The Evaluation of the EFL Materials Taught at Iranian Public High Schools
PhD student in Applied Linguistics at Isfahan University,Islamic Republic of Iran.
This article evaluates four EFL textbooks which have been prescribed for use in Iranian high schools by the Ministry of Education. The merits and demerits of the textbooks are discussed in detail with reference to 13 common features extracted from different material evaluation checklists. The article then gives some suggestions as to how to alleviate some of the shortcomings encountered in the textbooks.
The researcher has been teaching English for more than eight years, throughout which time his mind has almost always been occupied with the question, “Why does the EFL curriculum in Iranian public high schools meet neither the expectations of the learners/teachers nor those of the specialists who were involved in the development of the curriculum?” This apparent lack of success can be attributed to a plethora of factors involved in the various stages of curriculum planning.
According to Johnson (1989, pp.1-23), the following stages are involved in the process of curriculum development:
1. Policy determination
2. Means/ends specification (syllabus design)
3. Program implementation
4. Classroom implementation
The writer of the paper will examine the materials that are, in fact, the realization of the process of syllabus design subsumed under the heading of means/ends specification as mentioned above, and will exclude other factors because it is beyond the scope of this current study to include them.
Sheldon (1988) has offered several reasons for textbook evaluation. He suggests that the selection of an ELT textbook often signals an important administrative and educational decision in which there is considerable professional, financial, or even political investment. A thorough evaluation, therefore, would enable the managerial and teaching staff of a specific institution or organization to discriminate between all of the available textbooks on the market. Moreover, it would provide for a sense of familiarity with a book's content, thus assisting educators in identifying the particular strengths and weaknesses of textbooks already in use. This would go a long way in ultimately assisting teachers with making optimum use of a book's strong points, and recognizing the shortcomings of certain exercises, tasks, and entire texts.
If one accepts the value of textbooks in ELT, then one should be able to trust that they are of an acceptable level of quality, usefulness, and appropriateness for the context and people with whom they are being used. While the literature on the subject of textbook evaluation is not particularly extensive, various writers have suggested ways of helping teachers to be more sophisticated in their evaluative approach, by presenting evaluation 'checklists' based on supposedly generalizable criteria that can be used by both teachers and students in many different situations. Although Sheldon (1988) suggests that no general list of criteria can ever really be applied to all teaching and learning contexts without considerable modification, most of these standardized evaluation checklists contain similar components that can be used as helpful starting points for ELT practitioners in a wide variety of situations. Preeminent theorists in the field of ELT textbook design and analysis, such as Williams (1983), Sheldon (1988), Brown (1995), Cunningsworth (1995) and Harmer (1996) all agree, for instance, that evaluation checklists should have some criteria pertaining to the physical characteristics of textbooks such as layout, organizational, and logistical characteristics. Other important criteria that should be incorporated are those that assess a textbook's methodology, aims, and approaches and the degree to which a set of materials is not only teachable but also fits the needs of the individual teacher's approach as well as the organization's overall curriculum. Moreover, criteria should analyze the specific language, functions, grammar, and skills content that are covered by a particular textbook, as well as the relevance of linguistic items to the prevailing socio-cultural environment. Finally, textbook evaluations should include criteria that pertain to the representation of cultural and gender components, in addition to the extent to which the linguistic items, subjects, content, and topics match up to students' personalities, backgrounds, needs, and interests as well as those of the teacher and/or institution. Cunningsworth (1995) and Ellis (1997) have suggested that there are three different types of material evaluation. They argue that the most common form is probably the ‘predictive’ or ‘pre-use’ evaluation that is designed to examine the future or potential performance of a textbook. The other types of textbook evaluation are the ‘in-use’ evaluation designed to examine material that is currently being used, and the ‘retrospective’ or ‘post-use’ (reflective) evaluation of a textbook that has been used in any respected institution . This particular study can be classified as the ‘retrospective’ type of evaluation in which an attempt is made to check the characteristics of the textbooks under study against a collection of criteria proposed by various researchers.
Here I would like to document the materials that were used and the procedures that were followed to support the intent of this study.
I browsed approximately ten checklists proposed by different authors and selected thirteen features which were common to most of these checklists to do the evaluation. The following ten EFL/ESL textbook evaluation schemes were consulted to evaluate the four EFL textbooks under study.
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.
After a close examination of the checklists, these criteria were found to be most common to all the schemes proposed by the above mentioned materials:
1. Are objectives explicitly laid out in an introduction, and implemented in the material?
2. Good vocabulary explanation and practice.
3. Approaches educationally and socially acceptable to target community.
4. Periodic review and test sections.
5. Appropriate visual materials available.
6. Interesting topics and tasks.
7. Clear instructions.
8. Clear attractive layout, print easy to read.
9. Content clearly organized and graded.
10. Plenty of authentic language.
11. Good grammar presentation and practice.
12. Fluency practice in all four skills.
13. Encourages learners to develop own learning strategies and to become independent in their learning.
The Textbooks under Study
Birjandy et al., (2003). English Book 1.Tehran: Textbook Publishing Company of Iran.
Birjandy et al., (2003). English Book 2.Tehran: Textbook Publishing Company of Iran.
Birjandy et al., (2004). English Book 3.Tehran: Textbook Publishing Company of Iran.
Birjandy et al., (2004). Learning to Read English for Pre-University Students. Tehran: Textbook Publishing Company of Iran.
I scrutinized the four EFL textbooks against each one of the features in the checklist one by one. The results of the scrutiny of all the four textbooks on every feature are combined under common headings to save space and time.
Are objectives explicitly laid out in an introduction, and implemented in the material?
At the beginning of Book 1, there is an introduction that attempts to clarify the intended teaching objectives .However, there is a state of indeterminacy as to the goals toward which the teachers and the learners are to set out. The ultimate goals of the curriculum are not clarified. The authors of the book do not clearly specify the final objectives of the curriculum in vivid words so that the students know what they are expected to have learnt at the end of the program (long term objectives. Likewise, the short term objectives remain unspecified in the introduction. We do not know what the learners should be able to do to demonstrate that they have achieved the intended objectives at the end of each course, e.g. at the end of each year in the educational program.
An introduction section is totally omitted from Books 2 and 3, probably on the grounds that it is included in Book 1. The authors might have assumed that if a teacher teaches Book 2 or 3, he/she must definitely be aware of the contents of Book 1. There is an introduction section in Book 4 which is totally different from that of Book 1 in terms of the objectives that it specifies as the goals of the lessons and the course.
Part (A) of the Introduction is concerned with why the section “New Words” is included in the book and how it must be instructed by the teachers .It reads, “The purpose of this section is to familiarize learners with the new vocabulary in the Reading Comprehension section.” However, this is not implemented in the books because the number of new words introduced in the New Words Section is considerably less than the number of new words in the Reading Comprehension section. The question that rises is how and where those missing words are to be taught? For example, in Book (B) 1, Lesson (L) 1, 22 new words are introduced in the Reading Comprehension but only ten of them are included in the New Words Section. Likewise, in B2-L3, almost 24 new words are introduced, whereas, only 12 of them are included in the New Words Section. B3-L4 contains almost 43 new words in the Reading Comprehension and only 11 of them are clarified and practiced in the New Words Section. The New Words Section is totally excluded from B4 and nowhere in the introduction have the authors explained why. Other parts of the Introduction related to objectives specification mainly concern the activities and techniques that the teachers should not do and is less concerned with what they should do.
In sum, the final goals of the EFL program, as well as the behavioral objectives which are aimed at by the curriculum designers, are obscure and remain to be delineated. This may have various ramifications across the different phases of the curriculum i.e. classroom implementation and evaluation. Teachers actually dissent as to what teaching methodology to be employed, which skills and psycholinguistic abilities to emphasize and what to include in their exams. Now, the nationwide exams which are administered by the officials for third graders, are playing the role of an agreement document among teachers which, in turn, has its own negative effects known as the ‘washback effect’.
Consequently, teachers teach in a way that so that their students can pass the tests which are administered at the final year of high school education and University Entrance Examination rather than executing the actual curriculum worked out by the academic specialists. In fact, there is now a hidden curriculum among learners and teachers which determines what they must do in the classroom.
Except for the inconsistencies mentioned above, there is an acceptable degree of concordance between the objectives set in the introduction of the books for each section of the lessons in the series and their implementation in the material.
Good vocabulary explanation and practice
Two types of problem are observed in the explanation and use of the new vocabulary in the series. One is concerned with the lack of correspondence between the different senses of the word introduced in the New Words Sections and the meanings which are used in the Reading Comprehensions. The other type is attributable to the poor contextualization of the new vocabulary in the New Words Sections.
Some parts of the New Words Section in B1 ignore the fact that a word might have several different meanings. In some cases, the meaning for a particular word is introduced in the New Words Section , but is not consistent with the meaning of the same word used in the Reading Comprehension, and this probably bewilders the students. For example, in B1-L1, the word “pay” is used as a part of the expression “pay attention to” in the Reading Comprehension whereas introduced as “pay for sth” in the New Words Section which are incompatible in meaning. In the same lesson the expression “grow up” is used in the Reading Comprehension meaning “to become older” and in New Words it is used as “to raise farm produce”. Likewise, in B1- L3, the word “find” is used with two different senses in the Reading Comprehension and the New Words Section: it is introduced in the New Words Section as follows: “Maryam can’t find her notebook.” whereas in the Reading Comprehension it is used in the following sentence: “She returned an hour later and found Newton standing by the fire.” ‘Find’, which is used in the New Words Section, means ‘to get back after a search’ but in the Reading Comprehension it means ‘to come across’. As you can see, the meanings in the Reading Comprehension and the New Words Section do not converge. The word “land” in L2 is used in the Reading Comprehension to mean “a country” and it is introduced in the New Words Section to mean “a farm or field”. Fortunately, this problem is limited to only B1and L1-L3 and no such cases can be traced in the remainder of the book or in the other books in the series. In addition, in B4, the explanation of new vocabulary as an independent section is omitted from the book and is integrated into the Reading Comprehension section.
Some of the new vocabulary, which the authors might have assumed to be more significant in carrying the semantic load of the related sentence, has been included in the margins of the Reading Comprehension passages with some synonyms or definitions. No specific place is designed to practice the new words in B4. It might be more useful to include some more vocabulary exercises in each lesson so that learners can integrate the new words into their mental lexicon.
The second type of problem is probably ‘poor contextualization of the new vocabulary’ in the New Words Sections of the series from B1 to B3. In B1, L2, three new words are introduced in a single sentence: “The cows are eating grass in the field.”
Likewise, in B2, L1, “There are a banana and a slice of cake on the plate.” or in the same lesson one encounters: “When she does the puzzle right, the man gives her a reward.” This problem recurs in B2, L3. Fortunately; these cases are restricted to the aforementioned cases and do not come up in other lessons. There are no such cases of poor contextualization in B3 and, interestingly, a considerable improvement is observed in this book compared to B1 and B2 in this regard. However, the imbalance between the number of new words included in the New Words Sections and those used in the Reading Comprehensions and other sections of the book becomes more substantial, e.g. in B3, L1, there are 56 new words included, but only five of them are explained in the New Words Section. These imbalances persist throughout the book and the writer of the article hopes they will be eliminated in later revisions of the book.
Approaches educationally and socially acceptable to target community
According to White (1988:92) “A complete syllabus specification will include all five aspects: structure, function, situation, topic, skills. The difference between syllabuses will lie in the priority given to each of these aspects.”
It seems that the authors of the books have sequenced the linguistic content of the materials according to the structural complexity, starting from less complex structures to more demanding ones. Even the reading passages are selected or probably manipulated so that they reinforce a particular grammatical point included in the grammar section of the books. However, the question of how and in what order the structures must be arranged in a structural syllabus is a controversial issue. Hutchinson and Waters (1987:88) pose the same question as writing, “What assumptions underlie the ordering in the structural syllabus? Does the verb ‘to be’ come first, because it is easier to learn? If so, in what sense? Structurally, it is the most complex verb in English. Does it come first because it is needed for later structures, for example the present continuous? Is it considered to be conceptually simpler? For many students, for example Indonesian students, it causes conceptual problems, since in Bahasa Indonesian it is frequently omitted. Alternatively, is the syllabus ordered according to usefulness? The verb ‘to be’ is more useful than, say, the present simple tense of the verb ‘to go’. If we are operating the criterion of usefulness, what context are we referring to? Do we mean usefulness in the outside world or usefulness in the classroom?”
Nevertheless, my personal experience in teaching these books shows that students learn the present perfect tense with less effort than the passive voice. Moreover, they learn the passive voice better if they are introduced to the present perfect earlier. Thus, I suggest that the present perfect, which is introduced in B1, L9, be transposed to L8, and the passive be moved to L9.
Although the reading skill, among others, looks to be of first priority in the design of the books, a big share of the lessons is devoted to grammar drills and the various forms of grammatical exercises throughout B1, B2 and B3. Fortunately, this problem is rectified in B4 of the series. About 50% of the content of each lesson in B1 to B3 is occupied with grammatical drills. This allocation seems to be unjustified as far as the findings of research on SL reading is concerned. Researchers have noticed the need for extensive vocabulary for reading and that grammatical knowledge is called upon in advanced levels of reading proficiency for complex and embedded structures as a last resort. (See Alderson and Urquhart, 1984a; Singer, 1981). Also, Lewis (1993: 17) says that “vocabulary (or lexis) carries more of the meaning of a text than does the grammar”.
Periodic review and test sections
At the beginning and the end of B1, 2, 3, there are review exercises. However, they are not enough. It seems better to include tests and review tests at the end of each one of the lessons. It is worth mentioning that the tests should be comparable and compatible with the format and the testing methods which will be employed in the mid-term and final exams. To compensate for this shortcoming of the textbooks, teachers have developed supplementary workbooks for each one of the books. The final exams of this grade are designed, administered and corrected by state officials and the teachers play no direct roles in these processes. Therefore, despite many teachers’ will and standards of teaching, with their hands up, they have had to surrender to the strong negative washback effect of the exams, and have to spend time and energy in the class on answering questions and tests similar to those which are administered by the officials of the Bureau of Education every year.
In B4, surprisingly, there is no review or quiz whatsoever.
Clear, attractive layout, print easy to read
Most often the paper of the books in the series is of low quality and in some cases is more like the paper used for daily newspapers. If this is due to economic factors, then how is it that for other books in the curriculum other than English like biology, physics, etc. there is no such a problem?
The books are acceptable regarding clarity and orthographic beauty. However, it would be more appealing if colorful pictures of real people and real environments were used.
Appropriate visual materials available
Visual materials can be defined as the facilities that can be employed by teachers and learners to enhance language learning in classrooms. They may range from simple hand-made realia, charts and pictures, to electronic and digital materials. For the series in question, there are VHS films and also the required electronic hardware available at schools for teachers and learners.
However, the content of the films, whose primary goal is assumed to help the users promote their language skills and enhance learning processes, is not effectively addressed. For instance, all the films developed for Book 2 of the series, start with vocabulary teaching. A word, generally speaking, may have various properties worthy of attention for a learner. These can be, namely, phonological, semantic, syntactic and pragmatic properties. To teach a word, means to provide information, implicitly or explicitly, on these properties for the learners and also to provide opportunities for them to rehearse the given words to store them in their minds. Or, at least, one or two of the mentioned lexical properties may be focused on, depending on the limitations one faces in terms of time and money. However, the vocabulary in the film episodes are introduced only in the orthographic form with no sounds or pictures accompanying them. No attempt is made to clarify the meaning of the words which appear on the screen. The film producers could have designed pictures or maybe some other graphic materials to illustrate the intended meanings of the introduced words. They could also have provided the pronunciation of the words with some pauses between, to let the learners repeat the words orally. For this section of the film scripts to gain any practical value and use, wide changes are required to be made by the producers.
The second section in the film episodes seems to have been designed to help the learners improve their reading skills. They start with very brief scenes of two or more people with no clear verbal interactions, very similar to a pantomime, probably with the intention of motivating the learners to activate their related background world knowledge about the topic to be discussed in the reading passage of the books. There are some problems worthy of mention concerning these sections. First, the scenes are vague and obscure regarding the messages they are trying to communicate. The learners usually find it difficult to catch the meaning that the scenes intend to convey. Consequently, different learners are lead to different interpretations of the scenes and therefore distracted from the main theme of the reading passages. Second, there is very little correspondence between the majority of the scenes which are shown and the lines the narrator or the actor in the film reads aloud, i.e., in the film something is shown which is not directly related to the lines of the passage which are read. This problem is most evident in the episode designed for Lesson 5, Book 2. Nevertheless, with a bit of creativity on the part of teachers, these sections can be used as a sort of pre-reading activity to motivate the learners to think about what is going to be discussed in the related reading passages. Third, another source of difficulty is the relatively fast rate of speech of the narrator in reading aloud the reading comprehension passages. Due to the nature of written texts, it is more difficult to process them as fast as the texts produced in oral interactions. Written texts include more embedded sentences and more instances of subordination, which results in longer sentences than oral texts. Written texts are thought to have more information density per utterance than oral texts. Consequently, as a result of these factors, plus some others not mentioned here, written discourse requires more mental effort and thus more time to be processed. A slower rate of speech and inclusion of short pauses between the phrases and sentences might be quite helpful in this case. At the same time, this can provide the opportunity for the learners to repeat the phrases and sentences they hear to improve their pronunciation.
The third section in the episodes starts with a dialogue which seems to have been produced to delineate the use of the new structural patterns in actual communication. The dialogues are usually acted out at a normal rate of speech by the actors who seem to be native speakers of English. Again, very fast rate of speech and lack of space for any kind of practice are the problems that are faced in this section. Despite of all these problems, the teachers who want to use them can modify the pace of the work by manually stopping the device and having the learners repeat the sentences spot-check their understanding. However, the practicality of these sections can possibly be enhanced if these modifications are built into them so that less experienced teachers and maybe the learners could make more effective use of them.
The last sections of the episodes are aimed at teaching the new phonemes included in the related lessons. T he new sounds are introduced through a series of words having a particular sound segment in common. They are pronounced by the teacher in the film with an exaggerated emphasis on the new sound patterns with the intention of making them conspicuous to the learners’ attention. However, no exercise is included. The producers could, at least, include some parts for the learners to repeat the new sounds.
On the whole, the film can possibly be improved in practicality and pedagogical value for classroom use if the above mentioned modifications are made to it.
Interesting topics and tasks
The topics of readings vary from factual to anecdotal, and sometimes are funny stories. It is difficult to judge on behalf of the learners whether they are interesting or not for them, and it needs research. Nevertheless, the majority of the topics seem to be attractive to the learners in my EFL classes. However, it seems that it would be better if the topics were updated to become more congruent with the taste of the new generation which might be a bit different from that of the authors who designed the books at least ten years ago. Nowadays, learners’ needs are different from what they used to be and; hence it looks better to include texts more related to computer games, the internet, and satellite programs. For instance, it is possible to take and adapt some of the texts, words and jargon which are currently used in information technology. It is also possible to include adapted and simplified versions of quotations and sayings of scholars renowned for their wisdom and eloquence in line with higher culturally valued objectives of education such as trustworthiness, sacrifice, courage, punctuality, patience, honesty, etc. My personal experience shows that the meaning and content of the materials taught in English classes have strong and long lasting effects on the minds of the learners. This is a valuable opportunity if we want to educate them mentally and spiritually. I have observed that the story of Oliver Twist in B2 attracts the students more than the story of a monkey known as Washoe. We should bear in mind that, as teachers, our professional and social responsibility do not boil down to imparting a handful of factual information concerning the grammar or meaning of a series of words and sentences in our classes; rather we should care for the transfer of cultural values to new generations.
Most of the instructions are clear and easy to understand for the learners in the books in the series. Even if the learners might not be familiar with the structures and the lexis used in the instructions, the models given for each group of exercises provide contextual clues for the learners as to what they are expected to do. However, some of the instructions are lacking in the required contextual information and also may be beyond many of the learners’ English language proficiency in terms of linguistic complexity. For instance, in B1, L4, the instruction reads: “Now look at the pictures in your book or the things around you and make some sentences like the ones in Speaking 1 and Speaking 3.” In addition, in the same book in L8 we encounter the same problem of complexity in the instruction that follows: “Write six sentences in the passive form. Three about what happened in the past and three about what will happen in the future.” This problem exists in B2, too. One possible solution might be to use the learners’ native language instead of the target language in the instructions, particularly for B1 and B2 where the learners are not able to understand such sentences.
Content clearly organized and graded
Some of the Reading Comprehension texts tend to be more difficult for the learners to understand than others due to their structural complexity. In working with learners from different proficiency levels, I realized that the learners misunderstood or did not comprehend some parts of the Reading Comprehension texts, not because they did not know the meaning of the new words included in them, but simply because those sentences were too complex for them to comprehend. After I applied the Readability formula developed by Fog (cited in Farhady et al. 1998, p.82), to my surprise, I found that there was a logical sequencing of the texts according to the obtained text difficulty. The obvious question to ask is: How is it possible for two texts, which are of roughly the same readability indices, to be perceived as unequally difficult by the learners? There might be a number of possible factors which render a text difficult or easy to understand. Content of the passage, the background knowledge of the reader, rhetorical organization, information density, number of unfamiliar words, and length and complexity of the sentences in a text are all possible candidates to make a text difficult or easy to understand.
There are different versions of Fog’s formula which make use of factors such as number of syllables or words, length of sentences, or the syntactic complexity of sentences. If you utilize the one which is based on the number of words and sentences, you will find a logical sequencing of the reading materials in the book, but if you apply the formula which is sensitive to the number of sentences and number of complex sentences you will find a differential outcome. On the basis of the latter formula, - i.e. number of words ÷ number of sentences + (number of compound sentences ÷ number of sentences) × 40 - the text containing more compound and longer sentences will have greater readability indices indicating more text difficulty. Considering the fact that most of the unknown words in the texts are taught prior to teaching the Reading Comprehension texts in the books, therefore, it is quite plausible to conclude that the number of new words can play no major role in making the text difficult or easy to understand for the learners; rather it is the number of longer and more compound and complex sentences that probably determine the difficulty or easiness of the texts. Thus, the authors of the book should have used the sentence-complexity-sensitive formula to sequence the Reading Comprehension texts in the series. However, to solve the problem, two solutions are available: the first one is to ‘re-organize’ the texts according to the readability indices obtained form the sentence-complexity-sensitive formula. This solution needs more modifications and tuning of the texts because most of the Reading Comprehension texts have been selected according to the prominence of the particular grammatical structures which they had and the writers had intended to include them in the lessons. Moreover, it requires a close reconsideration of the new vocabulary that the transposed texts include. The second solution is to break long and complex sentences down into shorter and less complex ones. This solution has its own particular problems and challenges, too. In many cases it is not possible to break a compound sentence down into its constituent clauses and phrases and assemble them into simple sentences without spoiling the meaning of the original sentence. For example, in B2, L2, there are at least eight compound sentences which are perceived as challenging to the learners. One of the sentences which is used at the very beginning of the text reads: “Did you know that the same side of the moon faces the earth all the time?” As you see it is not so easy to change this sentence into some simpler sentences which convey the same idea or range of meanings. Likewise, at the ending line of the same text you come across: “So now you know what people who lived before 1959 didn’t know.” At first glance, one might conclude that sentence simplification is the least troublesome solution. However, in practice, it proves most challenging.
In sum, the former solution, however strenuous, feels more practical and easier to manage.
Plenty of authentic language
Authenticity is defined as follows by Johnson and Johnson (1999:24):
Texts are said to be authentic if they are genuine instances of language use as opposed to exemplars devised specially for language teaching purposes. The question of authenticity emerged as an important issue within communicative language teaching and in relation to notional/functional syllabuses, where emphasis was placed on ensuring that the classroom contained natural language behavior, with content identified as relevant to the learner through the process of needs analysis .There are various other reasons why authenticity may be regarded as important. One is that it presents learners with language exposure similar to that enjoyed by native speakers, including all the characteristics of natural language which may be necessary for the learner properly to interpret texts. In addition, there is motivational attraction for insisting on authentic texts, created as means of communicating content and not for some pedagogic purpose.
If we base our discussion on the definition of authenticity given above, and see it as the degree the materials concord with actual instances of language the learners will encounter in real situations, the materials can be considered as authentic. In fact, the learners’ main use of English language will be limited to reading texts and passages they come across in academic contexts in future, if they continue their education at university. In other cases, depending upon the learners’ personal needs, their application of their knowledge of English will be limited to other instances of language used in catalogues, manuals or magazines. In few cases, they might need to listen to English programs on satellite TV or other media in their everyday life and, in rare cases, to communicate verbally with a foreigner who speaks English. Considering the fact that the bulk of materials is devoted to reading activities, and some space is given to dialogues to provide opportunities for the learners to practice verbal communication, the materials can, to certain extent, be regarded as authentic.
Good grammar presentation and practice
Grammar drills occupy the lion’s share of each lesson and range from repetition, substitution to transformational ones. They are aimed at providing the learners with oral practice of the intended grammatical points. The oral drills are techniques which were mainly utilized in Audio-Lingual method and similar approaches to second language teaching for various pedagogical purposes one of which was automatization of the grammatical patterns. Automatization can be viewed from two perspectives: One is to develop the ability to give quick and in-time responses to particular verbal stimuli mainly in phatic communion. The second is to develop the ability to process a given piece of information without awareness or attention, making relatively more use of long-term memory. For example, to produce a particular sentence according to the grammatical rules of a language. However, because the so-called standard tests that are usually administered by the officials of the Ministry of Education are almost completely lacking in test items measuring the productive ability of the learners, the teachers, for this or maybe some other reasons, usually skip the drills and replace them with the explicit explanation of the rules and formulas underlying the patterns at issue (strong negative washback effect). Frankly speaking, in regular English classes at high schools they are most often disregarded by the majority of the teachers.
Fluency practice in all four skills
The books have devoted a large proportion of the lessons to materials that primarily aim at developing and enhancing the reading ability of the learners. Considering the idea that the main needs of the learners might be to acquire an acceptable degree of mastery and skill in reading materials written in English, this allocation looks justified.
However, neither in the introduction nor in the lessons has it been explicitly mentioned by the writers of the books how to treat listening comprehension and writing skills. It is totally left to the teachers to decide whether to practice it or not. There is no section in the lessons specifically designed to develop and enhance listening skills in the learners. However, the teachers can probably work on this skill through having the learners listen to the reading passages read aloud by the teachers or other learners in the classroom. To involve the learners actively and attentively to listen to the passages read aloud, the teacher can ask various comprehension questions at different points or at the end of the listening activity to check their understanding. The speaking skill is also taken into account though indirectly and as a marginal activity. There are certain questions at the end of each reading passage which require the learners to give oral answers.
The last but not the least is the writing skill. If we define the writing skill as the ability to communicate one’s thoughts and ideas to a particular person or group of addressees through the orthographic form of a language, it is possible to claim that it is somehow neglected in the series. Although some exercises of the lessons are intended to enhance the writing skills of the learners, they are limited to a few isolated sentence production activities in a decontextualized and sterile milieu of communication. Nowhere in the book are learners assigned writing activities to the sense which was proposed above. The authors could have included writing activities in different formats varying from controlled to free writing according to the proficiency levels of the learner groups.
Encourage learners to develop own learning strategies and to become independent in their learnin
Regarding the components of the learner training in the series, the revised edition of Book 4 characterizes the features of a good reader in the introduction section as follows: “A good reader is the one who is active and has specific goals in mind before starting to read. He/She continuously checks his/her understanding of the text and the text itself against the predetermined goals.” [Translated from Persian]. The authors continue, “A good reader usually browses the whole text before starting to read and pays attention to the organization and structure of the text as well as other parts which are relevant and compatible to the goals of the reading. In the process of reading, he/she often tries to predict the incoming data in the text. He/She reads selectively, and continuously revises his decisions as to what to read with close attention, what to read quickly, what to read again, and what not to read and etc. [ibid. translated from Persain]
From the above quotation, it is understood that the authors are attempting to familiarize the learners with cognitive and behavioral strategies or, at least, raise their consciousness about learning strategies. Moreover, throughout the lessons learners occasionally come up with certain vocabulary learning strategies such as building up semantic trees which relate different words from a common semantic field. It is worth mentioning that nowhere in Books 1- 3 is there a part explicitly addressing the issue of strategy training whatsoever.
The writer of this article believes that learner training is helpful and valuable in pushing our learners toward the intended goals of both the learners themselves and the teachers but, after all, there are a number of unresolved issues to do with the application of learner strategy research to learner training (see Ellis, 1994: 530-533). It is not clear whether the meta-cognitive and cognitive strategies which are unconsciously applied by the good language learners are teachable in a conscious way. In the meantime, it is particularly vague whether strategies are sufficiently generalizable to be used with a range of learners who will themselves be affected by factors such as context, cognitive styles, and proficiency levels. Nor is there adequate evidence that strategy training leads to improvement in language learning outcomes. As McDonough (1995: 172-3) points out, ‘although learning strategies and strategy training are very important elements in the teaching/learning process, great care has to be exercised in moving from a descriptive and taxonomic position to an interventionist one.’
In conclusion, regarding the above mentioned criteria, B4 is considered to be qualified in helping the learners to develop some of the learning strategies found in good language learners, although the whole idea of strategy training appears to be a thorny and a controversial issue. Books 1, 2 and 3 in the series need much revision in this regard.
EFL textbooks can play an important role in the success of language programs. In fact, they are the realization of the processes of means/ends specification in the curriculum planning. Sheldon (1988) suggests that "textbooks represent the visible heart of any ELT program" (p.237). They provide the objectives of language learning; they function as a lesson plan and working agenda for teachers and learners. Cunningsworth (1995) argues that textbooks are an effective resource for self-directed learning, an effective resource for presentation material, a source of ideas and activities, a reference source for students, a syllabus where they reflect pre-determined learning objectives, and support for less experienced teachers who have yet to gain in confidence. He also contends that we should also ensure "that careful selection is made, and that the materials selected closely reflect [the needs of the learners and] the aims, methods, and values of the teaching program." (p.7).
One of the ways to amend and improve a curriculum is to improve the textbooks and the materials employed in the program. And this is not possible unless the consumers involved systematically evaluate and assess them on the basis of some established criteria. The reports of these types of evaluations can be shared among teachers and the authors of the materials to gain more effective EFL textbooks.
Moreover, as Cunningsworth (1995) and Ellis (1997) suggest, textbook evaluation helps teachers move beyond impressionistic assessments and it helps them to acquire useful, accurate, systematic, and contextual insights into the overall nature of textbook material.
The writer of this article believes that the evaluation of the EFL materials currently taught at public high schools requires a deeper and more exhaustive analysis and scrutiny by a group of experienced teachers and that the viewpoints and the ideas of a single researcher might not be adequately reliable because, however hard one tries, it is almost impossible to be unbiased and impartial in one's judgments.
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