Over the years, I’ve attended many Materials Writing talks at IATEFL. I’ve been involved in producing materials for my classroom, for publishers and for self-publishing. I’ve also recently completed the NILE MA Materials Development module, meaning I’ve been able to add more theory to my practical experience of materials writing. This session brings together what I’ve learnt in the process.
These are the slides from the presentation:
Like many teachers, I did my first materials writing in my early lessons, creating materials for my classroom. These were of somewhat mixed quality and resulted in lessons of somewhat mixed quality. With trial, error and student feedback I improved, but it definitely helped to get external input.
The first professional materials writing I did was for OUP, creating model texts for online content. Through this and other writing work, I received feedback on what I was producing and was pushed to improve the quality of my writing and/or to move it closer to the brief I had been given. I also got feedback on my writing from the editors I worked with on my self-published books, and informal feedback through materials I posted on my blog.
In 2021, I started the NILE MA Materials Development module. This gave me more of a theoretical grounding in materials writing, both through the sessions I attended during the course and through the two assignments I wrote. Please note: this talk is not endorsed by NILE. The MA module just provided some of the input for me to reflect on.
The ideas in this talk are a distillation of some of the things I’ve learnt during this process. They’re not intended to be new or innovative, but hopefully there will be something useful in there for you.
Evaluating materials and using checklists
Looking at other people’s materials is a useful starting point for your own materials writing. By deciding what should and shouldn’t be on a checklist, then using it to analyse existing materials, it helps you to consider what makes materials work or not. You could use a similar checklist after you’ve written your materials to see what you might need to change.
As part of the MA, we learnt about different approaches to writing evaluation checklists, and through this process I thought a lot about my own materials writing. Here is the checklist I compiled for my assignment.
As part of my work as a Director of Studies, I had to guide the selection of coursebooks used at our school. I had never received any training in how to do this, so it was mostly a process of trial and error. Over time we built up a list of characteristics that we knew we needed to look for in the books we would use, but it would have been a lot easier to create a checklist to guide our selection.
Tips for writing a materials checklist
Define your context. Who are the students? Years of learning? Level? Purpose for the lessons? Educational background? Who is the teacher? Experience level? Subject knowledge? What is the lesson format? Online / face-to-face / blended? Lesson length? Course length? Without knowing the context, the materials evaluation will be generic. The context can make a real difference to which criteria are important to include.
Start with a list of ideas of what you think would make effective materials for this context. These ideas could (and probably will!) be guided by principles you believe (see below). Turn your ideas into questions. I found ‘To what extent…?’ to be a useful framing device.
Ensure each point is discrete / there are no overlaps.
Think about how many criteria it’s appropriate to use. I used 25 to analyse a full coursebook unit, which I found covered all the areas I thought were important, but remained quite quick to complete.
Use a scoring system. I scored each criterion 0-4: 0 = not at all, 1 = just barely, 2 = to some extent, 3 = to a large extent, 4 = to the greatest extent.
Add weighting to show which criteria are more / less important/desirable. I used 1-3: 1 = desired, 2 = preferred, 3 = essential.
Grouping the criteria into categories can help you to check for overlaps / missing criteria. It allows you to have sub-totals for different sections if you use a scoring system, and to compare different materials.
Include space for comments so you can make notes to back up your scores.
Collaborate with others during the process: when deciding on what to include, when weighting criteria, when editing the checklist, when using it.
Resources for writing checklists
There are examples of checklists and advice for creating them available in various materials writing methodology books and journal articles. You may need to have a subscription to access the journal articles. These are ones I found useful:
McGrath, I. (2016) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching, 2nd edition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. [Amazon affiliate link]
Mukundan, J. and Ahour, T. (2010) ‘A Review of Textbook Evaluation Checklists across Four Decades (1970-2008)’ in Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. (eds.) Research for Materials Development in Language Learning: Evidence for best practice. London: Continuum, pp.336-352. [Amazon affiliate link]
Sheldon, L. E. (1988) ‘Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials’. ELT Journal, October, 42(4), pp. 237-246.
Williams, D. (1983) ‘Developing criteria for textbook evaluation’ ELT Journal, July, 37 (3), pp251-255.
You can see a summary of some of MA notes related to checklists in this post.
Principles and materials writing
Discovering your principles
I first came across the idea of considering your principles when approaching materials writing in Jill Hadfield’s talk at IATEFL Manchester 2015. She wrote a journal while writing a set of materials, then used this to put together a list of ‘framing principles’ to guide her future materials writing. Here are some of them:
Mishan and Timmis (2015:1) define principled materials development as follows:
Materials development which takes into account current practice, but goes beyond it to consult first principles drawn from second language acquisition (SLA) and language teaching theory.
Materials Development for TESOL, Freda Mishan and Ivor Timmis, Edinburgh Textbooks in TESOL [Amazon affiliate link]
This could sound quite complicated or difficult to achieve if you don’t have much of a background in this theory, but it is actually easier to consider than it might seem. You could start with a list of what you believe makes effective materials, perhaps supported by prior evaluation of materials (see above). This was the list I compiled when I started my MA materials evaluation assignment:
Materials should engage the learners’ interest through the choice of topics, and maintain it through varied activities.
Developing positive group dynamics are a key factor in effective teaching.
Materials should train learners to be better listeners and readers, not just test their abilities.
Materials should provide plenty of opportunities for learners to speak and write, as well as support to help them do so.
Materials should help learners to become more autonomous.
Language work should not be purely grammar focussed. It should also include work on lexis, including lexical chunks, on pronunciation, and on functional language to improve the quality of learner discourse.
New teachers need and guidance support with their teaching.
Materials should be inclusive and accessible to all. Learners should see themselves represented in the materials they use.
Chapter 2 of the Mishan and Timmis book includes a selection of key points which might help you to incorporate SLA and theory into your principles.
You can see more detailed examples of some of the beliefs I considered during my MA module and my thinking behind them in these three posts: week one, week two, week three.
How to use your principles
Once you have a list of principles, you can refer to these regularly.
Before you start designing something, remind yourself of your principles. Is there anything key to this context which you might also need to consider? Are any of the principles not relevant in this context? If it’s for somebody else, will the project require you to ignore some or all of your principles, and if so, do you still want to commit to it?
As you design, look at your principles occasionally. Are you sticking to them? Are there any which are hard for you to follow? Is there anything you could do or anybody you could speak to in order to change your approach to the writing to be able to stick more closely to your principles?
As you proofread and edit, use the principles as a checklist. Is there anything you’ve forgotten to include / pay attention to in the writing process?
Stakeholders in materials writing
When you’re in the middle of writing materials, it can be easy to get caught up in making them exactly how you want them to be. It’s important to stop occasionally and consider the other stakeholders in the process.
Ultimately, the materials have to be suitable for the user. This might be the learner, the trainee, or the teacher. Put yourself into the position of each potential user and ask yourself:
How easy is this for me to understand?
Do I have all of the information I need to make the most of these materials?
Please, please, please have somebody edit your work. This can make a huge difference to the quality of what you produce! It certainly did with my books.
I’ve learnt a lot from attending talks by and working with Penny Hands, editor extraordinaire. At the 2021 MaWSIG PCE, Penny talked about different roles an editor might have (see the final section of the post). When working with an editor, make sure you’re clear about which role(s) you’d like them to fulfil: whether you’d like them to focus on copy editing or proofreading. It can be easier to do these in two separate cycles. Before you send it off, read the manuscript again yourself with your ‘copy editor’ or ‘proofreader’ hat on, and try to resolve at least some of the problems. If you’re self-publishing, this saves you money too!
When you get edited work back, it can sometimes feel a bit depressing. You’ve put so much work into producing the materials, and now you find there are lots of things you need to change. Remember that the editor will only comment on things which should improve the end product. If they’re materials for your own classroom, it could make the difference between a lesson which works and one where the learners have no idea what’s going on. If you self-publish, it’s up to you whether you take the editor’s advice (in 99% of cases, I would!) If you’re working for a publisher, the editor will be helping you to meet the brief. In all of these cases, feel free to spend a few minutes being sad about the work you put in, but then let go and make the changes. The final product will be better for it!
If you’re working with a designer, learn how to write an artwork brief. Ceri Jones and Ben Goldstein included advice on this in their IATEFL 2015 MaWSIG PCE talk (the second one in the post).
If you’re self-publishing, keep the design as simple as possible. You’ll thank me when you have to reformat it for different platforms!
Some very simple tweaks can make a big difference to how easy it is to navigate your materials. These are the ones I most commonly suggest to people:
Number exercises and questions within exercises.
Use a different font for rubrics. Having rubrics in bold / on a different coloured background can also differentiate them.
Add spacing before / after exercises and questions.
Use lines and / or boxes to separate sections on the page.
Use tables rather than text boxes to organise a word-processed document – they’re much easier to manage the layout of. You can remove the border of the table if you don’t want it to be visible.
Use page breaks and section breaks to create new parts to your document, rather than pressing enter lots of times. The exercise will always stay on a new page, regardless of how much you add above it.
Use ‘styles’, including Headings, to create a consistent layout across your document. Having headings also allows you to use the navigation pane to move around your document quickly and easily. [Note that some publishers prefer you not to use these as it can interfere with the design stage of materials production.]
If you’re not sure how to do any of these things, do a search for the relevant topic and there are normally accessible written and video tutorials for them e.g. ‘use a table in Microsoft Word’ or ‘page breaks in Google Docs’.
Many of these changes could make a big difference to learners with SEN and how easy it is to navigate your materials.
Think about who is represented within your materials and how. Can the target users ‘see’ themselves in the materials?
What names have you used?
Is everybody the same colour? Gender? Body type? Age?
The ELT Teacher2Writer books are a goldmine of useful information, covering a wide range of different materials writing topics. If you can only afford one, I recommend How To Write Excellent ELT Materials: The Skills Series which is 6 books in one: [Amazon affiliate link]
ETpedia Materials Writing is a one-stop shop of 500 ideas to help you with your materials writing. [Amazon affiliate link] Pavilion often have a discount on it, including during the IATEFL conference.
Over to you!
Was anything here particularly new or interesting to you here?
What tips would you add to the list?
Which resources have you found particular useful in your own materials writing?
Lottie started out as a teacher, and now focussed on DEI and materials – making materials more inclusive.
Lottie would like to trial inclusive materials with teachers, not just about mental health but about all areas of marginalisation. If you’d like to work with her, contact her via http://www.lottiegalpin.com.
When she mentioned this topic to some people, she had some who said it was important and should be included. Some said it’s too heavy and it shouldn’t be there. And some people looked at her awkwardly and didn’t know what to say. This reflects where we’re at with mental health in society – we don’t always have the language to talk about it. We can start to give our students the language to do this, and to break down some of the stigma around mental illness.
There’s lots of different language we could use:
Mental health problems
Mental health disorders (very negative!0
Mental health conditions
Mental health challenges?
Mind, the UK charity, talks about mental health problems, with under this umbrella many areas (but not only these!):
[If language connected to mental health is something you’re interested in, there is an episode of Word of Mouth which covers this.]
So why is it important to represent mental illness and mental health challenges in ELT published materials?
As we said, it’s a part of life! Physical health is covered, but mental health isn’t. Why do we make that division? It’s all just health.
It helps students to realise they’re not alone.
It can be more dangerous to have a world where everything is happy, happy, shiny, shiny (thanks Hugh Dellar for that phrase!) and pretend that it doesn’t exist.
Students need to have that language to be able to talk about these things.
Students are potentially ready to talk about the topic, but maybe the teachers aren’t. If it’s in the coursebook, they might be more likely to do this.
Why is representation important?
All students can themselves in materials.
Increases student engagement and belonging.
Teaches students about a range of lived experiences.
Creates global citizens – prepares them for the world.
Gives students language to describe themselves.
If one in four people globally will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, that’s one in four of our students who will experience it first hand, and probably all of them will have somebody they know who goes through this. We need to prepare them to deal with this.
People don’t seek treatment because of stigma.
We can’t save the world, but we can help to reduce stigma.
How can we represent mental illness?
Representation of people with mental illness
Content that represents everyday experiences of mental illness
Content that builds awareness of mental illness and mental health skills
Support teachers and students with empowering teacher’s notes
Lottie created an example of materials which build knowledge about a mental health condition, but also build their own language skills.
Start with the teacher’s notes. Offer student choice, allow teachers to prepare and model good practice with triggering topics.
This is the lesson warmer. It could be a text, a video – something real-life. The question focuses on ‘health’ not ‘mental health’, and the teacher’s notes talk about how to develop digital skills:
In the text, students build up factual knowledge about the condition. The text is designed to look like something which is reliable.
The discussion questions:
In our pair, we talked about the fact that exercise 5 might depend on who you are. I thought about from the point of view of ‘I have this health problem, how can I find out how to live with it’, whereas my partner talked about ‘Somebody has told me about it, and I want to learn more’.
These are the teacher’s notes:
The follow-up task is a standard research task, with overt skills practice.
Other things we can do
Representing real people, integrated in our other materials:
All teachers could feel comfortable using this, though Lottie would add a teacher’s note explaining what OCD actually is – to avoid stereotypes.
We could also integrate it into our audio:
This is a very standard type of dialogue, but why not include references to mental health rather than ‘Sorry, I’m busy.’
Too triggering to teach?
If you know your students, and allow the teacher’s book to explore the topic, then it shouldn’t be too triggering to teach, but you need to bear these things in mind:
Featuring mental illness can build awareness and break stigma.
It may be triggering, but triggers can be mitigated.
Covering mental illness should be considered according to context.
This is the start of a conversation. This is just one way to cover mental health in materials, but there could be many other ways.
What are the ELT ‘mistakes’ in this image and this text? This was from a popular coursebook, and was designed to be humourous.
This book was published in the same year as Return of the Jedi was released, when there was only one woman in the story, and she was wearing a bikini on the poster. It was also the same year as She’s so cold by the Rolling Stones. Pretty Women, Baywatch, Victoria’s Secret Angels – these were all typical of the context at the time.
They looked at two popular series from 1994/1999 and 2017, focussing on elementary level, and family, jobs and free time.
Here’s an example of family:
In the original page, there is a strong focus on the man’s family. Only one question in the exercise is focussed on the woman’s family.
In the newer edition, there is an example of a solo woman with children, but with no information in the teacher’s book about how the image might be used. The family tree is Joseph’s family – still the man’s family. There’s one solo woman in the family tree, and she’s the only woman who’s unhappy in the image.
In the dialogue from an old book, the focus is on marriage. It’s expected that if you’re married, you have a husband. In the more modern edition, the focus is on siblings. In a dialogue, it’s usually the man who starts the conversation.
In the other series, we have Patrick’s family in the old edition. His daughter is a nurse – it’s a traditional role. In the new edition, it’s Max’s family. There’s a solo woman in the family tree too. In the texts, the focus is on the family as a whole. There is a line ‘I often help my mum or dad cook the meals’. To finish the sequence, students are invited to talk about their own families.
In the 5th edition, we have Jason’s family.
Some numbers related to family units
In a unit about jobs, in the old edition, there were stock images, and extra information about marital status and family. In the new edition, it’s a real woman (you can find her on the internet), with real images of her working, and the information about her family is relevant to the text not randomly added in.
In the focus on vocabulary, in the old edition women are generally doing jobs traditionally associated with women. In the fifth edition, many of the roles are also similar. In the exercise, four out of five of the female jobs are caring jobs – women always have the caring roles, never men.
In the new edition below, in the grammar focus, ‘she’ is used as the pronoun. The woman starts the conversation, not the man.
Some numbers related to jobs and women
The old edition – the title is ‘Take it easy’, but the female character asks ‘What’s free time?’
The woman ‘doesn’t work on weekdays’ because she looks after her family (!)
In the current edition, the footballer works during the week and plays games at the weekend. There are no women in the spread.
In the old edition, the women generally don’t look happy or have neutral expressions:
In the new edition, there’s a much wider range of images in terms of gender, age, roles:
In the other book, in the old edition, the man is focussed on keeping fit, the woman is the couch potato. In the new edition it’s flipped. The woman is interested in keeping fit, but doesn’t show she’s happy about it.
In the old edition, there are more ‘mistakes’! In the new edition, the woman starts the conversation, but the man is assertive and says he’s good, while the woman says she’s not very good.
We’re getting there
In this book, there are real photos of families so they seem more diverse.
Two teenage girls working out – women can do their own thing without having to interact with men all the time:
There are examples of women doing different things in coursebooks too: a female judo fighter, female activists.
There is progress in the world too: Star Wars posters that are a full image of a woman.
I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. [I missed the second half of the quote!]
When Denise first started teaching, her CPD was mostly managed by the institutions she worked in. The first materials she published, she had no training in materials writing – she wrote what she thought was best. When she did her MA, she started to see things in a more complex way. When she did her PhD, things got more complex, but she was very confident and happy with the way things were. She was happy with what she learnt.
In 2020, there were too many options. Too many courses. Too many live sessions. The topics were completely new – new ways of teaching and learning that she wasn’t used to, and she had to write materials for these things. She found herself doing too many things and not knowing where these things were leading to in her CPD.
Her first CPD questions were focussed on what: what should I do? What shouldn’t I do? But that isn’t enough – we also need to know the why.
She went onto social media to see what people were talking about. People were thinking about their CPD plans for the future, for 2022. Here are some of the things people were talking about:
But still, the focus is too much on the what. There are some whys here, but it’s not systematic. For what purpose and how do I know?
The framework we tend to talk about
We plan/define what we’re going to do, we do it, then hopefully we apply it. Stopping at applying it isn’t enough, Denise says. We need to have more higher-order thinking skills.
When Denise searched for “CPD for materials writers”, she got 5 hits, and 2 were for this talk! Others led her to this book:
There wasn’t much on the continuing professional development for materials writers.
There is a lot of research about materials.
Very little about implementation of materials
Very little about writers and the writing process
Very little about writers’ (C)PD
We are materials writers, but …of what? …for what? Are you clear about this for yourself? For Denise, the teaching side of what she writes is important to her, so she looked at the models proposed for teacher development to see if they could inspire her.
Frameworks for teachers
Subject matter knowledge
General pedagogical knowledge
Pedagogical content knowledge
Knowledge of context
This is one way of breaking down what we know.
Here’s another example of a framework:
British Council teacher framework: This talks about four levels: awareness, understanding, engagement, integration. Around these four levels, there are 12 professional practices, including pedagogical, content, context issues.
The level Denise wants to draw our attention to is ‘taking responsibility for professional development’:
Insights from these frameworks
Action (and application) not enough
We need analysis and evaluation (how?) e.g. Borg, 2018
There were 374 impressions, but only 10 votes. The comments stayed at the application level of CPD.
Denise also looked at frameworks from other areas, not just ELT:
A tentative framework
It’s much more complex!
How do you know whether your professional development is effective or not?
Answers to questions
Should we work towards this individually or as groups? Working together could help us come up with a repertoire of techniques we could use for our own development and for evaluating it.
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:
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Updating a pair work activity
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:
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!
This is an excerpt from my NILE MA Materials Development assignment submission. NILE run courses covering a wide range of professional development pathways. Next week I’ll post my IATEFL 2022 talk, which will include some tips for creating a similar checklist yourself.
Please note: This excerpt is intended for reference. Plagiarism is a very serious problem, and could result in you being removed from any course you study. Please ensure that all work is your own, not copied from mine.
This is an A2.2 group of twelve students aged 11-15 at a private language school in Poland.
The group is newly formed. Four students are new to the school and probably unfamiliar with our focus on communication in lessons. Four progressed from A2.1 young learner classes, where they had a less explicit focus on grammar with minimal use of metalanguage. Four progressed from A2.1 teen classes.
One learner has dyslexia, causing problems with reading and the understanding and production of sound-spelling relationships; another has dysgraphia, causing problems with spelling and writing, especially by hand.
These students are most likely to use English while playing games on their phones or computers (reading, listening, sometimes speaking), watching Netflix (listening) or travelling (listening and speaking, encountering a range of L1 and L2 English accents).
Lessons are face-to-face, with two 90-minute lessons per week, extensively over one academic year. Learners get homework every lesson, and the school advocates independent English practice outside class.
Their teacher will be fresh from CELTA, and has not taught teenagers before.
At our school, students complete half a CEFR level per academic year. By the end of this year, learners should meet the A2+ CEFR descriptors set out in Appendix 1 [not included in this post] for receptive skills, productive skills and language.
Evaluation pro-forma – general layout
My evaluation criteria
To what extent do the topics covered in the materials match the interests of these learners, as described in the learner profile?
To what extent do the materials support the development of positive group dynamics in a face-to-face classroom, particularly regarding relationships between students?
To what extent are learners shown how they can continue to work on their language learning outside lessons?
To what extent are learners made aware of their progress while using the materials?
[Note: The numbers in brackets referred to the descriptors I’d included in the Appendix, but which aren’t shown here.]
To what extent does work on listening teach the skills required to work towards the A2+ CEFR receptive skills descriptors (RS1)?
To what extent does work on reading teach the skills required to work towards the A2+ CEFR receptive skills descriptors (RS2)?
To what extent are opportunities provided for learners to produce spoken language enabling them to work towards meeting the A2+ CEFR productive skills descriptors (PS1, PS3, PS6, PS7)?
To what extent is scaffolding provided for productive skills tasks to improve learners’ ability to produce spoken language to A2+ level (PS1) and interact successfully (PS3, PS5, PS6, PS7)?
To what extent are opportunities provided for learners to produce written language enabling them to work towards meeting the A2+ CEFR productive skills descriptors (PS2, PS4, PS5, PS7)?
To what extent is scaffolding provided for productive skills tasks to improve learners’ ability to produce written language to A2+ level (PS2) and interact successfully (PS4, PS5, PS6, PS7)?
To what extent is the lexis introduced through the materials relevant to routine, everyday situations in which 11-15 year old Polish learners might find themselves using English, as described in A2+ CEFR language descriptors (L1, L2)?
To what extent is the functional language introduced through the materials relevant to routine, everyday situations in which 11-15 year old Polish learners might find themselves using English, as described in A2+ CEFR language descriptors (L1, L2)?
To what extent is the meaning, use and form of grammar analysed in a way that would be accessible to these learners, including those who are unfamiliar with metalanguage?
To what extent is phonological control focussed on in the materials, particularly the pronunciation of familiar words which may cause problems for Polish L1 speakers (CEFR A2+, L4)?
To what extent is contextualised practice of new language items provided which allows learners to demonstrate their mastery of vocabulary range, grammatical accuracy and phonological control (L1-L4)?
To what extent are learners encouraged to personalise new language items?
To what extent do the materials include varied activities to cater to a range of learner preferences?
To what extent do the materials allow for differentiation to enable all of the learners in the group to progress towards meeting the A2+ CEFR descriptors, regardless of their prior experience of language learning?
To what extent do the materials lend themselves to coherent 90-minute lessons, with only one or two topics or skill/language focuses throughout?
To what extent do the teacher’s notes provide linguistic guidance and support for an early career teacher?
To what extent do the teacher’s notes provide methodological guidance and support for an early career teacher?
To what extent are activity rubrics clear?
To what extent is the design of the materials suitable for learners with dyslexia or dysgraphia?
To what extent are a range of voices represented within the materials, for example different genders, nationalities or ages?
To what extent do the materials avoid stereotyped, inaccurate, condescending or offensive images of gender, race, social class, disability or nationality?
Anyone who’s followed my blog for a while knows I’m a fan of podcasts. I’ve occasionally written about ELT podcasts before, and have been meaning to collect together a list of them in one place for a while. The wait is finally over 🙂
To minimise the amount of editing I may need to do with this list in the future (I hope!) I’ve only linked to the website for each podcast, and from there you can find all of the links to follow it on podcast streaming services. I’ve included a brief summary of the type of content and typical episode lengths.
Please add a comment if you have any other English Language Teaching podcasts to add to the list, or if any of the links are broken.
*Disclaimer: I’m a co-presenter of one of these, and have popped up on various of them. No favouritism is intended!
Here’s one that feels quite different. Ola talks about being a freelance teacher (ELTpreneur / teacherpreneur), discussing challenges, and providing lots of tips to make your teaching business as successful as it can be
‘A podcast for language teachers that isn’t about language teaching’
The team (including me) chat around various subjects, which may be more or less directly related to the classroom. There’s always an activity for your classroom at the end of the podcast, and sometimes others during the episode, depending on the topic.
Who’s Zooming Who? mini series, covering ideas for teaching online = 10-15 minutes
A range of different episode types. The numbered episodes include TEFL news, TEFL history (focussing on historical figures) and TEFL cultures (focussing on a key concept). There are also in-depth interviews, excerpts from John Fanselow’s Small Changes, Big Results book, and other ideas too.
Bonus extra: The TEFLology creators have published a book called Podcasting and Professional Development: A Guide for English Language Teachers [Amazon affiliate link] with the-round, which gives a useful introduction to creating your own podcasts.
This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. The main conference was run using the HopIn platform. I moderated some sessions, so my notes may not be as complete for those ones! Moderating also took me to a few sessions I wouldn’t ordinarily have attended – great for broadening my horizons 🙂
These are my summaries of the talks.
Plenary: Integreating teaching, testing and technology: where angels fear to tread! – Thom Kiddle
Thom grew up in a travelling circus, which is where he had his first experience of teaching, showing people how to ride a unicycle. As he said, the testing there is inbuilt: when you stop falling off, you can do it!
Why is testing so challenging?
…trying to describe complex phenomena in a small number of words on the basis of incomplete theory.
We then have to feedback on the results of this to a wide range of stakeholders.
‘Language testing does more harm than good’ was the debate at IATEFL a few years ago. Diane Schmidt said that tests and assessment are one of the most powerful tools we have, and we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this allows us to have a meritocracy – through exams, we have the chance to prove what we can do.
The challenges of aligning teaching with testing
In a teaching space, we can support our learners. In a testing space, we need to create very clear instructions, in order to avoid creative interpretation of tests (though the results can be quite entertaining).
Each student has a different teacher, as we all treat them differently. In the same way, each student has a different test: they all interpret them in different ways.
We try to stimulate creativity in learners, but don’t necessarily allow this in testing.
What else don’t we test necessarily?
Digital search literacy
In a testing situation, we fear that these things might lead to cheating, and might not give a true representation of a student’s ability.
Not everything that counts can be counted; and not everything that can be counted, counts.
If we’re forced to reduce testing to discrete items and numbers, then what do we lose?
Thom shared a video of Brian Patten reading The Minister for Exams. You can hear and see the poem here (I recommend it!)
Another potential issue with testing is that the way we choose to teach doesn’t always match the way we assess. Thom showed a video of his son being introduced to yellow and green, then being asked ‘What colour is that?’ – a whole new concept.
The stone age did not end because people ran out of stones.
Pinker (2018) Enlightenment Now
We should look at what technology can do for us, but consider whether technology has facilitated the way we test in the same way that it has the way we teach. Does technology actually reduce teacher empowerment in the way that testing is run and how the results are processed? To what extent have testing platforms actually empowered teachers and allowed us to bring assessment into our teaching and learning, or have they just given us new ways to ask multiple choice questions? Are we missing an opportunity in how we can align teaching and testing?
What should / could digital approaches to assessment offer to teachers and learners?
Multimodality – including images, videos, etc.
Allowing test takers to control the pace of the test, rather than it being in the control of the teacher.
Learner choice in texts and tasks – we do this for teaching, why not for testing?
Repeat administrations for ‘true score’ – avoids the problem of the issue of how learners perform on a single day
Asynchronous tasks – allowing for open-book, bring in digital skillls, source materials etc.
Recording for feedback and review – allowing learners and teachers to look back at what they’ve done.
Elephants in the room
The power of AI sounds attractive, but if they’re only powered by discrete points, we go back to an atomised progress model, rather than a holistic, co-constructed model of language learning. There is also a huge demand on environmental values, and it’s based on algorithms which have values behind them. There are also potential ethical questions. Thom referenced The Ethical Framework for AI in Education.
There is also the issue of automated marking. What can machines actually measure in terms of the quality of language that is produced? There are a lot of measures of language competence which a machine may not be able to assess (for example those on the right in this image):
The areas on the right are the area of teacher expertise, though we that’s not to say we couldn’t be supported by the technology.
Thom compares the idea of technology-mediated teaching and how empowering that has been over the past 20 years, and particularly the last 15 months, with technology-mediated testing. Integrating teaching, testing and technology should put the teachers and learners at the centre.
What we (could/should) test and how
One of the major features of the traditional language teaching paradigm has been the separating out of the so-called four skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing into pedagogically convenient units of learning.
Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Applied Linguistics (1999)
By separating these areas out in testing, this differs from the integrated use of skills in the world and in teaching.
Thom questions whether we should have separate listening, reading, speking and writing assessments. He suggests that we should be testing whether learners can use the information they learn, whether they can transfer knowledge. This would reflect a communicative classroom more. Perhaps papers could be rearranged, for example:
We should be revisiting the work done on integrated skills assessments over the past 30 years.
Thom finished off by demonstrating how challenging integrating these three areas is by juggling for us 🙂
Learning from interactive reflection – Jason Anderson
[I’m afraid I’m feeling quite sleepy due to the heatwave here – so I’ll let Jason do the ‘talking’ through those handouts rather than making my own notes!]
I really liked the idea of ‘reflection literacy’ which Jason mentioned.
He also differentiated between evaluating a lesson and reflecting on what was actually happening in the moment as we were teaching – we often focus on the former in post-observation meetings for example. In future, Jason is interested in comparing how this kind of reflection might differ or be similar for early career teachers and more experienced teachers.
Flipping training: is there a (flipping) difference? – Melissa Lamb (International House London)
The question: is there a difference between a flipped CELTA course and an unflipped CELTA course?
How does a flipped course work?
The idea is:
In an unflipped course, they generally have two blocks of input in course hours and the lesson preparation happens at home. By flipping the course, the aim is for trainees to have more support from peers and trainers during the higher order parts of the process.
How can they find out the difference?
They interviewed 12 trainers because they have a point of comparison. They had 170 years of experience between them! This includes 78 flipped courses between them. They asked what differences if any they noticed in terms of:
how CPs experienced the course
how CPs processed the course content
the quality of lesson preparation and planning
the quality of teaching
the quality of reflection
They were semi-structured interviews, and they didn’t always get through every point with every trainer, but themes did arise.
Better atmosphere and more cooperation
Deeper processing of input
Positive impact on lesson preparation and teaching
Differences in group feedback and reflection
Trainers generally mentioned there was a lot less stress, and trainees were generally calmer. Trainees are getting sleep, rather than being up all night trying to plan a lesson themselves. They’re not as mentally tired either because they don’t have to process two big chunks of input. This means they’re potentially ‘more present’ during the day.
One trainer said ‘because the contact hours that we spend with them are more targeted, the approach is more individualized […] we address more personal needs‘.
There’s more sharing
They create a community of practice
Nobody is sacrificing their own time to help – it’s built into the course.
There is more availability and more headspace in general – they don’t have to focus solely on themselves.
For example, one trainee does a listening lesson, so they look at that flipped content. They become the ‘expert’ on listening and other trainees ask them about it. By helping, they become more invested in others’ lessons.
When they watch TP, trainees really want it to work because they have a positive inter-dependence on each other. It becomes normal to share.
Does this work for everyone? No, not necessarily, but this tended to be hypothetical. There were only a handful of trainees who tended to shut themselves off. Some of them needed an adjustment time to appreciate the virtuous circle of this kind of course.
Did trainers notice any difference in the way course content was processed?
Participants read the knowledge on the site.
They have the coursebooks open in front of them.
They’re talking about the theory in direct relation to the course materials.
Trainers reported that these discussions were different on a flipped course. Also, having to explain to other trainees changed how they processed things – they gained ‘a deeper understanding’.
By rehearsing and enacting and re-enacting lessons, they could also reflect and improve on their performance, feeling more confident when they entered the classroom.
Participants tend to notice things more because they’re not under the same pressure to notice everything at once and put it into action. Trainees are able to hold theory in their minds as they process and re-process. When they ask questions, they’re much more able to process answers.
Some trainers commented on the quality of questions trainees asked: deeper, more sensible, below the surface, confidence to question the coursebook and the tutor (because of peer support behind them).
Melly feels that the iterative nature of the training has the greatest impact.
What impact, if any, does this have on the lessons?
One trainer didn’t notice much difference in the lessons, and one said it would be hard to say, but the rest of the trainers commented on these areas:
Confidence was ascribed to the rehearsals. It gave them the confidence to do things they wouldn’t normally do at that stage in the course. They’d already had feedback telling them that it was good. There were fewer trainees so worried about one stage of the lesson (for example grammar clarification) that they weren’t attending to other parts of the lesson. TP felt less confrontational and was less of a test. One trainer mentioned that the lessons were smoother because of the rehearsal, and another said the trainees were more cognitively at ease because they’d practised a challenging area. The net result is that they come out of the course as more confident teachers.
Most trainers said that trainees would probably still end up in the same bracket as on an unflipped course, but that weaker participants probably had the opportunity to learn more.
Impact on reflection and group feedback
On an unflipped course, there’s sometimes a feeling of ‘What just happened?’ ‘I shouldn’t have done that!’ On a flipped course, they’ve got something to compare their lesson to and can therefore see the progress they’ve made. They can pick up on areas which are more useful and more relevant in their reflections. In the reflection after the lesson, they may have a Eureka! moment when the penny drops and they are better able to understand what happened and why.
The quality of reflection was generally higher, and more specific – saying how they would make changes, not just ‘I’ll change my plan’ but ‘This is how I’d change my plan’
The dynamic of group feedback was much more peer led. Many of the trainers said there was very little they had to do in group feedback.
Agency, ownership and autonomy are much more present on a flipped course than an unflipped one. Trainees were more independent in their decision making.
If you’d like to find out more about flipping training, there is a facebook group called Flipping Training and an article in English Teaching Professional issue [not sure what number! Can anyone help?]
My questions for Melissa which I didn’t have time to ask
What if trainees don’t look at input? Melly said that one trainee didn’t actually do much at home outside the course, but still managed to pass the course, raising the question of whether we need to have input in the traditional way on unflipped courses.
How can trainees carry this over to the real world? Do they continue doing rehearsals? Have you done any follow-up research on this?
Teaching patterns in context: uncovering semantic sequences in writing – Amanda Patten and Susan Hunston
[I moderated this session.]
They are talking about academic English and patterning in English.
Grammar patterns – how words are used
Semantic sequences – what patterns are made
To demonstrate the importance of patterns in our understanding of English, Amanda asked us to create sentences from these words:
To make it easier, they then colour-coded the sentences – you should have one piece of each colour in your sentence:
It was much easier to do this once the pieces of the pattern were colour-coded, because we can see that these sentences follow the same patterns of the language.
You can then display patterns like this:
The nouns behave in similar ways, the verbs do too. Native English speakers know this kind of information about the language, but learners might not.
What do learners need to know to write like this?
An example of academic writing:
However, informal observation of language teacher education suggests that teacher educators still tend to adopt transmission approaches.
Bax 1997: 233, shortened
They need to know:
The grammar of words e.g. Observation + of + noun suggest + that-caluse tend + to-infinitive
What is often said – not the language itself e.g. research activity + causes + conclusion
Words in a dictionary
We can find out about the grammar of words here too, often with bolded phrases within definitions or examples.
Online dictionaries can give you lots of examples allowing learners to observe patterns. For example:
They tend to shorten these e.g. ‘VERB + noun’ becomes ‘V n’.
Activity: from pattern to meaning
Examples might be:
They all have the same grammar patterns as each other.
Learners may also identify verbs that can only fit one or two of the patterns. These verbs prefer one structure and would sound odd in other structures:
V that: conclude, infer
V wh: analyse, assess, investigate
So why that might be? Maybe the patterns have meaning too, not just the words.
You can find more information about grammar patterns on the Cobuild website [this website looks incredibly useful]. There are about 200 patterns altogether, under the categories of adjectives, nouns and verbs.
Pattern and sequence: form and meaning
Patterns are part of the formal grammar of a language e.g.
The verb TELL is used with the patten ‘Verb + noun + to-infinitive’
The verb SUGGEST is used with the pattern ‘verb + that-clause’
Semantic sequences account for ‘what is often said’ e.g.
Here’s an example of a table you could build:
The ones at the top suggest that we’re very confident about the conclusion, and the ones at the bottom imply that we’re less confident about it.
As Susan said, it can get quite complicated sometimes, though this isn’t always necessary. You can also add the patterns:
It’s important to point out that these are not simply synonyms of each other, and they all have their own meanings, but rather that the overall sequence is the same.
Showing the patterns allow learners to manipulate language. For example, we can flip it to: CONCLUSION + comes from + RESEARCH ACTIVITY. Which one is preferred would depend on the new and old information in the paragraph. Learners still need to think as they can’t use all the parts interchangeably, but at least they can see the patterns:
Why teach patterns and sequences?
There is a link between form and meaning.
This provides a rationale for the grammar – the word has meaning, but so does the pattern.
It makes sense to the learner – it motivates an attention to form through meaning.
In a follow-up question, Susan discussed the fact that different disciplines with academia might favour different nouns/verbs and the associated patterns. Amanda talked about prioritising noticing as a way of stopping learners from becoming overwhelmed – they don’t necessarily need to be able to produce all of these patterns.
Is my mind full or am I mindful? – Melek Didem Beyazoglu and Cansen Asuroglu
[I moderated this session.]
When they chose this topic in 2019, it seemed quite fresh, but now it seems that lots of people are talking about it.
Cansen mentions that living in Istanbul means that her mind is busy all the time, even when her body isn’t. She said that silence, laughter and happiness are all contagious. They shared this video, which demonstrates that point perfectly (you should definitely watch it!):
When you are in a silent environment, you will feel awkward when there is noise, especially if you are the one making that noise. It becomes necessary to adapt to silence.
Didem shared a beathing activity with us to help us to be silent. When we able to keep silent, we stay calmer and become more aware of the moment we are in.
Find a comfortable position, maybe on a chair, maybe lying down.
Keep your back straight, so that the breath can flow through your spine easily.
Be aware of your breath.
Put your hands wherever they are comfortable.
Relax your tongue in your mouth.
Close your eyes if you’re comfortable. If not, try to maintain a soft gave with your eyes partially closed.
Try not to squareeze any part of your body. Just be aware that your body is comfortable and let you body relax. Let your body relax.
Feel the natural flow og your breath. There is no effort here. Do not try to make it long or short. Just let it be in it’s own natural flow.
Notice the entry and the exit of the breath.
You may start thinkgin abotu toher things – that’s OK. just gently redirect your attention back to the breathing.
Notice your breath without an effort.
When you’re ready, gently open your eyes.
[This made for a lovely mid-conference break. Happily, I can touch type 😉 ]
What were you thinkgin about during the process?
was it possible to fight the voices in your mind?
Mindfulness needs time and regular practice.
What is mindfulness?
Maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment through a gentle, nurturing lens.
It involves acceptance.
It is returning to the present moment.
What does your mind look like when it’s not calm?
They showed us this video. [It’s not possible to embed it.]
When we are stressed it is difficult to focus or to learn.
The key is to be patient, especially towards your impatience. It’s normal, understandable and manageable – we need to remind ourselves of this.
In the classroom
They decided to try a mindfulness activity at the beginning of their lesson with their students. They started this in 2019, but the pandemic stopped some of their research.
What makes students stressed?
Most of them said they always feel stressed.
They did mindfulness for a couple of minutes in each lesson. The teachers felt a little odd, some students couldn’t keep their eyes closed or stop laughing, but they said this was OK.
After a month, 64% of the students said that they felt better in a questionnaire.
Make a list of words that are related to positive feelings, such as happy or happiness.
Close your eyes or lower your gaze.
Listen to a list of words. Focus on how they make you feel: terrific, admired, jolly, fun, hopeful, free, confident, lively, friendly, happy, strong, joyful, satisfied.
Keep this feeling in mind.
Make a list of words that are related to negative feelings.
Listen to another list of words. Focus on how they make you feel: afraid, regretful, coward, embarrassed, sad, lonely, displeased, terrified, frustrated, lost, helpless, disgusted, impotent, confused, unhappy, troubled.
Focus on your feelings. You probably don’t feel very positive feelings.
Now watch the video and think about how the power of words can affect you:
If young people can do it, we can too!
The body scan
[There are lots of different body scan meditations available – it’s worth doing a search to find one that works for you.]
Factors behind the construction of identity of EFL pronunciation instructors – Lena Barrantes and Joshua Gordon
Studies about pronunciation have demonstrated that teachers may feel uncomfortable teaching pronunciation due to:
Limited training in different areas (Baker and Murphy, 2011)
Pronunciation is not addressed systematically (Couper, 2016, 2017; Foote et al.
Pedagogical pronunciation training improves teaching practices (Baker, 2014; Baker and Burri, 2016, Burri et al., 2017)
There’s been a shift to analysing teachers’ identities over the past few years too [definitely obvious in IATEFL programmes over the past few years!]
There have only been limited studies of identity formation of pronunciation teachers who come from other language backgrounds than English. Here are two:
Insecurities about teaching pronunciation because of accent (Golombek and Jordan, 2005)
Identity formation of pronunciation teachers (NS and NNS) goes hand in hand with their own cognitions of teaching (Burri et al., 2017)
They investigated the professional identity of non-native speaker pronunciation teachers because of the number of non-native-speaking teachers around the world at present.
The research questions were:
What factors underlie the professional identity of NNS teachers in pronunciation instruction?
How does the professional identity of experienced NNS teachers inform the teachign of L2 pronunciation in an EFL context?
They did a descriptive single case study, focussing on identify in L2 pronunciation, with a small geographical area and a small group of teachers, aiming on providing a rich holistic description of this small group.
Data collection methods [side note – I really like this slide theme!]:
The study was done in a public rural university in southern Costa Rica. The campus has five different campuses with about 1000 students. Teachers participating in the study either taught a stand-alone pronunciation course for English majors, or English for other majors. Both of the researchers were faculty at the time, and participants were their colleagues.
All 5 of the participants were mid-career teachers who had settled in as English teachers (i.e. not early career and still finding their feet), with advanced degrees in teaching or TEFL, with a lot of experience at university, elementary and secondary levels.
They used the conceptual framework from Pennington and Richards (2016):
Language related identity
Disciplinary identity – their identity within the field, often through qualifications and expeirence
Self-knowledge and awareness
Practiced and responsive teaching skills
Theorizing from practice
Membership into communities of practice and profession
They see identity as a combination of personal, professional and contextual (?) identities.
In this study they wanted to see how their identities influenced their teaching of pronunciation
Findings: What factors underlie the professional identity of NNS teachers in pronunciation instruction?
Their teacher education has been shaped by adjustments as responses to their contextual particularities and opportunities. Most of these teachers originally wanted a different career. They didn’t receive training for pronunciation pedagogy. Because of this, they explored other opportunities to develop. They felt confident asking other colleagues for help about pronunciation teaching, from exchanging materials to collaborating in research projects and presenting at conferences. There is a clear desire for them to become better to help their students better achieve their goals.
Awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses as well as their students’ success drive their teaching beliefs and knowledge. They were aware of their own strengths and weaknesses as teachers. They knew that they were never going to sound like native speakers, but knew that they had knowledge that the average native speaker does not have about pronunciation. They knew that they had pedagogical knowledge to implement effective teaching. There is constant reinforcement given to them by student success – they can see that their pedagogy is effective. They know that sometimes their students end up with better pronunciation than they have.
A sense of expertise and belonging to a community of language teaching professionals. Despite not having receiving training on pronunciation pedagogy, they managed to learn more in a variety of ways. This stemmed from a professional commitment, knowing that other people may see them as role models and experts in the area. They are aware that the decisions they make in class are influenced by their background knowledge – they seemed aware that intelligible pronunciation is just one part of what they need to know, not just what an average speaker with native or native-like pronunciation may know.
These teacher’s professional identity is an amalgam of interrelated factors that go from their awareness of being L2 speakers of the language (with an accent), to belonging to a community of professionals who have not only language expertise but also knowledge of what their students need in the context where they work.
The areas the participant teachers demonstrated align with the competencies of what Pennington and Richards mentioned:
Findings: How does the professional identity of experienced NNS teachers inform the teachign of L2 pronunciation in an EFL context?
The professional identity of these teachers makes their teaching of pronunciation more contextualized and focused on the needs of their students, based on their learning challenges as well as challenges they may encounter outside of the classroom.
Suggestions for teacher training programmes
These suggestions are for both native and non-native teachers, both of whom may be reluctant to teach pronunciation and not know how to approach it. The references in brakcets are others who support these ideas.
More opportunities for teacher training connected to pronunciation (Baker 2014; Burri et al., 2017; Murphy, 2017):
Phonetics, phonology, L2 speech learning theory
Pedagogical implementation of content
Space for reflection on previous teaching and learning experiences
Ongoing training to empower in-service teachers to improve their pronunciation teaching:
Reflective practices – how do they do this? (Murphy, 2014)
Book clubs and professional reading on your own, connected to pronunciation literature and journal articles for example (Brown and Lee, 2015; Hedgcock, 2009)
Action research (Bailey, 2004; Burns, 2010, 2011)
Non-native speakers can and should teach pronunciation. We should be implementing intelligible, comprehensible, non-native pronunciation models in class (Murphy, 2014, 2017) This is supported by:
World Englishes (Jenkins, 2015; Kachru, 1986)
Number of NNS teachers around the world (Crystal, 2003)
Effectiveness of NS and NNS teachers in pronunciation instruction (Levis et al., 2016)
The grammarless syllabus. A road to utopia? – Bruno Leys
[I moderated this session.]
Bruno started by sharing this piece of art by Jan Fabre called ‘Searching for Utopia’:
Bruno originally planned to talk about this while he was in the middle of writing the book, but the first book has now appeared – it’s called Fast Break.
A new curriculum in Flanders (Belgium) was rolled ou in Septembe 2019
There were no explicit grammar goals for the first two years, and in years 3-6 it was based on procedural grammar knowledge.
It was a new coursebook.
Can we teach/learn English without explicit grammar teaching?
It was for vocational secondary education, aged 12-18.
The focus was on learning a specific profession.
The English they need is survival English, working towards A2 level.
Why even consider grammarless teaching?
On the one hand…
On the other hand…
A book and two talks from this year’s IATEFL:
Some more research:
Lesley Piggott did PhD research:
This is research from Canada:
There are topics, with grammar items attached to them. Scott Thornbury calls them ‘Grammar McNuggets’
In their coursebook
They tried to have a blank column. They phrased the topics as the functions, for example ‘Invite people and react’ and highlighted functional language students needed for this. This approach actually introduced a very wide range of grammatical structures, but if you don’t approach it from grammar you focus on this language as chunks/useful phrases:
If you look at it from the perspective of grammar, present continuous might pop up in 6 of the 9 units with this approach within the functional language.
One area they were challenged by was something like ‘this’ or ‘these’ – did they need the metalanguage of singular and plural? They decided to use colours to visualise it without using the terminology.
What do (some) teachers want?
Some teachers want grammar.
A necessary evil
tradition (backbone of a language)
Frustratino about language mistakes / errors
What the market wants, the market gets!
To satisfy this, they included a brief grammar focus at the back of the book, based on sample sentences, with the tense name written much smaller next to it. There is a visual and avideo where the language is used. They continue to use colours, for example blue for regular forms, red for irregular forms. If teachers want to focus on grammar, they can use these pages, but they can decide when and whether they feel there is a need.
There are exercises too, but these are meaning focussed:
They give them the form. (This reflects Leo’s talk at the end of yesterday)
The form exercises are more receptive:
There are also extra exercises availables online. They’ve met market demands bit tried to do it in their own way.
A grammarless or grammar light approach can be useful for learners at lower levels or who are not going to need university-level language.
Focussing on language as chunks and idiomatic phrases can be useful.
You can focus on meaning before form.
You can provide visual support through images and colours.
There is a need to challenge traditional beliefs.
We need to invest in materials development.
Interpersonal skills for better communication! – Chia Suan Chong
Improving our interpersonal skills is a lifelong journey and starts with the ability to reflect.
Good interpersonal skills are essential for the workplace and for career success.
The Big Six of Business English
These are the main areas normally covered by business English courses:
In Chia’s opinion, the bix six deal with very specific scenarios. They are events.
By talking about interpersonal skills, we’re looking at the bigger picture. The skills cross boundaries. We do these things both within and outside business.
Active listening skills
Building relationships/ Trust-building
Building trust takes time.
There are different kinds of trust:
With close friends or family
With your postman or a shop assistant
When we build trust:
Why should I trust you?
Do we understand trust in the same way? (this could be a style, a preference, an intercultural issue…)
What are the implications of not trusting?
Which communication strategies can help develop trust? We may think these are transferable, but we can also use these areas as a basis for discussions. Students have stories to bring to the table, and can prompt a lot of emergent language and fluency practice, as well as awareness of discourse.
Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.
Relationships and Results are a bit like Yin and Yang. Sometimes we’re more focussed on one or the other at a particular time, or sometimes we have preferences, but there’s not necessarily one size fits all: it’s very context specific. Telling stories (like the ones from Chia’s book – see top) allow students to discuss different reasons.
Ways that we build trust:
Establish competence – I’m competent in this area, you can trust me
Finding common ground (commonality)
Openness (information) – what you see is what you get, I don’t have a hidden agenda
Reliability – you can trust me because I’m reliable
Openness (emotion) – showing vulnerability, you have to be genuine about it!
Willingness to trust first – we trust people who trust us
How many of these strategies are we talking about with our students? How many of these do we practise with them? Does this practice go beyond useful language? Do they have the chance to take part in the discourse that leads to building trust?
For example, you could give each student a strategy on a different piece of paper. If you know them well, give them a way that they’re not so used to doing. Put them into a simulation or a roleplay and they have to build trust using one of these methods.
In a high-trust relationship, you can say the wrong thing, and people will still get your meaning. In a low-trust relationship, you can be very measured, very precise, and they’ll still misinterpret you.
This shows just how important it is to include trust building in our teaching.
Show students pictures of a selection of famous people. Students say who they trust and who they don’t, and (more importantly) why. That promotes reflection.
Intimacy in business could be about how much you share with each other. Can you share future goals and plans? Problems you face in your company?
Self-orientation is about selfishness, talking about yourself all the time, constantly dominating the conversation, having the focus on our self.
You should have a particular person in mind when you do this activity, as the answers will be different depending on the person you choose. Put yourself in that person’s shoes and think about how they might feel about you. Give yourself a score of 1-10 in each area, then do the equation.
Somebody who knows you well.
Someone who doesn’t know you well.
Someone who you think likes you.
Someone who you think doesn’t like you.
By doing this a few times, you will find very quickly that there is one item that dominates: self-orientation. Regardless of how high your credibility etc are, your self-orientation will make a difference.
So perhaps we should be teaching students how to be less self-orientated in conversations. That means we need to teach them to become better listeners.
The power of listening: How much listening can there be, with so much disruption and distraction?
What does active listening involve?
Clarifying and repeating back what was said.
Listening to understand and not to respond. (particularly hard when you’re speaking a second language)
Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves to stay in their world just a little longer.
In a classroom, we often find that students might not be listening to each other. Chia enforces interactive dialogue. For example:
The blue ones are speaker one, the red ones are speaker two. ‘Surface value’ = That’s interesting / I’ve never thought of that before.
This creates a truly interactive dialogue.
If you made it all the way down here, well done! You might also be interested in the talks from the MaWSIG PCE, day one, and day three.
This is the first year that the annual IATEFL conference was run fully online. Pre-conference events (PCEs) were run at different times depending on the Special Interest Group (SIG). The Materials Writing SIG PCE was the day before the main conference, on 18th June 2021, and was run via Zoom. This meant we had the opportunity to hop around breakout rooms for a little networking at certain points in the day.
These are my summaries of the talks I saw. There were so many useful things in there, from the perspective of writing, design, freelancing, mental health, editing, and lots more useful little tips.
Covert syllabuses: How to avoid them, how to include them – Jill Hadfield
What is a covert syllabus?
Jill’s definition is:
Usually used with a negative connotation: ‘the unwritten, unofficial and often unintentded lessons, values, and perspectives that students learn in school’ from http://edglossary.org/hidden-curriculum/
First example: from a Ladybird series called ‘Peter and Jane’, used to help 1960s children learn to read. The example was Jane helping mummy to make cakes for daddy and Peter. The covert syllabus is helping (desirable) and the other is females doing the domestic/cookery work.
Second example: A book from the 1970s showing a man being drunk at 3 in the morning, then coming home and being spoken to by his wife: You’ve been drinking whisky. Only one, dear. You’ve been smoking cigarettes. Only one, dear. You’ve been kissing girls. Only one, dear. Another covert syllabus: that this is acceptable behaviour and acceptable reaction to it [my interpretation of it].
Third example: An English coursebook from 1978 with a discussion of Steve and Anne. Anne uses a new shampoo which makes her hair soft and shiny, and therefore Steve likes her. Covert syllabi: Men are shallow. Women need to be attractive to be liked.
I think you get the idea!
They’re not just a thing of the past though – they’re everywhere, and something we should be aware of.
Undesirable and desirable covert syllabuses
Some examples now are consumerism, everyone can afford holidays, heteronormativity, lots of stereotypical images (though some of these are thankfully starting to change).
They can be desirable too though: confidence, self-believe, sustainability, awareness of others and the environment, empathy, non-stereotypical roles and images.
There can also be a covert syllabus by omission, for example by avoiding PARSNIPs:
One question is who decides what is ‘desirable’ – that could be biased and highly culturally specific.
Jill’s first use of a covert syllabus was to include cognitive activities to raise awareness of aspects of learning in a group and affective activities, which had an overt language learning aim, Classroom Dynamics. The teacher is covertly building group dynamics while overtly working on language. So why should this be covert? Teachers have a busy syllabus so there might not be time for separate activities, but also it seems somewhat counter-productive to start that’s why you’re doing an activity.
Using checklists and self-evaluation to avoid undesirable content
Be aware of possible undesirable agendas: regarding pictures, task types, topics.
Be aware of your own possible bias, e.g. topics you like, depth vs ‘the unbearable lightness of ELT’ (Scott Thornbury), ‘core energies’: Jill’s term for the forces that drive a writer and give colour to their writing making them unique – for example Jill’s are affect, creativity and play.
[I missed a little of this!] Core energies should be grounded in theory/knowledge, though they are are based at the level of passion. Passion may lead you astray though – they could lead to bias. Will it appeal to all of the students you are writing for? Writing with a partner or a team can lead to a balance of core energies.
Checklists to ensure coverage, variety and lack of bias. For example Gender bias Cultural stereotypes Inequality Racial bias
Ensure there is a variety of activity types, and that you haven’t been led in a single-minded direction by your ‘core energies’. Another checklist: Modality: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, tactile Grouping: self/intrapersonal, other/interpersonal Structure: single-minded (e.g. competitive), co-operative Reaction time: immediate/reflective Mood: serious, playful Outcome: open-ended, closed task All in a grid against: Thinking/Feeling/Creative/Practical [note: This looks useful for my materials writing MA module 🙂 ] She published it in RELC Regional English Language Journal 37 – Teacher Education and Trainee Learning Style Changing any factor from this grid creates a different kind of activity.
Build in positive checklists for yourself, based on what you created at the start.
As materials writers we need to have strategies in place to guard against unintentional bias and undesirable covert syllabuses creeping into our work, and also plan to include desirable covert syllabuses.
Side note: Jill’s latest book (with Lindsay Clandfield) is Interaction Online [Amazon affiliate link].
50 ways to avoid gap-fill fatigue – John Hughes
(There might not be 50!)
A definition of gapfills by Scott Thornbury (because as John says, no ELT presentation is complete without a quote from Scott!):
John visited the ELT archive at the University of Warwick. He searched for the earliest examples of gapfills he could find: C. E. Eckersley: A concise English grammar for foreign students from 1933. Low level gapfill with is, are, has, have, was, were, but vocab like congregration, and herd of cattle!
Here are some of the methods of avoiding gap-fill fatigue which John shared:
An activity from Simon Greenall: You walk into school. The DoS says a teacher is off and you need to teach their group in 3 minutes. A simple solution: find the last reading or listening task the students used in the book. Copy it and fold it up. Cut it up in a similar way you might to a snowflake. Instant gapfill! That gives you 15 minutes of your cover lesson at least! It’s interesting because it’s not just words missing, but letters and bits of letters.
Divide the group by birthdays. First half of the year: why is it a good thing? Second half of the year: why is a bad thing?
Gapfills can be visual too: what is in the picture? Not just sentences with gaps.
Gaps can have a broader definition too: information gaps, opinion gaps. Gap-fills aren’t just removing a word – there’s an art to it too!
Pesonalisation by finishing a sentence stem (John found the first example of these in Streamline in 1975.
Technology means we’re writing more gaps than ever. John showed Lyrics Training and Quizlet Gravity. They allow us to add tweaks like time pressure.
In 2006, John wrote an article for English Teaching Professional called ‘Over to you: Gap-fills’ as a checklist of different kinds of gap-fill. There are 20 ideas on there.
Potential problem 1: all first person – ‘I’ sentences. Mix up the subjects.
Potential problem 2: all positives, no negatives or questions.
Potential problem 3: no numbering for the answer key or classroom management.
Potential problem 4: no context or very loose, creating gap-fill fatigue. Can connect them together into a single text.
Potential problem 5: no example completed for students to scaffold the instructions.
Potential problem 6: no sub-heading or title to guide students on the page.
Potential problem 7: a rubric which is more complicated than the task. Break them down.
Potential problem 8: the questions are all closed and impersonal. Introduce a couple of examples at the end for the opportunity for personalisation, e.g. creating two extra questions for other students to complete.
Remember that the idea of a gap-fill can be quite hard to read for learners. Jon Hird recommends putting the verb in brackets before the gap to reduce the amount of cognitive processing needed. This is especially useful for learners with dyslexia. There’s an interview with John and Jon is here.
You can read more about making materials dyslexia friendly in Jon Hird’s MaWSIG blogpost.
MadLibs are a fun variant on gapfills. Students put their words into the gaps, then decide which words sound right and which ones they need to change to make it more logical.
Make gapfills communicative using information gaps, for example information about the members of a family tree – not just the names, but ideas like hobbies.
Crosswords, and half a crossword.
Information gap of different kinds of pictures: spot the difference (classic ‘what’s in your fridge?’) but also the idea of time shifts, like an updated fairytale.
Making them student-centred: get students to write their own gapfills. For example, they have 5 sentences with furniture to choose from a box. Then they are given 5 more words which they write their own sentences for – the students are far more likely to remember those words than the first 5.
Making them memorable: give a gapfill with the same text students have already seen. Gradually remove the words over a series of lessons, and students are likely to memorise structures and key phrases – John gave the example of presentation phrases.
John does teacher training connected to materials writing if you’d like more tips. There’s a lot of information on his excellent blog too.
Scope and sequence design: A top-down or grassroots approach? – Frances Amrani
This talk is based on Frances’ own thoughts and opinions – it’s not meant to be definitive.
Scope and sequence: a definition
Interrelated concepts that refer to the overall organization of the curriculum in order to ensure its coherence and continuity.
Scope refers to the breadth and depth of content and skills to be covered.
Sequence refers to how these skills and content are ordered and presented to learners over time.
Definition from International Bureau of Education, UNESCO
Scope and sequence in ELT
Typically the map of the book:
Top down scope and sequence
Publishers typically see new books as a hole to fill in their list of books – a top down approach. This means the scope and sequence might be prescriptive, for example:
Using CEFR Can do statements
English Profile – graded vocab and grammar
Topic lists, for example from exam topics
Exam syllabus mapping
Meeting requirements of the National Curriculum defined by ministries
21st century skills
Competitors’ products – differentiation or cloning of them
Influenced by market expectations and what sales tell the publisher is needed
This results in:
A risk that it limits personalisation
A risk of it being too generic or too specific (for a very narrow market)
A risk that it may not match students’ real needs, only perceived needs
Can be seen as a big boring
May be seen to guarantee an expectation of ‘standards’ – a known quantity for standardisation, and adding a comfort level. It can make coursebooks interchangeable
Similar products, but every publisher still needs to find a USP (Unique Selling Point)
The author may see writing a book a bit like designing a garden, considering all of the exciting elements of the project. They’re putting all of their efforts into one special project a season. The outcome is more personal and needs to be creative. The aim is a less prescriptive syllabus as the author wants to make it special.
This results in:
No pre-determined scheme of work from the author
A risk of a pick and mix / scattergun outcome – not thinking about the task or topic in a holistic way
Supports differentiation (for levels, different interests, different abilities)
Can address a real learning need
Creative and exciting content
Something which is ‘seen as’ hard to sell, and therefore risky
Making you think beyond ELT
The reality of current ELT publishing
Very few unsolicited ideas are published these days. Most are commissioned and there is often a tendering process with samples conforming to the brief. Most of the scope and syllabus is top down and there’s not much scope for creativity and grassroots materials. Small publishers might be more likely to take a risk.
Here are examples of grassroots projects and materials from the past which might not get published today:
Mario Rinvolucri using psychology materials and unorthodox humanistic activities – he might be able to do that still, but aspiring authors might find that a lot harder.
Hancock McDonald Pronunciation – too niche for big publishing houses now
Penny Ur’s problem-solving activities e.g. zoo layout in Discussions that work
Richard Cauldwell’s pronunciation projects
These would all have to jump through a lot of hoops nowadays and therefore be less likely to be published.
Jill Hadfield reminded us that you can right resource books on any topic you want, but Frances mentioned that because the market is very small publishers are publishing a lot fewer resource books.
Tensions and finding the sweet spot between top-down and grassroots
There’s a tension between wanting to be innovative and wanting to conform. Frances believes there’s a sweet spot in between. How do you find it?
Commercially viable i.e. checks all the boxes
Yet fresh and new:
Move away from character stories in text books
Move towards authentic photos Discovery / National Geographic
Demand for more technology
Move towards skills-based syllabus
Move towards CLIL based syllabus
Move towards 21st centry skills: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration
Try to understand the other’s perspective:
Authors: How can I make my brilliant grassroots ideas fit the matrix / brief?
Publishers: How can I make my market0driven brief receptive to innovative ideas?
Questions to think about
What makes a good brief for an author?
How can grassroots innovation be included?
How do you persuade the publisher to include some creative ideas that weren’t on their radar?
How do you do unbiased market research for scope and sequence design?
Who are the gatekeepers beyond the publisher and what are their agendas?
Breakout room hopping
This was a super useful feature: three 15-minute opportunities to ask questions about areas connected to materials writing. I asked lots of questions about editing, and was reminded of the existence of the Publishing Professionals website. Thank you for everybody who answered my questions!
Bring your ideas to life using mood boards – Colin Morton
Colin is a freelance designer and illustrator, working as part of Morton Design and Studio Spirit, working in ELT projects. This talk was particularly interesting as it’s a key aspect of ELT publishing which I’ve never heard discussed before.
What is a mood board?
They’re designed to create the feel of a project before it exists, a collective of references, colour palettes and images to give an idea of the direction or feeling of the concept between the actual design work is done. It can help you spark other ideas and think around a problem. Lots of ideas should tie together into a single concept. 5-15 images is the sweet spot.
Designers might produce several mood boards to present to the publishers and decide which way the project might go, for example for a project on street food it could be more authentic and around the world, or connected to the hipster movement.
‘But I’m not a designer!’
Why use it?
Planning an event
Planning a project
Thinking about a blog post you’re writing
Considering your personal branding and how you want to sell youself
One problem with being a freelancer is feast or famine: we’re either overloaded or we’re worried about not having enough. This means we might take on too much in case we don’t get anything else. However good we are at managing our workload, deadlines are going to slip, something unmissable is going to pop up, and things will overlap. The outcome of either situation is higher stress.
The impact of stress on the brain
It’s not always a bad thing. The body releases stress hormones to help us deal with the situation. It’s meant to be a temporary situation and we’re meant to go back to normal after this. Imagine raising your voice to shout, and continuing to shout for the next three or four weeks. This kind of chronic stress has serious impacts on us physically and mentally.
Cognitive fatigue includes:
tasks that should be simple feel difficult
difficulty in prioritising
avoidiance or procrastination
disconnected from others and the world
When we feel like this, we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture. We often don’t see the things that might help us to get out of the hole that we find ourselves in.
Why do we take on too much in the first place?
We’re worried that we might not get work in the future. We’re not necessarily making this up, but sometimes the fear of scarcity can blind us to the bigger picture.
If you’re offered longer term work, look carefully at the amount of money – what will your hourly rate work out at? Is it actually worth it? Or will you end up earning very little for the sake of a couple of years of work, and not be able to take on other better paid work?
Opportunity cost means that we have to consider the time, energy and money involved, and comparing it to the benefit we would have got from the next best alternative. For example, break down your earnings over the past year to see what you’ve earnt from each area e.g. fees, royalties, training, etc. How much work did you put in to get each area of earnings?
The planning fallacy is under-estimating how long it should take to do something. It’s a natural human bias which we all suffer from. Rachael uses Toggl to keep track of how long projects take. Once you have a better idea of how long things actually take, you might be better able to estimate more accurately how long things might take in the future.
Make sure you allow time to work ON your business as well as IN your business: emails, marketing, writing samples, admin, invoices, chasing invoices, taxes, accounting, meetings, etc. You also need to factor in areas like sick pay, holiday pay, pensions, etc. You need to step back and see the bigger picture, rather than engaging in magical thinking about how much time we actually have available.
Time management strategies
To do lists provide a ‘second brain’. You have a system where you know something is safe in another place, rather than getting stressed by remembering things again and again. On the flip side:
Can feel overwhelming, especially if you just have one list.
Some tasks are tiny, others are massive.
Tendency to do the quickest, easiest tasks first – even if they’re not the most important thing to do.
No sense of priority.
We can get stressed because we never finish the to do list, and we might feel that we should.
What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.
The Eisenhower matrix means you can display a to do list in a different way:
Covey says we spend a lot of time in the top left box, feeling like firefighting. However, we should spend more time in the top right box – this includes things like exercise. If you focus more in the top right box, you’ll have fewer things int the top left box. In the bottom left box, think about what point in our day you do things – for example, don’t reply to all of your emails when you’re best at concentrating, or consider what could be delegated, or when you might have lower energy levels.
Consider time blocking, especially for things which require deeper focus:
Eat the frog! Do the things you’re resisting doing first thing before you do anything else.
Break down larger tasks, rather than getting overwhelmed by looking at the whole thing you need to do.
If you have an idea, you can speak to a development editor to brainstorm ideas, but generally most editors would prefer you to have finished your manuscript.
You may want to have a beta reader look at it first, for example running it by a colleague. It has to be somebody who want just say ‘yes, that’s great’. Having a list of questions can help them to know what you need the answers to.
Establish naming protocols
How can I nurture a quality relationship with an editor?
Respect the target market
Write for the reader, not yourself
Welcome constructive criticism
Expect the editor to be prompt, clear and positive
Treat the relationship as fundamentally collaborative
[I’ve definitely missed some things in Penny’s talk here – there was so much useful information there!]
In April 2019, Rob Howard edited an edition of the free online teachers’ magazine Humanising Language Teaching. He pulled together various members of the Independent Authors and Publishers group to fill an edition of the magazine with articles from across the world of EFL, including teaching, materials writing, and teacher training.
It is a with great pleasure that I introduce this edition of HLT Magazine. As the organizer of the INDEPENDENT AUTHORS & PUBLISHERS, I have the honor of working with some of the biggest names in self-publishing and this like-minded group of individuals has come together for the third year to help spread the word and give new authors and publishers a voice in the everchanging arena of ELT books, training and “socialpreneurs” that will surely make up a big part of the future of ELT.
My own article, Stopped teaching? Don’t stop developing contained a selection of ideas for trainers, managers and materials writers to continue developing their craft. Here’s the opening paragraph:
There is a lot of information out there for teachers who want to continue to develop professionally, and there are a couple of other articles in this magazine about it too. However, there is nowhere near as much information about how to keep developing if you are still involved in language teaching but not in the classroom every day, for example working in academic management, training teachers, or writing materials. Although you can continue to use many of the methods recommended for teachers, such as writing a reflective journal, it can be difficult to know where to find specific resources relevant to these career paths. This article aims to remedy that.