Saturday 18 February 2017
MaWSIG online event: From pen to press – your questions answered
By Lizzie Pinard
On Saturday 18 February 2017 at 4 pm, MaWSIG hosted an online panel discussion event using Adobe’s webinar platform. Four panellists joined us and shared their views on a range of questions that had been submitted in advance via social media. The panellists were Vanessa Reis-Esteves (young learners author), Sarah Milligan (commissioning editor for Onestopenglish), Julie Pratten (founder of Heart ELT Publishing) and Lyn Strutt (freelance ELT content editor, copyeditor and proof reader).
While the event was unfolding, in addition to being behind the scenes on the webinar platform, MaWSIG Committee member Lizzie Pinard took notes. Here is Lizzie’s write-up of the session, adapted with permission from her own blog. A recording of the session is available to IATEFL members here (scroll down until you see it – recordings are not organised chronologically).
Question 1: Are there any agreed-upon principles about materials writing?
There’s a lot of advice out there now that wasn’t available a few years ago. There are principles, but it depends on who you are writing for; not every publisher has exactly the same rules. Vanessa reports that in Portugal, rules are less strict and more dependent on the context of writing – when writing for young learners, you’d be allowed to do certain things that would not be possible if you were writing for older learners. General questions to ask include: Is it going to be clear? Is it going to make sense? Is it going to achieve its aim? Lyn suggested the following useful links:
- The MaWSIG Blog
- Blog post: Rules for rookie writers
- Blog post: Getting started
- Blog post: The voice of the teachers notes
- Blog post: How not to write really rotten materials
- Rachael Roberts’ blog: Materials development category
- John Hughes’ website
- ELT Teacher2Writer
- The No-Nonsense Guide to Writing
Question 2: What design principles do you use when planning layout, colours, fonts and image and text incorporation?
For young learners everything needs to be visual in order to guide the learners. In the past, we might have used colour to make the pages appealing and to attract attention, but nowadays it is important to consider students with special learning needs/requirements. How can the design of a page make learning easier? Every image has a purpose, which is to help students master and take control of learning.
Materials today are much more visual and magazine-like than in the past. Lots of powerful images are used; these are not always directly connected to a specific task but are used as lead-ins to topics. For commercially published materials, the in-house designers at the publisher will work with a design agency, which will plan the design for the book. The design will be influenced by the market and by other books by the same publisher. For a major coursebook series, the author will be involved in the discussion and will be allowed to have input but will not be in control. The author and editor may fine-tune it later on, but the overall structure and key colours will be selected by the design team at an early stage. If you are self-publishing, look at successful books and books you think work in the classroom and use those as a guide; they have been designed by people who know what they are doing. The EMC Design blog may be of interest.
Question 3: How important is the inclusion of cultural content in instructional materials design?
Julie said this is becoming more and more important. This is, however, a tricky issue. It is not easy to create intercultural content in a book intended for general markets, yet teachers expect books to be accessible to different cultures. Vanessa said that in the past, coursebook culture was predominantly Anglo-American; now, education ministries recognise the need to prepare young learners to work with people from other cultures. They increasingly require school books to teach children to value differences rather than to judge or stereotype people from other cultures. This is an exciting time – there is a move away from Anglocentrism and towards something more global, which can only be a good thing.
Question 4: With so much free content online, both for students and teachers, what can paid content offer?
Sarah works for Onestopenglish, a subscription website offering paid content. In her view, free content is fantastic in many ways, but paid content has been through a rigorous publishing cycle. The material has had not just one pair of eyes on it but rather several – writer, designer, editor – so it can offer higher quality in terms of the way its presented and the way that it reaches the teacher.
Question 5: Is there a market for self-published materials?
Julie’s opinion was that there is still a stigma attached to self-publishing because of its association with vanity publishing. Often, self-published material has gone through an editorial process – but not always. Lyn emphasized that the role of the editor is still important in self-publishing; you may have a great idea, but you need an editor to work on it – not just to check for typos, but to provide input that will make your material better. The more input you have, the better the material will be. Perhaps publishers could take on materials that have been self-published and do something with them? The main difficulty with self-publishing is actually selling the materials.
Question 6: Although in academia the native speaker vs. non-native speaker dichotomy seems to be history, what are the real chances of non-native speakers writing ELT material for international markets?
Sarah said the chances are 100%; she was surprised and saddened that the question was being asked. If a writer is turned away for being a NNS, then that’s discrimination – just as it is with NNS teachers. Publishers should choose their writers according to the quality of the materials they write. Julie’s concern as a publisher is that the ideas are good, the content is good and there is a need for the material; she has several NNS authors on her books at the moment. NNS writers report feeling ignored, but if you look at what’s available on the market, the writers are no longer all English or American. Vanessa added that NNS writers will know their context better in terms of difficulties those students might have, so they should be seen as an asset. It’s more about the contribution you are bringing to the material rather than the language or country on your passport.
Question 7: What is THE qualification you need to get into writing?
Vanessa said that a writer needs to be a teacher at heart. You need to understand how learning happens. You also need to be objective enough to assess whether something would work with most teachers/students, not just with your own. You need a very big ‘teacher heart’ and a lot of resilience and taking on board of other people’s ideas. Julie agreed that you need to love teaching, but she suggested that you also need a creative spark. We will always need innovation; that’s what publishers are looking for. Sarah and Julie both emphasized the value of collaboration – if a creative teacher works together with a strong writer, the outcome could be very powerful.
Question 8: I know plenty of people who’ve sent book proposals to publishers but who have not heard anything back. On the other hand, some established names have been involved in book after book. Is this because the book proposals were not good enough or because editors prefer writers they know?
For Sarah, it’s becoming rarer for publishers to accept proposals because publishers work with publishing plans that are based on extensive research. They have looked at markets and identified their needs; they have specific projects in mind. Publishers do accept new authors, but when they have a writer they love working with, why would they not use that person? However, they do take on new writers when their regular writers are unavailable. If you want to submit something, you can submit a proposal, but a CV showing your experience and expertise is more useful as publishers can see if it matches up with what they are trying to do.
What worked for Vanessa was giving lots of talks. Make sure you have something to say and that what you have to say is of interest. So, go to IATEFL, join a SIG (and be an active member) and collaborate with others. If you do it enough, then somebody will notice you. It’s about being in the right place at the right time. You need to network. IATEFL is a great place to start networking, as are local organisations and conferences. Sometimes people get into writing by having a great blog and that blog being noticed. If you have an audience, people will notice you sooner or later.
Lyn emphasised that she knows several authors who were spotted at IATEFL and who have plenty of work because of that. A blog is a very good way of proving you can write. If you give away some of your ideas (e.g. teaching tips and lesson plans), then people may buy your further ideas. If you can show that you are able to produce material, that’s what’s going to make publishers look at you and think you can do something bigger. Then, it’s important to be reliable – always deliver on time.
Julie raised the issue of all the people who cannot go to IATEFL because it’s expensive, or because they don’t live nearby. She thinks publishers could do more to help new blood get into books. With Heart ELT, Julie put out a call for writers to donate chapters. These were allocated on a first-come, first-served basis, and she ended up with a mix of well-known names and unknown writers, all of whom sent in good, well-structured material.
Sarah agreed that the big publishers could definitely give people a few more chances and go to more local conferences. Publishers and commissioning editors do go to local conferences to find people who can’t afford to go IATEFL in the UK. Also, it is worth entering writing competitions. She agrees that editors do look at people who have self-published and done workshops. It’s all about putting yourself out there.
At this point, we ran out of time! A huge thank you to all the panellists (and if you read this and think I have misquoted you, please let me know!) and to everybody who attended the event.
Lizzie is currently based in the UK and has previously taught in various European and Far Eastern countries. She has been teaching for seven years and holds a Delta and an M.A. in English Language Teaching. Her interests include materials writing, doing classroom research and exploring the relationship between the development of learner autonomy, motivation and metacognition.
14 January 2017: MaWSIG MeetUp (Germany)
There was a MaWSIG Meetup in Trier, Germany, on Saturday 14th January. The Meetup brought together people who write ELT materials and/or are involved in publishing ELT materials. The main event was at 2–6pm at THEO, Simeonenstraße 59, 54290 Trier. Entrance cost 15€ including homemade ‘Kaffee & Kuchen’ buffet (plus tea and bottled water). In the evening there was an optional wine-tasting with five regional wines.
Christmas Party at the Jericho Tavern, Oxford
MaWSIG welcomed in the festive season with fellow ELT editors, authors and publishers at the MaWSIG Christmas Party on Thursday 15th December in Oxford. Everyone had to pit their wits against the best brains in ELT in a Christmas quiz! It was also a chance to catch up with friends and network with colleagues old and new.
30 June 2016 London MeetUp
This MaWSIG MeetUp saw a small but perfectly formed gathering at the Star of Kings pub near Kings Cross with writers, editors and publishers meeting and chatting. We also said an official goodbye and a big thank you to three outgoing committee members: Sophie O’Rourke (Events Coordinator), Lyn Strutt (Deputy Publications Coordinator and Website Coordinator) and Kirsten Holt (Deputy Events Coordinator).
MaWSIG PCE, 12 April 2016
Our PCE at the IATEFL Conference in Birmingham was titled Print vs. digital: Is it really a competition?
The last few years have seen radical digitisation throughout the publishing industry and English language teaching has been no exception. As we feel our way through these changes and start to understand the landscape we now find ourselves in, we are asking whether the industry as a whole has started to stabilise. Have we found our niches, and can print and digital work seamlessly together? And what does this mean for material writers?
In this highly interactive PCE, we explored the skills and techniques that material writers need to create professional, engaging and relevant materials for a range of different teaching contexts, such as primary, secondary, adult, exams or ESP. We walked away with refreshed thinking, new knowledge and – perhaps most importantly – new ideas to help us create English language teaching materials, whether for digital, print, or a blend of both. Our fantastic line-up of speakers featured Ceri Jones, Genevieve White, Katherine Bilsborough, Fiona Mauchline, Damian Williams and Sue Kay. Our closing panel comprised Debra Marsh, Katherine Bilsborough, Damian Williams and Jo Sayers, with MaWSIG Coordinator Rachael Roberts chairing and some lively input from the delegates.
MaWSIG Conference, London, 20 February 2016
New ways of working for new ways of learning started by looking holistically at how digital platforms have had an impact on our work–life balance, and the first sessions focussed on how to achieve a better balance. Delegates went on to look at how digital materials are being used in classrooms today, and how this affects the way in which we create materials for these new learning environments. Macmillan very generously sponsored the entire event, hosted at their conference centre near Kings Cross. The conference ended with an evening drinks reception and networking.
The full programme is available here.
A MaWSIG Meetup took place on Wednesday 25 November 2015, in Berlin. This meetup was in association with ELTABB. Early reports on Twitter suggested it had gone very well and Rachel Daw now has a great summary of it on her blog.
This year’s online festival, MaWFest, took place on Saturday 7 November.
The theme of the day was images and copyright, and speakers included Andrew Walkley, Karen Spiller, Getty Images and the Copyright Licensing Agency.
Sessions were in a variety of formats from webinars to Twitter chats. The schedule is here. The webinars are now available for members to view on the IATEFL website:
- MaWSIG online festival 2015 – David Duffield
- MaWSIG online festival 2015 – Toby Hopkins
- MaWSIG online festival 2015 – Andrew Walkley
MaWSIG Meetup Munich was a joint MaWSIG/MELTA event held in Munich on Thursday 25 June. The meetup was an informal networking evening, where MaWSIG and MELTA members will got to meet each other as well as editors and commissioning editors from ELT publishers.
If you would like to organise a similar event in your local area, please get in touch with our Events Coordinators.
We hope you can join us at an event soon.
MaWSIG May 2015
MaWSIG May presented a series of webinars from speakers at the forefront of ELT.
Wednesday 6 May, 6.30 pm BST (5.30 pm GMT)
Jill Hadfield on covert syllabuses. Here’s what she says about the subject:
‘I first used this term in a positive sense when speaking about group dynamics activities from my book Classroom Dynamic, using it to mean activities which have an overt language learning aim but a kind of “secret” group dynamic aim tucked inside a language learning aim, i.e. invisible to the student and thus non-overt. Since then I have expanded it to include other things such as an L2 identity-building syllabus which can co-exist with the overt language learning syllabus throughout a course. Covert syllabuses, however, can also (and the term is usually used with this implication) include ‘bad’ syllabuses as well as good ones – e.g. unconsciously sexist materials, a white middle-class cast of characters, or glorification of the celebrity culture. In this session, I will look at examples of positive and negative covert syllabuses and suggest some awareness-raising activities for ensuring negative syllabuses are eliminated and positive ones included.’
If you missed the webinar, it can be viewed by members on the IATEFL website:
For those of you interested in the learner preferences dichotomy and Apter’s Reversal Theory, Jill’s article is in RELC Journal 37.3 and is available here (with subscription).
Unfortunately we had to postpone Christiane Perone’s webinar on 13 May, due to illness.
Wednesday 20 May, 7.30 pm BST (6.30 pm GMT)
Paul Sweeney, ‘Course (be)ware: key lessons in online course development – a follow-up from IATEFL’
The development of online courses is increasingly common where ‘online course’ is taken to mean a set of online materials made available to students or teachers of English as a substantial component of a learning programme. From very different starting points, publishers exploring online content development and institutions exploring course delivery online often end up meeting in the middle. What principles of good practice are available to inform this work? This talk is based on a range of shared development experiences from seasoned e-learning practitioners. They reported on courses developed for different audience types (students and teachers of English), varied subject matter (linguistic content as well as teacher training) and factors such as audience age and project size. My talk will take the audience through key lessons derived from the survey. The talk will reference some principles of online learning design but the main emphasis is on the practical, project-based lessons across areas including course design, authoring tools, delivery platforms, the quality and type of content and the role of content within the overall course. The talk will consider the influence of factors such as evolving online behaviours and user expectations, emerging course models e.g. MOOCs, the shift to desktop to tablets and smartphones and changing technical and learning design standards. Finally, what, if anything, is to be done about new pedagogical considerations such as adaptive learning, learning analytics and gamification?
The Q&A from this webinar is on our Facebook page.
Sunday 31 May, 12 pm BST (11 am GMT)
Cleve Miller, ‘New Publishing’
In this webinar, Cleve takes a ‘high altitude’ perspective on the future of materials design, combined with concrete examples of how this future is actually happening now. The main message is that we should be optimistic about careers in ELT authoring, and will look at specific examples of why it’s realistic to be optimistic. Areas discussed include the fact that content is a now a process, not a product. As material designers, who are we selling to, and how is this changing? The future is CLP: customization, localization, personalization. Cleve talked about at new publishing models, including self-publishing: ebooks and platforms. How will we make money, and who will pay it? What does this mean for course design if blended and flipped are the ‘new normal’? Cleve also looked at examples from (publisher and self-publishing) authors, and some tools that can be used.
Members can view the webinar on the IATEFL website:
IATEFL Manchester 2015
MaWSIG PCE 2015: The Material Writer’s Essential Toolkit
No matter how much experience you have as a materials writer, no matter whether you’re writing for print or for digital, there are certain core skills that every writer needs to master.
Can you write an effective multiple choice question? Can you write audio and video scripts that sound authentic? Can you write a great artwork brief and make your pictures ‘pay their way’? Can you use technology to make your writing better and more efficient? Can you write activities for video? Can you use corpus tools? Can you handle the challenge of writing ESP material? Can you take content that you know works in your classroom and make it work in a coursebook?
In this highly interactive PCE, MaWSIG ran a series of short workshops from Sue Kay, Ben Goldstein, Ceri Jones, Nick Tims, John Hughes, Kieran Donaghy, Anna Whitcher, Julie Moore, Evan Frendo and Christien Lee. Attendees had the chance to work with these leading materials writers to learn, to ask questions, and to share expertise.
Download the programme here:
Some of the speakers created short preview videos. You can view them below.
On Saturday 7 March 2015, Genevieve White and Emily Bryson gave a free webinar called ‘Horrible History: Rising to the challenge of writing engaging materials.’ Genevieve and Emily were relatively new to materials writing when they started writing on the British Council Anniversaries Project. In this webinar, they reflected on their personal development and provide practical tips on how to create classroom materials that make both history and English interesting! The British Council Anniversaries Project celebrates 800 years since the signing of the Magna Carta, 450 years since Shakespeare was born and 100 years since the end of the First World War.
MaWFest: the MaWSIG Online Materials Writing Festival
The MaWSIG Online Materials Writing Festival was a free, one-day, online-only event held on 14 December 2014. The day featured a mix of online Q&As, a Twitter hashtag chat and a Facebook panel discussion.
The line up included:
- Online Q&A with Liz Soars, co-author of Headway
- Twitter hashtag chat: #askedit with Karen White and Lyn Strutt
- Online Q&A with Nick Sheard (Head of Adult Publishing, ELT Division, Oxford University Press)
- Facebook panel chat with Mila Rendle (Head of Consumer Publishing, Cambridge University Press), Katie Nielson (Chief Education Officer, Voxy) and Lindsay Clandfield (Co-founder, The Round)
- Online Q&A with Sam Missingham, Head of Events at Harper Collins UK
The first MaWSIG meetup was held in London on 10 November 2014. There is a blog post about it here.
MaWSIG May 2014
MaWSIG May presented a series of webinars from speakers at the forefront of ELT. The recordings are available for viewing; please log in on the IATEFL homepage.
- Karen Spiller and Sue Kay on ‘How to become an ELT materials writer’.
- Lindsay Clandfield on ‘Mistakes of a rookie writer’.
- Ben Goldstein on ‘Seeing the big picture’.
- Fiona Mauchline on ‘Writing for teens – personalising, imagination and the Twilight Zone’.
New Directions in Materials Writing, January 2014
Our first event pre-dates this website, but there is a report on it in our first newsletter, Building Materials, which can be viewed in the Member Area of the IATEFL website. You can also read about it in Sophie’s Storify.