Making good materials for everyone, everywhere, no matter how much money they have: Q&A

In this blog post, Margarita Kosior and Linda Ruas answer questions that were raised in the Q&A section at the end of the MaWSIG meets Global Issues SIG webinar. The webinar was held on 25 January, 2020. You can find a recording of the webinar here.

 

Linda Ruas

1 How powerful do you find glocalisation of material in these contexts?

I’m sure it would be a good idea to ‘glocalise’ materials, i.e. adapt them to the local reality and context. However, as there were simply no suitable materials at all in the contexts I was talking about, this wasn’t a possibility. It would have taken just as much time and effort to take existing materials and adapt them to the local context as it would to create new simple texts and lessons just based on their local issues. In any case, the teachers, students and schools would not have been able to afford the type of materials I might have considered adapting.

2 I’m wondering how ideas like this could be adapted for higher levels, where we usually use longer input which might need photocopying, etc. Any ideas?

I took a laminator last time I went to Guinea Bissau, with this in mind. Teachers can now make a set of copies of a text or an exercise, laminate them and re-use the same materials with other groups, or share across schools via their teaching association.

Some teachers there make photocopies and get all the students to buy them, but some of the students really have no money at all, so they don’t get the materials. It seems very unfair to make the students pay.

Other options we’ve explored are: 1) the teacher writes a longer text on the blackboard before class begins and 2) students construct longer texts from chunks of language read out by the teacher or written on the board.

It’s very difficult to do anything when there is no money around anywhere, but this forces us to think of creative solutions. We often discuss various problems and options in the ELTA-Guinea Bissau WhatsApp group.

ELTA-GB won two grants from Hornby Projects in the last couple of years, part of which went towards copying the new curriculum and materials for teachers. They also applied for the IATEFL Projects award, to produce and copy materials, but were not successful.

Another possible solution is for teachers in more affluent parts of the world to donate to those who have nothing. I did some crowdfunding last year and raised quite a lot to help with phones and internet credit to help the English teachers in Guinea Bissau feel less isolated. They are now able to access our WhatsApp discussions and lesson ideas. Now, I’m in the process of setting up a charity, ‘Action Guinea Bissau’, with a few others. We are going to be doing a lot of fundraising later this year and aim to help with micro-credit projects, emergencies, basics like wells and toilets, and, of course, education. We could fund some photocopying with part of this money. If anyone is able to and would like to donate, please contact me and I’ll happily send you the link in a month or two. Also, if anyone knows of any other possible sources of funding for basics like photocopying or materials-creation, please let me know.

3 How can teachers use curriculum materials not OK’d by a bureaucratic school structure? Teachers in many countries are rigidly controlled as to what they use, by the Ministry of Education, and by their school director.

Having talked to many teachers in different English teaching associations across sub-Saharan Africa, I know many of them work closely with the ministries of education to develop materials and the curriculum. However, this is not always possible, of course. Some teachers feel empowered within the four walls of their classroom to adapt and add to the existing curriculum. Some curricula are vague enough to be interpreted in different ways and flexible enough for teachers to add their own local slant. Most curricula include some personalisation tasks, where learners need to apply language or texts to their own context, and this is where the global and local issues can come in.

In Guinea Bissau, the only ‘curriculum’ that existed until recently was a one-page list of grammar topics, and no ministry or school director has shown any interest in, or resistance to, the materials we have developed. In fact, the school directors I’ve met have been extremely grateful for the support. They can see that the addition of local and social issues, the extra layer of critical thinking and the communicative focus are all helping motivate students and improving teaching and learning.


Margarita Kosior

4 Are there differences between writing teacher’s notes for use in financially/technologically poor contexts and writing them for better equipped/resourced contexts?

Writing teacher’s notes for settings with limited resources requires a bit more creativity and imagination in terms of looking for practical solutions to everyday problems. Unless you have visited such places, it is difficult to imagine how many restrictions there are: things many teachers take for granted are out of reach for others. The role of a materials writer is to predict all those different scenarios and, if possible, create lessons that suit everyone. 

Very often, beauty lies in simplicity and it’s the same with materials writing. The more you try to get into the shoes of teachers in financially/technologically poor contexts, the better you do it.

5 How important is it that the work students produce should be used in the real world beyond the classroom, e.g. displayed in a library? Do you think student projects would be equally effective as language learning tasks if they weren’t?

I believe that displaying and projecting any kind of student work in any form (e.g. wall displays, posters, presentations, theatrical performances, art exhibitions, blog posts, magazine articles) creates a win-win-win- … win situation. A win for the learner, a win for the teacher, a win for the parents, a win for the community: everybody can benefit from making student work visible. 

Based on my own observations throughout the years of teaching, students whose work is displayed to a wider audience get a boost of motivation. They feel important and appreciated, and as a result, they get more involved. Seeing a positive response to their work, they realise that their efforts were not in vain and they are more willing to engage in similar creative projects involving cooperation with other students in the future. Making students’ work visible is even more important when students present a project in which they try to inspire their audience and convince them to change their attitudes. When the students receive positive feedback and see a positive response, it is a form of confirmation for them that the cause they are fighting for is worthwhile, that their efforts are not in vain, and that there will be an outcome. It is a wonderful feeling when you realise that what you do matters, and your voice is heard, and that you have made change happen! 

But there is even more to it. When students know that their work is to be displayed, they invest additional effort in its preparation. In the case of group projects, throughout the process, they put an extra effort into discussing and learning from each other, and learn to respect work created by their classmates. All this creates a strong sense of community in any group. Through all kinds of projects to be displayed, students also develop a variety of 21st century skills (creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, etc.) and character qualities (initiative, curiosity, leadership, awareness, etc.).

But, as I mentioned earlier, teachers benefit from displaying students’ work, too. They get to work more closely with the students and to connect with them, and are proud when they see the results of such joint efforts. 

Similarly, parents gain a sense of pride in their children’s achievements, but they also get a chance to look at their children’s learning from a different perspective and gain a better understanding of it. And they realise how memorable each learning moment along the way is. They can open up interesting dialogues with their children regarding the theme of the class display or presentation and even learn something new from them.

As for the community, it can gain a fresh perspective and future leaders who will bring change and hope. 

6 Can you explain why materials with less digital input can be more effective for language learning?

There are many benefits to low-tech teaching/learning, and therefore low-tech materials. First of all, I believe that such materials rely to a great extent on the human element and on communication. For example, discussions often focus on student experiences. Also, with low-tech materials, students get to develop a variety of skills: collaboration and teamwork, decision-making, but also such practical skills such as note-taking. Moreover, students tend to stay focused on the task at all times. 

Of course, technology is great (I use it in my lessons, too, and I write materials based on digital sources) but I think it is also to our own advantage (as well as to the advantage of our students) to challenge ourselves from time to time with the task of designing a lesson for a low-tech context and to see how creative we can be.

Linda Ruas, MA, is an ESOL teacher and CELTA trainer at LSEC in London. She has trained teachers for many years in various contexts: Brazil, Japan, UK CELTA and DELTA courses, and refugee camps, and is now working, mostly remotely, with teachers across Africa, mainly in Guinea Bissau. Linda has written some materials: https://bit.ly/31M1odF and regularly creates more lessons about social justice issues on the Easier English New Internationalist wiki: eewiki.newint.org

Margarita Kosior is an advocate for social justice, and believes in spreading awareness of global issues through ELT. Margarita has incorporated social issues into her teaching since the beginning of her career when, as a novice teacher, she still didn’t know much about Global Education. She simply believed that what she was doing was the right thing to do. Since then, she has participated in relevant projects, presented at international conferences and written ELT materials based on social issues ranging from modern-day slavery to disabilities, the Holocaust and kindness as an underlying value necessary to make a big change in the world. Margarita shares her insights and teaching tips on her blog ELT for a Better World, and she is the author of a series of children’s stories, Tales of Strays.

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