In our third post written by speakers at the MaWSIG Showcase at the annual IATEFL Conference on 4 April in Liverpool, Sylvia Karastathi discusses how we can use museum resources to open new doors in materials development.

Within a new communicative landscape where multimodal communication is the norm, still and moving images are gaining ground even in traditional educational settings. The inclusion of aspects of visual literacy within language education places additional demands on language teachers, but also offers exciting opportunities for professional development. Teachers need to be empowered in this new communicative landscape, and my talk at IATEFL Liverpool, which was part of the MaWSIG Showcase, sought to present fresh options for materials development with the help of museum education resources from major Anglo-American museums.

In the first part of my talk I explored the practices of new museology, which seeks to redefine the role of museums in society and place audience engagement at the centre of their agenda. Narratives and stories are now part of the museum experience, and museum education departments use them to extend visitor involvement beyond the space of the museum and further into the realm of imagination. This practice was exemplified through the National Portrait Gallery publication Imagined Lives (2011), where contemporary authors were invited to create fictional portraits for unknown sitters.

This framework became the starting point from which we explored a series of online resources that are freely available on the websites of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Gallery, both in London. The first group of resources we discussed could be used with little adaptation, as they are study guides on fun and creative topics such as ‘Medieval Beasts’ and ‘Take it to the Afterlife’; they also include examples of generic activity-types that can work with different genres of images, such as portraits and landscapes. These resource guides have been widely developed for teaching in the galleries, and as part of visitor engagement programmes. Their viewing tasks that target visual literacy primarily can be easily tailored for language teaching contexts within the framework of content and language integrated learning or an English through Art programme.

The next part of the session focused on task creation based on a podcast series from the UK National Gallery produced as a viewing companion for the highlights of its collection. Following principles from adaptation and materials writing literature (Tomlinson 2013, McGrath 2002), which prioritise noticing authentic input and stimulating intellectual, emotional and aesthetic involvement, we worked through the rationale and stages of task creation for a set of three tasks on the same podcast graded across three levels. My goal here was to get students to associate paintings with different feelings, allowing for debate and justification of their answers, and subsequently to prompt them to noticing authentic language input from the podcast.

Through this example of practice my goal was to share one message: as language educators, we do not need to ‘re-invent the wheel’ and create visual literacy tasks ourselves in order to use art images creatively in our classrooms. Rather, we can turn to authentic visual resources and extend classroom walls to include major cultural institutions. We can adapt the already existing museum resources and texts, now widely available, by foregrounding linguistic elements through language awareness activities and prioritising aesthetic involvement through careful observation.

If you would like to read further about how to use museum resources in your classroom, see my article published in the edited volume here.

Karastathi, S. 2017. Looking back at Ekphrastic Writing: Museum education tasks in the language classroom. In K. Donaghy & D. Xerri (Eds.) The image in English language teaching (pp. 105–116). ELT Council.
McGrath, I. 2002. Materials evaluation and design for language teaching. Edinburgh Textbooks in Applied Linguistics.
Tomlinson, B. (ed.) 2013. Developing materials for language teaching. (2nd revised edn.) Bloomsbury.

Sylvia Karastathi lectures on English Language and Literature in the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting at Ionian University, Greece. She is also a teacher trainer and course leader on language teaching methodology courses at New York College, Athens. Sylvia has been involved with the Visual Arts Circle and the Image Conference, where her passion for working creatively with images in education is nurtured and shared.