Tag: MaWSIG

How to access ELT-relevant research

How to access ELT-relevant research

A while back, I summarised an article for ELT Research Bites exploring the reasons why language teaching professionals rarely access primary research reports. The main findings were that practitioners may have negative perceptions of research as irrelevant, they may face practical constraints such as expensive pay walls and a lack of time to find and read articles, and they may not be able to understand the articles’ content due to excessive use of academic jargon.

In this post, then, I want to share how we can access research related to language teaching in ways that do not cost a lot of money or time. 

  1. The website I mentioned above – ELT Research Bites – provides interesting language and education research in an easily digestible format. The summaries present the content of published articles in a shorter, simpler format, and also explore practical implications of articles’ findings for language teaching/learning.
  2. Musicuentos Black Box is similar to ELT Research Bites, but summarises research articles in videos and podcasts. (Thanks to Lindsay Marean for sharing this with me!) 
  3. The organisation TESOL Academic provides free or affordable access to research articles on linguistics, TESOL and education in general. This is done mainly via videoed talks on YouTube, but you can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  4. The University of Oregon has a free, customisable email digest you can subscribe to here. It is aimed at language teachers and sends you a feature summary based on primary research articles. (Thanks to Lindsay Marean for sharing this with me!)
  5. IATEFL has a number of ‘Special Interest Groups’ and I’d like to highlight two in particular that can help us to access research. IATEFL ReSIG, the Research Special Interest Group, promotes and supports ELT and teacher research, in an attempt to close the gap between researchers and teachers or materials writers. You can find them on Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter. IATEFL MaWSIG, the Materials Writing Special Interest Group, has an open-access blog as well as a presence on Facebook Instagram and Twitter. In the last year there have been several posts summarising research findings and drawing out what the conclusions mean for English teaching materials and practice – including “And what about the research?” by Penny Ur, and “ELT materials writing: More on emerging principles” by Kath Bilsborough.
  6. Of course there are also search engines, such as Google Scholar, that you can use. You might find it helpful to look out for ‘State of the art’ articles or meta-studies that synthesise research findings from several reports and save you from having to read them all! If the pay wall is your main problem, some journals also offer a sample article from each issue as open access, at ELT Journal, for example, these are the “Editor’s Choice” articles.

To make engaging with research more worthwhile, I’d suggest you should reflect on what you’re reading / hearing: Think about the validity of the findings based on the content and the method of the study, the relevance of the findings to your pedagogy, and, perhaps most importantly, the practicality of the findings for your own work. Be aware of trends and fashions, and use the conclusions you draw to inform your materials and teaching.

An iatefl quickie – Choosing & Using Authentic Texts

An iatefl quickie – Choosing & Using Authentic Texts

A very quick summary of some key points from Sue Kay’s talk, “The genuine article (you couldn’t make it up)”, presented at iatefl 2017 on 4th April.

Questions to ask when choosing a text:

  •  Will it interest and engage learners?
  • Can learners relate it to their own lives? Is it age-appropriate?
  • Can learners learn (well contextualised & high frequency) language AND something new about the world?
  • Are the concepts at a suitable level of complexity and abstractness for the learners age and language level?
  • Are the role models presented positive?
  • Does it avoid polically sensitive topics, or deal with them appropriately?
  • Does it take a perspective that will give learners something to say?
  • Is it a bit “wacky”, unusual, or have something surprising in it?
  • Are there engaging visuals to liven up potentially dry topics?

Points to consider when adapting authentic texts:

  • Edit to provide maximum exposure to high frequency language – maybe substitute less common words with more frequent equivalents
  • Aim to keep the authentic feel, even if you need to edit to make it accessible
  • Make sure it will provide scope for language focussed work and genuine responses to the content.

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Principles of ELT Materials Writing

Principles of ELT Materials Writing

This is my first post from Glasgow as a registered iatefl online blogger! And it’s about the first talk I attended at the conference – A talk by Katherine Bilsborough as part of the MaWSIG SIG day.

In this interesting and inspirng talk, Kath talked us through a small investigation of some principles of ELT materials development. Focussing on principles based on theories which are derived from research, she wondered whether/how such principles described by theorists have change over time. She looked at principles listed by Paul Nation (1993), Brian Tomlinson (1998) and Rod Ellis (2005), and found that most of these would probably be considered common sense by most teachers. All three based their lists on theories of language and learning – but these change! So would these theorists still view their principles as universally valid in the 21st century?

Kath emailed them to find out. And she was “chuffed” that they answered!

Paul Nation says he believes his principles are still valid and supported by recent research. He might add something about deliberate study, though. However, he emphasises that materials writers should also develop their own set of principles, based on the specific context and learners the materials are being developed for.

Tomlinson assesses his principles to still be valid to varying extents. But he highlights the most important points that materials should provide rich exposure, stimulate affective and cognitive engagement, and include sufficient opportunities for learners to notice their achievements. He also notes a distinction between universal (=common sense?) principles, such as materials being age-appropriate and inoffensive, and local principles, more specific to the context, purpose and learners.

Rod Ellis also emphasises the need to focus on the classroom context, not the writer’s but the teachers’ and learners’ perspectives. He believes ELT materials should be based on both L2 acquisition research and classroom settings, so experienced teachers have a lot to contribute!

To add another view, Kath reported what she’s taken from Jill Hadfield’s work on this topic. Jill believes anyone who writes materials should have their own framework of principles to work with, even if they haven’t formulated them concretely.

And so Kath encouraged us all to write our own principles for writing ELT materials, with the reminder that if you can justify it, it is a valid principle! Her framework is a helpful guide for teachers doing so.

Let me close with Kath’s conclusion: it is time to open up discussion, and prompt teachers and writers to think about principles. I’m inspired – you can find my own principles here.

So thanks again Kath for sharing this informative and inspirational journey through your principles obsession! Diolch!

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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!