Unit 14 Evaluating and Adapting Textbooks

Aims of the unit:

In this unit we will discuss some basic things about textbook evaluation, selection and adaptation. We will focus on the following:

1. Why and what do teachers evaluate and adapt?

2. How do teachers evaluate textbooks?

3. How do teachers evaluate textbooks?

4. How do teachers adapt textbooks?

14.1 Why and what?

With the rapid ELT development in China, more and more textbooks have made their way to the market. Choosing the right textbook is becoming more and more important at all levels of ELT in schools. With the effort from textbook writers, ELT researchers and classroom teachers, textbook evaluation and selection have evolved to systematic action. Although most classroom teachers will not be involved in the production of textbooks, all teachers have the responsibility for textbook evaluation, selection and adaptation. In this unit, we will introduce some principles of textbook evaluation, selection, and adaptation.

So far we have been using the term “textbook”. However, the focus of this unit is far more than just textbooks. Nowadays, textbooks in traditional pedagogy have evolved into a great variety of resources used in language classroom such as audio cassettes, videos, CD-ROMs, dictionaries, grammar book, readers, workbook, teacher’s books, photocopied materials, flashcards, and other authentic materials, such as newspaper, photographs, advertisements, radio/TV programs, etc. In many cases the term “materials” is used in place of “textbooks”, which refers to anything that is used by teachers or students to facilitate the learning of a language. The term “textbooks” is still widely used, but its reference has expanded from books to all the materials used around or independent of the books.

14.2 Evaluating textbooks

An ideal systematic textbook evaluation would be a longitudinal one, which includes pre-use evaluation, whilst-use evaluation and post-use evaluation. The core of systematic textbook evaluation is to examine how well a given textbook matches the needs of a language program and how effectively and efficiently it can realize the objectives of the program. Therefore needs analysis has to be done prior to textbook evaluation. Due to space limitation, in this unit, we will focus on general features of “good” textbooks and how to evaluate textbooks based on these features.

Features of good textbooks: We believed good textbooks should have the following features.

Good textbooks should attract the students’ curiosity, interest and attention. In order to do this, textbooks should have novelty, variety, attractive layout, appealing content, etc. Of course they should also make sure that learning really takes place when the students use the textbooks. It is not necessarily enough that students enjoy the textbooks.

Textbooks should help students to feel at ease. The layout of presentation, tasks and activities, and texts and illustrations should all look friendly to the students so that they fell relaxed when seeing them.

Textbooks should help students to develop confidence. Good textbooks help to build up students’ confidence by providing tasks or activities that students can cope with.

Textbooks should meet students’ needs. What is covered in the textbooks should be relevant and useful to what the students need to learn and what they want to learn.

Textbooks should expose the students to language in authentic use. Generally speaking, textbooks written in authentic language are more motivating and challenging.

Textbooks should provide the students with opportunities to use the target language to achieve communicative purposes.

Textbooks should take into account that the positive effects of language teaching are usually delayed. Research into SLA shows that it is a gradual rather than an instantaneous process and that this is equally true for instructed learning. So it is important for textbooks to recycle instruction and to provide frequent and ample exposure to the instructed language features in communicative use.

Textbooks should take into account that students differ in learning styles. Tasks and activities should be variable and should cater for a range of learning styles so all students can benefit.

Textbooks should take into account that students differ in affective factors. Good textbooks should accommodate different attitudinal and motivational background as much as possible.

Textbooks should maximize learning potential by encouraging intellectual, aesthetic and emotional involvement which stimulates both right and left brain activities. Good textbooks enable the students to receive, process and retain information through “multiple intelligences”.

14.3 Selecting textbooks

Some people think evaluation and selection are more or less the same thing. After all, we select after we evaluate. However, evaluating textbooks is one thing, selecting textbooks is quite another. For instance, when we evaluate a textbook without an intention to use it for a certain group of students, we try to examine whether what is covered in the book can really fulfill the original purposes of the writer of the book. In another word, is the book really suitable for the learners for whom the book is intended?

When we evaluate a textbook with an intention of adoption, we try to match what is offered by the book with the needs of our language program. However, this is no easy job for the teachers. For one thing, teachers may be overwhelmed by the rich contents of the book, which usually has several volumes. For another, teachers do not always have a clear awareness of what their students need. In order to make the job of textbook selection easier, materials researchers have developed several practical and operational checklists for classroom teachers.

Grant designed a three-part questionnaire which can be used as a checklist when teachers select textbooks for their students. Basically the questionnaire helps teachers to examine the extent to which a textbook suits the students, the teacher and the syllabus and examination:

Choosing a textbook: questionnaire (part 1)

Does the book suit your students?

1               Is it attractive? Given the average       YES   PARTLY   NO age of your students, would they

enjoy using it?

2   Is it culturally acceptable?              YES   PARTLY   NO

3   Does it reflect what you know           YES   PARTLY   NO

about your students’ needs and inter-     


4   Is it about the right level of difficulty?    YES   PARTLY   NO

5   Is it about the right length?             YES   PARTLY   NO

6   Are the course’s physical characteris-     YES   PARTLY   NO

tics appropriate? (e.g. is it durable?)

7               Are there enough authentic materials,     YES   PARTLY   NO

so that the students can see that the book

is relevant to real life?

8               Does it achieve an acceptable balance     YES   PARTLY   NO

between knowledge about the language,

and practice in using the language?

9               Does it achieve an acceptable balance     YES   PARTLY   NO

between the relevant language skills, and

integrate them so that work in one skill

area helps the others?

10          Does the book contain enough communi-  YES   PARTLY   NO

cative activities to enable the students to

use the language independently?

Score: 2 points for every YES answer.

     1 point for every PARTLY answer.

     0 for every NO answer.


Choosing a textbook: questionnaire (part 2)

Does the book suit the teacher?

1   Is your overall impression of the contents   YES  PARTLY  NO

    and layout of the course favorable?

2               Is there a good, clear teacher’s guide with   YES  PARTLY  NO

answers and help on methods and additional


3               Can one use the book in the classroom with- YES  PARTLY  NO

out constantly having to turn to the teacher’s


4               Are the recommended methods and appro-   YES  PARTLY  NO

aches suitable for you, your students and

your classroom?

5               Are the approaches easily adaptable if      YES  PARTLY  NO


6               Does using the course require little or no    YES  PARTLY  NO

time-consuming preparation?

7               Are useful ancillary materials such as tapes  YES  PARTLY  NO

workbooks, and visuals provided?

8               Is there sufficient provision made for tests   YES  PARTLY  NO

and revision?

9               Does the book use a “spiral” approach, so that YES  PARTLY  NO

items are regularly revised and used again in

different contexts?

10          Is the course appropriate for, and liked by,   YES  PARTLY  NO


Score: 2 points for every YES answer.

      1 point for every PARTLY answer.

      0 for every NO answer.



Choosing a textbook: questionnaire (part 3)

Does the book suit the syllabus and examination?

1               Has the book been recommended or app-    YES  PARTLY  NO  

roved by the authorities?

2               Does the book follow the official syllabus   YES  PARTLY  NO

in a creative manner?

3               Is the course well-graded, so that it gives    YES  PARTLY  NO

well-structured and systematic coverage

of the language?

4               If it does more than the syllabus requires,    YES  PARTLY  NO

is the result an improvement?

5               Are the activities, contents and methods     YES  PARTLY  NO

used in the course well-planned and


6               Has it been prepared specifically for the     YES  PARTLY  NO

target examination?

7               Do the course’s methods help the stu-       YES  PARTLY  NO

dents prepare for the exam?

8               Is there a good balance between what       YES  PARTLY  NO

the examination requires, and what the

students need?

9               Is there enough examination practice?      YES  PARTLY  NO

10          Does the course contain useful hints on     YES  PARTLY  NO

examination technique?

Score: 2 points for every YES answer.

      1 point for every PARTLY answer.

      0 for every NO answer.

14.4 Adapting textbooks

Despite the great effort that textbook writers make to meet the needs of the intended users, textbooks are subjective to adaptation when they are actually used in the classroom. After all, most commercial textbooks are written for any particular class. The following options are suggested to adapt materials:

    omission: the teacher leaves out things deemed inappropriate, offensive, unproductive, etc. for the particular group.

    addition: where there seems to be inadequate coverage, teachers may decide to add to textbooks, either in the form of texts or exercise material.

    reduction: where the teacher shortens an activity to give it less weight or emphasis.

    extension: where an activity is lengthened in order to give it as additional dimension. (For example, a vocabulary activity is extended to draw attention to some syntactic patterning.)

    rewriting/modification: teacher may occasionally decide to rewrite material, especially exercise material, to make it more appropriate, more “communicative”, more demanding, more accessible to their students, etc.

    replacement: text or exercise material which is considered inadequate, for whatever reason, may be replaced by more suitable material. This is often from other resource materials.

    re-ordering: teachers may decide that the order in which the textbooks are presented is not suitable for their students. They can then decide to plot a different course through the textbooks from the one the writer has laid down.

    branching: teachers may decide to add options to the existing activity or to suggest alternative pathways through the activities. (For example, an experiential route or an analytical route.)

Textbook adaptation can be done at three levels. The first level is macro adaptation, which is ideally done before the language program begins. After comparing what is covered in a textbook and what is required by the syllabus or examination, the teacher may find that certain areas or even whole units of the book can b e omitted, and certain contents need to be supplemented. Macro adaptation is very important because it helps the teacher to avoid waste if time and every of the teacher and the students as well. It also helps the teacher t see in advance what he or she needs to supplement so that he or she can keep an eye on materials that could be used.

The second level of adaptation is adapting a unit. This could be reordering the activities, combining activities, omitting activities, rewriting or supplementing exercise material, etc. Unit adaptation helps to make the classroom teaching more smooth and cohesive. It also helps the teacher to better fulfill the aims of a unit.

The third level is adaptation of specific activities in a unit. Occasionally an activity I regarded as valuable, but it is not well-designed or it is not feasible in particular class. If the teacher does not want to give up the activity, he or she needs to adapt it.

Very often, adaptation involves supplementation, that is, teachers add materials from other resources to the textbook they are using. It is believed that authentic materials are better than non-authentic materials for supplementation. So teachers who make a point of collecting authentic materials find it much easier to adapt textbooks. This is especially true in ELT contents where authentic English materials are not always readily to hand.

14.5 Conclusion

In this unit we have briefly talked about textbook evaluation, selection and adaptation. The value of these actions is so obvious that no one would argue against it. However, these actions can be done only when three conditions are met.

Firstly, teachers need to have the authority to evaluate, select and adapt textbooks. In many cases, teachers are simply told to use a certain textbook. In worse circumstances, teachers are told to use a book. Some teachers are even criticized for intentionally leaving out activities that they do not consider appropriate or necessary.

Secondly, teachers have to have the initiative to evaluate, select and adapt textbooks. Very often, with a heavy workload, teachers simply do not have the time or energy t do anything beyond lesson planning and making students’ homework. Without explicit encouragement from authorities, many teachers do not make an effort to evaluate and adapt textbooks.

Thirdly, teachers need to know how to evaluate, select and adapt textbooks. At the time when this book is being written, very few ELT teacher education programs in China offer specific training in materials evaluation and design, and publications on ELT materials are hard to find. If textbook evaluation is ever done, it is mostly impressionistic judgment based on experience or intuition. It is the concern for this deplorable situation that made the authors incorporate this last unit into a methodology book, which, in normal cases, would not touch the “material” world.

In this unit, we did not specifically discuss textbook creation, though some classroom teachers are already involved in it. However, most of the suggested ideas about textbook evaluation and adaptation are also applicable to textbook creation.