‘Richmond Skills Boost’: my materials!

Richmond Skills Boost‘ is a series of multi-level stand-alone reading and listening materials, which enable learners to work on their receptive skills independently of any course book they may be using. Teachers and students can both access this series of worksheets, via the Richmond ELT Site (requires institutional registration). Once you have registered, in the teacher’s area you will see ‘Skills Boost’, and this is where you will find all the worksheets.

Rather than having one person write all the worksheets, Richmond ELT used a range of different people, so you will see a lot of different ‘writer’s voices’ coming through. Reading worksheets 7, 8 and 9, aimed at A1 level, were written by yours truly! I’m very pleased with how the worksheets turned out, the designers have made them look really lovely. I found it very challenging writing materials for such a low level, but thanks to support from the Richmond team, I got there in the end:

Mine!

Mine!

These are my first published, paid materials and the whole process was a very interesting experience. Not least because the revisions coincided with my first pre-sessional at Sheffield University, a summer in which I also presented at the TOBELTA online conference and wrote a book chapter for an edited book due out this year, as well as teaching myself Italian: if you want something doing, ask a busy person!

I’d definitely like to do more materials writing in the future, so if you are interested in working with me on a project, please let me know! (Also happy to do proof-reading and piloting, if wanted…)

Thank you, Richmond ELT, for having me as part of this project! 🙂

ELT Teacher 2 Writer: Training teachers to be writers

Excited to be at this talk as I missed the ELT Teacher 2 Writer talk at Liverpool last year… More materials writing-related larks! 🙂 And it’s clearly going to be a good one – we have exciting task handouts on our chairs and key-rings being given out! 

Training teachers to be writers

Sue and Karen are going to talk to us about how ELT Teacher 2 Writer can help teacher materials writers.

  • the database: established writers and people interested in writing can all be in the database

Publishers can search the database when they are looking for new writers but also when they are looking for people to pilot materials/write users reports/answer questions for market research. There are a mixture of publishers national, international and independent.

  • the training modules: developed by ELT Teacher 2 Writer

Where does materials writing feature in a teacher’s professional development?

Within the British Council Framework puts it at stage six (specialist) but teachers do it from day 1, with their own learners.

ELT Teacher 2 Writer did some research into existent writing courses and tried to learn lessons from these. (All non-ELT related) e.g. journalism, creative writing… They discovered that the only common ground that all of these course had was a module that urged users to know their market/know a little bit at the industry. So they had a look at ELT materials writing to see what was involved in writing materials.

They broke it into 3 main categories:

  • core skills
  • market-specific (e.g. ESP materials)
  • component-specific (e.g. writing a teacher’s book/grammar summary/worksheets

There are now 30 titles on the website. All written by experienced authors and they share the lessons they learnt in their own process of being published. All available for download on Amazon/Smashwords (special IATEFL discount ends tomorrow!) These are relevant for people writing for developers, teachers writing for their own classrooms and teachers wanting to self-publish.

Task 1: How ELT publishing works  – time to do a task! (T/F statements about publishing)

  • True: publishers DO decide things well in advance. They have 5 year plans, which they check at intervals to make sure they still make sense. They use market research to inform this.
  • False: the best way to get published is NOT to send a complete manuscript to a publisher!
  • False: you don’t need an M.A. or a Delta to write materials. Relevant teaching experience is essential. Delta/M.A. can be positive but publishers may fear an overly academic manuscript.
  • True: lots of investment goes into publishing, it is expensive, so publishers DO want to make sure everything works and DO do a lot of market research to this end.
  • False: You *do* have to meet deadlines! In publishing, there are many people writing to the same schedule. If you don’t meet it, there is a huge negative knock-on effect.

Task 2: What makes a good rubric? (or direction line in Am. E!) i.e. instruction to the students within a piece of materials.

This is an important skill to learn and is thus included in several ELT Teacher 2 Writer modules.

Rubric checklist

  • Rubric language should be less complex than the language point being addressed.
  • Use small sets of words
  • Use the same rubric for all similar activity types
  • Be careful with staging – sometimes better to break things down into two activities rather than one.

We had to apply these criteria to some sample rubrics. We saw one that was too long and in which it wasn’t clear what was required. We saw one where the language used was too complex for the learner level aimed at – here it would be necessary to simplify the language and helpful to include examples. The third was too complex and needed breaking down. The fourth was rambling and dense, requiring major surgery to sort it out!

Task 3: How to write a graded reader?

Graded readers are great to write – they combine fiction and education! The answer to the task question? Can be found in Sue Leather’s module.

Sue (presenter) read from Sue (writer)’s module to comment on this. Here are couple of quotes:

“An idea is the story’s essence”

” It should include a vital issue that needs to be resolved one way or another”

Skills are needed for the following:

  • language and story
  • drama and premise
  • high stakes
  • conflict and choice
  • action
  • character
  • dialogue

We applied this to three story ideas, deciding that two had wheels and one was dull – the two with wheels are in fact in print! The other, not so much…

Task 4: Writing a critical thinking activity 

What is a CTA? What does a good one look like? Equally importantly, and what may shed some light on this is, what is it not?

  • It is NOT a pure comprehension question.
  • It is NOT a do you agree/disagree discussion.
  • It is NOT a T/F statements activity
  • It is not a question about the literal meaning of vocabulary in a text

In a general comprehension activity you find:

  • identify ideas
  • vocabulary meaning-related activities
  • agree/disagree discussions

In a critical thinking activity you find:

  • Why does the author present the ideas like this?
  • Why are these vocabulary items chosen?
  • Does the author support the ideas? How? What evidence is there?
photo (3)

Some critical thinking activity types

We looked at some sample activities and decided whether they were CT activities or general activities.

Finally, we learnt some more about the ELT Teacher to Writer website:

As well as the database, it includes a resource section for writers.

The Writer’s Toolkit

  • style sheet: publishers have in-house ones of these – if you are working independently, this  will help you to be more consistent.
  • template: example template for styles for rubrics/body text etc. and layout/order/structure
  • permission grid: a grid that lays out the information that is needed in order for an editor to apply for permissions to the copyright holder. It is very important to get all the permissions needed e.g. for different platforms etc.

You can find out more about ELT Teacher 2 Writer by:

Liking their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/ELTT2W

Following them on Twitter: @ELT_T2W

My last talk for the day and like all the others I’ve attended: super-interesting and worthwhile! 🙂

 

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

My very first IATEFL talk!

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.21.10

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:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.32.42

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:

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 09.23.56

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):

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.41.48

 

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:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 09.42.00

(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:

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 10.03.44

 

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

Nigel Harwood: Content, consumption and production: three types of ELT textbook research

ELT Textbooks (or ‘coursebooks’): not just books, all the paraphenalia that goes with. The focus for today is on global coursebooks e.g. Headway.

Why should we do research on textbooks at all? 

  • One powerful argument: teachers have to use them! Most teachers in most parts of the world are required to use textbooks to some degree.
  • Often responsible for end-of-term exam content and things like that.

Important to see if they are fit for purpose.

  • research that has been done can be criticised for lack of rigour, so more rigorous research is needed.

Harwood proposes a research agenda for textbooks:

  • studies of content: look at what textbooks include and exclude in terms of language, topics and culture. So, traditional content analysis.
  • studies of consumption: how the books are used by teachers and learners. Looking at lesson plans, looking at what happens in the classroom, looking at how learners feel about the book etc.
  • studies of production: the process of writing, the process by which the book are shaped and distributed.

Why does this matter?

Content analysis: for accuracy and appropriacy

E.g. of a content study of language:

There are lots of studies comparing language in corpora with language in textbooks. E.g. Ruhlemann (2009) – reported speech in seven intermediate level course books and BNC data. Evidence suggested that the corpus wasn’t being consulted.

E.g. of a content study of culture: 

Solokik (2007) – focused on grammar books and found that they are helping to transmit certain cultural images.

Gray and Block  (?missed the date, expect you can find it on slides online at some point) – earlier textbooks contain more reference to the working classes, but in none of the books was there any discussion of class issues. This is part of the discourse of textbooks as entertainment rather than serious education. Nowadays, the working class appear in pictures, in service encounters, but still no discussion.

Limitations of content analysis: 

Only gives us the “what”, not the “why” – we need to talk to writers and publishers about that. Also doesn’t tell us how material is used.

Consumption studies

This is focusing on actual use. Why does this matter? Because teachers use books differently. We need to try and explore the relationship between teacher’s profile and what they do with it. A book could look fantastic at page level but be used ineffectively.

Shawer (??) divides teachers into 3 categories:

1. Curriculum-makers: rare use made, they make their own based on learners’ needs.

2. Curriculum-developers: use it but supplement it with own materials

3. Curriculum-transmitters: slavish use of the book

Teachers do use books very differently.

Why? The content affects use; the teacher’s beliefs etc; the learners’ needs, age, level etc; institutional factors

So textbook use is context-bound and influenced.

Harwood then told us about a study he did with his PhD student. They found “john” used the book very rarely and they looked more deeply into this via various means. Turns out he was a “curriculum maker”. Looked at an exercpt; John didn’t use it. Why? Don’t like the topic, don’t think it’s useful, don’t like the visual presentation of the book; the topic wasn’t suitable for the level (his learners’ level was too low); the learner age was wrong for it; it’s too Euro-centric etc.

This study took Shawer’s work further in that Shawer developed the categories, they looked an example of one and tried to identified the reasons why. The findings map well onto Hutchinson’s (1996) model.  Also shows how textbook use is mediated by the teacher.

Textbook production

How writers write, what publishers do and so on. Why does this matter? Can help us understand how difficult it is to write a book. Very easy to criticise a textbook. But studies like this reveal all the hidden pressures at work. Can also reveal things that writers believe and publishers believe. May explain why there are problems.

Bell and Gower (2011) – chapter about all the compromises writers have to make. The unenviable task of the materials writer; trying to be all things to all people, but with constraints of space, tight deadlines (affecting piloting).

The new book

Contains, amongst others, a study by Dr. Ivor Timmis (the one and only!) – describes his experience of writing a textbook for publication in a context he had no firsthand experience of. It discusses the compromises as well e.g. conflict between text driven approach that they wanted to use vs the requirement “there must be three grammar points per unit” meaning he had to put in exercises that he otherwise wouldn’t have. Some material had to be cut due to influence from the ministry of education via the publisher. Very difficult to meet all requirements.

Conclusion

These three areas provide us with a framework for future research.

Harwood also briefly discussed the contents of this edited book: a variety of studies related to each element of the framework put forward in this talk. It looks like an interesting book.

MATSDA, here I come!

I’m delighted to have had my speaker proposal accepted for the MATSDA (Materials Development Association) 2 day conference on the last weekend  (28th/29th) in June, this year. The theme of the conference is Second Language Acquisition and Materials Development.

This is the abstract that I proposed:

What about the other 165 hours a week? Developing materials that scaffold and encourage out-of-class language acquisition, through their use as classroom tools.

Is this title a contradiction in terms? Perhaps not: the average language learner spends around 2-3 hours a week in the classroom, implying that for acquisition to take place, exposure to the target language shouldn’t be limited to classroom confines. Indeed, learner autonomy is somewhat of a buzzword in ELT – we recognise the inadequacy of classroom time with regards to acquisition, as well as the issue of syllabus structure often being at odds with learner ‘readiness’ to acquire, meaning that what learners do outside class time becomes of the utmost importance. However, there is often a gap between what we expect our learners to do outside the classroom and how we help them to do it. This talk looks at ways of helping learners harness the target language in their environment, real and/or virtual, effectively, and the role that learning materials, and their use in the classroom as well as beyond it, can play in scaffolding the process, in addition to stimulating and maintaining motivation, curiosity and the desire to acquire.

Last year, MATSDA was great fun – a friendly atmosphere full of banter and loads of interesting ideas to assimilate. I’m sure this year will be no different. I hope to see some of you there. For those who can’t make it, the usual write-up and references will follow – linked to on my Presentations page.

🙂

British Council ELTon/”Macmillan Education award for new talent in writing” shortlisted!

Not long before the British Council ELTon application deadline last year, I submitted some of my materials for “The Macmillan Education Award for new talent in writing” (previously called the Award for Innovative Writing), deciding I had nothing to lose by doing so.

To quote from the British Council website,

“The ELTons, sponsored by Cambridge English, are the only international awards that recognise and celebrate innovation in English language teaching (ELT). They reward educational resources that help English language learners and teachers to achieve their goals.”

The Macmillan award is in its sixth year of running, while the ELTons as a whole are in their twelfth year.

I was delighted when I learnt I’d been long-listed, but didn’t dream I’d get any further than that; but, somehow or another, I have! I have now been shortlisted for the award, which means I’ve made the top five out of all the applications submitted. What an honour!

D646 Eltons 2014 Nominated MacmillanInnovative rgb FINAL OL

Shortlisted!

The materials I submitted are not on my blog, but once the competition is over and I haven’t won (I can’t even begin to imagine that I will win, which is fine: I’m just jubilant to have got this far!), I’ll upload some samples. I made them while at Leeds Met : they, alongside a 5000 word rationale, were my dissertation project and represent hours upon hours upon hours of work. Not only the time spent on the project itself, but all the reading done and hours of classes attended for the Materials Development module, too. I won’t go into details about the content of the materials here and now, as my talk at IATEFL Harrogate in two weeks’ time, which will be written up here in due course, is based on them: I don’t want to steal my own thunder! 😉 But it was all those hours spent that nudged me to enter: having devoted all that time to working on something, the last thing you want to do is consign it to a dusty cupboard forever!

Anyway, for now, suffice to say, I feel extremely lucky to have got as far as the shortlist. And grateful that I had a dissertation supervisor who, having given me a solid foundation of knowledge from which to start (as my Materials Development tutor),  pushed me to do my absolute best with my dissertation materials, by asking hundreds of awkward questions (! 🙂 ) and giving unstinting time and support throughout the process. It was a very valuable experience for me.

Congratulations to all the other nominees – in my own and all the other categories! Let’s see what happens in May!

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! 🙂