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.
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
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.