So the first day has finished and it seems to have gone by in a whirl or ideas, discussions, meetings with old friends and encounters with new ones. I said in a previous post that a theme tends to emerge during the conference and this year my these is materials, tasks and getting the most out of them, both as a materials designer and teacher.
Demand High Teaching
My first session this morning was with Adrian Underhill who focused on “Demand High Teaching” the meme (they don’t like to think of it as an approach, but rather a cultural notion that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue.) Basically, the idea behind this is that many of our classroom routines have become mechanical, and a matter of following the coursebook instructions without really “teaching”. This, as Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener rightly say, leads to lost learning opportunities, and half baked routines that do not benefit learners. The focus today was pronunciation but this may be true for many areas of teaching, and what it means, in a nutshell, is to bring back the skill of teaching, exploiting coursebook tasks or any others to get as much out of them as possible, with the learner and his or her problems and needs right at the centre of the process. By focusing on individuals and helping them to do the very best they can, we bring back teaching in a vocational sense. To see more, visit the Demand High Learning blog.
What do Teachers want from their Coursebooks?
My day moved on seamlessly to a discussion of what teachers want from their coursebooks, where Heather Buchanan from Leeds Metropolitan University and Julie Norton from the University of Leicester presented the results of their questionnaire, which had been circulated among teachers to find out what they want from their coursebooks. As might be expected there were many different answers but one illuminating comment that struck me came from a teacher who had more than 20 years’ teaching experience, and who wanted a coursebook that would be a sort of “store” of various different activities, approaches, images and texts, that could all be accessed and combined in different ways. In fact, this already exists in sites like Onestopenglish and on the English360 platform, to mention only two examples. So what I wondered was whether the problem was lack of information, and marketing of these resources. The question is how to reach teachers to let them know what is out there in a digital world which is often overwhelming including so much information that the pearls are often buried in the mass of data.
Do Materials Writers have Principles?
Jill Hadfield looked at a whole series of theoretical principles and asked whether materials writers have similar principles or not. her conclusion was that there are similarities but that the materials writers’ underlying principles, even when implicit rather than explicit, tend to be more practical but also more complicated, combining a wealth of underlying principles that reflect the learning process and the practical needs of classrooms in a way that is perhaps more difficult for theorists to do. She also talked about what she refers to as “core energies” which are not the writers’ principles but rather the “passions” that drive them and that come through as being their own personal styles or voices. A core energy is what tells us that a material has been written by Raymond Murphy or by Mario Rinvolucri, for instance, even if both are working from the same principle that materials should foster communicative language competence.
Networking and sharing
As I said in a previous post, though, the conference is not only about the presentations. It is also about talking to people and networking, and my focus on materials writing has brought me into contact with a whole group of materials writers yesterday and today. Writing can be a very lonely process, as we all sit behind our computers working away. Nowadays writers can work together across great geographical distances and sometimes never meet their co-writers when everything is filtered through their editors. This was really useful as I found about a whole range of sites for writers including a great Facebook page : eltT2W (Elt teachers to writers) where materials writers can share ideas, and problems with each other, making the whole process just a little more social. :-)
My final thoughts today are that so much is a matter of communication and keeping channels open. Information is a key word of our times but we need to know how to access and share it so that we can create knowledge together and go on to get the very best out of ourselves as teachers, writers and students. Learning is a lifelong process both for students and teachers, and I forget who said this but it seems to be quite appropriate:
“A great teacher is someone who aims for improvement rather than perfection”
Being open to new ideas and to new opportunities can enrichen your professional experience. Someone told me the other day, that there’s not much call for data driven teaching approaches, and that can be interpreted two ways: either you give up thinking that nobody wants it or you see it as a whole new market who, in the words of Benjamin Zander, see it as “a glorious opportunity” as those people “don’t know yet” how much they can learn from this approach.
So that’s it for today, let’s see what tomorrow will bring. :-)