[Journal of Language and Cultural Education] a Critical Review of Literature on English Language Teaching Textbook Evaluation What Systemic Functional Linguistics Can Offer

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   Journal of Language and Cultural Education  2017, 5(1),  ISSN 1339-4584 78   DOI:   10.1515/jolace-2017-0005    A critical review of literature on English language teaching textbook evaluation: What systemic functional linguistics can offer Xiaodong Zhang Beijing Foreign Studies University, China zxdman588@bfsu.edu.cn    Abstract This paper, from the perspective of language learning as a meaning-making process, presents a critical review of the existing research on how pre-use, in-use, and post-use evaluation has investigated the relationship between English language teaching textbooks’ content and learners’ academic literacy development. The paper shows that previous research on these three types of evaluation examined English language teaching textbooks’ effect on English learners’ academic literacy development in an unprincipled and macro way. The research gap identified in these previous studies calls for an improved textbook evaluation framework that integrates a principled learning theory while simultaneously emphasizing macro-constructs (e.g., context) and micro-linguistic features needed for academic literacy development. To this end, this paper proposes a framework informed by Systemic Functional Linguistics-related constructs (e.g., genre, register, meta-meanings, and lexico-grammar system) to optimize the evaluation of English language teaching textbook content. Keywords : English language teaching textbooks, content evaluation, meaning making, Systemic functional linguistics   Introduction English language teaching (ELT henceforth) textbooks have long been considered central to English language learning and teaching, as they are not only a source of knowledge that teachers rely on to prepare and deliver lessons but also are the main basis of language input for language learners apart from their teachers (Hutchinson & Torres, 1994; Richard, 2001). Given the importance of ELT textbooks in language classrooms, the emergence of research on ELT textbook evaluation that focuses on how textbook content helps achieve language learning/teaching purposes (e.g., learners’ academic literacy development, curriculum implementation, or test preparation) comes as no surprise. UnauthenticatedDownload Date | 10/7/17 6:02 AM   Journal of Language and Cultural Education  2017, 5(1),  ISSN 1339-4584 79 Among the many different ways of evaluating textbooks (see Ellis, 1998; McDonough & Shaw, 1993 for a review), ELT textbook evaluation can be categorized into three types on the basis of the different stages: pre-use, in-use and post-use evaluation (Ellis, 1997; Tomlinson, 2003). More specifically, pre-use evaluation evaluates the potential effects of ELT textbooks that are ready to be selected and used (Cunningsworth, 1995; Tomlinson, 2003). In-use evaluation evaluates the effects of ELT textbooks that are being used in the actual classroom (Ellis, 1997; Tomlinson 2003). Post-use evaluation evaluates the effects of ELT textbooks that have been used for short or long term (Tomlinson, 2003). Despite the different methodological foci of these three types of evaluation, they all evaluate ELT textbooks’ effects on a particular purpose, such as the effect on learners’ academic literacy development, curriculum implementation, or test preparation. Among the variety of pedagogical purposes of ELT evaluation, examining the effect of ELT textbooks on learners’ academic literacy development has been widely researched and emphasized as the most important (e.g., Litz, 2005; Tomlinson, 2003; Williams, 1983; Summer, 2011) since learners, through learning with ELT textbooks, ultimately have to communicate with their audience (Litz, 2005; Masuhara & Tomlinson, 2013). To systematically examine the effect of ELT textbooks on learners’ academic literary, Tomlinson (2003) underscored that it is crucial to “derive from principles of language learning and provide the fundamental basis for any material evaluation” (p. 28), as linguistic and language theory can provide a clear lens for how language should be learned and taught and show the extent to which an ELT textbook impacts learners’ academic literacy. However, researchers diverge in terms of the application of language learning theory in ELT textbook evaluation—that is, whether a particular theory or all possible theories should be used (Masuhara &Tomlinson, 2013; Swan, 2006 ; Tomlinson, 2011). As Cook (2008) cautioned, there is no language learning theory that has been proven to be perfect. In response to this, Summer (2011) suggested that the adoption of a language learning theory in ELT textbook evaluation should be based on those theories that have been shown to be effective. In other words, what matters is not whether researchers should take into account a particular language learning theory or multiple theories—rather, it is the relative efficacy of the language learning theory in its application to ELT textbook evaluation. Regarding the efficacy of language learning theory, researchers (e.g., Fang & Schleppegrell, 2008, Locker, 1996; Schleppegrell, 2001) claimed that language learning is a meaning-making process in context. That is, first, second, or foreign language learners, in order to communicate effectively with other speakers or writers of the new language, have to learn grammar, vocabulary, and meanings in different contexts of social interaction. Indeed, students’ knowledge of meaning UnauthenticatedDownload Date | 10/7/17 6:02 AM   Journal of Language and Cultural Education  2017, 5(1),  ISSN 1339-4584 80 making (using contextually appropriate language form, such as grammar and vocabulary, to achieve meaning) has been empirically proven to be helpful for language learners’ academic literacy development, such as reading, writing, speaking, and listening (e.g., Gibbons, 2002, 2006; Rose & Martin, 2012; Swami, 2008). In other words, when evaluating textbooks’ impact on learners’ academic literacy development (the most important evaluation purpose), textbook evaluation must give attention to how textbooks (or textbook-based teaching activities) link language meaning and contextually-appropriate linguistic resources (i.e., grammar and vocabulary). To this end, this paper is guided by the following two questions: (1)   How have the three types of evaluation investigated ELT textbooks’ effect on learners’ academic literacy? (2)   How can ELT textbook evaluation be optimized to better reveal the link between textbook content and students’ academic literacy development, if at all? Pre-use, In-use, and Post-use Textbook Evaluation   Literature Review Textbook evaluation vs. textbook analysis Since this paper focuses on the three types of ELT textbook evaluation, the majority of this review is devoted to research that has been conducted on ELT textbook evaluation .  However, for the purpose of clarification, this section first attempts to show the difference between the terms textbook evaluation  and textbook analysis,  both of which appear in literature. Among the various definitions of textbook evaluation, the term’s essence can be summarized as the judgment of a textbook’s effect on a specific purpose (e.g., learners’ academic literacy, curriculum implementation, or test preparation) by means of self-made or revised criteria (e.g., Hutchinson & Waters, 1987; Littlejohn, 2011; Tomlinson, 2003). Take Masuhara and Tomlinson’s (2013) study, for example. They used language theories as criteria to evaluate the match between seven ELT textbooks and adult students’ literacy development. Their criteria included “to what extent does the materials provide exposure to English in authentic use?”, “to what extent is the exposure to English in use likely to be meaningful to the target learners?”, and “to what extent do the activities provide opportunities for learners to make discoveries about how English is used?” (pp. 24-29). As illustrated by Masuhara and Tomlinson, textbook evaluation is a process of matching a textbook (i.e., its content) and a particular purpose (e.g., learners’ academic literacy development) in relation to self-made or revised criteria (e.g., language learning theories). While in previous research the term textbook evaluation was often used interchangeably with textbook analysis , Tomlinson (2003) cautioned that researchers should differentiate the two. Textbook analysis should be considered UnauthenticatedDownload Date | 10/7/17 6:02 AM   Journal of Language and Cultural Education  2017, 5(1),  ISSN 1339-4584 81 a descriptive analysis that seeks to discover what is there (Tomlinson, 2003; Summer, 2011). Thus, textbook analysis is a relatively objective description that attempts to discover components of a textbook and may ask such questions as “what is included in the textbook?” For example, Ellis (2002) used three variables for ELT grammar textbook analysis:  explicit descriptio n, data , and operation . Explicit description is used to describe whether grammar is supplied explicitly or needs to be discovered by students. Data deals with the size, source, and medium of the texts in a textbook. Operation is concerned with whether grammatical activities require students to produce grammar, perceive it, or make judgments about it. As shown by Ellis, textbook analysis only describes what is there in a textbook, which is different from textbook evaluation. Textbook evaluation, instead, focuses on the effect of an ELT textbook. Despite the differences between textbook analysis and textbook evaluation shown above, a detailed textbook analysis serves “as a database for a subsequent evaluation of the materials” (Tomlinson, 1998, p. 16)—a point also echoed by Littlejohn (2011) who included textbook analysis as “a precursor to the evaluation or assessment of any set of materials” (p. 182). These authors suggest that textbook analysis is the basis for textbook evaluation and textbook evaluation can be regarded as a matching process between the results of a textbook analysis and a specific purpose, in relation to certain criteria (Littlejohn, 2011). This matching process, as mentioned earlier, has been approached in a three-staged evaluation (i.e., pre-use, in-use, and post-use evaluation), and all three types of evaluation are made in relation to a set of criteria that examines the effect of ELT textbooks on a specific purpose. In particular, the ELT textbooks’ effect on learners’ academic literacy development is a key purpose of ELT textbook evaluation that has received considerable attention in previous research (e.g., Litz, 2005; Masuhara & Tomlinson, 2013). In the following sections, I will review pre-use, in-use, and post-use evaluation research, specifically focusing on how they evaluated the effect of ELT textbooks on learners’ academic literacy from the perspective of language learning as a meaning-making process. Subsequently, I will demonstrate why and how SFL as a language learning and linguistic theory can be used to support ELT textbook evaluation for this particular purpose. Pre-use ELT Textbook Evaluation Much of the early literature on ELT textbook evaluation focused on pre-use evaluation for the purpose of textbook selection. Specifically, researchers (e.g., Byrd, 2001; Cunningsworth, 1984, 1995; McGrath, 2002; Sheldon, 1998; Ur, 1996; Williams, 1983; See also Mukundan & Ahour, 2010 for a review) mainly relied on existent or self-made checklists (i.e., criteria) to rate the match of a given textbook with a particular purpose (e.g., learners’ academic literacy development). For UnauthenticatedDownload Date | 10/7/17 6:02 AM
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