Selecting Texts for the Adult ESL Classroom

Oliva FernandezOliva Fernandez, Marketing Director, Adult and Higher Education

Selecting Texts for the Adult ESL Classroom

(This article is excerpted and adapted from a monograph by MaryAnn Florez, series consultant for Pearson’s Center Stage. Florez is currently director for the Adult Education Professional Development Center for DC LEARNS, a coalition of adult education and literacy providers in the District of Columbia. … )

Some teachers and programs welcome textbook selection. They see it as an opportunity to revisit goals and objectives of instruction, clarify what will truly support the instruction the program provides,
investigate new and perhaps innovative texts that are hot off the
presses, and, overall, reinvigorate teaching and learning with some new tools. But for other programs and teachers, textbook selection can be an onerous and time-consuming task, a time when budgets require compromises, and a time when instructional perspectives and methodologies clash.

How can we make text selection more like the former description and less like the latter? It is true that a great deal depends upon the spirit with which a program or teacher approaches the task. But by making the task a process that builds in reflection, as well as common data-gathering and decision-making criteria, it can
become a more proactive and inclusive activity that promotes
exploration, professional growth, and, on a program level,
collaboration and consensus building. It can become a learning
opportunity, rather than one more daunting task to complete.


Selecting textbooks often takes place when time and efforts are at a
premium. The existing books are no longer working, or they’ve been
around so long that students and teachers are bored with them. It’s the end of the fiscal year, and money has to be spent NOW.
The deadline for a grant proposal is due, and you need to find the
right materials to use in the project. Adding the stress of time and
funding limitations reduces the selection process to just another
component in a bigger decision-making process, rather than providing the focus it deserves. The result can be a hasty decision made by a limited number of people.

It’s a better idea to build textbook selection into your cyclical
plan, ideally at a time when there are not a number of other big tasks
competing for attention. Sufficient time to review, gather data, pilot
materials, as well as discuss and compare options is important to
purposeful selection. Even if it is done at a time when you can’t
immediately purchase the books, the data will be collected and
preferences and needs addressed so that later purchases can be made in a more efficient and effective manner, based on a sound process.

An Initial Needs Inventory Seeds the Effort

Good teachers always begin new learning opportunities with a chance for participants to tap prior knowledge and focus their cognitive energies on the task at hand. If textbook selection is approached as a learning opportunity for teachers and programs, it is a good idea to front it with the time needed to reflect and respond to a needs inventory. The needs inventory can provide a refresher of the basic beliefs and objectives of the instruction that the textbooks are going to serve, as well as the overall messages you want the textbooks to support and convey to students. Focus on big picture questions that prompt you to think about best practices and the realities of your program:

  • What do you want the text to do for the program? The
    students? The teachers?
  • What objectives, language skills, and topics do you
    want the text to address?
  • How long do you want the textbook to be viable in
    your program (one instructional cycle? One year?
    Until it falls apart?).
  • What ancillaries are important to have?

An initial needs inventory and the discussions around it help to
establish at the outset a baseline that can be used as a common point of reference through the remainder of the text selection process. This baseline also provides an opportunity for voices to be heard, so that important points at both the program and the classroom levels can be shared and clarified, and then everyone knows the context from which text selection will proceed.

Next month: Questions to consider when selecting a textbook, and a checklist to help you evaluate textbooks.


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