Evaluation a Course Book

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Selecting a course book is an important task for any English language teacher or evaluator. Cunningsworth (1984) observes that few English language teachers do not depend on a course book. For this reason, “the selection of materials probably represents the single most important decision that the language teacher has to make” (Hutchinson, 1987, p. 37). It is very important that the teacher has the capacity to evaluate any course book in order to choose the most effective and suitable one (McDonough and Shaw, 1993; Littlejohn and Windeatt, 1988). According to Cunningsworth (1985, p. 14), the purpose of an evaluation is to investigate the strong and weak points in specific material. However, the teacher can adapt the weak points of the text and develop them according to her/his students’ needs. This paper will identify a set of criteria for the evaluation and adaptation of an English Language Teaching (ELT) course book before using these criteria to analyse and evaluate two specific parts of the Inside Out course book, the contents page and Unit 10.

To save preparation time, it is more useful and convenient to evaluate any course book before using it with students. As English as a foreign language (EFL) teachers, we must follow evaluation criteria or a set of questions that are suitable and correspond to the students’ goals. As Dougill (1987, p. 32) argues, the quality of criteria is more important than the quantity. This research paper uses several of McDonough and Shaw’s (1993) and Cunningsworth’s (1985) criteria which we will explore further below. The reasons behind choosing these criteria are that they are easy to observe, they help in identifying essential issues and they are comprehensive. The best criteria from each of McDonough and Shaw’s (1993) and Cunningsworth’s (1985) criteria were chosen in combination in order to fit my teaching context.

Students will be at the intermediate level, aged between 11 and 13 years. They are all Saudi females who have studied the English language in a public school for four hours a week during the last two years. Their parents want them to learn general English to enable them to communicate using the English language.

McDonough and Shaw (2003) identify the following two stages of evaluation: external evaluation and internal evaluation. First, the external evaluation gives a first impression and overview of the material from the outside. The first criterion is the intended audience. As McDonough and Shaw (2003) noted, some topics will interest one audience but may not interest or motivate another audience. The second criterion is the publisher’s description – the ‘blurb’ and ‘table of contents’. These provide an idea of the goals of the book and the skill level for which it is suitable. Does it coincide with the aim of the course itself or not? McDonough and Shaw (2003) point out that looking at the table of contents is very practical because it gives one a brief idea of the actual material inside. The third criterion is the additional tools included with the book. Does the material have additional tools such as a CD, key answers or access to a web page which contain materials associated with the book? The final point is the publishing date. As McGrath (2002, p.47) observes, it is important to take into account the publishing date to ensure that the learner will obtain accurate information from that book.

After examining the external criteria and ascertaining the value of that material, the evaluator can then move on to the second stage: internal evaluation. The following criteria can be used to evaluate a course book in the above teaching context:

1. Matching the aim: The material should match the aim of the course in order to cover what the students need. As Richards (2001, p. 256) noted, the material should provide the core of the program. The most important point is “to find the best possible fit” (Cunningsworth 1995, p. 5).

2. Combining four skills: It...
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