This paper examines the efficiency of course books which are delivered by Ministry of National Education based on state high school and secondary school teachers’ perceptions regarding listening and speaking skills. A qualitative and descriptive research was conducted in Çanakkale, Turkey in December 2017. In order to collect data instrument, interview was used with seven teachers. The findings revealed that class time is not enough to implement speaking and listening activities, and teachers consider that the course books are getting better every year but not effective still. This paper is concluded teachers’ suggestions to Ministry of National Education about the course books regarding listening and speaking skills.
Key Words: Course books, Listening, Speaking, Teachers’ Perceptions, ELT , MEB
The Ministry of National Education in Turkey delivers the course books as free and, English teachers complain about the efficiency of these course books.. Tomlinson (2011, p.11) defines an ideal course book as “…usually includes work on grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, functions and the skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking”. According to Meb’s curriculum, teaching English is based on communicative competence and this study examines the efficiency of course books based on listening and speaking which are very significant skills in the communicative competence. Listening and speaking skills have an important role in designing foreign language course books. This study examines the perceptions of teachers on the efficiency of listening and speaking activities in the course books. The findings are not very surprising, teachers complain about the lack of time and the quality of listening and speaking activities.
The Role of Listening
In order to learn a language, there are four skills, which are required to be mastered. According to Helgesen (2003), language skills are distinguished as ‘receptive’ or ‘productive.’ Speaking and writing are the productive skills whereas listening and reading are receptive skills. “Listening is an active, purposeful process of making sense of what we hear.” (Helgesen, 2003, p.21) Listening has a significant role in learning a foreign language and in this technological age, students have a great chance to develop their listening skills, as there are many online sources. Mc Donough & Shaw (1998) point out that for years, like reading listening has also been regarded as a ‘passive’ skill and this is not true as listeners are included to the process. Students implement listening strategies while listening such as ‘predicting’, ‘inferring’, ‘monitoring’, ‘clarifying’ and ‘responding’. (Helgesen 2003) That is why listening is not a passive skill and listeners are not passive. As Rumelhart and Antony (1977) proposed in the classroom in the cognitive view of learning a language, there are two approaches to teach listening, these are bottom up and top down processes. For years it is a known fact that people’s background knowledge affects the way of their understanding what they listen. (Brown 2006) In bottom up process, students use constituent elements to process the meaning. They separate the items and, understanding the message is dependent to the understanding the components in the message itself. Goodman (1976, p. 7) criticizes the bottom up process as it makes learning difficult and “by breaking whole (natural) language into bite-sized, abstract little pieces.” According to Cook (1989, p. 69) when we have “pre-existing knowledge of the world” we comprehend what we read or listen. This kind of knowledge is called schema. (Harmer 2001) In top-down process listeners infers the meaning as linking the message with their schema. (Helgesen 2003) Listening usually happens in the midst of a conversation and it requires a respond which leads us to another vital skill, speaking.
The Role of Speaking
Speaking is an active, productive skill and “the process of building and sharing meaning through the use of verbal and non-verbal symbols, in a variety of contexts” (Chaney, 1998, p. 13) In recent years, the purpose of learning English has become communication due to being an international language. People measure the knowledge of a language just from speaking. Richards and Renandya (2002, p. 201) claims that “A large percentage of the world’s language learners study English in order to develop proficiency in speaking.” However, Hinkel (2005) states that developing speaking skill is very complicated. For this reason, while teaching English, special attention should be given to speaking skill. To promote speaking skills, a variety of activities and tasks can be implemented in the classroom but there are some problems to develop it. Ur (1991, p. 121) remarks that in speaking activities some problems occur and first one is ‘inhibition’. Students do not want to make mistakes and they fear to be criticized. According to Nazara (2001), students feel embarrassed while speaking English in the classroom because of their classmates and their teacher. The second problem is ‘nothing to say’. Students feel thay they have no reason to speak. The third problem is ‘low or uneven participation’. Generally one student talk and the others have little chance to speak. The fourth problem is ‘mother tongue use’. Students tend to speak their mother tongue in the classroom because students think that speaking foreign language in the classroom is not natural. Apart from student-based problems during speaking activities, Thornbury (1998, p. 110) remarks that “classrooms and textbooks are still widely grammar-driven which makes any conversational approach difficult to apply”.
One of the most controversial issues in teaching English is selecting and using course books in the classrooms (Charalambous, 2011). Along with their benefits, course books have some disadvantages when used more than adequate.
Charalambous (2011) explains a number of reasons about the negative effects of course books on language teaching process. The first reason is, “course books de-skill teachers.” (2011:4), in other words, teachers become ‘technicians’ if they only stick to their course books while teaching English. In addition to this, Richards (1998) implies that, reification of course books, in other words “unjustifiable attribution of qualities of excellence, authority and validity” (McGrath, 2002, p. 8) of course books, is counter-productive in English classes. The second reason is about the monotony which is caused by course books. Since the course books implement the same order of tasks and activities, they cause repetitive classes which students are not interested. The third reason argues that ‘no course book is perfect’. Every course book has some limitations and weaknesses. This is why there is no course book which is appropriate for all classes and students. The reason is that, every student is different, so a course book which works well for one class, does not have to work with another class (Thornbury, 1999).
On the other hand, Harmer (1991, as cited in Richards, 1998) explains the role of course books from a different perspective. He says that good textbooks are beneficial, and have huge amount of advantages. To set an example, good textbooks include lively and intriguing items, and they lighten teachers’ load of preparing and finding original materials for each lesson.
Also, there are several studies about teachers who use course books in their English classes. According to Graves (2003), the first step for teachers to use a course book in classes is to understand the organisation of the course book. Knowing this organisation enables teachers to make decisions about how to implement their course book. The second step includes the adaptation of the course book. Since the interests and demands of each group of learners varies, it is impossible for a course book to meet all these needs. This is why the course book needs a teacher’s adaptation (McGrath, 2002).
Furthermore, another study carried out by Tekir and Arikan (2007) examines the course books given by Ministry of Education in Turkey. One of their implications is that activities in the course books are inadequate in order to develop language skills. In addition, O’Neill (1982) argues that course books should foster creative and spontaneous interactions between learners, and if an interaction like this does not take place in a language classroom, it means that course book is just ‘pages of dead’.
This current study is a descriptive and cross sectional study, and it is a qualitative research which was conducted in Çanakkale/Turkey in 2017. Its purpose is to state teachers’ perceptions about listening and speaking activities on the course books that are given by Ministry of Education. In total seven English teachers who are from the state secondary and high schools attended to this research. Three of them were secondary school teachers and four of them were high school teachers. The snowball sampling was used to find participants. In other words, chain sampling means that through the previous acquaintances voluntary respondents selected and required data was collected. (Goodman, 1961) Six of the participants are female and one of them is male. They have at least five years of experience in state schools. Some problems caused by the curriculum were encountered about the course books in state schools and they had been discussed in the ELT lectures. In order to find teachers’ perceptions about efficiency of course books this study was conducted by two pre-service teachers. The data collection process was implemented ethically considering participants’ anonymity.
A structured interview was employed as data collection instrument for this research. In total 8 questions were asked to the participant. It was prepared beforehand and teachers were asked about their views. The themes that occurred during the interview were coded for the content analysis. The interviews lasted about 15 minutes. Two of the participants gave consent to sound record their answers through the interview. For other participants, the answers were noted down throughout the interview. Four of the participants used Turkish to answer the questions as they felt more relaxed. Three of them answered in English.
1) Do you use course books that are given by Ministry of Education? Why/why not?
2) What do you think about the efficiency of course books?
3) According to a research, grammar is highly valued in our English classes. Do you agree? Why/why not?
4) How important is the contribution of speaking and listening when learning a language?
5) Are there enough listening and speaking activities in course books? Are they effective?
6) Do you think additional sources/activities are needed? Why?
7) Is enough lesson time available for listening and speaking activities? How?
8) What are your suggestions to MEB regarding English course books?
The responses were transcribed and translated into English. The content analysis was conducted in the process of data analysis. The data were categorized into five themes by using Excel Office Programme. The categories are; the efficiency of course books and the need of additional sources, the role of grammar, the role of speaking and listening, enough lesson time, and suggestions to Ministry of National Education. The consistency of the answers was analyzed by the researchers.
1- The efficiency of course books
The first category is the efficiency of course books. All of the participants use MEB’s course books in their classes, because it is compulsory. The high school teachers’ views are varied, half of them consider that course books are not efficient. On the contrary, the other half of the participants assume that course books are getting better, but not sufficient enough. One of the secondary school teachers considers course books’ quality has been increased in recent years whereas two secondary school teachers commented that the course books are not adequate nor appropriate.
2- The role of grammar in English language classrooms
The second category is the role of grammar in English language classrooms. Generally, all of the participants assume that course books, which are given by Ministry of Education, are grammar focused. Four high school teachers agree with the idea of English lessons in the state schools are grammar based, and two of them explained that the way Ministry of National Education assesses students causes this situation in English teaching process. They argue that education system in Turkey is not appropriate for teaching a foreign language, especially with multiple choice questions in exams such as YDS and TEOG , so they support that English should be taught within integrated skills by using audios, visuals, and videos. Moreover, three secondary school teachers consider English lessons are highly grammar based, and one of the teachers states that in one unit in a course book, there are three grammar topics, which exemplifies the issue strongly.
3- The role of speaking and listening skills
The third category is the role of speaking and listening skills. Initially, all of the participants agree that speaking and listening skills are very important. Two of the high school teachers drew attention to productive skills, which are speaking and writing, should be fostered in classrooms, because students encounter some problems during writing and speaking activities. The other two high school teachers explain the importance of listening and speaking skills in terms of communication. They imply that students’ aim is to get high grades in exams rather than to use English to communicate. In addition, secondary school teachers reported that listening and speaking skills are more important than grammar, “knowing a language does not mean knowing the grammar rules, it means understanding the language and speaking it.” This is why all skills should be integrated together according to the participants.
4- The availability of lesson time on speaking and listening skills
The fourth category is the availability of lesson time on listening and speaking skills. All of the respondents agree that the lesson time is not enough. Two of the high school teachers state that the lesson time is decreased from twenty to four hours per week also they have to cover all the topics in the course book within this limited time. One of the secondary school teacher says that “I have to skip speaking activities because of time.” Another secondary school teacher explains that because of the curriculum, it is not possible to spare time for listening and speaking activities. In addition, lack of listening and speaking activities on course books are mentioned.
5- The suggestions to MEB regarding course books
The fifth category is teachers’ suggestions to MEB regarding course books.
“Games should be included in English lessons. There should be more more games, questions and activities both on course books and Eba. If we look at the positive side, smart boards have been really useful especially for listening activities. It is beneficial because it enables students to listen the foreigner talk. Also, the texts should be updated and interesting, for instance, there can be some information about famous people, some biographies can be included in course books. For example, there is a section about Aziz Sancar in 7th grade students’ course books, it was interesting for them.”
Interviewee A (secondary school teacher)
“Firstly, nobody pays attention to the reports which we criticize the English course books. Also, English questions had been reduced in TEOG, so students don’t want to study English. Lastly, MEB should work with successful writers, and have them write modern and efficient books which focus on listening and speaking skills. The pilot scheme in 5th grades should be implemented on 9th grades, too. It should continue as a whole, it should be stable.”
Interviewee B (high school teacher)
“MEB should choose the writers very well. The writers should give more importance to speaking and writing activities. The topics should be related to real life. They should be interesting for students. There shouldn’t be so many learning outcomes in one year.”
Interviewee C (the high school teacher)
” I suggest they should not send us books. We can choose for ourselves. There are lots of cheap and good books. And I think lots of students can afford them, and we really need them because English books are really awful and sometimes we have the book, there are lots of listening activities but we don’t have the audio recordings of the books. But we have to find the recordings ourselves, sometimes we can’t find them. There are many problems so I don’t think it is a good idea to use meb’s books but we have to.”
Interviewee D (the high school teacher)
“Firstly, there should not be the same topics in every year and in the same level topics should not be repeated. Especially the grammar topics are boring and tiring. The skills should be coordinated. The foreign sources should be taken into account while preparing the coursebooks. There should be updated topics and appropriate for the level and age.”
Interviewee E (the high school teacher)
“The grammar topics should be reduced, at least in one unit there can be just one grammar topic so students compehend easily. Apart from that, there should be more speaking activities and creative projects that students can tell about themselves.”
Interviewee F (the secondary school teacher)
“First of all, we need to determine what we want students to learn. According to these, we should specify the topics, the activities, and the lesson time. I mean, the most important thing is how much students learn, not how much the teachers teach!”
Interviewee G (the secondary school teacher)
The course books should be written according to integrated skills. Meb should choose the successful writers who are able to write effective and appropriate course books and the level and age should be considered while preparing activities. Updated and interesting topics should be included to gain students’ attention. Furthermore, teachers unable to find some audio scripts of listening activities so Meb should send course books with their listening materials.
Because of the education system and assessment type in Turkey, grammar is highly valued. As long as English is taught as a grammar lesson not a way of communication, student will only memorize the rules. Students should be supplied a context in which they can communicate with their peers. Because of this fact, the lesson time should be available enough.
No matter the quality of course books, teachers should supply interesting and varied materials to develop students’ listening and speaking skills. The grammar topics in the curriculum can be covered in an integrated way with other skills.
The interview results suggest that course books are getting more effective in recent years but they are not effective enough considering the quality of listening and speaking activities. This is why teachers ought to find additional activities in order to foster language skills. In addition, in course books there are a lot of grammar topics to cover so they should be reduced. As the time is limited teachers are unable to implement speaking and listening activities. The ministry of education should increase the English lesson times so that teachers can include these activities in their lessons. Teachers state that the role of listening and speaking is more crucial than grammar while learning a language but these teachers skip the listening and speaking activities in their lectures.
Dülger, O. (2016) Evaluat?on of EFL Coursebooks Taught in Turkey Based on
Teachers’ V?ews, Journal of Advances in English Language Teaching 2016; www.european-science.com/jaelt
Vol.4, No.1 pp. 1-1urnal of Advances in English Language Teaching 2016; www.european-science.com/jaelt
Vol.4, No.1 pp. 1-1