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:
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.