Dissertation Diary 1

I’ve decided to use my blog as a reflective tool while doing my dissertation project – the final part of my M.A. in ELT – hypothesising that this will make it an even more effective learning experience for me, by mapping it, enabling me to look back on my thought processes and decisions and see what effect these have on the project development. Once I get to the end (13th September is D-Day!), as well as looking back over the experience of doing the project, I plan to try and evaluate the effect of these reflective blog posts on it.

 My dissertation project will involve creating 20hrs worth of learning materials and a 5000-word rationale for these. The other option was to do a traditional research project of 10, 000 words, so electing a route to take was the first major decision. I’ve opted for materials development, not because I didn’t want to do research (au contraire, I think it would have been really cool to do a research project!), but because doing this reasonably substantial materials project under the guidance of a highly skilled, experienced supervisor should be a great opportunity to further develop those skills that I started to develop during my materials development module and that I hope to use in my post-course professional life.

I had my first post-proposal submission meeting with my supervisor (H) on Friday. When I went in, my thoughts regarding my project were very woolly. Truth be told, they are still pretty woolly but I now have a list of things I need to consider, a bunch of reading I need to do and a clearer idea of how to go about marshalling said woolly thoughts. So, quite a lot of progress for one meeting!

The first thing was to decide whether to do English for Academic Purposes (EAP) materials or General English (GE) materials, as initially I had decided on GE materials but then, since submitting my proposal, had the idea that making EAP materials might be beneficial in terms of compensating slightly for a lack of EAP teaching experience when I come to apply for EAP jobs (my goal…). We discussed the advantages of doing each and through that I came to the decision that perhaps making good quality, principled materials is the main thing, regardless of type. If I’m able to do that, then when I’ve got some EAP experience, I should be able to transfer that skill to making EAP materials if the need/opportunity arises. Meanwhile, I will read up on EAP and learn what I can about it. H also suggested observing a few classes, which I will definitely look into the possibility of doing. Of course, a major benefit of making GE materials is that, as I will be teaching GE part-time over the summer, there may be the opportunity to pilot what I create, which would be very useful.

Having settled on GE, a whole new set of considerations and decisions to make emerge:

  • Will my materials integrate all four skills, like a standard coursebook, or focus on specific skills?
  • What type of teachers are the materials being made for? This will influence what goes into the teachers’ book and how ‘adventurous’ the materials themselves are – as the more adventurous they are, the more experience might perhaps be required of the teacher in using them. (An important factor to think about in designing materials.)
  • What approaches will I use in the materials? Using two approaches, would I go with using both at slight separate times in the unit, depending on the language point or stage in the unit, or combine them? Will combining them work? Will I take a particular approach and select certain aspects but not others? What would be my rationale for these decisions?

I need to be clear about what the approaches are saying and then what my approach to those things is going to be – I don’t necessarily have to go along with every single element of a given approach in my materials. I can synthesize, adapt and change things, but I must think about what it is I am changing and why, and be able justify those decisions in the rationale.

H suggested that a good place to start could be to look at the approaches, have a really good think about each one that I might possibly want to use in my materials, (re)read up on them and decide which to use. From a practical point of view, I need to be selective: The more approaches I try to combine, the more unwieldy it becomes, the more difficult to give each one enough focus, and the more there is to justify in the 5000 word rationale. Not impossible, but it is more straightforward to choose fewer.

I need to think about the theory but then in the back of my mind also be thinking about the project and about how it’s going to work with my context, and which of the theories are going to be workable in the kind of materials that I want to develop.

More questions that were raised and that I need to answer:

  • What is going to be original about my materials?
  • Will the materials be the basis for the main bit of teaching in the day (G.E.), which case all systems and skills will need to be addressed (unless the rationale contains a very good reason for why not!), or the ‘afternoon slot’ i.e. materials for a more specialist focus e.g. pronunciation or speaking.
  • Intercultural skills: will it be comparison between one culture and another or developing intercultural communicative competence? If culture is going to be a feature of my materials, I need to do some reading around culture and decide where I stand on the various different questions around what we do with culture. Everything is potentially offensive: including content about different cultures can offend people or seem stereotypical. But then it’s needed to get interesting content and it’s an important thing to help learners with.
  • Criticality: Why would I want to develop criticality on a G.E. course? More usual for academic courses. If doing it on a G.E. course, need a rationale for it.
  • What sort of format will the multimedia take?  (There’s no obligation to use any particular format.)

To do for next meeting (before the end of June):

  • Start by doing some reading
  • Put together an outline of the rationale. (Headings and notes) that can be used for the basis of discussion in the next meeting.
  • At the same time, develop a skeleton framework for the materials – framework of a unit, a list of what it will constitute – then the two can be looked at in conjunction. It would help if they relate… 😉

Aim: ideas for rationale and materials need to be more firmed up.

So, all in all, I have a lot of reading to do, a lot to think about and a lot of decisions to make. But that will start to happen post-5th June (Delta Module 1 exam, preceded by final semester 2 deadline on the 3rd). Until then, all of these questions and thoughts will just keep percolating away in the back of my head…


3 thoughts on “Dissertation Diary 1

  1. Hi Lizzie,
    This sounds like it’s going to be a fascinating project, and I’m looking forward to seeing how you develop it.
    Can I make a request? I’d love to see more materials which really teach students how to improve their listening and reading, à la the points John Field made in Listening in the Language Classroom (thanks for recommending that by the way!) Feel free to ignore that 🙂
    If you need guinea pigs to try out your materials with different classes, I’m happy to volunteer.
    Good luck!

    • Hiya,
      Thanks! It’s the beginning of one long, uphill road but it should be an interesting one.
      Don’t worry, skills development is definitely going to feature. 🙂 I tried to do it with my Materials Development module materials too. (Which I plan to upload on to here as a pdf once they have finished being graded – you’ll have seen on my materials page the “coming soon” bit? Well they are the first things that will come…soon…)
      And thank you very much for the offer re guinea pigs, that would be brilliant. As well as how it goes down with the ss, would also especially give me insights as to how useful my teachers’ book is too, which I can’t get on my own cos it’s obviously going to make perfect sense to me.. 😉
      And thanks for the luck, all luck is always welcome!

  2. Pingback: Dissertation Diary 4 | Reflections of an English Language Teacher

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