Category: Discussions

ELT Research Bites

ELT Research Bites

Followers of my blog will know that I believe we, as language teachers, all need to understand the pedagogical underpinnings of what we do in our language classrooms. That’s why I aim in my blog posts to provide information on theoretical backgrounds and lesson materials which apply them practically. I would also love for more teachers to read the research and background articles for themselves. But I know that teachers are all busy people, who may not have access to or time to access publications on the latest developments and findings from language education research.

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As the founder, Anthony Schmidt, explains: ELT Research Bites is a collaborative, multi-author website that publishes summaries of published, peer-reviewed research in a short, accessible and informative way. 

The core contributors are Anthony Schmidt, Mura Nuva, Stephen Bruce, and me!

 

Anthony describes the problem that inpsired ELT Research Bites: There’s a lot of great research out there: It ranges from empirically tested teaching activities to experiments that seek to understand the underlying mechanics of learning. The problem is, though, that this research doesn’t stand out like the latest headlines – you have to know where to look and what to look for as well as sift through a number of other articles. In addition, many of these articles are behind extremely expensive pay walls that only universities can afford. If you don’t have access to a university database, you are effectively cut off from a great deal of research. Even if you do find the research you want to read, you have to pour through pages and pages of what can be dense prose just to get to the most useful parts. Reading the abstract and jumping to the conclusion is often not enough. You have to look at the background information, the study design, the data, and the discussion, too. In other words, reading research takes precious resources and time, things teachers and students often lack.

And so ELT Research Bites was born!  

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The purpose of ELT Research Bites is to present interesting and relevant language and education research in an easily digestible format.

Anthony again:  By creating a site on which multiple authors are reading and writing about a range of articles, we hope to create for the teaching community a resource in which we share practical, peer-reviewed ideas in a way that fits their needs.

ELT Research Bites provides readers with the content and context of research articles, at a readable at the length, and with some ideas for practical implications. We hope, with these bite-size summaries of applied linguistics and pedagogy research, to allow all (language) teachers access to the insights gained through empirical published work, which teachers can adapt and apply in their own practice, whilst not taking too much of their time away from where it is needed most – the classroom.

CHECK OUT ELT Research Bites here:

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ResearchBites

 

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from teachers/writers

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from teachers/writers

Are you an ELT teacher looking to move into materials writing? This post is for you!

On Saturday 14th January, I hosted a Meetup for the Materials Writing Special Interest Group of IATEFL. The idea was to enable some informal networking for anyone in the area who is involved in writing ELT materials.

One of the activities we did involved editors/publishers and teachers/writers posing questions for each other on posters, and then discussing their answers to the “other side’s” poster. IMAG0050[1].jpg

To share some of the insights beyond our cosy meetup in Germany, I also posed the questions from teachers/writers questions to some editors and other people who work in ELT publishing, and here are their answers:

  • Is there any interest in / a market for writing smaller-scale projects? (e.g. topic worksheets / individual lessons)?

Yes. Generally when we commission these sorts of projects, they’re supplementary materials supporting a book, and there are specific things we need, generally things we feel the target group needs but the book has not provided. So if you regularly use a book and notice a gap, you should definitely let the publisher know, and perhaps send examples of supplementary worksheets you have created.

Yes, definitely, but I suggest a system of crowdsourcing. Writers can produce modules or collections of individual lessons (they need to be substantial lessons) and these can be sold as individual modules (after there are ten or so they can be made into a book).

There is a market, but not really so much for individual worksheets. Find something that links your materials together, a thread that flows though several worksheets or lesson plans. Sets of lesson materials which form a coherent unit are probably of more interest to potential publishers.

  • Is it possible to have more access to writers to discuss objectives etc?

We can’t give out contact information, but we’re not secretive about who writes for us; just look in the copyright pages.

The teacher’s books often give more detail on the overall approach and aims of the activities than the student’s books, so maybe have a look there.

  • How can we get into proof-reading / copy-editing work?

A good way to get a foot in the door is to offer to write readers’ reports on first drafts of material. Publishers are always happy to have readers, and I have personally seen examples of readers then getting writing work because they’ve made an impression.

About proofreading work: the best place to start is with your own materials, then offer to check worksheets or materials that are being written for your school/shared bank of materials. Create a style sheet that will give you consistency across the whole collection of materials. If you find you enjoy this kind of work, you could contact your local publishers’ office and express an interest, or you could consider doing a recognised proofreading course somewhere like The Publishing Training Centre or joining an organisation like the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).

Definitely get some kind of recognised training if you want to do copy editing and/or proofreading professionally. It not only gives you credibility, it will teach you a lot. I did my training in Canada, and I went into it thinking ‘I teach grammar… this is just a formality.’ Not so. I learned so much about the process of editing a text that I would never have got by myself.

For anyone interested in ELT editing, follow the White Ink FB page for tips, tricks and work opportunities. Facebook.com/WhiteInkLimited.com

  • How can (potential) writers make themselves known to you and/or find out about upcoming projects?

Send editors/publishers your CV and a couple of sample materials you’ve made.

Submit your work to materials writing competitions – most publishers and lesson sharing websites host competitions.

Most publishers have an email address or contact form for potential writers. It’s really important to make clear what kind of materials you can write – whoever processes the emails will want to forward it quickly to the relevant editorial department – so put ‘English’ and ‘Business / Primary / EAP / etc.’ in a prominent place in the email.

You can always email our editorial teams to discuss any potential opportunities.

To make yourself ‘findable’, make sure you join ELT Teacher 2 Writer. All of the publishers listed on the homepage use the database to find writers.

Most people suggest starting a blog where you share materials you have made for your classes more widely. Likewise, if you create something innovative then share it by presenting at conferences etc. This can get your name known, and if you do contact a publisher then you have a portfolio to show them.

If you can commit to piloting and reviewing material, you can impress editors that way and may then be offered writing work.

  • What can teachers do if we notice a gap in the market?

Yes, if you spot a gap in the market that is innovative, get in touch  and most editors will send you a proposal document, or check the publisher’s website for an electronic proposal from. Make sure you approach the right kind of publisher, though.

Get in touch via the website of a relevant publisher – There’s ususally a list of details you should include on there.

Do your research! If the gap you find is very niche, publishers might be less interested, so you’ll need to ‘prove’ that your gap is relevant to a wider audience than just one of your classes.

  • Is experience/expertise in digital materials writing essential nowadays?

I would say no, not yet, but a willingness and an interest is helpful.

Not essential – the vast majority of educational material sold is still print. However, it’s becoming increasingly relevant and we’re always on the lookout for people who can write this kind of content.

Depends what you want to write and who for. If you specifically want to write digital materials, then some experience will clearly help, but training will probably be provided if you’re new to the area – especially as different publishers use different digital platforms anyway.

  • And if so, is there capacity for advice/training to produce this type of material?

I think it’s a case of learning by doing. Let your publisher know you’re interested. Probably the best “training” you can do is to get yourself familiar with the apps and things that are on the market, and try to imagine what had to be taken into consideration when the content was created.

I would say this is out there if you look hard enough. Nellie Deutsch runs courses on MOODLE for Teachers. And some organisations run Writers Retreats which might be relevant.

I think most producers of educational material are still learning what makes good digital content in our industry. In my opinion, the best thing to do is to learn and work with everything yourself (particularly the apps and websites that are successful, like Duolingo, Babbel, The Day, PlayPosit, etc. – or even brain training apps like Elevate) to get a better idea of what kind of content works well on a smartphone, tablet or PC.

For digital training, you could have a look at what ELTjam offer.

Are you involved in ELT materials writing? Do you have more questions from the teacher’s/writer’s perspective? Or answers to these questions from an editor’s/publisher’s perspective? Add your thoughts in the comments below!

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from Editors

MaWSIG Meetup – Questions from Editors

On Saturday 14th January, I hosted a Meetup for the Materials Writing Special Interest Group of IATEFL. The idea was to enable some informal networking for anyone in the area who is involved in writing ELT materials.

One of the activities we did involved editors/publishers and teachers/writers posing questions for each other on posters, and then adding their individual answers to the “other side’s” poster.

IMAG0051[1].jpgTo share some of the insights beyond our cosy meetup in Germany, I’ve decided to type up the questions and answers here on my blog. So let’s start with the questions posed by editors and publishers:

  • How regularly would you like to have contact with the editor(s) of a project you’re working on? And what’s the best way to keep in touch?

– by email, or phone calls at pre-arranged times.

– by email, not via CMS!

  • What makes a schedule achieveable?

– advanced planning

– involve writer in negotiating deadlines

– time of year – respect teachers’ other commitments during term time

  • What characterizes the optimal brief?

– sample of how material should be submitted, or a template

– realistic and clear

– not too many stakeholders

– best to talk through together, not just send document

  • How can we help you find out more about the target audience?

– provide contact o teachers/schools/advisors

– set up focus groups

– provide info on curriculum, or previously published materials

  • How can we encourage teachers to use our materials?

– poss. make videos of example lessons showing how the materials can be employed or adapted

– specific materials in terms of students’ content learning (rather than general textbooks), e.g. for us on literature/linuistics/culture studies

– make mix & match units available

– attractive design for learners – put less on a page instead of cramming in as much as possible

– make them adaptable

– provide pdfs

  • What can a publisher or an editor do to make you want to keep working for them (besides pay you lots of money)?

– regular work

– reasonable workload & deadlines

– no projects at busy times of year

– pay in advance for work, rather than on the basis of books sold

– make communication as efficient as possible

– show appreciation & respect for writers’ time and work

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Are you involved in ELT materials writing? Do you have more questions from the editors’/publishers’ perspective? Or answers to these questions from a teacher’s/writer’s perspective? Add your thoughts in the comments below!

It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

It’s boring only hearing from the same few students! – Encouraging Oral Participation

Recently, a colleague observed my grammar class. The 30 learners are B2-C1 level and the class is required for their degree programme (English Studies). I usually set up my gramamr classes so that the activities build on each other to move from re-capping basic points to more advanced fineties of certain structures, so we discuss answers to exercises together to check everyone has understood before we move forward.

Usually, I do think-pair-share, or check answers in plenum. But often only a few students volunteer to share their answers with the class and I end up trying to coax the others into speaking.

I’d never really noticed before, but my colleague pointed out that I often say “It’s boring only hearing from the same few students!” He suggested that this might make those who volunteer to contribute feel that they are boring or should not put their hands up so often: the opposite effect of what I’m trying to achieve. And so I am trying to think of new things to say, of new ways to encourage the others to share their answers. 

So far, I’ve tried “Let’s hear from someone new” and things like “Let’s hear from someone in the back row”. I sometimes also call on individual students, but I often have the feeling that they don’t like being put on the spot like that…

And so this blog post is rather a plea – please help! What else can I say or do to encourage other students to volunteer to share their answers in plenum?? Please write your suggestions below!!

Practical advice on developing your own teaching materials

Practical advice on developing your own teaching materials

This week, I’ve outsourced the discussion question from my Materials Development course. I asked my teacher friends and colleagues:

Which ONE piece of advice would you give to a teacher who wanted to create their own classroom materials?

My top tip is: First plan the aims you want to achieve with the materials, and use them to guide everything you create!

Here’s what the others said…

Daniela (post-doc researcher & university tutor): Don’t bother unless you’re 200% sure that it’s going to be better than what’s out there already – so that your time is really worth it!

Carol (EAP tutor): Make the content relevant to your students and their learning needs.

Dan (FE Teacher Trainer): Ensure that the learner will think about the content, and not the materials.

Jessica (secondary-school MFL teacher):  Make sure anything you create allows you to play to your strengths and show off the learners’ ability.

James (graduate student, ESL teacher): Pay attention to the level of language you’re using, as well as teaching, so that students can understand the materials completely.

Chris (English teacher)Be consistent with formatting: page numbers, topic title, date, class, etc. and staple together so it’s not lots of loose sheets.

Jenny (university EFL teacher): Base the materials on topics that the students can relate to, whether this topic has been encountered inside or outside the learning environment, first-hand or through the media. 

Joanna (online Business English teacher): Start with needs analysis – learn about your learner. 

Marc (ESOL teacher): Leave plenty of white space for writing notes and annotations.

Karen (freelance editor & project manager): Make sure you write clear teaching notes and keys so others can use the materials too. 

Sandy (ELT manager & CELTA tutor): Just start doing it and testing them out! Then reflect on what did and didn’t work.

Jasmine (ESL teacher): My advice  would be to be a student. Take a class or try out your own lessons using another language register in English. You will be able to critique your own stuff more objectively.

And what are you tips? Please leave your comments below!

The Native Factor in ELT Materials

The Native Factor in ELT Materials

On the Materials Design itdi.pro course I’m currently doing, our tutor has prompted us to discuss:

When using an authentic audio or video it is important to use only English native speakers?

For me, the most problematic word here is ‘only‘. (Problem #2: Define ‘native speaker!) And so my answer would be a flat out No.

But that’s not much of a discussion! And so I’ve decided to re-formulate the question a bit, into: When should Non-Native Speakers be used in ELT audio & video materials?

And as with most things ELT… my answer is: It depends! 

And as always, it is important and interesting to look at what it depends on…

256px-CEFR_and_ESOL_examinations_diagram.svgStudents’ language level. Some commentators say that only NS (=Native Speaker) accents should be used with beginner students, as NNS (=Non-Native Speaker) accents can be harder to understand. I can see some value in the point that accents which are deemed harder to understand for a certain group of learners should maybe be introduced once a good level of grammatical and lexical understanding has been achieved and they have been well prepared for the listening task.. But, I think we have to remember that NS also have a huge variety of accents and don’t always speak clearly, so I’m not convinced that ‘hard to understand’ is a NS vs NNS difference….

Language Learning Goals & Motivations. For me, this is the key argument regarding listening comprehension: If the students are learning English (or whatever language, really!) in order to be able to communicate with native speakers, for example moving to live or study in a country where English is the main language spoken, then it makes sense to expose them mainly to NS accents and dialects through audio/video material. If they will mainly be communicating with other NNS, then it is rather more important to expose them to these when training listening skills. Indeed, in today’s globalised society, it is becoming less and less realistic to prepare English learners only to communicate with NS, as something like 75% of all interactions in English are between NNS (see Crystal 2003).

Evaluation_seminar_8063712I believe students should learn by using materials that are authentic for the contexts in which they are going to need to use English. A case from my own experience: I teach EAP, and when I think about preparing students to participate in seminars at a university in the UK or USA, for example (most popular countries among my students), then I definitely need to prepare them for the fast-paced, messy, interrupted, overlapping discussion, which will probably also involve cultural norms of turn-taking, etc. And it seems to me that the best material for this kind of thing would be authentic recordings of speakers in exactly this kind of seminar setting. However; find me a British university seminar that doesn’t include at least one NNS… probably rather rare these days! So really, when I think about it, it’s probably the NS + NNS combination that makes most materials most authentic!

Having said that, simply exposing learners to different accents, dialects or varieties of English will probably not suffice to really help them learn and understand – they will need training in listening out for and understanding differences. Though, again, this is not an NS vs NNS point!

Megaphone-Vector.svgSo far, I’ve mainly been coming at this topic from a focus on listening comprehension. But there is also another factor in this debate; the speech production side. With this in mind, there is the claim that …

Students’ need NS pronunciation model. I’ve recently heard several comments to this effect, and indeed I agree somehow intuitively with the feeling that an NS pronunciation model is better for beginner learners to learn to imitate. But then I do sometimes (when involved in discussions like this) wonder why?

As a basic and overarching goal of any language learning/teaching, I’d take communicative ability and intelligibility. For the sake of the latter, I think maybe learners should not learn to pronounce new vocabulary in their teacher’s accent; if this becomes combined with their own accent, it might render the words incomprehensible to speakers with other L1s! However, several researchers, especially in the area of ELF, have suggested that we shouldn’t necessarily take NS pronunciation/native-speaker-like-ness as the overarching goal of ELT anymore. Still, I do still think that many learners see this as their ultimate goal, and thus it may we what we’re paid for – our job to help them reach it? And besides, the question that then remains for me is How will NNS be mutually intelligible if they’re not taking some kind of vaguely common standard as their starting point? – But maybe I haven’t read enough ELF research to understand this…

(Also, I wonder what the ultimate goal of language learning would be if it’s not to be as competent in the L2  as in our own native language …?)

My Principles for Creating ELT Materials

 

I make a lot of worksheets and materials available via this blog, which I hope  that many fellow ELT professionals will use and evaluate. In my opinion, though, it’s important that anyone who wants to use my materials has some insight into the principles behind my work.

I believe Materials for ELT should…

  1. be based on an understanding of how learning works. – i.e. of theoretical models of learning, for example from SLA or psychology, and methodologies derived from them.
  2. guide learners to discover and practice language items and skills. – i.e. not just ‘tell’, but ‘show’ and allow space for learners to notice by themselves, by guiding them in logical steps.
  3. lead to as authentic communication as possible. – i.e. they should learn to do with things in English which they are realistically likely to have to do outside of the classroom.
  4. gain and maintain learners’ interest. – e.g. by involving higher-level thinking skills, provoking affective responses, dealing with topics relevant to the learners.
  5. expose learners to ‘taboo’ topics (PARSNIPs) in a constructive manner. – i.e. to prepare them for and encourage open discussion of potential taboos and cultural difference, in order to develop inter-cultural communicative competences; especially since a key motivation to learn English is to communicate with people form other countries (and therefore cultures).
  6. allow for differentiated ouput. – i.e. grade the output, not necessarily the input, so the same material can be flexibly employed with various groups of learners working at different levels or focusing on different skill areas by simply adjusting the output tasks accordingly.

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