A Critical Evaluation Of Selected Teaching Materials English Language Essay

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This assignment is aimed at providing a critical evaluation of one of the modules (units) in the textbook 'New Cutting Edge, Pre-intermediate level' in a relevant context for its possibly best use. This is an internal evaluation of a unit, in McDonough and Shaw's (1993) terms, rather than just an external evaluation based on the statements of the publishers. It is well known that no textbook can be so generic to function in an ideal manner in all specific contexts, but if chosen with tact, textbooks can provide a general framework for an optimal use of time and resources at the hand of teachers and learners. The lack of an objective standard to evaluate textbooks should not bring this significant investigation to a halt because in the long run nothing can replace the care and discretion in selection of the best available resource. Experience together with skill in this area would definitely serve learning.

Introduction

There are different views on the use of textbook, from those who put it at the heart of English language programmes (Sheldon 1988: 237) to those who consider their use as problematic (Swales 1980). A reasonable stance is a halfway between a long standing and extreme arguments on whether textbook makes all the difference or makes no difference whatsoever. Despite being far from perfect, textbooks remain the most suitable means of providing structure (Hutchinson and Torres 1994) and they currently are regarded as an inevitable resource for language learning with its capacity and relative effect depending on context and the situations (Cunningsworth 1979, McGrath, 2002).

Reasons for evaluation of textbooks

A general perception is formed, as Sheldon (1988) have noted, that regards coursebooks as temporary goods for profit rather than treating educational quality. McGrath (2002) relates the utility as a direct function of informed judgement of a teacher on the appropriateness of a particular textbook for a given classroom. Selection, rejection, addition and modification are four processes that teachers can use to adapt coursebooks to their needs (McGrath, 2002: 59). Richards (2001: 260) contends that because most teachers are not material writers themselves, they should adapt already available textbooks to fit students' needs and seek ever opportunity to be creative and supplement the textbook exercises or activities whenever necessary. a teacher will find the need to modify, or expand some parts while omitting other parts, or reorganising the content in textbook as appropriate, a fact which is also very true for Cutting Edge.

It should also be noted that book may be perfectly suitable for one situation but short of most parameters of a fair selection in another situation. Thus, its evaluation in isolation is impossible. That's why Richards (2001: 256-257) explains that studying the role of textbook, teachers and learners in the curriculum takes precedence over textbook evaluation.

Methods for evaluation

There are various methods and several perspectives for implementing evaluation. One perspective to textbook evaluation is what Hutchinson and Waters (1987) present simply as an analytical matching process to available solutions, but a generally agreed upon criteria for evaluation can be summarised as the focus on design, linguistic content, topic, and logistics (McGrath, 2002). Evaluation an also be done internally or externally. The fundamental methods to evaluate a textbook are listed by McGrath (2002) as the impressionistic, the checklist, and the in-depth methods.

Evaluation using impressionstic method

Cunningsworth (1995) holds that impressions are useful as a general introduction and a quick overview which helps choosing the coursebook. The coursebook's title 'New Cutting Edge' may not be very revealing but it is exciting combined with its cover images. The size is convenient and the representations look multicultural. Following Cunningsworth's checklist (1995), the topic of the module, 'important firsts', is a key point to consider whether the as it suggests variety and raises real interest, and enables learners to expand their cultural awareness. It provides great potential for student interaction. Tomlinson (2003) argues that graphic details such as opening pictures have a great impact on learners. In module 2, the photo of women in very chic dresses is not readily connecting to the topic or the other one near that, too. Images with more motion could disclose the energy of the topic. The photos in the first two pages are not the unit's strongest point since they are culturally loaded or at best unfamiliar to foreign language learner but photos in page 3 and onward are very engaging, funny and expressive. Another good point is the balanced focus on form and meaning which go side by side, and column by column.

Following is an adapted evaluation checklist (drawn from McGrath 2002). It provides a brief overview of appearance and physical details based on an impressionistic method.

Practical considerations

affordable

Yes

weight (for transportation purposes)

Yes

Support for teaching and learning

Teacher's book available?

Yes

Cassettes/CD-Rom available?

Yes

Suitable for self-study?

Yes

Context Relevance

Suitable for length of course?

No

Suitable for aims of course?

Yes

Suitable for learners' level?

Suitable for learners' cultural background?

Suitable for teachers?

Required resources available?

Likely appeal to learners

Layout

Visuals

Topics

Yes

Yes (partially)

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes (partially)

The impressions may be more accurate for experienced teachers but they are often very subjective and simplistic. The in-depth methods, on the other hand, deserve such a space which is beyond the confines of this paper. The practicality of checklist method is highlighted in Cunningsworth (1995: 2). Therefore, several methods and perspectives including checklist methods worth consideration in this paper. To evaluate the book part I selected which is followed by an evaluation from external and internal perspectives as well as a micro analysis.

Evaluation through Checklists

Cunningsworth (1995) developed a checklist which is widely used for evaluation of textbooks. This is one the first checklists that gives a broad analysis (Tomlinson 2003). It should be noted that any checklist has its own advantages and disadvantages and they should be adapted to meet the needs of a specific context (McGrath, 2002: 27). Cunningsworth's checklist (1995) is powerful in addressing language content, skills, topics as well as methods but ignores the role of culture and institution.

McGrath (2002) pinpoints the principles underlying the design of materials.

Checklist is adaptable such as the questionnaire Rahman and Sinha (2010) used. It is given to both teacher and students after background information, to elicit their appraisal of the textbook via several items assessing its layout and physical make up, subject matter, vocabulary and structure, exercises and activities. The questionnaire given to teachers has an extra section on their evaluation of aims and goals and has more items on each of the above mentioned sections.

Almost any quality that teachers and language teaching methodology would deem essential for textbooks can be evaluated through a checklist. For instance, learner-centeredness is a quality that can be fostered in a textbook in a form of gradual independence from teacher and developing students' self confidence in using English (Cunningsworth, 1995). Jun, Hua and Huiru used an evaluation questionnaire to this effect from which applying a gist would be useful. Firstly, communication skills are developed fairly well through the New Cutting Edge since we have two speaking task about important firsts through both an open-ended personal and a picture-aided controlled activity. A scaffold for doing this task is in the 3rd page where a sentence completion task required pair work and comparison activity about personal information an earlier in the module. Most other tasks are fill-in-gap grammar, vocabulary and writing exercises as well as pronunciation practice. Pair work encourages cooperative learning and pronunciation practice leads to an awareness of linguistic skills. The topic 'important first' can relate very well to students' lives, views and feelings and offers options to cater for learner differences. Answer key on page 158 is a helpful reference material, but there is little sign of indexing and internet technology that enhance independent language learning.

External Evaluation

The publishes claims that New Cutting Edge follows a Communicative Language Approach to teaching English which supports learners' all-inclusive development in their language by incorporating all language skills. Students are promised to see improvement in their functional English and their ability to communicate on a daily basis. It is also said that the contents hold the interest and respond to the needs of students at this level. Topics are wide-ranging, attractive and up-to-date and designs and images are so vivid that makes this book superior to other coursebooks. The activities in each unit are described as so engaging that can lead students to a comfortable use of English outside classroom in real life situations and that exercises both focus on essential grammatical points and help learners to communicate spontaneously enriched by an authentic sample of reading, listening, writing, speaking, listening and pronunciation activities.

Units of New Cutting Edge correspond to the Common European Framework which allows students and teachers to simply check the learning outcomes against a generally recognised standard.

The coursebook also boasts of a very clear and cumulative structure in consecutive modules that gradually build on each other to improve grammatical points, key vocabulary, and various skills as well as revision and practice opportunities. The supplementary materials for New Cutting Edge are in sufficient, supply which is deemed as suitable because of its interactive nature and its various features which contains class/ student audio cassettes and CDs, a workbook with key, as well as teacher's books, tests, videos, mini dictionary and links to other companion websites. (www.longman.com/cuttingedge)

Internal evaluation

The New Cutting Edge series have the characteristics of modern textbooks Haines (1996) lists such as being multi-componential (grammar, vocabulary, reading, speaking, writing and a study tip in one module), commercialised, and culturally sensitive as well as having a rich design which consist of lively pictures, visual aids and diagrams, indentations, word clouds, bullets and numbering. The first page begins with a catchy headline and itemised summary besides pictures at the top. Even in grammar section simple pictures and design are intended to help learning while in vocabulary section, more expressive images are used (human faces for words of feeling). The visually attractive cover of this book is a plus like Headway series because as McGrath (2002) claims, the cover, title or sizes of a book are important factors in motivating learners.

Evaluation of textbook with micro-analysis of the chosen module (unit)

'New Cutting Edge, Pre-intermediate' by Cunnigham and Moor taps several language skills and subskills. It is a textbook intended for teaching English as a Foreign Language. The 'New' in title suggest maturation from an earlier version besides having a tricky commercial effect. The authors' claim that it "just got sharper" and "fresher and easier to use" (New Cutting Edge, Pre-intermediate Student's Book', back cover). The book is composed of fifteen modules, each containing eight pages, with additional resources such as tapescripts, mini-dictionary and consolidation material. Auxiliary matter consists of a teacher's resource book, workbook with and without key editions, CDs and audio cassettes for students' use and a separate cassette for classroom use as well as an accompanying website, tests and videos.

The book under review is in general support of an integrated skills approach and this second unit has a particular emphasis on pronunciation. Texts for reading are kept short. Writing is practiced at the end of module after speaking tasks. This means productive skills are last in order of presentation. The colourful layout and reasonable placing of items makes it look smart but the photographs are not of highest quality but the illustrations are and cartoons are lively. Closer scrutiny follows in a tabulated form.

Topic: Important Firsts.

Potential to enhance speculation, but may be too short.

Language Focus: Past Simple and Time Phrases

A good continue to a tense in previous module (unit). Timely to introduce time phrases (matching with topic)

Vocabulary and Wordspot

Thematic presentation of new vocabulary with visuals is very engaging. Diagrams in wordspot can consolidate that but it may be difficult for learners at this level.

Speaking

The first task with questions which makes learners to talk about generally activates the outgoing and breaks the ice for other students who seem to be clueless. The second task is aided with pictures and scaffolds the shy to talk about other people.

Pronunciation

There are three areas in this unit to deal with pronunciation of past tense regular and stress, a bit above the right size, relatively.

Listening

There are 11 parts for which there is need to listening and tape, which is relatively high. They address not only the listening part itself but also pronunciation and stress practice as well as checking answers to vocabulary and grammatical exercises.

Reading

Reading parts are short which may be good at this stage of course if it helps fast pace. May be a supplementary reading is required for faster students.

Writing

The writing practice comes at the end and reading - writing integrated activity.

Review

In the practice section, grammar and vocabulary exercises dominate and there is no pronunciation exercise despite the weight it has throughout the unit.

i: Sequencing ii: Methodology

i: Sequencing of skills is generally good with some skills practice between. An exception should perhaps be made for writing: it should not be the last or the least or seem so. Because of its learning potential for foreign language learners that often go unrealised.

ii: it follows a task based syllabus and a mixture of communicative approach to language teaching with form-focused instruction as it brings 'language focus' into attention.

Conclusion

This evaluation once again confirm the point that a quest to find a perfect coursebook maybe unrealistic, but there will be a best book for any situation (Grant 1987). The organization of the material in this units as a sample of the book in question, suggests ways that language can be integrated in the diverse aspects of life. However, students with more enthusiasm can be given an opportunity to produce more output. My recommendation is to supplement the material with more tasks requiring productive language use such as writing and speaking and that there be more room for discussion and illustrations or examples. They can be set as homework, or if time allows, at the end of session. In all, I found this book very inspiring and highly recommend it for use in an appropriate level and context.

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