General

Webinar notes: What about principles for materials development? (Brian Tomlinson)

Here is Brian Tomlinson’s recent webinar in written form: ‘What about principles for materials development?’ The session was delivered as part of the MaWSIG ‘What about…? Webinar series. It was full of take home points so this post is pretty long!

Tomlinson started by stressing that materials development of any kind (writing, editing, teacher-created resources, etc) should be principled. He defined ‘principled’ as the following:

‘they should match criteria related to second language acquisition research, classroom research, materials development research, and also from [teacher] experience of adapting and using materials’

He moved on to outline a series of key principles for materials development, based on SLA research findings. He didn’t make specific references to those research findings during the talk, but implies that these are general tenets of SLA backed up by research. He supported his ideas with brief example activities/tasks/procedures to help include these principles in ELT materials.

Learners must be exposed to language in use which is… (more…)

#ObserveMe

I really like the #ObserveMe movement (see Robert Kaplinsky’s post here or the hashtag). However, I’m going to have to tweak things to make it work.

Gone are the days of LTC Eastbourne. My two years at that school were highly collaborative and peer observation was commonplace. It wasn’t an open doors policy, but a fair few teachers were happy for me to drop in and observe at short notice, some extending the open invitation (like Sketch who blogs here). There was a time at LTC (admittedly when I had more time myself) when I’d observe another teacher at least once, often twice a week. Teachers welcomed feedback but, unlike much of the #ObserveMe tweets I’ve seen, I was rarely directed to focus on a specific feature or skill – ‘i.e. how do I vary interaction patterns?/How can I do a better job of keeping learners engaged?’ etc.

The ‘free-for-all’ approach had its perks for me – I could focus on whatever I wanted. I often focused on how teachers gave instructions and also on the correction techniques they used – that’s really interesting to observe in a language classroom. Whiteboard work was also a favourite! For the teachers I observed, I guess the feedback topic was a lottery. It’s not the most effective/focused way of doing things but hey, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of observing experienced teachers. Post-observation feedback still led to some interesting discussions – it was sometimes just good to download about issues that emerged during the lesson!

Fast-forward three years and my experience of observations has changed a lot. My two observed lessons per year (one developmental, one evaluative) are thorough and quite stressful. They are fairly by the book (i.e. this book!) and my performance is now linked to my pay, so giving the observer what they want is the priority, rather than giving the learners what the need. Sniff. I’ve frequently been the observed teacher in my current job rather than the observer. In my first year I was observed either formally or through drop ins about 12 times (!) by line managers, trainers and sometimes sales staff getting to know the products. Most observations were top down, which is sad. The only teacher who asked to observe me (rather than a manager who told me they were observing) has moved on, and I’m really lacking someone to bounce ideas off and who I trust to offer objective and informative feedback.

I want to change this, and to do so I think I need to change our teachers’ perception of observations. Given the formality and rigidity of our current observations, my approach here is the opposite. Complete freedom – no guidance, no specific focus (which I would have liked for my own benefit), nothing but allowing other teachers to come in, observe and comment. Breaking the invisible barrier between colleagues and just getting the dialogue going. It doesn’t matter what about to begin with, just… tell me what you think of my teaching and we can take the discussion from there!

Here’s the poster I’ve put up on my door. I hope someone pops in. *Anyone but the boss, ANYONE BUT THE BOSS!*

Feature image: TonyCrabbe

Tech tips for new materials writers

These tips may sound simple to some, but useful to others! As a new writer I reckon you’ll have to do some of the things below, so this primer could help you hit the ground running…

note: instructions for Word based on Office 365

Tips for using Word… because we are all lazy until we actually need most of the cool functions!

Applying a template to a Word document

A publisher might send you a Word template to use and you need to upload it. Google how to do this if you don’t know, but it’s fairly straightforward (for me: Developer tab – Document template – Attach… that’s it really).

Changing the author name

Sometimes a publisher, or particularly an agent outsourcing work for a publisher, will ask you to alter author names in a document. That’s actually quite easy: File – Options – Personalise your copy… and you’ll see the options there.

Styles and the navigation pane

How often do you use Styles in Word? I’m lazy, I never used to bother….

Most materials writing I’ve done has been on Word using templates. These templates range in complexity, but the basic premise is the same as the Word Styles – it’s just applying a particular format to a body of text. Give yourself a refresher on using/changing these. Press Ctrl+F to open the navigation pane in Word. This will show you how easy it is to find your way around a document that uses Styles formatting. (more…)

Developing into a materials writer

Here are a few general tips for skills to develop if you’d like to write for publishers or big teaching organisations.

This is not a ‘How to become….’ post. You can find good tips about how to actually get into materials writing here and here. Also there are more general tips here.

Making the transition…

Going from teaching to materials writing is just a mindset thing really. Teaching and writing require a lot of the same skills anyway (see below). If you write your own materials for class now and then, well that makes you a materials writer.

‘Yeah, but I’m not… you know… paid to… or a professional materials wri-‘

Ah come on! Let publishers be the judge of that. What’s the worst they’ll do? Tell you that you don’t have the right experience? You might get lucky – they might ask you to write a sample of work for them… who’s gonna feel like a writer then, hey? Hey?!

Dealing with feedback

You go all out to write an awesome, engaging text only to receive tonnes of negative feedback. Sometimes feedback is constructive, sometimes it’s really blunt. You certainly need to develop a thick skin. Also, don’t assume that feedback is always scathing. Once, I received feedback on a grammar task that simply read ‘Why have you chosen this task?’ You can take that a few ways:

  • What on Earth are you doing?
  • This is the wrong task, you should choose something else
  • What is your logic here? I’m genuinely interested… If you explain it I might see the value…

Some inferences are more positive than others. Go with the positive spin – not everyone is out to put you down!

Incidentally, some of the best feedback I’ve had on materials has also led to changes to my own lesson planning/teaching practice. Just because an editor is sitting in an office all day doesn’t mean they’re not a practitioner too. (more…)

Review: ELT Lesson Observation & Feedback

Lesson observations – where to start?! Jeanette Barsdell, the author of ELT Lesson Observation and Feedback Handbook, was thrown in at the deep end and expected to observe a teacher on her first day as a DOS. Despite being terrified, she got some great advice, hit the ground running and developed into a competent observer. She’s written a guidance book for anyone who observes or intends to observe ELT teachers, and overall is a great resource.

Overview

Barsdell explains that the book will help you with (quote):

  • managing and setting up observations
  • decoding a lesson plan to understand and improve practice
  • understanding from teaching practice a teacher’s strengths and weaknesses
  • stating strengths and areas to work on in a constructive way
  • being comfortable giving face-to-face and written feedback.

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Pronunciation priorities

Uh-oh! Here comes a ‘Teacher Pete thinking something through out loud’ moment. Tut. I hate these…

Mark Hancock shared a good article on LinkedIn the other day called ‘Pronunciation Teaching Post-ELF’. It’s got thinking about my own attitudes towards pronunciation and what features of pronunciation should be addressed in class.

According to Hancock, what we need to teach is pretty much established:

I’ve seen these particular priorities outlined before in Gibert’s ‘Six Pronunciation Priorities for beginning students’. I asked him how he arrived at these essential features. Was it based on research, a certain model like the Lingua Franca Core (LFC), intuition etc? He commented:

‘Not research or LFC, and I don’t think it’s intuition either. I think it’s more or less by definition: features of reduction and simplification in the sound stream in connected-speech are speaker oriented, i.e. for ease of articulation – and the clue is in the label. Reduction. Simplification. Linking. Etc. Pretty much tautology then. The fact that there is some overlap between the LFC could be coincidental. Except that it probably isn’t, [the essential features] are found to be essential for intelligibility and for good reason!

Jenkins’ LFC highlights some similar priorities from a research-based perspective…

I understand the premise in general – equipping learners with these pronunciation features is essential for ensuring intelligibility in a global context. Some things confuse me though…

From Jenkins (in Walker 2010:143)

‘Essentially, then, the Lingua Franca Core consists of: most consonant sounds; vowel length (but not quality) distinctions; absence of word-initial and – medial consonant deletion; and nuclear stress. For ELF, all the rest is in the realm of ‘non-core’.’

I guess ‘non-core’ is kinda Hancock’s ‘superficial’. However, both authors highlight that teaching these non-core features is worthwhile for receptive purposes. Phonology and listening are obviously linked (I’m still on the Cauldwell bandwagon by the way), which makes Jenkins fleeting categorisation of features of connected speech as ‘inconsequential’ seem a bit strange to me. The priority really is, as Hancock suggests, whether we are trying to understand or be understood. Good point, but if it is to be understood then is it right, according to Jenkins, to go for such a narrow pronunciation focus? I like Wells’ response to this… (more…)

Review: Great Writing

A couple of months ago we ran a two-week ‘Grammar and Writing’ course for teens (aged 14+). I was scheduled to teach these classes but, to be honest, the prospect didn’t fill me with excitement. I enjoy teaching teens in general, but it can be a real chore to motivate them at times. I couldn’t see developing writing skills being that inspiring, and grammar wasn’t exactly going to get them rocking up ten minutes before class in anticipation either.

Well, that was off the mark. There were only 6 students but they were pretty much engaged throughout the two weeks. They produced some excellent work and in a short time I honestly felt like they’d made quite a bit of progress. It’s so nice to actually see improvement in my context – with just two hours a week for each class you never really know what your real impact is. In this case, it seems tangible, and I think the coursebook played a role in that.

Overview

Great Writing 2 from National Geographic Learning is a densely packed 300 pages of introductory material on paragraph writing. It’s actually Book 3 of 6, in a series that covers the basics of sentence construction, spelling and composition, then moves on to paragraphs and a focus on constructing essays.

GW2 is aimed at intermediate level students. In the introduction (to the fourth edition) the authors state that ‘the language level is controlled as much as possible so that dedicated upper beginners and weak advanced students may also benefit from the instruction’. I wouldn’t exactly agree that the resource is accessible for a broad range of levels, more intermediate plus.

There are various vocab and grammar-related activities throughout the resource but the focus is very much on composition. It’s estimated that, depending on the amount of study outside class, the materials could stretch from 60-80 classroom hours. With deviations, additional grammar reviews where needed, more personalisation where necessary and ample time for freer practice (plus peer/self-editing), the book could be the main resource for a course of around 100 hours.

Contents of a unit

The general components for most units include…

Orientation to the writing focus – these are just as useful for teachers as they are for learners. Whatever the writing focus of a unit, this is made clear and fairly student-friendly explanations are provided (for intermediate level). Some of these are great as they make it easy to establish a success criteria for each skill – the list format of some mean they are a ready-made success checklist.

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