One size doesn’t fit all: challenges in using a core textbook with mixed-abilities EFL learners

Juthamas Thongsongsee, Thailand, ID LLCE2016-355;           Relevant materials can take the teaching and learning of a subject to great heights.  Nevertheless, creating such materials for any course is not an easy task.  It becomes even more challenging when English teachers want to take into account students’ real language needs.  In most English for Specific Purposes (ESP) courses, a needs analysis is usually carried out in order to help course designers write or select the most suitable materials that are relevant to the needs of students.  This study shares the experience of the course coordinator in designing an English course for first year medical students at Chulalongkorn University in Thailand.  “English for Medical Profession I”, the chosen course for this study, aims to promote students’ language skills in communicating with patients, relatives and colleagues in different medical contexts as well as enhancing their skills in understanding lectures and academic discussion in medical field.   This course has been operating since 2003 and has undergone a number of radical changes.  In the past two academic years, in-house materials were used as the core materials since the commercial book previously used was perceived as too advanced for first year students.  Thus, writing in-house materials which were tailored-designed based on the needs analysis seemed to be an ideal solution.  However, using one core material for mixed-abilities of students inevitably posed a number of challenges for both teachers and students, and this will be the discussed throughout the talk.

In order to provide a full picture of the scenario, the data were obtained from both teachers and students. Data were collected using focused-group interviews, semi-structured interviews and questionnaires with both groups.  In the talk, the emphasis will be on sharing students’ experiences and perspectives on their learning as well as illustrating the way in which individual teachers adapt the core materials to accommodate their students’ lacks and needs. Practical suggestions on course implementation, material selection and minimizing foreseeable pitfalls in using in-house materials will also be elaborated.

Key words:  ESP, material development, students’ experiences, teachers’ learning