My argument against the coursebook is in two parts. First, most coursebooks assume that presenting and practicing discrete formal aspects of the language in a pre-determined sequence will lead to declarative knowledge becoming procedural, and that the synthetic bits of language presented and practiced in the coursebook will be accumulated by learners in such a way as to result in the progressive re-structuring of their interlanguages. Both these assumption are false. The assumption that learners will learn what they’re taught when they’re taught it is also false.
Second, coursebooks impose a product (synthetic) syllabus on users, but a process (analytic) syllabus caters better to learners’ needs and is likely to lead to faster learning and higher levels of attainment.
In reply, these comments have been made:
Not all coursebooks are the same: they differ in content and design. Of course: and there are bound to be exceptions to my generalised assertion. But apart from the coursebooks Anthony named, nobody else (and in particular, not Dellar) has given any coherent argument against the claim that most coursebooks are based on the false assumptions I attribute to them.
Teachers use coursebooks in very different ways. Again: of course. But unless teachers use the coursebooks so sparingly or in ways so entirely different from the way the authors intend them to be used, the coursebook is the most important factor in determining what happens in the lessons comprising the course.
Coursebooks help busy, overworked teachers who don’t have time to prepare their own lesson plans and materials. Quite so. But if that’s the only reason to explain why teachers use them, then it follows that ELT would be better if we organised things in such a way that we didn’t rely on coursebooks.
Coursebooks help new teachers who need obvious structure and guidance. Ditto.
Expecting teachers to make their own materials without paying them is worse than asking them to use a coursebook. Ditto.
Despite all their flaws, I use coursebooks, so there. I know this is supposed to be funny, or witty, or something, but it’s a bit too near the truth to make me laugh.
I find it depressing that so little importance seems to be given to the underlying principles which inform our teaching practice. Why are most teachers not more concerned about these principles? Why is there so little attempt made to seriously confront the argument that SLA is a predominantly implicit process where declarative knowledge and explicit instruction is known to play a minor role in facilitating language learning? Likewise, why are so few people in ELT ready to take seriously the various proposals that have been made for a process syllabus? Rather than make an attempt to critically appraise the arguments against coursebooks, or to put forward a coherent, principled counter-argument, all we get are excuses. And very lame excuses at that.