The MaWSIG PCE, to be held on 9 April in Brighton, features five writers speaking on different aspects of Writing for the World. Here, Julie Day previews her talk on materials writing for ESOL classes. More information about the PCE is available here.
The ideal of learner-centred teaching, where all resources and activities are relevant to learners’ lives based on detailed diagnostic assessment of their learning, is something we might all want to aspire to – but is it possible to produce resources which will help teachers do this?
In English teaching for migrants and refugees in the UK, known as ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages), this has long been the holy grail. However, many teachers have not been able to live up to this due to time constraints, organisational policies, lack of training and a whole host of other reasons. In my experience as a teacher of adult learners who were often job seekers, we had so many other issues to deal with – paperwork, learners having financial and personal problems, staff shortages, etc. – that we found it difficult to find the time for such detailed planning. We did try, though!
There were some published resources which at least set the context in the UK, such as the Skills for Life ESOL resources, but these were not perfect. One such example was a reading activity with a model bus timetable for Birmingham (silent letters!) when your learners can’t read in their own language and live in Newcastle. With experience, I knew how to adapt resources to meet learners’ needs, but when embarking on my career, I had some memorable failures, such as the lesson from an EFL coursebook on arranging and going on a foreign holiday. I used this with asylum seekers who had no passports or funds to afford such a luxury.
So how can writers provide resources that will guide teachers, especially inexperienced teachers, to teach in a way that’s inclusive and provides equality of opportunity? I suppose the answer is that you can’t provide something that will meet every need, but you can help teachers to see where they might need to differentiate, for example, by suggesting that teachers group learners by skill levels when doing specific tasks like writing. We can emphasise the importance of getting to know your learners: their skills, previous educational experience, interests and ambitions, and of using this information when planning courses and lessons. We can provide alternate activities for those operating at different levels within a group. And, of course, we need lots of variety of activities to keep the interest and attention of all learners.
There is no magic bullet, but as writers we can do more to help busy teachers meet their learners’ needs.
Julie Day has 31 years’ experience teaching, training and managing in ESOL/ EFL with learners of all ages in private language schools, Further Education college, community and work based provision. Since 2013 she has worked in online learning for English My Way (Good Things Foundation), the British Council and various other organisations. She trains teachers and volunteers and develops resources e.g. for teachers of ESOL learners in prison.
ESOL is my teaching situation too, and I have to say trying to use the class set of [deletes title of ubiquitous young adult series] drives me nuts, it’s so unusable w ESOL students. I usually create useful materials of course,. Sometimes I trial proof stages of my own books that are in production, but none of them are ESOL materials, so I’m really looking forward to your talk!
I totally agree with your point about inexpeirienced teachers! I suppose many think that a published textbook by a well-known author or company “must be good” and forget to reflect on the realities of their students’ lives and interests. In a way, they’re not really to blame for not having the experience to know better, but your talk sounds like a great way to raise awareness among teachers and also materials writiers! Looking forward to it!