An introduction and analysis of teaching material for English as a foreign language at primary level (Playway – Rainbow Edition)
Bachelor Thesis 2005 25 Pages
Table of Contents
2. The components of the “Playway set”
3. The Pupil’s Books
3.1 Appearance, structure and general aspects of the Pupil’s Books
3.2 Distinctive features of book 3
3.3 Distinctive features of book 4
3.4 Evaluation of the findings
6.1 Table of exercises
6.2 Questionnaire for the analysis of school books
Since 2003, English as a foreign language is taught at German primary schools. The discussion about introducing a foreign language before secondary school had been going on for several decades, though. Still, many people think that it is too early and that there is no time to integrate English lessons at primary level. Some of them are worried that learning a foreign language at a stage when the acquisition of the mother tongue has not been finished could disturb the development of the children’s language. There are also concerns that an additional subject would have negative effects on the pupils’ performance in the other subjects, since it involves the reorganization of time.
However, the outcomes of several test phases and research results speak against those fears. The findings suggest that introducing English already at primary level is a good way of preparing the children for the subject in the secondary schools. Additionally, experts argue that learning a foreign language at an early age has many advantages. Alongside first impressions and basic knowledge about the language, current English lessons are also designed to teach the children about culture and learning techniques. By integrating intercultural learning, the pupils are supposed to get to know the target culture, especially the environment of the foreign pupils. Thereby, tolerance towards other ethnicities can be fostered while fears of contact are reduced. It also supports the children’s abilities of self reflection and critical thinking. They learn to assume an objective view towards their own culture and the foreign culture, which is important for their future life in a pluralistic society. For more detailed information about aims, content and methods, the general guidelines for primary schools and the specific curriculum for English can be consulted.
In order to check what influence the research results and the consequential demands on foreign language lessons at primary level had on the currently used teaching material, I want to examine the popular books Playway 3 and Playway 4 (Klett, 2001 – Rainbow edition), which are used in the classes 3 and 4, and the additional material. There is a special edition for North-Rhine Westphalia, which differs slightly from the federal version. When English became an official subject in 2003 and the first provisional guidelines had been published, the State Government decided to use Playway only after a few changes would have been made. However, this paper is concerned with the federal edition, which was published in 2001 and is still used in many schools.
The complete set of available Playway materials consists of the Pupil’s Book, the Activity Book, the Teacher’s Book and additional equipment that can be used in the lessons. Besides the books, there are Picture Cards, Word Cards, Story Cards (only Playway 3), CDs, video cassettes and the hand puppet Max, which is an omnipresent figure in the books.
At first, there will be a brief introduction of the Playway set, where also the functions and characteristics of each component are explained. The main part focuses on the Pupil’s Books and analyses their content, methods, design and structure, while also implicit depictions of values are examined. Finally, there will be a conclusion that summarizes the findings and points out the advantages and disadvantages of the Playway set. Although the analysis will focus on the Pupil’s Books, I will also refer to the integration of the additional material sometimes, because the set works as a system. It will also be necessary to refer to the Teacher’s Books at some points, since the Pupil’s Books alone give only little information about how they are intended to be used.
2. The components of the “Playway set”
As implied in the introduction, the Playway Rainbow Edition sets do not only contain the books for the teacher and the pupils, but also a multitude of additional material. It follows a brief introduction.
The Teacher’s Book is an impressive file holding over 350 black and white pages in A4. The introduction does not only explain the concept of Playway, but also general aspects of foreign language lessons. It presents the current understanding of foreign language teaching and learning at primary level and offers advice and proposals for teaching. Interesting are the tables that show suggestions of planning the whole school year and the methodical/didactical proposals of shaping lesson sequences using the Playway material and exhausting it fully.
The Pupil’s Book guides the children through the school year. Without exception, the thirteen units treat topics that deal with aspects of their daily life. Colourful pictures, suitable for children, absolutely dominate, while text is reduced to a minimum. On 60 pages, the book offers exercises for singing, crafting, speaking and listening. The exercises are often presented as games and illustrated with photographs that show children doing them and are often based on listening to spoken or sung texts on the CD.
The Activity Book accompanies the units of the Pupil’s Book and offers additional exercises. However, the exercises in the Activity Book are more often based on crafting and also involve watching video sequences. The design is nearly the same as that of the Pupil’s Book. It consists of 40 pages, while the Appendix contains working material for the exercises.
The videocassettes of Playway 3 consist of the Stories Video and the Teacher Training Video. The first contains 11 English stories and sketches that apply to the units of the Pupil’s Book while the latter shows examples of how the Playway material can be used. The stories and sketches are spoken by native speakers and the combination of sound and picture is supposed to prepare the pupils for real situations.
The additional material of Playway 4 includes only one cassette. It contains 11 cartoon stories and a musical play, which shows English children acting a play. The musical play allows watching the English children in an authentic situation and listening to authentic language. Additionally, the pupils can use it as an example and act it themselves.
The set of audio CDs consists of CDs that contain listening exercises, dialogues, songs and rhymes for the lessons and a CD for the use at home, which allows the children to recapitulate on the treated topics and practise their pronunciation.
The Story Cards (only Playway 3) show pictures that can be used to reconstruct the stories contained in the Playway material. This helps the pupils retell a story.
The 83 Picture Cards show the pictures that represent important words the pupils come across during the English lessons. The teacher can show them when introducing new words or when testing and reinforcing words that already have been introduced. Associating the pictures with the new words supports the process of memorisation.
The 83 Word Cards show the written forms of the words. They are supposed to be used like the Picture Cards, but only after the children have learned their meaning and pronunciation. Otherwise, there can be interferences that are due to the different pronunciation in German.
The hand puppet Max is based on the fantasy figure that belongs to the design of the books and is present in all of the units. The teacher and the children can talk to it in order to practise dialogues. The puppet can also be used as an additional character in role plays.
3. The Pupil’s Books
The main concern of this paper is to analyse the Pupil’s Books. Since working with the books often involves listening to the CD and requires additional instructions by the teacher, the books can not be regarded as the only source of reference for the pupils. That means that this analysis will not be able to examine and evaluate the system as a whole. Still, the Pupil’s Books represent the primary working material to which the pupils might develop the closest relation, because they bring it with them every day and can use it and look at it at home. Although the books for class 3 and class 4 differ in many ways, there are some similarities and even matters in which they are identical. I will begin with analysing the similarities between both books and will then present outstanding aspects of each book individually.
The specific criteria, which will be the basis of the following examination, are derived from a check list that was developed by the ‘Schoolbook Analysis’ course that I attended in summer 2004 at the University of Bielefeld and that was held by Silja Fehn. The list, which can be found in the appendix of this paper, includes questions about design, structure, teaching concept and content. However, this questionnaire has not been designed for the analysis of schoolbooks for the primary level. It is more suitable for analysing books for secondary school, which was the focus of the course. Thus, some points are irrelevant for this paper while others have to be added. While the questions about formal language aspects and text are less important, the significance of holistic learning methods that integrate for example singing, acting, listening and playing can not be worked out with it sufficiently.
3.1 Appearance, structure and general aspects of the Pupil’s Books
The first impression one gets of the books is that they are quite colourful and certainly appealing to children. The length of 60 (book 3) and 56 (book 4) pages and the measurements, which match roughly DIN A4, seem also suitable for children. Thus, the eight and nine years old children, for whom the books are designed, will surely have no problems with the weight, either. Probably because of the low number of pages, the books are published in paperback, which make the books rather appear as booklets.
A closer look at the design of the books reveals that every page contains at least one colourful drawing or colour photos, which present the tasks or show important information about them. Still, every picture serves a purpose and the number of colours represents a compromise between aiming at realistic depictions and creating an attractive atmosphere for children. The title Playway mirrors this compromise and expresses the intention of the authors who claim that the set helps learning English in a playful way. The aspect of playfulness will be looked at later in greater detail when the characteristics of the tasks are discussed. However, it must be mentioned that book 4 definitely contains more text than book 3, which indicates a shifting focus away from playful learning within the Playway set.
The table of contents at the beginning of the book shows the titles of the 13 units and the pages numbers where they start. Beside each of the units there is a small picture that illustrates the title, e.g. a clock for the Unit ‘Time’. These icons occur respectively in the top corners beside the unit numbers throughout the books. The titles of the units mostly refer to single aspects of the pupils’ everyday life, such as ‘School’ and ‘My body’. Apart from the icons that illustrate the topic of the respective unit, the titles of the units at the top of the even pages are printed in front of a coloured bar that runs horizontally over the whole page. In fact, each unit is marked by individual sets of two colours. One is represented by the bar, while the second colour is the background for the unit numbers in the outer corners on the top of the pages, the page numbers at the bottom of the page and the number of the exercises on the page.
For the table of contents, the page numbers, the numbers and titles of the units and the text within pictures and stories a handwriting font is used. Text that is used for instructions, descriptions of photographs, the titles of exercises and song lyrics are printed in a clear factual font. Another regularity regarding aspects of design and structure is the figure Max. Max is a friendly looking human-like fantasy figure that is in some way present on every page. In a small icon he indicates exercises that involve listening to the CD or watching the video. He is often part of the pictures and picture series that illustrate the exercises. Despite the many pictures, the layout of the Pupil’s Books is quite clearly arranged. Apart from the features I already named only the individual design of the pages show additional elements. Even though the painted illustrations often have no straight angles and lines, all page components are clearly separated and stand out well before the plain white background.
Although book 3 focuses more on pictures than book 4, the ways the exercises are presented are nearly identical in both books. There are barely instructive hints. Often the only explicit instructions are given by the short titles of the tasks, e.g. ‘Listen and speak’. The illustrations do not always make clear what the pupils are asked to do exactly. Obviously, the authors of the books rely on the teacher to give the relevant information. Sometimes there are authentic illustrations like a map of the British Isles (book 4, p. 26) or photographs of sights in London (book 3, p. 55), which are hardly explained, too. Texts are presented in many different ways. Often photographs show pupils having a short dialogue, which is written in speech bubbles. Song lyrics, rhymes and chants form the biggest part of the amount of text. There are also exercises that are about arranging small pieces of text to create sentences, e.g. [Mum] [is having] [spaghetti] [with] [beans] (book 4, p. 39). However, content and actions are mainly depicted by pictures or picture series instead of text and the focus of the books lies on exercises involving auditory perception and oral production.
There is no family or a set of characters that accompany the pupils in the Pupil’s Books. The characters that are used to illustrate the exercises are changing pupils who seem to be sometimes German and sometimes English, which is not always clear. From time to time their names remain unknown (e.g. book 4, p. 13), but at times the children’s nationality can be guessed from their names (e.g. book 4, p. 19). However, there are Linda and Benny who introduce themselves together with Max at the beginning of book 3 and who appear occasionally. In a few exercises they are even shown together with a family (e.g. book 3, p. 27), but they do not play important roles and are merely elements of the illustrations. Max is the only one who appears regularly, but the pupils hardly learn anything about him. He is the only constantly reoccurring figure and his appearance and behaviour simply adapt to the respective topics and exercises.