/ESL textbook review.
Introduction It is ironical that those teachers who rely most heavily on the textbooks are the ones least qualified to interpret its intentions or evaluate its content and method (Williams, 1983, p.251). How necessary is a textbook? The answer to this question depends on the teachers' own teaching style, the resources available to them, the accepted standards of teaching in every language school, etc. However, there seems to exist, in toto, three options open to teachers as regards the use or nonuse of a particular textbook in a language classroom:
(1) teachers need textbooks, (2) they do not need them, and (3) they select them and supplement some other materials to perfect them. No textbook is perfect. Therefore, teachers should have the option of assigning supplementary materials based on their own specific needs in their own specific teaching situation.
The arguments for using a textbook are: a textbook is a framework which regulates and times the programs, in the eyes of learners, no textbook means no purpose, without a textbook, learners think their learning is not taken seriously, in many situations, a textbook can serve as a syllabus, a textbook provides ready-made teaching texts and learning tasks, a textbook is a cheap way of providing learning materials, a learner without a textbook is out of focus and teacher-dependent, and perhaps most important of all,
for novice teachers a textbook means security, guidance, and support. The counter-arguments are: if every group of students has different needs, no one textbook can be a response to all differing needs, topics in a textbook may not be relevant for and interesting to all, a textbook is confining, i.e., it inhibits teachers' creativity, a textbook of necessity sets prearranged sequence and structure that may not be realistic and situation-friendly, textbooks have their own rationale, and as such they cannot by their nature cater for a variety of levels, every type of learning styles, and every category of learning strategies that often exist in the class, and most important of all, perhaps, teachers may find themselves as mediators with no free hand and slave, in fact, to others' judgments about what is good and what is not (cf. Ur, 1996, pp. 183195).
In general, EFL/ESL textbooks have brought with them a range of reactions. Responses often fluctuate between these two extremes. One position is that they are valid, useful, and labor-saving tools. The other position holds that they are "masses of rubbish skillfully marketed" (Brumfit, 1980, p.30). During the last three decades, these reactions have essentially been based on ad hoc textbook evaluation checklists. And the shaky theoretical basis of such checklists and the subjectivity of judgements have often been a source of disappointment.
Checklist Approach to Textbook Evaluation Any textbook should be used judiciously, since it cannot cater equally to the requirements of every classroom setting (Williams, 1983, p.251). As teachers, many of us have had the responsibility of evaluating textbooks. Often, we have not been confident about what to base our judgements on, how to qualify our decisions, and how to report the results of our assessment. It seems to us that to date textbook selection has been made in haste and with a lack of systematically applied criteria. Teachers, students, and administers are all consumers of textbooks. All these groups, of course, may have conflicting views about what a good/standard textbook is. However, the question is where they can turn to for reliable advice on how to make an informed decision and select a suitable textbook. The literature on textbook selection and/or textbook evaluation procedure is vast. Various scholars have suggested different ways to help teachers become more systematic and objective in their approach (cf. Chastain, 1971; Tucker, 1975; Candlin & Breen, 1979; Daoud & Celce-Murcia, 1979; Williams, 1983; Hutchinson and Waters, 1987; Sheldon, 1988; Skierso, 1991; Ur, 1996; Littlejohn, 1996; to name but a few). They have often offered checklists based on supposedly generalizable criteria. These sometimes detailed check-sheets use a variety of methods to assess how well a particular textbook under scrutiny measures up.
To evaluate the merits or demerits of such checklist approaches to the textbook evaluation process and for comparison purposes, two samples are offered here: Allen Tucker's 1975 system for evaluating beginning EFL/ESL textbooks and, after a gap of 21 years, Penny Ur's 1996 criteria for EFL/ESL coursebook assessment. Tucker (1975, pp. 355-360) introduces a system which has three components:
a set of criteria claimed to be "consistent with the basic linguistic, psychological, and pedagogical principles" (p. 355), a rating scheme which provides a method for judging the comparative weightings of a textbook's merits, and a chart/graph which provides a visual comparison between the evaluator's opinion of the book and a hypothetical ideal model, hence facilitating a quick and easy display of the evaluator's judgment.
Two types of criteria are introduced in this scheme: internal criteria which are languagerelated and external criteria which give a broader view of the book (see appendix 1). Under the pronunciation criterion, the presentation of pronunciation requires attention to (1) completeness of presentation which refers to the coverage of sounds and suprasegmentals, (2) appropriateness of presentation which concerns whether or not students are from a single language background, whether or not students are kids or adults, and all this affecting the type of presentation, and (3) adequacy of practices which deals with both the quality and quantity of practice. By quality what is meant is practice in a context, i.e., sounds practiced in words, words in sentences, etc. Under grammar criterion, (1) adequacy of pattern inventory deals with how much of the structure should be presented and how well it is presented, (2) appropriate sequencing refers to the organization of presentation, that is to say, simple sentence patterns should come first, introduction of new structures must rest on already-mastered simpler patterns, etc., and (3) adequacy of drills and of practice refers to judgments about how readily students can discern a form and about how much practice is required to guarantee this adequacy. Twenty-one years later, Ur (1996, p.186) offers another checklist (see appendix 2) with more or less a similar focus and approach to EFL/ESL textbook evaluation. A cursory look at its contents indicates that still Ôgood' pronunciation practice, Ôgood' grammar presentation, grading and sequencing, cultural and pedagogical concerns in presentation, vocabulary practice, topics being interesting to different learners, etc. are emphasized as "grounds on which one might criticize or reject a textbook" (p.184). What if the purpose is not Ôgrammar' and Ôvocabulary' practice? Can we tailor a textbook with such orientations to the needs of students of, say, science and technology? The fundamental problem with such checklists, it seems to us, is that they depend on the swings of the theoretical pendulum (cf. Sheldon, 1988, p. 240). For example, Tucker (1975, p. 357) proposes "adequacy of pattern practice" as a criterion. Penny Ur (1996, p. 186) also offers "good grammar practice" as a criterion. Today, most probably, one would not rate them the same as a decade or so ago. Moreover, in such checklists,
some of the criteria like "competence of the author" (Tucker, 1978, p.358) or "whether or not a textbook is based on the findings of a contrastive analysis of English and L1 sound systems" (William, 1983, p. 255) present serious flaws. Such decisions, it is believed here, depend mostly on one's own priorities. And so long as one's specific requirements in a specific teaching situation have not been identified, one probably cannot exploit any already-available checklisted criteria to judge teaching materials. Perhaps, that is why the relative merits of such checklists and their criteria, over the years, would diminish and new checklists would be offered.
The Current Study It appears then that checklists have had little practical utility. Textbook evaluation has thus far been ad hoc, with teachers trying to make decisions based on such unreliable and simplistic criteria as "appropriateness of grammar presentation" (Ur, 1996), "functional load" (Sheldon, 1988), "competence of the author" (Tucker, 1978, p.358), etc. Strangely enough, some choices have been made on the basis of such simplistic criteria as "popularity." That is to say, if a book sells well, it must be doing something right, then. This study attempts to indirectly explore whether or not a de facto consensus exists at all over what makes a good/ standard EFL/ESL textbook a good/ standard EFL/ESL textbook. This is an attempt to possibly locate some theory-neutral, universal, and broad characteristics of EFL/ESL textbooks and to draw up, as such, some guidelines for the generation and/or systematic evaluation of EFL/ESL textbooks. Ten EFL/ESL textbook reviews and 10 EFL/ESL textbook evaluation checklists were used. Then, an attempt was made to discover what authors often consider as important elements in EFL/ESL textbooks. Finally, a select set of common consensus-reached characteristics of EFL/ESL textbooks was identified. In addition, this paper also aims for a graphically represented mode of EFL/ESL textbook analysis as a reaction to subjective rule-of-thumb evaluation procedures. Specifically, a sample procedure is offered here to demonstrate how such a framework can be applied or weighted to suit a particular EFL/ESL program. It is not, however, asserted here that these characteristics are actually operative in all EFL/ESL textbooks. Nor is it claimed here that all the characteristics described would be ostensibly present and simultaneously adhered to in each and every textbook. What is claimed here, however, is that the elements presented may lead us to the development of universal textbook-evaluation schemes which can be used in EFL/ESL departments to record in-house textbook assessments or, on a more modest level of optimism, to a revamped standard format for EFL/ESL textbook review.
Method Here we would like to document the materials that we used and the procedures that we followed to support the intent of this study.
Materials The following 10 EFL/ESL textbook evaluation schemes and 10 EFL/ESL textbook reviews served as the corpus of the present study.
The List of 10 Textbook-evaluation Checklists:
Chastain, K. (1971). The development of modern language skills: Theory to practice (pp. 376-384). Philadelphia The Center for Curriculum Development, Inc. Tucker, C. A. (1975). Evaluating beginning textbooks. English Teaching Forum, 13, 355-361. Cowles, H. (1976). Textbook, materials evaluation: A comprehensive checksheet. Foreign Language Annals, 9 (4), 300-303. Daoud, A. & Celce-Murcia, M. (1979). Selecting and evaluating a textbook. In M. Celce-Murcia and L. McIntosh (Eds.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 302-307).Cambridge, MA: Newbury House Publishers. Candlin, C.N. & Breen, M.P. (1979). Evaluating, adapting and innovating language teaching materials. In C. Yorio, K. Perkins and J. Schacter (Eds.) On TESOL '79: The learner in focus (pp. 86-108). Washington, D.C.: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Rivers, W. (1981). Teaching foreign-language skills (pp. 475-483). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Williams, D. (1983). Developing criteria for textbook evaluation. ELT Journal, 37(2), 251-255. Sheldon, L. (1988). Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials. ELT Journal, 42 (4), 237-246. Skierso, A. (1991). Textbook selection and evaluation. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 432-453). Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers. Ur, P. (1996). A course in language teaching: Practice & Theory (pp. 184-187). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The List of 10 EFL/ESL Textbook Reviews:
Chan, M. (1988). [Review of Yee & Aik's English for occupational purposes]. ESP Journal, 7 (3), 213-216. Collins, P. (1993). [Review of Sinclair et al.'s Collins COBUILD English grammar]. IRAL 31 (2), 161-167. Hall, G. (1994). [Review of Wills's Collins COBUILD student grammar]. Modern English Teacher, 3 (1), 84-85. Matthews, P. (1981). [Review of Hartley & Viney's Streamline English]. ELT Journal, 35(3), 360-361. Miller, J. (1989). [Review of Hamp-Lyons & Heasley's Study writing]. ESP Journal, 8 (1), 93-95. Parkinson, J. (1981). [Review of Swales & Fanning's English in the medical laboratory]. ELT Journal, 35(4), 471-472.
Perren, G. (1981). [Review of Allen & Widdowson's English in social studies]. ELT Journal, 35(1), 68-69. Shih, M. (1994). [Review of Reid's Teaching ESL writing]. TESOL Quarterly 28(4), 815-818. van Naerssen, M. (1983). [Review of Swales & Fanning's English in the medical laboratory]. ESP 2 (2), 179-182. Whitaker, S. (1981). [Review of Jupp & Milne's Basic writing skills in English]. ELT Journal, 35(4), 470-471.
Procedure First, the reviews and checklists were closely scrutinized. Secondly, all points made by reviewers as for and against a particular textbook were jotted down. Then, the same procedure was followed to identify the elements that checklist producers introduce as important criteria by which teachers may evaluate and select an appropriate teaching text. The assumption made here was that of all the points made, perhaps, a select set of common-core summary characteristics appearing across the reviews and checklists can be identified as universal.
Results What follows here is what we think is a set of universal features of EFL/ESL textbooks.
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 Coverage Grading Organization Sequencing 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, colorful, etc.) Periodic revisions Workbook Exercise and activities In the classroom Homework Sample exercises with clear instructions Varied and copious Periodic test sections Accompanying audio-visual aids
Appropriate Size & weight Attractive layout Durability High quality of editing and publishing Appropriate title
Macro-state policies Appropriate for local situation Culture Religion Gender Appropriate Price
Discussion and Application The process of materials evaluation can be seen as a way of developing our understanding of the ways in which it works and, in doing so, of contributing to both acquisition theory and pedagogic practices. It can also be seen as one way of carrying out action research (Tomlinson, 1996, p.238).
Perhaps, no neat formula or system may ever provide a definite way to judge a textbook. However, at the very least, probably the application of a set of universal characteristics of EFL/ESL textbooks may well help make textbook evaluation a coherent, systematic and thoughtful activity. Following Tucker (1975, pp. 359-361) a system for textbook evaluation should, we believe, include: a predetermined data-driven theory-neutral collection of universal characteristics of EFL/ESL textbook, discrete and precise enough to help define one's preferred situation-specific criteria, a system within which one may ensure objective, quantified assessment, a rating method that can provide the possibility for a comparative analysis, a simple procedure for recording and reporting the evaluator's opinion,
a mechanism by which the universal scheme may be adapted and/or weighted to suit the particular requirements of any teaching situation, a rating trajectory that makes possible a quick and easy display of the judgments on each and every criterion, and a graphic representation to provide a visual comparison between the evaluator's preferred choices as an archetype and their actual realizations in a particular textbook under scrutiny. What follows is a demonstration of how such a system works. Evaluation essentially involves the following steps. First, an evaluation form with four columns is designed. The universal theory-neutral characteristics of EFL/ESL textbooks appear in the first column on the form. In the second column, however, the evaluator decides to insert his/her preferred situation-friendly criteria. Preferences could be based on the results of students' needs analysis. Secondly, two separate scores may serve as the basis for rating: (1) a perfect value score (PVS) of 2 which appears in the third column indicating an ideal weight assigned to each defined criterion, (2) a merit score (MS) consisting of numbers 0 to 2 which appears in the fourth column on the form. A comparative weight is assigned to the relative realization in the textbook under scrutiny of each actual criterion: a perfect match between the ideal defined criterion and its actual realization in a particular textbook receiving 2, a total lack a score of 0, and any inadequate match a score of 1. Finally, the numbers in the MS and PVS columns after each criterion are represented on a graph by drawing (1) a dotted line corresponding to the numerical value of the Merit Scores, and (2) a straight solid line to represent the Perfect Value Scores. This framework has a dual utility. On the one hand, if the evaluations of several raters should be compared and contrasted in order to reach a correlated consensus, several opinions of a single textbook can be easily displayed on the same graph. On the other hand, an evaluator can display his judgments about several textbooks on a single graph using a separate line for each textbook. In this way, he may compare the profiles of various textbooks, see them in contrast to the ideal solid line, and judge how far a particular textbook can satisfy his requirements. If this is done, not only are the differences among various textbooks portrayed, but also any instances of marked variation can be noted and revised. Furthermore, this two-tier system can be approached in two distinct ways. An evaluator may first examine a particular textbook to identify its characteristics and then he/she may judge it against his/her preferred criteria. Or an evaluator can first define his/her preferred options, and then s/he may investigate how far a particular textbook matches his/her preferred criteria (cf. appendix 3 for a sample analysis).
Concluding Remarks All said, we would like to conclude this article with a quotation from Allwright (1981, p.9): There is a limit to what teaching materials can be expected to do for us. The whole business of the management of language learning is far too complex to be satisfactorily catered for by a pre-packaged set of decisions embodied in teaching materials.
This means however perfect a textbook is, it is just a simple tool in the hands of teachers. We should not, therefore, expect to work miracles with it. What is more important than a textbook is what we, as teachers, can do with it. As Brown and Yule, 1983) put it: it is, in principle, not possible to find materials which would interest everyone. It follows that the emphasis should be moved from attempting to provide intrinsically interesting materials, which we have just claimed is generally impossible, to doing interesting things with materials ... these materials should be chosen, not so much on the basis of their own interest, but for what they can be used to do (p. 83, emphasis added).
Acknowledgements This article is a revised and edited version of a presentation originally made in a seminar on "EFL/ESL Materials Production" in the department of linguistics and foreign languages at Shiraz University, initiated and supported by Prof. A. Riazi. We are grateful to him for his helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.
Allwright, R.L. (1981). What do we want teaching materials for? ELT Journal, 36 (1), 5-18. Brown, V. (1993). Decanonizing discourse: Textual analysis and the history of economic thought. In W. Henderson, T. Dudley-Evans & R. Backhouse (Eds.), Economics & language (pp. 64-84). London: Routledge. Brumfit, C. J. (1980). Seven last slogans. Modern Language Journal , 7 (1): 30-31. Candlin, C.N. & Breen, M.P. (1979). Evaluating, adapting and innovating language teaching materials. In C. Yorio, K. Perkins and J. Schacter (Eds.) On TESOL '79: The learner in focus (pp. 86-108). Washington, D.C.: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Chastain, K. (1971). The development of modern language skills: Theory to practice (pp. 376-384). Philadelphia The Center for Curriculum Development, Inc. Daoud, A. & Celce-Murcia, M. (1979). Selecting and evaluating a textbook. In M. Celce-Murcia and L. McIntosh (Eds.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 302-307). Cambridge, MA: Newbury House Publishers. Hutchinson, T. & Waters, A. (1987). English for Specific Purposes: A learningcentred approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Littlejohn, A. (1996). The analysis of language teaching materials: Inside the Trojan Horse. In B. Tomlinson, (Ed.), Materials development in language teaching (pp. 191-213). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sheldon, L. (1988). Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials. ELT Journal, 42 (4), 237-246. Skierso, A. (1991). Textbook selection and evaluation. In M. Celce-Murcia (Ed.), Teaching English as a second or foreign language (pp. 432-453). Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishers. Tomlinson, B. (Ed.). (1996). Materials development in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Tucker, C. A. (1975). Evaluating beginning textbooks. English Teaching Forum, 13, 355-361.
Ur, P. (1996). A course in language teaching: Practice & Theory (pp. 184-187). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Williams, D. (1983). Developing criteria for textbook evaluation. ELT Journal, 37(3), 251-255.
Selecting and Developing Teaching/Learning Materials Kenji Kitao, Doshisha University (Kyoto, Japan) kkitao [at] mail.doshisha.ac.jp S. Kathleen Kitao, Doshisha Women's College (Kyoto, Japan) kkitao [at] mail-t.dwc.doshisha.ac.jp
Why do We Use Materials/What are Materials for? Language instruction has five important components--students, a teacher, materials, teaching methods, and evaluation. Why are materials important in language instruction? What do materials do in language instruction? Can we teach English without a textbook? Allwright (1990) argues that materials should teach students to learn, that they should be resource books for ideas and activities for instruction/learning, and that they should give teachers rationales for what they do. From Allwright's point of view, textbooks are too inflexible to be used directly as instructional material. O'Neill (1990), in contrast, argues that materials may be suitable for students' needs, even if they are not designed specifically for them, that textbooks make it possible for students to review and prepare their lessons, that textbooks are efficient in terms of time and money, and that textbooks can and should allow for adaptation and improvization. Allwright emphasizes that materials control learning and teaching. O'Neill emphasizes that they help 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 material is the way students learn it. The educational philosophy of the textbook will influence the class and the learning process. Therefore, in many cases, materials are the center of instruction and one of the most important influences on what goes on in the classroom. Theoretically, experienced teachers can teach English without a textbook. However, it is not easy to do it all the time, though they may do it sometimes. Many teachers do not have enough time to make supplementary materials, so they just follow the textbook. Textbooks therefore take on a very important role in language classes, and it is important to select a good textbook.
The Role of Materials in Relation to Other Elements 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. As a matter of fact, curriculum, materials, teaching methods, and evaluation should all be designed for learners and their needs. 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. In other words, learners should be the center of instruction and learning. The curriculum is a statement of the goals of learning, the methods of learning, etc. The role of teachers is to help learners to learn. Teachers have to follow the curriculum and provide, make, or choose materials. They may adapt, supplement, and elaborate on those materials and also monitor the progress and needs of the students and finally evaluate students. Materials include textbooks, video and audio tapes, computer software, and visual aids. They influence the content and the procedures of learning. The choice of deductive vs inductive learning, the role of memorization, the use of creativity and problem solving, production vs. reception, and the order in which materials are presented are all influenced by the materials. Technology, such as OHP, slides, video and audio tape recorders, video cameras, and computers, supports instruction/learning . Evaluations (tests, etc.) can be used to assign grades, check learning, give feedback to students, and improve instruction by giving feedback to the teacher. 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. Therefore, it is important for teachers to know how to choose the best material for instruction, how to make supplementary materials for the class, and how to adapt materials.
What are Characteristics of 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. That is, choices made in writing textbooks are based on beliefs that the writers have about what language is and how it should be taught. Writers may use a certain approach, for example, the aural-oral approach, and they choose certain activities and select the linguistic and cultural information to be included. Clarke (1989) argues that communicative methodology is important and that communicative methodology is based on authenticity, realism, context, and a focus on the learner. However, he argues that what constitutes these characteristics is not clearly defined, and that there are many aspects to each. He questions the extent to which these are these reflected in textbooks that are intended to be communicative.
In a study of English textbooks published in Japan in 1985, the textbooks were reviewed and problems were found with both the language and content of many of the textbooks (Kitao et al., 1995).
Language 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 (for example, newspaper articles, poetry, or letters), so that students can learn to deal with different forms.
Information on Culture 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 etc., to help students understand cultural information.
From Learners' Viewpoints Content English textbooks should be useful, meaningful and interesting for students. While no single subject will be of interest to all students, materials should be chosen based, in part, on what students, in general, are likely to find interesting and motivating. Difficulty. As a general rule, materials should be slightly higher in their level of difficulty than the students' current level of English proficiency. (Exceptions are usually made for extensive reading and extensive listening materials, which should be easy enough for students to process without much difficulty.) 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. Instructional issues. 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. Textbooks should have support for learning. This can take the form of vocabulary lists, exercises which cover or expand on the content, visual aids, etc. Traditionally, language teaching materials in Japan are made up mostly of text, with few, if any, visual aids. However, with the development of technology, photos, visual materials and audio materials have become very important components of language teaching materials, and they are becoming easier to obtain. Teachers need to learn how to find them, and how to best exploit these characteristics.
Materials are getting more complicated, and instructional philosophy, approach, methods, and techniques are getting more important. Teachers need to be able to evaluate materials involving photos, videos, and computers now.
How Can We Learn About Materials? There are various ways to get information about textbooks and other teaching materials. Many materials are published by publishers and developed and distributed by commercial companies. Thus, publishers are useful (if not entirely unbiased) sources of information and advice about what materials are available and what materials are appropriate for various purposes. Many publishers provide sample copies on request. Bookstores that carry textbooks are another possible source of information. Clerks at such bookstores may help you find the materials you want. In addition, publishers' displays at conferences are useful. They usually have the most recent materials, exhibitors are willing to help you and answer your questions, and in some cases, you will have opportunities to meet and talk with the authors. Colleagues and friends who are teachers are also good sources of recommendations of textbooks and advice about how to best use them. Finally, there is information from computer mailing lists and web pages on the Internet. Lists on language teaching often have discussions on materials, and you can ask questions and may get good feedback. Many publishers have www pages and e-mail addresses, so you can check with them and also ask questions about the materials.
How do We Get Materials? In addition to publishers, there are many possible sources of materials. There is a lot of material available on the Internet. You can search for materials when you have free time, and store them for your future classes. Many teachers go abroad during vacations these days, and they can collect materials in English-speaking countries. TV and radio are good sources. They provide a variety of materials. The information is current and the language is natural, but the content has to be chosen carefully. Newspapers, magazines, advertisements, and other types of printed material are very useful. Teachers can take photos, make video tapes or record audio tapes. If they make plans before they go overseas, they may be able to make good video or audio programs. Even in your home country, you can browse the world wide web and search for useful materials for classes. There are lots of sources of materials and photos on www.
Concerns About Materials The market of language teaching materials are fairly large, and many companies are competing. They produce new materials and promote them with many advertisements and through their salespeople. You need to be careful about what they tell you. You always need to examine their materials carefully from the point of view of what is appropriate for your students and the classes you are teaching.
Another concern about materials is that the copyright issue. Many teachers violate the copyright laws every day. We cannot copy any copyrighted materials. Of course, we cannot copy them and distribute them to our students in the class. We need the permission from the publisher to do so.
Summary and Conclusion Though there are five elements in language instruction, and learners should be the center of instruction. However, materials often control the instruction, since teachers and learners tend to rely heavily on them. Materials that are appropriate for a particular class need to have an underlying instructional philosophy, approach, method and technique which suit the students and their needs. They should have correct, natural, current and standard English. Teachers need to look for good materials, both commercial and non-commercial, all the time. They also need to be aware of commercialism and copyright issues concerning materials.
List of References Allwright, R. L. (1990). What do we want teaching materials for? In R. Rossner and R. Bolitho, (Eds.), Currents in language teaching. Oxford University Press. Clarke, D. F. (1989). Communicative theory and its influence on materials production. Language Teaching, 22, 73-86. Kitao, K., & Kitao, S. K. (September 16, 1982). College reading textbooks do not meet needs. The Daily Yomiuri, p. 7. Kitao, K., Kitao, S. K., Yoshida, S., Yoshida, H., Kawamura, K., and Kurata, M. (1995). A study of trends of college English reading textbooks in Japan: An analysis of college English reading textbooks for 1985. In K. Kitao and S. K. Kitao, English teaching: Theory, Research and practice (pp. 205-216). Tokyo: Eichosha. Littlejohn, A., & Windeatt, S. (1989). Beyond language learning: Perspective on materials design. In R. K. Johnson (Ed.), The second language curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. O'Neill, R. (1990). Why use textbooks? In R. Rossner and R. Bolitho, (Eds.), Currents in language teaching. Oxford University Press.