I read this post about the coursebook as guidebook a while back, and found it an interesting metaphor. I wondered what my own metaphor for coursebooks would be, but then forgot all about it amidst the million other things I had to think about… Then, last night, when I should have been falling asleep but instead found myself hostage to a buzzing brain, it finally came to me in spades: For me, the coursebook is a cookery book. A recipe book. I have divided up my metaphor into sections but there is plenty of overlap between them…
- Recipe books might be divided up into regions for a book dedicated to the recipes from a particular country or parts of a meal e.g. starters, mains, desserts, or any other, while coursebooks are generally neatly divided in some way, for example “units” (Headway), “modules” (Cutting Edge), “lessons” (Choices). For both, there is generally a handy map to help you find what you are looking for (gravies or pastries, roasts, desserts, reading or speaking, grammar, vocabulary)
- There are recipe books for everybody – vegetarians, students, people who can’t cook, people who only have ten minutes to cook, children, people who want to make a multiple-course banquet-esque meal – and course books for everybody – learners of General English (Global; Innovations), EAP, ESP, Business English, learners of different ages and levels and so on.
- You don’t have to start at the beginning – you can choose the recipe that best suits your/your learners’ needs at a particular time. You can select recipes from different books and combine them to make your own special meal. Or you may go through the recipe book in order but not use all the recipes (there’s only so much rice/grammar/potatoes you need with one meal! And the recipients of your cooking may not need feeding up with grammar/potatoes in all lessons/at all mealtimes).
- Recipe books and coursebooks both tend to be written by people who know what they are talking about and know (from experience and learning) what ingredients work well together. Therefore, they are a useful tool. Neither are intended to be bibles. (Or their authors would have written….bibles!)
- Recipe books contain a myriad of ingredients and suggestions of ways to turn these into a tasty meal. Coursebooks contain activities and instructions for how to use these as part of a successful lesson. But the more you use the ingredients, and the more you learn about cooking, the more your understanding of what does and doesn’t work grows. You know that certain things need cooking. You know that certain flavours go well together, while others, well, just not happening.
- This enables you to experiment – to combine ingredients in different ways not specified by the book in front of you. You may base your concoction on a recipe but substitute various ingredients that suits your tastes/needs/stock at the time. Just because you don’t follow the recipe, doesn’t mean your meal will taste terrible. Equally, just because you don’t follow the recipe, doesn’t guarantee something delicious either!
- Experimentation is a messy business both in the kitchen and in the classroom. Sometimes it works really well, sometimes your version of the cake recipe just doesn’t rise. Of course, even if you follow the recipe to the letter, sometimes the cake just doesn’t rise either. Ingredients can be slightly unpredictable and you might have the amounts ever so slightly wrong. In the classroom, learners can be unpredictable. What works well in one kitchen/classroom for one chef/teacher may not turn out great in another.
- Experimentation is likely to be haphazard/hit-and-miss if you aren’t doing it from a principled base. If, like I did when I was 8 years old, you attempt to make hot-cross buns by putting every single ingredient on your list in one big mixing bowl at once, you end up with a goopy mess and your mum isn’t best pleased. In the kitchen, we may think we are being entirely haphazard in what we are doing, but that haphazardness, when successful, tends to be informed with underlying knowledge about what does and doesn’t work. (8 year old me hadn’t learnt that bunging everything into one bowl at once does not a hot cross bun produce…)
- Sometimes, if your experimentation goes really wrong, and you end up with a pan on fire, it’s best to put the fire out and start again! If an activity goes flop, sometimes ending it and moving on is your best bet. Sometimes, perseverance can lead to results – your recipe may look like it’s going wrong but you try a bit of this and a bit of that and the outcome is tasty! Sometimes, changing things around a bit during an activity can be the difference between success and failure. The trick is to know when to stop. If your pan is on fire, this is probably quite a good time to do so… :-p
- However, despite the dangers, experimentation is also great fun! And the better you understand the principles of what you are doing, your aims, your learners needs (the cake won’t rise if you keep opening the door, you want to make a ginger and lemon cake not a triple chocolate cake, your guests don’t want a roast dinner when they come round for a cup of tea later), the more successful your experimentation is likely to be. You can also learn from your mistakes/successes if you think about what went wrong/right and why when you’ve finished creating.
- You can be inspired by your recipe books and throw in extra ingredients of your own: they can make a great starting point but the recipes might need some adaptation for your vegetarians, coeliacs, diabetics, fussy eaters who don’t eat x, y and z… out with one ingredient, in with another. The same applies in the classroom – you have different learning styles to cater for and different personalities, both individual and collective class personalities, which requires careful adaptation.
- Some cookery books reflect the idea the people using them don’t know everything about the ingredients/origins/meals in question. Such books contain useful additional information to guide the users or just to broaden their horizons. For example, a book of Indian curries may contain background information about the different spices, rices, chillies, specific origins of different types of curry etc. Some coursebooks are accompanied by teachers books that help the teachers to understand the background/origins of the activities the coursebook writers have used in the student book or background to useful elements for teaching and learning. E.g. Global Advanced has some essays for teachers about things such as developing learner autonomy.
- Some people who cook may not be able to go on cookery courses to develop their cooking skills. For them, the recipe book (and especially the more informative ones that weave the theory into the procedure etc.) may be the biggest source of learning. We also learn by watching more experienced others cook and seeing what they do/what results.
- Some people who do a lot of cooking may start to make their own recipes and recipe books, to share with others – initially through forums/websites etc. and maybe one day being published. They enjoy the process of experimentation, evaluation and creation, they enjoy sharing what they create. Teachers, too, may enjoy making their own materials and sharing them – on a blog, on a website that curates materials/lesson plans e.g. Onestopenglish and may or may not end up getting published one day.
- There is no limit to the number of recipes it is possible to create. New ways of combining ingredients and, indeed, new ingredients, are always being coined/discovered. People study the art of cooking, the science of tastebuds and their response to different flavours – which are most effective? – and they also study the art of teaching and learning, to discover new ways of doing this more effectively.
Finally, you never really know if a recipe will work FOR YOU/YOUR LEARNERS until you roll up your sleeves and get dirty! There is no substitute for experience. But you could equally spend 20 years making the same recipe, using the same ingredients, in which case, you are living one day of experience 20×365 times… So the trick is to try out new recipes, as well as learn from recipes that are known to be reliable, experiment, reflect, evaluate and broaden your repertoire of what you can do in the kitchen. That way, you will discover many, many tasty dishes that you wouldn’t otherwise have known about. And that keeps life interesting! 🙂
I’ll finish off with a current favourite recipe of mine:
Take 1 helpful, friendly, supportive DoS
A handful of helpful happy colleagues
A few cups of fun
A dollop of creativity
A pinch of inspiration
A large cup of conscientiousness
Lashings of hard work
A tablespoon of rest to be added every so often
Season with regular CPD
Stir vigorously and allow to simmer in a lovely school 🙂