Nigel Harwood: Content, consumption and production: three types of ELT textbook research

ELT Textbooks (or ‘coursebooks’): not just books, all the paraphenalia that goes with. The focus for today is on global coursebooks e.g. Headway.

Why should we do research on textbooks at all? 

  • One powerful argument: teachers have to use them! Most teachers in most parts of the world are required to use textbooks to some degree.
  • Often responsible for end-of-term exam content and things like that.

Important to see if they are fit for purpose.

  • research that has been done can be criticised for lack of rigour, so more rigorous research is needed.

Harwood proposes a research agenda for textbooks:

  • studies of content: look at what textbooks include and exclude in terms of language, topics and culture. So, traditional content analysis.
  • studies of consumption: how the books are used by teachers and learners. Looking at lesson plans, looking at what happens in the classroom, looking at how learners feel about the book etc.
  • studies of production: the process of writing, the process by which the book are shaped and distributed.

Why does this matter?

Content analysis: for accuracy and appropriacy

E.g. of a content study of language:

There are lots of studies comparing language in corpora with language in textbooks. E.g. Ruhlemann (2009) – reported speech in seven intermediate level course books and BNC data. Evidence suggested that the corpus wasn’t being consulted.

E.g. of a content study of culture: 

Solokik (2007) – focused on grammar books and found that they are helping to transmit certain cultural images.

Gray and Block  (?missed the date, expect you can find it on slides online at some point) – earlier textbooks contain more reference to the working classes, but in none of the books was there any discussion of class issues. This is part of the discourse of textbooks as entertainment rather than serious education. Nowadays, the working class appear in pictures, in service encounters, but still no discussion.

Limitations of content analysis: 

Only gives us the “what”, not the “why” – we need to talk to writers and publishers about that. Also doesn’t tell us how material is used.

Consumption studies

This is focusing on actual use. Why does this matter? Because teachers use books differently. We need to try and explore the relationship between teacher’s profile and what they do with it. A book could look fantastic at page level but be used ineffectively.

Shawer (??) divides teachers into 3 categories:

1. Curriculum-makers: rare use made, they make their own based on learners’ needs.

2. Curriculum-developers: use it but supplement it with own materials

3. Curriculum-transmitters: slavish use of the book

Teachers do use books very differently.

Why? The content affects use; the teacher’s beliefs etc; the learners’ needs, age, level etc; institutional factors

So textbook use is context-bound and influenced.

Harwood then told us about a study he did with his PhD student. They found “john” used the book very rarely and they looked more deeply into this via various means. Turns out he was a “curriculum maker”. Looked at an exercpt; John didn’t use it. Why? Don’t like the topic, don’t think it’s useful, don’t like the visual presentation of the book; the topic wasn’t suitable for the level (his learners’ level was too low); the learner age was wrong for it; it’s too Euro-centric etc.

This study took Shawer’s work further in that Shawer developed the categories, they looked an example of one and tried to identified the reasons why. The findings map well onto Hutchinson’s (1996) model.  Also shows how textbook use is mediated by the teacher.

Textbook production

How writers write, what publishers do and so on. Why does this matter? Can help us understand how difficult it is to write a book. Very easy to criticise a textbook. But studies like this reveal all the hidden pressures at work. Can also reveal things that writers believe and publishers believe. May explain why there are problems.

Bell and Gower (2011) – chapter about all the compromises writers have to make. The unenviable task of the materials writer; trying to be all things to all people, but with constraints of space, tight deadlines (affecting piloting).

The new book

Contains, amongst others, a study by Dr. Ivor Timmis (the one and only!) – describes his experience of writing a textbook for publication in a context he had no firsthand experience of. It discusses the compromises as well e.g. conflict between text driven approach that they wanted to use vs the requirement “there must be three grammar points per unit” meaning he had to put in exercises that he otherwise wouldn’t have. Some material had to be cut due to influence from the ministry of education via the publisher. Very difficult to meet all requirements.

Conclusion

These three areas provide us with a framework for future research.

Harwood also briefly discussed the contents of this edited book: a variety of studies related to each element of the framework put forward in this talk. It looks like an interesting book.

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2 thoughts on “Nigel Harwood: Content, consumption and production: three types of ELT textbook research

  1. Pingback: IATEFL 2014: Bringing all my posts together in one place! | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

  2. Pingback: Nigel Harwood: Content, consumption and product...

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