The present study sought to evaluate and compare four popular English coursebooks (English Result, Total English, Top Notch and Interchange series) used in Iran’s language institutes from teachers’ and students’ point of view. Three-hundred and sixty-six students and 76 teachers, who were selected randomly from the language institutes of Guilan and Mazandaran provinces, participated in this study. Two-hundred and twelve of the students and 35 of the teachers were male and 154 of the students and 41 of the teachers were female. The range of teachers’ experience of teaching the coursebook was between 2-6 years and the range of students’ experience of studying the coursebook was between 1-3 years. Data were gathered through modified version of Cunningsworth’s (1995) checklist as well as interviews with 25 percent of the teachers and 10 percent of the students. Data analysis indicated that the strengths of Interchange from the teachers’ perspective are content and culture categories and from the students’ point of view are visuals. In addition, the coursebook’s weaknesses from the teachers’ perspective are reported to be insufficient study skills and supplementary materials and from the students’ point of view are lack of due attention to vocabulary, language skills, methodology, study skills, and practice and testing. In the case of English Result, the strengths from teachers’ perspective are methodology, visuals and culture and from students’ view are grammar and visuals. Moreover, the coursebook’s weaknesses from both teachers’ and students’ perspectives are reported to be lack of due attention to vocabulary and phonology. Regarding Top Notch, teachers believed that the strengths of the coursebook are grammar, visuals, supplementary materials and culture categories and from students’ point of view are content, grammar, phonology and visuals categories. In terms of Total English, culture is considered the strength of the coursebook from teachers’ perspective and visuals as well as practice and testing from students’ point of view. Moreover, from students’ perspective, the primary shortcoming of the coursebook is considered to be phonology. The findings have several implications for language teachers, students, and syllabus designers.
Key words: Coursebook, checklist, evaluation, EFL
In the process of language teaching and learning, several components are involved in such as the learners, the teachers, the environment in which the learning event is taking place, the purpose of learning, and more importantly the textbooks since they undoubtedly specify the main part of the teaching in the classroom and out-of-class learning of the students. Hutchinson and Torres (1994) state no teaching-learning situation is complete without adopting its appropriate textbook. Materials and textbooks serve as one of the main instruments for shaping knowledge, attitudes, and principles of the students (Nooreen & Arshad, 2010).
Today, coursebooks are of vital significance to educational practices all over the world since they serveas the means of transferring knowledge between teachers and students. In addition, they are considered as the basis formuch ofthe language input and the language practice which learners receive in the classroom. As Richards (2001) states, for learners the textbook might provide the main source of contact they maintain with the language. Litz (2005) asserts that whether one believes textbooks are too inflexible and biased to be used directly as instructional material, there can be no denying that they are still the most valuable element in educational systems. Garinger (2002) believes that a textbook can serve different purposes for teachers: as a core resource, as a source of supplemental material, as an inspiration for classroom activities, even as the curriculum itself.
Various authors have given various merits of textbooks. In spite of their various limitations, textbooks are very useful tools in the hand of a teacher. Richards (2001, pp. 1-2) lists the following principal advantages of using textbooks:
• They provide structure and syllabus for a program.
• They help standardize instruction.
• They maintain quality.
• They provide a variety of learning resources.
• They are efficient.
• They can provide effective language models and input.
• They can train teachers.
• They are visually appealing.
A relatively new trend in the field of English language teaching (ELT), coursebook evaluation has attracted many language scholars’ and curriculum developers’ attention. Coursebooks have to be evaluated, since they are the basic materials in the learning process. The aim of textbook evaluation was to develop checklists based on which a book could be analyzed in detail in order to assure its usefulness and practicality with such factors as proficiency level of students, learners’ needs, course objectives, gender, and many other contextual factors. (Najafi Sarem, Hamidi, & Mahmoudie, 2013)
Tomlinson (2001) proposes coursebook evaluation is an applied linguistic activity through which teachers, supervisors, administrators and materials developers can make judgments about the effect of the materials on the people using them. Kiely (2009, p. 105) asserts that evaluation attempts to ensure “quality assurance and enhancement” and constructs “a dialogue within programs for ongoing improvement of learning opportunities.” McGrath (2002) holds that coursebook evaluation is also of a significant value for the development and administration of language learning programs.Therefore, evaluating coursebooks in order to see whether they are suitable is of crucial significance.
Sheldon (1988) states coursebooks are the visible heart of any ELT program for both teachers and students; however, they are not free from shortcomings. Litz (2005) asserts that having dissatisfied textbook is due to the fact that they are often considered as the “tainted and product of an author’s or a publisher’s design for quick profit” (Sheldon, 1988, p.239).
Coursebooks are considered as significant resources for teachers and instructors in helping learners learn every subject including English. Iranian students depend heavily on coursebooks and learn materials in a way that are displayed in their coursebooks; therefore, the content of textbook outweighs anything else. Therefore, the present study is an attempt to address the issues mentioned above by determining the overall pedagogical value and suitability of the chosen books (Interchange, English Result, Top Notch and Total English) towards Iranian EFL learners’ and teachers’ needs.
1.1 Statement of the problem
Finding an English institute without a coursebook is something surprising in Iran. Even some people compare different institutes and different teachers based on the coursebook they use in their English classes. Textbooks do not only influence what and how students learn, but also what and how teachers teach. Few teachers teach without a textbook that offers content and activities that form much of what occurs in a class. Nowadays textbooks play a very vital role in the dominion of language teaching and learning. In addition, after teachers, textbooks are considered to be the next significant aspect in the foreign language classroom. As Hutchinson and Torres (1994) believe, the textbook is an almost worldwide component of English language teaching. Millions of copies are sold yearly, and many aid plans have been set up to produce them in different countries.
There are, however, many arguments in favor of and against the use textbooks. Ur (1996, p.187) gives the following arguments in favor of the use of textbooks;
● a textbook is a framework which regulates the programs,
● in the eyes of learners, having no textbook means there is no goal to achieve,
●without textbook, learners do not take their learning seriously,
● in many situations, a textbook can play the role of a syllabus,
● a textbook provides ready-made teaching texts and learning tasks,
● a textbook is a cheap way of providing learning materials,
● a learner without a textbook is overly dependent upon the teacher, and
● a textbook means security, guidance, and support, especially for novice teachers.
On the contrary, it is believed that the use of textbooks does have some demerits as well.It is seen that teachers use the textbooks as their master and follow them as their religious books. Many arguments exist that are against using textbooks, some of which are listed below:
● for different groups of learners with differing learning needs and learning styles, no single textbook can be perfect,
● topics in a textbook may not be relevant for and interesting to all learners,
● a textbook is confining, that is, it inhibits teachers’ creativity,
● a textbook sets prearranged sequence and structure that may not be realistic and situation-friendly (Ur, 1996, pp. 190).
The fact that coursebooks play important roles in most educational contexts, especially in EFL context, is inevitable. Therefore, it sounds quite obvious that choosing a particular coursebook for a particular group of students can be a tough job to handle. The appropriate choice of language learning materials can influence the quality of learning and teaching process. As a part of the resources used in the language classes, the textbook can often play a significant role in students’ success or failure. Increasing the number of