It’s been ages…and I’m not even sure regular posting will resume again. For those who have stuck around the Teacher in Development RSS feed, I’d like to thank you…and now ask you for your thoughts.
I think the biggest thing that has been keeping me REALLY busy lately has been the growth of the little company I am working to get off the ground. After a year or so of really hard work, we’ve finally landed our first "big" client. 18 people - at all levels- in an insurance company.
If you’ve been a regular of this blog - back when there was something to be "regular about" then you know that I strongly support and employ bookless classrooms. In brief, here are my reasons:
1. ESL coursebooks are "one size fits all." My opinion is that if you really want to see motivation happen, then you need to focus work around what is important or interesting to your students. Ask yourself, if you’re a coursebook regular: how often do you think your students experience disconnect when they step out of your classroom and into their offices?
2. Many schools equate book to level. When you finish Market Leader Intermediate, for example, you’re now ready to move up to upper intermediate. In my experience, when you finish a book, you’ve just…well…finished a book. In most cases, students still need more time to be considered "ready" for the next level.
Pros: Books make teacher’s workload much lighter. That much I know is true. It’s so much easier to just open up a book and presto: your lesson is basically set out for you. Sure, you need to prep a little, but in most cases, workload is reduced considerably.
Books are great a providing direction for the class. There’s great comfort in just finishing a page, turning it, and starting the next. One page leads to the next, five pages turns into a week or two of work, a unit turns into a month…and well, before you know it you have course work for a year set before you.
My style, while working one on one, has thus far been bookless with great success. From my end, going bookless has meant more work for me. More reading, skimming my google reader, podcast hunting etc. But the result has been class work that has not only mirrored my student’s work environment, and their language needs there, but work that has actually helped them do their job better.
Personalized, unique, student centered content creates powerful language learning environments. It’s not theory. It’s not wishful thinking…I’ve read about it, seen it happen and have experienced it.
But my experience up until now, has been betweem me and MY students. Nice and easy to manage.
Now that my little company is expanding, I’ve started to hire teachers, and have larger classes. So far, I’ve been trying to deploy the "student centered" and bookless style with my growing staff and pool of students.
It hasn’t been easy. In fact, many times feels like I’m walking against a really strong current. Textbooks are expected. Everyone uses them, and most frown on outfits that don’t give their teachers books to work with.
Take this recent post from a blogger I am coming to respect a lot: Alex Case over at TEFLtastic posts about making sure teachers can really teach: (brilliant post Alex, I’ll be referring to this a lot over the next few weeks as I work with my teachers.)
"Give them the resources they need in order to teach good lessons- good textbooks, classes with students in the right level, lots of supplementary materials that are easy to find" ("How to make sure teachers can really teach." Case, 2007)
So, teachers who teach well are also teachers who have great coursebooks to work with. A close teacher friend of mine, MA in teaching and school admin, who is also in the middle of starting up a company of his own, seems to share this idea as well. Great teachers need to use great material.
That makes sense to me. I feel a big pull…like a magnet, drawing me towards those coursebooks. But, I still resist and wonder: What if a great teacher was provided with plenty of proD, and ongoing support in creating a bookless classroom with his/her students? Could it be done on a large scale?
Here’s how I’m organizing currently:
1. Students are grouped according to level, and groups are kept to 5 members max.
2. Students do a needs assessment which is designed to let us know what sort of things they do with English on a day to day basis. We also ask about hobbies, interests, goals, etc. The results of this assessment provide us with possible content ideas for the course….instead of a coursebook. I currently find myself at this stage with all of my teachers….conducting the needs assessment, and searching for related content.
3. Instead of working with a set coursebook for direction, we are following a "Can Do" benchmark system set up by the Canadian government (check it out here: www.language.ca) I like to think of these objective statements like a skeleton. They give you a place to go, but how you get there..and how you look on the way, is up to you and your class. Big room for personalization. Every teacher who works with me gets a modified copy of these benchmarks and ongoing coaching on how to use them.
So, I wonder to myself and now to you, what do you think about this? I freely admit that this direction is not easy. It’s very hard to work with teachers and help them create unique class content. It’s not practical. But do you think it’s possible, or should I stop going against the flow and give into coursebooks?
Which, do you think, would provide the best learning solution for a student?
Where would you rather work, if you’re a teacher? Textbook classroom, or a more flexible environment?
What do you think?