Both the readings from this past week and the discussions from today’s session have illuminated a number of interesting thoughts that I wish to explore further here. To begin, I would like to refer to the learning outcomes for the module;
- a critical awareness of materials design processes and principles, and the ability to relate these to language learning and teaching materials;
- the ability to consider learner needs and other contextual factors in the selection, adaptation, use or production of language teaching and learning materials;
- a critical understanding of the complexity and importance of media, functionality, and technology choice when selecting, using and evaluating materials;
- the ability to identify relevant teaching or learning theories evident in the design and use of teaching and learning materials;
- the ability to systematically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of materials using a synthesis of current approaches to materials evaluation.
As the module progresses, these will be developed through seminars, literature, and these blog posts. Reviewing the LOs made me think of the blog post from last week and how my initial thoughts sit with these. Hence, here I will begin by framing last week’s discussion within the LOs. The main points of this discussion are as follow:
- 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
Exploration of these topics, both in class discussions and out-of-class research, will help to meet these learning criteria. All of the above will require an understanding of one’s principles, a topic discussed later in this post. All material is created and implemented as a response to underlying principles and must be acknowledged when doing so. An understanding of taboo subjects and the question of their place in the classroom cannot be achieved without evaluation of the beliefs and values associated with taboos, for example. In order to discuss the influence students (can) have on materials, we must evaluate our principles surrounding students’ participation in material development as well as students’ principles. Exploration of material augmentation and issues of archiving will undoubtedly involve discussions of media and technologies.
Both the quality assurance of self-made materials and evaluating the authorship of existing materials will inevitably include the evaluation of both types of materials. Whilst I have no formal experience of materials evaluation, informal evaluations are not unknown to myself. In the creation of new course books, I have informally evaluated both the previous materials in use and aspects of the new materials both in terms of the materials themselves and their implementations in the classroom. Throughout the module, formal evaluation will be conducted on both self-made and published materials. The basis of next week’s seminar being evaluation, the pre-seminar task is to evaluate a published course book, an experience that I’m sure will be interesting.
Processes of material development
Looking at the descriptions of the process of material creation as given by material developers, evoked a number of questions. There was a stark difference between descriptions such as ad hoc and spontaneous, and those like principled and frameworks. I did question however whether these two categories are dichotomous or whether they are more interlinked. For this reason, the word intuition was probably the most interesting. In literature, the word intuition has varied meanings across different fields. In early philosophy, intuition was largely defined as the conscious awakening of pre-existing knowledge through contemplation (Dariusz, 2015). In modern psychology, however, intuition is seen as the use of pre-existing expert knowledge and experience to make informed decisions (Klein, 2003). My understanding of the term is that of a ‘gut feeling’: using one’s experience and knowledge to make choices, often quickly and without consultation. In this understanding then, materials developers can make ad hoc and spontaneous decisions, however, these will be informed by their own principles and previous experiences of materials and hence founded upon frameworks. Tomlinson (2012) claims that materials writers use a number of techniques: retrieval from repertoire, cloning successful publications, and spontaneous inspiration, all of which could be argued to be aspects of using intuition.
This, of course, relies on the identity of ‘expert’ or ‘experienced’, with novices perhaps relying less on intuition and more upon structure and frameworks. A notable difference between novice and expert materials developers is that whilst novices solidly run with one idea and fully conceptualise it until the end, experts are happy to form a number of ideas and abandon anything that does not work (Tomlinson, 2011). This may be due to novices largely consisting of teachers in practice who face a number of issues developing materials. Teachers face large time restraints and hence abandoning materials during production could easily be seen as counterproductive. Expert developers don’t face the same constraints and thus may not mind doing so. They may also have more room for spontaneity and actualisation of ideas in development due to their extended window of time.
It is important to note that materials extend beyond that of mere course books. Tomlinson (2011) identified materials as “a textbook, a workbook, a cassette, a CD-ROM, a video, a photocopied handout, a newspaper, a paragraph written on a whiteboard: anything which presents or informs about the language being learned” (p. xiii-xiv). In an exploration of my thoughts on materials I identified that in my perception materials should:
- contain learning beyond the language & be socially relevant
- be adaptable to contexts and learner needs
- be inclusive
- contain free space
As a group, we identified a number of complimenting principles that we agreed upon, and a number of which we had contrasting opinions about. Whilst such issues of engagement, expense, creativity, and adaptability were agreed upon, others, such as graded language, authentic materials, and free space were debated. It was clear in such that experience and context were highly influential in personal principles.
The notion of materials being adaptable and inclusive was regarded by all as important. Remembering that materials exceed just course books, it was agreed that multimodality is important as well as room to adapt and supplement materials rather than being forced to adhere to a strict framework. Similarly, all were in agreement that any learning is social and must include more than just the language. In my context of working with teenagers, I feel this is even more important, contributing to their social education. This may include soft skills, like teamwork and leadership, social knowledge of the language, like taboos and appropriacy, or subjects, such as politics and social justice. This was an issue seemingly discussed by other groups, as shown in the following photo taken of another group’s principles.
After discussion of our principles, we equated these with the principles featured in a number of writings. Whilst some of our ideas were identified in the literature, such as materials being socially relevant (Nunan, 1988; Tomlinson, 2011) and materials being adaptable (Bell & Gower, 1998; Hutchinson & Waters, 1987), others were not. That is not to say that these ideas are of no value or not discussed in the literature, but rather are not discussed in these specific writings. For example, whilst the idea of free space in materials was not acknowledged by any of the given principles in question, it is apparent in the literature (Tomlinson, 2011).
Identification and evaluation of these principles is important in discussions of materials as they will inevitably impact the development, choosing, and implementation of materials. As a teacher creating my own materials, it is important that I understand these, not only to ensure my materials encompass my own principles but that these principles are founded upon more than just belief.
Bell, J., & Gower, R. (1998). Writing course materials for the world: a great compromise. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Materials Development in Language Teaching (pp. 116-129). Cambridge: University Press.
Dariusz, P. (2015). The Concept of Intuition and its Role in Plato and Aristotle. Organon, 47, 23-40.
Hutchinson, T., & Waters, A. (1987). English for Specific Purposes: A Learning-Centred Approach Cambridge: University Press.
Klein, G. (2003). Intuition At Work. London: Doubleday.
Nunan, D. (1988). Principles for Designing Language Teaching Materials. Guidelines, 10, 1-24.
Tomlinson, B. (2011). Introduction: principles and procedures of materials development. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Materials Development in Language Teaching (2nd ed., pp. 1-31). Cambridge: University Press.
Tomlinson, B. (2012). State-of-the-Art Article: Materials development for language learning and teaching. Language Teaching, 45(2), 143-179.