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Examining the Importance of EST and ESL Textbooks and Materials: Objectives, Content and Form
AbstractTextbooks are a key component in most language programs. In Malaysia, textbooks serve as the basis for much of the language input learners receive and the language practice that takes place in the classroom. In some situations, the textbook may function as a supplement to the teachers instruction in the ESL teaching and learning process. For most teachers, textbooks provide the foundation for the content of lessons, the balance of the skills taught, as well as the kinds of language practice the students engage in during class activities. The use of English to teach Science and Mathematics in schools reflects the importance of having effective English textbooks in helping learners acquire the necessary language skills. This paper examines just how far the prescribed textbooks used in ESL classrooms provide the necessary tools in preparing learners for the transition of language skills across disciplines.
Materials and textbooks are an important resource for teachers in assisting students to learn English.They are the foundation of school instruction and the primary source of information for students and teachers.Materials and textbooks serves as one of the main instruments for shaping knowledge, attitudes and principles of our young people. In Malaysia, textbooks serve as the basis for much of the language input learners receive and the language practice that takes place in the classroom. In some situations, the textbook may function as a supplement to the teachers instruction in the ESL teaching and learning process. For most teachers, textbooks provide the foundation for the content of lessons, the balance of the skills taught, as well as the kinds of language practice the students engage in during class activities. For the ESL learners, the textbook becomes the major source of contact they have with the language apart from the input provided by the teacher.
The use of English to teach Science and Mathematics and other technical subjects in schools reflects the effectiveness of English textbooks in helping learners acquire the necessary language skills. This paper analyses just how far the prescribed textbooks used in ESL classrooms provide the necessary tools in preparing learners for the transition of language skills across disciplines. The analysis concentrates on the framework, units, subject-matter and form based on Dougills (1987) framework and basic principles for evaluating English language teaching textbooks (cited in Sheldon, 1987, pp. 29-36).The criterion is applied to appraise the textbooks role and applicability based on the ESL classroom context.
English for Science and Technology (EST) and General English (GE)
English for science and technology or EST is a sub category of the larger field of English for Specific Purposes in which ESP shares some basic characteristics with the larger field of ESP. Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998, pp. 4-5) describe several absolute and variable characteristics of ESP which differentiate it from General English.The absolute characteristics refer to the teaching methodology as well as the language elements.ESP makes use of an underlying methodology and activities of the discipline it serves. Both the methodology and activities used in the EST classroom, therefore, are different from that of GE.EST also differs from GE in that it is centered on the language that is appropriate to these activities especially with respect to grammar, lexis, register, study skills, discourse and genre, all which are different when compared to GE (Dudley-Evans and St. Johns, 1998; Strevens, 1988).
The communicative approach to language teaching and its emphasis on sociolinguistic issues has had an influence on both GE and EST.However, the nature of the influence differs between the two.The communicative approach has led to a greater role of interaction in the GE classes, focusing on social and functional purposes of language in everyday conversation.In contrast, the influence of the communicative movement on EST can perhaps be seen in the notion of linguistic communities.English language users within the particular science and technological fields in EST may form their own linguistic community.The methodology used in EST has therefore consolidated the notion of a linguistic community within scientific disciplines and emphasized vocabulary as well as the kinds of tasks normally required in these fields.Specific techniques for teaching EST have also evolved such as the use of models (Master, 1997), journals (Sheppard and Stoller, 1995), and visuals (Nooreen, 2003).
The language in EST is also more specialized.This is not surprising given the fact that scientific inquiry is a very specific process which relates to control, manipulation and observation of situations and involves research assumptions, hypothesis formation and theory construction (Ary, Razavieh and Jacobs, 1985).The language in EST, therefore, is expected to help the user better describe, interpret and explain the various steps in the scientific process.While vocabulary in the form of technical and scientific terms may be an important element for this purpose, language structures are also critical and essential.Dudley-Evans and St. John (1998), for example, suggest that linguistic structures such as modals that indicate degree of certainty such as may, might, could, and would, zero articles, as well as nominalization of verbal nouns through suffixes such as -ation, -ity, and ment may be relatively more important in EST than in GE (pp. 75-78).Certainly, linguistic structures that can help describe and express cause and effect, result, conditionals and deixis would be very relevant to the learner scientist.
Approach to the study
A major assumption in this paper is that there is enough of a difference between General English (GE) and English for Science and Technology (EST) to warrant the use of different teaching-learning materials.Materials as well as syllabuses used in both GE and EST are examined in order to identify some of these differences.Special emphasis will be placed on the materials and syllabuses used in the teaching of GE and in the recently introduced EST elective in the Malaysian secondary schools.This descriptive analysis will focus on the difference in teaching methodology and activities rather than on the linguistic differences found in EST materials.The English Form Four (upper secondary level) textbook by Raghavan, Krishnan and Cheah (2002) is compared to the EST teaching modules provided on the internet by the Malaysian Ministry of Education (refer to www.tutor.com.my). Because only a limited number of modules have been developed, other EST textbook materials will also be examined in order to provide a more comprehensive discussion of ESP materials.These include exemplary materials cited by writers on ESP as well as an English language coursework book, Internet English by Gitsaki and Taylor (2000).Published by Oxford University Press, the book is not specifically directed to the teaching of EST but clearly uses science and technology as a backdrop in teaching English.
Dougills (1987) coursebook evaluation is used in order to guide the comparison of GE and EST materials.Dougills coursebook evaluation consists of five major parts which are the framework, the units, the subject matter, the form and the course components.Each part is further divided into smaller sub headings, each of which is detailed by related questions.The evaluation scheme adopted in this analysis is fairly comprehensive yet simple and straightforward.
PART I: FRAMEWORK
The English subject is taught as a second language in all Malaysian primary and secondary schools.The general English language textbook is based on the English Language Syllabus and Curriculum Specification for Form Four.The syllabus is closely associated with notional/functional type of syllabus as it emphasizes on communicative language teaching and learning. It leads to a specification and organization of language teaching content by categories of meaning and function rather than by elements of structure and grammar alone.The syllabus reflects how English is used in everyday life where specification is on the notions, concepts and topics learned to enable them to communicate effectively.
With the advent of globalization, Malaysians will need to be proficient in English as a medium for communicating with people from around the globe.It is essential that students be able to listen to, read and present information orally and in writing on science and technical-related matters.The Education Ministrys decision to use English to teach science, mathematics and other technical subjects reflect the nations awareness of the digital revolution, with its knowledge economy, e-commerce, scientific and technical information that will become new sources for future wealth.The English for Science and Technology (EST) curriculum focuses on language form which gives emphasis to the grammatical or structural aspects of language form that is practical and content-oriented.The EST syllabus specifies the curriculum content be taught over a period of two years.
The comprehensiveness between the General English textbook and the EST module is another important factor to consider.The content of the General English textbook is global/ holistic in terms of the topics covered, which include English for Information Communications Technology (ICT), current issues in science, geography, literature component, and grammar items.The EST curriculum content is more specified where the areas covered are science and technical based subjects such as general science, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, and environmental education.Hence, the General English syllabus was designed to provide students with extensive practice with a wide range of communicative language skills to meet the needs and requirements to use English in everyday life, for knowledge acquisition and for future workplace needs.On the other hand, the EST syllabus gives emphasis on content accessibility, giving priority to the ability to read and comprehend science and technical materials in English. In addition, science and technical materials that are available in the market focuses on preparing students with essential skills needed to understand and solve problems which promote higher order thinking skills.
The continuity of the units taught in General English and EST materials reflect the natural progression and suitability of the organization of the content being taught.The General English syllabus encourages cyclical format of lesson delivery.Throughout the textbook, reinforcement or recycling of certain sections (e.g. grammar and vocabulary items) are reflected in the listening and speaking activities.Present perfect tense and the use of conjunctions are recycled twice in various aspects to be stored in long-term memory and to be able to realize the differences between Simple Past and Present Perfect Tense.
The EST syllabus promotes linear course of content progression where the curriculum is prepared as a separate module for each year of teaching and learning.Each module serves as a guide to the teachers with regard to the skills to be achieved, the topics or themes to be dealt with and the grammar items to be learnt.Learning outcomes and specifications focuses on what needs to be achieved by the end of Form Four and Five.In comparison to the General English syllabus, the language skill focus in the EST syllabus is more detailed in terms of explaining and describing concepts.It provide opportunities for students to develop their language competence through activities such as Grammar Works, Getting it Right and Trying it Out.Students are given greater freedom to try out the language learned, in a variety of contexts, as compared to the exercises provided in the General English syllabus which are inadequate.
In the EST syllabus, the learning outcomes comprise of three broad areas: obtaining, processing and presenting information on science and technology.Students are required to obtain ideas and information about science and technology by listening to talks and lectures, viewing multimedia resources, and reading a variety of science and technology materials.In contrast, the learning outcomes for General English focus on the Interpersonal, Informational and Aesthetic language use.These areas are considered universal as it incorporates the integration of the four language skills into the units taught.The EST syllabus is more content-oriented and focuses mainly on the desired outcome that students can understand ideas and information in a wide range of science and technical materials.However, students are also required to write descriptions and reports in simple language as well as present information orally to their peers.
1.3 Integration of Skills
The skills dimension complements the dimension of grammatical/lexical/phonological knowledge and focuses on the ability of students to operate in the language.In the General English textbook, teachers are able to cover a cluster of skills in several lessons (Birdal, Cincioglu, Kocikoglu, Catalbas & Can, 2003). As an example, in a lesson on the theme: People and Social Issues, students can be instructed to read articles from magazines and newspapers on health issues where interpersonal and informational language skills can be incorporated in several lessons. The presentation of activities includes the integration of other language skills in realistic contexts.In every unit, language forms are introduced with a question to encourage students to speak.Hence, the focus is on language use before its form, and then language structure is developed by using reading, writing, listening and writing activities which include the language form and its usage at the same time.Moral values are instilled which include elements of patriotism, environmental education and health education.
In the EST syllabus, the development of students reading skills are emphasized where students are encouraged to read topics related to science and technology, talk about it, make enquiries, and share the information with others (Malaysian Ministry of Education, 2003. Curriculum Specifications: English for Science and Technology, Form 4).However, this does not exclude listening, speaking and writing skills as they are used to enable students understand the topic better.These language skills do not appear in their pure form as Learning Outcomes, but are integrated in the process of achieving these outcomes.
It is evident that the General English syllabus integrates language skills and uses knowledge not only from subject disciplines such as science and geography to provide the content for learning but also from current issues.The activities developed in GE are to assist learners in discussing and analyzing current issues; where as EST-related language skills are designed to teach the subject matter of science.While the integration of skills for GE and EST focuses on the application of inquiry skills to solve problems and issues, the teaching of language skills in EST requires the methods of scientific thought and inquiry in English common to all types of scientific and technical discourse (subject-specific).
Dougill (1987) acknowledges the importance of cohesion of units being equally taught to portray the progressive nature of skills development as well as appropriate leverage being given to themes and topics.Unlike General English, the EST unit starts with the aim to develop students reading skills where they are required to understand texts on a number of science-related topics. In the EST-related material reviewed, summary, analyses of situations, processing subject-specific texts, and vocabulary skills are the crux of the content presented in developing students reading and comprehension skills.Garinger (2002) points out that language materials used to teach students should engage them in critical analyses of different types of texts.This is to ensure ample information and activities are provided in developing good reading skills.
According to the EST curriculum specifications (Ministry of Education, 2003, p.7), students need to be familiar with the main scientific concepts and ideas of science in English as well as the register and related vocabulary.This means that students are expected to have a comprehensive knowledge on the topics and themes in EST.Mackay & Mountford (1978) added that it is evident where science is taught in English or science reference materials are in English, students need to acquire a considerably higher standard of language proficiency to enable them to comprehend and manipulate difficult intellectual material.In such situations success or failure in science is in large a standard measure of consequence of success or failure in English.
In the General English textbook reviewed, each unit starts with a pre-listening activity which could also be a discussion session based on some lead-in questions.This is to encourage students to give their responses and set their schemata for learning the topics. Subsequently, the unit continues with grammar exercises, reading comprehension activities (meaning in context, summary skills, inference skills and locating main ideas), writing and literary exercises as well as revision exercises on the skills taught in each unit.
Unlike the EST syllabus, the General English syllabus does not require the students to have a wide-range of academic knowledge on the topics taught.The topics serve as the subject-matter through which the interpersonal, informational and aesthetic language skills are taught and meaningful tasks and activities are set.The presentations of lessons are balanced where controlled and free practice lessons are set to assess students mastery of language pertinent language skills.
PART II: THE UNITS
2.1 Length of unit
Conflicting views on what constitutes a good/standard language textbook or material hinges on the argument whether to choose a textbook series or to use individual texts in English language teaching (Garinger, 2002). In the context of this research, prioritizing factors that would benefit and serve the purpose of second language teaching are crucial in selecting suitable textbooks or materials.If the length of the unit is too long, content for language teaching might become monotonous and predictable for learners and could potentially be de-motivating.In contrast, major gaps in the material covered will cause inconsistency in the presentation of lessons if the length of unit is too short.
In the General English textbook reviewed, there are 15 units comprising of themes and topics on People, Environment, Social Issues, Values, Health, Science and Technology.These topics are consistently evident in other General English textbooks in the market.Hence, despite the fact that there are other individual General English textbooks, the length of unit available allows for more precise matching with the aims and objectives of the English syllabus.
In contrast, in ESP related materials such as the EST curriculum, there is no specific textbook as of yet that contains standardized form of content.The curriculum specifies that EST topics and themes incorporate basic concept and ideas that refers to everyday examples.These themes include: Nature and Environment; Technology and Communications; Energy / Matter and Mass / Force and Motion; Man and Living Organisms; Natural Resources and Industrial Processes; The Universe / Astronomy / Aerospace; as well as Nutrition / Food / Health/Human Body.
Since there are no available standardized EST textbooks in the market yet, consistency in the presentation of skills are still scarce and ambiguous.It might be difficult to homogenize reasonable progression of text difficulty as the use of authentic materials is encouraged.This is to enable students become familiar with the register of science and technical words.On the other hand, the use of authentic materials can motivate teachers and students to vary the design, teaching of content and approach across all levels and could potentially cause an increase in positive attitudes toward the EST subject.
Presentation of language in a clear manner and interesting way is also an important aspect when evaluating English language teaching materials.The language used must be suitable for all learners with different levels of English competence.According to Griffiths (1995), the language used in the material should make it easy to divide the class into groups or pairs, to have role-play or dialogue activities, and to allow students to interact with each other.
In the General English textbook reviewed, the language used is considered suitable for intermediate learners and it is presented in an interesting way where the use of colored visuals, graphic organizers to structure information, as well as language presented from magazines and newspaper articles.This complies with the curriculum specification set by the Ministry of Education (2003), where the presentation of the textbook or material should be reader-friendly.
For example, the sentence patterns used when teaching grammar items are listed to enable students to master the structures of the English language.It is important to use appropriate sequencing when presenting the language structure as this will reflect on the organization of the presentation. According to Babaii and Ansary (2002), simple sentence patterns should be taught first, followed by the introduction of new structures presented based on the already-mastered simpler patterns.Well thought and designed warm-up activities, pre-listening and before reading sections presents a completeness in the appearance and management of the textbook.
The language content presented in the ESP-related material reviewed is relevant and appropriate in dealing with special areas of grammar concerning science and technology texts.Since there are no specific textbook for the EST subject, ambiguity concerning the way the language content is presented is unavoidable.Unlike General English, the presentation of language content in EST is still lacking in terms of warm-up activities, pre-listening and before reading sections which indicate the inadequacies in the organization and management of the material.If the focus of the language skill is on reading, activities should be prompted from authentic materials (magazines, newspaper articles, journals) accompanied by colorful visuals and well-illustrated materials. Since this was not found in the EST material reviewed, it can be concluded that the presentation gave the impression that the material was not reader-friendly.
According to Dougill (1987) and Garinger (2002), when evaluating the quality of a textbooks or materials exercises; the amount of practice provided ought to be sufficient, balanced in their format; containing both controlled and free practice.Students involvement in doing the exercises must be more than just a mechanical one.It should ensure that students will be able to generate language on their own outside the classroom as well.
Most of the exercises in the General English textbook reviewed are convenient for the teachers but at times, students do require more guidance with an activity, especially when practicing a structure or function for the first time.Ultimately, the textbook do provide sufficient exercises for practice under each language skill.In the ESP-related materials reviewed, most of the exercises provided are dependent on the topics covered in the curriculum specifications.Priority is given to obtaining information by reading different text types in science and technology form.Thus, the development of language skills are focused on understanding the meanings of words, identification of main ideas, classifying information, interpret information in non-linear texts such as tables, charts, graphs, etc.
In the context of allowing for free production, the General English textbook reviewed do provide exercises especially under speaking and writing skills.The exercises provide students with opportunities to practice and extend their language skills, specifically in role play and information gap activities.The ESP-related material reviewed also allocate free production practice where students are asked to present information using simple English in report writing activities on a variety of science-related topics.
All in all, the activities in the General English textbook are mere mechanical exercises that do not go beyond the classroom context. Fill in the blanks, choosing true or false statements, answering yes or no questions and simple comprehension exercises dominate the content of the textbook and leave no room for producing language outside the classroom.On the other hand, exercises provided in the EST-related material reviewed are developed in consideration of the weaker students.Three levels of difficulty in presenting the information and completing tasks are designed to enable the weaker students to follow the lessons progressively.The activities created can be expanded in which students can engage in carrying out experiments (hands-on experience), as well as carrying out reference work to explore the topic under study.
2.4 Variety and regularity
The approach of presenting the format of each unit or topic differs between the General English textbook and the ESP-related material reviewed.In the former, each unit or topic starts with pre-listening and discussion activities, sound byte, a grip on grammar, reading-comprehension, writing, and a literary link section.Various issues and topics are covered for each unit and different activities are designed under each language skill.
In the latter, each unit of the lesson follows a consistent format as well.The text lab and language lab sections contain activities such as word explorer, language in action and springboard; as well as grammar works and trying it out exercises.However, these activities only focus on the text-processing skills which are limited on understanding scientific and technical terms.
2.5 Clarity of purpose
Dougills (1987) framework for evaluating English language teaching materials emphasizes on the clarity of what students are expected to do at the end of each lesson.The framework also clarifies on how easy is it for students to carry out what they are supposed to do in each lesson. In the General English textbook reviewed, the focus on what students need to do at the end of an activity is provided for each unit.The instructions to complete the task are clear and easy to understand, hence this keeps the students motivated and interested as they work through the unit.
The clarity of purpose in the ESP-related material reviewed is similar to what is found in the General English textbook.For each language skill taught, the purpose of activity and suggested instructional sequence are provided to enable students to complete the tasks effectively.However, students might find the activities difficult to complete as they need to have a good vocabulary command when doing interpretations and analyzing of data.
Part III: Subject Matter
In his evaluation, Dougill expresses concern regarding the use of subject matter that may be uninteresting.However, this does not seem to apply in EST situations and to EST materials and textbooks.Unlike GE, EST provides a very focused and specialized subject matter.Students pursuing an EST course are also similarly focused in that most have opted to select a career in the sciences or at least pursue further studies in the field. Intrinsic interest in the subject matter is therefore assumed for this reason.
EST students also tend to be more homogenous in terms of interest than students in GE classes.It is therefore much easier to develop materials that are relevant and of interest for EST students.Interest in the subject matter is more difficult to ensure in the GE classroom.Not only can the content be diverse, the students themselves may have varying interests and needs.
EST students are also likely to be homogenous in terms of their interest and motivation level toward the learning of science and technical subject matter as well as their aims in learning EST.Hutchinson and Waters (1987) believes that EST is an approach to language teaching in which all decisions as to content and method are based on learners reason for learning (p. 19).EST therefore assumes that all EST learners intend to learn English in order to gain better understanding science and technology as well as to interact with scientific and technological texts.
There is also the likelihood that EST students share similarities in terms of proficiency levels.Several researchers characterize them as either intermediate or advanced level students of English.This relatively high level of proficiency may help them comprehend the classroom instruction better and participate in interactive language activities.
In the GE textbooks, the various themes discussed were People, Environment, Social Issues, Values, Health as well as some attention given to Science and Technology.These themes are of general interest and it may be difficult to determine their popularity among the students.The Internet English course book can provide a high level of interest for many students given the popularity of the internet among young learners today. It is important to note that the writers have used a student-centered, task-based approach revolving around the actual use of the internet.Although activities involving categorization of items from textual information as well as defining terms are included, they are presented in a discovery learning mode and are not didactic.Students are even asked to discuss their answers with friends and perform self and peer evaluation.
PART IV: FORM
4.1 Visual Appeal
The visual appeal of materials is an important element in attracting students attention and maintaining interest.Comparison between materials used in GE and EST, however, was difficult to make.Both the English Form 4 textbook and Internet English use colored photographs and illustrations. However, the latter is more visually appealing because of the quality of the paper used and the formatting of the pages which allows for more wide space. Nevertheless, these characteristics are not inherent to the teaching of EST but are aspects of design and determined by financial expenditure.Technically, it may be possible to claim that GE has the potential to have higher visual appeal because of the wider scope of its subject matter.
In GE texts, illustrations used tend to be used to provide some form of induction into texts, especially in reading comprehension passages. In the English Form 4 textbook, illustrations used with all the passages served this purpose.Even when used with the exercises, the illustrations are largely cosmetic or depict actions of only a few of the questions.For example, on page 105 of the textbook, a photograph of colorful tropical fish is used to illustrate a hobby but is only directly relevant to the first question.
On the other hand, the illustrations used in the EST materials tend to be functional.They explain processes and serve as stimulus for language production.In one particular activity found on the Ministry of Educations EST module available on the internet, visuals are directly used as part of an activity in constructing sentences to describe cause and effect.
Most of the EST syllabus and materials are specific to the needs of budding scientists and technocrats.They are clearly different from the syllabus and materials used in GE.However, in the current educational climate in Malaysia, EST materials must create an interest which will assist learners in acquiring linguistic competence and increase their confidence levels.
Dougills evaluation is used in the assessment of current English language textbooks and was not intended as a guideline for materials design.However, it can certainly indicate elements that should be present in such textbooks.Based on the analysis of the difference between GE and EST materials, the following are some suggestions.
It was argued that interest in the subject matter may be ensured because EST is thought to cater for the needs of the students.However, the materials used in EST can further boost students interest levels by extending on the types of tasks and subject matter used.EST materials can provide more tasks that focus on speaking and listening besides the reading and writing skills which it tends to favor.Secondly, if EST in the Malaysian context is to be taught in schools as an elective subject, and in addition to the subjects of Science and Mathematics already taught in English, then the EST subject should provide subject matter that explores topics beyond the school Science and Mathematics curriculum.
In terms of form, it was noted that one of the major differences between EST and GE materials is that EST materials are more prone to use visuals and illustrations to help explain processes and relationships.Language associated to the illustration is functional.Therefore, although the goals of EST include increasing language proficiency, the materials used in its teaching should not be completely language based.Instead it should have a prominent visual bias.EST materials need to enhance students visual literacy.Such an emphasis will help students increase their powers of observation as well as their ability to report what they observe.Audio visual elements such as video clips and to a lesser extent, sound files, should be a compulsory element in all EST materials.
Materials used in teaching EST in Malaysian schools must be taken in the context of the overall educational scenario in the country. Science and Mathematics are now taught in the English language in Year 1, Form 1 and Form 4 classrooms.The EST subject is a transitional subject offered as an elective for all other classes for which Mathematics and Science are still taught in first language (Malay language).Perhaps because of its stop-gap nature, the role of EST as an elective subject has not yet been well defined. This paper has highlighted some characteristics of EST materials in comparison to GE.These characteristics can be incorporated into future GE materials to enable some of the EST goals achievable for the benefit of second language learners.
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Nooreen Noordin teaches ESL courses at Universiti Putra Malaysia, Malaysia.She holds a doctoral degree specializing in the area of pedagogy in the ESL context.Her other area of interests are content-based second language education and CALL.
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