Teachers' needs and predesigned instructional practices: an analysis of a reading/language arts coursebook for a second grade class.
The profound interest in the need to improve the teaching of the English language is reflected in the large number of coursebooks published yearly in this country. Course-books are published with a variety of supplementary resources such as practice work-books, videos, CD-ROMs, cassettes and so on to facilitate language teaching and learning. In addition, such textbooks come in complete packages with precise specifications of what to teach, how to teach it, practice activities, participatory structure and expected learning outcomes. In fact, it will be largely accurate to say that besides language teachers, coursebooks are the single most powerful and increasingly pervasive tool of language arts instructions in schools. Richards and Rodgers (2001) observe that coursebooks are a vital component of the curriculum as they specify "subject-matter content, even where no syllabus exists, and define or suggest the intensity of coverage for syllabus items, allocating the amount of time, attention, and detail particular syllabus items or tasks required" (p. 29).
However, teachers frequently complain of lack of suitable materials that address their own teaching needs and the language needs of their students. At the heart of the issue is whether structured textbooks reflect teachers' diverse needs, interests and preferences. This is why Masuhara (1998) argues that teachers should play a pivotal role in materials development as they are the ones charged with the implementation of such materials. But unfortunately there is little research on how teachers react to implementation of structured coursebooks or how such coursebooks align with teachers' own beliefs and theories about language arts instructional practices. Therefore Masuhara notes that "teacher variables have received very little attention in literature" (p. 239).
This is why Block (1991) and Richard (2000) argue that the critical issue of textbook selection, adaptation, development and evaluation has not been given the much deserved attention despite the fact that commercial coursebooks are the primary, and sometimes the only source of teaching materials available to teachers in classrooms. Richards thus concludes that "much less attention has been given to textbooks" (p. 125). It is therefore critically important that researchers engage in the study of what teachers want in textbooks in order to understand "idiosyncratic aspects of teaching, of gaps in materials coverage, or even innovative approaches to materials development" (Masuhara 1998, p. 244).
Method of the Study
First, through literature review (Littlejohn 1998, Masuhara 1998 and Tomlinson 1998), I identified teachers' factors that should inform the design and development of language arts coursebook. Second, 100 elementary school teachers in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) were asked to identify three aspects of the course book they consider most effective, three least effective and three recommendations for improving the book. Third, three chapters of Open Court Reading, the mandatory coursebook for language arts instruction in second grade, were randomly selected for analysis to identify predesigned instructional activities and roles for teachers (see Table 1). Finally, I matched the identified critical factors in language teaching coursebooks with the preselected instructional activities in the coursebook to determine its adequacy to meet the needs, interests and preferences of elementary school teachers in LAUSD.
Background to the Coursebook
In the mid 1990s the district adopted the Open Court language arts program in K through third grade. Pivotal to the program was the adoption of a unified and strictly structured coursebook as a way of providing instructional activities in reading/language arts classrooms. This was part of LAUSD reforms which called for "schoolwide adoptions of a unified, well-integrated curriculum and instructional approach" and also stressed the need for all teachers to use the "same textbooks, have had the same training on how to use the curriculum effectively ..." (EdSource, p. 34).
The 1999 Reading/Language Arts Framework for California Public Schools thus sets very strict standards to provide "a road map for designers and developers of instruct-tional materials" (p. 249) in California State. The underlying assumption is that textbooks can "greatly influence the amount and rate of learning in classroom" (p. 14). The basic foundation for the design of coursebooks is that such materials incorporate "specific strategies, teaching/instructional activities, procedures, examples, and opportunities for review and application consistent with current and confirmed research" (p. 14).
Open Court Reading
Open Court Reading is a heavily scripted language arts coursebook which relies on Direct Instruction Method. The coursebook emphasizes such aspects as Phonemic Awareness Instruction, Phonics Instruction, Fluency Instruction, Vocabulary Instruction and Text Comprehension Instruction. Instructional activities preselected for teachers include activating pupils' prior knowledge, reading aloud, discussion of reading aloud, whole-group discussion, unit investigations, using question/concept board and home connection. Classroom teaching involves specific phases such as warm up phase, phonics phase (using introduction to material, blending and phonic skills), dictation and spelling phase (using dictation, word building game and spelling) and reading decodable book phase. The structure of the coursebook is briefly summarized as Orientation, Presentation, Highly Structure Practice, Guided Practice and Independent Practice.
About the teachers
LAUSD is the second largest school district in the nation with a student population of over 740,000. The district has about 426 elementary schools across the sprawling city of Los Angeles. As part of the reforms in the district, teachers are mandated to adhere to Open Court Reading and also attend trainings on how to use the material. In a larger study (Lee and Ajayi, in progress) 100 elementary school teachers were asked to identify three aspects of the coursebook they consider effective, three aspects that are least effective and three suggestions to improve the textbook. The participating teachers were made up of 81 (81%) females and 19 (19%) males. 71 (71%) of the teachers have been teaching between 5 and 23 years while the remain teachers have taught between 1 and 4 years. 78 (78%) of the teachers have used the coursebook for more than 3 years while 22 (22%) have used it less than 2 years. 35 of the teachers were teaching first grade while 28 and 37 were teaching second and third grades respectively. 92 (92%) of the teachers responded they had attended more than 2 workshops on how to use the textbook.
Purpose of the Study
The study addresses the following questions:
(a) What is the nature of the instructional practices preselected for teachers?
(b) What are the teachers' views of the predesigned instructional activities?
Textbook: A Facilitator or Hindrance in ELT Classroom?
The roles of textbooks and their impact on the teaching and learning process have received mixed reviews in recent times. For example, Richards (1993) cited in Edge and Wharton (1998) criticizes comprehensive and tightly structured coursebooks for encouraging dependence on the part of teachers. The scholar criticizes such textbooks for engaging in the real task of instruction by doing the work of decision making and pedagogical reasoning.
Edge and Wharton (1998) and Apple and Jungck (1990) thus describe textbooks as a tool of "deskilling"--that is, the loss or decrease in cognitive and pedagogical skills resulting from teachers' dependence on textbooks. Tomlinson (1998) further contends that teaching materials do not cater for "... different types of learners and different preferred styles of learning" (p. 337). He concludes that textbooks only provide for and reward students "who can focus on discrete chunks of information, who can analyze and categorize, who can memorize and retrieve consciously, who are systematic and sequential in the ways they learn" (337). Similarly, Tomlinson also argues that language materials do not make adequate provisions for other categories of learners such as experiential, auditory, tactile or kinesthetic. Richards (2000) notes that teaching materials can sometimes marginalize the teacher's role to "that of little more than a technician" (p. 132)--merely rehearsing preplanned activities.
However, Hutchinson and Tones (1994) summarized by Edge and Wharton (1998) note the positive contribution of coursebooks in instructional practices. According to them, coursebooks provide a structure for social interactions in classrooms. They argue that such a structure provides "a safe base, a platform for negotiation and exploration ... and gives students and teachers a secure base from which to depart" (p. 298). The authors further point out the advantages of coursebooks, including the fact that they guide discussion, facilitate homework and more importantly provide confidence and security for teachers.
Practical Considerations for Coursebooks Design and Development
The divergent views of the role of coursebooks in language teaching does not only lead to different proposals about what role textbooks should play in language teaching but also lead to seemingly parallel, and sometimes conflicting theoretical, practical and pedagogical frameworks for teaching. For example, can coursebook writers be sure that a set of predesigned instructional activities will be effective in different teaching contexts? It is always very important to consider the contexts in which teachers interpret and interact with specific teaching materials. For instance, teachers' interpretation, commitment and involvement in specific coursebooks are a function of their beliefs, preferences, values, attitudes, expectations, available resources, prevailing teaching and learning practices and educational traditions of the target student population. Other practical considerations include student population in each classroom, teachers' experiences and the varying abilities of students in classrooms.
Bell and Grove (1998) identify the critical questions coursebook writers have to grapple with as they design textbooks for teachers: (a) how do teachers use teaching materials without losing creativity? (b) How do teachers ensure the dynamic and interactive nature of learning while at the same time using a coursebook? (c) How do teachers use textbooks and still respond to the variety of students' learning needs, interests and preferences? (d) How do teachers build in excitement, topicality and freshness into coursebooks despite their predictability in format and content?
A Theoretical Framework
Based on the works of Littlejohn (1998), Edge and Wharton (1998), Ajayi and Lee (in press) and Masuhara (1998) I developed a framework for teachers' variables that must be factored into coursebooks design and development as it is important that materials development reflect teachers' needs, interests and preferences so that they are committed to using such textbooks. Teachers' variables are sub-divided into professional training, personality traits, preferred teaching techniques, preferred teaching style, preferred classroom social structure, preferred participatory structure and preferred materials usage.
The combination of these variables defines a teacher, his/her classroom instructional practices and ultimately his/her attitude to and commitment to using a particular coursebook. For instance, in a study of intern teachers' perception of the effectiveness of sixty instructional activities in classrooms, Ajayi and Lee (in press) find out that the teachers consider some activities effective while they consider others ineffective. Teachers tend to keep to activities they consider effective and reject those they view as ineffective even though they are preselected in coursebooks. This does not come as a surprise as teachers' understanding of the cognitive process involved in language acquisition inevitably plays a powerful role in their choices of activities. This awareness is based on teachers' own training, practical classroom experiences, cultural backgrounds, interests and expectations of him/herself, among other factors.
Thus teachers' teaching styles are based in part on these variables and the styles continue to evolve as they continue to experience a wide range of students' learning styles, motivational needs, personality traits, cognitive factors on one hand, and administrative requirements and resources management on the other hand. Based on these diverse experiences, teachers select specific textbooks, teach them and sometimes rewrite or modify it to suit specific learning contexts. For example, a recommended coursebook may presuppose smaller classes while in reality the classes may be much larger or a coursebook may presume students have mastered certain aspects of the curriculum while majority of the class is still grappling with such aspects. In addition, coursebooks writers routinely recommend the use of certain equipment (television, VCR, overhead projector) that may not be available in many classrooms. Table 1 summarizes teachers' variables that should influence coursebooks design and development.
Analysis of Open Court Reading
I analyzed three chapters of the coursebook to identify activity purpose, teaching activities, teaching style, classroom structure and classroom participatory structure that have been preselected for teachers' use. Table 2 presents a summary of the data (next page).
Summary of Teachers Response to Questionnaire
Teachers identified three most effective, three least effective aspects of Open Court Reading in addition to three suggestions for improving the coursebook. Each response was treated as an 'entry' and the entries were used to rank the teachers' response to the different aspects of the coursebook. Table 3 presents the frequency counts of the teachers' response (pg. 207).
Predesigned instructional Activities: the coursebook prescribes specific instructional activities such as 'explain', 'model', 'discuss', 'question' and 'guided practice' for teachers' use. However, other activities that teachers in elementary schools may prefer because they are effective such as KWL, vocabulary strip, role play, and simulation are not suggested. This may account for why instructional activities ranked fourth (with 23 entries) in Table 3. On the other hand, the teachers identified phonic instructions (with 94 entries) and this thus ranked first as the most effective aspect of the coursebook while at the same time, the teachers identified the writing components (73 entries) as the least effective aspect.
Obviously it is not practically feasible for a coursebook to include all known instructional activities particularly as new ones emerge from time to time. This thus points to the fact that the limited instructional activities in the coursebook may not meet the diverse needs and preferences of teachers. Furthermore, it points to the need for coursebooks to allow teachers to incorporate specific activities they may consider effective in their classrooms.
Predesigned Teaching Style: preselected teaching style for teachers accommodates basically the authoritative style--where teachers are fully in charge of vital decisions regarding the interpretation of coursebooks and classroom management. This approach does not appreciate the fact that teachers tend to interpret textbooks in the light of their own teaching situations based on affective, attitudinal, and experiential factors (Tudor 2001). This may be an indicator of why scripted or structured nature of the coursebook ranked sixth in effectiveness in Table 3. Conversely, this aspect of the coursebook ranked second (with 35 entries) as the least effective component of the material.
Experience has shown that in real-life classrooms, teachers' understanding of the context of teaching is critically important in they way they interpret and teach coursebooks. In some cases, teachers may prefer a cooperative style as an integral part of the classroom management style in language classrooms. This is why teachers suggested flexibility and creativity in Table 3 (45 entries) as second most important change that needed to be made in the coursebook after the writing component (48 entries). When teachers are flexible, they are able to share authority and decision-making with learners to accommodate their learning needs and styles and ultimately nurture them towards self-direction, autonomy and empowerment (Tudor 2001). This requires coursebooks writers to design instructional activities in a way that teachers can nurture their pupils to take responsibility for their own learning. To achieve this, the coursebook should encourage teachers to seek to tap into pupils' background knowledge, experiences and perspectives in order to create a sense of self-confidence and independence that would propel them to strive to excel in their language classrooms.
Predesigned Social Structure: the textbook prescribes a classroom management style for teachers to help them create a distinctive classroom culture or a pattern of behavior and attitude to learning and social interaction in classroom. For example, consistent throughout the coursebook is the use of competitive structure, where pupils 'sink' or 'swim' on individual's strength. The predesigned social structure may make it difficult for teachers to create a condition where pupils work together in a fun-like and playful atmosphere--a necessary condition for creating greater opportunities for pupils to collectively learn together and create knowledge together (Toohey 2003). This is critical as Vygotsky (1978) and Engestron (1986) demonstrate that language acquisition is not a solitary activity, rather it is an integral part of the social practices of any community. Furthermore, the competitive structure may only result in stiff competition among pupils as they compete for teachers' attention. Again, it shows the coursebook does not reflect the dynamic and interactive nature of language learning.
Predesigned Participatory Structure
The coursebook requires teachers to use a variety of classroom participatory structure such as working alone, pair activities, small/large group and whole-class activities and teacher consultation. Even then, the predesigned participatory structure is fraught with danger. For example, the coursebook requires teachers to teach, sometimes for more than one hour--using only whole-class activities such as choral repetitions, teacher-questioning and pupils-answering activities. However, pair and group activities are delayed till the last 10 to 15 minutes of instruction. A practical and more effective use of teachers' instructtional time is to encourage pair/group activities at intervals of 15 to 20 minutes to give pupils time to 'unwind'. This will help to ameliorate boredom and the consequent restlessness and turn-off that pupils experience in classrooms.
Summary of the Observations
(a) Because of the limited nature of the preselected teaching activities, such activities may not meet the diverse needs and preferences of teachers. (b) The heavily scripted nature of the coursebook denies the teachers the necessary flexibility and creativity needed to adapt the material to meet the unique demands of their classrooms (c) The predesigned authoritative role of teachers in the coursebook does not make provisions for autonomous and/or consultative teaching styles some teachers may deem effective in their classrooms. (d) The prescribed competitive social structure in the coursebook may make it difficult for pupils to work together and this structure has the potential to dictate who participates in activities and who does not.
Though textbook writers and publishers are increasingly responding to the needs of teachers in the design and development of coursebooks, a lot can still be done in terms of shifting more responsibilities to teachers over four essential areas of cousebook management in the classroom: "content (what), Order (when), Pace (how fast) and Procedure (how)" (Maley 1998: 279). This is critical for a number of reasons. First, teachers, because of their training and classroom teaching experience have a unique understanding of the learning needs and preferred learning styles of their students than textbook writers and publishers. Second, teachers are more knowledgeable about the available facilities and resources and the contexts of learning such as the social, cultural and political dynamics of the classroom and the community of learners. Third, teachers are generally resourceful and creative and thus well positioned to adapt learning materials to meet the unique challenges of their classroom learning situations. Granted that these observations are valid, coursebook writers should therefore embrace the proposal of Prabhu cited in Maley (1998) by providing "a range of possible inputs, without envisaging that they will be used in any one classroom or that all classrooms will use the same inputs ... They may provide inputs at different levels of difficulty and in different quantities leaving to the teacher to select from the range in both respects ... the expectation is ... that teachers will find it useful to draw on them in implementing the decisions they themselves make as teachers, being as faithful as possible to their own perceptions of learner stakes and learning processes" (p. 284).
This radical change in the conceptualization and development of coursebooks is critical to empowering teachers to make changes as they deem fit to their unique contexts of teaching. Maley (1998) discusses some strategies teachers can use to cope with the shortcomings of teaching materials. He emphasizes teachers' creativity and flexibility. Thus, course materials can be designed and developed in a way that they empower teachers and students to collaborate in identifying the deficiencies in coursebooks and take actions to add, reorder, extend, modify, replace and repeat (Maley 1998) specific aspects (such as themes, topics, leaning activities) to make them more demanding, more exciting, and more socially, culturally and grade-level appropriate.
I fully agree with Richards (2000) that the rightful place of textbooks in the instructional practices is to serve "... as resources to support and facilitate teaching rather than dominate it" (p. 140). From this perspective, coursebooks should empower teachers to be creative and flexible in the way such materials are implemented in classrooms. Such a step like this will not only enhance teachers' development but also has the potential to increase teachers' involvement, commitment and motivation to use coursebooks.
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LASISI AJAYI, PH. D.
Department of Teacher Education
National University, Los Angeles
Table 1 Teachers' Factors in Language Coursebooks Design and Development Professional Training *teaching experience, *expertise in English, *continuing training. Personality Traits *cultural background, *interest, *resourcefulness, *creativity, *gender, *expectations, *age, *enthusiasm. Preferred Teaching *scaffolding, *guided practice, *problem-solving, Techniques *brainstorming, *dialogue, *role play, *projects, *demonstration, *questioning, *modeling, etc. Preferred Teaching Style *authoritative, *autonomous, *consultative. Preferred Social Structure *cooperative, *competitive, *individualistic, *hierarchical. Preferred Participatory *work alone, *pair, *small/large groups, Structure *whole-class, *teacher consultation Preferred Materials *coursebooks only. *options, *text modifications, *adaptations, *enrichment, *audio/visuals Table 2 Summary of Predesigned Instructional Practices for Teachers in the Coursebook Activity Teaching Activities Teaching Classroom Purpose Style Structure Lesson -explain assignment Introduction -explain lesson authoritative competitive objective & rubric Lesson -explain tasks Development -guide pupils' authoritative competitive learning activities Application/ -model oral reading Guided -guide pupils to use Practice 'think-aloud' prompt -make predictions -discuss reading authoritative competitive strategy Individual -explain activities Practice -activity poster -help pupils decide authoritative competitive on an activity Group -explain group task teacher Practice -provide group consultation competitive assistance Evaluation -explain assignment authoritative competitive -supervise pupils Activity Classroom Materials Purpose Participation Lesson -work alone Coursebook Introduction -whole-class only -small groups Lesson -work alone Coursebook Development -whole-class only -pairs Application/ -pairs Coursebook Guided -whole-class only Practice -teacher consultation -work-alone -small group Individual -small group Coursebook Practice -work alone only -teacher consultation Group Teacher Coursebook Practice consultation only Evaluation Table 3 Frequency counts (F.C.) of the Teachers' Response to Some Aspects of the Coursebook Most effective F.C. 1. Phonics, blending, spelling 94 2. Contents, themes, topics 38 3. Vocabulary & grammar 35 a. Instructional activities 28 5. Comprehension strategy 22 6. Writing component 17 7. Structured/scripted 11 8. Teaching strategy 11 9. Integration of other content areas 9 Least effective F.C. 1. Writing components 73 2. Scripted1structured 35 3. Vocabulary/grammar 17 a. lime allocation 14 5. Content, themes, topics 13 6. Inquiry journals 11 Recommendation F.C. 1. Better writing program 48 2. Flexibility & creativity 45 3. Content, themes, topics 33 4. Vocabulary/grammar 27 5. Timing 10 6. More activities 10
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|Date:||Dec 22, 2005|
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