February 13

Opening reflections – 9th February

Today’s introduction to teaching materials raised a number of interesting thoughts, both during discussion within the session and upon further reflection of such. This post aims to provide a commentary of these thoughts and explore them with reference to future development. This includes development on this module, and further the MA course, as well as professional development in my dual roles as teacher and academic manager.

 

Mind-map of initial group discussion on the topic ‘what we want to get out of TE714’

Beginning by discussing ‘what I want to get from this module’ allowed me to identify how this module relates to myself and my development, and frame such in relation to that of my peers. In doing so I identified the following points, from both my initial thoughts and those formed from discussion with peers;

 

  • Student influence on the development, selection and implementation of materials
  • Successful augmentation of materials
  • The impact of/on assessment
  • Evaluating the authorship of materials and their hidden curriculum
  • Teaching of sensitive or taboo subjects and the lack of materials on such
  • Archiving and retrieving materials
  • Quality assurance of self-made materials

I will now briefly discuss each of these points in turn, with particular focus placed upon the interest of each area and how to carry these forward.

Student influence on the development, selection and implementation of materials

My first, and perhaps most important, thought was of the impact students (can) have on the materials we use in our classrooms. The company within with I am currently employed is an international operation with English schools on every inhabitable continent. Being so, materials and their implementation are extremely centralised meaning that a monolingual group of French students studying in Australia, and a multinational group of European and Asian students studying in Ireland will use the same materials, and their teachers trained and instructed to deliver such in a unified manner. Whilst the implementation will inevitably vary, even if only slightly, from teacher to teacher due to factors of their experience, culture, background and personality etc, there is little room/consideration for the individuality of the group of students in question, and further, the students within that group themselves. Currently designing new materials, this has been a major concern of mine and one which we have tried to address, albeit in only minor ways. Throughout this module and my further development, I am interested in exploring the ways in which students currently do, as well as have the potential to, influence every aspect of the materials; from creation to implementation.

Successful augmentation of materials

In the age in which we are living, we as teachers have unlimited amounts of resources available to us in a range of formats and media. Perhaps one of the most difficult challenges of such is using a variety of materials together appropriately. Whilst often still the main material in ESL classrooms, course books no longer stand alone and are often accompanied by complementary digital media. The school for which I work relies heavily still on print material although adheres to a blended learning approach. Teachers are therefore encouraged to incorporate a range of materials in their classes, print, digital, authentic etc, with very little guidance on how to do so. Authentic materials are often praised as useful tools of language learning but incorporating such into a rigidly planned, course book based lesson poses many challenges. Further to this, in the creation of new course books currently underway, a ‘digital layer’ is being produced which is complementary of the corresponding books. In doing so challenged have been faced in ensuring effective and quality lessons in contexts where the digital layer is non-accessible as well as those in which it is.

The impact of/on assessment

An interesting line of thought that emerged from a conversation with peers was the impact that assessment plays on materials, and vice versa. Whilst opinions varied from peer to peer, each working in varying contexts with drastically different purposes, assessment is a part of each and every one of our jobs. In some institutions, the syllabus and accompanying materials are devised or chosen around the assessment criteria, in others the assessment is created around the existing syllabus and materials. In others, like my own, the materials and assessment are, seemingly, unconnected. I wonder if these two should be connected, and in contexts in which they are how this impacts the learning taking place.

Evaluating the authorship of materials and their hidden curriculum

 

Teaching of sensitive or taboo subjects and the lack of materials on such

A discussion that was of particular interest to me was that around taboo subjects in teaching materials and classrooms. In my opinion, some of the most productive and engaging lessons have been those arisen from spontaneous teachable moments, often around taboo issues. For example, in a recent conversation class a student listed hunting as a hobby of theirs which sparked strong reactions from their peers and initiated an interesting debate. Just this week when asking students openly what topics of conversation and debate they wished to conduct, answers included ‘gay rights’, ‘gender equality’, and ‘religions’. Personally, I believe that teaching culture is encompassed within teaching the language and that taboo subjects are an important aspect of any culture. Students often learn English to engage socially and hence must be aware of taboos and appropriacy. Further, such discussions are usually inherently motivating and rich sources of language and language skills.

Of course, there are issues with discussing taboo subjects: they are taboos for a reason and may provoke emotional responses from students and cause offence, especially in multicultural environments. Harmer (Harmer, 2007) uses the acronym PARSNIP to identify universal taboo issues that are often omitted in EFL classes; Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms, and Pork. Whilst there have been some materials published focusing solely on taboo topics (Smith, et al’s ‘PARSNIPs in ELT’ collection for example), for publishers and writers of courseware including such topics would pose large risks in sales, losing whole markets because the content is deemed as culturally inappropriate. Despite this, such issues are prevalent in media and are encountered regularly in students’ lives and can be argued therefore have an important place in the classroom (Condis & Alexander, 2010).

Archiving and retrieving materials

As teachers, we often spend large amounts of time sourcing and creating materials. With the availability of materials both online and in print, it is often hard to know even where to begin looking. I have often struggled with finding both new materials as well as retrieving previously used or created materials, and spend time not only searching for such but then having to (re)create the desired materials. More in-depth discussions on the archiving and retrieving of materials would be extremely interesting, both in terms of peers’ personal methods and digital aids available.

Quality assurance of self-made materials

As aforementioned, I often result in creating my own materials or amending those already available. Whilst I tailor such to the specific needs of my students, something that premade materials cannot do, I do so often from nothing other than my own judgement and personal pedagogy. Any evaluation of one’s own materials then is always going to be subjective (Tomlinson, 2012). Throughout this module, I hope to explore techniques in evaluating one’s own materials and ensuring a high quality of product that serves its purpose.

 

Condis, M., & Alexander, S. (2010). Teaching Taboos: An Annotated Bibliography of Unconventional Resources for the Rhetoric Classroom. Enculturation, 7.

Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Pearson Education Limited.

Tomlinson, B. (2012). Materials Development for Language Learning and Technology. Language Teaching, 45(2), 143-179.

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Posted 13th February 2017 by Ricky Dagnell in category Reflections

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