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An evaluation of junior high school English textbooks in Taiwan.

1. Introduction

1.1. Background

In order to keep up with the trend of globalization, the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Taiwan had to outline some proposals for educational reform, including several proposals for the area of English language instruction. Educational reform in the country started in 1997 and is still an ongoing project at present. According to the Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum Guidelines, the MOE initiated a new curriculum based on the Education Reform Action Plan for elementary and junior high schools in Taiwan in 1997 (MOE, Taiwan 2004). For years, English language instruction in Taiwan had been designed to begin in the first year of junior high school. However, with the Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum, English language instruction was advanced to fifth and sixth grade in 2001 and to third and fourth grade in 2005 (MOE, Taiwan 2004; MOE Taiwan 2006). The second change in educational reform was the opening of textbooks for elementary and junior high schools to non-governmental publication. Previously, all textbooks were designed and published by the National Institute for Compilation and Translation. At present, textbook policy in Taiwan has shifted from a unified editorial system to an open examination and appraisal system (Huang 2005).

The MOE of Taiwan (2004) has announced the newest curriculum guidelines for elementary and junior high school. In the English Language Study Area, English learning has been divided into two stages--elementary school and junior high school. The elementary school stage starts at third grade and ends at sixth grade. The junior high school stage, extending from the elementary school stage, starts at seventh grade and ends at ninth grade. There are three curriculum goals for elementary and junior high school students. The first one is to foster students' basic communication abilities and enable them to use the target language in real situations. The communication abilities include listening, speaking, reading, writing and integrated skills. The Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum Guidelines put much emphasis on listening and speaking in the first stage of the curriculum, i.e. the elementary school stage. In the junior high school stage, the balance of the development on the four skills is stressed. However, most of the time, the four skills would not be used in isolation, so the English Ability Indictor (the EAI) also takes the integration ability into account. The second goal of the EAI is to cultivate stu dents' interests and methods in learning English, so they can learn spontaneously and effectively. The last one is to enhance students' recognition of domestic and foreign culture so they can appreciate and respect the differences among cultures. The EAI lists what we expect students to achieve in the two stages of curriculum.

Though all the English textbooks on the market have been carefully reviewed and approved by the MOE, this study proposes to see how they fulfill the requirements of the curriculum guidelines and to offer some insights to school administrators and teachers when they have to choose English textbooks for their students. To these ends, the first purpose of this study is to examine the suitability of the design of language skills training in junior high school English textbooks approved by the MOE. The second goal is to find out if the textbook design fits students' needs. The third one is to identify the strong and weak qualities of textbook design. Thus, this research will answer the following questions:

(1) Are the contents designed for training the four language skills presented appropriately in the current junior high school textbooks?

(2) Does the material design meet students' general needs in terms of how to learn and what to learn?

(3) Does the material design meet Taiwanese students' specific needs from the users' point of view?

1.2. Significance of the study

The result of this study hopefully could offer some suggestions to benefit the English language teachers and educators in Taiwan when choosing textbooks. Also, the study should provide modification directions for textbook designers for English textbooks in the future; and last, the study would show the distinct characteristics of different sets of current English textbooks for teachers' reference. Opinions of the teachers and students using different series of textbooks would also be useful for both teachers and the textbook designers in Taiwan.

1.3. Limitations of the study

There are two limitations of this study. First, there was not enough time and money for the researchers to examine all the teaching materials besides the textbooks, such as the teachers' manuals, students' exercise books, or multimedia supplements. The scope of the study is thus limited to the textbooks only, and does not include the accompanying materials. Therefore, future study can take into account the supplementary materials as well, especially workbooks on the different skills like listening comprehension and writing. The second limitation concerns the participants of the study. The raters, teachers, and students who participated in this study all live in Taipei City or County. The samples of the study are therefore restricted to the northern part of Taiwan. In addition, there might be differences in students' experience of learning English and students' proficiency levels between urban and rural areas. Future studies can consult teachers and students in different areas of Taiwan to ensure the information gathered represents widespread opinions.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Language skills

Listening has been considered important in language learning since the late nineteenth century (Rost 2001). During the Reform Movement, linguists regarded the spoken language as the 'source for and means of foreign language learning' (7); therefore, listening became a focus of language teaching. In the 1940s, Bloomfield (qtd. in Rost 2001) declared that by listening to and imitating native speakers, one can comprehend and speak a language. The emergence of the Audiolingual Method came in the late 1950s (Richards and Rogers 2002). Language skills are taught in the sequence of listening, speaking, reading, then writing. This method puts emphasis on oral-aural drills in order to train learners to use language in real situations. In the late 1960s, the Audiolingual Method started to decline, and Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) first appeared. The CLT approach is learner-centered and emphasizes communication and real-life situations. CLT regards listening as a crucial part of communicative competence (Richards and Rogers 2002; Rost 2001). Since the 1980s, listening has been viewed as 'a critical means of acquiring a second language' (Rost 2001: 8).

Reading is the most important foreign language skill, especially in an environment where students have to read English texts for different purposes, but would not necessarily have a chance to speak English (Harmer 1998; McDonough and Shaw 1993). This is the case with the learning environment in Taiwan. The educational policy in Taiwan requires junior and senior high school students to take examinations in order to attend senior high school or college. However, the examinations focus on reading and writing skills in spite of the fact that the curriculum guidelines of language learning request the four language skills to be taught in a balanced way (MOE, Taiwan 2006). Students do not have many chances to listen or speak English outside the classroom. However, they constantly need to practice reading and writing because they have to prepare for tests.

'People may often form judgments about our language competence from our speaking rather than from any of the other skills' (McDonough and Shaw 1993: 151). Needless to say, speaking is the skill that is most apparent when people learn a second or foreign language. Speaking differs from the written language in grammar, word choice, and discourse structures (Bygate 2001). Similar to listening, speaking needs less reaction time than reading and writing, and requires participants to take turns. This is why learners need to take part in speaking activities to practice discussion or problem-solving (Harmer 1998). McDonough and Shaw propose two distinct frameworks of communication in the classroom. One is called the 'pre-communicative speaking skill classroom' (161), in which the form and structure of conversations are controlled. It emphasizes the accuracy of language and is suitable for beginning learners. The second one is called the 'communicative classroom' (161), in which the use of the target language to communicate is emphasized. In pre-communicative language teaching, dialogues are often offered to teach the rules or vocabulary, yet mostly their purpose is to train students to practice grammar structures but not communication. The language teaching environment in Taiwan conforms for the most part to the pre-communicative framework.

Although speaking and writing are both products of language competence and have equal importance, they are quite different from each other. Riddell (2003) defines the differences between writing and speaking. Writing emphasizes accuracy more than speaking does. Furthermore, writing is more economical, in that hesitators such as 'mmm' or 'well,' etc. do not appear in a written language. Speaking and writing are similar in that both skills can be used to express personal feelings, and they can both serve as indicators of a student's language competence.

2.2. Students' needs

The students, rather than the textbooks, are the center of language learning, and textbooks should be helpful for their learning; therefore, when designing teaching materials, learners' needs should be taken into account (Kitao and Kitao 1997; Shao 2002; Tomlinson 2001; Tsai 2001). The MOE's English curriculum guidelines have three goals: to foster students' basic communication abilities, to cultivate students' interests and methods in learning English, and to enhance students' recognition of domestic and foreign culture.

The four language skills are the foundation of communication. Listening and reading are perceptive skills, whereas speaking and writing are productive skills. These skills are different in several aspects, and they are also similar and related in a close way. In real-world situations, language skills are not used in isolation, but in conjunction with each other. Therefore, for textbook editors, the integration of the use of these four language skills should not be neglected when designing textbooks.

Students' motivation is closely related to their academic performance. The best way to increase their motivation is to arouse their interest and to foster their learning strategy. According to Lewis and Hill (1993), decision-makers choosing textbooks commonly ask, 'Is the subject matter interesting?' (50). In Zhu's (2001) opinion, language learning is a long process, and teachers use textbooks to raise their students' learning interests and positive attitude toward English. In addition, the use of learning methods or strategies which can enhance students' knowledge of language use is stressed in TESOL's (1997) ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students. Learning methods or strategies are ways for making students learn easier. Both students' interests and their methods (or strategies) toward learning help enhance their motivation to learn. Therefore, in this study, the two concepts, i.e. students' interests and students' method of learning, are seen as one aspect which can enhance their motivation. Textbooks should be able to arouse students' interests toward learning and should include contents related to learning methods or strategies.

Aside from the basic language content, students must be informed about the culture and customs of different countries in order to use their target language appropriately. Native culture and customs should also be included in lessons to enable learners to use English to introduce their native culture to foreigners if necessary.

Furthermore, the specific needs of junior high school students in Taiwan include taking the Basic Competence Test (BC Test) in order to enter senior high school as well as the General English Proficiency Test (GEPT) later on; these needs should also be fulfilled by the English textbooks. Firstly, in the year 2002, the MOE instituted the Senior High School Diverse Entrance Project (referred to as the 'Diverse Admission of Senior High School'), and the BC Test for Junior High School Students is a part of it. Junior high school students can choose their way to enter a senior high school or a vocational school through the result of taking the BC Test. Most of the English teaching classes in junior high school, especially in the third year, focus on preparing students for the BC Test. Therefore, the BC Test is of great importance for junior high school students. Secondly, Taiwan is in the grip of GEPT fever. The GEPT is a test developed for junior high school students or older students and citizens, and it is not suitable for elementary school or kindergarten students (Kidland Information Magazine 2005). Nevertheless, the exam-takers are getting younger. At the elementary level, for example, the level of proficiency is set in accordance with the proficiency level of students graduated from junior high school (GEPT Elementary Level). With English learning, parents have a belief of "the earlier, the better," regardless of the feelings of their children. Therefore, in Lin's report (2003), in the year 2003, 36.6% of exam-takers are between 13-15 years old and 6.9% of exam-takers are still studying in elementary school.

2.3. Textbook evaluation

The English textbook market is now open in Taiwan. There are at least five different publishers that provide well-organized and MOE-approved textbooks. What a teacher can do is to select 'the best possible fit' for his or her students from a variety of choices (Cunningsworth 1995: 5; Yin 1999: 15). Frequently, teachers are expected to be responsible for choosing a good textbook for the students. According to Sheldon (1988), for school administrators the selection of a particular set of textbooks is 'an executive educational decision in which there is considerable professional, financial and even political investment' (237). The cost of unsuitable textbook choices is waste of time, money and even professional knowledge. Furthermore, students nowadays expect textbooks to make their learning easier and enjoyable or they will lose interest quickly (Cunningsworth 1995). Last but not least, the selection of textbooks is closely related to students' academic achievement (Shih 1999), and the wrong choice can impede students' performance. Textbook choices thus have very important implications for schools, teachers and students.

2.4. Textbook evaluation criteria

There are several authors who have provided criteria for English textbook selection, such as Lewis and Hill (1993) who suggest that the items that are interesting for teachers do not necessarily interest students; teachers should put themselves in the students' shoes when choosing materials. Kitao and Kitao (1997) emphasize the inclusion of Standard English and cultural information in the textbooks. Observing the issue from the students' viewpoint, they argue that textbooks should proceed in proper difficulty, have clear instructions and support language learning. Harmer (1998) proposes to the teachers a four-stage procedure, i.e. analysis, piloting, consultation and gathering opinions for selecting textbooks. To analyze means teachers should read carefully through all the different textbook choices and answer questions in a checklist. Piloting means trying to use the textbook in a class. There might be some teachers who teach two or more classes at the same level. They could teach different books and compare them. The consultation stage is important since teachers could seek the opinions of some other teachers who had already used the textbook and see how they evaluate the books. Those teachers' opinions are undoubtedly very valuable. The last stage is to gather opinions from different people, from publishers to bookstore owners, from colleagues to students. Those opinions would be equally valuable in making decisions. Hedge (2000) divides the selecting process into two stages. The first one is to investigate whether the textbook fulfills its stated goal. The second stage is to find out if the materials are appropriate and effective in helping students to learn English. She suggests that for the second stage, it would be more convenient and helpful for teachers to make a checklist according to learner factors, institutional setting, and sociocultural context of their own. After all, those factors vary with different circumstances. Garinger (2001) in his paper discusses the reasons why teachers need to use textbooks and emphasizes the importance of making and offering a checklist for evaluating textbooks.

In this study, all the criteria proposed by the above-mentioned authors is consolidated and adjusted into a checklist for the raters of the study as well as the junior high school English teachers in Taiwan.

2.5. Criteria of textbook selection in Taiwan

Taiwan's educational reform has been carried out since 1997, and the Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum has been implemented since 2001. Educators have different views on the new curriculum because the opening of the textbook market has a direct and huge impact on not only teachers but also students. Some suggestions are also brought up for improvement by different educators.

Some articles and studies in Taiwan offer serious discussion on the issue of textbook evaluation. Yin (1999) lists several basic principles for selecting English textbooks. For instance, teachers need to pay attention to students' needs and the layout and the colors used in the textbooks; whether there are teaching aids or supplementary materials; and other users' opinions should also be considered. Shih (1999) describes the quality of an ideal textbook, in terms of contents, situation, application, supplementation and physical characteristics. Lee (1999) gives some tips for teachers to choose textbooks, such as to see if the content of the textbook follows a gradual progression; if the culture information could be found in daily life; if the expressions in the textbook can be applied in the real language environment; if the pictures attract students' attention; and if the contents are diverse in situation and activities.

Dai (2002) gives some suggestions for the improvement of the MOE's Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum. In addition, he proposes a set of textbook evaluation and selection indicators for elementary school teachers. There are twenty-five criteria and each one would be graded from one to four points. One point means the textbook 'needs improvement' on certain criteria and two points mean it is 'O.K.' Three points will be given to a textbook which is 'good' in terms of the quality of certain criteria. If the textbook is excellent in design, it will get four points. The total score of different series of textbooks can serve as a reference for teachers to select textbooks. The set of textbooks which receives the highest score might be considered to be chosen for the students. Since his checklist is designed for selecting the English textbooks for elementary school, it will not be suitable for the selection of junior high school English textbooks. Therefore, he suggests that teachers of either elementary or junior high schools could modify and utilize his checklist when evaluating and choosing textbooks.

2.6. Related research in Taiwan

Some related research has been done on English textbook evaluation in Taiwan. Ma (2003) conducts an evaluation of the elementary English textbooks of the Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum. She uses American Council in the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Performance Guidelines for K-12 Learners, ESL Standards for Pre-K-12 Students, Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) Framework and the MOE's EAI as the framework to generate a set of textbook selecting criteria--the English Textbook Evaluation Guidelines (ETEG). Her findings show that the organization of elementary English textbooks covers a variety of topics and the design follows the theory of multiple intelligences. The results also indicate that the elementary school English textbooks designed for the Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum show that there is an unequal distribution of the 5Cs--Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities, and that the textbooks emphasize communication design. Most of the textbook series contains communication and connections, but comparisons and communities are found in only a small proportion. The culture aspect lies somewhere between the two extremes. Though the textbooks are similar in design, each textbook series has its own characteristics. The progression across four levels shows no statistical significance. In addition, several other scholars have reviewed the ways that textbooks are used in elementary schools (Huang 2004; Sun 2000). Wang (2007) uses eight criteria to evaluate three series of textbooks for young learners, Power up English, Darbie, Teach me and English (43). These eight criteria are: appearance, durability and organization, language content, text-types and genres, cultural content, tasks and activities, quality and relevance of illustrations, interest level, and quality and quantity of supplementary resources. She concludes that the design of these books has not fulfilled the national English curriculum guidelines.

Alternatively, in Pan's (2004) thesis, she reviews the tentative versions of the junior high school English textbooks of the Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum. She inspects the distribution of the four language skills by counting the number of activities of each skill. First, she uses Dubin and Olshtain's (1986) communicativeness scale as an instrument to investigate the five versions of junior high school English textbooks. Because the opening up of publication started in 2002, she could collect only incomplete series of textbooks still in the process of revision; therefore, the textbooks examined in the study are called tentative versions of junior high school English textbooks. The researcher tries to find out the communicative degree of the activities in the books. Second, she distinguishes the language skills and their integration into fifteen categories. Activities of the five series of textbooks are classified in terms of the communicative degree and in terms of the fifteen categories. Three raters are involved in the classification. Two randomly chosen lessons from each book are carefully reviewed by the three raters. After classification, the three raters negotiate the differences among them until the final agreements are achieved. The researcher herself then does the rest of the classification according to the agreements among the three raters. She finally computes the degree of communicativeness of each book. She finds that there's an unequal distribution of the four skills and the integrated skills. The listening and speaking skills outweigh the reading and writing skills.

3. Method

3.1. Materials and participants

Five different versions of the MOE-approved junior high school English textbooks available in Taiwan are being published. Each publisher revises its content every year in order to keep up with modifications of the MOE curriculum guidelines and feedback from teachers.

The materials selection criteria for this study are as follows: first, the textbooks should be compiled according to the MOE's Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum Guidelines; second, the textbooks should be examined and approved by the Textbooks Review Committee of the MOE and should be available on the publishing market now; third, the textbooks adopted in this paper are the most recent complete versions of each publisher. As a result, the textbooks used in this study are published by five well-known publishers in Taiwan. Because our goal is to assess the effectiveness of different types of content rather than to advocate one or another textbook series, the publishers' names are not presented directly in the paper. Instead, they are identified with alphabetical letters, from A to E.

A major caveat here is that only textbooks are examined in this research. Due to limited time and energy, other materials such as exercise books for students, interactive CDs and teachers' manuals were not considered in this study. Each publisher issues two volumes of textbooks each school year (one for the Fall semester and another for the Spring semester). The junior high school level contains three school years, so each series of textbooks has six volumes. Therefore, a total of thirty textbooks were evaluated for this study.

In order to avoid subjectivity, another rater was included in the data analysis process. Aside from the first researcher, who was a graduate student in the Institute of Linguistics at the time of the evaluation, the other rater was a junior high school English teacher with a bachelor's degree in English, who received formal training in teaching education and who had been teaching in junior high school for several years.

The most effective way of knowing about the textbooks is to consult their users' opinions (Cunningsworth 1995), because the teachers and the students are the actual users of the textbooks. Thus, their views toward textbooks are also gathered in this study. Six junior high school teachers and twenty-eight junior high school students who were currently using the five series of textbooks took part in the study's interviews and surveys. They were from junior high schools in the Taipei area. All of the teachers taught English in junior high school for at least three years. Two of the teachers had twenty years of teaching experience. Most of them taught both the unified version of textbooks and also the textbooks designed for the Nine-Year Integrated Curriculum in junior high school. The student-interviewees were randomly selected from these teachers' classes. All of them used the textbooks for at least two years; therefore, they were familiar with the design of the textbooks and could provide valuable opinions. These teachers and students are referred in the paper as T1 to T6 and S1 to S28, respectively.

3.2. Instruments

The first instrument used in this study is the Evaluation Questions for the Junior High School English Textbooks (see Appendix A) which was generated by the researchers after they carefully reviewed and consulted literature concerning language course design. The evaluation questions consisted of seven grading items. Items one to four were related to the four language skills design; the four language skills are the perceptive skills (listening and reading) and the productive skills (speaking and writing). The rest of the three items were concerned with students' needs which are integrated skills, interests and method as well as culture and customs. Under each item, there were several questions for further examination. The evaluation questions were used to evaluate the five sets of present junior high school English textbooks available on the market to see the similarities and differences among each publisher. A rating form was created for the two raters to fill in the scores (see Appendix B). Every volume uses one form. After grading, raters were asked to respond to several open-ended questions and give some comments on each set of the textbooks in another comment form (see Appendix C). Nevertheless, evaluation performed by the raters was not enough. The most effective way to know about the textbooks is to consult the users' opinions (Cunningsworth 1995), because the teachers and the students are the actual users of the textbooks. Therefore, their views toward textbooks are the most direct and valuable information in textbook evaluation. As a result, the third instrument is the Interview Questions for Junior High School Teachers (see Appendix D for the English version; the original instrument was in Chinese). The subjects of the interview were the teachers who were using textbooks published by different publishers of English textbooks. The last instrument of this study is the Survey Questions for Junior High School Students (see Appendix E for the English version; the original instrument was in Chinese). The design of the Chinese versions of the interview and survey was for the convenience of the teachers and students. The design of the students' survey was different from the design of the teachers' interview because students were not as professional as their teachers; therefore, the questions for the students mainly asked about their interests and preferences in regard to the characteristics of textbooks. The interview and survey served the purpose of mirroring students' needs and, alternatively, of strengthening the statistical results of the research.

3.3. Procedure

Four steps were executed in the evaluation of the junior high school English textbooks. The first step was to select English textbooks currently used in Taiwan as the study subjects of this research. Next, the five sets of English textbooks were carefully reviewed. Each set of textbooks from the five publishers was graded, and the raters gave open comments after grading them. The data were processed using SPSS version 10.0 (Statistics Package for the Social Science). Last, the first author of this study conducted interviews with junior high school teachers and administered surveys to the students with the permission of the teachers. The interviews and surveys were done in Mandarin Chinese. The interviews were recorded with permission from the interviewees, transcribed and then analyzed. The students' surveys were also reviewed and dissected. The interview transcripts and survey responses were then translated into English for the write-up of this study. Accordingly, the interviews and surveys constitute the qualitative analysis of the study. "In educational research there is also justification for the use of at least three different viewpoints in analysis" (Burns 2000: 420). Therefore, the method used to enhance the credibility of this study is data triangulation (Berg 1989: 5; Denzin and Lincoln 2000: 391). A cross-reference of the quantitative and qualitative analyses was conducted. Finally, conclusions and suggestions are offered based on the findings of the analyses.

The sources of analysis of this study are the results of the textbook ratings, the open comments of the raters, the teachers' interviews, and the students' surveys.

4. Results

Inter rater-reliability of the two raters was tested by Spearman's correlation coefficient. The result reveals a coefficient of significant correlation (r = .849, p<.01) between the two raters to be at the 0.01 level. Therefore, the mean ratings of the two raters are used as the raw data of this study when performing the statistical analyses.

4.1. Comparison of the design of the four skills across six volumes

The researchers first employed a two-way ANOVA to see the interaction between the four language skills and the six volumes of textbooks. The result shows that there are significant differences in the main effects, skills (^=60.836; p=.000) and volumes (F=11.876; p=.000), and also in the interaction, skills * volumes (i<=4.636; p=.000).

Scheffe's post hoc test shows that in current junior high school English textbooks, the design of the listening (mean = 3.020) and reading (mean = 2.999) skills is stronger than the design of the speaking skill (mean = 2.793). The design of the writing skill (mean = 2.468), however, is weaker than the other three skills. The ratings of the different volumes of textbooks also differ significantly.

In Table 1, the ratings of the six volumes of the textbooks are presented. These ratings are lower in volumes five and six compared to the first four volumes. To see the differences in the interaction of skills and volumes, the one-way ANOVA was performed individually for each skill to see if there are significant differences on the mean ratings of the four skills across the six volumes of textbooks. The results reveal that the differences of the ratings of three skills--listening (F=11.862; p=.000), speaking (F=4.658; p=.000), and writing (F=5.669; p=.000), all reach a significant level.

The mean ratings of the four skills in the six volumes of textbooks are listed in Table 2. Only the ratings of the reading skill do not show any significant difference. The design of the listening skill is strong in volumes one, two, and four but weak in volumes five and six. Speaking skill design is strong in the first two volumes but weak in the sixth volume. The design of the writing skill is strong in the third and fourth volumes but weak in the other four volumes.

4.2. The results of students' needs

Students' needs are divided into three categories: integrated skills, students' interests and methods toward learning, and culture and customs. First, a one-way ANOVA was conducted to see if there are differences in the ratings of the design of the integrated skills among different publishers. The result reveals a significant difference in the ratings of the integrated skills among the five different series of textbooks. It is shown that there is a significant difference between textbook series C and the other series of textbooks. The rating of textbook series E significantly differs from the ratings of textbook series B and D. Textbook series A does not show any statistical significance on the rating of the integrated skills compared to the other textbooks, aside from series C. Table 3 shows the mean ratings of integrated skills in the five series of textbooks. The result suggests that the design of integrated skills is strong in textbook series D and B; however, it is weak in textbook series C and E.

There is no significant difference in the ratings of interests and methods among the five series of textbooks from the publishers.

Table 4 lists the mean ratings of interests and methods in the five series of textbooks. In this case, there is no need to perform the post hoc analysis.

There are significant differences in the ratings of culture and customs among the five series of textbooks. The mean ratings of culture and customs in the five series of textbooks are presented in Table 5. The rating on culture and customs reveals no significant differences between textbook series B and D. However, there are statistically significant differences between textbook series B and the other three series of textbooks. This means that the design of culture and customs is stronger in textbook series B and D than in textbook series A, C, and E.

4.3. Qualitative results

Four out of six teachers in the interviews indicated that the design of the four language skills is balanced (T1, T3, T5, T6). Other teachers pointed out that the writing and speaking practices in the textbooks are limited. The writing exercises in current textbooks are mostly sentence pattern drills--which were done even in the highest level--instead of paragraph writing. In Taiwan's junior high schools, each class has more than thirty students. Students in Taiwan have limited chances to practice speaking and writing during class time.

The design of integrated skills is found in each series of textbooks. All of the teachers interviewed think that if the content is relevant to the students' lives, the integrated skills practices in the textbooks would be useful for them. Two of the teachers' opinions show that the integrated skills activity design in the textbooks helps students with everyday conversations; however, extra materials still needs to be supplemented for the students to have more complicated interactions with people (T4, T5).

'It is almost impossible to design a textbook which can fit everyone's expectation, because everyone has different life experiences,' T1 said in her interview. Students' interests may vary, and from teachers' observations, there are some features of a textbook that can attract their students' attention. For example, warm-up activities serve an important role in arousing students' interests. Topic choices are also a major attraction for the textbooks. In the interviews of the teachers, most of them agreed that topics should not only be relevant to students' lives, but should also be related to current issues (T2, T3, T4, T5). Another teacher remarked, 'The contents and topics of the textbooks should include various subject matters, from ancient to modern times, from where we are to everywhere around the world' (T5). Teachers also discovered that their students find a consistent storyline interesting (T4, T6). However, the format of the lessons should not be repetitive. A repeated format not only bores students, but the teachers as well. One of the teachers indicated in her interview, 'There is a regular pattern of activities in the textbook. A rigid format, which lacks variety, bores me even when I'm teaching' (T6).

All six teachers interviewed pointed out that there is not much content found on the explanation of language learning methods or strategies in the textbooks. Only one teacher talked about the use of the dictionary in one textbook (T5). All of the teachers needed to teach their students other language learning methods or strategies such as affixation and reading strategies during class time by themselves.

According to the teachers, most of the information on culture and customs in textbooks is concerned with Chinese holidays and holidays in foreign countries. However, one of the teachers pointed out that there is more information on the native culture and customs than on the information of foreign culture and customs; therefore, she suggested that supplementary materials should be added (T5). Two other teachers indicated that, by using real photos related to culture and customs in the textbooks, students were motivated and they could understand the information easily (T3, T5).

The responses of the students' surveys indicate that they felt there are more reading skill practices in their textbooks compared to practices on the other three skills. As a result, they feel that they have few chances to practice listening and speaking skills because there are not enough exercises on these skills in their textbooks. There is still one important issue to add: the students expected more paragraph-based writing exercises instead ofjust the sentence-level exercises found in their textbooks.

Students' responses toward the physical appearance and layout of the textbooks reveal that they prefer real photos to artist-drawn pictures because this allows them to connect the content of textbooks to real life.

Moreover, it is very important that the pictures or photos match the language content; otherwise, the students might get confused or lose interest. However, most students say that there is not much information related to learning methods or strategies presented in the textbooks. They can only remember content such as pronunciation practices (using Kenyon and Knott phonetics or Phonics--the two most common tools for teaching pronunciation in Taiwan), ways of looking up a word in a dictionary, and the vocabulary cards included at the back of each book.

Culture and customs information in the textbooks, which makes the deepest impression on the students, is on holidays and religion, and such information is normally presented as extra units. One of the students wrote, 'I like the extension sections very much, because they are fun and they make me want to gain more knowledge' (S21). Sometimes there are also comparisons of native and foreign cultures and customs. Culture and customs information such as table manners, taboos in other cultures, eating habits in different cultures, and even the lifestyles of foreigners are also demonstrated. Most of the students find cultural information interesting, and they would like to know most about cultural information that is not so popular, for example, Icelandic culture.

When asked about what type of activity the students favor, their answers vary. Some of the students think that songs, especially pop music, are interesting; some think that tongue twisters are funny; some like extension units; and others want different types of activities so the lessons would not be boring.

Students like a variety of topics, and all the textbooks provide the students with various topics. Topics that interest the students the most are those relevant to school life and those about famous people, current issues, animals, foreign cultures and foreigners. Students like topics that are related to their lives. For instance, one student wrote, 'The characters have a similar background and lifestyle as me, so I found the content very interesting' (S9). In addition, the survey results reveal that students also like fictional stories. For example, some students find detective stories very interesting.

From the raters' point of view, there are some strengths and weaknesses in the current textbook design. Both raters noted in the open-ended comments form that textbook series A has a logical arrangement of activities, which follows the natural order of people's first language acquisition (Bowen et al. 1985). For instance, one rater wrote, 'The design of activities in series A textbook follows a regular pattern, with a sequence of listening, speaking, reading, and writing' (R2). However, there are no warm-up activities, so the textbook loses a major attraction for the students. Moreover, the activities in the fifth and sixth volumes are designed in a similar way to tests, which most ninth graders would have been fed up with by the time they use the books. In textbook series B, there are a variety of activities and topics. It also has appropriate expressions which students may find useful in the real world. However, the grammar arrangement in textbook series B is not done in a traditional order. It increases the difficulty for the students if they are at the beginning level.

Textbook series C, unlike the other series of textbooks, has a consistent storyline and characters. It progresses like a novel, and students might want to find out how the story ends. However, the conversations and paragraphs in this series feel artificial rather than natural. The sentences and language used in the books are not satisfactory. Compared to the other series of textbooks, textbook series D has more exercises on speaking and writing, and the interactive activities in it are better than the activities in the other series of textbooks. However, some of its activities, especially its speaking practices, are not practical. It is not easy for the students to finish practicing an activity in the textbook with their limited class time. In textbook series E, both raters agreed that the grammar arrangement progresses in a gradual way. However, the activities in textbooks are not varied; up until the last two volumes, the activities are designed as preparations for the BC Test. It might help the students to prepare for the test, but this kind of design might also bore them.

5. Discussion

5.1. Major findings of the four language skills

The results show that there are significant differences in the design of individual skills in current junior high school English textbooks in Taiwan. This means that, in the textbooks, the design of language skills shows different degrees of compliance with the evaluation questions in this study. The post hoc test further signifies the differences among the four skills. The listening and reading skills get higher ratings compared to the speaking skill, whereas the writing skill gets the lowest rating. This implies that the design of the listening skill in current junior high school textbooks is sounder than the design of the other three skills, whereas the writing skill, on the other hand, is weaker in design compared to the other three.

There are also statistical differences among the ratings of the six volumes of textbooks. Volumes five and six have comparatively lower ratings compared to the first four volumes. To further look at this result, a detailed inspection across the six volumes on the differences of the four skills is carried out. The results reach a significant level. Except for the mean rating of the reading skill, the other three skills reveal significant differences among the six volumes.

The listening skill design has relatively high ratings in volumes one to four, but declines in the fifth and sixth volumes. The design of the speaking skill is stronger in the first two volumes than in the sixth volume. The design of the reading skill does not show any significant differences across the six volumes, which means that the level of the design is at the same across the six volumes. The design of the writing skill follows a trend that increases in the first two volumes and reaches its peak in the third and fourth volumes before falling in the last two volumes.

Teachers' interviews reveal that the amount of the listening and speaking practices lessens in the last two volumes. The analysis of teachers' interviews conforms to the statistical results on the design of listening and speaking skills that most of the textbooks focus on listening and speaking skills in the first two volumes and emphasize them less in the last two volumes. English learning in Taiwan aims towards attaining language fluency in the elementary school stage. Therefore, for first-year junior high school students, textbooks offer more consistent practices on listening and speaking skills. Until the second year, the emphasis on listening and speaking is gradually lessened. To enter senior high school, students are required to take the BC Test, so in their third year of junior high school, students no longer focus on listening and speaking skills. Their priorities shift to the practice of reading and writing skills instead.

From the statistical results and the raters' opinions, the design of the skills does not become stronger, though most of the teachers indicated that the amount of exercises on the reading and writing skills grows as the level advances. Raters also find an increase in the proportion of reading and writing skills. However, the reading and writing exercises in the last two volumes are mostly designed to prepare students for the BC Test. The lack of variety and progression in the design of reading and writing exercises prevents the two skills from getting comparatively higher ratings in the last two volumes.

5.2. Major findings of students' needs

The five series of textbooks all provide students with practices on integrated skills. Textbooks should have activities on integrated skills which resemble the real world, so that students can prepare for real situations they might encounter (Byrne 1987). Moreover, textbooks should also provide students with different kinds of integrated skills activities so that they could integrate different language skills when different situations occur. Teachers consider the integrated skills useful for students if the topics are relevant to the students' lives. In fact, they do think that the topics in most of the textbooks are designed to be related to students' lives. However, there are no diverse activities on integrated skills. Most of the integrated skills exercises are limited to 'listen and write it down,' 'read and say,' 'read and write,' or 'listen and repeat' activities. Because of these limited activities, students might not be capable of coping with different situations that might require them to use language skills in an integrated way.

On students ' interests and methods of language learning, there is no significant difference among the five series of textbooks, and its ratings toward learning are lower than the ratings of integrated skill and the ratings of culture and customs. The importance of students' interests and methods toward learning lies in the fact that students are motivated to learn if they are interested in learning and if they are taught methods or strategies of learning. From the interviews of the teachers, the surveys of the students, and the comments of the raters, there are indications that all the textbooks seem to attract students in their appearance and topics. However, the design of learning methods or strategies does not follow closely the MOE's request to cultivate students' methods in learning English. Only one out of five series of textbooks offer directions to look up new vocabulary in a dictionary. This suggests that the textbook designers should put more emphasis on designs that can arouse students' interests and that contain learning methods or strategies, such as affixation, word-guessing strategies and some basic reading and writing strategies.

Textbooks should contain information on both native and foreign culture and customs in order for students to use the language effectively, correctly and according to socio-cultural rules. Customs should be considered because this is the other part of the language competence--sociocultural competence (Dubin and Olshtain 1986). Students find that the information on different cultures can arouse their interest. Also, text books should provide students with appropriate and useful expressions in different cultures so that they can use them to communicate with other people without being impolite or making mistakes.

In meeting the specific needs of Taiwanese students, all five series of textbooks provide enough practices to prepare them for the BC Test. Fundamentally, the purpose of the junior high school English textbooks is to equip the students with basic language competence as well as help them pass the BC Test. Therefore, all of the teachers point out that the current English textbooks are sufficient for dealing with the BC Test. The statistical results also show that the fifth and the sixth volumes of textbooks are more test-oriented than the other four volumes. However, in regard to the GEPT in Taiwan, though the junior level of the proficiency test is set in accordance with the proficiency level of junior high school graduates, most of the teachers remark that the basic 2,000 vocabulary announced by the MOE is not enough for students to pass the GEPT, though the content provided on grammar and structure in the textbooks is sufficient. In addition, the GEPT evaluates not only the reading and writing skills, but also the listening and speaking skills. For students in Taiwan, who do not have many chances to practice listening and speaking in class, the GEPT is rather difficult. Although the raters' survey indicates the design of the listening practice is better than the other three skills, some teachers and students find insufficient listening and speaking exercises. In addition, students do not get multiple chances to practice speaking in class due to limited class time. Hence, the textbooks offer limited help for students who plan to take the GEPT.

5.3. Strong and weak qualities of textbook design

There are nine good qualities found in the current batch of junior high school English textbooks in Taiwan. First of all, most of the contents and topics in the five series of textbooks are related to students' lives. Students are more interested in things they encounter in their everyday lives; hence, the situations presented in the textbooks should be associated with their lifestyle (Lee 1999; Shao 2002; Shih 1999).

Moreover, students are fond of extension or optional activities. In addition to this, information on different cultures is welcomed by the students. Several students point out that they are interested in topics concerning different cultures, and they also suggest that there should be real photos accompanying the cultural information. Furthermore, consistency in the textbooks can affect students' interests. For instance, in textbook series C, almost all of the characters in the textbooks are junior high school students. From volumes one to six, the students are familiar with the characters and their stories. According to some students, it is like reading a novel or a comic book, and they want to know 'how the story of the characters ends.'

Besides advocating the variety of activities in the textbooks, teachers find a gradual and logical progression of grammar effective for students' learning and for their teaching convenience. They stress the importance of a gradual progression of grammar, similar to the traditional version of junior high school English textbooks. In the raters' view, the absence of the Chinese gloss in textbooks is a good way to train the students to use learning strategies such as word-guessing. In addition, if the textbooks can offer English vocabulary definitions, these can also help the students use English to learn English, rather than using Chinese to learn English. Moreover, the use of information gaps in the activities in textbooks can allow the students to use the language in a meaningful situation and also give them a reason to converse with other people.

After analyzing the interview transcripts of the teachers and the survey responses of the students, seven weak qualities in junior high school textbooks design are deduced. Both teachers and students prefer more writing exercises (T4, T5, S11, S14, S19), and the activity design is expected to be more diverse (T6, S8, S15, S25). The contents should also be related to current social events. Outdated contents may reduce students' interests (T4). The lack of gradation on grammar and writing exercises should be avoided (T2, T3) as well. In the raters' point-of-view, warm-up activities in different forms, such as games, questions, or pictures, should not be neglected. On the one hand, these activities arouse students' interest, and on the other hand, they give students a rough idea of what they are going to learn. Also, the raters have found that a colorful layout sometimes looks messy and might distract students' attention. Furthermore, from the responses of the teachers and students, it is also important to associate the contexts with their accompanying pictures. Unrelated pictures might only confuse the students. Some of these findings are consistent with suggestions about the design and contents of textbooks offered by researchers such as Cunningsworth (1995), Cabrera and Bazo (2002), and Riddell (2003).

5.4. Pedagogical implications

In keeping up with the results of the study, some pedagogical implications are offered in this section. The implication concerning both the textbook designers and junior high school teachers can be proposed in two ways: the design of language skills and the design of students' needs.

First, the textbook designers should put more emphasis on the design of the writing skill. The results show that each of the five series of textbooks puts comparatively less emphasis on the design of the writing skill. This not only runs counter to the request of the MOE, which requires the development of students' language skills equally (MOE, Taiwan 2006), but it also fails to give students enough practice on writing. Writing exercises in the textbooks should be presented in different ways in order for them to help develop students' basic writing competence.

Second, there should be a proper gradation of skill design across the six volumes of textbooks. Except for the reading skill, the design of the other skills varies across the six volumes, according to the statistical results. The gradation among the volumes is not even. The listening, speaking, and writing skills become less emphasized in the last two volumes. Textbook writers should try to eliminate the differences among the volumes. For example, according to the teachers, writing activities increase in amount in volumes five and six. However, the quality of the design of the writing skill decreases in these last two volumes. The increase in the amount of reading practices sacrifices the quality of the writing exercises. Most of the writing exercises in the last two volumes are similar in structure to test questions. Over-emphasis on preparing for tests might lead to the loss of the real essence of language learning. This is what textbook writers should try to avoid. Otherwise, the textbook might become boring and ineffective for students' learning. Therefore, it is important for the writers to give attention to the gradation of the design of the writing skill.

Last, the design of the speaking skill should be practical. There are only 45 minutes in a learning period, and there are more than 30 students in a class in junior high school in Taiwan. Though there are six to eight learning periods in a week, it is almost impossible for every student to have an opportunity to speak English to the teacher within such a short time. Each textbook has many types of speaking skills, but some of them are not practical. When designing the textbook, textbook writers should take into account the limited time students and teachers have in class. A proposed suggestion is to include speaking practices in the students' homework. Students can record questions and answers on a tape orally, so that teachers would have a chance to listen to all the students' speaking. This will definitely become a burden for the teachers, but it might be a moderate solution to practical speaking practices.

To fulfill students' needs in general, emphasis should be placed on the design of integrated skills, on interests and methods toward learning and on culture and customs information. These should be included in junior high school English textbooks because they are what students need to learn aside from language skills. The results reveal that integrated skills get moderate ratings; however, the ratings in the design of interests and methods along with the design of culture and customs information are not very high, especially in the provision of the learning methods or strategies. None of the participants in this study, including the raters, teachers, and students, found much emphasis on the design of learning methods and strategies in current junior high school English textbooks. Hence, the writers of the textbooks should put more emphasis on the design of the learning methods or strategies to help students learn more easily and effectively.

Most of the students' opinions from the survey of this study signify that, for them, cultural information is very interesting and motivational. The design of the culture and customs is relatively weaker than the design of the integrated skills. Textbook writers should interweave diverse cultural and customs information into the books so that it can arouse students' interest and also give them opportunities to appreciate differences between domestic and foreign cultures.

Parents and teachers in Taiwan are in favor of the GEPT and think that the GEPT helps them know about the students' achievement in language learning. Since current English textbooks offer limited help in preparing the students for the GEPT, there is a need for teachers to give students supplementary materials to help enlarge their vocabulary and train their four skills and learning strategies.
Appendix A: Evaluation Questions for the Junior High School
English Textbooks

Grading Items       Descriptive Questions for Grading

Receptive Skills

  Listening         1-1   Are there any pre-listening
                          activities to help students'
                          comprehension in this section?

                    1-2   Are there any visual aids to
                          help students' comprehension
                          in this section?

                    1-3   Are the listening activities
                          in this section relevant to
                          students' life?

  Reading           2-1   Are there any pre-reading
                          activities to help students'
                          comprehension in this section?

                    2-2   Are the reading texts in this
                          section authentic?

                    2-3   Are the reading activities in
                          this section presented in
                          various ways?

Productive Skills

  Speaking          3-1   Are pre-communication
                          activities offered?

                    3-2   Are the speaking practices in
                          this section meaningful for
                          the students?

                    3-3   Do the speaking practices in
                          this section encourage
                          students to use the target
                          language to express his/her
                          own thoughts?

  Writing           4-1   Are there examples for writing
                          activities to help students'
                          learning in this section?

                    4-2   Is there gradual progression
                          of the writing tasks?

                    4-3   Are the writing practices
                          presented in various ways?

Integrated Skills   5-1   Are   the   integrated
                          skills   activities   based on
                          real-world situations?

                    5-2   Is there a variety of
                          activities on integrated

Interests and       6-1   Can the activities in this
Methods in                section arouse students' in-
Learning English          terest and motivate students
                          to search for further in-

                    6-2   Do the activities in this
                          section contain learning
                          methods or study skills
                          (explicitly or implicitly)?

Culture and         7-1   Does this section offer
Customs                   cross-cultural comparison
                          between foreign and domestic

                    7-2   Does this section provide
                          students the appropriate
                          expressions used in the target

Appendix B: Junior High School English Textbook Evaluation Grading Chart


Appendix C: The Comments Form for the Raters


Appendix D: Interview Questions for Junior High School Teachers

1. In the textbook you are using, is there a particular emphasis on the design of the four language skills, i.e. listening, speaking, reading and writing?

2. Can the integrated skill activities included in the textbook enable students to use the language in real life?

3. In your point of view, will the textbook draw students' attention or arouse their interest in terms of content, topics and layout design?

4. Are there any learning methods or strategies in the textbooks to make students' learning easier?

5. How is the design of cultural information? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the arrangement of cultural information in the textbook?

6. Is the content of the textbook authentic?

7. Is the difficulty of the textbook suitable for the students' level? Is the grammar arranged in a gradual and logical way?

8. Can the textbook help students to prepare for taking examinations such as the BE Test or the GEPT?

9. Please give an overall suggestion to the publishers regarding the design of the textbook.

Appendix E: Survey Questions for Junior High School Students

1. Is there a particular emphasis on the design of the four language skills in this version of the textbook, i.e. listening, speaking, reading and writing? Can you give any examples?

2. Can the textbook arouse your interest in learning? Can you give any examples?

3. Can the textbook offer you any language learning methods or strategies? Can you give any examples?

4. Does the textbook include different cultural information? Can you give any examples?

5. Can the activity design in the textbook attract you in any ways? Can you give any examples?

6. Are the topics in the textbook interesting? Can you give any examples?

7. Can the activity design in the textbook help your language learning? Can you give any examples?

[Received 13 Aug. 2008; accepted 5 Jan. 2009]


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Table 1. Rating of the Six Volumes of Textbooks

Volumes   Mean of two raters

   1            2.916
   2            2.866
   3            2.940
   4            2.865
   5            2.736
   6            2.558

Table 2. Mean Rating of the Four Skills in the Six Volumes of Textbooks

Skills /  Volumes   Listening   Reading   Speaking   Writing

        1             3.286      2.966     2.974      2.436
        2             3.150      2.979     2.979      2.359
        3             3.141      3.043     2.735      2.842
        4             3.218      3.004     2.714      2.526
        5             2.783      3.004     2.787      2.371
        6             2.465      2.995     2.530      2.242

Table 3. Means of Integrated Skills in the Five Series of Textbooks

Publishers   Means

    A        2.592
    B        2.750
    C        2.227
    D        2.819
    E        2.527

Table 4. Means of Interests and Methods in the Five Series of Textbooks

Publishers   Means

    A        2.033
    B        2.125
    C        1.792
    D        1.882
    E        2.053

Table 5. Means of Culture and Customs in the Five Series of Textbooks

Publishers   Means

    A        2.168
    B        2.842
    C        1.972
    D        2.382
    E        2.133
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Date:Jan 1, 2009
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