Materials Writing SIG Conference Session 1 – Working smarter not harder…

Today, 20th February 2016, is MaW SIG Conference day: New Ways of Working for New Ways of Learning. I have nipped down for the day and the venue is thankfully near to Kings Cross-St Pancras, meaning my train got in from Sheffield at 09.30 and I was in very good time to register before it was due to close at 09.55, having picked up a pot of vegan porridge at Pret for breakfast! (I won’t tell you what time I woke up this morning…)

Rachael Roberts kicked off the day with some introductory remarks. She feels the following quote sums up the push to digital: ‘provides a good sense of what the gold-rush must have felt like – people moving into frontier towns with little idea of what they were getting themselves into’. She went on to say that perhaps now the dust has settled, we can start to look at what is going on and the various impacts digital has had. The sessions today will do that from a variety of  perspectives.

Very quickly it was time for…

Working smarter, not harder: the nine characteristics of the Productivity Ninja (!)

The first session of the MaW SIG one day conference has an exciting title. Time to learn how to be a ninja!

@thinkproductive

#ProductivityNinja

Graham Alcott started his company, Think Productive in 2009. Says he is not a naturally organised kind of person. The inspiration for this business was going from having a very nice team of people around him to suddenly being freelance and being his own boss. You have to be your own boss and responsible for your own productivity and this forced him to ‘get good at it’! His background is in the charity sector but people were interested in the productivity stuff, which is how it all happened. Turns out quite a few people have been on time management courses, not something I could put my hand up for!

Apparently, a lot of time management books tell you to aim for perfection and everything will be fine. Graham says no one does it perfectly, not even the book writers, but we all have something to teach and something to learn with it. He thinks the idea of time management is dead, but attention management is its successor, and it is much more controllable. He has a book called Productivity Ninja.

The rest of the session was spent looking at the characteristics referred to in the session title.

1. “Zen-like calm”:

If you have a deadline, you know you have to focus on something and finish it by a particular time. You are present and in the moment, not thinking about dinner and social plans. Deadlines give you permission to focus. But what about having that sense of focus without having the stress of the deadline? Well, probably most of us don’t feel that way…

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Yet, the mind is for having ideas not holding them. So getting stuff out of your head is key. Hence why writing lists makes you feel better when you have a lot of things to do e.g. pre-going away! Information is raw material. We have moved from the industrial age to the information age. Putting cherries on buns is very predictable, and you know what success looks like. But when we are putting cherries on our own buns, we have to define how big the cake should be, how fast the conveyor belt should go, whether cakes are the way forward or cocktails would be better…

You are simultaneously boss and worker. Neglecting the boss or the worker too much isn’t good for productivity.

2. Ruthlessness

Sounds a bit scary but don’t worry. We are talking to-do lists: are you jumping on it or is it 4pm and you are winding down and you are not feeling capable of engaging with it? We probably have 2-3hrs a day of being able to give full attention to something. So we need to be ruthless with how we deal with those 2-3 hours. That time when you are really switched on. If you manage that time/your attention really well, then the rest of the time doesn’t matter so much. That 2-3 hrs done well means you don’t have to be ruthless about giving away an hour later on for a meeting etc. Not every hour is the same in terms of your resources of attention. Know your hours! Graham was ruthless with Facebook. Gave his password to his wife and got her to change it. This was in order to avoid procrastination. Be ruthless with yourself, know your foibles and temptations. Make it impossible to be distracted when it is your 2-3 productive hours.

3. Weapon-Savvy

Use the tools that are most useful to you, don’t be sucked in by coolness. Your thinking is more important. Psychology before technology. But, the Ninja needs a second brain. To download all the projects and actions we need to remember, that are “off the page” in terms of what we are doing/should be doing in the moment. There are many ways to do this!

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All these apps are cross-platform and you can download app versions on to your tablets etc.

But the task function in Microsoft Outlook works perfectly well too. Graham likes it. As does…pen and paper! Whatever you are comfortable with. It should be useful, not a distraction… A second brain that frees up your own brain to be creative and ‘add value to information’.

Email can be disproportionately stressful for what’s actually in there. You CAN get it to zero and then it’s easy to keep it there rather than let it build up again. It should give you a sense of completion and clarity, I hear. (I won’t tell Graham I have 24, 638 emails across my inboxes…) Apparently a much smaller number are actually “on the plate” or “critical”! (I guess that’s why I ignore the other 24, 630!)

4. Stealth and camouflage

Tactical hiding. The digital age is starting to become more culturally difficult/unacceptable to be unavailable. “Going dark” is the two days before a new piece of software is launched: developers make themselves deliberately unavailable in that period before the deadline. We need to create that. “Write book” on a to-do list won’t happen. You break it down. But it still needs a different level of focus from everything else. How do you get the space to write the book? Graham went to Sri Lanka…! A month of ‘stealth camouflage’. The idea of disconnection and focusing on stuff without the ‘white noise’ of distraction. (No notifications! No social media! No emails! No other people!) You don’t need to book tickets to Sri Lanka to do that. But you need to find your own Sri Lanka. A sense of complete disconnection even just for an hour (I guess ideally for your 2-3 productive hours of the day?!). Can be as simple as “A meeting for one” in the diary – protected time. Often seen as being a luxury, but it is important. Investing an hour off the grid will probably save you a few hours further down the line.

5. Unorthodoxy

Very easy, whether in the publishing world or in your car, to look at the competitors and try to copy them. Instead, try to take inspiration from unusual places. E.g. person who goes to the same set of cafes on a rotating basis, cuts down on making the decision of where to eat: recognising decision fatigue as a barrier to productivity. When you have a story to tell or a point to get across, try to view it through different lens e.g. 5 year old child, my mum etc.

Experiments – Graham did a bunch of productivity experiments. E.g. a month of email Fridays – only checking email on Fridays for a month. A month where any procrastination on decision-making was solved by a throw of the dice. Someone said you get a third of your decisions right, a third wrong and a third don’t matter. The dice-throwing gave momentum to the process. What all of the experiments came down to was playing around with the assumptions of how we work and day-to-day routine. Looking at what you do and flipping that. If you always have email etc. turned on, try having it off. If you walk to work a particular way, go a different way. If you look at email in the morning, do it in the evening. We are creatures of habit but messing with it can be a good thing! Doesn’t have to be as extreme as Graham’s experiments, even little things can have a big impact!

6. Agility

The two-minute rule: if anything can be done in less than two minutes, then when it comes in, do it straight away. You will spend more time putting it on lists etc. otherwise! And it also makes your to-do list more streamlined, so you can see the wood from the trees, if you don’t add every single little thing that you could have just done instead. The same applies to email: it’s very easy to delay responding if it is something a bit annoying but just do it quickly and then it’s done. Then if you have something big going on, when you come back to your to-do list afterwards, it’s easier to cope with, less unwieldy.

Context is king: Have different lists. A phone-calls list; a thinking list etc. Set up lists based on context – where you need to be, who needs to be there. So when you get interrupted, you can use the opportunity to tick things off the list that require that person. To-do lists app usually has “context” or “categories”. Use it! Or, different colours, different sections… (This I can do: I have used different colours on my sticky notes since our session at the ELTC on time savers! 🙂 )

7. Mindfulness

Came out of the time spent with the Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka. Graham asked a monk about mindfulness and how to do it, wanting some kind of app recommendation. The monk said “you just sit”. In 2011, Graham including mindfulness in his book was a risk. Nowadays it’s a buzz word. Graham asks, how often do we experience a sense of presence, of where we are, when we are sitting at work?

Lizard brain – the fight or flight part – is an important friend of ours but also a mortal enemy when it comes to productivity. You can have an amazing to-do list, be really organised and still be really scared of pitching your idea. Writing a book is 20% writing and 80% lizard brain management. Lizard brain wants to avoid risk and blend in, not let you put yourself in a place where you won’t survive. Lizard brain is also very critical, “no, that’s rubbish, don’t do that…”. Acknowledging that that is Lizard brain, not rational brain, is important. As, then you can access logical brain whispering away too…  It won’t go away but you can focus on your morning routines and be mindful about it. By starting your day on the email/FB etc, you are starting your day with everyone else’s priorities, not your own. Make space to think about YOUR day…

8. Preparedness

If you are not a naturally organised person, doing all the folders and colour-coding etc seems pointless. But, to be proactive (that New Year’s Resolution!) you need preparedness and mindfulness. “Preparedness is a service to me in the future” 🙂

You need a way of actively managing what you plan to do.

9. Human, not superhero

Recognise that some of this is difficult and you are human. But if you manage your productivity well, you can LOOK like a superhero. Although you are still a human being, no magical powers. There is no secret source or shortcut, you need to do simple things consistently and well. You’ll still screw up but that’s ok. Human beings and ninjas recognise that wrapped up in the culture that we have of need to succeed and be super-heros is failure and guilt about failure. Let it go.

Periodically, have a done list! Have a point to celebrate success. Lists are usually about the past (not done yet…) or the future (needs to be done by Friday, eek!). Looking at what is done is a way to be in the present moment.

The secret to success (according to somebody who’s name I lost!) is “Send thank you cards and book theatre tickets” – As a human being, recognising human connections is important. Say thank you. Book theatre tickets – gives you a constraint. If at 3 you know you are going to the theatre at 7.30, you have a constrained window to complete everything. Life deadlines help you manage the transition between work and life rather than letting work take over.

Graham finished by inviting us to choose one thing to change and do something physical with it (put it on a list…) so that you actually try and do it! I think for me it will be the “disconnect” one (‘Go dark’), to avoid the self-distraction undertaken to avoid having to think! (To quote one of the audience members who also wants to try the “disconnect” one.) I am self-distraction queen sometimes so this should be good. My proactive attention time is definitely first thing in the morning. I was good at using that when I was doing my M.A. – maybe it’s time to get it back! I also want to get back in the habit of starting the day with yoga rather than computer! (I did this morning 🙂 )

The most important gift you can give someone is not your time but your attention – thank you for yours: a lovely ending to the session. 🙂

Little question for my readers: Of all of these tips, which do you think you would want to implement or experiment with in YOUR life?

Materials Writing SIG Conference Session 2 – Working in a digital space

The second session of the morning is by Antonia Clare, co-author of Speak Out. (Also Total English, ELT Writers Connected and Free and Fair ELT – I picked Speak Out  as that is what comes to mind first when I see her name…) She says she has been writing materials for a scarily long time – when she started, the internet existed but she didn’t have access to it. She would go to the library with a notebook in hunt of texts. She wrote with J.J. Wilson – he would provide lunch, she would travel there and supply the computer. They would submit drafts, then they would wait three months, do life stuff, and then receive the drafts back with red pen all over them. Every now and again, a writer would come to her school but other than that or the odd publishing event, no day-to-day conversation with other writers.

The first question is what has changed since YOU started writing? (My answer is quite short given I have only just started… 😉 )

For Antonia, the existence of the collaborative coffee shop – even in Norfolk! She doesn’t need to lug heavy reference works and dictionaries around. She can be in touch with co-writers over the world. She also notes the following changes with the move to digital:

  • less paper, a lot more screen time
  • in the last few years, more online collaboration than face to face
  • content and skills have changed – more multimedia content, and the skill set needed therefore has also changed: need awareness of different tools and apps
  • expectations (deadlines – no more three months between drafts! weekly deadlines not uncommon, small chunks of material rather than whole drafts of books; payment – no more royalties mostly; the role of writer has also changed – more to come on this)

According to the title of a Times Higher Ed article, “Everyone’s a winner in this digital space”. This title struck Antonia as this is the narrative we often hear in relation to digital – it’s better, smarter etc than old ways. In education, in publishing, in business, in government. Need to take a step back and look at that critically. Are we being snake-charmed? Or can we really add value to what we are doing, if so, how?

Online collaboration

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What struck Antonia – average office worker checks emails 36times an hr. 9hrs a week is used searching for information. More than a billion people using Facebook so we are all accustomed to new streams and other such tools, so such elements appear in online collaborative tools. The tools that production companies use for online collaboration will also generally integrate with well-known tools like Google drive.

Antonia gets up, does her work, reaches the point of no more for today, sends it to J.J. in New Mexico who is just getting up, and goes to get her kids from school etc, while he has a look and sends it back with his thoughts ready for the next day.

She reckons that it offers us opportunities and makes us keep learning, which is motivating.

A couple of projects that have grown from coffee house conversations that Antonia has worked on

Some others she is aware of:

  • The MaW SIG e-book
  • ELT teacher2writer – database for writers and publishers; series of e-books with tips on writing materials in its different aspects
  • iTDi.pro – online teacher training, for teachers by teachers
  • The Round – founded by Lindsay Clandfield and Luke Meddings
  • TEFL Commute – podcasts for English Language Teachers
  • PARSNIPS – some ss want to address taboo issues, so a group of teachers came together and wrote a set of lesson plans dealing with each of these issues.

So, lots of exciting, innovative projects going on as a result of talking – online, at conferences, in coffee shops real and virtual.

Collaboration tools

  • Dropbox
  • Google Docs/Drive (for sharing and editing docs)
  • Skype (useful for regular talks with co-authors)
  • Slack (you can set up channels for different projects, discussion and file sharing; cuts down on emails!)
  • Google Hangouts (For a Skype-like conversation with too many people for Skype)
  • Trello (for keeping tags on how a project is developing)

These can be useful for the sort of projects referred to above.

Publisher Content Management Systems (CMS)

These are huge spaces for documents relevant to a given project to be shared. Useful, tricky when the system goes down, difficult to access from a beach (if you need to work while you are on holiday – those weekly deadlines). Antonia doesn’t want to give the lesson plan to Pearson/the system before it has been back and forth between her and J.J. so she arranged to download it, do the back-and-forth then upload it at the end of that in time for the deadline.

Antonia’s Concerns

  1. virtual distance
  2. content control
  3. screen time

1. Technological interaction is replacing face to face interaction. And there is a lack of ‘depth perception’. Collaboration is more than passing data backwards and forwards. It is achieved through ongoing, meaningful discussions. Relationships. Antonia thinks online collaboration should be supplementary to face to face interaction, not a replacement.

2.Antonia thinks content should be an important driver of how the material is delivered, rather than the how dominating. The process is all separated out into components – needs to come together more. She thinks the future is being part of a collaborative learning community.

3. We spend too much time in front of our screens. We needs to find ways to get up and do something different. Stretch, shake, move, walk, play the piano, 10 minute burst of housework, weed the garden, eat goji berries, swim, shift device/medium, meditate for a minute, go and get a drink and don’t take it back to the computer, do something else while you drink it, take an hour for lunch… (How lovely – Antonia had us doing the twist like we did last summer! 🙂 )

We need to be savvy, careful and not lose sight of the content, then there is the opportunity for all to win.

 

My ELTon-winning materials have gone live on Onestopenglish.com!*

*well, some of them have anyway! The rest will hopefully follow suit in due course…

Some of you might remember that I rather unexpectedly (so much so, that I found myself writing the speech I didn’t make after the event!) found myself standing on the stage at the ELTons award ceremony in May 2014.

Macmillan winner 3

In the interview (which you can see here if you click on the The Macmillan Education Award for New Talent in Writing tab on the right-hand side of the video screen), I explained that the materials were as yet only available on my hard drive.

Fast forward a year and a bit, to September 2015, and I can, with great pleasure, announce the appearance of my ELTon materials, the fruits of my dissertation project labour of love in 2013, at Leeds what was Metropolitan now Beckett University, on Macmillan’s Onestopenglish website! I have been working with Sarah Milligan from Macmillan to prepare my materials for publication on this website, which has been a great learning opportunity for me.

You can find the materials by clicking on either of the photos below:

Compass!

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– I hope you enjoy using them – let me know how it goes if you do! (And yes, I know, yet again my name has been misspelt: good job I’m all too used to it! 😉 Correction hopefully to follow!)

MaW SIG May: Cleve Miller – ‘New Publishing’ : a summary/write-up

Cleve compares the old internet to a pipe. We would passively consume content that was very much top-down, expert-created, static. It was a continuation of how publishing had worked for the last 500 years. Since 2002 we got what we call the new web, though it’s not new anymore. This is an open platform where we contribute, collaborate and create content. This is where need to locate ourselves as content creators, as materials designers.

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The content continuum – the fundamental driving force behind the way materials design is going. On the one extreme, we have traditional publishing (the old web, the “pipe”) and on the other extreme we have a bottom-up self-publishing model. To allow this bottom-up stuff is the advent of web and web-technology. With a blog, we can publish to thousands of people, for free, in a very short space of time.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both. The top-down model is expert-created and high quality, but it is also a generic, one size fits all. 5 year publishing plans are normal. And it runs into a barrier. The bottom-up model is faster, up-to-date and isn’t restricted to a 5 year plan. It can be specific to language culture and student need. It is the difference between generic content and specific content, along a continuum. There are times when the top-down model is appropriate, and the one-size fits all is fine, this isn’t to knock publisher content. But there are also opportunities on the other end of the continuum, which Clive wants to look at with us.

The power of open platforms. 

E.g. Encylopaedias: on the top-down side, we have Encyclopaedia Britannica, on the other end we have Wikipedia. Wikipedia contains multilingual, user-generated information, meaning that for example things that don’t have much coverage in the traditional encylopaedia can in Wikipedia. It is much more localised.

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ELT also has a general to specific continuum. From General English to English for Chemical Engineers or any other ESP or more specific e.g. English only for Brazilian students. Most specific would be materials designed for an individual student to meet their needs.

Screenshot of slide - Clive's ELT self-publishing matrix

Screenshot of slide – Clive’s ELT self-publishing matrix

From a self-publishing perspective, let’s imagine you are going to design, on your own, some materials. How do you focus what you are looking at? If you are looking at low tech, general English, that is the difficult to succeed area because that is what publishers know how to do really well and they have lots of money to put into it. If you try and make an app for General English, then it’s still difficult because you are competing against the publishers, with all their money. There are platforms you can use, but it is tough and expensive. If you move towards the more specific end of the spectrum, then making an app is still ambitious but you at least will not be competing with the publishers when you are aiming towards something more esoteric, so it is ambitious in  terms of technology rather than competition. In the middle of both spectrums is the sweet spot (not too hot, not too cold), if you get more specific, then the market is much smaller e.g. English for chemical engineers, but it is needed.

There are of course exceptions to all the above. E.g. the case study that we will look at. Which is by Vicki Hollett. She started with the difficult to succeed, scary area. She already has content published in traditional models but she is doing this anyway. And her content is multi-modal. Online teaching, you tube channel, website. Her revenue model for You Tube is the advertising.

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What are the success principles for Vicki Hollett?

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The next case study is English Success Academy by Jaime Miller. It’s one exam. Nothing but TOEFL prep. She is engaging, has lots of videos, a well-designed website, she does one-one teaching her content is multi-modal. Her revenue model is premium price e-books.

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What are her success principles?

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The third case study is Deborah Capras. She wrote a book and is delivering it on Amazon. Very specific topic. Business, politics, small talk. Her revenue model is print book sales. And the mainstream publishers then took notice of her.

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What are her success principles?

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The final is Claire Hart. Blended English for Engineering. She used English 360 platform. There is an online component but then there are also face-face lesson plans and all the handouts you need, for the university department customers. Importantly, she copyrighted it. She can sell it by way of other channels. Claire can take the content and repurpose it into a print book on Amazon, or put it through YouTube as videos, she can use it in any way.

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Her revenue model is revenue share between Claire and the platform who takes 40%. If you use a platform with a good user base, the marketing is there for you.

What are her success principles?

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“Self-publishing”

  • Rather than thinking of self-publishing, you are thinking of developing a new product. So you are an entrepreneur. You need to think like a business person. You need to think about “sales-y things”. The hardest part is the marketing. How many videos are there on youtube? How many books are there on Amazon?
  • You need to get an editor. Very important, indispensable, in order to maintain a good level of quality. Clive thinks that peer editing could be an interesting possibility. So that there is a network of self-publishers that support each other.
  • You need a niche. Be the very best at one specific thing. That is the most powerful way to move forward. E.g. Ros with regards to English for Medicine. There’s a lot of ways to get specific. Combine your teaching with it. Niches are much easier to market to. Go to professional associations, look on LinkedIn. If you market to a niche, it’s not expensive, if you narrow your focus it’s not and you can do it.
  • Pull everything together on a website or blog.
  • Think outside the box for customers. For example, can you add value to a Business?

To summarise, the future of materials design is bottom up. That doesn’t mean top-down will disappear, but bottom up is the way forward because it can be more specific than any top-down model can be. Britannica doesn’t have the resources to produce 17 pages on Salina, Wikipedia enables that.

In the Q and A time, Sue Lyon-Jones reminds us:

“Keeping your copyright doesn’t always mean you can publish your work elsewhere. Some contracts may grant publishers exclusive rights to publish in specific formats or for a set period of time, for example. Make sure you read and understand the small print, folks!”

When you use a platform (e.g. Instagram, YouTube), lots of times you give up control. So be aware.

To contact Cleve for more information about any of this: cleve@english360.com

 

 

IATEFL 2015: Uncovering Expertise in Coursebook Writing – Heather Buchanan and Julie Norton

Well, I wasn’t going to miss this one – interesting topic and one of the speakers (Heather)  was, of course, my tutor at Leeds Met (now Beckett) Uni. 

Julie and Heather want to build on the work done by the likes of MaW SIG and ELT Teacher2Writer in terms of demystifying the field of Materials Development.

They started by showing us a quote that sums up the field. Materials writing – it’s “like expecting the first violinist to compose the orchestra’s repertoire in his or her spare time”  – this was Michael Swan on expecting materials development from untrained teachers.

Expertise in materials writing

We looked at the characteristics of expertise:

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Then we moved on to hearing about Heather and Julie’s research project. They had used simple questionnaires, which they had distributed writers and editors. They shared the data collected with us, looking at different questions (and the responses they had collected) in turn…

What are the 3 biggest challenges that you face when writing a unit of a coursebook?

  • Practical constraints: space, fitting it all on to the page; being able to develop interesting texts with a limited number of terms; meeting deadlines/timing
  • Creativity: thinking of ideas, fresh angles on topics, a wide repertoire of tasks, creative language practice for different language points. Editors say that constraints can generate creativity i.e. within the brief.
  • Following the brief: being really aware of your students and teachers, background, interests etc so that you can write the right kind of lessons for them; coping with changing briefs (as projects move forward this happens)
  • Technical aspects: the biggest category, coming back to it later!
  • Managing the process: relationship with the editor

What three pieces of advice about the craft of writing would you give a new course book writer?

  • Working with others: useful to have a writing partner, complement each others strengths/weaknesses, bouncing ideas off each other; being able to take feedback. Editors represent teachers that aren’t like you.
  • Going back: looking at what you have created and being self-critical; redrafting things and being meticulous
  • Visualisation and imagination: you have to be able to imagine what it’s going to look like on the page when it’s finished. How will things flow from one thing to another. Trying to visualise the position of the teacher who will use the material. Understanding what works and being able to conceptualise how the material will work in class. If you don’t have this, you are an editor’s nightmare!
  • Managing time: managing time within a day, being self-disciplined, managing deadlines etc.
  • Beliefs: being aware of your own beliefs and principles regarding teaching, being aware of the principles of the project in comparison with your own and thinking twice about taking on a project if the two aren’t compatible.

Coming back to Technical aspects:

A big category so broken into 2:

Theoretical Expertise

You need a sound knowledge of methodology and linguistics.

Writers need to make the findings of research more palatable for the classroom. They also need appropriate terminology to teach items that arise out of theory e.g. corpus research. E.g. what do you call connected speech on the student book’s page?

Practical Expertise

  • The more support a writer puts on the page, the more tied the students and teacher are to the page. There is a balance between support and flexibility that needs to be considered.
  • Thinking about the final task in a unit and how you prepare students through the unit to meet it. There was a lot of talk about tapestries and weaving, ending with a seamless garment. This applies within a unit but across a whole book as well, so as to ensure continuity and good recycling of language, also consistency. Ensuring the theme is maintained but interestingly developed.
  • What do you do if the editor doesn’t like the topic? Knowing when to let go of a topic is important, whether it is because the editor doesn’t like it or if it just isn’t working.
  • How do you make your text sound natural? Will the editor cut those ums and ahs from your audio in the end?
  • Knowing how much material is needed for a lesson so that you don’t end up with too much.
  • You need to make sure communicative activities are genuine.

What advice would you give?

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(In terms of use tools, this refers to things like the Oxford 3000 or the Vocab profile)

Has the way you approach writing changed since you first started writing coursebooks? If so how and why?

Internal:

  • Developing greater automaticity
  • Gaining more confidence
  • Gaining more knowledge of the language
  • Gaining more knowledge of the craft – how much can fit on one page, what works etc.
  • Awareness of pitfalls
  • Professional maturity – understanding how it works, relationship with the editor, greater awareness
  • Focus on students

External:

  • What’s valued in materials
  • what has changed in the world of publishing
  • the impact of the internet.

Conclusions:

It’s highly complex but it can be demystified. Is there any shortcut for experience? What is the best method for developing expertise? “Writing is just like a muscle: you just have to keep at it” (a writer) “I have rarely seen improved ‘creativity’ in writers, as this tends to be inherent and is difficult to train” (an editor)

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Task:

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Responses that came out in the post-task discussion:

  • A very abrupt beginning
  • Lots of vocabulary not practised/activated
  • Formatting unclear, no explanation for the words in bold.
  • An example would help to clarify the rubric
  • Is there a correct answer? If there isn’t, is that ok or not?
  • The discussion questions are not generative in discussion terms, could be rephrased to push students to produce more than one word answers.
  • Cultural inappropriacy – potentially inappropriate in some places, taboo issues e.g. divorce in some places.
  • My group and I also thought that the mixture of word types in the first question could be misleading. And one group of words had more words than the other groups.

And that was all we had time for! It was a very speedy half an hour on a very interesting topic. 

IATEFL 2015: Pre-conference Event Day – MaW SIG – Part 4

By now it’s been a long day and, truth be told, I’m getting tired! I did however manage to jot down a few things for each of the remaining talks, so for what they are worth (my notes, that is, clearly the talks are worth plenty!) here they are:

Tailor-making materials from an ESP author perspective – Evan Frendo

How are tailor-made materials in a corporate context different?

  • Very specific. PARSNIPS aren’t an issue e.g. PIG in industry usage.
  • Corporate culture – e.g. a training culture
  • Needs – corporation needs as well as the individual.
  • Learning centred not learner centred.
  • Training rather than education.

It’s all about finding the gap – the training gap – between where they are now and where they need to be. Very specific, focused on aspects of the job that needs to be done. You can use corpora to do this (very specific texts and wordsmith tools).

 However:

  • Vocabulary profilers don’t apply e.g. hose package is an “A1 word” if you work in the relevant trade.
  • Record a phonecall, discuss with participant. What does it tell me? Need to analyse…
Analysis

Analysis

  •  Company insider definition of good presentation may differ from ours but is according to their context and needs. We need to learn what those are.
  •  Materials need to be based on evidence not intuition.
  • Not “English for Engineers” – Engineers speak to other people too! Priorities and issues may not be obvious to whoever wrote English for Engineers.
  • Check your insights with other stakeholders.
  • Use experts to tell you what counts as “successful” communication. It can be wrong in one context but right in another i.e. if they get the contract, get the product delivered etc.
ELF

ELF

 

(Mis) Adventures in Self-Publishing – Christien Lee

 What should I self-publish?

An important question. Big sales, not much competition, in your comfort zone.

 Why should I self-publish? 

Traditional publishers give more cachet and better production values, no upfront costs, you get a commission or an advance.

But…no guarantee that a traditional ELT publisher will accept it, especially for niche market books; takes a long time before publication. (Self-publishing is quicker.) Less money and delayed payment from publishers.

 Benefits of self-publishing:

  • Guaranteed publication
  • short time to publication
  • potential return of up to 70%.
  • Regular and timely income

But:

  •  No guarantee of making money
  • Potential to lose time and money. Costs – e.g. paying freelance audio creators; setting up website; more work before publication (Editing, layout, formatting etc)
  • More work after publication – marketing, social media etc.

How should I handle editing, book layout, audio and so on?

  • DIY
  • Use crowdsourcing/freelancers
  • Friendsourcing

For audio there is for example Voice Bunny – post a project and people audition for it…

 Where should I publish it?

  •  Print on demand with CreateSpace (Amazon)
  • Book distribution service e.g. Draft2Digital or Smashwords
  • Wayzgoose Press – a cross between self-publishing and ELT publishers; 40% on print and 50% on e-books.
  • The Round – teacher development books

Ensuring quality content

 For test preparation materials, match for length, genre, register, difficulty, complexity, topic/subject, testing point, distractor patterns

 Tools to ensure material is at the right level:

  • Cambridge Vocabulary Profile (Profile a text and then use that as a template)
  • Academic Word List Highlighter
  • Lexile Analyzer – gives you a lexile score which is a number e.g. 1200 for a reading text. Put in the text and it’s 1300, then you need to simplify it to make it closer.

 Developing the online content 

  • Use a platform like WordPress with premium plugins e.g. shopping cart
  • Paying for a custom-designed site
  • DIY

Interactive service – Articulate Storyline, like powerpoint on steroids, can be used online and include quizzes etc.

Crclee+iatefl@gmail.com

My thoughts:

What a day! So much quality content, so much take away. And only my poor little brain to process it all, oh dear…! Thank you MaW SIG for a brilliant day. And to all presenters for their fantastic talks and best efforts to keep to time so that we actually stayed exactly on schedule all day – must be a first for any SIG?! 😉

IATEFL 2015: Pre-conference Event Day – MaW SIG – Part 3

Duly refreshed, it’s time for the afternoon sessions…

How to write ELT activities for authentic film and video – Kieran and Anna

Kieran and Anna also produced: “How to write film and video activities” – from the Teacher2writer training modules. (Yep, another module! Seems to be a trend today, for presenters to plug their Teacher2Writer module! 😀 )

 In today’s talk, they intend to consider:

  1. Role of video and film (more and more important)
  2. Sourcing video and film
  3. Exploiting video and film

Changing from video as an add-on (think glorified listening activities) to something more integral. Capturing and editing moving images has become much more accessible. This can be exploited in language learning. Kieran thinks there will be an increasing demands for writers of this type of activity.

 You need to think about:

  • Syllabus fit – a strict publisher’s brief fit or just integrating it into what you are teaching?
  • Music/soundtrack needs not to be overwhelming, so that voices can be heard. Language level is affected by this and other things such as accents, number of speakers etc. Keep a checklist of these handy.
  • Length – 2-5minute clips are optimal for attention/engagement. The shorter the clip, the more repeat viewings you can have, with different activities. This helps with comprehension too.
  • Relevance – of topic and content vs students’ context, background etc.
  • Task potential – visual is important. Less effective if activities are relying too heavily on the non-visual i.e. the audio.

 Established approach to writing for video

  • Pre-viewing tasks
  • While-viewing tasks
  • Post-viewing tasks

Publishers will break it down like this and include things like vocabulary lists for you to use too.

 Pre-viewing activities:

For language-based goals – matching, summary completion (pre-teaching vocabulary), stills from the video and a summary (for more challenging material)

For communicative goals – prediction, discussion. Take a still from the film or video, accompany it with some questions. Connecting this task with the viewing is of course to check their predictions.

 While viewing activities:

  •  Don’t overload: Activities and instructions should be concise.
  • We can use reading/listening type questions but shouldn’t rely too heavily on these.
  • Need to be activities that don’t demand too much attention so that ss can still focus on the film.

For more information: www.visualmanifesto.com

 My thoughts: 

Maybe lunch affected my brain adversely – clearly my notes from this talk don’t do it justice! The presenters ran out of time for getting beyond ‘While viewing’ but the slides are going to be available later, so keep an eye on MaW SIG channels for further information on this!

Does a corpus have the answer? Corpus tools for ELT writers by Julie Moore

I was looking forward to this talk! I really enjoyed Julie’s talk at last year’s IATEFL and I love corpora! 

 Focus:

  • What is a corpus, what are corpus tools?
  • How to use them to help you write materials – with examples
  • What a corpus isn-t very good for
  • Ways of accessing corpora
  • A few other nifty vocab tools

Corpus, corpora – a collection of texts, used to investigate language and how it works. We use corpus tools do this, software which allows this investigation.

When you look at a corpus, you get something called a concordance. That is, examples of language taken from the stored texts, with the searched word appearing down the middle, aka a key word in context (KWIC) search. You can then click on a sentence to get a little more context.

We can ask a corpus many things…

Questions!

Questions!

With a corpus we can:

  • search for authentic examples.

This can lead you to identify a nice context for a given language point. E.g. a film competition guideline set for “must”.

It is quite rare to find something ready for use straight away: you are more likely to adapt and abridge entries so that all language is level-appropriate.

You can also use it as a template to create your own example. It helps you to create something more natural-sounding.

  • do collocation searches

E.g. keep your temper, do frequency searches. Look at the example lines. Then you see it does exist but not on it’s own but rather for e.g. keep your temper under control/in check etc.

  • search for phrases and chunks

Sketch Engine: search “bush” to find more possibilities than “beat around the bush” So start with a wide search. Then search for the frequency of the collocate e.g. around/about. Then you can search for English type. Smaller difference between around and about for British English.

 What isn’t a corpus good at?

Corpus are good at vocabulary –oriented queries. If you don’t have a specific lexical item to search for, it is more difficult and requires a lot more time. E.g. present continuous for future plans. Even if you come up with a search of present continuous examples, you would have to manually identify the future plans ones.

They are also not so good for longer examples or complete texts: this is because of copyright and permissions rules. You can’t borrow enough sentences to illustrate ‘on the other hand’ for example.

 Important points to consider:

  • spoken vs written
  • genre mix
  • AmE vs BrE
  • Expert vs student

Otherwise put, it is important to know your corpus and what it contains.

For example, the British Academic Written Corpus (student writing, native and non native) so you aren’t going to search it to find out about general spoken English…

Don’t follow blindly:

You need to question the results if they are surprising e.g. with keep and temper.

You only get what you search for. Just because you find something doesn-t mean you have answered your question. Sometimes answers aren-t clear cut. Remember your audience and aims.

 How to access a corpus

  • Major publishers have their own corpus. E.g. Oxford. Ask if you can use it.
  • Free corpora: COCA SkELL (great data, limited search tools), BAWE/BASE
  • Subscription corpora: Sketch Engine, Collins Corpus (coming soon…)

A few other nifty tools      

  •  Textcheckers – input a text and compare it to a particular wordlist e.g. AWL, English Vocab Profile, Oxford 3000

E.g. VocabKitchen

Depends how good you think the lists are as to how much you rely on the tool.

  •  Usage trends

E.g. Cobuild online, Ngram – show a line graph of usage trends.

  •  Dictionaries

 Thesaurus facility, advanced searches – Macmillan Online is good for this.

More useful stuff!

More useful stuff!

Don’t worry – Julie is planning to write a blog post explaining a bit about these tools and what they do. Watch out for it on her blog.

My thoughts:

Another great session with lots to take away! And my note-taking brain appears to have woken up again too… 🙂 Corpora are great, as long as you are using them for what they are great at and not falling into the traps highlighted by Julie.