Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

Program

Curriculum and Instruction PhD

First Advisor

Raymond J. Ostrander

Second Advisor

Larry D. Burton

Third Advisor

Julia Kim

Abstract

Problem

The textbook is the most important resource for English as a Foreign Language (EFL) classrooms in Brazil, defining the course to be followed and the teaching and learning processes for language learning. Therefore, it is necessary to understand through an educational perspective the curriculum design employed in the textbook, and the language learning processes used based on the communicative approach, the current favorable approach to English teaching in Brazil. Textbooks writers typically indicate their alignment to the communicative framework. So the problem that exists is the lack of studies on the approaches and processes used in the construction of the English textbook for EFL and the need to identify to what extent communicative approaches guide and frame the curriculum content. In this study I analyze sixth-grade textbooks, the first grade in which students are in contact with the foreign language. Thus sixth-grade textbooks evoke the importance of understanding how language learning is conceived regarding curriculum design aspects and language learning processes. Hence, for a more effective orientation to students’ learning experiences the present study takes into account to what point the textbook writers incorporate aspects of the communicative approach into the curriculum design and language learning processes in the foreign language textbooks.

Method

The method used in this study was qualitative content analysis (QCA). Content analysis allowed me to explore the extent to which textbook writers included curriculum design and language learning processes. QCA provides the means to analyze the meaning of qualitative material in a systematic way. Textbook content can provide qualitative categories that can be rearticulated and resignified, going beyond a format that complies with yes and no to answers. Content analysis helps explore more thoroughly specific aspects of the texts’ message providing insights to the effects that the textbook have on users’ language proficiency and the extent to which changes are necessary. Two sixth-grade textbooks were analyzed—the Links (2011) and Keep in Mind (2012) collections. Both are currently used in Brazilian public schools. The sixth grade is usually the first time students will be in contact with the foreign language and, thus these textbooks were suitable to serve as the corpus of the study. A checklist was developed to evaluate the EFL textbooks, and several aspects were taken in consideration to produce the checklist. Items from previous checklists were adapted for inclusion on the current checklist. To ensure the checklist included items that dealt with aspects of curriculum design, Nation and Macalister’s (2010) language curriculum design components were incorporated into the current checklist. Checklist items related to the language learning processes were developed based on Tomlinson’s (2003, 2010, 2011) and Ellis’s (2014) language learning principles. The checklist items have two criteria that must be contemplated to obtain a satisfactory and good evaluation, which is indicated by a summative value for each item in the checklist. The checklist guides the evaluation procedures and examination of the textbooks.

Results

The analysis of the textbooks indicates that both textbooks follow a weak version of the communicative approach. The textbooks develop suitable controlled practices especially related to speaking skills, and provides natural spoken data for the content of the units. However, both textbooks failed to create conditions for freer production of language use to achieve a communicative outcome. There are few opportunities for students to interact, share meaning, and manipulate the language in communicative contexts. Therefore, the textbooks should be revised to ensure that students engage in tangible experiences where they interact through talk-in-interactions and discover the language system in the process of communicating to achieve an outcome. The textbooks are satisfactory in providing fun and interesting activities for students. Even so, more attention should be given to designing fun activities than relying on goal-oriented activities. Failing to define the goals in precise terms leads to instruction that is not aligned to the goals of the unit. This is seen in both textbooks. Also, in the case of Links, textbook writers relied on a ‘coverage of materials approach’ by having students work with several topics in the unit, thus hindering their ability to extensively analyze content. Textbook authors fail to include content more than once across the textbooks, which hinder students’ abilities to recall and integrate content knowledge. Language development requires constant reinforcement of learning for students to incorporate the linguistic item into their language system. Conversely, both textbooks ensure a periodic assessment of content and grammatical activities that focus on form-meaning connections. In general, listening, reading, writing, and grammar activities from these two textbooks could offer more chances to assist learners in noticing the input through highlighting or marking the words, isolating the input, and increasing the salience of the target structure. In listening practices Links failed to give attention to the metacognitive process where learners attend to input and check their understanding. Also, both textbooks could have provided a range of different listening activities, such as listening grips, prompts, completion of sentences, and matching activities. The reading activities in Links are effective as they lead learners to attend to unknown words, to discuss the main points of the texts, and to trigger comprehension skills. In Keep in Mind there is an absence of discourse-level texts, and vocabulary aligned to the goals of the unit. For writing experiences Links authors designed suitable practices where students are given a model to follow and are then stimulated to create their own written work. Contrarily, Keep in Mind presents word-level practice, and few chances for students to work on the writing process. Finally, both textbooks could benefit if their authors provided more varied activity types, such as, prompts, writing response to a picture, dictoglosses, reading responses, writing based on concept-maps and inventories.

Conclusions

The analysis of both textbooks shows a compliance to a relatively weak version of the communicative approach. In this sense, textbook writers should focus attention on designing communicative activities more in line with tasks that allow students to interact, negotiate meaning, self-invest in their learning, and produce language in communicative contexts. A balance should be achieved between controlled and free productions of learning, where students have chances to go beyond rehearsal of information to trying out communication and sharing of meaning on their own to achieve communicative competence. Textbooks authors must produce activities and assignments to ensure that students engage in freer productions of learning through tangible experiences where they interact through talk-in-interactions and information-gap activities to discover the language system in the process of communicating to achieve an outcome. Overall, textbook writers need to provide more attention to the alignment of goals, instruction, and assessment of the units. Formulating more specific goals ensures fewer topics, attention to input, and depth of learning. Listening, reading, and writing activities could be designed to offer more chances for input awareness and processing, through a focus on the metacognitive process, and for more diverse forms of activities. Furthermore, input across the units should be reinforced through a cyclical format to lead students to check their understanding, create connections, and rethink the forms they are in the process of learning to be incorporated to their language system.

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