Following my post on Challenging the Coursebook, there was an exchange of tweets led by Hugh Dellar, who said the following
- “the talk seems based on number of bold claims and misconceptions. doesn’t he realise teachers mediate coursebooks?”
- “of course teachers influence coursebook design yes. And if they showed less enthusiasm for grammar it’d all change.”
- “if teachers were to stop buying grammar-dominated books tomorrow, publishers would stop publishing them.”
- “Talk to publishing folk & see how in thrall they are to teachers’ demands and expectations.”
The gist here seems to be that teachers like coursebooks and coursebooks are based on the presentation and practice of discrete bits of grammar because that’s what teachers want.
Dellar has elsewhere defended the use of coursebooks with such arguments as
- People teaching in very poor parts of the world would just love to have coursebooks
- Coursebooks are well-researched
- Coursebooks help teachers do their jobs
none of which addresses the criticisms I made of them. So let me go over the ground again.
My argument against coursebooks is, first, that they are based on 3 false assumptions:
- Declarative knowledge is converted to procedural knowledge by the presentation and practice of discrete items of grammar.
- SLA is a process of learning these discrete items one by one in an accumulative way.
- Learners learn what they’re taught when they’re taught it. .
In my presentation, I indicated why these assumptions are false, so I won’t repeat the reasons here, but perhaps it’s worth saying again that the reasons are based on the best model we have so far of SLA: the development of learners’ interlanguages. “Interlanguage” is a rich, complex, much studied construct in SLA, and it refers to learners’ mostly implicit, evolving representations of the target language. In the development of interlanguages there is an order of acquisition, a route (from a basic to a more sophisticated representation of the L2) which is impervious to instruction and which is completely at odds with the order in which coursebooks present the formal properties of the language. All the “items” artificially separated in coursebooks are, in fact, inextricably linked parts of language, and they’re learned by a complex route (involving “U-shaped”, circular, regressive, and other moves) which has NOTHING in common with the linear, one-by-one process assumed by coursebooks.
The second part of my argument was that coursebooks embody what Breen (1987) calls a “product syllabus”, and that a product syllabus is a bad way to structure a course. Again, I refer you to my presentation for a summary of what’s wrong with a product syllabus and why a process syllabus is better.
And so we come back to the apologists who want to defend coursebooks. Absolutely nothing Dellar says answers the criticisms I’ve made of them. He says that not all coursebooks are the same, but he says not one word to refute my suggestion that false assumptions unify them, or that a product syllabus is defective. Dellar’s claim that he has replaced the grammar-based coursebook with one which embraces the principles of some ill-defined lexical approach fails to deal with the fact that if a teacher uses a coursebook to lead learners through a pre-determined series of steps, learners will not learn what they’re taught when they’re taught it. Whatever results learners might get from being led through a course based on Dellar’s ironically-named magnum opus “Outcomes”, replete with its endless fill-in-the-gap exercises and lexical chunks, they will not be those simplistically assumed by its author, because language learning is not what Dellar assumes it to be.
My argument is that the whole venture is fundamentally flawed: the ELT industry has imposed coursebooks on teachers, to the detriment of good teaching. In order to reply to this argument, Dellar must confront the three false assumptions on which coursebook use is based: he must confront the evidence of how SLA actually happens. That coursebooks are the dream of teachers working in Ethiopia; that coursebooks are cherished by millions of teachers who just really love them; that the Headway team have succeeded in keeping their products fresh and lively; that Outcome includes recordings of people who don’t have RP accents; that coursebooks are mediated by teachers; that coursebooks rule and that’s the way it is, so get real; none of these spurious statements carries any weight for those who base their teaching practice on critical thinking and rational argument.
In reply to my suggestion that he write up his criticisms of my presentation in something more coherent and cohesive than a series of tweets, Dellar replied “Life’s too short. I’ve got a coursebook to write.” And there it is: Dellar’s too busy peddling his wares to bother with principled criticism. A further measure of Dellar’s scholarship is that he’s never published anything in a refereed journal.