Using Teacher’s Guides Wisely

For the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to teach some extra After School English on top of my normal elementary school classes. It’s both a blessing and a curse – it will make it a little easier to afford a baby when he/she arrives in July, but also means I have had significantly more demands on my time.

More interestingly, it also gave me the chance to choose what material I would teach for the first time in my life.

EBSeOn the advice of a friend and in the interest of keeping costs down for our students I spent the first few months going through some of the free online textbooks provided for download by EBSe. Much of what I had seen EBSe produce in the past had been of reasonable quality and these materials looked similarly useful, but when I got further into teaching them the quality clearly reflected the price: the language was unnatural, the activities uninspired, and the teacher support non-existent.

I ended up spending what little free time I had (between teaching and studying for my MA) exhausting my repertoire of activities and ideas in an attempt to supplement the material. I felt it very strongly as a mere attempt, and generally felt like not much of a teacher. I owed my students more than what I was giving them, but I didn’t have the support or the time to do it.

I promised myself to be more discerning with materials next time.

The Source of All Knowledge?

Over the holidays I spent some time researching textbooks to use with my After School classes, and eventually settled on SuperKids 1, 3 and 4. This series boasts a much more thorough and useful course than EBSe, and has a Teacher’s Guide complete with lesson plans for every page in the book – exactly what I was looking for!

Not only this, but it claims to be based on current teaching methodologies, such as TPR and CLT – something I couldn’t see reflected in the EBSe material at all.

Now that I’ve started teaching again I still don’t have a lot of time, and I’ve found myself leaning heavily on the lesson plans provided in the Teacher’s Guide. I assumed that, being written by professionals and based upon sound methodology I could trust that the lesson plans would fit neatly into my own teaching philosophy, and that they would lead me through decent lessons.

Even after all I’ve been learning about teaching recently, it took me over a week to realise that, even though they were miles ahead of the EBSe materials, there were still major flaws in these lesson plans that I needed to supplement.

Superkids

This became really clear to me after I tried out an activity which is recommended to introduce students to the TLC for a given lesson. It involved the teacher asking two students to come to the front of the classroom and present the TLC to the rest of the class. The teacher stands next to the first student and delivers the first line, which the student repeats. The teacher then moves next to the second student and delivers the next line, which the second student repeats. They are then asked to present the dialogue again without help, before returning to their seats and participating in whole-class choral repetition.

After brief consideration I couldn’t foresee any major problems, and gave it a go. It didn’t seem to work too badly, though it wasn’t spectacularly effective either. But there  was something about it which make me reconsider what was going on, and led me to realise the problem with the activity. Well, problems.

Firstly, the students are asked to move right out of their comfort zones and try out new TLC before their peers with no time to practice. I was lucky to have chosen two of my more outgoing students who weren’t uncomfortable with being at the front of class, but when asked to produce language which was new to them I could see they were a little uncomfortable, their affective filters rising. They weren’t about to learn anything easily in that situation.

More importantly, perhaps, the way in which the teacher is instructed to feed the students their lines rather evokes the image of teacher as “master of all knowledge”. The students don’t know what to say unless the teacher bestows the language upon them, and the teacher can either approve of their accurate reproduction or embarrass them by making them fix an incorrect repetition before the class.

Somewhere in the back of my mind a voice whispered “monologic IRF model~~~~

Whatever happened to creating a safe classroom environment in which my students are allowed their own voice?

While using this new textbook is a boon to me in many ways, I’ve no doubt that there will be many such problems throughout the lesson plans in the Teacher’s Guide. Given a comprehensive teachers’ guide for the first time in my career I made the naïve mistake of treating it as the solution to providing good classes given limited time, rather than as a resource through which to enhance my teaching. Hopefully I know better now.

I still intend to follow the lesson plans as closely as I can as I expect there are many things that they may teach me. Only in future I know to go over them with a discerning eye before class, having confidence in my own professional knowledge to make changes where necessary.

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2 responses to “Using Teacher’s Guides Wisely

  1. Great post. I think there certainly needs to be some major reworking of textbooks. One’s that really embed the best teaching approaches. Creating good jigsaw lessons is a real challenge for me, if only there was a book that had some ready made… It’d be nice to see some government funded teaching positions where recognised leaders (as in recognised by the profession itself) collaborate on a rotating basis to create lesson resources that are then shared system wide.

    • Yes, unfortunately no such position seems to exist! Then again, even if it did how would we choose which experts from which fields would fill such a position?
      I guess my ideal textbook would be something that’s truly flexible methodologically, and allows teachers to be flexible in their classrooms too. No textbook is going to be perfect for my situation, but it can at least allow me to create a lesson for my context and ideology quickly and easily.

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