Problems with images in ELT materials

Images in ELT coursebooks are often ambiguous. What might seem a fairly obvious depiction of an act or concept to us may be perceived as something completely different to our learners.

In an interesting, small-scale study, Hewings (1991) asked a group of Vietnamese learners in England to interpret various illustrations found in Elementary level coursebooks. For most of the images correct interpretation would require some culturally-specific knowledge, and written text around the images was removed so the learners weren’t given any support.

Hewings found many types of image were interpreted differently from what was intended. One example was with illustrations portraying people in certain roles, where learners failed to recognise certain stereotypes (e.g. rich/poor). He found, understandably, that culturally-specific job roles (e.g. a priest) were misinterpreted, as were situational images.

Maps like this room plan were also confused…

taken from Hewings (1991)

Some learners thought this was a view of a house from top to bottom rather than a floor plan from above. Symbolic representations like thought bubbles were also misinterpreted, and images like the ones below were seen as something different – the first image being a children’s slide, a reception desk, and ‘information’.

taken from Hewings (1991)

Interpretation of graphs also seemed an issue, particularly dealing with keys.

Hewings made some clear points in conclusion (mostly quotes here):

  • ‘we inevitably see illustrations from a culturally based viewpoint…’
  • We assume that everyone perceives images in the same way
  • ‘We assume that students have the necessary skills to make sense of information presented in the form other than a text’
  • Interpretations are unpredictable
  • Images are a chance to make learners aware of visual representations of a cultural group/target language

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Lesson idea: Tomlinson’s text-driven approach

In Developing Materials for Language Teaching (2013) Tomlinson introduces a text-driven approach to materials development. He goes into quite a bit of detail regarding text selection, offers a suggested framework for the approach and provides a practical example (pages 99-114). I won’t attempt to summarise, I’ll just say read the chapter! It was the most useful and applicable reading I undertook on my recent MA course.

For the purpose of this post, here’s the framework overview, taken from Tomlinson (2013:110, ©Bloomsbury)

click on the picture to enlarge

We had to plan a lesson using the text-driven approach for a unit assignment. I chose to use my favourite poem as the text – Blessing by Imtiaz Dharker. Here’s a nice dramatization of it (I think originally BBC):

You can find the full text here

These activities are pitched at upper-intermediate, for young adults/adults.

I’m based in Bangkok, hence the personalisation in the first activity… (more…)

IATEFL 2017: Does feedback work?

A summary of Loraine Kennedy’s main points from the talk ‘In one ear and out the other: does feedback work?’ You can access the session here (again, won’t embed).

Orientation

This talk was specifically about in-service feedback for teachers, not about feedback on training courses

If we are not giving feedback for the right reasons, and getting the right results, then why bother?

Studies (e.g. Kluger and Denisi 1996) have shown that only a third of feedback has a positive effect – two-thirds has either a negative or no effect. With this in mind, Kennedy considers how to change the way we approach professional learning, and the impact of feedback on teaching performance and ultimately student learning.

What is feedback?

  • Feedback is limiting the discrepancy between current performance and future goals.
  • We often think of feedback in narrow terms (e.g. observations). Hattie and Timperly (2007) point out that even reading a book related to teaching can be a form of feedback.
  • Only feedback that is sought and accepted is likely to have an impact

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IATEFL 2017: Developing teacher talk

I’ve just watched Jamie Keddie’s talk entitled ‘Developing Teacher Talk’. I was excited about this one. I’m a fan of Jamie’s site and I recently watched his TEDx talk On Videotelling. Here’s a link to the talk (can’t embed again).

Keddie knows how to warm an audience and started at his anecdotal best in this talk. He was a model of good storytelling – reminding me a lot of a former colleague who was just as engaging. He started with a couple of stories about misunderstandings he (or people he knew) had encountered – barmaids mistaking ‘pints of lager’ for ‘pina coladas’ and a family member referred to as ‘a hungry old man’ rather than ‘a hundred year old man’.

These highlighted the point that anecdotes are a compelling way to introduce a topic. Keddie is known for his interest in using video in the classroom – he pointed out that teachers often use videos as a way to introduce topics when a story from the teacher could be just as effective. (more…)

IATEFL 2017: Integrating pronunciation

I just watched a good talk from Mark McKinnon and Nicola Meldrum called ‘Making pronunciation an integral part of your classroom practice’. Here’s a link (I can’t embed the vid for some reason).

I’m a DipTESOL graduate so ‘pron’ is close to home for me. OxfordTEFL is also top of my list for places to work so I was excited about this one!

McKinnon and Meldrum started by mentioning the need to treat pronunciation as equal among language systems, and to integrate the teaching of ‘pron’ into our daily practice. ‘Sounds’ good to me.

They led with a video of one of their learners, Isabel, who was recorded completing a speaking task. As an audience we analysed some of the pronunciation problems she had. The point was to emphasise that analysing our learners’ pronunciation was important – once we know what the issues are then we can ‘begin to integrate relevant and useful pronunciation work’. True. (more…)

Metaphors for teaching materials

What are coursebooks to you? This question prompted plenty of discussion on our materials development course. We were given various metaphors to choose from – a springboard, a straitjacket, a recipe, a compass, etc. I opted for a crutch, as I felt it was something that supported the students learning (and my planning). Mind you, one coursebook I used recently felt more like a headwind. More specifically, a headwind while running on a sloping, pebbly beach in winter during a mild storm. I won’t name the book in question…!

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The role of teaching materials – deficiency vs difference

I took a course on materials development recently. It was really good – plenty of input and ideas I could apply in my current context. Here’s a link to the course if you’re interested.

The role of teaching materials (as in externally produced ones like global coursebooks) is something we considered early on in the course. We came across a good article which talked about  perceptions of materials.

Allwright (1981) mentions two ways in which teaching materials are perceived. There’s the deficiency view, that ‘we need teaching materials to save learners from our deficiencies as teachers’ (ibid, pg. 6). This suggests that a writer holds expertise above the teacher – they know how to map a syllabus better or how to make sure activities are logically sequenced. Allwright points out that this leads to the idea of ‘teacher proof materials’ – it doesn’t matter how deficient you are, the quality of the teaching materials will get you through…

Alternatively, there’s the difference view. This is more respectful of both writer and teacher roles. It suggests that teaching materials are written by those with different expertise to teachers. Writers might be skilled in making principled decisions about materials design, but the teachers are equally skilled in delivering the materials effectively.

I’m not sure I’d use the term ‘deficient’ to describe myself or my teaching colleagues (!!!), but I can see what Allwright is getting at. When I was fresh off the CELTA I used to think the coursebook and its teacher’s notes were there to mask my inability to teach – I could never write anything better than what was already there. As my confidence and experience grew I began adapting coursebook materials more. I came to realise that without tweaking them to suit my context it was actually the materials that were deficient! So with experience I settled on this ‘difference’ view – someone has put together these (normally global) resources in what they feel is a principled way, but they need me to realise how they can work for my students. As the teacher I’m just as empowered as the writer…

Deficiency vs difference – what are your views?

This article is worth a read:

Allwright, R.L. ‘What do we want teaching materials for?’ ELT Journal volume 36/1 Oct 1981