It is really surprising that most materials writers describe the process of developing materials as ‘ad hoc’ and ‘spontaneous’. That is to say, they rely on their intuition based on their experiences and choose materials that are likely to work. Like tacit knowledge, they cannot explain how they develop materials. Prowse (1998) reports what ELT materials writers think about developing materials.
Most of the writers agree that:
- Writing is fun because it’s creative.
- They rely heavily on their intuition.
- They view textbook writing in the same way as writing fiction (focus on creative process of writing).
- They emphasize the constraints of the syllabus.
However; materials writers need to have some principles of learning and teaching which can guide their writing and adopt a framework in order to facilitate coherence and consistency.
This session was so helpful to understand the principles and frameworks for developing materials because we were mostly active in the classroom. We first tried to understand the principles set by Tomlinson who is the founder and president of the Materials Development Association (MATSDA). We talked about these principles with our partners and then there was a class discussion in which we explained them to each other.
These principles are:
- A prerequisite for language acquisition is that the learners are exposed to a rich, meaningful and comprehensible input of language in use.
- In order for the learners to maximise their exposure to language in use, they need to be engaged both affectively and cognitively in the language experience.
- Language learners who achieve positive affect are much more likely to achieve communicative competence than those who do not.
- L2 language learners can benefit from using those mental resources which they typically utilise when acquiring and using their L1.
- Language learners can benefit from noticing salient features of the input and from discovering how they are used.
- Learners need opportunities to use language to try to achieve communicative purposes (2011:7).
Considering the principles above, I think one of the most important ones is engaging learners both affectively and cognitively. It is important because there can be dull texts in which teachers make so much effort to motivate learners and engage them affectively. If a student finds a text boring, s/he won’t be interested in. Therefore, material writers should provide choices of different texts, activities and variety. At this point, I disagree with one of my classmates in the session. She thinks that if it is a business course, teachers should only use texts relating to business and they can motivate students by using different activities like role-play, group-work, discussion etc . On the contrary, I believe that even the course is designed for English for Specific purposes (ESP) or English for Academic Purposes (EAP), there should be a wide range of texts and learners should be exposed to variety of genres. Tomlinson noticed the danger of tedium and shared his experiences about this issue . One of the examples he gave is that a group of Saudi Arabian pilots complained that they were bored with reading about aircraft and airports and, almost simultaneously, a group of Iraqi diplomats complained that they were fed up with reading about politics and diplomacy. He also realized that when different texts like poetry were given to these students, they responded very enthusiastically (2003:112).
As a second activity, we discussed Materials Design Principles – Materials should/shouldn’t… We wrote our opinions about ELT materials on strips of paper and grouped them into top, middle and bottom sets. Our views on the key principles that should underline ELT materials are as follows:
After this fruitful discussion, we have talked about the steps in materials design and looked at Jolly and Bolitho’s materials writing framework incorporating five stages.
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.
These stages are dynamic, so materials writers do not need to follow the steps in exactly this order and go through all of these steps. However, they should keep these steps in mind in order to produce appropriate materials for the target learners. The first step, identification of need, is a vital part of materials preparation. Materials writers should be aware of the learners’ needs to satisfy them. They could conduct a needs analysis to identify the needs and objectives for the materials they plan to produce. Next, needs should be analyzed by using appropriate resources like existing materials or different media. By doing so, teachers could decide whether to focus on grammar, knowledge or skill in the classroom. If the teacher recognizes these needs in step 1, s/he can skip step 2 as the framework is dynamic. Third, contextual realisation is important to identify an appropriate context in which to present and practice the language because if the material is inappropriate, learners will probably gain the culture but they won’t practice it. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, it is difficult to teach “speed-dating” in Turkish context as it is outside the cultural experience of Turkish learners. The fourth stage is pedagogical realisation where materials writers must focus on the need and design activities that are clear and appropriate. The last one , physical production, is also important to attract and motivate the learners.
I think this framework is very useful for materials writers and teachers as it shows “A teacher’s path through the production of new or adapted materials” (2011:113).
Tomlinson, B. (ed)(2011) Materials Development in Language Teaching. (2nd ed). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tomlinson, B. (ed)(2003) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum International Publishing Group.