In the midst of a typically lengthy and enlightening comment thread on Scott Thornbury’s A-Z blog (post “C is for Coursebook“, guest-written by Lindsay Clandfield), Patrick Jackson dropped a link to a very interesting book from Perceptia Press in Japan.
Scraps, by Brian Cullen and Sarah Mulvey, might sound like an odd concept at first: A scrapbooking textbook for oral communication classes. It is, however, a brilliant idea–and as far as I’m concerned, one of the very few truly task-based books on the market.
I haven’t used the book myself yet, but from what I can gather from the sample unit and other available materials on the site, the course fulfills some rather important criteria:
- It has a clear, non-pedagogical end goal: Each student creates their own personal scrapbook by the end of the course. Language goals exist, but these are clearly secondary to the making of the scrapbook pages.
- The main task or project is authentic: Making a scrapbook is a real-world activity–indeed a hobby–for many people. The recurring unit-level presentation tasks seem genuine as well, as anyone who has ever sat with a family member and a photo album will attest to.
- The text is focused on fostering and supporting genuine communication: Students, in the process of creating their scrapbook pages, engage each other in conversation about their ‘scraps’ (photos, concert tickets, CD liners–indeed, anything that can be glued or taped to a page).
It also follows what is essentially a themed syllabus, something I have come to consider crucial to developing engaging and effective content. Even though students do switch between loose topics from unit to unit–School, Music, Family, etc.–the core project provides coherence to it all, and it is easy to imagine that much of the vocabulary and language forms used both in preparing and presenting the pages would naturally be recycled and reinforced.
The importance of a unifying theme becomes clear when one considers the first page of the sample unit. It contains several random seeming photographs from “Frederick’s” life, and instructions to listen to the audio and answer some questions. Standard textbook fare, right? Not quite.
In the context of a scrapbooking theme, these photos gain deeper significance, as does Frederick’s explanation of them. The character comes subtly alive in a way that textbook characters, even those based on real people, almost never do. This is because textbook characters aren’t usually written to be characters at all; they are mere language-pattern delivery devices. But in Scraps–in any themed, content-led book–the characters are delivering more than language; they are seeding topic ideas, modeling a story that the student wants to hear on a more meaningful level because they, too, are engaged with shaping their own story.
In the comment thread to his blog, Thornbury states that Scraps seems like the closest thing to a dogme coursebook you can get; my own reaction is that it’s a great example of a task-based book. But perhaps Scraps is both: a blank form upon which we all can imagine our own perfect lessons. Well done, Brian and Sarah!