IATEFL 2016 What makes an outstanding ELT coursebook? The publisher’s perspective (Heather Buchanan and Julie Norton)

The final talk I’m attending today is by Heather Buchanan and Julie Norton, who teach at Leeds Beckett University and University of Leicester respectively. They have been involved in materials development for about 20 years, from a theoretical academic perspective for a long time, and more recently worked on the Navigate series, which was a wonderful opportunity to see things from another more practical perspective. They did a talk last year about expertise in writing, where they asked writers and editors what constitutes expertise in course book writing but predominantly responses from writers. At the end, an editor said it was a shame that the sample was so skewed. This talk is to put that right!

Apparently the voices of editors are very rare in the literature.

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Heather and Julie are interested in redressing that so that expertise can be shared. Another reason to do this is because practitioners, teachers and researchers understand a bit more about how course books are produced. Understanding this helps to understand why materials are the way they are and understand the pressures that are faced in producing a multiple level series of course books in a short space of time. They’ve noticed in recent years at IATEFL that that seems to be a goal, for example with SIGs like MaW SIG and groups like ELT Teacher2Writer. They are all trying to help people understand how to write materials and get foot in the door. Heather and Julie hope to contribute to this process.

They have been collecting data since January this year, some of which before the MAWSIG day and have continued since and have x hours of interview data, which is a lot. They have learnt a lot from the process of interviewing people. They’ve interviewed 21 editors and publishers this year, some in focus groups and some in individual interviews. This happened over Skype. They’ve spoken to a variety of different kinds of publishers and editors both in-house and freelance, with various experience, and designers as well. So lots of different perspectives. It’s been interesting to understand more about the process of how course books are developed in this way. They have a lot of rich data even though it’s a small-scale study really. They thank all the respondents as it has been both useful and very enjoyable.

They are going to highlight some of the main themes and give their interpretations and comments on this. Then we are going to be asked for our opinions. As it is a workshop, there will be a few discussions as well. We are will look at the four research questions one by one, discuss them and hear about what Heather and and Julie found out.

Research Questions

  1. Coursebooks are now said to be more publisher-led than author-led. Why is this and what impact does it have on the end product?

  2. What makes an outstanding coursebook? Please give examples.

  3. What is the editor’s role in creating outstanding ELT coursebooks?

  4. If you planned to launch a new global coursebook series, what would you look for in an inital sample from a prospective writer? What skills do writers need to produce outstanding materials and how can these skills be developed?

Deliberately broad, in order to get people talking about it. The main question very broad – what makes an outstanding course book. They also tried to get at this idea of the course book being more publisher-led, in the development and instigation of ideas. They wanted to know why this was and how it affects the product at the end of the day. They were also interested in the editors role and in what publishers are looking for when writers send in a sample, what makes them take on a writer and what makes the reject? And finally what skills are needed, how can the skills be developed?

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These are some snippets from the data as an overview. We need to discuss them. Some are direct quotes and some are paraphrasing.

Following the discussion, we are asked for any comments we have on the quotes. The broadness of the questions allowed Heather and Julie to explore and then drill down into areas of interest.

Next we moved onto individual points.

Here are some of the things that people said in response to question 1:

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An audience member felt there was an element of truth in the digital uncertainty comment – there has been. For example the one laptop per child policy that got dropped.

Julie says a lot of people talked about the impact of technology but also about that course books are more market led than publisher led. A long time ago, teh author was more instrumental in the conceptualisation of the series than now and there are various reasons for that. Firstly, digital makes the projects huge, for example 450 people. Trying to manage that, including getting information about what is wanted by the market, what has to happen in house (Design, production, a range of editors, techie people, marketers etc). There is also huge time pressure to get all the levels out at the same time if possible, so if you have a six-level course that is a huge undertaking, maybe you have to split into two years. You also need to meet consumers’ needs in order for the book to sell. Some publishers draw on massive corpora that they have collected and use them to inform the materials. So it has to be publisher led as the publisher has the information. The impact should be positive in terms of people feeling their needs have been met. A problem might be that it lacks freshness as people asked what they want are unlikely to ask for too much change, they might want something very similar, leading to that “vanilla anodyne effect”. With some courses it might be possible to have the necessary local expertise in terms of authors, producing something for a clear target audience, which might be very positive. It might feel like the author’s role is downgraded as the publisher is trying to take on so many other views.

There is a tension or balancing act to try to innovate within particular constraints.

 

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An audience member suggested it should be user-friendly, easy to use. Another suggested it should be open to adaptation. Two closely related points, as Heather says. The person who said the quote in the orange speech bubble was talking about imposing methodologies on people in different cultures, whereas some people discuss it as including teacher training within the materials. It depends how its done, how its introduced, is it imposed or not. It’s a very complex issue.

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Heather said the first point was no surprise. It’s important to meet all kinds of different needs e.g. SEN. Will the students be able to relate to the materials? Then, the second point, the teacher needs to be able to pick a course book up, walk into class and teach from it, knowing it would be reliable and they wouldn’t have to spend a long time planning. However, teachers may also want to do more with the materials, adapt them, use some bits but not others. The tricky thing is catering for both types of teachers. Of course we also need to know that the course book is accurate, answers all correct. Then there needs to be a sound theoretical basis, which can be a range of things from being based on corpora, to the methodology used etc. The architecture is about the flow and shape of lessons and units, how they are built. People talked about the personality of the course book, based on the type of methodology, the look and design, the author voice, the kind of texts you are using. Some people also talked about it being aspirational for teachers, they may feel they are becoming a more communicative teacher by following those materials, for example.

Some finer points:

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Moving on to the editor’s role:

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Heather and Julie were interested in what the editors bring to the course books and found that some of the points were contradictory as the editor plays a tricky role and has to handle complex situations. They thought it was a nice way to look at it, to think of the editor as a bridge between the people involved in the process.

We are reminded that there are different types of editor, e.g publishing and commissioning, development/content, copy editors for the nitty gritty and there is also the free-lance/in-house editor split.

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As well as coordinating, feeding back information. Also sticking up for the author to the publisher and vice versa, so the critical bridge role. They might do some research post publication and realise that certain things have been omitted and produce pdfs to go online to address that issue. A crucial role is giving feedback on drafts, which involves being quite diplomatic, it is a complex relationship between author and editor. The editor has to represent different teachers to the author as the author can’t have experience of teaching in evert different contexts but the editor can do research into different contexts and feed that back. Often they have been teachers themselves too. They have to be devil’s advocate/critical friend, which is quite a challenging/daunting role (imagine doing it for Michael Swan’s grammar!). Authors are going through all kinds of things in real life – so, knowing when to send a bunch of flowers is important too.

We ran out of time for the remaining question/rest of the slides but are invited to email Heather and Julie to get them.

However, the conclusion is:

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The editor is instrumental in controlling quality in course books and sometimes we forget what a useful process it is. We often talk about how difficult it is to receive feedback but the end product is going to be better for that. Heather and Julie are calling for more transparency and communication about the process.

They agree with Tomlinson on the following and would love to be involved in the process! This sort of research could be really important to feedback into future products.

 

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It was a really interesting talk and it’s a shame we didn’t get on to the final question!

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IATEFL 2014: Bridging the gap between materials and the English-speaking environment

My very first IATEFL talk!

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Date: Thursday 3rd April 2014

Time: 17.45-18.15

After introducing myself and my three invisible hats (teacher of English, learner of language/teaching, ex-student of the Leeds Met M.A. ELT/Delta – the origin of the ideas on which this talk was based), I provided the following talk outline:

  • Over to you! (A few questions…)
  • Student-led interviews (benefits and issues)
  • My materials
  • Using the framework

Attendees then discussed the following questions:

  • What context do you teach in?
  • What materials do you use?

Which led to these:

  • Do the materials exploit the rich resources of language outside the classroom?
  • Do the materials encourage students to exploit it?
  • Do materials scaffold students to exploit it?

Following this discussion, I revealed two quotes by Tomlinson (2008, 2013):

“None of the books seem to really help learners to make use of the English which is in the out of school environment everywhere.” (Tomlinson, 2008)

“Little[No] attempt is made to encourage the learners to make use of English in their actual or virtual environments outside the classroom.” (Tomlinson, 2013)

One way in which language schools try to encourage learners to engage with the language in the out-of-classroom environment in English-speaking places is to send learners out to interview members of the public. I asked attendees to consider the benefits and potential issues with this activity, before providing some of my own:

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The question of how to guide learners across the murky waters of the potential issues to reap the possible benefits is where my materials come in. The next part of the talk discussed the influences that informed the development of my materials:

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And then revealed the basic framework I’d created using Task-Based Learning (Ellis, 2003; Willis and Willis, 2007), Language Awareness Approach (Svalberg, 2007) and the Intercultural Approach (Corbett, 2003):

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Of course this bare frame doesn’t demonstrate how those theories were woven in, and does give rise to possible questions/issues. So at this point I predicted some possible questions that might have been forming in the audience’s mind:

But…

  • Won’t they get bored?
  • Is it a good use of so much time?
  • What about linguistic development?
  • Isn’t it a cop out? Mucking about instead of learning language?

And then explored how I used the approaches I’d chosen, to address these issues and to maximise learning and learner engagement, and how I’d addressed issues that critics have raised with regards to the theories. The result was this framework:

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(F.L. stands for functional language and S.E. stands for students’ experiences.)

 

The final part of the talk dealt with using this framework and exemplified this with a task from my own materials. The initial steps of using the framework have much in common with a genre-based approach:

  • Think about how you want your ss. to use language
  • Find texts produced in that genre/those genres. (Or make your own with your colleagues!)
  • Identify common generic features (language, structure, organisation, appearance etc)

To this I add:

  • Pinpoint interesting/engaging non-linguistic outcomes.
  • Consider scaffolding.
  • Pick out linguistic and cultural dynamism.
  • Build in reflection.

Obviously the first bullet point of part 2 of the list is in keeping with TBL tenets. The second refers to how the tasks are going to feed into each other, how the activities within each task are going to feed into each other and how the whole is going to enable learners to be able to do something by the end of it. The third is in keeping with the Intercultural Approach and the Language Awareness approach. The final bullet point, opportunities for reflection, is crucial to all three approaches as well as being the key to turning experiences into learning, and connecting learning to experiences.

To exemplify this, I used the third task of my materials:

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I discussed how content generated by students in the second task fed into the pre-task activity, in which students collaborate and exchange information, in preparation for the main task of this third task. The main task requires learners to synthesise the information they’ve collected between them, and use it as the basis for their question preparation. They are then helped to analyse  these questions by considering cultural and pragmatic issues, before moving on in the post-task activities to engaging with input in the form of a real interview, which leads to language focus and speaking skills development. Throughout the task, learners are encouraged to reflect and connect their own experiences and knowledge with what they are learning, and to identify similarities and differences between their own culture, other learners’ cultures and the target language culture.

Being a twenty minute talk (plus ten minutes for questions), I had to bring it to an end pretty swiftly by this point, by thanking International House, Palermo, for allowing me to attend IATEFL 2014, and the Leeds Met M.A. ELT department (and especially Heather Buchanan, who was my supervisor for the dissertation project in which I made these materials) for all the guidance and support that I was given in my learning and in realising my ideas, because without the course I most definitely wouldn’t have been giving this talk today. And the final thank you, of course, to everybody who attended!

Here is a list of references for my talk:

Svalberg, A. (2007) Language Awareness and Language Learning in Language Teaching vol. 40/4. Cambridge Journals

Moran, P. (2001) Teaching Culture: Perspectives in Practice Heinle and Heinle. Canada

Murray, N. (2012)  English as a lingua franca and the development of pragmatic competence in ELT Journal Volume 66/3 Oxford University Press

Corbett, J. (2003) An Intercultural Approach to Language Teaching Multilingual Matters. Clevedon

Ellis, R. (2003) Task-based Language Learning and Teaching Oxford University Press Oxford.

Willis D. and Willis J. (2007) Doing Task-based Teaching Oxford University Press, Oxford

Tomlinson, B. (2008) English Language Learning Materials: A Critical Review Continuum London

Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. (2013) Survey Review: Adult course books in ELT Journal Volume 67/2. Oxford University Press Oxford

Do *you* use a global coursebook? If so, please read on…

When it comes to global coursebooks, everyone has an opinion regarding their qualities and flaws, and everyone has their own special ways of using them when required to do so…

Heather Buchanan (Leeds Metropolitan University) and Julie Norton (University of Leicester) are doing some research on this topic and are interested in finding out about your views and uses. They will share the results of this research as part of a presentation at the IATEFL conference in Harrogate next month.

Participation in this project is completely voluntary and anonymous. If you would like to help, by sharing your views on global coursebooks and your uses of them, please visit the following link:

Global coursebook questionnaire

When you click on this link, you will be taken to a page which provides you with more information about the project and will then be given a choice of continuing on to answer the questions or opting out of participation. 

Finally, please do share this post/the questionnaire link with any other English Language teachers who you think may be willing to complete it: Heather and Julie would be most appreciative! 🙂

Coursebooks in the language classroom: friend or foe?

I have written a second blog post for the British Council Teaching English website, as one of their  TeachingEnglish associates – a name that has been given to us since I wrote my initial post! I feel rather out of place on a list amongst such experienced, knowledgeable teachers but honoured to have the opportunity to be there and happy to be able to share my ideas.

My post, which was published today, can be found here and looks at ideas for making the course book a friend rather than a sworn enemy, through:

  • evaluation
  • adaptation
  • personalisation
  • looking for opportunities to use the content as a springboard to fostering learner autonomy

You could also have a look at Rachael Roberts’s post on the same topic, here – it turns out we both tend to look on course books as cookery books rather than strait-jackets! 

Thank you, British Council Teaching English!

 

Some materials – at last! (Part 2)

I have just added another section of materials to my Materials page!

The materials are some of what I produced for the Materials Development module that I did as part of my M.A. in ELT at Leeds Met. The linked page contains further information and links to the materials themselves. I’d be interested to hear what you think (but understand that this may not be possible until I’ve uploaded the whole of the unit!) 🙂

I have now uploaded the second section of the unit – some reading and language focus – plus teachers’ notes. However, because I haven’t got copyright of the reading text – which is taken from Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man – I have blanked out the text. You could still use the sequence by sourcing the book and pulling out Chapter 14 pages 20-23 from “All right the bell has rung.” to “Just take the story and feel sorry for the kid and the mother with her countenance and, maybe, the dad, and not analyse it to  death.”  This follows on from the speaking section, which I uploaded previously.

Enjoy – and if you use them, please do let me know how it goes by commenting below or on the Materials page…

Dissertation Diary 10: the end is approaching…

I’ve decided to use my blog as a reflective tool while doing my dissertation project – the final component 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. (Other posts in this series can be found here) 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.

The project plods on…

I had another tutorial last Tuesday, which, much like previous ones, has given me much to chew over and implement. It’s funny how when H points things out, they become blindingly obvious – but not until then! I now have a nearly complete draft of everything. I say nearly complete because although I’m on draft two, the redrafting has involved rather a lot of gutting and re-crafting, so there are still gaps… And then there’s the teachers book: I did it along side the student book, unit by unit, but then came all the changes – the teachers book has a lot of catching up to do!

I’m learning a lot from this process. For example:

  • That I tend to waffle in my instructions! I’m getting better at this now, since Sandy Millin gave me some training in being more concise…
  • That making materials that are to stretch over a series of lessons piecemeal in between going to work, eating, sleeping and so on, means I end up with something that lacks flow overall. So part of the redrafting and re-crafting process has been looking for the flow.
  • That it’s easy to lose track of the theories you’d adopted as you get distracted by trying to design activities. (This is where going back to the rationale and making sure I’ve done what I set out to do comes in – one of the many things on my epic list of “to do in the next 15-16 days” – I need to leave time for proof-reading and binding!
  • That it’s easy to forget to include things – e.g. lead-ins! (So obvious…and yet…)
  • That just because *I* know what I mean, doesn’t necessarily make it clear to anybody else!
  • That eventually materials design can take over your sleeping as well as your waking hours – I’ve started dreaming about them now…
  • That it’s probably not a good sign when you come back to your teachers book after a while and it doesn’t make sense even to YOU who wrote it!
  • That having people who are willing to look at what you’ve made and point out all the confusing bits and bits where improvements could be made (be it H or Sandy) is invaluable.
  • That making even half-way good materials is hard… (But when they begin to take shape, so delightful!)

I’ve already gone through the whole gamut of emotions and probably will again before the deadline – I’m hugely inspired, buzzing with ideas, fed up, frustrated, tired, loving the creative process, wanting to bin the materials and start again, excited etc in turns. Mostly I keep wishing I had more *time* to spend on them. But I suspect there would never be enough time, however much time there were!

I had a very interesting time trialling some of my materials at work: Only a few activities, but seeing learners carry out the activities and interact with the materials gave me some useful pointers for little changes that needed making. The good news is, they were engaged by the activities! Unfortunately, though, as most of them left at the end of last week and I’m back on cover rather than having my own classes, I won’t be able to review the lesson and see how much stuck. But if any of the students who haven’t left happen to be in the classes I cover this week, I shall try to see what, if anything, they remember…

God knows what kind of mark I’ll come out with in the end, but my aim is to make my submission knowing that I’ve done my best. This means I’ve a lot to pull out of the bag in the next 18 days. (Amongst packing, moving flat, working and so on and so forth!) One more tutorial to go – I need to remember to ask all my remaining questions. I’m so good at forgetting to do that – getting carried away in the moment, listening to all the feedback…

Oh and finally,  you may wonder why I haven’t posted any of my dissertation materials on here thus far… The answer is, if I did that I’d be in danger of self-plagiarising! In any case, I may keep them under wraps for a while – I’m planning to submit a speaker proposal for IATEFL 2014, based on them. However, once I am deadline free, I will be digging out the materials I made for my materials development module (which theory-wise are based on the text-driven approach, the metacognitive approach and TBL), changing all the pictures to copy-right friendly ones (for the assignment they didn’t need to be because only our tutors were looking at them) and then hopefully putting them on here.

18 days…tick tock….

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Image from Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository

Phonological Representation in Course Materials: Whose English?

This post contains information related to the presentation I gave during the 16th Warwick International Post Graduate Conference in Applied Linguistics on 26th June 2013:

Presentation Abstract:

The role of English in the world today, as a Global and International language, has been the subject of much debate in the last decade, with the role of Standard British English (SBE) being called into question. Content analysis of language materials can offer an insight into how far the applied linguistic research and trends are reflected in what is being taught and learned in the classroom. The current study focuses on phonological representation, investigating the sociocultural spread of accents found in New Cutting Edge Intermediate, a popular global coursebook which claims to bring “the real world into the classroom”, comparing it with Gray’s (2010) findings on the similarly successful New Headway Intermediate, using the phonological component of Gray’s (2010) content analysis framework and finding that RP/modified RP still predominates. The study finishes by exploring possible reasons for this and recommending potential directions for further research.

Recording of my presentation: Please click here and it will open in a new tab. 

Sources referred to in my presentation:

Grey, J. (2010) The Construction of English: Culture, Consumerism and Promotion in the ELT Global Coursebook. Palgrave Macmillan. Basingstoke.

Jenkins, J. (2000) Accent across boundaries: the Lingua Franca Core. Paper read at the 33rd Annual Meeting of BAAL, 7-9 September 2000, Cambridge.

Jenkins, J. (2006) The times they are (very slowly) a-changing. In ELTJ vol. 60/1. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Timmis, I. (2002) Native Speaker Norms and International English: A Classroom View. In ELTJ vol. 56/3. Oxford University Press. Oxford. 

Sources referred to in my research write up (data and write up are available on request):

Carter, R. and M. McCarthy. 1997. Exploring Spoken English. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge.

 Cunningham S and Moore P. (2005:a) New Cutting Edge Intermediate. Student Book. Pearson.

 Cunningham, S. and Moore, P. (2005:b) New Cutting Edge Intermediate. Teachers’ book. Pearson

 Gray, J. (2010) The Construction of English: Culture, Consumerism and Promotion in the ELT Global Coursebook. Palgrave Macmillan.

 Hadfield, J. (2012) Becoming Kiwi: A diary of accent change in ELT Journal Volume 66/3. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

 Holliday, A. (2005) The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. Oxford University Press.  Oxford.

 Jenkins, J.  (2002) The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

McKay, S (2002) Teaching English as an International Language. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Wei, L. (Ed) The Routledge Applied Linguistics Reader Routledge. Oxon.

Sharifian ed. Perspectives on English as an International Language.

Sobkowiak, W. (2008) Why not LFC? in Dziubalska-Kolaczyk, K. and Przedlacka, J. (Ed.) English Pronunciation Models: A Changing Scene. Peter Lang International Academic Publishers. Bern.

Soars and Soars (2003). New Headway Intermediate: Second Edition. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Timmis, I (2002) Native Speaker Norms and International English: a classroom view. In ELT Journal. Vol. 56/3. Oxford University Press. Oxford.

Timmis, I. (2003) Corpora, classroom and context: the place of spoken grammar in English language teaching. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

Yuen, K.M. (2011) The representation of foreign cultures in English textbooks in ELT Journal vol. 65/4. Oxford University Press. Oxford.