Teachers' Needs and Predesigned Instructional Practices: An Analysis of a Reading/language Arts Coursebook for a Second Grade Class

Article excerpt

Coursebooks are an indispensable tool of the language arts instruction in elementary schools across California State. They are designed for teachers with precise indications of instructional practices, classroom social and participatory structures. However, these pre-designed practices are hardly evaluated for their appropriateness to meet teachers' own needs and interests such as their unique ways of teaching and classroom management styles in different language teaching contexts. This study therefore examines Open Court Reading--the prescribed language arts coursebook for teachers of second grade in Los Angeles Unified School District to determine how the textbook reflects teachers' interests, needs and preferences. Through literature review, I identified critical factors that influence teachers' use of coursebooks. Second, 100 elementary school teachers in the district identified three aspects of the coursebook they consider most effective, three least effective and three recommendations. Third, three randomly selected chapters of the coursebook were analyzed to identify the instructional practices preselected for teachers. The teachers' factors (teachers-identified and author-identified) were then matched with the preselected instructional practices in the coursebook. The exercise revealed critical shortcomings in the predesigned instructional activities for teachers. Specific suggestions were made to help teachers maximize the potential of the book. In addition suggestions were made for coursebook writers and publishers.

Introduction

The profound interest in the need to improve the teaching of the English language is reflected in the large number of coursebooks published yearly in this country. Course-books are published with a variety of supplementary resources such as practice work-books, videos, CD-ROMs, cassettes and so on to facilitate language teaching and learning. In addition, such textbooks come in complete packages with precise specifications of what to teach, how to teach it, practice activities, participatory structure and expected learning outcomes. In fact, it will be largely accurate to say that besides language teachers, coursebooks are the single most powerful and increasingly pervasive tool of language arts instructions in schools. Richards and Rodgers (2001) observe that coursebooks are a vital component of the curriculum as they specify "subject-matter content, even where no syllabus exists, and define or suggest the intensity of coverage for syllabus items, allocating the amount of time, attention, and detail particular syllabus items or tasks required" (p. 29).

However, teachers frequently complain of lack of suitable materials that address their own teaching needs and the language needs of their students. At the heart of the issue is whether structured textbooks reflect teachers' diverse needs, interests and preferences. This is why Masuhara (1998) argues that teachers should play a pivotal role in materials development as they are the ones charged with the implementation of such materials. But unfortunately there is little research on how teachers react to implementation of structured coursebooks or how such coursebooks align with teachers' own beliefs and theories about language arts instructional practices. Therefore Masuhara notes that "teacher variables have received very little attention in literature" (p. 239).

This is why Block (1991) and Richard (2000) argue that the critical issue of textbook selection, adaptation, development and evaluation has not been given the much deserved attention despite the fact that commercial coursebooks are the primary, and sometimes the only source of teaching materials available to teachers in classrooms. Richards thus concludes that "much less attention has been given to textbooks" (p. 125). It is therefore critically important that researchers engage in the study of what teachers want in textbooks in order to understand "idiosyncratic aspects of teaching, of gaps in materials coverage, or even innovative approaches to materials development" (Masuhara 1998, p. …