Analyzing speaking tasks in contemporary English textbooks for Swedish compulsory schools

University essay from Lärarutbildningen (LUT)

Abstract: Textbooks still dominate teaching materials in English classes in Sweden. This paper analyzes speaking tasks in two sets (textbook and workbook) of textbooks for year nine in Swedish schools, Happy, Workbook No. 3, and What’s Up? Textbook 9 and Workbook 9. The first analysis presents a content analysis, providing a general overview of speaking tasks found in both textbooks. Here, I will quantitatively account for the qualitative items types of speaking (monologue or dialogue), text types (narration, giving information, description, instruction, discussion/argumentation), cognitive operations (open/productive, open/reproductive, closed productive or closed/reproductive speech patterns), and classroom organization (single or pair work, pair or group work, or class work) in a matrix. This shows what kinds of tasks dominate the books and are required most of the students. The second is a close analysis of four speaking tasks against a framework of seven principles: scaffolding (actually demonstrating a solution), task dependency (tasks build upon each other), recycling (introducing language items in different contexts), active learning, integration (the task shows the relationship between meaning, form, and function of language items), from reproduction to creation (the order of tasks goes from reproductive to productive), and reflection (the task offers opportunity for reflection over one’s own learning). Two tasks will meet most, and two will meet only few of these principles.The content analysis reveals a vast majority of dialogues (100 out of 124 tasks, or 80.65%). This might not be surprising, keeping the communicative approach of the syllabus in mind. But it is surprising that discussion/argumentation is the text type most frequently asked for (46 out of 124 tasks, or 31.7%), not narration or giving information. They occupy a firm second and third place with 30 (24.19%) respectively 27 (21.77%) tasks out of 124. 21 (16.94%) tasks in total ask for description. Even more surprisingly, not one task demands that students give instructions. Giving instructions may not require as much two-way communication, but it still presents an important skill.This is an analysis, not an evaluation. An analysis aims at objectively accounting for what is presented and in what proportions without making some form of judgment on what is found. This would be the objective of an evaluation. This paper aims at analyzing speaking tasks and task design in English textbooks, not to pass or fail them against the needs of students or the demands of the Swedish syllabus for English.

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