What I think I know about materials writing (IATEFL Belfast 2022)

This is something of a companion piece to my IATEFL 2021 talk, What I’ve learnt about teacher training this year. This is the abstract for the talk:

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:

Background

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.

I’ve followed the IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group (MaWSIG) since it was first created in 2013, attended many materials writing talks at IATEFL and online, and read MaWSIG blog posts. Here are links to my summaries of IATEFL talks related to materials writing:

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:

  • Cunningsworth, A. (1995) Choosing your coursebook, Macmillan. [Amazon affiliate link]
  • Gearing, K. (1999) ‘Helping less-experienced teachers of English to evaluate teachers’ guides’. ELT Journal, April, 53(2), pp. 122-157.
  • Hutchinson, T. (1987) ‘What’s underneath?: an interactive view of materials evaluation’ in Sheldon (ed.) ELT Textbooks and Materials – Problems in Evaluation and Development, British Council, pp. 37-44.
  • 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.

The user

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?

The editor

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!

Designers

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!

Layout

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.

Inclusivity

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?
  • What kind of things are the people doing?
  • Who are they with?

Ceri Jones and Ben Goldstein included different sources for images IATEFL 2015 MaWSIG PCE talk (the second one in the post).

Other useful resources

Two very common activity types are gapfills and multiple-choice. These talks helped me to improve the quality of these activities and avoid some of the pitfalls.

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?

IATEFL Belfast 2022: A practical, goal-focused, combined approach to teaching real-life L2 listening – Sheila Thorn

Sheila’s website is www.thelisteningbusiness.com.

Sheila’s mission for the past 20+ years has been to convince the ELT profession of the need to expose learners to authentic spoken English. Scripts in coursebooks have to be scripted and read by actors, so they are effectively listening to reading aloud, not natural speech. Learners don’t get exposed to how spoken English is naturally produced.

She has worked on producing an authentic listening methodology book (Amazon affiliate link) Integrating authentic listening into the language classroom. Sheila got non-teaching friends to read the chapters and give feedback, so it should be accessible to anybody at any level of teaching.

The prevailing tendency in the teaching of listening is to provide practice and more practice without clearly defined goals.

Listening in the Language Classroom, Field, 2008:3

Sheila worked on defining these goals, and thinking about it from a learner perspective. What do they find challenging?

Issues with listening:

  • Anxiety
  • Cognitive load – you’re trying to decode, and more is still coming in
  • Exhausting
  • Don’t know some of the words, but also don’t recognise the words they know when they’re in a stream of speech (when Sheila analysed random utterances from TV and radio, over 90% of the words were at B1 level)
  • Don’t speak the way we write

Sometimes we don’t realise how tough it is for students to listen to authentic spoken English.

Goals

  1. To build up learners’ confidence
  2. To increase learners’ automaticity (doing things accurately without conscious effort)
  3. To increase learners’ lexical knowledge (aural and orthographic) – making a match between what they hear and what they know already
  4. To encourage learners to work out for themselves the meaning of unfamiliar lexis
  5. To train learners to focus on prominent words in a stream of speech

Three approaches to teaching L2 listening

1. Traditional listening comprehension

2. Meaning building with the teacher as facilitator. No questions or written tasks. You’re not the font of all knowledge, but you are encouraging students to build meaning from what they hear. This is what John Field talked about a lot. Learners can work in groups to do this too.

3. Decoding. Hearing a stream of speech, identifying the words, and attaching meaning to them.

How do these approaches meet the goals?

Listening comprehension

Goal one – only if the tasks are achievable

Goal 2: not really, though it might if you work with a transcript

Goal 3: minimal, though you might pre-teach some items, or answer some questions related to the comprehension questions

Goal 4: probably not

Goal 5: no, though the written task will probably naturally focus on the prominent words

Meaning building

Goal 1: yes

Goal 2: not the key focus, but you might play some extracts more times

Goal 3: this will definitely be happening

Goal 4: yes, this is the main focus of this kind of lesson

Goal 5: yes, but only if the teacher highlights those words for them

Decoding

Mining a recording already for content, but now you mine it for delivery. Taking excerpts from the main recording, working on gap fills or dictation.

Goal 1: yes, they get there in the end even if you have to play it many times

Goal 2: yes, this is the main focus

Goal 3: no, they’d already done this when focussing on content earlier

Goal 4: no, you’ve done it previously

Goal 5: yes, you can gap the prominent word, or gap the words around the main prominent word

Summary

Learners need exposure to authentic recordings. It might be a disaster the first time you do it, but it will get easier with time.

A combined approach to teaching L2 listening is the only way to attain all five listening goals.

IATEFL Belfast 2022: ‘Just be funny!’ Helping trainees develop rapport and engagement – Joanna Stansfield

Joanna is a trainer at IH London.

Joanna’s brother recently did a course which focused on:

  • Planning and scripting
  • Noticing language, analysing language, using language
  • Focus on delivery: emphasis and prominence: pausing, volume
  • Set-up, presentation, build to a point/outcome/result
  • Constant monitoring of response, involvement, looking for signs from the ‘audience’
  • Managing stress, performance

This was to become a stand-up comedian. This made Joanna reflect on the connections between this and teaching. Does rapport mean making people laugh? Is this how we judge the success of our lessons?

How do we – experienced teachers – create rapport?

Interaction / affective features

  • Names – learning names, using them, putting names on the board so everybody can learn them
  • Role adjustment: lack of hierarchy / barriers
  • Natural interaction and follow up questions to show care and empathy
  • Sense of humour, gentle mocking, sharing jokes, self-deprecation on the part of the teacher
  • Group dynamic: encourage students to learn about each other, vary interactions, cross-class pin-pointing to find common ground

Lesson design

  • Adapt coursebook to create relevance and connection
  • Warm-ups and lead ins
  • Language work = make reference to what SS have said, use their countries, life in London
  • Making use of their own lives e.g. photos on their phones
  • Mingles, information sharing

Why do trainees sometimes struggle with rapport?

  • Perception of the teacher role – what does a teacher actually do? They picture the teacher as being the knower in the room imparting knowledge to the learners. This can be a challenge to break down.
  • Lack of attentional resources – there are too many other things to think about. Mercer and Dornyei: ‘Getting caught up in the mechanics of teaching and forgetting about the learners in the room’
  • Devotion to the plan / wedded to the coursebook
  • Personality? Is it natural? Is it style over substance?
  • Lack of understanding of what it is, and level-appropriateness (e.g. complicated jokes at A1 level)
  • Lack of awareness of its importance – ‘my job isn’t about being funny’. ‘Rapport is important’ but we don’t necessarily say how or why.
  • Misguided application
  • Time – not enough time in the plan, prioritising language work over communicative tasks; time in our courses – do we have time to devote sessions to rapport and engagement? Balancing it with everything else we need to cover

Raising awareness of rapport and the importance of it

Joanna has been working on setting it up on day one, and creating that dynamic from the beginning of the course. They start with lots of activities to reduce stress levels at the beginning of the course. Then they reflect on what they’ve done: Do you feel there’s a good classroom atmosphere in the room now? They come up with the criteria – what did they do during the day to create this positive atmosphere?

  • Making a connection between what’s int he room and the world around them
  • Variety
  • Groupwork, pairwork
  • Small, achievable tasks
  • Activity

What’s the difference between when you walked into the room (nervous) and now (slightly less nervous!)?

Why did this help?

  • A safe space
  • Inclusive
  • Collaboration
  • Relaxes everyone
  • More open to learning
  • Level of trust in the room that might not have been there initially

This then became their criteria for developing rapport with the students. They incorporated it into observation and self-reflection tasks. They had to tick what they felt they’d achieved within the lesson.

Creating time and space: collective responsibility

It’s not just one person’s responsibility on the course. Joanna encouraged them to create learner databases. At the end of each session, the trainers would leave the classroom and the trainees would add all of the information they’d learnt about the students during that lesson. This database was added to after every TP, and over time they built up a lot of information about the students. This provided information for the Focus on the Learner assignment too.

Another way of creating time and space is unassessed practice. It’s vital in allowing the trainees to make connections with the learners without feeling under pressure. Joanna has experimented with doing it daily – 15-20 minutes of student feedback at the end of each lesson, where trainees discuss lessons and activities with the learners. They could then use this information to plan the next lesson.

I felt much more comfortable teaching them as I knew a little bit about each of them.

I saw the students as people.

By making the students the focal point, we are better able to teach to the student’s strengths. For example, getting to know your students where/when possible and incorporating their personal interests or personalising the course materials.

Trainee comments

This conversation and database happened after the lesson and before tutor feedback, which meant that tutor feedback was then driven by the learners. Not ‘Did I do OK?’ But ‘Esme didn’t understand me when I said x. Why is that?’

Putting the knowledge into practice: planning

In one input session, trainees drew the faces of the learners in the group. They looked at the topic of the lesson. They had to design ways that they could get the learners involved in that discussion. Trainees changed their perspective: teaching individuals within a group, rather than a whole group. Planning became easier rather than more difficult, as they were thinking about the people in the room.

Incorporating knowledge into the lesson plan

Joanna added a motivation and engagement section to the lesson plan. Here’s one example of what a trainee wrote:

As a logical extension of this, differentiation started to appear in the lesson plan, and trainees started to comment on how they would work with this.

Advice from trainees

This is what trainees on this course commented on at the end – ideas for building rapport. It’s quite a similar list to what the experienced teachers commented on at the start.

Summary

  • Address rapport explicitly – co-create criteria with trainees, so they all feel they can build it
  • Establish it as criteria via paperwork
  • Collective responsibility
  • Focus on the learners in feedback
  • Visualisation and differentiation
  • Discuss humour – what is it?

This all creates care, which led to investment in what they were learning, which led to more care. This group enjoyed working with these learners so much that they’ve continued volunteering to teach this group of learners.

IATEFL Belfast 2022 – Day One

I started the day early, with my How To session – How to give a presentation at an international conference. I then attended the plenary and various sessions throughout the day.

To help my iPad to cope, I will write each talk up as a separate post. I apologise in advance to your inbox if you subscribe! I’ll come back to this post at a later date and add an index of all of the day one talks.

If you were one of the speakers please feel free to correct anything I may have got wrong or misinterpreted.

Plenary: (Re)imagining and (re)inventing early English language learning and teaching – Nayr Ibrahim

(Re)viewing the past

When Nayr started teaching in 1994, she had a degree in literature and a CELTA. She was trained to teach adults, but found herself in a classroom with children. She was mis-qualified, and the children ran rings around her. This reflects the experience of many teachers. Teaching children was seen as the appendix of the ‘real job’ of teaching adults.

In 1985, the IATEFL Special Interest Group in Young Learners was set. It’s now YLTSIG (Young Learner and Teenagers Special Interest Group).

Eric Lenneberg (1967) put forward the Critical Period Hypothesis, launching the age debate – is younger better? Research that was shared was based on children learning a second language in immersion contexts. Nayr emphasises that Foreign Languages (FL) are learnt in a different way. There was a struggle for a different lens for early language learning, different to adult learning, different to immersion contexts.

In 2002, when Nayr was looking for a Masters degree, there was no qualification focussed on teaching young learners. She twisted her MA modules so that she could focus on YL in all of them. At this point she discovered the literature of YL teacher.

This literature helped her to feel proud of being a YL teacher. This literature covered areas like the way that children are learning how to learn, the importance of the socio-affective domain, teaching the whole child, how to scaffold to both support and motivate children, and how children experience the world of fantasy.

Courses to focus on teaching young learners like the CELTYL were unsuccessful as there was little demand, partly because schools didn’t ask for them. But the growth of children learning languages was huge. This was one quote about it:

A truly global phenomenon and as possibly the world’s biggest policy development in education.

Johnson, 2009, p23

CEFR levels were launched in 2001, but they were developed for adult learning and slapped onto children / teens and their materials. Now there are descriptors for children and adolescents, but they don’t cover all of the aspects of early language learning, as it covers far more than just languages.

By 2011, all EU countries had introduced foreign language learning at primary level. 84 countries in the world had lowered the age at which a foreign language had introduced. Nearly all 42 Asian countries had made foreign language learning at primary obligatory. But studies were showing that younger is not better if conditions were not correct.

Conditions for younger to be better include small classes, more time, qualified practitioners, the out-of-school experience / exposure, and understanding all of the many factors which impact on children’s foreign language progress. (There were many more Nayr mentioned)

2014 was a watershed moment for Nayr. The debate at that year’s IATEFL conference was ‘Teaching English to young learners does more harm than good’ (I think I’ve got that title slightly wrong!) ELTJ published a special issue in teaching English to young learners. It included an article ‘Young learners: defining our terms’. There were acknowledgements in general about dividing young learners into early years, young learners, teenagers – highlighting that there are differences between how these learners learn. There is more professionalisation of young learner teaching now, more research, and it’s acknowledged as a field.

ELLRA – Early Language Learning Research Association is about to become a reality.

I am a teacher, with a complex identity. Own your identity. Display it to the learners. They will benefit from it.

Nayr Ibrahim

Although we have to some extent accepted the use of the L1 in language teaching, we need more research into translanguaging. We need to move from the mother tongue or the L1 to integrating more linguistic diversity.

In 2018, Nayr was thrown into consultancy work on the Norwegian curriculum. Some of the words in the curriculum are shown in the image above. There was a move from ‘learn’ or ‘know about’ to ‘discuss’ or ‘reflect’. The question with all of these things is ‘Do we know how to do this?’

As Kalaja and Pitkanen-Huchta say, the problem is that these are all buzzwords. We still know very little about how these areas work in primary and pre-primary English. There is a lot of fuel for research here, if you’re looking for something to work on.

There is now much more literature available related to teaching young learners.

ECML is one website which looks at plurilingual and CLIL approaches.

The most recent ELTon winner for innovation was a book focussed on pre-primary by Gail Ellis and Sandie Mourao [Amazon affiliate link]. This is a huge shift from when Nayr started her career.

Where are we now?

There has been a steep rise in pre-primary education in general around the world. 63 countries have adopted free pre-primary education. 51 have adopted compulsory pre-primary education. 46 countries have free and compulsory education. Even one year of pre-primary schooling can have a huge impact on later education, laying the foundation for literacy and numeracy, and general preparation for school. However, in COVID responses, early / pre-primary education as often neglected in favour of older children.

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong opportunities for all.

Goal 4 of (I’m not sure!)

In top-level educational guidelines, early foreign language learning is one of the least mentioned areas, but it is exploding unofficially. We need to be aware of our impact on children at this stage – at no point is the whole child so important.

Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) – there is a shift from teaching to care, being mindful of these young children in our care.

According to Mourao, there is a slow increase in talks connected to research in early language learning. This area of ELT is being taken seriously now. There are now more books too, with a steady increase in publications, as you can see in the photo below.

Nayr says we need to continue to investigate pre-primary contexts, and fund more research in these areas, with a focus on areas like broad cognitive development, child-centred pedagogies, holistic training, and greater specificity in training.

How can we reinvent early language learning?

Go back to basics!

Start with the child. A learning individual. Beings in the present. Social actors in their own right being changed by and changing their environments. Languages should not be fostered as separate subjects, but as something communicative which is used through other subjects. We teach the whole child through English, rather than teaching English to the child.

Start with children as linguistic geniuses, with the right to all of their languages. Language learning is hard work, even for little ones. Nayr asked a little boy ‘What is English? What is French?’

English is green and French is vert.

Learning languages allows for an affirmation of identify. Translanguaging gives children voices and foregrounds their personal language experience as valid, important and relevant. Children can learn more than one language simultaneously. Our languages are always active in our heads, they are not blocked.

Colourblindness vs colour-consciousness.

Husband, 2019

Diversity is around us, not somewhere else. Be aware of it. Deal with issues of race and diversity explicitly. Don’t ignore the differences around us.

Use quality language materials. Use picture books. Allow children to explore not just the word, but the world, as Freire said.

Learning is messy. It’s erratic and recursive and simultaneous and complex. Occasionally it plateaus, then it peaks. Children need colour, art, music, nature. Let them play! Stop testing them. Use observation and reflection. Stop sitting them at desks. Let them move around. Stop adultifying early language learning. Use the philosophy of approaches like Montessori, Steiner. Stop CLILifying. English should be integrated in the routines of everyday life.

Let them play!

Nayr Ibrahim

Let’s making learning Trans!

  • Transcultural
  • Translingual
  • Transformative
  • Transgressive

As we move from primary to pre-primary, we can’t assume that we can use primary approaches to teacher 3, 4 and 5 year olds.

MaWSIG Pre-Conference event (IATEFL Belfast 2022)

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

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

Writing effective materials about traumatic subjects – Tania Pattison

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

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

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

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

These are her tips.

1. Know why you’re doing it

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

2. Keep your own values in check

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

Guy Cook, IATEFL debate 2021

3. Consider your timing

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

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

4. Scaffold your materials.

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

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

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

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

6. Let the voices of those affected take centre stage

Never speak about us without us.

Roberta Bear, Indigenous Canadian teacher, 2017

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

7. Don’t sugar-coat it

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

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

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

Take cues from how student are reacting.

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

9. Build in opportunities for individual reflection and response

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

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

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

Amy Abe, Indigenous Canadian teacher, 2017

10. Try to end on a positive note where possible

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

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

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

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

Tim Johnson, University Affairs, 2015

Responses to questions

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

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

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

Practical strategies for writing inclusive ELT materials – Amina Douidi

Amina is an intercultural and diversity consultant.

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

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

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

Interculturally oriented materials:

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

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

Amina asked us to reflect on our own writing:

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

Principle 1: Variety of representation

Amina has selected variety rather than diversity.

The 4 Ps (Yuen, 2011):

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

Principle 2: Complexity of representation

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

Principle 3: Intentionality in instruction

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

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

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

Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Representational strategy I: heteronormativity

This is often the default.

100% clarity: male, female, cis

No trans or inter

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

Representational strategy II: LGBTIQ+ invisibility

No representation of any facet of LGBTIQ+ diversity at allOf

Often written out on purpose

Representational strategy III: ???

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

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

More positive representations

But only one in the whole book

And not necessarily

Exotic, an add-on, but well meant

Representational strategy V: a full unit

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

New strategies

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

Challenges

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

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

Here’s Sue’s write-up of the talk.

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

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

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

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

What wasn’t happening in ELT in 1994?

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

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

Obvious changes

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

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

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

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

Updating a pair work activity

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

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

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

These are the new stories:

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

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

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

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

Mingles

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

These are the changes they made.

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

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

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

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

What does a picture researcher do?

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

Changes in picture research

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

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

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

Why use a picture researcher?

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

Diversity and inclusion

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

Writing a picture brief

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

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

And about the end user:

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

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

Answers to questions

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

Many publishers have exclusive agreements with specific picture libraries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do your research before you start writing

Look for more than one story.

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

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

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

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

A framework you could use is a KWLH chart:

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

No showcasing

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

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

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

Create connections

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

Have a ‘sidekick’

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

Overall

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