We Teach | We Learn is a recent independently published textbook offering from David Deubelweiss, the energy behind the popular EFL Classroom 2.0 community. I purchased this a week or so ago and gave it a good look over. It's certainly great to see an educator getting out there and doing something in the self-publishing arena, and I really do hope this will be a growing movement that sees a wealth of alternative coursework material options becoming available across the World Wide Web.
I'll let David himself introduce the book to you, shall I?
My own impressions of We Teach | We Learn involve (as with any ELT coursework out there, including my own of course!) a variety of positives and doubts.
Beginning with the positives, I found the activities very well-designed, with a clear (and good) emphasis on getting the learners involved and interacting with each other. The range of topics and activity types is well selected and balanced. The physical design is minimalist, consistent and clear, with a nice sense of space. I really like the use of weblinks embedded into the bottom footer of most pages, allowing further exploration of video, texts and voicethreads available around the Internet. The support offerings in the form of wiki, online community, access to editable versions of the material, etc. are fantastic.
However, I think We Teach | We Learn has some ways to go if anyone is going to bill it as a viable alternative 'coursebook' offering, and hence, its price tag of $9.99 USD.
The first thing I would point out is the issue of formatting and editing. The weblinks provided at the bottom of pages in the PDF version of the material wouldn't work for me. I'm not ruling out a mistake on my behalf here, but I regularly produce and use PDF documents with weblinks embedded in them and they work fine on my computer. My guess is that the PDF settings used when creating the document didn't cover activation of the weblinks - but again, I could be wrong here.
I managed to access some of the weblinks by using the .rtf versions of the worksheets on the wiki provided. Good, but I'm not sure it's a good thing to have so many links heading directly onto pages of the EFL Classroom 2.0 ning pages. As a teacher forum, I don't know how healthy it is to have students straying over into the content there, and the format of the pages allows for too many potential distractions.
And call me fussy, but a textbook that finishes with a grand-looking certificate awarding outstanding performance in English as Second Lenguage just doesn't quite cut it!
These are relatively minor glitches that can be repaired fairly easily by the author, I should think, but in some ways this reinforces the attractiveness of more commercial publishers who won't take a product to market until it has been fully edited and tested for reliability -- especially for any of the technical and user-friendly aspects. There is a valuable lesson for budding self-publishers here: Check your work carefully using multiple sources and make sure you've got it right before asking teachers around the world to pay for it!
What concerns me somewhat more, however, is the 'marketing angle' adopted by David with this work. He calls it a collection of SCC (Student Created Content) and alludes to it as an approach which deemphasises the (tyrannical?) role of the teacher or coursework writer as 'expert', to whom students and their learning are made subject.
Personally, I thought the material and activities here were great, but potentially just as prescriptive (or even proscriptive) and teacher/coursebook led as anything else being produced in ELT. The topics are pre-set. The instructions are clear -- there is a particular way to complete an activity using certain kinds of topics and language. Students are invited to add their own feelings and responses, but again: no more than I regularly see through mainstream coursebooks and their associated workbooks, supplements and online offerings.
If SCC were a continuum, I would place it fairly well short of the middle of the spectrum. More towards the teacher/coursework led end of things, that is.
In fact, what you get with We teach | We Learn is a collection of short supplements (well-designed and with good pedagogical goals), just as you regularly get with good commercial coursebooks available, only minus the well-designed input and controlled practice elements. I personally can manage quite well with such supplements, but I don't really see the (progressive) point in portraying teachers as slaves to an evil coursebook publishing regime just because they want to use pre-provided syllabus, reading and listening passages, grammar points and controlled practice elements as well as the more open and personalisable extensions.
An excellent set of materials it is.
An excellent example of independently produced material (and how to market and distribute it) that I hope more teachers will be inspired by and seek to emulate.
A revolutionary approach to teaching and learning that turns the work of mainstream ELT authors and their publishers completely on its head... it is not.
David has made a brave start in this area, which was essentially why I chose to purchase the book myself rather than ask for a free review copy. But there's work to be done to improve the offering as well as the ideological stance accompanying it.
And I wish David and any other budding self-publishing ELTers out there all the very best with it. Don't give up! You'll get at least one sale from this blog writer, because I believe in what you're trying to accomplish.
Part of that, of course, will involve learning to handle the reviews and criticism -- just as the 'big' ELT writers and publishers have to!