Role of Textbook in Language Teaching and Learning

Textbooks play a pivotal role in language classrooms in all types of educational institutions – public schools, colleges, and language schools – all over the world. In some contexts, teachers are free to choose their own textbooks. The vast majority of teachers, however, have textbooks suggested, prescribed, or assigned to them (Garinger, 2001). “Textbooks play a very crucial role in the realm of language teaching and learning and are considered the next important factor (element) [italics added] in the second/foreign language classroom after the teacher.” The textbook is a tool in the hands of the teacher, and the teacher must know how to use it, and how useful it can be for everyone. The wealth of published materials for English language teaching (ELT) available in the market makes selecting the right course book a challenging task. Moreover, the selection of a particular core textbook signals an executive educational decision in which there is considerable professional, financial, and even political investment (Sheldon, 1988). Textbooks are a key component in most language programs. In some situations they serve as the basis for much of the language input learners receive and the language practice that occurs in the classroom. They may provide the basis for the content of the lessons, the balance of skills taught and the kinds of language practice the students take part in. In other situations, the textbook may serve primarily to supplement the teacher’s instruction. For learners, the textbook may provide the major source of contact they have with the language apart from input provided by the teacher. In the case of inexperienced teachers textbooks may also serve as a form of teacher training – they provide ideas on how to plan and teach lessons as well as formats that teachers can use. Much of the language teaching that occurs throughout the world today could not take place without the extensive use of commercial textbooks. Learning how to use and adapt textbooks is hence an important part of a teacher’s professional knowledge. (Richards, 2001).

Hutchinson and Torres (1994, p. 232) identify four ways in which textbooks can help in times of educational change: first as “a vehicle for teacher and learner training”; second because they provide “support and relief” from the burden of looking for materials; third by providing “as complete a picture as possible” of “what the change will look like”; and fourth through the psychological support they give to teachers. However, fulfillment of these goals, especially the first and the third, depends on the approach and quality of the textbook. The materials may not be in tune with the new kind of teaching being encouraged, following instead the methodology already commonly being practiced; alternatively, the materials may be so difficult to use that teachers are unable to follow them as intended, making them revert to their previous practice. In either case, rather than agents of change, books will be “agents of conservatism,” reducing the likelihood of teachers trying out new, alternative approaches and methods (Grainger, 2001). So it has great impact at all level of programmes , from policy matter and administrators to teacher and students all rely heavily on textbook to achieve prescribed goals and objectives. The textbook determines the components’ and method of learning. It controls the contents, the method and the procedures of learning.  Students learn what is presented in the textbook, in other words the way the textbook presents materials is the way the students learn it.

In fact the educational philosophy of the textbook influences the class and the learning process. It provides neat and clean platform for it users. Teachers get good readymade activities which provides concrete sample of classroom progress. Sheldon in 1980 identified the reason why the teacher uses textbook. These are as follows:

  • Developing their own classroom material is an extremely difficult process for teachers.
  • They have limited time so to develop new material is difficult due to the nature of their profession.
  • Extreme pressures restrict many teachers: so using text book is one of the most efficient ways of teaching.

Advantages and limitations of a textbook

The use of commercial textbooks in teaching has both advantages and disadvantages, depending on how they are used and the contexts for their use. Among the principal advantages are:

  1. They provide structure and a syllabus for a program.
    Without textbooks a program may have no central core and learners may not receive a syllabus that has been systematically planned and developed.
  2. They help standardize instruction. The use of a textbook in a program can ensure that the students in different classes receive similar content and therefore can be tested in the same way.
  3. They maintain quality. If a well developed textbook is used students are exposed to materials that have been tried and tested, that are based on sound learning principles, and that are paced appropriately.
  4. They provide a variety of learning resources.
    Textbooks are often accompanied by workbooks, CDs and cassettes, videos, CD ROMs, and comprehensive teaching guides, providing a rich and varied resource for teachers and learners.
  5. They are efficient. They save teachers’ time, enabling teachers to devote time to teaching rather than material’s production.
  6. They can provide effective language models and input. Textbooks can provide support for teachers whose first language is not English and who may not be able to generate accurate language input on their own.
  7. They can train teachers. If teachers have limited teaching experience, a textbook together with the teacher’s manual can serve as a medium of initial teacher training.
  8. They are visually appealing. Commercial textbooks usually have high standards of design and production and hence are appealing to learners and teachers.
  9. Economy: A textbook is the cheapest way of providing learning material for each learner.
  10. Convenience: A textbook is a convenient package. It is bound, so that it components stick together and stay in order, it is light and small enough to carry around easily.

However there are also potential negative effects of the use of textbooks. For example:

They may contain inauthentic language.

Textbooks sometimes present inauthentic language since texts, dialogs and other aspects of content tend to be specially written to incorporate teaching points and are often not representative of real language use.

They may distort content.

Textbooks often present an idealized view of the world or fail to represent real issues. In order to make textbooks acceptable in many different contexts controversial topics are avoided and instead an idealized white middle-class view of the world is portrayed as the norm.

They may not reflect students’ needs.

Since textbooks are often written for global markets they often do not reflect the interests and needs of students and hence may require adaptation.

They can deskill teachers.

If teachers use textbooks as the primary source of their teaching leaving the textbook and teacher’s manual to make the major instructional decisions for them the teacher’s role can become reduced to that of a technician whose primarily function is to present materials prepared by others.

They are expensive.

Commercial textbooks may represent a financial burden for students in many parts of the world.

Both the benefits and limitations of the use of textbooks need to be considered, and if the textbooks that are being used in a program are judged to have some negative consequences, remedial action should be taken, e.g. by adapting or supplementing books or by providing appropriate guidance and support for teachers in how to use them appropriately.

So it provides stability for the students or by the will of programme administrative to assure that comparable instruction is being presented across courses. Since textbook plays a major role in language learning and teaching. A textbook is an indispensable tool for the teacher, it is essential for a teacher to be familiar with the different types of textbooks before use. This familiarity with a textbook can be achieved through a critical comparative study of the textbooks vis-avis the syllabus and the underlying philosophy.

Rajeev Ranjan



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