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Part B

The coursebook to be evaluated is Cutting Edge: a practical approach to

task-based learning (Cunningham and Moor, 1998). Drawing on
Cunningsworth (1995)s quick-reference checklist for evaluation and
selection, I will evaluate this coursebook according to some of criteria
(see Appendix 3).
Criterion 1: Do the aims of the coursebook correspond closely with the
aims of the teaching programme and with the needs of the learners?
By looking at the blurb (see Appendix 4), which presents what the
books say about themselves (Cunningsworth 1984:2), I find that the
coursebook is aiming at the intermediate adult students. The authors feel
two gaps in the existing market that this course is intended to fill: one is
to facilitate successful language acquisition by placing more stress on
regular spoken and written tasks; the other is to combine task-based
learning with a traditional grammar and skills syllabus in a user-friendly
way (Cunningham and Moor 1998).
For the first gap, it seems that the book will attach much more attention to
spoken and written skills than listening and reading skills. Since the
students are non-English major university students, almost all of them
have mastered a relatively good knowledge of English grammar and
structure. Comparatively, their general weakness is the use of English,
significantly shown as the deficiencies in such productive skills as spoken
and written skills. As studies by Swain (1985), when students are pushed
to use the target language in productive tasks as spoken and written tasks,
language learning is much more effective, which also confirms what the
authors belief in the blurb. Moreover, the emphasis on output will make
students aware of the gap between what they want to say and what they
are able to say and challenge themselves to make progress (Zhang and
Head, 2010: 2). On the other hand, according to Ministry of Education
(2004), college English education should
strengthen the communicative skills to pave the way for communication
with people abroad in their future jobs. Therefore, the aims of the
coursebook to improve productive skills correspond closely with the
needs of the learners to make progress in productive skills and with the
aims of the university English teaching to promote communication in
Criterion 2: Is the coursebook suited to the learning/teaching situation?
As what the coursebook itself claims, it adopts a multi-syllabus consisting
of a range of different contents such as the grammar of Past Simple and
Continuous, skills of speaking, reading/listening and writing, the topic
of memory and the task of describing a childhood memory in Module
2 (see Appendix 5). A multi-syllabus can open up the possibility of

allowing a range of communication criteria to play and meanwhile

acknowledging the need to provide systematic practice in the formal
properties of language (McDonough and Shaw, 2003: 46), which better
serves Chinese students needs. Meanwhile, it also belongs to Type A
syllabus (White 1988) where language items are pre-specified. According
to Shin (2005), students who normally start learning English by relying
on sense of sight such as books, charts and ect.) rather than depending on
listening or doing projects, generally prefer step by step instruction and
focus on grammar to process information, which requires a systematically
crafted language acquisition. This is what a Type A syllabus is aimed at.
Having learnt English grammar in secondary schools and relieved from
the pressure of past National College Entrance Examination, Chinese
university students are capable of using the coursebook in terms of both
the proficiency level and study time. Therefore, it is suited to the learning
situation as well as the teaching situation, because generally the
communicative and learner-centered syllabuses are promoted in todays
China. As discussed above, the aims and the approaches of this
coursebook generally match the requirements of targeted group, although
more details need critical evaluation later.
Internal evaluation
In order to ascertain whether or not the claims made by the authors match
up with the internal consistency and organization of the materials, I will
take Module 2 as an example to investigate its consistency, by drawing
upon McDonough and Shaws internal evaluation criteria (2003).
Criterion 3: The presentation of the skills
In Module 2, four skills of listening, spoken, reading and written can be
all practiced but in an unbalanced way. Obviously, the spoken skill is
practiced in most of the module. By analyzing the possible interaction in
the classroom, students in this module need to discuss with others and
state their own opinions in groups, respond specifically to the teacher,
work on quizzes and exercises in pairs and make presentation and report
result to the class. The various types of suggested activity can offer more
opportunities to elicit more open-ended or Students-Initiated talk, which
can significantly increase participation and output and make classroom
communication not only for a strictly pedagogic purpose but also for a
social purpose (Malamah-thomas, 1987). The reading material (see
Appendix 6, Page 18) in this module only serves as a topic to stimulate
students to speak (Grant, 1987). Besides, interestingly, in the module,
Listening Exercise 1 in Practice (see Appendix 6, Page 20) does act as
checking grammar and pronunciation, all serving to the spoken task. The
high proportion of spoken task is well consistent with the previous claim
of regular performance of spoken task by the authors. However, written

task only emerges as an optional writing in Part B Task (see Appendix 6,

Page 23), near the end of the module. Besides, there are no signs of
model texts or written instructions to provide scaffolding, which is
inconsistent with its previous claim. All in all, the different proportions of
different language skills in the module partly match up with what the
authors claim previously; however, the amount of written tasks is
seemingly not enough to practice students written skill, even though this
coursebook is only
considered as a supplementary book which mainly focuses on spoken and
written skills.
Criterion 4:The grading and sequencing of the materials
It is true but implicit that materials in the coursebook are graded cross
modules in a progression of difficulty, which can be detected from more
complicated language structures and longer reading passages in the latter
modules. Back to Module 2, materials are sequenced by a sort of
feeding solution where an exercise feeds (into) another (Low, 1989:
145). That is, the completion of the second task is built on the completion
of the first one. In the module, it can be found that most of the exercises
feeding each other in the way the multi-text task presents. The multi-text
task starts with discussing and providing memories-relevant vocabulary
(see Appendix 6, Page 17), but subsequently, a piece of reading of All in
the memory (see Appendix 6, Page 18) and Language focus 1 (see
Appendix 6, Page 19) and 2 (see Appendix 6, Page 20) are fed in. To
complete the final task of Describe a childhood memory in Part B (see
Appendix 6, Page 22), students need to integrate several previous texts to
modify their schema like accumulating and reviewing relevant
vocabulary, phrases and grammar in previous texts. All these lead to the
final task, which also meets task-based learnings pedagogical principle
to achieve communicative purpose and an outcome (Willis 1996:23)
which is the final childhood memory in the module.
Overall, the provisions of the coursebook can reasonably match Chinese
freshmens needs of practicing spoken and written skills in universities,
which is a key consideration in selecting materials (Nunan and Lam,
1996). It is impossible for one book to meet all the requirements of the
teaching/ learning situation (Hutchinson, 1987), so this coursebook is
only preferable in terms of emphasizing spoken and written skills.
However, reconsidering the missing elements of test-taking skills,
adequate vocabulary, sufficient practice of grammar points of particular
difficulty to Chinese learners and etc in this coursebook, it can only be
used as a supplementary

When it comes to coursebook adaptation, it is typical to notice such
criticisms as ignoring local needs, devaluing students culture and etc,
because commercial teaching texts are often used internationally
(McDonough and Shaw, 2003). Besides, for the cousebook as a
supplementary one as discussed above, the teacher might be unable to
cover all materials in the time allocated. Therefore, the activities in the
coursebook need to be adapted more efficiently, which requires the
teacher to select differing techniques (McDonough and Shaw, 2003) to
meet the congruence with different aspects of the materials that needs
alteration (McDonough and Shaw, 2003: 78).
Back to Module 2, it is obvious that Exercise 1 in Vocabulary and
speaking (see Appendix 6, Page 17) acts as a warming-up activity by
discussing various kinds of things that learners are good/bad at
remembering, which followed by words learning in Exercise 2 (see
Appendix 6, Page 17). However, the discussion in Exercise 1 is too
general to elicit a more complicated English use without relevant lexical
and syntax support. Comparatively, in the following Reading (see
Appendix 6, Page 17), the pictures discussion can be better served as both
a warming-up activity and a pre-reading activity. More opportunities can
be easily created throughout the reading activity, so the validity of
Exercise 1 in Vocabulary and speaking does not exist. Furthermore,
Exercise 2 in this part appears too easy for Chinese university students,
since the vocabulary listed here should have been learnt in their junior
high school. Therefore, in regard to time limitations which should be
considered when a supplementary coursebook is applied, the part of
Vocabulary and speaking can be deleted completely.
Here, modifying is defined as an internal change in the approach or
focus of an exercise or other piece of material (McDonough and Shaw,
2003: 81). In Module 2, Exercise 2 (see Appendix 6, Page 18) requires
students to read selectively for information (Grant, 1987: 90).
However, the question here is more like a test, students can easily lift
the answers straight from the text (McDonough and Shaw, 2003: 82). In
order to make this reading more communicative and offering more
chances for students to practice spoken English, rewriting as one of the
subheadings under modifying can be applied to the reading activity by
setting more purposeful, problem-solving tasks (McDonough and Shaw,
2003: 81). Therefore, Exercise 2 can be modified as an information gap
where each student, as one member of a group of six has to read each of
the six paragraphs (see Appendix 6, Page 18). After reading, they need to

tell and explain to the others in their group what he/she reads in his/her
paragraph, and other members can request clarification. Then, after
exchanging information, students in groups need to arrange these
paragraphs in order according to the coherence shown among them. To
create the gaps, the teacher can only copy one paragraph in one piece of
paper which is given to one student instead of letting all students look at
the whole text in their books (see Appendix 7.1-7.6). In tackling these
problems, more natural conversations can be created, so turn-taking and
interruption techniques can be practiced, which is exactly what teaching
materials should provide (Cunningsworth, 1987: 49).
Reordering and adding
In Module 2, Part B Task (see Appendix 6, Page 22) consists of three
parts, resulting in an Optional writhing (see Appendix 6, Page 23) as the
outcome (Willis, 1996: 23). Considering that the coursebook highlights
the task-based learning as one of its best selling points as claims in the
cover (See Appendix 2), Part B Task is certainly
supposed to well demonstrate this claim. However, by closing examining
this part, I find that it lacks an explicit outcome which is clearly required
in the task-based approach (Numan, 1988), because the supposed
outcome of Optional writing is downplayed in the way an explicit
connection between the previous two tasks and the final Optional
writing is missing (see Appendix 6, Page 23). This leads to the
disappearance of the original flavor of the task-based learning
(Richards, 2001: 258). Therefore, drawing upon the six-step procedure
suggested by Nunan (2004: 31), Part B Task can be adapted in the
fowling way.
The first step of schema building to introduce the topic, set the context
for the task and introduce some of the key vocabulary and expressions
(Nunan, 2004: 31) can be omitted, because students schemas for the task
have been built, in the light of the previous study in the module. The
Task 1 a) and b) (see Appendix 6, Page 23) can actually serve as Step 2
of controlled practice and be reordered ahead of the Preparation for
task 1 and 2 which can serve as Step 3 of authentic listening practice
(the reordered version can be seen in Appendix 8). By reordering, Step 2
can work both as a review of Module 2 to provide enough scaffolding for
students and as a controlled practice to practice Useful language in Part B
(see Appendix 6, Page 22). By achieving this, Step 2 needs to be
modified a little by changing into a conversation where students work in
pairs to ask and answer brief questions such as what did happen to you
when you were a kid, when did it happen, how did it happen and etc to
help each other make a plan and a note of key words and phrases (see

Appendix 8). On the other hand, Step 3 of Preparation for task involves
an intensive listening practice which exposes students to a simulated
story-telling (Nunan, 2004: 31). Through this, students can incorporate
and extend useful language from Step 2.
Step 4 of Focus on linguistic elements is certainly of necessity for
students to produce a story by both speaking and writing later, although it
takes place relatively late in the sequence (Nunan, 2004). Having used
English within a communicative context, this linguistic focus can help
students to see the relationship between the meaning and the form
(Nunan, 2004) and can also raise students awareness of such relevant
grammar they need to produce a final story as Simple and Continuous
and Comparing past and present in Module 2 (see Appendix 6, Page 19
and 20). Therefore, at Step 4, relevant exercises have to be added or
expanded (McDonough and Shaw, 2003: 79).The supplemented
exercises can be seen in Appendix 9. In addition, Task 2 and Optional
writing will function as Step 5 of Provide freer practice and Step 6 of
Introduce the pedagogical task respectively.
Overall, through these adaptations, Module 2 can better fit the specific
needs of both the teacher and students in my context by presenting
materials efficiently by deleting, reasonably by modifying, clearing by
reordering and sufficiently by adding. Although there are clear areas of
overlap among these various techniques, they all serve to make
meaningful changes to content areas to make what the coursebook
actually offers better match what it claims. Finally, duo to the space limit
in the assignment, many other places in Module 2 can not be adapted. For
example, it would have been better to add another writing task of
summarizing All in the memory (see Appendix 6, Page 18) to let
students practice written skills more.
As discussed in Part B as a whole, of coursebook evaluation, adaptation
and supplementation, evaluation as an exercise can help us develop
insights into different views of language and learning especially useful
for inexperienced teachers. Designated as a supplementary coursebook
rather than a core one, it should not be expected to cover all needs of
university English teaching and learning, which means that other
materials are needed to compensate for this book. However, considering
the priority of practicing students productive skills claimed by the
coursebook, the teacher with it can make this expectation possible.
Besides, adaptation and
supplementation are made as stated above to make what it claims better
match what it actually offered in specific Chinese context. On the other

hand, these evaluation, adaptation and supplementation are unfortunately

constrained by the impossibility of testing these in a real classroom.
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