Making materials on topics that are excluded from mainstream coursebooks: Q&A

In this blog post, Ilá Coimbra and James Taylor follow up on some of the questions that were raised in the Q&A section at the end of the MaWSIG meets TDSIG webinar: Making materials on topics that are excluded from mainstream coursebooks, which was held on 11 October 2019. You can find a recording of the webinar on the past events page of the MaWSIG website.


Do you think either of the approaches to representation is more valuable than the other? What does it depend on? Or is a combination best?
(Could you argue that problematising / showing other views gives a way to discount prejudice and social unacceptance overtly? Instead of just not discussing it?)

Both approaches are valid and necessary. Choosing between them depends on many factors. First we need to take into consideration how much we know about different minorities’ struggles. This is because if we are not part of that minority, we can fall into a trap when bringing up controversial topics that involve that group and reproduce offensive behaviour without noticing. Unfortunately, we rarely get rid of all our unconscious bias. The easiest way to get feedback is, of course, to ask someone from the group in question how they feel about the material, but if they are not an experienced materials writer, they may not be conscious of the some of the issues relating to the lesson, and you may not have access to someone appropriate. The way we see it, the approach we chose for Raise Up! is ‘safer’ and ‘easier’ to bring to more varied group contexts and a lot less likely to result in offence.

What advice would you give to materials writers who are given constraints on topics (like those you showed at the beginning, Ilá) by a publisher? (Next time I have a meeting with the sales and publishing team, how do I get through to them for including certain groups and content that ‘technically’ go against PARSNIPS and other restrictions?)

The constraints and restrictions placed on writers by big publishers are a given fact. However, we can always try to push those limits and see how far we can argue (and convince them) that having that lesson in the book is beneficial for everyone. In case of outright refusal, we will know that not having a more inclusive book was not our fault. We also hope that Raise Up! can act as a model for other writers, giving them a tool that they can use to show editors and publishers how inclusive lessons can be included as part of mainstream materials in a non-intrusive and non-controversial way.

Sometimes it is very difficult to face stereotypes. I used to teach to a group of male adults. Some of them wanted to prove their masculinity all the time. I was wondering what the most effective way to address those kinds of behaviours is.

It is indeed. And it is particularly difficult to face comments that are offensive to a minority you are part of. However, we always need to remember our role as educators and try to see how far we can deconstruct stereotypes or sexist/racist/homophobic comments without ending the possibility of healthy dialogue. It might be equivalent to the L+1 concept: we go a little bit further from where our students’ awareness of their prejudice is, but not far enough to make them deaf to our words.

In any case, try to make them reflect on what they have said by using questions like ‘What do you mean by that?’, ‘Why do you think __________ [st’s comment]?’

As materials writers, we believe that there are many areas of life like this that are ripe for inclusion in ELT lessons, and are currently not found. We would encourage teachers, independent authors and bloggers to create their own materials that examine these subjects, and which push students to go further than mainstream coursebooks usually do.

Could you share a little bit more about the ‘how to’ of publishing a book? 

When you decide to self-publish a book like this, aside from the content, there are a number of choices you have to make: in what format will the book be published? Where will I sell it? How much will it cost? Will I design it myself or pay someone to do it? Will I get it proofread and edited? If you want to save some money, then there is likely to be a steep learning curve, which is even steeper if you want to do a coursebook format like Raise Up!. There really isn’t any other way, but you will pick up many skills along the way.

To start with, you need to decide on the type of book it will be. If it is mainly text, then you can type it out and import it into the Amazon Kindle Direct app, which is fairly easy to use. If it’s a coursebook, then you have a bigger challenge as they will not work on Kindle. We created Raise Up! in Adobe InDesign, which enables you to export in a variety of formats, but requires some graphic design knowledge. 

Another option is to get in touch with us and maybe we can publish it for you!

Do you have any tips on including controversial topics, as well as representing marginalised (‘controversial’) groups of society. How can we include PARSNIP topics sensitively?

As we see it, this touches on similar issues to choosing the approach when including marginalised groups. We need to analyse the possible contexts the materials can be used in and design them sensitively. There is no one-size-fits-all solution when we are dealing with people, their beliefs and their experience. Some topics are going to be easier to bring up with one group, but can bring chaos into others, so it’s vital that teachers are supported with detailed notes. Teachers who decide to bring these topics into their classroom need to be adequately prepared, so writers should assume that the lesson content should be scaffolded, slowly and carefully introducing the topics with an emphasis on empathy and understanding over outrage and controversy.

Can you explain how you came up with the four principles for your Raise Up! project? 

Literature on inclusive teaching, inclusive material, teaching tolerance and empathy helped, as well as our experience as language teachers. We found that the principles revealed themselves to us during the writing process, as opposed to us using them as guiding principles from the outset. The principles are:

  • Diversity is an advantage for all learners, irrespective of their background.
  • Coursebooks have authority so we must be mindful of the world we choose to represent.
  • You can adopt an inclusive or problematised approach, but you must do so sensitively.
  • There is no neutral position, so we have to be aware that not everyone may be able to be as inclusive as we wish.

We believe that these principles were key to guiding the writing of Raise Up! and enabled us to create lessons which are inclusive and rewarding. We recommend that anyone wishing to create diverse materials should keep them in mind.

James Taylor is a DELTA qualified EFL teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and podcast producer based in Brasília, Brazil. He has taught English to adults and teenagers in Brazil, South Korea, Belgium and Costa Rica since 2007. In August 2018, he self-published his first ebook, How was your Weekend? He produces the ELTon-nominated TEFL Commute podcast.

Ilá Coimbra has been an English teacher since 2001 and a teacher trainer since 2011, especially preparing students and teachers for language exams. Ilá is based in Munich, Germany, holds DELTA Module 2, CELTA and CPE certificates and has been attending and presenting at local, national and international conferences since 2014. She is also one of the founding members of BRAZ-TESOL Voices SIG, a special interest group that focuses on equality in ELT.

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