The evaluation of textbooks is highly important for teaching English in Saudi Arabia. A common problem, which Saudi Arabian English teachers face, is an inappropriate portrayal of foreign values in textbooks. In this work, the researcher has examined the problems that exist in this sphere and fulfilled a comprehensive literature review. The author has compared two English textbooks for teaching 1st Secondary in Saudi Arabia, “Traveller 1” and “Flying high 1,” according to the points of the evaluation checklist. As a result, the two textbooks received a similar assessment in general appearance, teaching aids, teaching methods, and learning skills. At the same time, “Traveller” left “Flying high” behind in book objectives, subject, and content, grammar, and vocabulary. Considering the planned results that Saudi Arabian English teaching needs to achieve, the author has concluded that using “Traveller” in Saudi Arabian schools is more advantageous.
For curriculum development, the evaluation of textbooks is one of the vital elements. To ensure a successful implementation of the ideas of ELT in the curriculum and the fulfillment of its purposes for the benefit of the learners, the materials included in textbooks must fit the curriculum. For this reason, the purpose of evaluation checklists, which are created according to the requirements of the curriculum, is to make textbooks correspond with the curriculum. If it were not for evaluation, textbooks would often contradict the curriculum and make English language classes difficult for students, as well as for their teachers.
Generally, textbook selection and evaluation are a significant part of ELT. Evaluation systems provide detailed checklists related to various aspects of teaching and the relationship between a student and a teacher. In such a way, the selection and evaluation of textbooks help regulate the most important issues. What is more, they allow making textbooks more suitable for students, checking the content, exercises, format, and examples of each textbook to find out if they are appropriate for the students of a particular age, level, and major. The evaluation and selection process also helps a teacher to use a textbook more effectively, make it fit the needs and preferences of a teacher, and make a teacher able to use this material. Textbook selection and evaluation are reliable tools, which are developed based on extensive research.
In Saudi Arabia, the specific educational context of the country needs to be considered while writing English textbooks. A controversy exists between studying English as a language that is necessary for international relations and teaching students the values of globalization, which are believed to be connected with the English language. English textbooks for Saudi Arabian students must not teach them alien values and contain inappropriate pictures (Al-Seghayer, 2015, par. 1-2). To be consistent with Saudi Arabian values and suitable for local learners, the new English textbooks, which are used currently, need to be evaluated to select the one that is the most appropriate and can be adopted for all schools.
In the present work, the researcher plans to evaluate two English textbooks for teaching 1st Secondary in Saudi Arabia, compare them and contrast according to an evaluation checklist, including such aspects as physical attributes, the efficient outlay of objectives and supplement, learning-teaching content, learning skills, and Grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, and come up with the most suitable one for Saudi Arabian learners of that level.
To achieve the objectives of the research, the author has conducted a comprehensive review of the literature on two topics: the role of a textbook in ELT and the EFL textbook evaluation in Saudi Arabia.
Role of the Textbook in ELT
Two major works on the topic of the role of a textbook in ELT can be mentioned. In the first of them, “What do we want teaching materials for?” by R.L. Allwright, the author explains the various aspects of the role, which textbooks play in the English language teaching process. Allwright presents two approaches that exist in the educational environment to the role of a textbook: deficiency approach, according to which textbook have to make up for the flaws of a teacher, and different approach, which states that a textbook provides a perspective different from that of a teacher, which benefits learners (Allwright, 1981, p. 6). Allwright also recognizes such an important problem as the conflict of interests of teaching institutions, teachers, sponsors, and learners. They have different goals, which affects the role of a textbook (Allwright, 1981, p. 7). The author considers that textbooks have limited influence on methods and content of teaching English (Allwright, 1981, p. 9).
Unlike Allwright, L.E. Sheldon, in the article “Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials,” does not discuss the theoretical side of the problem but studies the real situation in the sphere of ELT. The researcher severely criticizes the trends that exist in the ELT textbook publishing industry. The author also mentions the common assumptions of teachers and students, such as that textbooks are a necessary evil and teacher-generated material is less reliable than even the worst textbook (Sheldon, 1988, p. 273). As a solution, the author suggests writing textbooks according to the needs of learners (Sheldon, 1988, p. 289).
EFL Textbook Evaluation in Saudi Arabia
EFL textbook evaluation is a widely discussed topic among the researchers of Saudi Arabia. Among the works written on this topic are the following.
The work of A. Alharbi, even though it has a limited scope of the study, presents a detailed and reliable analysis. The researcher has employed two evaluation checklists, one by Williams (1983) and another one, more up to date, by Keban, Muhtar, and Zen to evaluate an English textbook series “Flying High,” which is currently used in Saudi Arabian schools. According to the author’s findings, the newer checklist allowed to give an overall high grade to the textbook series, except for the physical qualities of textbooks and the vocabulary list. The older checklist indicated a bigger number of flaws. It allowed the author to conclude that the two checklists were created for different purposes (Alharbi, 2015, p. 7-13).
The research of H. Ahmad and S.R. Shah is focused on a completely different problem: how cultural attitudes expressed in New Headway Plus Special Edition textbooks affect English language learners. The authors concluded that if textbooks fail to provide cultural understanding and that the learners with a higher level of English were more likely to absorb foreign values (Ahmad & Shah, 2014, p. 18-19). However, the research can be considered biased. Even though the authors selected participants from various countries and with different experiences, the participants were teachers, who had to collect information from their students (Ahmad & Shah, 2014, p. 15). To ensure the accuracy of the research, it is needed to collect data from students.
In this aspect, the work of S. Alhamlan is more reliable. The author invited 500 female 3rd-grade secondary students as participants to find out if the curriculum fulfills their needs. The researcher assessed a curriculum used for 3rd secondary Saudi Arabian schools, “Traveller 5.” As a result, S. Alhamlan found out that the curriculum generally suits the needs of the students. Despite this fact, serious drawbacks were identified. The material was often too difficult for the students, the curriculum did not encourage them to interact in a classroom, and vocabulary sections had an insufficient number of new words (Alhamlan, 2013, p. 13-21). Even though the scope of the study is wide enough, the research design is flawed. The questionnaire used a three-point scale with such responses as “weak,” “mid,” and “low” (Alhamlan, 2013, p. 12), which does not provide a variation of answers.
The article of S. Faruk demonstrates an interesting research idea, yet a narrow scope of the study. The author intended to examine how cultural elements have been presented in Saudi English textbooks over the last 35 years. Faruk concluded that Western values are influencing textbook much stronger nowadays compared to what was 35 years ago (Faruk, 2015, p. 535-537). However, Faruk studied only three textbooks for 3rd-grade secondary students (Faruk, 2015, p. 527), which is not enough to get a full understanding of the problem.
H. Al-sowat has evaluated an English textbook for the 1st Intermediate grade from the perspective of both male and female teachers. Al-sowat found a great number of shortcomings in the textbook, including such significant problems as layout and design, grammar, vocabulary, and correspondence to learners’ level. Teacher’s books did not contain teaching manuals, merely answering books. Also, the researcher concluded that the perspective of the teachers did not depend on their gender (Al-sowat, 2012, p. 402-404).
The cover of “Flying high” allows one to know that it is a student’s book, it is intended for Saudi Arabian learners, and the level of the learners should be 1. However, it does not say that the subject is English. “Traveller’s” cover mentions that it is an English, student’s book and the book is for Saudi Arabians, but it does not mention the level. Generally, the font size is suitable for learners in both books.
Layout and design
In both textbooks, the units follow a reasonable, unified structure and the topics are logically organized in such a way as to make learners more likely to understand the language problems.
Efficient Outlay of Objectives and Supplement
The objectives of the book are not addressed properly in “Flying high.” They are not listed at the beginning of each unit. Even though the table of contents indicates the skills and topics that learners would master while taking each unit, such as “Unit 8 – Expressing present wishes, future hopes,” these objectives are not measurable (Brewster, Davies, & Rogers, 2013, p. 4). Consequently, it is hard to determine whether the objectives are consistent with the goals of the educational program. Notwithstanding this, the objectives suit the learners’ proficiency level. For example, studying Past and Present Simple corresponds to Level 1 (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 2). The objectives integrate all four necessary skills (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) since objectives related to all these skills are listed in the table of contents (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 2-5). The objectives address the three domains of learning: there are objectives to train cognitive skills (studying grammar), affective skills (talking about dreams), and psychomotor skills (writing tasks) (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 2-5).
“Traveller” also lists the goals in the table of contents. While this textbook has the same advantages in listing book objectives as the other one, “Traveller” does not possess the same shortcomings as “Flying high.” The objectives are presented clearly and divided into clusters: grammar, vocabulary, speaking, listening, writing, reading, and functions (Mitchell, 2012, p. 2-3). The objectives can be measured; for example, there are lists of words a student should know for each unit (Mitchell, 2012, p. 139-143). They suit the learners’ proficiency level since they address basic knowledge, such as tenses and adjectives, needed for Level 1(Mitchell, 2012, p. 2-3). The objectives are consistent with the goals of the educational program since the latter requires students to learn basic things that are listed in the table of contents (Mitchell, 2012, p. 2-3), and address all the domains of learning: cognitive (learning grammar), affective (learning to collaborate with others), and psychomotor (writing tasks) (Mitchell, 2012, p. 2-3).
Both “Flying high” and “Traveller” are supplemented with teacher’s books. The teacher’s books are manuals rather than mere answer keys. This fact is surely the advantage of these textbooks since having a comprehensive manual facilitates and enriches the learning process.
Unfortunately, both textbooks lack posters and flashcards. It is a serious gap, considering the positive effect that flashcards and posters have on learners.
Another clear benefit of both books is the variety and multiplicity of diagrams, tables, charts, pie charts, schemes of all types and sizes to ensure the full understanding of a topic. Bright illustrations, which are plentiful in “Flying high” and “Traveller,” make the learning process more interesting and less stressful for the learners. While “Traveller” provides access to audio and video materials, “Flying high” presents only audio ones, which gives the former an advantage over the latter.
In this sphere, both “Flying high” and “Traveller” have an advantage. The teaching methods used in these textbooks are centered on a learner since the tasks are focused on the things that may interest a young person from a particular cultural environment (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 28; Mitchell, 2012, p. 85-86). The methods also provide a teacher with an opportunity to work with a class of mixed-ability students since the textbooks encourage inter-student collaboration, which helps weaker students (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 64; Mitchell, 2012, p. 109). As it was already mentioned, “Flying high” involves audio materials, and “Traveller” uses audio and video ones. Therefore, it can be said that the two textbooks allow the integration of technologies in such away.
Subject and content
Both textbooks present information related to a variety of different fields. From “Flying high,” students would learn about human lifespan, work, and study, anatomy, culture, health, etc. These topics are not only relevant to the lives of the learners, but they also relate to different fields. “Traveller” teaches learners to speak, write, and think about daily activities and personal items, events, clothes, transport, locations, and directions, geography, and sport. It can be easily noticed that “Traveller” presents a much wider variety of topics than “Flying high,” and these topics are all highly relevant to learners. For learners, the topics presented in “Traveller” are more likely to be necessary than those from “Flying high.” Since English is an international language, it is highly important to be able to speak about sport in English (Rahman & Alhaisoni, 2013, p. 114).
Not regarding the mentioned above, all the materials in both textbooks are up to date since they relate to contemporary issues such as fitness or shopping, the language is authentic and natural as it is spoken by modern Native speakers, and the content suits the level of learners since it is enough difficult for them to train (Mitchell, 2012, p. 124-125; Brewster et al., 2013, p. 28).
In both books, the presented content is suitable for the culture and social ethics of Saudi Arabian learners. Unlike many English textbooks pictures (Al-Seghayer, 2015, par. 1-2), these avoid forcing Western values on learners while telling about other countries. People portrayed in the pictures are dressed according to Islamic ethics. As an example, in “Traveller,” when a learner has to imagine themselves in a clothes shop, the proposed clothes are Arabian (Mitchell, 2012, p. 122).
Exercise and activity
Overall, the exercises presented in both textbooks correspond to the objectives outlined in the syllabus.
“Flying high” contains very clear and concise instructions for exercises. The instructions are presented in such a way as to make them more understandable for the learners of this particular level of English proficiency. For example, instead of merely offering to write a composition about a learner’s area of living, the textbook asks to write an introduction about the area, then a paragraph about what the learner likes about this area and the other one about what they do not like and then a conclusion (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 35). Such instructions are far less likely to confuse a student than a mere “write a composition.” Despite these pluses, the exercises are not graded from a simple level to a complex one, which is a serious disadvantage and which makes the work of a teacher slightly more complicated.
In “Traveller,” exercise instructions are far less clear than in the other textbook. For instance, in one exercise students are offered to fill in the gaps with the subject or object personal pronouns, but the difference between these types of pronouns is not explained above (Mitchell, 2012, p. 60). The exercises are not graded from a simple level to a complex one as well. “Traveller” does not promote interactions between students; very rarely they are offered to discuss something. It is more focused on individual work. Conversely, “Flying high” emphasizes discussing the information either in pairs or in groups, as well as it suggests learners to perform individual work. In both textbooks, the exercises promote different learning styles, such as visual (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 49; Micthell, 2012, p. 124) and auditory (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 55; Micthell, 2012, p. 97) learning.
“Flying high” provides relatively short reading texts that, as the researcher considers, perfectly suit the needs of the learners of level one. For instance, the texts in Unit 1 are long enough to train reading skills but short enough to avoid the confusion of learners (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 6-7). The texts are authentic, and the questions to the texts stimulate readers to employ different reading strategies to find the answers. The same can be said about “Traveller.” However, the latter contains many more dialogues than narrative texts. As the researcher believes, the abundance of dialogues fits the level of the learners.
As it was discussed in the “exercise and activity” part, writing tasks in “Flying high” are consistent with the learners’ level. Unfortunately, no grading from simple to hard is present; for instance, the task on page 35 is not graded (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 35). As for the “different types of writing” requirement, the researcher has not identified much difference between the tasks: the tasks on pages 35 and 47 are similar (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 35, 47). All the same applies for “Traveller:” the task on page 61 is not graded, it and the task on page 69 are not different (Mitchell, 2012, p. 65, 69).
As it was indicated, “Traveller” uses both audio and video materials while “Flying high” presents only audio ones. In both textbooks, the listening tasks are not graded according to their complexity. Despite it, the tasks reflect real language situations, which is highly significant (Alshumaimeri, 2015, p. 236). For example, in “Flying high” a listening task revolves around weight problems (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 29), and in “Traveller” several tasks are devoted to job and profession (Mitchell, 2012, p. 25).
Speaking tasks in “Flying high” fulfill the requirement “promote individual, pair and group work,” while “Traveller” falls behind. In both books, speaking tasks rarely encourage students to speak about their interests, focusing more on daily activities or non-personal issues, such as culture or imaginary situations (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 32; Mitchell, 2012, p. 73). A plus of both textbooks is that speaking tasks reflect real situations. For instance, in “Flying high” students have to discuss their plans for the future (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 25).
Grammar, Vocabulary, and Pronunciation
In “Traveller,” grammatical items are presented in a graded order, which fulfills the requirement of the checklist. It starts from simple things and then proceeds to harder issues (Mitchell, 2012, p. 2-3). “Flying high” does not fulfill this requirement: in the first Unit, there is “used to,” then comparatives, then “will and going to,” etc. (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 2-5). In both textbooks, grammar examples do not look like exclusively grammar ones; they are incorporated into various topics to be more interesting and fit the level of the learners. Therefore, grammar is contextualized.
In “Flying high,” vocabulary texts in units are rather poor. For example, one section presents only seven new words for the whole new topic (Brewster et al., 2013, p. 37). In “Traveller,” vocabulary sections are much fuller, and they are presented with visual aids, unlike the other textbooks. For instance, a vocabulary section that contains the words related to movement is aided by depictions of different directions and modes of movement (Mitchell, 2012, p. 98). “Traveller” also contains an index of new vocabulary in the end, unlike “Flying high”. In both textbooks, words in vocabulary sections relate to varying contexts and situations.
In both textbooks, a variety of speaking exercises encourages pronunciation practice. As it was mentioned, audio learning aid is also used in both textbooks, and video aid is used in “Traveller,” which facilitates the improvement of pronunciation skills. Unfortunately, neither in “Traveller” nor in “Flying high” such features as stress and intonation are highlighted, which does not allow to practice natural pronunciation appropriately.
In the course of the present work, the researcher has studied the problems of contemporary English language textbooks in the Saudi Arabian context. The author has also performed a comprehensive review of the literature devoted to the discussed problem.
The researcher has fulfilled a comparison of two textbooks, “Traveller” and “Flying high,” using an evaluation checklist as a basis, and has obtained the following results. Both textbooks were decided to be slightly or considerably flawed in such points as general appearance, teaching aids (particularly the use of posters and flashcards), writing tasks (grading from simple), and pronunciation (no highlights and stress in texts). Additionally, both books received a positive assessment in such points as layout and design, teaching aids (teacher’s guide), teaching methods, reading, listening, and speaking. “Flying high” prevailed over “Traveller” in exercise and activity. “Traveller” has many more advantages over the other textbook. It was a winner in the following points: book objectives, subject and content, grammar, and vocabulary.
Because teaching English in Saudi Arabia needs to achieve such goals as the facilitation of international communication, give learners linguistic competence and the four basic skills, raise their awareness about economic, cultural, religious, and social issues, and allow them to benefit from other nations linguistically, using “Traveller” rather than “Flying high” in Saudi Arabian schools would be justified since the former corresponds with these goals.
The author recommends performing further research in the field of textbook evaluation. It is necessary to examine all the textbooks that are used in Saudi Arabia to check their consistency with Islamic values and their ability to fulfill the established goals of teaching English in Saudi Arabia.
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