Materials Development Task 1: absence and presence

This is a new series of blog posts for teachers looking to become materials writers. It aims to help future writers explore topics and issues in writing, encourage deeper insight into the content of published materials, and promote a principled approach to materials development.


To what extent do you agree with these statements?

  • The coursebooks I use/know reflect the realities of my learners.
  • The coursebooks I use/know include topics that may be considered controversial.
  • The images and stories in the coursebooks I use/know include members of underrepresented groups.

Think of a clear example to support each of your responses.

Ontological monovalence

‘… the study of curriculum has been prone to a philosophical oversight known as ontological monovalence by focussing on what is present on curricula to the exclusion of what is absent.’ (Wilkinson, 2014)


Analyse a set of published materials, for example a coursebook unit or series of units. If possible, review the full package – student-facing materials, notes, digital resources (if available) and so on.

While analysing, adopt the following viewpoint:

  • learner realities are present in the materials
  • there are controversial topics present in the resource
  • underrepresented groups are present in the resource

Be sure to look for presence rather than absence, which Wilkinson suggests is the default view of curriculum reviewers/researchers.

Make notes on your findings.


  • Was this a fruitless task?! Was it difficult?
  • Did you find any genuine examples of these features being present in the resource?
  • What techniques did the publishers/writers use, if any, to make the absent seem present?
  • Do you think ‘ontological monovalence’ could work both ways? I.e. is it possible to focus too much on what is absent rather than what is present? Why/Why not?


As a writer you may encounter certain constraints regarding content. These may be due to a variety of factors, most notably target markets. It is important to speak out and raise issues regarding absence and underrepresented groups. However, the reality may be that during certain projects you will need to find a workaround in order to include more representative content.

Think of practical ways that you can add opportunities for absence to be addressed through your resources.

  • It may help to consider how you can use different components of a coursebook to achieve this aim.
  • Broad ideas may include personalization and deeper questioning – can you think of clear examples?  

Final thoughts when moving from teacher to writer…

Consider this diagram, again from Wilkinson (2014).

Have you ever chosen to leave part of a curriculum topic ‘unenacted’? Why? What impact do you think this had on your learners?


Wilkinson, M. L. (2014). The concept of the absent curriculum: The case of the Muslim contribution and the English National Curriculum for history. Journal of Curriculum Studies46(4), 419-440.

Categories: General, materials writing, teacher development

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1 reply


  1. Blogging tips for new ELT writers | ELT Planning

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