Where is the coursebook going and why is it going there? Melanie Butler talks to Lindsay Clandfield to find out.
“So, you’re sitting down to plan a coursebook,” I say to Lindsay Clandfield over the phone. “What is your agenda? You’re sitting down with a blank piece of paper, what do you write down first”
“The first thing I write is, ‘We need to do something about topics’,” he says. “For the last twenty years, virtually every course book has had long, topic-led units. I wanted a more flexible approach.”
I tell him when I flicked through the sample pages of his new course, Studio, it’s the first thing I noticed. It was like flicking through a magazine. Topics are recycled in short bursts through the courses, making the material in the individual units are more varied
“I’ve always liked that magazine feel,” Lindsay agrees. “My co-author, Robert Cambell, used to run a magazine called It’s which I wrote for. I always liked the way you flicked through and there was a piece on sport, followed by something on food, or maybe the family. So, Robert and I came up with the idea of TV channels, a sports channel, a food channel. Different text types, different media.”
The new course has twelve channels, each featuring a different topic. It’s the Netflix approach, a structure which fits in with a millennial aesthetic. Simple, but quite revolutionary in the risk-averse world of ELT publishing.
“I really have to put in a word for the publishers here,” says Clandfield. “Helbling have been wonderful. I really wanted to work with a smaller publisher. The big companies have become so risk conscious, ‘let’s be realistic’, they say or ‘this is what the markets are telling us.’ Helbling have been really supportive all the way.”
I sigh sympathetically. I worked in course book publishing twenty-five years ago, and I heard all the same messages. Over the years, I too have become increasingly tired of the dominance of the long-distance topic. Who wants to talk about food for ten classroom hours – that could take four whole weeks in a part-time evening class. And most of the global market for adult learners takes place part-time and in the evening.
The research, I tell Lindsay, supports the idea of recycling topics, particularly when it comes to lexis. We have to meet a word seven times before we get to know it – and learning a lot of words in a lexical set and then not seeing them again till we start the next level of the course is possibly the worst way ever invented of teaching vocabulary.
“What surprised us, was how so much of the language recycled itself naturally as we moved through a unit,” Clandfield remarks.
That’s what happens when you loosen the ties between the words you teach and the topic you are covering.
But for many people, loosening the stranglehold of the topic is not the main way that Studio seeks to deconstruct the course book. The way the authors use technology as a classroom tool means that the course is really no longer just a book with some nice techy add-ons.
“I started off being really optimistic about the use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT), but over the years it seems to have been used mostly for work outside the classroom: grammar presentation, lexical practice, gap fills, more techy gap fills, sexy gap fills…”
“…over the years it seems to have been used mostly for work outside the classroom: grammar presentation, lexical practice, gap fills, more techy gap fills, sexy gap fills…”
We sigh in synch.
“Where’s the communication? What happened to the C in ICT!”
Sure, that there was a place for tech in the classroom, as a platform for communication, Lindsay set off to find out. He spent time watching teachers using tech in class. He expected to see lots of interactive whiteboards. Instead, what he found was that most teacher used projectors, niftily dipping in and out of programmes, and switching video on and off.
The results of his research and work are exciting, apps for downloading pair work, vocabulary beats – the digital version of the dear, old Jazz chant, lots of audio formats. “The young are busy discovering the joy of audio, look at the popularity of podcasts” says Lindsay, the father of two boys and amateur podcaster himself (he hosts a podcast with Shaun Wilden called the TEFL Commute).
Lindsay and Robert are particularly pleased with the videoscapes, which allow the teacher to project a scene onto a screen, complete with backdrop, props, even sound effects at times. The student can then act out a dialogue in front of it, film it and view the results.
My favourite is the use of video in the units on functional language. “To be fair,” says Lindsay, “we are not the first to use videoand lots of books have functional language.” But for me, it is the match between video and functional language, the medium and the message, which works so well. It is the way that the book presents functional language as the focus of a whole lesson, rather than just a bunch if useful phrases in a box, that feels so fresh.
Lindsay admits he was looking for a way to translate CEFR, can-do statements into a classroom activity that students could relate to. “We came up with the idea of 101 things you can do in English. The focus is on doing, the focus on functional language just emerged naturally.”
Hardly surprising, I point out, since one of the original influences on the CEFR was the David Wilkins Notional Functional syllabus. So, it may not be new, but it may well be right.
“When I was in publishing,” I tell Lindsay, “we said a great course was like the bride at a wedding: it needs something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue.”
He laughs. “I can live with that.”
Lindsay is a plenary speaker at Iatefl 2019. Turn to page 22 for more on his Iatefl talk.