The I Want To Learn English textbook project began as a means to supplement some adult ESL textbooks the college I work for was supplying for the free English classes offered to anyone in the community. I enjoyed the content of the textbooks overall, but found I was never able to complete many of the units within the time frame of a semester. The individual units were very thin and spent too much time emphasizing conversation components without much explanation of the topics being discussed. Therefore, I had to supplement these units and over the years, I grew frustrated with the incompleteness of the units and the assumption on the part of the authors that students already know or understand English to a greater degree, especially with students at the low beginner level. It appeared the authors of those textbooks assumed students could articulate the complex sentences in their activities, distinguish basic components of the English language such as vowels and intonations in greetings, general expressions and in asking questions. I mentioned my dissatisfaction to my program director. He replied, “Maybe you should write your own textbook then.”
I suppose he made this comment half-jokingly, but I took it seriously and began developing some longer supplemental lessons to expand on the units for the commercial textbooks. Within a few months, I was supplementing the textbooks exclusively with activities I developed to see if my students’ test scores would improve. Their scores did improve. That generated some excitement and I began developing an entire unit. The first unit focuses on the phonetic foundations of the English language. The first semester I used the unit with a real class there was an expectation they would respond so much more to listening/response challenges and ultimately higher test scores. That first class boosted my enthusiasm because students expressed elation that I was explaining words at the letter/sound level, differentiating between long and short vowels and thoroughly describing and illustrating “direction” words (such as listen, write, match, spell, etc.). Students had so many questions and I found it was necessary to clarify the simplest, most automatic aspects of English. It was at this juncture I realized the basic fundamentals of the language were simply not being emphasized in the commercial textbooks that were the resources I had access to. And as I looked out into the landscape of the adult ESL textbook world, I discovered not many do.
With each group of students and each class, I found myself tweaking lessons, activities, and expanding the scope of the exercises. It took over two years to compile the content for three units. By the time the project was complete, nearly five years had passed, having hundreds of students participate in the trials. Today, the completed Level 1 textbook is available for purchase on Amazon and createspace.com and is in use in Adult ELA programs in the state of Maryland and elsewhere. Of course, the number one question I get now is, “When will the Level 2 textbook be available?” So….back to work I go to develop number two.