The other day I had an informal chat with my boss. We talked about the syllabus, lesson planning, coursebooks, and stuff. At some point, she asked me whether I really thought that doing 5 units from a 10-unit coursebook per an academic year is enough. In other words, she felt that, perhaps, we should challenge our students more and demand higher in terms of quantity.
Before I go on, let me explain how it works at our school. The four-year programme for secondary students encompasses 2 levels of a certain five-level English course for teenagers. We skip the elementary stage completely. In years 1 and 2, we use a pre-intermediate coursebook and in years 3 and 4, we use an intermediate coursebook of the same series. One unit usually consists of 7 sections, i.e. approximately 8 pages of grammar, vocabulary, reading, interaction, etc., plus a couple of extra revision pages. So, in one academic year, we are supposed to cover about 60 pages in total.
I suspect many are gritting their teeth now. What on earth does a number of pages have to do with learning a foreign language? Well, let’s be honest, that’s what it’s still like in the state-controlled sector of education. It’s not just about skills, abilities, and outcomes; it’s primarily about measurable stuff, e.g. scores and quantities.
Obviously, we all know that the amount of pages done over a certain period of time does not necessarily determine the quality of teaching, let alone learning. In other words, the more pages covered does not always equal a higher level of language proficiency. Quite to the contrary, I would say. Based on my experience, the more hurried the instruction is, the more superficial the outcomes are bound to be. So although coursebooks are widely criticized these days, I believe that the coursebook itself is not the problem – it’s the amount of the (coursebook) content artificially squeezed in the syllabus that can, in effect, cause a lot of trouble in the end.
So, during our chat, I assured my boss that we English teachers in our department are completely satisfied with the leisurely pace and the reasonable amount of the coursebook content we are supposed to cover over an academic year. At the same time, I expressed my hope that no students will be deprived of the learning opportunities they deserve and are ready for. The teacher can always go beyond the scope of the prescribed curriculum if they feel it’s desirable. And that’s exactly what we do with talented classes. Having said that, nobody will be too stressed out just because there’s too much to cover.
I should add that our students usually end up B1-B2 (some even C1) depending on their learning aptitude, autonomy, and motivation. That is to say that they reach different levels of proficiency despite the fact that they all use the same coursebook. So what’s the fuss?