MaWSIG Pre-Conference event (IATEFL Belfast 2022)

This is my first PCE as a member of the MaWSIG committee. We ran a day of sessions called ‘Exploring dichotomies: bridging gaps and joining the dots’. This was the programme:

These are my notes from each session. If you were one of the speakers, please feel free to correct anything you feel I may have got wrong! There may be some slightly odd sections when my iPad w

Writing effective materials about traumatic subjects – Tania Pattison

Tania lives in Canada, so this talk is centred on a Canadian context, but can be applied anywhere in the world.

She did a materials writing project based on a tragic episode in Canadian history. She’s going to share 10 tips for writing materials based on topics which aren’t typically in course books.

She wrote about this for IATEFL Voices, issue 283, published in November 2021, if you’d like to read more.

The episode Tania wrote about was the way that indigenous people were treated in Canada over a number of years, and the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). One of the TRC recommendations was that newcomers to Canada and people in the education system need to be taught about what happened. Tania worked on EAP materials for a college in Canada, which had to include materials related to TRC. She’s not indigenous, or even Canadian so she asked herself how she could write about this in a sensitive, accurate way, while fulfilling her goal of writing EAP material.

These are her tips.

1. Know why you’re doing it

  • Are you trying to fill a gap in student knowledge?
  • Raise awareness of world issues?
  • Work on critical thinking?

2. Keep your own values in check

Any attempt to impose your own values on students becomes ‘an exercise in self-indulgence rather than effective’.

Guy Cook, IATEFL debate 2021

3. Consider your timing

Make sure students already know each other and feel comfortable with each other before you approach this kind of material. Give them background information first – for example, Tania had information about Canada’s government and some basics about the country first, as the materials were for newly-arrived students.

Allow time for students to process the materials – you may want to have less material in these units. Make sure it’s a point in the course where you can determine whether the students are ready for this type of material.

4. Scaffold your materials.

Find out what students already know, and what stereotypes people may already have. You may need to dispel these before you start working on anything else.

5. Be mindful of the balance between teaching language, skills and content

You can’t suddenly switch from harrowing content to a grammar lesson. Think about how to make transitions between parts of the lesson.

If you can, incorporate skills into your teaching, for example website analysis, critical thinking.

6. Let the voices of those affected take centre stage

Never speak about us without us.

Roberta Bear, Indigenous Canadian teacher, 2017

Can you use first-hand accounts from those involved? Artwork? Guest speakers if you can? Those could be the basis of the materials.

7. Don’t sugar-coat it

Recognise that something terrible happened, or is still happening. Show the reality.

Use trigger warnings – be prepared for students to excuse themselves from activities.

8. Allow flexibility in the way the material is to be delivered

Take cues from how student are reacting.

If you’re writing for other teachers, include ideas for different approaches in the teacher’s notes.

9. Build in opportunities for individual reflection and response

The issues might not be unique to the situation you are writing about – it may allow students to talk about other issues from other places and times that aren’t foreseen in the materials.

Phrases like ‘Use your own judgement’ or ‘There is no correct answer’ are useful in instructions and teacher’s notes.

Many learners have been waiting their whole lives to engage in these kinds of conversations and find Canada, or the right teacher, is giving them the space to do so.

Amy Abe, Indigenous Canadian teacher, 2017

10. Try to end on a positive note where possible

This may not be possible, but if you can, aim to leave students with a sense of optimism.

Can you find a way to celebrate an oppressed culture, show improvements that have taken place, etc.? Examples Tania used were encouraging students to attend an art gallery with indigenous art, or to find out about college statistics regarding indigenous students and the support they have available for them.

Chanie Wenjack was the child whose story Tania wrote about – he died when he was a child and ran away from the boarding school he was forced to attend. Now, it’s the name of a lecture theatre at the university Tania attended, and the name of a school: The Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, Trent University, Canada.

When properly approached, these discussions can be some of the best, with students coming away with invaluable lessons learned.

Tim Johnson, University Affairs, 2015

Responses to questions

If you’re writing materials for teachers and students you don’t know, your teacher’s notes become very important. Make it as clear as possible regarding different ways you can approach this material, and different ways students may need to process this information.

Working with young learners, they know about what’s going on in the world even from a very young age, so we need to address these topics, but we need to feel how ready they are – what background knowledge do they have? What are they ready to process? Some children may be more scared by not talking about these challenging issues than if we cover them.

We also need to know about the potential backgrounds of the students (and teachers) we’re writing for. Some of these issues may trigger areas which our students have personal experience of and don’t want to or aren’t ready to talk about yet. We need to leave space within the materials to allow processing of these issues, and not force anybody to discuss anything they don’t want to – there needs to be an escape clause too.

Practical strategies for writing inclusive ELT materials – Amina Douidi

Amina is an intercultural and diversity consultant.

Intercultural language education is about integrating the teaching of language and culture / cultures. It needs to go ‘beyond presenting isolated snippets of information about the target language culture’ (Liddicoat, 2014) and the integration of the learners’ languages and cultures (Liddicoat, 2008).

Intercultural communication competence is about the refinement and development of intercultural skills, knowledge and attitudes of interacting with the world of cultural difference that complement language competence (Byram, 1997). We don’t assume that our learners come to the classroom as blank pages, hence the inclusion of refinement here.

It’s a particular challenge for writing materials for English teaching, as opposed to other languages, because of the way that English has been appropriated globally.

Interculturally oriented materials:

  • Promote Global Englishes and/or English as a Lingua Franca, in order to continually challenge native-speakerism.
  • Recognise Global North / Global South power imbalance, inequalities and status quo. Recognise our own identities and how they might impact on the materials writing process.
  • Promote a decolonial discourse and challenge methodologies (Kumaravadivelu, 2006; 2016) and concepts rooted in an imperialist worldview. Create space for learners within the lessons.
  • Promote intercultural skills: mediating, interpreting, and relating, curiosity, interaction and curiosity.

Global majority is a new term which is intended to replace the idea of racial minorities.

Amina asked us to reflect on our own writing:

These are the principles Amina would like to promote these ideas.

Principle 1: Variety of representation

Amina has selected variety rather than diversity.

The 4 Ps (Yuen, 2011):

  • People: Global North and Global South
  • Places: The historically privileged and the historically marginalised
  • Perspectives: dominant and silenced narratives
  • Practices: judgement-free, contextualised, and well-informed account of cultural behaviours, customs and traditions, focused on the individual – rather than stereotypes / overarching narratives, focus on a single narrative – rather than cultural facts

Principle 2: Complexity of representation

  • Addressing topics of social and cultural relevance to learners (e.g. gender roles)
  • Challenge fixity of cultural constructs: normalise the possibility of change / changing opinions / changing your mind – just because you don’t like modern art now, doesn’t mean this will always be true
  • Contextualise systemic inequality beyond personal responsibility – what is the history of this practice? E.g. Why don’t people vote?
  • Show intersectionality as the norm: we’re not just one identity, we’re many. Amina is educated, a PhD holder, a woman, a wife, a multilingual speaker, not just one…all of these.
  • Sustaining inclusivity: there is no ‘correct’ amount of diversity to include.

Principle 3: Intentionality in instruction

Include these ideas within rubrics and learning outcomes. For example:

  • Mediation
  • Curiosity: finding out about other people’s practices e.g. what do you eat for breakfast?
  • [2 others which I missed]

The ‘Five savoirs’ shown in the slide above are possible ways we can think about intercultural skills. They shouldn’t necessarily be turned into learning outcomes, but they can be things you can consider in your writing.

Discussion

As an editor, you need to acknowledge the fact that materials writers have spent a lot of time on their materials already. You don’t necessarily want to come in and scrap the materials completely because they’re lacking intercultural elements. You may need to tweak the materials by adding a task, changing a task, adding a question or two.

Queer materials writing: sharing research perspectives and (some) experience – Thorsten Merse

Torsten is a professor of ELT education at the University of Duisburg-Essen, who is particularly interested in LGBTIQ+ and queer theory at the intersection with critical coursebook analysis. He is a researcher, but has some experience of writing materials himself.

He acknowledges that it’s easier to critique materials than to write them in the first place. He also recognises that he speaks from a position of privilege, that we are able to talk about this in our context, but this might not be possible everywhere int he world.

Thorsten says: Coursebooks can cause transformation. If something appears in the course book, teachers might think about including it. If it’s never there, they may never consider it, even if they would be willing to do so.

In Queer EFL Teaching and Learning, there has been a systematic invisibility of these identities. There is a lot of sexual identity in coursebooks, but it’s so normal we don’t even think about it: for example, the typical family. It’s about challenging norms which are there. We often circulate single stories in our profession: ‘the single story of heterosexuality’, and although there are some shifts (for example, not everyone is now white), there is still not much in the way of queer identities in materials. There are some research links in the photo below:

Queer EFL teaching and learning has started to become a more researched topic, and is now being researched more. There have been conferences about Queering ESOL, podcast episodes (Angelos Bollas got a mention) and it’s becoming more visible.

In Germany, there is now a requirement to include the diversity of sexual identities in some curriculums.

English as a school subject ‘engages learners in themes such as social, economic, ecological, political, cultural and intercultural phenomena, problems of sustainable development as well as the diversity of sexual identiities

Curriculum English from Lower Saxony, NsK, 2015 (Thorsten’s translation)

Merse and his colleagues looked at three ELT coursebooks for year 9 at comprehensive schools, looking at representation of diversity in general: sexual, gender, and other skills. They looked at images and the text surrounding them, exploring visibility, voice and agency of diverse identities. They started from the assumption that heteronormativity and cisgender would be the default.

They grouped these into prevailing features – not what we should do, but what actually happened in the course books they analysed.

Representational strategy I: heteronormativity

This is often the default.

100% clarity: male, female, cis

No trans or inter

In cases of ambiguity, the texts clarify, for example through pronouns

Representational strategy II: LGBTIQ+ invisibility

No representation of any facet of LGBTIQ+ diversity at allOf

Often written out on purpose

Representational strategy III: ???

Problematising queer identities, with no opportunity to challenge being gay as being a problem identity, for example in the text below.

Representational strategy IV: The stand-alone and stick-out representation

More positive representations

But only one in the whole book

And not necessarily

Exotic, an add-on, but well meant

Representational strategy V: a full unit

The acronym was spelt out. The whole unit dealt with the question of gender identity.

New strategies

  • Background diversity of LGBTIQ+ coursebook characters just happen to be LGBTIQ+ without requiring explanation.
  • Ambiguity and openness: create tasks and activities where learners can bring their own experience into ‘gaps’.
  • Explicit focalisation of LGBTIQ+ create cultural and linguistic learning opportunities through engaging learners in LGBTIQ+ content
An example from Thorsten’s materials

Challenges

  • How much LGBTIQ+ is enough? (OR: How much normativity are you willing to have taken away from you?) – not necessarily a valid question, but one that you have a lot
  • Fear of ‘wrong’ or ‘too extreme’ representation of LGBTIQ+ lives, issues and people
  • ‘The danger of a single story’ – balanced representations
  • Making thematic matches that makes sense rather than appearing odd (for example, a discussion about a koala keeper – sexuality not relevant, but a discussion of toilets in a school – definitely relevant)
  • Selecting and curating authentic sources, or creating pedagogic texts, for materials production

Bridging a 30-year gap in materials writing – Sue Kay

Here’s Sue’s write-up of the talk.

Sue is talking about how she took the Reward resource packs and is trying to update them 30 years after they were originally written. The first pack was released in 1994.

The writers wanted to think about how to make them more relevant and useful for today’s classroom, including ideas like diversity, inclusion, and making them deliverable both face-to-face and online.

Simon Greenall wrote the Reward coursebooks which the resource packs were written to accompany. Simon observed lessons Sue was teaching, and Sue showed him some materials she’d written to add communicative elements to to the classroom. Simon asked her to write the resource packs.

In ELT in the nineties, the cassette started to lose ground to the CD. Typical books were Headway, Streamline, Thinking First Certificate. Jill Hadfield’s Communication Games and and Play Games with English by Colin Granger were popular resource books. Michael Lewis wrote The Lexical Approach in 1993. The CEFR first draft was written in 1995, but wasn’t published until 2001. Corpus-based dictionaries became popular in the 1990s.

What wasn’t happening in ELT in 1994?

  • No broadband internet for finding authentic materials quickly.
  • No way to quickly check word frequency in a corpus-informed online dictionary.
  • No checking CEFR level. There was no talk of ‘Diversity and inclusion’ – Tyson Seburn did his talk ‘This talk will make you gay’ at IATEFL 2019.
  • English as a Lingua Franca only came to fore around twenty laters.
  • There was no green agenda – ELT Footprint was founded in May 2019.
  • 21st century skills were not a thing.
  • No considerations of neurodiversity, such as dyslexia.
  • No digital delivery.

These are the filters through which they’re re-writing the materials. They’re trying to maintain the humour and fun of the original activities, while considering these factors now.

Obvious changes

Activities which were based on student input didn’t really need to be changed, apart from considering digital delivery.Fonts in some activities

Fonts in some activities need to be replaced to make them more accessible for students who might struggle to read them

With references to holidays, they’re aiming to have a green filter, reducing the amount of international air travel for example.

This activity has been updated to reduce the ageism in it, along with other phrases which might be removed or updated.

Updating a pair work activity

In this activity, students put the phrases in order based on what is typical in their country. They then read a story and reorganise the phrases based on that story. They then tell their story to a partner by looking at the phrases, not the story.

They created two updated versions of the activity. This one is for face-to-face delivery:

They changed the title, and for the phrases, they separated meeting online / face-to-face, widowed (relationships aren’t only about first relationships), meeting families (not parents), ‘became exclusive’ added as an up-to date phrases. These are the new stories:

These are the new stories:

They’re universal stories, which could apply to any culture, situation or sexuality.

In terms of the methodology for the face-to-face activity, the steps were largely the same, but some tweaks are there. For example, rather than thinking about what is typical in your country, students are now asked to think about a relationship they’re familiar with.

For online delivery, there is a spreadsheet. There are new teacher’s notes to show how it can be delivered in the online classroom.

When they started to consider how to adapt materials for online teaching, They did a survey related to pair work and group work online. These were the results:

Mingles

Does anything jump out at you as being inappropriate? How would you adapt it this to the online classroom?

These are the changes they made.

They removed some wording, changed some wording, and added in some green wording.

For online delivery, they created a spreadsheet with different tabs – one for each question. They gave very clear instructions in the teacher’s notes to show how this mingle could be run in an online classroom – this is a very clear format which makes mingles possible online.

Picture research: what can we do for each other? – Sharon McTeir

Sharon runs her own company, called Creative Publishing Services which focused originally on design and typesetting. Now her specialism is picture research, mostly for ELT contexts, dictionaries and education.

What does a picture researcher do?

  • Research
    In different contexts, libraries, commissioning photographers
  • Clear permissions and rights

Changes in picture research

There are fewer image libraries, as they have been amalgamated into big companies.

It’s harder to find natural images. Many of them are staged.

Fewer picture researchers are being hired. Instead writers are asked to do it, editors assistants and interns might be asked to do it, or staff in the big UK image libraries, or outsourced to companies in India and China.

Why use a picture researcher?

  • Relationships – building up a relationship with them
  • Years of training in copyright law
  • Awareness of how different photo libraries can be used
  • Providing a carefully considered image for that situation

Diversity and inclusion

Race, gender, animal rights, sensitive historical images, and tokenism are all areas which are now considered.

Writing a picture brief

You need to include all of the following information about the business:

  • Project title / ISBN
  • Print / digital
  • Print Run / Licence period
  • Territory

And about the end user:

  • Business / academic / etc.
  • Age: adults / young adult / children.
  • Any special needs / considerations.

Sometimes it can be useful to say what you don’t want, rather than what you want.

Answers to questions

Photo shoots don’t have to be expensive. Sometimes it can be cheaper to have a day of working with a photographer than trying to find the perfect images and ensure the permissions are all signed off on.

Many publishers have exclusive agreements with specific picture libraries.

Avoiding tokenism: working together to find a better way – Aleksandra Popovski

Alex is the outgoing MaWSIG coordinator and she’ll be the next Vice President of IATEFL. She’s also in the classroom with her students every day, and regularly produces materials to use with her students.

Tokenism is inclusion for the sake of inclusion, to help make you or your organisation look good. Coursebooks are cultural constructs and carry a lot of cultural messages.

Equality, ELT materials should not look like political manifestos – that’s not what not what they are. It’s not propaganda material. Materials should provide a springboard for discussion, a springboard for critical thinking, and we should remember that they’re there to improve English skills.

There is no framework for avoiding tokenism in ELT, so we need to take these from other fields. These are some suggestions.

Alex says that we need to tell more stories, covering a wider range of stories. It’s impossible to cover them all. When we write about a different culture, we should not write about the usual aspects of that culture we already know. That can create stereotypes, which becomes the story. We should talk about different people’s stories, within that culture.

Here are examples of some of the alternative stories you could tell about some of these cultures:

Do your research before you start writing

Look for more than one story.

Write about things you know, you are familiar with, lived experiences.

Make an informed decision about what to include in your materials.

What do you already know about the culture? What are your opinions on this topic? How might this influence your writing?

What cultures aren’t represented in the materials you use? How could you find out about that culture? Where would you do the research?

A framework you could use is a KWLH chart:

  • What I know
  • What I want to know
  • What I learnt
  • How I write about it

No showcasing

Do not put anyone or anything on display just because it seems special or different to you.

Create a character with personality, not just inserting an image.

Create a character with a real purpose and meaning in materials. Don’t just put them there, but use them again throughout the unit and the materials.

Create connections

Materials writers aren’t just producers of exercises, of grammar rules. We are writers of stories, who should be real and relatable for our students. Avoid one-off characters and events whenever you can. Weave stories, and create connections throughout materials.

Have a ‘sidekick’

Ask somebody to work with you to read / trial your materials. They could be a ‘fixer’, making sure you’re not tokenistic. This is something editors can do if you’re working with them, but classroom writers should consider this too.

Overall

There were lots of threads of inclusion, diversity, and considering carefully how we approach our materials writing so that we are thinking about them from the beginning, rather than retro-fitting. A fascinating PCE!

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