Reflective statement

This blog made up part of the evaluation for the ‘Materials Design’ module of the MA we are currently studying. This is the reflective statement submitted st the end of the module:

 

Reflective statement

 

 

During the first few weeks of our blog I think both myself and my partner, Alex Blyth were quite unsure of how to go about it. A collaborative and shared task involves different dynamics and skills and it takes a while to get used to working with somebody else, coupled with added pressure that it was going to be assessed. Our first few posts were short, safe and tentative as were our first few attempts at designing materials. It takes a while to find your voice and to understand what is required. It was only during my reading into materials design and second language acquisition theories that I began to relate the two together and see the wider picture.

 

The development of second language research and theories has passed through many stages on its journey culminating in the focus on sociolinguistic and sociocultural views and more recent research into development of intercultural competencies. It is important that the materials designer understands all of these components while designing courses or lessons and I feel my study in these theories has really helped to ground me regarding materials design and evaluation.

 

 When I started this module my intention was to explore some of the new technologies that exist and to try my hand at designing materials for them.  I was interested in Prowse’s comment in Tomlinson’s book ‘Materials development for language teaching’ (p.172) where he says that he believes print will vanish and asks the question whether we will have to follow the same frameworks for the new materials.

Following on from reading this chapter I began to reflect on the building up of a database of materials from different authors that students could delve into, rather like One Stop English, giving the students the autonomy to create their own course. The student has a choice of all the material by all the authors at his fingertips and the author would be paid according to usage. This concept served as the inspiration for the design of the exercises in the blog.

 

As Jolly and Bolitho (2005) put forward in their framework for materials writing, which was referenced in our recent post ‘Materials design framework and further considerations’, at the base of any concept for writing materials there must be identification of the learner need followed by an exploration of that need. At the beginning of the blog we identified learner need in purely linguistic and grammatical terms but as we developed our blog and read more deeply we changed direction considerably and began to focus on the needs of a particular group of learners, namely those studying for Cambridge Advanced Exams, and in particular the speaking section. This change in focus is evident from the posts on the 12 March which was the result of a meeting myself and Alex had and which I make reference to in later posts. I am a teacher of CAE classes and find the existing materials exasperatingly uninspiring. I felt that this was something that would really benefit from a change of approach, specifically  from incorporating new technologies to aid interaction and to allow students to create communities of practice in which to work.

 

While other frameworks may work better for other levels and types of group I found Jolly and Bolitho’s framework particularly relevant for the types of students and materials we have been looking at and I have addressed this at the end of the post entitled ‘problem-based learning’. The advent of web 2.0 and the increasing use of video and podcasts in lessons enables the students to participate actively in the contextual and pedagogical realisation of materials, the next steps in Jolly and Bolitho’s framework. I have tried to show this in the development of the You tube channel and voice threads. The students are actively encouraged to participate in the production process and use the materials with comments, their own voice threads and videos, which can be published on the site thus creating a snowball that can be any size the students want depending on their contribution and willingness to participate in the production process.

 

However it is in the evaluation process that there has been the biggest change for me and has made me analyse not only the materials but also the way I use them. We made an original framework for developing and evaluating materials which was posted on April 29th but was actually done at the beginning of the module. We have reassessed this in our post ‘Materials design framework and further considerations’. Teachers nowadays have such a choice of materials available to them and it is essential that we know when to use particular tools. Certainly it is something that needs to be progressively included in teacher training programs and for the teachers part they need to be ready to be educated as well as educate. The flipped classroom is not just about time but also established roles.

 

It is very important for us to understand the implications that use of a certain set of materials might have in classroom work and when to use them. All of the materials have been made with careful consideration of when and with who they can be incorporated. The recommendations of videos for example may not be suitable for all groups and could be replaced by other more relevant videos depending on the group and likewise the CAE lifesavers site may not be relevant to older learners, these are simply ideas which can be adapted according to the group.

 

This also goes for the technology we are using. In my post ‘Approaching the same topic using different media’ I have suggested different activities with different tools. We must come to grounded opinions about how appropriate they are for a particular teaching/learning context. We certainly may need help in making these choices and Hitori Masurakas suggestion of a Which? Magazine for ELT coursebooks could also be expanded to include online materials and new educational technologies.

 

Kervin and Derewianka refer to the fact that the quality of learning that electronic resources facilitate is essential but must still be based on sound learning theory, and in all the materials we have suggested using on the blog we have attempted to consider and incorporate other frameworks as well as Jolly and Bolitho’s. The first is from Kerwin and Derewianka(2003)

 

In the frameworks the considerations for evaluating materials are:

 

–       Is the input relevant, accurate, accessible and yet rich?

–       What kinds of interaction are encouraged?

–       What degree of support is provided and how are learners encouraged towards greater autonomy?

–       How is useful feedback provided?

–       Is motivation stimulated?

 

Blake (2008) adds to this that materials need to be student-centred, carefully planned and pedagogically well-constructed.

 

The other framework we used for conceptualising and analysing the suitability of our materials was Andrew Littlejohn’s in which he asks whether the materials:

 

     

Actually involve problem-solving

            Are really learner-centred

            Are genuinely cross-curricular

            Draw on multiple intelligences

Are based on the latest SLA research

 

Certainly the materials we have invented have had these considerations at the forefront and were the basis for the conceptualisation of the activities in the blog.

 

But perhaps what this blog has done most of all is served to remind me that only by doing something yourself can you find out the best way to teach it. Tomlinson makes the point that it is not the materials that are being evaluated but their effect on the people who come into contact with them. To give an example, only by making a blog together did myself and Alex become aware of the advantages and pitfalls of such a project. Consequently we will be able to guide our students through the blog-making process because we will have been in their shoes.

 

My posts have gained in confidence as I have gone along and I feel that the blog tracks my changes in attitude from the early difficulties to the growing confidence at the end. In some ways the semi-formality of the blog was more to my liking and I enjoyed posting and experimenting with the materials. It is a project that we will continue to add to as it has been an enlightening and worthwhile experience. We have developed our ideas by bouncing them off each other during our many meetings and I think the growth is quite clear from reading our posts back.

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October 21, 2012 · 12:00 pm

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-Going Forward-

Building on David’s ‘Future Projects’ post, some of our future plans for materials also include:

Using Bubbler for student created materials to help them to understand ‘genre type’, an important aspect for learners to understand when writing in different registers for Cambridge FCE exams. For example, before the practice of writing a letter of complaint, in respect of terrible service and food in a restaurant; students could create storyboards around this theme, which should then help to connect their letter writing directly to the social situation and intended readership (in this case the restaurant manager).

Further development of activities for Trinity GESE speaking exam students. I would like to concentrate on the lower levels grades 1-4, working on creating activities that should assist learners throughout the syllabuses to be covered. During the summer there will then be the opportunity to pilot what has been developed, and David and I will analyse feedback received and assess the effectiveness of the materials according to our framework.

A series of interviews with both teachers and students, including the topic of discussion centering around materials and activities within the ELT classroom. It will be very useful to record what both practitioners and learners alike are really thinking about materials in all manner of forms, from the coursebook to the materials-lite approach, using a blackboard and marker or the latest technology. The responses in the interviews should shed some light as to their effectiveness, as well as preferences in terms of teaching and learning. An initial interview has just been added to our YouTube channel and is very interesting!

Alex

 

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-Action Learning-

Reading David’s ‘CAE Lifesavers’ post and reflecting on our previous discussion around his idea of  an online social network where CAE students can support each other, and whilst creating a resource for future learners, it seems that this could be an example of ‘action learning’. According to Ian McGill and Liz Beaty (1995), the educational process of action learning is where students ‘learn from each other by working on real problems and reflecting on their own experiences’, within a ‘group of people (called a set)…for a concentrated period of time’ (1995: 17), and the set is ‘focussed on the issues of each individual’ (1995:18).

Students within the CAE Lifesavers network, it could be argued, do have an overarching real world problem (how to successfully pass Cambridge CAE exams), and within this certainly lies a multitude of challenges. A social network can act as a communicative framework for an ‘action learning set’, and as David pointed, out according to Wenger, White and Smith (2009), this technology also allows it to operate as a community of practice, without the constraints of member size, time or geography. Additionally, it is easy to forget that learning does not take place within the classroom or within class time only. In a recent online article Jeremy Harmer (2010) states that ‘students take time to process items, and for each learner there is a degree of divergence in this sense’. Given this, an online resource that can be contributed to autonomously, and where problems may be discussed informally in an asynchronous manner after lessons have finished upon further study and reflection; seems like an effective way to work considering the varying times when learners understand and consolidate new learning. additionally, in the case of CAE students who have arrived in the UK, there are many other areas that can benefit from peer support, such as dealing with cultural differences and simply ‘getting things done’ in a foreign country, all of which can be addressed within an online action learning set.

Alex

References

Harmer, J. (2010) No Dogma for EFL – away from a pedagogy of essential bareness Available from: http://jeremyharmer.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/ [Accessed 06 May 2012].

McGill, I. and L. Beaty (1995) Action Learning: A Practitioner’s Guide. London:Routledge Falmer

Wenger, E., White, N., and Smith, J D. (2009). Digital Habitats: Stewarding Technology for Communities. Portland: CPsquare

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-Learner Created Materials and Constructionism-

Earlier on in the module, I thought that the practice of students creating resources for future use, might provide a stronger learning opportunity than if using existing materials that were previously created by learners. With this in mind, and following on from an early post that I made in February entitled ‘Materials vs Activities’, and David’s response in his ‘Materials vs activities and problem-based learning’ post, the educational theory of ‘constructionism’ would appear relevant to the discussion. In the February post, I was exploring the notion of where the distinction actually lies between materials and activities, to which fellow student Rachel Newman left the insightful comment ‘With the interaction of the student using the materials (such as putting in a voice thread to a video, picture etc), the students are using Voicethread as part of the material and interacting with it therefore the materials (or teaching aid) have become part of the activity.’ This idea that materials being made by learners through interaction become the activity is interesting, and according to constructionism, learning takes place most effectively when students are creating something tangible in the real world; and Papert & Harel (1991) suggested that constructionism could be labelled simply as ‘learning-by-making’.

Returning to my earlier point that students re-creating instead of using previously made learning materials, appears to be in line with constructionist learning theory, raises the question ‘when is it better for learners to use a student created resource of materials as opposed to re-creating them?’ It might be that this is somewhat dependent on how engaging and motivating the materials creation in each case is. For instance, students who are using Bubbler or Voicethread to create materials for FCE and CAE speaking exams practice similar to that at Splendid-Speaking.com, and that David illustrated in his ‘Approaching the same topic through different media’ post, should find the act of using these online apps highly stimulating whilst also allowing them a greater sense of autonomy and learner achievement.

Alex

References

Papert, S. and I, Harel. (1991) Constructionism. Ablex Publishing Corporation

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Future projects

Following my reading of David Block’s insightful book ‘The social turn in second language acquisition’ (2002) I was inspired to make some videos of interviews of students and teachers discussing their views on materials and what makes effective lessons. This is a project in progress and has made me realise just how much work editing can be. I am using i-movie on the mac to edit these videos and hope to post them soon.

Further projects that will be include on the blog will be some experiments with apple i-books author exploring the same theme of the environment already spoken about on the blog. We will also be looking at the pros and cons of teaching with Skype and videoconferencing.

David

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-Materials Design Framework and Further Considerations-

Following discussion around materials evaluation within our recent meetings, and building on our original framework for syllabuses and coursebooks, we have added a framework for the design and evaluation of materials in the wider sense. Although we largely agree with the rationale behind the proposed frameworks within McGrath’s Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching (2002), especially when considering paper based materials and coursebooks, we have found the work of David Jolly & Rod Bolitho (in Tomlinson 2011) to be more appropriate for the direction that we have taken.

We have decided that upon creating any new materials and trail runs within the ELT classroom setting that we will continue use Jolly & Bolitho’s (2011) flow chart incorporating five stages involved in the writing of materials. David has previously trialed this framework as referred to in his post ‘Materials v activities and problem-based learning’, where it was found to be an effective evaluative tool. The five stages are as follows:

1) IDENTIFICATION by teacher or learner(s) of a need to fulfill or a problem to solve by the creation of materials

2) EXPLORATION of the area of need/problem in terms of what language, what meanings, what functions, what skills, etc.

3) CONTEXTUAL REALISATION of materials by the finding of appropriate exercises and activities AND the writing of appropriate instructions for use

4) PEDAGOGICAL REALISATION of materials by the finding of appropriate exercises and activities AND the writing of appropriate instructions for use

5) PHYSICAL PRODUCTION of materials, involving consideration of layout, type size, visuals, reproduction, tape length, etc.

(2011:112)

We found the case studies from Jolly & Bolitho using the above stages to be particularly helpful in illustrating the design process in action, which should serve as a good reference when checking against our own materials, as well a helpful flow diagram that illustrates clearly ’a teacher’s path through the production of new or adapted materials’ (2001:113).

It is interesting to note, that according to Tomlinson, the notion of highly effective materials rests more on their appropriate use by a teacher, and that they are ‘tuned’ to the particularly group of learners as opposed to the materials doing all the work by themselves.

There are a number of important principles summarised by Tomlinson (2003: 21) that are informed by research in the area of second language acquisition, including: Materials should have impact for the learners which can be achieved through variety, appealing content by them having aesthetic appeal; materials should also help with developing leaner confidence and this can involve the practice of making them slightly more challenging than the learners’ proficiency; learners need to see and understand the usefulness of materials and that they are relevant to their needs.

As we have utilised a number of technologies for consideration and development of materials, web 2.0 sites such as Voicethread, Bubbler, as well as the use of mixed-media such as video and augmented reality; we feel that it is important to any consider potential pitfalls as highlighted by Beverly Derewianka. She points out that graphics can be too distracting for learners and at the expense of any text-based target language. Also, if they already communicate all the necessary information, they can make any text redundant, which is something that we have noticed in a number of coursebooks, as well as CD-ROM or online supplementary materials.  Derewianka cautions that if the material incorporates animations or gives away too much, it may result in a learner not having to cognitively realise the item of learning. In other words, materials such as video can do too much of the work for the learner, resulting in a loss of learning opportunities.  Too much action on-screen or a combination of media might also overwhelm students when they are attempting to engage with text, graphics, video and audio simultaneously. Additionally, different media are of course suitable for different jobs, and it necessary to consider whether the media that you have chosen will indeed facilitate the teaching and learning objectives that you have in mind.

Alex & David

 

References

McGrath, I. (2002) Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Tomlinson, B. (ed)(2003) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum International Publishing Group – Academi.

Tomlinson, B. (ed)(2011) Materials Development in Language Teaching. (2nd ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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