This morning, being at a loss about what to do with myself, I decided to go the a EFL/ESL book fair. The main idea was to see if there was any friends or colleagues around as such gatherings are a perfect place to meet up with people you haven't had the chance to see for a long time. And that's exactly what I did. I got the chance to catch up with other teachers who work in different schools all over the city.
However, what I found a little depressing was the selection of materials books on offer at the fair. It seems that at advanced levels teaching English seems to be little more than going through endless past papers or mock exams. Now that the number of examinations recognised by the Greek state has increased dramatically so have the number of books with practice papers. Of course, while students need to feel comfortable with the format of the examination they are going to take, doing a years worth of exam practice is not my idea of teaching. Not only is it deadly boring for student and teacher alike, it is also a very inefficient way of developing the skills that are required.
It seems to me most schools are falling victim to the English teaching's version of the Gambler's Fallacy. The basic idea is that if you throw a coin, for example, and have three heads in a row then the chances of throwing another head are 0.5x0.5x0.5x0.5= .0.0625 or one in sixteen, if you hate maths. The real answer is that the odds of throwing a head on the fourth throw are still one in two.
Well, it seems that schools here think that if you do ten past papers then the odds of doing well in the real exam are greatly increased. The problem is that the exams are never the same, the format may remain the same but the actual question are always different. The publishers are pandering to these prejudices and so produce stuff that has little or no educational value. The books are the educational equivalent of junk food; colourful, "filling" (i.e. hundreds of pages of exercises) and full of crap.
Then again, if the language schools wanted better material, the publishers would provide it.