Onestopenglish.com “Author of the Month”

Well, I hadn’t really thought of myself as an “ELT Author” until my editors at Onestopenglish asked me to complete a questionnaire. I feel like it’s still something I’m aspiring towards! Still, working with Onestopenglish has been a lucky start for me.

Rather than any kind of competition, the idea of the Author of the month page is to enable the users of the website to learn a bit more about the authors who write for it:

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I also hadn’t thought of myself as one of an “amazing team of expert authors” (I mean, while I can believe the others are experts, I wouldn’t put myself in the ‘expert’ bracket!), but there we are! I’m honoured to be included on the list as a result of the on-going (but nearly complete) work that I’m doing on Compass with my editors at Onestopenglish as a result of that Macmillan-sponsored ELTon I won a couple of years ago.

I had to answer the following questions:

  • Tell us a little about yourself
  • How would you describe yourself in five words?
  • How did you start your writing career?
  • Where’s the most interesting place you’ve taught?
  • What’s your proudest teaching moment?
  • What’s your most embarrassing teaching moment?
  • What’s your favourite joke?
  • What are your tips for becoming an ELT author?

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To find out my answers to the rest of the questions, you’ll have to visit the page (which you can access by clicking on the photo of it above)!

Thank you, Macmillan/Onestopenglish folk! 🙂

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!

IATEFL 2016 Materials Writing SIG Open Forum

Rachael Roberts starts by welcoming us to this open forum by explaining about MaW SIG. It is for everybody!

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She’ll tell us about what has happened this year and plans for the future, which will be followed by a financial report and a talk by the scholarship winner. This will be followed by the raffle and some nibbles.

The MaW SIG year

2015

Rachael tells us that MaW SIG are very keen to foster links with associates in various countries to set up more meet-ups. There were meet-ups in Oxford and Berlin. There was also an online meet up, the MaW Online Festival.

A sad thing happened in that Hans Mol passed away in November, he was in charge of publications and was a founding member of the SIG.

The committee!

The committee!

The SIG is looking for someone to do the Deputy publications coordinator. They are also looking for a Technology Coordinator and a Deputy Events Coordinator. If you are interested in these roles, you have till the 22nd April to apply.

The SIG is looking for someone to do the Deputy publications coordinator. They are also looking for a Technology Coordinator and a Deputy Events Coordinator. If you are interested in these roles, you have till the 22nd April to apply.

In 2015, MaW SIG also brought out their first e-book, a collection of the blog posts on their website plus two bonus articles not on the blog. There is a new post out on the blog today, written by Kieran Donaghy, giving advice about setting up an ELT materials website.

In February this year, there was the annual face-to-face conference in London, at the Stables of Macmillan. This was organised largely by Kirsten. (Read more about it here!)

Looking ahead

Working in cooperation with BESIG, there will be a conference in Munich from 4-9 November 2016, which is a BESIG conference with a materials writing thread. Proposals don’t have to be only about business material writing, so anything that could be used by Business English writers would be great. So, for example, writing video scripts. Not specifically BE but still useful!

There is also the  website, which has the blog. On Social Media, Karen White does a fantastic job of keeping the Facebook Page, a closed Facebook group for members and LinkedIn as well as Twitter. There will be a suggestions page added to the website, as they are keen to hear from members about what they would like the SIG to be doing/not doing. So please do use this page.

This year they also did their first scholarship in collaboration with OUP, in materials writing. A challenging task was set: writing a piece of material that dealt with the theme of the environment in a fresh and interesting way. Moundir Al Amrani won the scholarship!

He tells us he is very excited happy to be here and to have won the scholarship. He had started to think he wasn’t cut out for this but the scholarship has given him fresh enthusiasm for materials writing. He is from Morocco, a teacher and materials writer. He has won the lesson share competition on Onestopenglish.com twice, back to back. After which, he won the scholarship.

He shows us where Morocco is, its flag and tells us a bit about what he does. EAP, ESP, BE and GE teaching, as well as content courses in the humanities and literature at University. He is also a novice teacher trainer and a materials writer. He writes worksheets, multi-skill lesson plans, vocabulary and grammar activities, course books, teacher notes and a book to meet the specific needs of his students.

Why does he do this? Because it is his passion. He wants to be productive and learn. There is a saying that goes if you love what you do, then you never have to work a day in your life. He loves what he does, his career. He wants to be a better teacher, write better teaching materials, give back to the teaching community and be part of ELT innovation and development. He finishes by thanking MaW SIG and OUP for the scholarship once again.

OUP representative Emma takes the opportunity to say that if you are interested in sending materials for the OUP blog, please do, she also looks after a newsletter about teaching adults that goes out to 28000 teachers globally and they are always looking for people to submit materials/articles/thoughts on any aspects of teaching adults.

Lewis Lansford tells us about the running of his pub in York. There’s always the point where you have to talk about the budget and it’s the low point of the meeting. Now he is going to be that guy, presenting the budget. This is his bid to sugarcoat the process, discharge the obligation and not make us feel “oh no”.

Budget comes from the Latin “Bulga” (pouch or knapsack). It entered English with the French meaning (bag), but by the end of the 16th century included contents as well as bag. 1733 was the first finance connection.

2014-2015 accounts. It took him a while to work out where the money was but in Sept 2014, there was £5,502 profit, earnt not spent. Events and subs produced £8,387, then expenses £5,592. Anyway, the surplus at the end of the year was £2,911. September opening reserve was £8,413, and the closing reserve is £8,731. (Not really sure what it all means!! But it’s there!) And thank you to Macmillan for sponsoring the conference in February as that helped the budget!

 

On that note it was time for the raffle, eating and talking!

 

IATEFL 2016 Here’s one I made earlier – designing effective classroom materials (Katherine Bilsborough and Sue Lyon-Jones)

Well, the room filled up super-quickly for this one!

Sue is a co-founder of esolcourses.com which is an online platform with thousands of resources for teachers and students; Kath is a materials writer who started because she couldn’t afford to buy lots of different books to use with her students.

As English language teachers it can happen that you have to start teaching on a new course and there aren’t any particular materials for it. Depending on teaching experience, it can be a good or a bad thing. You may be thrown in at the deep end! This workshop will look at good practice for creating materials to equip us to deal with such situations.

  1. considering and discussing what akes a good learning activity
  2. looking at free materials that can be sourced from the web and adapted for use in class (Sue is a copyright expert if you have any questions!)
  3. sharing ideas for creating simple activities that are pedagogically sound
  4. look at some ways in which authentic materials can be exploited (fair and legal ways…)

What do we look for in ELT materials?

The audience came up with:

  • relevant to the course aims/class aims
  • thought-provoking
  • adaptable but with a basic core
  • does what it says on the tin
  • work in the given context

Sue and Kath added:

  • engaging and motivating: got to be interesting!
  • provide sufficient challenge: not too easy, not too difficult
  • age appropriate: we don’t want worksheets with teddybears for adults
  • have a target audience: can be very narrow – your learners – if wider, need to think about if they will work outside your classroom
  • have a clear purpose: you might have interesting video/text but need to be clear about what students are going to learn from it
  • underpinned by good pedagogy
  • foster language learning: you can find an interesting article but need to think about what opportunities there will be for learners to use what’s in it

In what three ways you might use a short reading text?

Texts can be a lot of things and you can get a lot of value out of very little:

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The audience came up with the following as examples:

  • dictogloss
  • running dictation

Then we moved on to a task looking at some short texts and discussing how to exploit them. Ideas were very varied due to the diversity of contexts represented in the room!

Text One

Are computers harming academic performance? (a short essay about a study on whether people learn better if they take notes by hand or on computer; came from Voice of America – most content is in the public domain so can be used freely BUT there is some syndicated content e.g. Reuters articles that you can’t use – in this case it will be tagged as such so easy to avoid)

Text Two

A Roald Dahl extract from the Learning English portion of Voice of America, already graded. NB If you want to check the level of a text, paste it into Vocab Kitchen it will tell you what level the words are through colour coding.

Text Three

A Mountain to Climb from Internationalist Easier English Wiki – contains News Articles written for English learners, also includes lesson plans. Creative commons licensed, you need to accredit the author, you shouldn’t use it make money on it and you have to be willing to share it under the same license i.e. not make money on it.

Text Four

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny is from the Project Gutenberg site which contains lots of classic texts that are over 100 years old. You can take anything from there and use it. The language may be dated and above level but you can use Vocab kitchen to catch those and grade them.

Using Images

…to Introduce Topics

There  is a site called Pixabay with public domain images both clip art and photographs. You can use a tool called Picmonkey to make collages. You can do it or you can get learners to do it. You can also find images on ELTpics (where teachers can upload their photos and you can use pictures under creative commons license)

…as writing prompts

A postcard with image prompt and space for a message relating to the picture. Customisable.

…to practise grammar

A picture of a house in the snow: e.g. question forms. Kath started with 5 answers e.g. Bob and Charlie, Winter, Meeting friends etc. = present simple. The students had to produce the questions to go with the answers. With another group, 5 different answers e.g. last summer etc. = past simple.

Devising Listening Materials

  • ELLO – You have the audio, the transcript and in some cases some exercises or quizzes and an indication of what type of English is being used
  • Librivox – free domain audiobooks
  • LearnEnglish Teens – everything on it is very regulated and non-dodgy. Nothing will be upsetting!
  1. Find something your students might be interested in (not necessarily what you are interested in!)
  2. Look at the transcript and make sure it’s appropriate
  3. Listen all the way through
  4. Analyse the language in the transcript (functional language? repetition of grammatical structure? particular vocabulary? etc.)

Learner Generated Materials

When students write things, their work can become templates for future activities with their permission. You can use hot potatoes which is a free software for making such activities.

Finally, the audience suggested Eclipse Crossword, Unsplash and Real English. There was also a handout that I got a picture of, if not the real thing:

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IATEFL 2016 Materials Writing SIG PCE – Print VS. Digital; is it really a competition? (2)

Katherine Bilsborough kicked off after the break, and she is talking about Writing for Primary. 2 years ago, she spoke about ‘Becoming a digital writer‘. Since then, she has realised that we are not digital writers, we are materials writers who are writing for a digital age. This is something that came out of the recent MaW SIG conference. As Ceri said, it’s not black or white, it’s grey. Katherine, though, says it’s more like a chess board. Some is black, some is white, you move in different ways and sometimes you win and sometimes…!

If you are talking about primary, you are talking about 6 years of a child’s life. There is a big difference between year 1 and year 6. We need to be aware of their cognitive skills. E.g. they may  not be able to read yet. We need to think about their world view. They are very me me me oriented, so pair work doesn’t always work! If you make something in class, then everybody needs one to take home! With VYL, attention span is 5, 6, maybe 10 minutes max. It is also, or can be, a lot of fun.

5 key areas that Katherine identified for primary writing are:

Primary –

  • content
  • illustration
  • appropriateness
  • rubrics
  • key ingredients

She has picked out these 5 areas but some others may crop up as well.

Primary Content

When you start off writing a primary course book, need to take into account several things.

  • The syllabus (be involved in writing or received from a publisher; might be one level of a 5 level course for e.g.)
  • Young Learner Exams (publishers want to include materials that help to prepare learners for these e.g. Starters, Movers, Flyers)
  • Policy (local or national – e.g. in Spain the education law was in place for many years but has just been voted out so everything is in limbo)
  • Key competences (trying to develop the whole child e.g. citizenship, keeping clean and tidy etc as well)

Katherine finds the Cambridge YLE page useful to refer to as it has lots of wordlists for each level, of what words children of each age group/exam group are expected to know at that level. This is useful if you don’t have the syllabus etc. all worked out in advance. It’s also helpful to look at Key stages on BBC Bitesize site, to see the kind of things that children are learning and doing at different ages, to get an idea of what you can have them do with your materials.

21st Century skills – creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking. These are crucial. Our job, to think of a primary learner activity that encompasses these… Easy. Been doing it since the beginning. Just that now it has a label that needs to go in the book! Now of course there are digital elements that can be brought in to do things in a different way, but the point is it’s NOT new even if it’s the newest buzzword.

Illustration

Vitally important. The first thing that gets looked at. There are a few things to take into account. What should we consider when we decide between photos and artwork? model’s age/characteristics? supportive or decorative?

Publishers think for youngest learners, mostly illustration, as they get older, introduce more photographs. However, photos are coming in younger and younger. Nowadays in the ‘digital world’, younger children have more access to photographs so it makes sense? More and more kids watch stuff like discovery and educational style programmes marketed for kids (be it on youtube or TV) while cartoons/comics are seen as Saturday morning break material. Re model’s age and characteristics, Katherine usually told that they are presented as the same age but look a little bit older. If you are 9 you want to read about 10 year olds not 7 year olds! In terms of physical characteristics, it’s changing – more variety now, becoming more inclusive. Illustrations are usually supportive but can be decorative. In an artwork brief, it should be one picture including all the items of vocabulary rather than a set of different pictures one for each word. Katherine’s no. 1 digital aid for working is: Scanners. As, with primary, you draw everything as it should look on the page (sketches, sometimes quite detailed as very important), that scanned scrap of paper goes off to the publishers and then the illustrator turns it into what you see on the page. We rarely see them at conferences but they are very important! We are all invited to write our favourite tool on the flipchart at some point during the day.

Appropriateness

We all know about PARSNIPS but for primary there are things you might not have considered…

  • An escaped tiger with a happy ending – too traumatic
  • A chant about a witches brew – market including Turkey and Egypt, no witch craft
  • Kate and Joe talking about their homework – can’t have them because they might be sitting in a bedroom, so it had to be Kate and Cloe, much more difficult for listening!
  • Film review of Australian film Red Dog – there are dogs and somebody’s arms on the film picture, which is dirty
  • Anne of Green Gables – no, because boys won’t like it (!!!)
  • A story about a little boy who shrinks after drinking a potion – too druggy!!

If in doubt, leave it out! (Or at least run it by the editor!) It’s not worth it. Having an argument isn’t going to win you any points.

Rubrics

We saw three rubrics for the same activity.

  • Picture of an ear and a scribbling pencil
  • Listen and colour
  • Listen to the dialogue and colour the objects
  • Listen to the dialogue and colour the items that Leo and Fatima mention.

The simpler the better! Applies to all ages!!

Key Ingredients

  • Stories – genre? ongoing/one-off? language? word count? no. of frames? Katherine does this kind of work away from the computer, sits down with language and bits of paper. In the beginning there were print stories of various kinds, then along came audio, then dvds with videos (sometimes pictures moving one to the next), IWB (replicating print, animated visuals), devices (with interactive elements) and finally augmented reality. In Katherine’s last project, she wrote stories for a 12 level BBC English course for children and this included augmented reality for one out of three stories per year. You have to start layering, it’s almost like writing a script for a film. It’s very interactive and brilliant fun, but it takes a lot of writing. You have to write the story and work out how it’s going to appear and then present that to the publisher so that they/the team can understand it! Lots of role-play/gamey/decision-making elements involved. Katherine finds Puzzlemaker and Word Scramble for making puzzles to cut down on time.
  • cross curricular – used to be CLIL but then it wasn’t really CLIL so became cross-curricular. “These lessons give kids the opportunity to do something a bit different and they learn different skills – skills that aren’t normally taught in the English lesson. They’re a nice change for the teacher too.” – a quote from a teacher, Ma Carmen Losa. For the writer, means more research. Just because we are adults doesn’t mean we know everything! Katherine likes Fun Science and Technology website and NASA kids club website, as well as, again, BBC Bitesize. Lots of art gallerys around the world have kids sections. National Geographic also has one. Using websites designed for children means we have the right kind of language to use. Katherine still looking for an online children’s dictionary. It would be useful for obvious reasons!
  • culture – need to make it relateable to children e.g. what do people have for breakfast in different places like Jamaica? What hours do children go to school in New Zealand? Easy to find out on Facebook! Crowd-sourcing on Facebook is a very useful tool as you can get a load of answers/responses.  Time for Kids “Around the World” – a day in the life (hour by hour) of children around the world. Shortcut keys on a Mac are very handy for “I want something that looks like this:”
  • literacy – Vocab kitchen is useful: put in a text and you can see what the CEFR levels are and change the words in red (too hard) until they come out green (easy)! And use the synonym list in Word.
  • rhymes, chants songs – Vocaroo is really useful for recording and sending sound clips as emails.

Writing materials for the Play Station generation

Fiona Mauchline is a teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and blog curator. She is focusing her talk on the people we are writing for in secondary materials writing rather than the materials themselves. 11-19. Born between 1996 and 2005: A significant period in the history of digital entertainment! Nintendos, Wii, Playstation with headphones and kids speaking. Fiona’s son speaks four languages a day, only 2 of which she taught him, picking it up this way. There is a huge generational gap between teacher/writer brains and their brains. This is something that needs to feed into the materials.

‘Umbrella topics’ from typical course books for lower secondary/lower levels. How many can you think of? Recycling, hobbies, clothes, music, food, films, sports, shopping, holidays, town/going out, school.

Beware the Twilight Zone – the shady area that teens don’t like going into. Also, it’s about what they want to talk about with whom! (Or not!) E.g. with parents, siblings, other family members, teachers, pals, closest friends, other classmates, ‘others’… Some topics may be better for writing than speaking as writing to the teacher rather than having to share with people in the room. Some they may not want to talk about with anybody. Anything where you might be judged. In the world of the migrant, ‘family’ and ‘home’ – might be judged. Holidays – not everyone can afford to have holidays. If you live in the Canary Islands, “talk about your holiday” doesn’t work as there is a huge gap between rich (off to New York) and poor (never left the island). So when aiming at teens, think about the sensitive areas.

Fiona got her older teens to make a list of topics they would like to see in course books. They made a long list. Can you identify the 7 no’s?

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3 groups of No:

  • History – e.g. Mandela
  • Music – Madonna, ABBA etc

Boring: old-fashioned, dusty, been done too many times. Not for 15 year olds.

  • Video games
  • Fashion

We do it, we don’t talk about it. Too personal. It is divisive and leads to judgement.

  • YouTubers who do crazy things
  • Travel to far away places, exotic destinations
  • Food we’ll never eat e.g. insects

Irrelevant, remote from their reality and always will be. Travelling to countries near your own, you might do one day. Far off super-exotic places, not so much.

The Stress Factor

Everybody feels different and wanted to be the same, all felt like outsiders in some way. 99% of teenagers think it. All feel inadequate. Learning a foreign language means saying stuff in another language in front of your classmates: not a comfortable/happy thing!

12% of teenagers (Young Minds and Mind) in the UK today between 11 and 15 with diagnosable mental health issues. A huge portion of that is stress-related or stress-triggered. Slightly higher in boys than girls. Keep the stress down!

Screens

The screen generation. Research done in Sweden and Florida.

Mental overload: scrolling, navigating, clicking, eye ‘flicker’, light quality > less ‘mind’ space for processing/comprehension than with text on paper. Not harder to learn, harder to know – tends to stay in shorter term memory rather than long term memory. Difference between remembering something and knowing it. However, kids have developed the capcity to ignore the buzzes, bells etc in life, i.e. dealing with distraction.

For certain things, screen will better, for other things, paper is still better. For example, reading longer texts is more efficient from the learning point of view on paper. The topography of a page – 8 corners (double spread), margins, visual clues that aid memory. Screens don’t really have that. The paper course book shows how far you have got as the year goes by. Big books and little books weigh the same on a kindle. Paper is good for weightier, more serious text work. With Digital, use short texts and exploit the scroll function/other features. E.g. the capacity for predictions – much more effective on screen with scrolling and keeping things hidden.

It doesn’t particularly matter what we think. The bottom line is the attitude and habits of the people who are going to use them. 52% prefer screens, 48% prefer books. Not everywhere allows for screens. Books smell better… (according to the teens Fiona questioned).

Fiona’s email: fhmauchline@gmail.com

 

Materials Writing SIG Conference Session 5 – Emerging new pedagogies…

Our final session for today (whew…! I am already exhausted!!) is presented by Kirsten Holt and Thom Kiddle, with the title Emerging new pedagogies: should we change the way we design classroom activities?

We started with a pictorial trip through classrooms of the ages and their evolution:

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From rigid and inflexible, through a bit of paper appearing, a bit more paper and flip desks, breaking out of the set format, then in came computers, and tools, but it is all still very teacher led. How much evolution?

We continued with an evolution of tools:

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Cassettes, OHP, electronic pencil sharpener, VHS…. explosion of All The Technology.

We have gone from projection on a screen by teacher, or all students sitting in a lab individually or on a computer at home. The boundaries are all now more blurred. Physical location is much more flexible. Students carry immensely powerful devices with them all the time.

In Japan, for example, you can hover your phone over a page and the characters start talking to you. Blur between print and technology. Augmented reality.

Tension between “no mobile phones in class” and what they could do. What is best practice? Do we know? Or are we swimming wildly in a plethora of potential without really knowing what best practice is nor how to implement it? What do we have to hold on to in terms of principles?

We have principles and pedagogy. John Drury in the early 20th century advocated that student centred learning should be the way forward. He encouraged students to become independent, critical thinkers.

Kirsten suggests it should be learning in a digital world, education in a digital world, teachers in a digital world. Rather than “digital learning” or “digital education” or “digital teachers”.

Online offers potential interaction in a digital space outside the classroom either entirely or in a blend with classroom learning. Boundaries between physical and digital are being removed. There has also been the rise of the flipped classroom. The presentation phase is pushed outside the classroom space, accessed by learners in video or text form as preparation for the in-class follow up. SOLEs have emphasised that the teacher has to add value in the classroom, for it be worth the student coming into class! What does the teacher have to do to add that value to the space?

Thom told us about a project he worked on with teachers working alongside tech guys who said, tell us what you want to do and we will make it happen! It didn’t last. 4 out of 15 things were able to be done. He wanted the teacher trainers to think about what they wanted to do, how it would work in the classroom, and not worry about the tech but what ideally they would like to do, and a few things that came out:

  • Infinite canvas community board: scrolling was a good thing! The screen allows as many comments as necessary. Looks like Padlet. It allows in an online space a snapshot of answers to a particular question. In a flipped space it gives a teacher a snapshot of student opinion on a particular question and know what topics to focus on.  Can also be used to feedback and share group work outcomes with other groups by summarising it on such a screen.
  • Threaded forums based on video content. An initial video is uploaded and then students can reply with microphone or their own video or with text. This was used in a blended programme for students to make short videos of possibilities and limitations of their own teaching contexts.
  • Watching a video that pauses when you comment with a question and it tags the video, and the video continues once you have finished. Your comment then pops up when someone else watches the video and they can respond. This could be used by the teacher to “annotate” a video with questions for the student viewer.

It’s a tool not THE tool. Using technology to embrace learners’ output as input in the classroom.

Kirsten then talked about a model for pedagogy. She compared the usual balance in course books with the experiential model, and wondered if materials give enough opportunity for experimentation:

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Kirsten also mentioned Flipped Classrooms and how out of class work isn’t homework but preparation for maximising learning time and extending what they have done in class:

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She compared it with Task-Based Learning but more extended. And then went on to talk a little bit about how Macmillan English Campus could be used in this kind of Flipped Classroom way, giving as many choices as possible to the students – where students do preparatory activities and then in class the teacher builds on that by facilitating use of the language.

We finished by discussing questions:

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What do YOU think? 🙂

Kirsten also recommended that we have a look at “Tech tools for teachers” on Onestopenglish for tech tools that are not only for fabulous wifi connections!

It was a good session that managed what I thought was impossible: it engaged me enough to make me forget how tired me and my fingers were…

It also brought the MaW SIG conference day to a close. The wrapping up took the form of an open forum discussion, followed by a raffle (I won a book! Happy days!) and then drinks. I scooted off before the drinks because I had to trek back to Sheffield – just as well I did, as it was it was well after 9 by the time I got home!

Thank you to MaW SIG and sponsors Macmillan Education for a great day: am glad I bit the bullet and made the effort to get to London for it!

 

Materials Writing SIG Conference Session 4 – Writing Skills for Effective 21st Century Materials

After the lunch break, we reconvened with Heather and Julie’s talk on Writing Skills for Effective 21st Century writing.

Julie started by giving us a bit of background into their research over the last few years, explaining that the work informing today’s session continues to build on what they have talked about at past conferences e.g. IATEFL last year.

Materials development should be at the interface of theory and practice but actually it isn’t: it takes a long time before theoretical recommendations can become pedagogically recognised. Findings from conversation analysis could help us to write more natural sounding dialogues, research into pragmatics could help us teach politeness, so there is lots of potential but…

“ELT is not a matter of bridging the gap between theory and practice, but closing it” (Widdowoson, ELTons June 2016).

“With Web 2.0 came technologies that afforded online interaction and user created materials and these altered the authorship paradigm, as well as blurring the line between materials and the tools that produce them. (Mishan and Timmis, 2015, p.79)  – We put lots of things online, we see possibility for communicative interaction between students, but what are we going to do with all of that?

The study

When doing this research, for ‘digital materials’ they took a very broad definition – any materials that use technology in some way. Their methodology involved use of focus groups and individual interviews and spoke to 8 writers and 11 editors/publishers.

Research questions:

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These were used as a springboard for discussion with their participants rather than something rigid to be stuck to. The discussions were very interesting and yielded lots of rich data. We discussed some of the statements drawn out of the data:

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The findings fit into 5 main categories:

  1. Technical differences
  2. Pedagogy
  3. Management of process
  4. Possibilities of digital (this category had more positive things)
  5. Commercial considerations (business issues, marketing issues)

Technical Differences

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First of all, a lot of people talked about working within parameters. Writing to a particular template/brief. There are a limited number of activity types within digital – these tend to be closed activities: drag and drop, gap-fill, matching, YES/NO…  This is also because they tend to be self-study materials so need to be accessible to a student not mediated by a teacher. People also talked about mobile/tablet use and repurposing materials. You might not have long texts but three shorter texts, for example, in order to avoid too much scrolling on the smaller screen.

Mobile items can be quite bare and limited:

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Secondly, often print material is being converted to digital materials, rather than people writing directly for digital. Materials can look the same in the course book as on the screen. However, activities designed for use in the classroom need to be changed to work in a digital format. The issue of feedback provision: What will you say when they provide the right answer? “Yay! You got it right!” vs. “Correct.” and what about when it’s wrong? Are you going to tell them why? If yes, it’s going to be very expensive because all the possible answers and reasons together with feedback would need to be input. So feedback needs to be cost effective. Having a variety of different acceptable answers is great but very expensive. To get around these issues, more sophisticated authoring tools are needed and therefore a lot of investment. The level of the product is low, very basic stuff BECAUSE of the limitation to the closed style questions, for the reasons of cost effectiveness already discussed.

Thirdly, you need to think in great detail about how the student or teacher will use it, what will be there on the screen? What will they need to do? What will be on the screen at the same time? You need to be able to visualise it (which requires experience of using it?). Scrolling issues add to the difficulty of reading comprehension and text length.

Lots of scrolling:

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Finally, you need to think about layout issues. E.g. on a tablet when you tap for the keyboard and it takes up half the screen, will important things be obscured? When you offer the choice of answers, will the answer choices hide the question?!

Layout can be tricky:

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Rubrics also need to be extra clear so that students can access them alone. Fonts need to be sans serif Sego to make it informal in ESOL materials. Colour is also important. Standardisation between publishers in template use would be nice!

Pedagogy

Again, we discussed selected statements from the data:

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Before hearing about the findings:

People were debating the usefulness of digital and what value it adds. Is it just about practice? Receptive skills? But how rich is the input to learners from these materials? Obviously it depends on the particular material but these were some general concerns. It could be useful for lower levels to be able to click on a video and hear instructions again, or hear a recording in shorter chunks as scaffolding. Are the the tasks types and questions too repetitive or do learners like that?

Lesson flow was another issue. Two pages of a coursebook can demonstrate some flow and some understanding of where you are going but if it is divided into 20 screens what happens to that? Feedback is an issue if something is marked wrong but is actually right because there is a stray full-stop, for example. Productive skills can also be problematic, because it is difficult to enable practice speaking or writing through digital materials. Students can record themselves but what do they do with that? What happens to the social aspect of the activity? People learning together and collaborating? Will the cost be increased? There are possibilities such as forums, chat rooms, blogs but the question surrounding all of these activities is that they are quite open activities – is that a problem? Would the learner see it as developmental or be disappointed as not getting a score after spending half an hour in front of their screen? The context of use and how that impacts on pedagogy is important here.

Cognitive load can, it was perceived, make certain listening tasks more difficult. E.g. listen and match/type/tap a box. All the tapping and typing as well focusing on the actual language. Therefore it is important to make the activity cognitively engaging but not the technical aspect of doing the activity!

Tablets and classroom management also came up. If you haven’t taught in a classroom where tablets are being used, then it is difficult to visualise the issues around it. Classroom management is affected – you need to control when the tablets are used and when focus is on teacher. If everyone has a tablet, activities could be differentiated quite easily, according to level or learning style. With listening, will you play it from the front or have students listening individually with headphones. That makes a big difference in how the activity is going to work. There are lots of possibilities to consider – how are they being used but also how COULD they be used?

Student engagement/user experience is important to consider as with some digital materials, there is no teacher to draw students in and engage them. Students might need more changes of focus than in the classroom, where interaction with other students and the teacher helps.

Adaptive learning was also something that came up in the discussions. It needs more thought for it to work properly. Adaptive learning also loses the “flow” mentioned earlier with course-book pages.

Is there too much material? It could be overwhelming but it could be a good thing, differing opinions – also depends on how it is exploited and the quality of the materials. Converting print to digital expands material as you have to build in extra scaffolding. It means that you end up with a huge body of material that can become quite unwieldy to produce and manage. You also have to consider the teacher training element – teachers are not trained to use all tools effectively because they don’t exist everywhere so it can’t be a standard element of ITT.

Finally, how are students actually learning from these products? What are they learning? Is it the most effective way to learn? This needs to considered, both for digital and for print. Why don’t we know? Access to classrooms is difficult for researchers, teachers don’t have time to look at it in detail themselves. End user experience is as important as the content itself. But it also requires longitudinal studies, which have their issues of expense and time and resources.

Some of the criticisms are equally applicable to print materials, if we consider print self-study materials as well. So it’s not just about print vs. digital.

Management of Process

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Time started getting short at this point so we launched directly into hearing about the data:

Delivery – keep it simple, stick to the brief and be aware of the functionality of the software from the outset, as well as the style guidelines. (E.g. 24/7 in print but 24-7 in html). The template developer role is important. In an ideal world, the author would receive a sample unit of examples of activity types so that you could know exactly what you were aiming for and how it would work. It would also help if discussion was possible so you could check if things would work.

The scale of projects is ever more massive. The number of people and volume of material involved is greater than print which was already huge. Yet, schedules are tighter for digital as the student book is produced first but the digital package needs to launch with it on completion (!)

People expect digital to be quicker to produce but it is not so as there is more content required (videos, adaptive learning, assessment criteria). And, of course, the “editorial eye” is just as necessary, even if writers are writing directly into a template. Mistakes can happen and you need someone with an overview to pick up on those, which makes a huge number of screens to check.

In terms of self-publishing, you need to be thinking along the lines of detail required by a publisher’s book proposal form.

Possibilities of Digital

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There are lots of opportunities:

  • Plan Ceibal in Uruguay: Every student has a laptop, and there is the classroom teacher but also a remote teacher. This kind of thing impacts the materials developer role as you need materials for the remote teacher, support for the local teacher, materials that will go on the screens…
  • British Council Nexus Project: Getting lower level learners online. Helping them developing digital literacy, self-confidence and motivation.
  • Gamification – making things into games. Games in the classroom, apps outside the classroom, on laptops… Badges? Levels? Can be motivating.
  • Augmented reality – second life type things, but also writing stories, producing scripts for animation on students’ screens in class (half the class see one thing, half the other).
  • More writing opportunities for freelancers but… the downside is that some of the work is not particularly interesting or challenging, can be quite mechanical and set fees are becoming more common than royalties. Working just for a fee may impact motivation – what is your incentive to go off promoting the product in your time?
  • It can be career enhancing to create online resources. Putting your own things online for people to use can get your name known and lead to other things…

Commercial considerations

<Missed that picture! Going full steam now!>

When publishers talk to customers and do market research, the customer can’t tell them what they want in terms of digital because they don’t really know what’s possible, which makes it difficult for them to articulate what they want and so for publishers to provide. Then there is the issue of predicting the market when technology is always changing, it is difficult to ‘future proof’ digital products. And what if a new game-changer comes out, so your new product suddenly looks dated as it launches? The issues of payment also arose in this category – should authors get royalties? Should the author role be promoted? The community of practice adds value to project, e.g. through the author promoting the product etc.

Conclusions

There is a lot of scope for materials (print and digital) to be more research informed. More research needs to be done into user experience of materials (funnily enough I was reading about this issue a few days ago in the intro to a mats dev book I borrowed from the ELTC library…edit: English Language Teaching Textbooks – Content, Consumption, Production edited by Nigel Harwood and published by Palgrave Macmillan)

A better quality of materials in digital would be good to see, going beyond the ‘workbook feel’, something more satisfying. Perhaps by incorporating different kinds of technology, making use of new possibilities.

Teachers need to be encouraged to research their own classrooms in this area. Training is also needed for how to integrate digital and print in the classroom. It’s really difficult for busy teachers to explore all the digital stuff and work out what would work well together in the classroom in terms of blending the digital and the non-digital.

Heather and Julie recommended How to write for digital media and How to write ESOL materials, both published by ELT Teacher2Writer and finished by showing us their reference list for this talk:

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Another very interesting session with lots of discussion to get our teeth into! During this session I was sitting next to Antonia Clare, so it was really interesting, in the discussion elements, to hear about things from a long-time published author’s perspective.