The trainee material writer’s perspective

In the previous blog post, MaWSIG interviewed Jane Spiro about training teachers on the Oxford Brookes MA module in materials development. In this follow-up post, we hear from two teachers who took the course. They talk about their experiences of learning to write materials with extracts from their final materials.

Yolanda Hartshorne was an online MA student based in Spain, where she has taught English for over twenty years. Most recently she has worked for the ESIC Business & Marketing School, Spain and on the pre-sessional programmes at the University of Sussex, UK. In September she will take up a new post at a university in Spain. Yolanda is also the author of two children’s novels. Her website is www.candlebooknews.com.

What was your previous experience of writing materials before the course?

I had proofread for Cambridge University Press on the Thinking Lab: Science series for the CLIL schools market in Spain and had enjoyed the process of testing and proofreading the materials. I also enjoy writing, so I hoped this course would make me a better materials writer and, as a result, a better teacher to help my students learn more effectively.

What was one of the key things you learned?

Try out the materials yourself as if you were the student, and find a fellow teacher who is willing to test the materials in their own class. Their feedback and that of the students (along with your own) is key to fine-tuning the materials so that they can be understood and applied by other teachers, and so that they are suitable for other classes, not just your own.

What was one of the main challenges?

Ensuring the materials are consistent with a level. This means ensuring that vocabulary and grammar, for example, are appropriate to the level you are teaching.

What materials did you develop?

At the time, I was teaching the Business English module on the undergraduate Marketing degree at ESIC Business & Marketing School in Spain. One objective of the module is to prepare students for the BEC exam, so I decided to develop materials that were focused on describing graphs, a necessary skill for the writing component of the BEC exam. I searched for authentic graph presentations on YouTube to see what language was used, which I could then extract and use in exercises. I found a suitable video and based my printed materials around it. Here’s an extract from the materials on the grammar of trend language:

How did the material work in class and at the piloting phase?

It was good to see the feedback from initial draft to final piloting phase. The initial stage feedback was crucial to the final success of the materials at the piloting stage (which, despite its success, still needs revision, as you might see from the extract). The final materials worked well in class; the students enjoyed the tasks, and so did the teacher. Feedback from students was positive and constructive.

Now that you’ve finished the course, what’s your next step in terms of materials writing?

First of all, I am going to join MaWSIG! It is definitely worth joining this IATEFL SIG if you are interested in materials writing. I hope to contribute an article or two as well – I think it will help keep me in touch with the field. I would also like to put everything I have learned into practice, which is why I am adding Materials Writing to my freelance services on my website, and I am looking for publishers who might like to contact me for projects.

 

Flora Fergusson lives in Oxford and works as an EAL teacher in a local secondary school. She teaches students who are newly arrived to the UK and need support with developing their English language skills whilst at school. She has also worked as an EAL teacher in an international school in Brussels.

Why did you decide to take the materials development course?

Designing lesson resources has always been one of my favourite aspects of being a teacher, yet I also rely heavily on trusty favourites from ELT publications, both print and digital. The chance to get a greater insight into how ELT materials are developed and published was my primary motivation for taking the module, alongside a desire to have a go myself. I wanted to learn about the various stages of material design and to experience what it’s like to edit and hone a resource to its fullest potential − something that is rarely possible given the time pressures of a typical teaching week.

What were some of the key things you learned?

The first few sessions of the module focused on the diverse range of ELT materials and the rigorous processes materials go through from initial idea to print. It was interesting to learn about how ELT coursebooks are levelled and driven by a USP. The issue of a USP was the first challenge I encountered, as it was difficult to step out of my own specific classroom context and consider something that would be relevant to a wider audience, yet still occupy a particular niche in the ELT sector. As I am currently working as an EAL teacher in a local secondary school, I knew I wanted to work on something in this area. After some deliberating, I decided to make a resource that used storytelling as a way to introduce Science vocabulary to 11−14 year olds. Here’s an extract from the introductory story:

How did you develop your materials?

The development of my materials followed the process of idea generation, market research, initial drafts and peer piloting. For me, the most daunting part of the process was the piloting, as I watched two of my students test out my resource and hit several hurdles! However, it was these hurdles that then enabled me to make substantial improvements to my materials, in particular, to the rubrics. One of the most satisfying moments was contrasting my first and final drafts and seeing the impact of peer feedback and piloting. It has certainly opened my eyes to the scrutiny that published resources are put under before they get to the printed page, and the hours of work that go into making professional resources.

Now that you’ve finished the course, what’s your next step in terms of materials writing?

The next step for me is to pilot my resources with a larger group of students, and I am also keen to collaborate more closely with the Science teachers at my school. Once it’s ready (or as ready as it will ever be), I would love to publish it on teacher resources sites and get some feedback from other EAL teachers. As a result of this module, I feel better equipped to design good materials and I would like to build up a stock of resources that have been edited and drafted, rather than made at the last minute and then forgotten about and never used again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3 responses to The trainee material writer’s perspective

  1. James Styring 19 July 2017 at 12:28 pm #

    I totally agree about the importance of trialling one’s own material. All too often, teachers (or editors) embark on the writing path and a decade or so later they lose sight of the classroom and of how students and teachers are really using your – and others’ – materials. I teach a few times a month at a free school in Oxford (https://www.oxfordhub.org/fellow) where I constantly trial, revise and trial again material I am developing. It’s an eye-opening experience every time. All full-time writers should find somewhere they can test out materials as they write it.

  2. Katherine Bilsborough 20 July 2017 at 9:00 am #

    Really interesting blog post. I love reading about the writing process that different people go through. I used to assume we all did the same thing but obviously we don’t. I agree with James that piloting materials is really important but unfortunately it’s something we often don’t do when we’re writing for ourselves, either because we’re in too much of a hurry to use the materials or because we don’t have – or don’t think we have – access to students. Good luck with your teaching and writing Yolanda and Flora!

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  1. Training teachers to write materials on an MA TESOL | MaWSIG - 19 July 2017

    […] You can also read two follow-up interviews with two trainees from the course here. […]

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