In my plenary at the 8th ELT Council Malta Conference, I talked about the purpose of ELT materials, i.e. the three Es of materials writing: to engage, educate, and empower learners through materials.
Przybilski, Rigby and Ryan’s motivational model of video game engagement suggests that ‘both the appeal and well-being effects of video games are based in their potential to satisfy basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness’ (2010). If we transfer the idea of satisfying these three basic psychological needs to materials writing, we might be able to reach a level of engagement in their users similar in intensity to the one that can be seen in video-gamers. In order to satisfy these needs, ELT materials should include the characteristics of competence, autonomy, and relatedness found in video games, such as gradual development of competence, application of a variety of strategies, interaction, communication and collaboration.
Learners need to feel engaged and not imprisoned by the process of learning and the materials used.
One thing that stands out in current educational trends is that the future of work will be less about qualifications and more about skills. That’s an additional benefit for language learners because knowing a language is a skill.
The World Economic Forum report (2015) notes that ‘to thrive in today’s innovation-driven economy, workers need a different mix of skills than in the past. In addition to foundational skills like literacy and numeracy, they need competencies like collaboration, creativity and problem-solving, and character qualities like persistence, curiosity and initiative.’ It also emphasises the importance of fostering social and emotional learning because 65% of students starting primary school will work in jobs that don’t even exist today – jobs that are social-skills-intensive.
What does this mean for us?
It means that ELT materials writers need to take into consideration these new skills and incorporate them into their materials. Some of these skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, are already in our materials, but many of them are not.
We need to help them develop grit, and an ability to cope with emotions; we need to arouse their curiosity – to make them inquirers and explorers.
We may not be able to provide hands-on skills to our students all the time but we can help them develop linguistic and life skills that will provide a solid foundation for the skills they are to acquire later in life.
When you master a language, you are given the key to a castle. What you’ll find inside depends on you. (The Architect’s Apprentice, E. Shafak)
Learner empowerment is closely connected to engagement and motivation, but also to the choice of topics and opportunities for communication.
Should we also help learners develop their own voice? Well, we can’t and we shouldn’t because they already have a voice. What we can do is help them make their voices heard.
How can we do that?
Firstly, by actually listening to the learners, to their ideas, their views, their opinions, and turning them into learning opportunities. We should raise their awareness of the fact that they can influence their surroundings because they do have something to say.
Secondly, we can help them by encouraging discussion of topics that are relevant and important, both at the present moment and for the future. I have in mind such topics as reducing our carbon footprint, conflict resolution, tolerance, child labour, stray animals and taking care of them, kindness and empathy, refugees, gender parity, sustainable energy, mental health and mental health issues, mindfulness, etc. I am glad to see that these topics are slowly finding their way into current ELT materials, but they need to have an even greater presence. In order to incorporate some of them into my own materials I have created my own list of PARSNIPs – topics that I make a conscious effort to include in my materials. The list has undergone some alterations in the last couple of years, and today it looks like this: peace, action, representation, self-care, non-violence, inquiry and perseverance. Perhaps in the future it will change again, depending on the issues that arise.
If you would like to know what inspired my talk, read my earlier blog post entitled Architecture and Materials Writing.
Przybylski, A., Rigby, C. & Ryan, R. (2010). A motivational model of video game engagement. Review of General Psychology,14(2), 154–166. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Y23TIu
The World Economic Forum (2015) New vision for education – Unlocking the potential of technology, Geneva. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Y506tO
Aleksandra Popovski Golubovikj, M.A., is a teacher and teacher trainer. She has been teaching English for more than 20 years at her own language school. She is also a materials writer. Aleksandra is the current President of ELTAM North Macedonia, and Coordinator of IATEFL Materials Writing Special Interest Group.