A Teacher’s Practice and Perception on English Language Textbook of Secondary Level

Prem Prasai

As I take the trip down memory lane, I vividly behold vistas of years I spent on the teaching career. It’s been more than a decade and a half since I embarked on a journey of teaching in a private school in Jhapa. I was in my late teens when I entered a class as a novice teacher. I have been currently teaching English at the secondary level in a renowned school in Lalitpur for more than a decade.

In this course of teaching, I have used many textbooks of different publications as ELT materials. In this context, this write-up draws on my personal experiences of teaching English to secondary level students in an institutional school and shed some light on the textbook(s) I am using as ELT materials. However, I will focus more on different facets of the government prescribed textbooks while making passing reference to additional books prescribed by the school.

Textbooks and additional materials I’ve been using

In my school, there is a combination of government prescribed textbook, i.e. English and additional books prescribed by the school. The additional books include Tales from Shakespeare (Shakespeare’s plays in story form), Intermediate English Grammar and Friday Afternoon and Composition for class nine. Pride and Prejudice replaces Tales from Shakespeare for class ten.

The additional books have been prescribed to expose students with more engaging reading materials to cater to the needs of reading longer pieces of literature. In the additional section, Murphy’s grammar book is a good resource for students to learn grammar independent of or some guidance from the teacher. Friday Afternoon and Composition offers reading texts for comprehension and composition writing skills.

The government prescribed textbooks for secondary level have recently been updated and revised not only in line with the change in the broader socio-political spectrum in the country and in its implications but also with changing principles of English language teaching and learning in the recent years. The content coverage is more comprehensive and contains more variety of topics and activities compared to the past textbooks.

Books selection in schools and necessity of additional materials

As far as the selection of textbooks in my school is concerned, there is no option in case of government prescribed textbooks as they are mandatory throughout the country. However, there is hardly any binding framework followed for selecting additional textbooks. The selection of books primarily depends on the intent of the school authority than the informed choice and recommendation of concerned subject teachers.

Talking about the necessity of additional materials, I think they are not so necessary because the government textbook itself demands more time if we do the set activities and extended activities properly. Furthermore, I think some room should be given to the teachers to explore and bring the resources as per the objectives and the needs of students rather than prescribing. For example, in place of using the prescribed storybook, the teachers can collect or download the relevant story to their students and work on that. But when the books are prescribed, they are under pressure to finish that and hence there is no room for them to use their creativity. Nevertheless, the prescribed additional textbooks are useful for the novice and lazy teachers as they don’t have to spend time searching and collecting something appropriate for their learners.

Students’ perception of English Textbooks and materials

Perception of students towards a particular subject and its teaching material plays a significant role in the effective implementation of the curriculum. Students of institutional schools tend to pay less heed to English subject as they think they are the students of “boarding schools”. Besides, they are influenced by the grades of their seniors in English in the board examinations such as SEE which tend to be far higher than the scores of community schools. This mentality results in a lax attitude in students. Further, it piles pressure on the language teachers to make their lessons interesting and engaging.

The government textbooks match the level of students in institutional schools as they have a comparatively good base of the English language. The recently revised textbook of grade nine and ten are more enjoyed by students because the content is relevant and appropriate for them. Like, there are texts and activities on, one of the favourite foods of students “mo: mo:” Likewise, in the writing section, sample resources are given to students, which helps them to draw the frame of writing. Thus making the activity inductive. Similarly, there are also project works as the extended activities for students, which helps them to explore their learning themselves.  However, some students do not fare well as they concentrate less on English as they think it is easier to get through English compared with other subjects.

Analysis of Government English textbook

As regards the organization of the exercises in the government prescribed textbook English for class ten, each unit is organized under one dominant functional aspect in English language learning. For example, unit one is entitled Giving, Withholding and Reporting Permission. Each unit blends all four language skills. Reading Section is introduced after warm-up exercises on the pertinent issue or theme to be raised in the text. These pre-reading activities are called Engage Yourself and Study Time. The reading is followed by various exercises such as Vocabulary in Use, Question/ Answer, True or False Statements, etc. Each unit contains a section entitled Grammar which employs a three-step approach to a grammar topic. The first step introduces the grammar topic and gets students interested in the topic. The second step focuses on the core area with example and problems, and the last step integrates the grammar item with either speaking or writing exercise. Listening and Speaking Sections follow the same steps. Writing Section begins with a sample writing text, presents the major writing task to the students before relating the writing task to their possible real-life situations. Every unit provides an opportunity for students to do creative work under Project Work Section. Finally, the unit concludes with a relevant fun activity or exercise under Fun Corner.

Overall, some strengths of the exercises include the following of inductive teaching and learning approach, presenting simple to complex ideas, beginning with pre-reading and writing steps, and going beyond the text to explore and relate in real life situations. However, each unit is heavily loaded with exercises, slowing the progression of the course if conducted as per the spirit of the exercises.  An endeavor has been made to make the book a complete whole in itself by integrating different aspects of learning English. For example, major reading texts including some good pieces of poetry, short stories, real and context-specific interviews. The interviews with Nepalese doctors Imran Ansari and Rajan Poudel on Bird Flu and Typhoid Fever respectively help students to relate learning to their life. Besides, the textbooks include many practical writing topics such as making posters, drafting an invitation, writing the notice of condolence and congratulation, composing emails, preparing a CV, writing a job application and a letter to the editor, designing an advertisement, preparing leaflets and pamphlets etc. Moreover, it also exposes students to the idea that intelligible pronunciation is a must in spoken English and to achieve this end, class nine English book introduces the basic sounds and their phonemic symbols to the students. An extended glossary at the back of the book is also of a help for students. Major readings and writing part are received well by the students in institutional schools.

One of the challenges using the English textbook is to be able to do the justice to all the activities as per the spirit and demand as there are plenty of activities and exercises to do. Similarly the timely availability of the audio material poses another challenge. Moreover, there are some grammatical lapses which may confuse students. For example, while reporting a question the reporting verb “told” has been used in question no. 2.(f): Navaraj told Saraswati……. . Another blunder creeps in the following short question (2. i. g) where the preposition “to” is not required before the object Tom:  What did the angel tell to Tom (p. 147)?

There is no denying the fact that the content of the book is culturally appropriate as it encompasses the texts drawing on culturally relevant and context specific texts. This is expected to foster a sense of mutual respect and tolerance in students and the appreciation of the good in everything. Though the content coverage ranges from local to global issues and texts, more interesting and stimulating texts could have been incorporated.

Available teachers’ resources and capacity building to implement curriculum

For the effective implementation of the textbook, Teacher’s Guide Book plays an important role. However, it is not available yet though I checked on the official website of the Curriculum Development Center and its mobile application. A couple of months ago, I got the opportunity to be familiar with the revised curriculum in a session organized by PABSON, Lalitpur in coordination with the subject expert from CDC, Bhaktapur. More workshops are yet to receive.

However, I am aware of the curriculum set by CDC. This awareness helps me to choose from many options available to achieve the learning competencies in my students. However, candidly speaking, always designing learning activities keeping in mind the set curriculum is a herculean task.

Conclusion

As the textbook is an essential resource to carry out the effective implementation of the curriculum set for a particular level, due care should be taken to make it a good teaching-learning material. The aim of the textbook should not merely be the transmission of knowledge. It should rather equip students with a repertoire of skills for acquiring and building knowledge and instill in them a positive attitude as well as the love for lifelong learning. A textbook should enable students to learn how to make use of different ways of learning. It should also provide an appropriate amount of culturally appropriate and interesting texts. An authentic textbook provides students with opportunities for developing diverse skills of learning according to their interests, needs, and abilities.

On the other hand, teachers also should not merely depend on the textbooks but should adapt them as per the level, interests, and needs of students.

Mr. Prasai is an MA in English Literature from TU. Currently an M Phil scholar in English at KU. He is an English Faculty at Public Youth Campus and GEMS School, Lalitpur.  

My Journey to Become a Textbook Writer

Bishow Raj Joshi*

On the very first day of my teaching career at Shree Bhairab Secondary School, Lamjung where I was appointed as a teacher of English in 1999, I found a book written by Vishnu Singh Rai in the school’s bookshelf. When reading his profile on the cover page, I wished I had had my name as Mr. Rai on the cover page of a textbook. But I had another important responsibility of pursuing Masters Degree and achieving it before starting any other works.

So far I remember the day I found a notice: “call for sample lessons to select grade eight textbook writers” in Gorkhapatra, a national daily newspaper from where my life of writer began. After reading the notice, I contacted my several friends, prepared required documents together and submitted them to Curriculum Development Centre, Sanothimi, Bhaktapur within the notice period. Fortunately, our team was selected to work for Curriculum Development Centre. I still feel how much I was excited to be a part of writers’ team.

We were given a time period of fifteen days to gather necessary materials to develop a textbook. In such a short timeframe, we had to work out of limited sources in rush. As a beginning to develop the textbook framework, the team scheduled a meeting to review national education policy, curriculum and previous textbooks, and in the meeting, the team decided to organize contents into each language skill: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Technically we planned to present contents into three sections based on the framework: Engage yourself-Study-Activate yourself. In the meeting, we distributed tasks of collecting materials to each of us in the team and agreed to meet with assigned works the following week.

Immediately after three weeks of our book development journey, our team briefed our ongoing activities and preparation of the textbook to Curriculum Development Centre. We provided our preliminary drafts of some lessons to CDC. It led us to a meeting with subject committee members in CDC. The committee’s feedback helped us develop a draft of the book. Ultimately we were able to submit our book draft on the 45th day of our book writing journey. Then, we developed a task force including school teachers, collected their feedback and made some changes in the draft of the textbook. The further meeting with subject committee members provided valuable feedback to improve the draft and we included some images and diagrams with their suggestion.

When the final draft was produced as a textbook, it was sent to one hundred government schools for piloting the project. The pilot project provided significant feedbacks and then the comments collected from the school teachers were reviewed subsequently. The feedbacks helped rectify errors in the textbook. Then the textbook was published as a final version and distributed throughout the country.

Main structure of the book

We structured the materials under ESA (Engage -study-activate) lesson sequence in the textbook. Engage activities are presented as motivational activities, study activities as main texts, and activate activities as real-life activities. Reading texts in the textbook provide with opportunities for developing various reading skills such as skimming and scanning, and vocabulary development.  Practical activities set in the book provide the students with basic writing skills. Likewise, listening and speaking activities are entirely based on the communicative skills. We also expect that the students enhance grammatical competence through grammatical items presented in each unit. Some project works in the textbook drive teachers and students to field activities such as social events, environmental and community studies which may develop socialisation skills in the learners. Finally, to address the multiple intelligences of the students, fun activities are included in the textbook.

Personal experience in writing textbook

When I was selected and involved in the team of textbook writers, I got a load of priceless joys. Eventually, I started to dream to be a popular writer after being a part of a national level textbook. My dream to publish about my social, cultural and contexts were gradually happening to be actually concrete in real life. This opportunity reminded my teacher, Mr. Kalika Koirala, who encouraged me to study English and start teaching career. Since I became a member of writers’ team of the textbook, I have been popular among many people and my village has been recognised by many.

How I had thought in the beginning of starting to write the textbook did not go easily while gathering materials and working in the textbook. I thought 45 days would be enough for developing a draft of a textbook but actually, it was not. However, it was the allocated time for our team which was a pressure for everyone in the team. I have explained the major difficulties we faced when developing the book draft below:

Word choice: The guidelines for textbook writers had explicitly explained the maximum number of syllables in a word and the number of words in a sentence. We had to follow it strictly. This created problem while selecting the authentic reading texts. We had skipped many interesting texts due to the frequency of sentences consisting of more than twenty-two words and words consisting of many syllables. Therefore, there might not be more interesting reading texts in the book.

Framing the materials within the prescribed number of pages: As per the guidelines, we had to present all the materials within 176 pages. The areas to be addressed were really difficult to squeeze within the prescribed number of pages. To maintain it, we left many interesting texts. Therefore, we had to supply the book with short texts without the careful consideration of the interest of the students.

Searching for texts with prescribed language functions: There were particular language functions to be addressed in the textbook. While selecting the texts for different language functions and aspects, the texts had had at least some language exponents addressing the language functions prescribed in the curriculum. Finding such texts within a limited time was almost impossible. So we wrote some reading texts to address such problems.

Selecting the pictures and drawing in the textbook: When we submitted the draft copy within a given time frame, the textbook designer was handed over the document. The designer was assigned to supply the book with the pictures as per our description. We had no role in drawing pictures. Sometimes we changed the texts due to the lack of some pictures. In some cases, we changed the descriptions too. So we could not present the materials as we wished before.

However, being a textbook writer brought me both pleasure and pain. The pleasure relived the pain and generated more energy to be in the team of Grade 9 and 10 textbook writers.  The first writing experience not only strengthened my writing skills but also taught me what the writer should consider while writing a textbook.

* The author is a Lecturer at Sanothimi Campus, Tribuwan University, Nepal and a textbook writer of English textbooks for grade VIII, IX and X (CDC).