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The outdated debate over whether an EFL coursebook is necessary or not seems as relevant as ever since it is by no means a self-evident truth to every EFL educator. This paper argues that among the range of factors affecting the assessment of a given textbook is the teacher’s promptness to promote closer collaboration with students through appropriate means. More specifically, a pre-use textbook evaluation through the compilation of an appropriate checklist was put to the test with the aim of checking the serviceability of the new coursebook for the first grade of Greek General Lyceum. The case of an EFL teacher who tried to predict the impact of a textbook on her specific teaching context indicated that the expectation of student inputs to the implementation of learning activities (e.g., participation in activities using technology) was valued as a key determinant in setting priorities for in-use textbook evaluation.

Introduction

This paper discusses the new coursebook for the first grade of Greek High Schools through a textbook evaluation checklist based on the criteria proposed by Cunningsworth (1995, pp. 3–4), i.e., “aims and approaches,” “design and organization,” “language content,” “skills,” “topic,” “methodology,” “teachers’ books,” “practical considerations.” The primary focus is the evaluation of the “materials-as-work plan” phase, i.e., the planning phase, as opposed to the other two empirical phases of Rea-Dickins and Germaine’s (1998, p. 30) of the evaluation of materials, i.e., the “materials-in-process” and the “outcomes from materials,” while the ultimate goal is to enable the English as a Foreign Language (EFL) teacher’s task to act as a “provider of material” (Dudley-Evans & St. John, 1998, p. 185).

The coursebook under assessment was provided by the Greek Ministry of Education for the first time in 2017 and is not accompanied by any supplemental material (IEP, 2017). This can only mean that the onus of achieving the lesson’s overarching aims lies with the classroom teachers, who must take up their responsibilities to ensure these aims are met. Taking into account Harmer’s (2001, p. 113) view that teachers’ “familiarity with classroom materials” is closely linked to students’ inherent need to be “in good hands,” the finer point at issue here is the teachers’ readiness to adopt textbook adaptation strategies. More specifically, EFL teachers need to understand that avoiding to become compromised by “the prolongation of the existing Teaching English for No Obvious Reasons (TENOR) situation due to the uncertainties of the new curriculum” (Ypsilanti & Karras, 2023b, p. 43) and the unfamiliarity with the potential prospects of the new coursebook is part and parcel of “being creative with what is available” (Dudley-Evans & St. John, 1998, p. 174) in order to establish a feeling of “rapport” between themselves and their students as a prime requirement for combatting any type of self-fulfilling prophecies (Harmer, 2001).

Given the background profile of Greek EFL learners and the constraints of the Greek TEFL context in state-run education, the establishment and fulfillment of specific textbook evaluation criteria are dependent upon the teachers’ “re-skilling” for converting the “textbook as a workable compromise” (Hutchinson & Torres, 1994, p. 325) into a teaching material as a “negotiable promise.” However, it does not follow that once initiated, textbook evaluation can be associated with compensation for the identified weak points with the wave of the EFL teacher’s hand. If not top-down curriculum reform, then at least teacher training processes should be considered indispensable to the attainment of objectives, such as taking initiatives to prompt the selection of material adaptation techniques. Hence, the question to be taken into serious consideration in forward-looking discussions: How can the “coursebook no coursebook” dilemma fit in the bigger picture of policy objectives to escape from the trap of the false dilemmas and false selections between a spirit of “compromise” and the value of a new “promise” that a new textbook potentially generates?

Literature Review

Although “no textbook is perfect,” most EFL teachers are required to find their middle ground between “what they need and what is available” (Ayakli & Karavas, 2004, p. 194). To pave the way for the development of new attitudes, textbook evaluation is carried out not only with the obvious purposes of selection and adaptation but also with the ultimate view of imbuing teachers with the will for change in their management of the textbook at their disposal (Hutchinson & Torres, 1994). The method of the textbook evaluation checklist promotes the prioritization of specific evaluation criteria by the teacher when it comes to selecting a textbook or modifying its content to suit the student needs. In the Greek context of state school education, EFL teachers may be required to use the prescribed textbook, but they are also at liberty to select additional resources. Textbook evaluation would give them a considerable helping hand with making the right choices in selecting resources that are more focused and pertinent to their students’ needs.

The debate “coursebook or no coursebook” (Harmer, 2001, p. 304) marked the beginning of the 1980s, with Allwright (1981) and O’Neill (1982) representing the opposite ends. Ayakli and Karavas (2004, p. 194), notwithstanding, argue that “textbooks, despite their disadvantages, are viewed by many as necessary evils,” contributing to the debate about the benefits of textbook evaluation. Most ELT theorists such as Williams (1983), Grant (1987), Sheldon (1987), Ur (1996), McDonough and Shaw (1993), Cunningsworth (1995), and Harmer (2001) anticipate unanimously Jahangard’s (2007) later view that evaluation should deal with the external and internal features of a textbook. In effect, according to Jahangard (2007), the “physical characteristics” of a textbook are deemed a first impression criterion employable by all teachers, experienced or not. As for the “internal evaluation” of the textbook, different theorists give priority to different criteria by being either more elaborate in their categorization, as is the case of Cunningsworth (1995), or more practical, as is the case of Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998). Looking at the matter of textbook evaluation from the practical standpoint, i.e., that of assessing a textbook’s usefulness and effectiveness, a new textbook would have to be checked for its adequacy as “an effective resource for self-directed learning” and as “a reference source for students” (Tok, 2010, p. 508). Although more recent criticism of the established view that a textbook represents the most comprehensive resource available for teachers and students alike (Cunningham, 2000) has changed its focus to center on the comparison between open educational resources (OER) and the restrictions imposed by the limitations of textbook learning (Woodwardet al., 2017), the mainstream view that a good book is as good as a teacher makes it to be responding to students’ needs (Mohammadi & Abdi, 2014; Tok, 2010) still holds.

Thus far, the discussion has evolved around the theoretical framework of the textbook evaluation process, which means that the empirical aspects pertain to the later stages. Ayakli and Karavas (2004) clarify that a textbook evaluation that engages with the purposes of material selection and adaptation is a “baseline evaluation” restricted to the pre-use evaluation phase, otherwise termed “workplan” (Rea-Dickins & Germaine, 1998) or “predictive” (Ellis, 1997). Although this type of evaluation constitutes the most common form, designed as it is to examine the potential performance of a textbook, Rea-Dickins and Germaine (1998), as well as Ellis (1997), attribute more importance to the in- and post-use evaluation phases because, hypothetically, only through them can predictions be trialed by students themselves (Ayakli & Karavas, 2004). To take matters even further, Ellis (1997, p. 37) points out that the “retrospective” evaluation phase can acquire a more objective dimension either through “end-of-course questionnaires” to be completed by students or through “micro-evaluation of tasks” which involves student performance in a specific task.

The conclusion that the precondition for successful post-use textbook evaluation is the in-process development of a functional “partnership” between the teacher and the students founded upon the textbook, which has never ceased to be the “mainstay of ELT provision” belongs to Hutchinson and Torres (1994, p. 324). Provided that both parties accept their share of accountability for what takes place in the classroom, they are highly likely to also be able to “exploit the textbooks’ full potential for smooth and effective change” (Hutchinson & Torres, 1994, p. 327).

Teaching Context

The EFL Needs in the General Lyceum of Plomari

In the first grade of the General Lyceum of Plomari, the twenty learners studying English as a compulsory school subject have been taught the new teaching material designed by the Institute for Educational Policy (IEP) for the first time. There is class homogeneity since all of them are certified B2 speakers of English, with the exception of one female student who faces special learning difficulties. Greek is the L1 for sixteen of them, while Albanian is the L1 for the remaining four.

After having achieved their objective needs through certification, their ongoing learning needs are on par with their inherent expectations of English language practice for real-life communication purposes. For this reason, they are mostly interested in engaging with task-based language learning that is inspired by Ellis’s (2003) view of communicative language teaching (CLT). In effect, they expect their EFL teacher to involve them in tasks that have been designed to result in “meaning-based communication” (Ayakli & Karavas, 2004, p. 77). Authentic material that supports the “performance of real-world tasks” is thus required if they are to achieve “interactional authenticity” in the classroom environment (Ayakli & Karavas, 2004, p. 77). On the same note, authentic situations that provide opportunities for practice “outside the classroom” (e.g., field experiences) are also required for achieving “situational authenticity” (Ayakli & Karavas, 2004, p. 77).

The Teaching Constraints

The implication arises when the EFL teacher comes to the realization that he or she is responsible for selecting the appropriate tasks and adapting their content to make it suitable for the learning needs and interests of the students. A further implication is that pre-planning the material to be taught is a prime requirement, which means extra time and effort put in by the teacher either because the coursebook is input- but not output-oriented or because the teacher cannot break away from more traditional ELT methods.

Description of the Prescribed Textbook

The highlights of the new textbook for the first grade of General Lyceum are its conformance to a topic-based syllabus and its aspiration to inspire the practice of the new trends in ELT methodology. In parallel, the online teacher’s guide endorses the communicative approach, which entails that meaning takes precedence over structure and fluency over accuracy. The learners’ exposure to multimodal texts, short videos, newspapers, and magazines is aimed at “helping students negotiate for meaning in real-life contexts” (Garinger, 2002, p. 101) by offering activity opportunities for authentic interaction. The incorporation of New Technologies through the suggestion of short video links in every thematic unit is yet another innovative element to be exploited either as self-access material or during classroom hours.

Williams (1983, p. 251) sounds a note of warning about textbook writers “jumping aboard the bandwagon of innovation for the sake of it.” In fact, the provision of a textbook for the first grade of General Lyceum gave meaning to innovation as a welcomed practical solution for disengaging the EFL teacher from having to select among many commercial books and ask students to pay for them. However, the new textbook risks failing to live up to the comparison with commercial textbooks, which “provided structure and a syllabus” as well as “trained teachers” through the teacher’s manual (Richards, 2001, p. 255). Despite being accompanied by an online teacher’s guide, which delineates the aims and objectives for each unit and provides the answer key for the tasks, the exploitation of its resources is frequently something of a puzzle for EFL teachers. Williams (1983, p. 252) goes on to suggest that “an untrained teacher should not be left in any doubt concerning the procedures proposed by the textbook.” For instance, when teachers are invited to “create an action plan using the “Read Think Write” application” in Unit 1 (Institute of Educational Policy, 2018, p. 6) of the new textbook, it is not self-evident that all EFL teachers are apt to rise to the challenge.

As a counterargument to the above shortcomings, Garinger (2002, p. 101) maintains that “keeping students motivated and interested as they work through a textbook is much easier if the students see something new in each chapter.” The “content-based” structure of the new textbook, which allows the exploration of language around one new topic over a period of one or two weeks, “addresses the students’ needs,” “motivates learners,” and “allows for the use of authentic materials” (Richards, 2001, p. 158). It remains to be seen whether Garinger (2002, p. 101) is also right when he counterargues that “familiarity and routine can be comforting, but too much familiarity can lead to disinterest and boredom.” Obviously, the parameter relating to the teenagers’ bombardment with so many stimuli outside the classroom remains a teacher’s constant concern, which cannot be left out of discussions on textbook-driven learning.

Textbook Evaluation

Description of the Textbook Evaluation Checklist

The purpose of the new textbook evaluation via the use of a checklist is to provide insight into its usability parameters and predict its impact on students by taking into consideration the students’ needs, as these have been previously recorded via a Needs Analysis (NA) questionnaire. Because it involves the pre-use stage of the textbook, the estimation of the possible difficulties in its use is in the hands of the teacher. Subsequently, it is also at the discretion of the teacher to decide upon the omission or replacement of certain activities for the students’ best interests.

For the most part, the proposed checklist is based on Cunningsworth’s (1995) criteria and is composed of the same categories with only slight modifications. More specifically, category A–“General insights”–consists of eight questions that are inspired by Grant’s (1987) eight criteria concerning the external evaluation of the textbook. This category is intended as a substitute for Cunningsworth’s (1995) first two categories, “Aims and approaches” and “Design and organization,” because the general type questions contained help teachers put their first impressions of coursebooks into perspective before delving into a more detailed evaluation of their own coursebook. The rest of the categories are the same, with the exception of the “Methodology” category, which has been renamed as “New Technologies” to shift the focus to the role of technology as a significant add-on of the new textbook, but relocated–B. Skills, C. Language content, D. New Technologies, E. Topic, F. Teacher’s guide–in order of importance (See Table I in Appendix).

Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998) are skeptical about the practicality of Cunningsworth’s (1995) multiple categories. According to their interpretation, fewer criteria can orientate the evaluation result in a more opportune way. The final checklist practically gives answers to the criteria questions posed by Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998). The findings involve the following three criteria:

1. Textbook compatibility with the aims and objectives of the syllabus corresponding to categories A. (General insights), C. (Language content), D. (New Technologies), and E. (Topic).

2. Textbook contribution to the students’ and teachers’ development corresponding to categories B. (Skills), C. (Language content), E. (Topic), F. (Teacher’s Guide).

3. Student motivation corresponding to the categories B. (Skills), C. (Language content), D. (New Technologies), and E. (Topic).

Checklist Evaluation Results

The first thing to remember before evaluating the checklist’s findings is that the checklist has been both designed and completed by the classroom teacher, which means that the value of the derived results is intrinsic to the given teaching context. Expanding the scope of the specific conclusions to include more general ones concerning the potential overall impact of a new textbook on TEFL culture would entail an effective comparison between exam–oriented private language education and Greek state-school EFL practices (Ypsilanti & Karras, 2023a).

Textbook Compatibility With the Aims and Objectives of the Syllabus

This clarified, what can be drawn as a general conclusion is that the first grade’s new textbook is an innovative attempt to introduce New Technologies in the management of the learning material without succeeding in integrating it effectively, mainly because relevant teacher training has not taken place beforehand. Another drawback, as far as language content expansion is concerned, is that although it has been designed with a view to motivating students by getting them engaged in topics within the range of their age interests, the textbook self-sabotages its aims and objectives because it is fraught with unexpected comprehension difficulties especially at the lexicogrammatical level. For example, the use of elevated diction and grammatical phenomena frequently constitute an unnecessary hindrance throughout the textbook creating the conditions that lead to demotivation and a low sense of achievement.

Textbook Contribution to the Students’ and Teachers’ Development

The Teacher’s Guide (TG) seems to be held accountable for not adequately removing the comprehension barriers throughout the textbook, as the teaching guidelines do not always ensure that the best use possible is made of the provided resources. This is why students are bound to be directly affected by the lack of supplementary material to facilitate their language progress. By contrast with the TG, whose obvious insufficiency is a brake on both teacher and learner progress, the textbook runs the risk of promising more than it can deliver, mainly out of a lack of supporting resources. Therefore, not only does the new textbook fail to deploy the maximum efforts to redeem the TENOR Greek context in state school EFL education, but it also leaves educators stuck in the quagmire of indecision about the best course of action to be taken through the implementation of the textbook-driven instruction. Consequently, it could prove disheartening to witness students’ efforts falling into the void out of a general lack of coordination between coursebook design and fulfillable implementation.

Student Motivation

Taking for granted what ought to be retaught, re-explained, or reconsolidated through appropriate textbook resources is a major demotivation factor in the case of the specific textbook. Hence, the unanswered question: Where on the continuum of student motivation is the boundary between “coursebook” and “no coursebook” teaching to be drawn? Monitoring every step on the continuum from coursebook design to evaluation may not be feasible, but raising co-accountability issues, i.e., shared responsibilities, on pre-use evaluation to predict material adaptation can be built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion of perception and intuition.

Conclusions

Cunningsworth (1995) and Ellis (1997) speak in favor of textbook evaluation because it is the indicated medium for training teachers to weigh the pros and cons of using their personal insights on the impacts and benefits of reliance on textbook material. In this respect, textbook evaluation is an optional yet useful process to be implemented in the same way as a Needs Analysis questionnaire at the beginning of the school year. Provisioning with foresight by cultivating a culture of optionality via non-curriculum-led, though obviously curriculum-related, practices could be the best answer to a dilemma that is false simply because its origin ought to be dictated by a strong sense of self-preservation from the EFL teacher’s perspective.

Although the EFL teachers of the General Lyceum are hitherto required to use the prescribed new textbook, they remain responsible for implementing the available instruments. The textbook evaluation checklist in the pre-use phase is the first teacher’s step towards taking a proactive look at the daily lesson plan. However appraised notions of “student autonomy” and “self-directed learning” may be, the truth of the matter remains that the lesson in Greek state schools is teacher-led not because teachers are reluctant to let go of their authoritative role in the classroom but because students expect teachers to motivate them in order to have their attention secured. To this end, because material design de novo may not be a realistic goal for a number of practical reasons, modification, omission, or even consultation with the students could be the answer to a teacher’s hesitation about an aimless activity.

Ayakli and Karavas (2004, p. 167) explain that textbook evaluation is an excellent opportunity for teachers to become “more aware of the need for change and also when and how change can take place and develop their confidence and skills in exploring and presenting issues of professional concern.” The sooner teachers realize that they need to develop specific evaluation skills of the material they use by getting into the habit of looking at it more critically and reflectively, the sooner they will be able to view themselves as contributors of tailored content to match the learning needs, interests, and aspirations of their students.

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