As I wrote at the beginning of this school year, we decided to try to experiment some courses without a textbook. The idea behind this was to give maximum flexibility and adaptability to the teacher and the course, so that it could be tailor-made for our very small groups.

The results were not as positive as I expected, but were not entirely negative. I’d like to report on what I discovered during this year, dividing the feedback into: feedback from students and feedback from teachers.

Feedback from students

The first thing I noticed was that students who took a course with us last year and were used to have a course book found the idea of not having one really destabilizing. Most of them complained of the new system and, even after we explained the reasons why we choose to do so, some went on to buy a textbook on their own or to leave the course altogether.

The reaction was very different from students who started a course with us this year. They took the no-coursebook method for granted and did not complain once about it. Only one elderly student complained that the material was not quite as tidy or colourful as it might have been with a textbook, but she went on to say that it was nonetheless clear and complete.

I noticed that despite our best efforts to provide the students with plastic pouches and a filing system, some of them still ended up with a mess of paper and handouts that they could not make sense of.

Feedback from teachers

Teacher feedback was mostly positive. They seemed very happy to feel free to choose materials that could adapt to their students without the constraint of a textbook. On the other hand, some teachers ended up getting ideas and materials mainly from textbooks anyway, so in that case I feel a book would have been a better option.

The lessons ended up being more varied and engaging, and I could also adapt the lessons to the different speed and progress of different classes. However, sometimes the students felt lost, not having one recurrent format — which might get boring but also represents a safety net for adult students.

Conclusions

My conclusion — by no means definitive — is that such an approach might be suitable for more independent students, who know how to organise their work and to integrate what is done in the classroom with online and independent learning. However, it is much more difficult to make it work with “uncommon” languages such as Chinese and Russian, or with students who are used to and expect to have the safety of a textbook.

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