If you haven’t seen post by Jason Renshaw, definitely check it out for ideas on making coursebooks more flexible and giving students and teachers more choice. The comments are great as well.
I put my vision for a flexible text in the comments, but to reiterate here, I would love to have an electronic textbook (seems to me it could be a CD-ROM or a web-based service) that allowed you to plugin what you want to do for your lesson: i.e.
and have it spit out the appropriate materials. But the next teacher, whose class has the vocab down but needs grammar help, could seek basically the same lesson, but with the materials designed to practice grammar rather than vocab.
When I do design my own materials, or seek out other people’s lesson plans, it’s usually because I feel my students need a certain kind of practice. Often it’s because the text is lacking something that my particular class needs. Maybe I already did the book section on past simple, but my students need more practice pronouncing “-ed” (In Kazakhstan they tend to go Lawrence Olivier on “-ed” and make it into an extra syllable, “wAlk-Ed”). Or maybe the way prepositions of place are presented in the book isn’t intensive enough, or doesn’t really relate to the theme of the lesson, so I want a better presentation in a specific context.
But my colleague down the hall, working with the same text, has different problems. His class has perfect pronunciation but can’t remember which verbs are regular in the past and which aren’t so he needs a good old-fashioned worksheet that makes them conjugate verbs over and over. It would be awesome to have a text that could produce the same basic lesson but with different kinds of materials to adjust to different classes and students.
If you added the ability of students to choose what kind of homework they want to do, that would be brillant. For example, a student has just completed unit 1. He or she goes home, logins in to the e-text and has a choice of homework that provides practice in writing or reading or listening, grammar or vocab, idioms or standard English…
Now this is more or less what a lot of textbooks try to do. They try to give you a lot of materials in different forms that hang together more or less coherently and as a teacher your job is to pick and choose. But in order to provide materials to suit everyone everywhere, the text would have to be massive. And there are a lot of the reasons why teachers don’t pick and choose: the “textbook-must-be-followed” culture that affects teachers, students, administrators and parents alike, lack of time, lack of ability (maybe) but most likely lack of confidence. And the feeling that a course should have some kind of coherent structure, something going through the book provides.
A textbook that is cheaper to publish because it’s online or on a disk and that allows teachers to customize materials while still being based on one syllabus seems like an ideal solution.