Our blogger Lewis Lansford recently took part in a panel discussion at the Professional Issues Meeting of the British Association of Lecturers in English For Academic Purposes in Sheffield. The panel was titled ;’The role of teacher’s books in EAP teacher education’, and addressed the following questions:
- Who do materials writers have in mind when they are writing an EAP course book?
- What competencies are hoped for or assumed?
- How can course leaders bring together the skills of their teams and the skills needed to teach their courses?
Who is the ‘teacher’ in ‘Teacher’s Book’?
Teacher’s books are written for teachers – obviously. But what does that mean? Can one book really be a useful tool for a relatively new CELTA moving into her first EAP job and for the highly experienced MA-TESOL-toting EFL veteran?
I’d like to look at three functions that any reasonable teacher’s book (TB) can be expected to perform, and in doing so, reveal something about exactly who writers have in mind when they’re writing a teacher’s book.
The teacher’s book as life ring
Most teachers occasionally find themselves walking into a class with no lesson plan. The reasons for this vary from the perfectly innocent (you’ve been asked at the last minute to cover for a colleague) to the less defensible (you stayed out with your friends all night rather than prepare your lesson, and you’ve come straight to work without going home). This is when veteran teachers usually draw from a deep well of experience and when newer teachers often turn to the teacher’s book, which ideally has a step-by-step outline for how to get through a lesson without revealing your lack of preparation.
At this most basic level, the TB is like a life ring to a drowning person. You can use it to keep your head above the waterline just enough to breathe, and to get yourself back to the safety of the shore. This means that people who write teacher’s books have a primary aim to provide lesson plans that assume nothing, so even the least experienced teacher could come to a lesson cold and teach it successfully. At the same time, more experienced teachers should be equally happy to make use of, and perhaps elaborate on them.
The teacher’s book as resource
Thankfully, the majority of classes are run with at least some preparation. For these cases, a good teacher’s guide usually provides optional activities and additional tasks beyond those that appear in the students’ book. This is where the TB begins to be equally useful to both relatively new teachers and to highly experienced ones.
In some cases, additional activities and exercises require preparation, so they’re beyond the ‘life ring’ role that TBs serve in emergencies. In this case, the teacher’s book provides all teachers with more – more exercises to do for learners who complete tasks early; more activities for homework; more extension work to fill a spare ten minutes at the end of class. The usefulness of more has nothing to do with the teacher’s experience. Any teacher appreciates the feeling of confidence provided by having optional resources – including answer keys and audio scripts.
The teacher’s book as teacher education
The British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes describes the ideal EAP teacher in their Competency Framework for Teachers of English for Academic Purposes. This document describes extensively the knowledge, understanding and abilities that successful EAP teachers can be expected to possess, for example the ability to ‘raise students’ awareness of discourse features of texts in their disciplines’ and to ‘train students to investigate the practices of their disciplines (e.g., the use and citation of sources as evidence)’.
The ideal is definitely what teachers should aim for, but in practice, EAP teachers rarely arrive to the job fully formed. EAP teacher’s books often address this by providing background notes that explain crucial EAP concepts that some teachers may not be familiar with, and providing enough academic-English know-how for teachers to begin finding their way and to teach with some confidence. Also, by presenting lesson plans that are appropriately weighted for EAP – which is very different from the typical EFL weighting – the books effectively demonstrate what an effective EAP lesson can look like. Although this is probably of most use to newer teachers, it may be equally useful for experienced general English teachers who are new to EAP.
So who do TB writers write TBs for? They try to write them to include something for everyone, focusing initially on what all teachers should hope or expect to accomplish in a lesson, and including information that anyone could use to teach a unit successfully. What teacher, after all, doesn’t appreciate clear rationales for activities, sections and units, and easy-to-follow procedural notes? Most teachers very early on understand the value of a decent TB and develop the ability to employ it in a way that suits their particular situation on any given day.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on TBs. Which features do you find especially useful? Are there any you could do without?