The Coursebook Conundrum and the Special-Needs Learner in the Regular Classroom

To teach “ unplugged” or according to a coursebook, how closely to follow the coursebook and in what manner are topics I find discussed a great deal recently.  For example, I recommend reading Lizzie Pinard’s beautifully written summary of this week’s ELTCHAT: How to avoid death by coursebook

Perhaps I take particular note because these topics are very much on my mind! I’m very enthusiastic about teaching unplugged but am besieged by the countless aspects to this conundrum. I thought it best to examine them one by one. So this post is devoted to the special needs learner in the regular classroom.

Here’s a true story and a couple of facts.

website * Photo by Gil Epshtein

For three consecutive summers I worked with a bright boy we’ll call Joel (note: Joel does not have a hearing loss!). Joel’s intelligence and good language skills helped him compensate well for his learning disability in all subjects at school except English. Joel began learning English in third grade and was in trouble from the word “go”. This is not an uncommon scenario in Israel, in classes of both Hebrew and Arabic speakers, because English requires learning a new alphabet which is written in a different direction. In addition, English is not a Semitic language!

Joel completed his first year of English at school failing to learn the letters and basic phonics. His oral vocabulary was dismally small, despite having a rich vocabulary in his mother tongue. By the end of fourth grade, studying with a private tutor, he had mastered the alphabet and was making progress. But he was way behind his classmates at school and hated English lessons. He did not participate in the lessons.

After fifth grade Joel came to me for three consecutive summers (he continued with his wonderful tutor during the school year) and we prepared for the upcoming school year.

Our summer program’s main goal – build up Joe’s self confidence and enable him to experience success in class. Success breeds success and we had to break out of the vicious circle.


I pre-taught the first unit and half of the coursebook every summer.

I didn’t work with Joel on the book itself. I retyped the texts from the unit on the computer in dark blue letter with a  pale yellow background (slightly enlarged)with no pictures or additional colors. we read them several times in different ways.

I took the grammar topics (present simple, present progressive, past simple, etc.) but rewrote the exercises using either the vocabulary items in the unit or sentences related to Joel.

I closely followed the word lists given in the units in the coursebook and we worked on them intensively.

Joel wasn’t memorizing the answers to exercises in his book – we didn’t do them as they were. He didn’t see most of them. But we made sure he was ready for them.

Although we never got farther than a unit and a half (he needed LOTS of practice!) that made a world of difference. He started off each year surprising his teachers by participating and understanding the material. Since he was more confident he focused more during the lessons and took in more of what his classroom teacher was teaching.

In 8th grade “the penny dropped” and he began doing very well in class! He stopped coming for his summer program…

The fact that we knew the topics that would be covered in the reading passages, main vocabulary items and grammar topics that would be taught (because we had the coursebook) was very beneficial!

Now for the facts:

* In Israel there is a strong push towards mainstreaming special-needs children. Approximately 80% of the children with a hearing loss in this country study in a regular class.

* These children are entitled to a certain amount of hours with an individual tutor. Till about 8th grade these tutors often teach every subject taught in school. It is their job to sit with the classroom teacher, study the coursebooks used in class and support the children.

* Some parents of special-needs children are extremely involved in their children’s schoolwork (in some cases too much so, but that’s a whole different topic!)These parents rely heavily on the coursebook for information and examples of what the child needs to know as often the notebook is so unorganized or incomplete that it is of very little use for reviewing anything.

What happens to these children and their tutors in an “unplugged” classroom?

2 thoughts on “The Coursebook Conundrum and the Special-Needs Learner in the Regular Classroom”

  1. “What happens to these children and their tutors in an “unplugged” classroom?”

    Good question! Maybe one for a #eltchat discussion.

    I think this kind of thing is why I said in my blog that it’s not a case of dogme good/course book bad, the reality is not that simple. I’d be interested to hear how dogme experts would argue on this example of yours.

    Nominate it for a discussion! 🙂

    PS Thanks for the link, now I need to work out how to subscribe to your blog!

    1. Lizzie!
      I’m with you on that – reality isn’t simple!
      Thaank you for oyur comment!

      There are two subscribe options on the right hand side of the home page.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *