Revisiting IATEFL 2013

Jacqueline Einer, SL Director

I know it was quite a while ago now, but I would still like to share some of my observations and some of the insights I gained at this year's IATEFL conference. As Deniz Ateşok and Suzan Altıparmak have said, IATEFL 2013 was an amazing experience. Contemplating the sheer size and organisation of such an event overwhelms me and knowing that two of our colleagues played key roles in the conference and another six colleagues presented make me really proud to be a part of SU-SL.

Zeynep Ürkün is one of the people who make IATEFL happen. She is the Secretary of the Co-ordinating Committee and her inimitable style was evident for all to appreciate when she introduced the first plenary speaker, David Crystal. She wove in around 10 Beatle's lyrics as well as evaluating how closely or not David Crystal's birth buddies, George Bush, Sylvester Stallone, the Dali Lama and 50 Cent, resembled him. As you can imagine, she got plenty of laughs and scared off any competition: no-one else dared to try to match her use of Beatle's lyrics in the introduction of a speaker.

And speaking of being a hard act-to-follow, Deniz Kurtoğlu Eken's plenary and workshop also set the bar high. Some presents and some personal information reeled the audience in and her research kept them there. If you haven't already, I suggest you watch the plenary on-line to find out the connection between Rod Stewart and Deniz and a similarity between the "The Lesson" by renowned Liverpudlian poet Roger McGough and one of Deniz's childhood poems. Her son, music and writing poetry motivate Deniz but what about other English Language teachers. Deniz shared what her research has revealed about teachers' perceptions of their own effectiveness and motivation. Let me just say here that the metaphors that we used to describe ourselves as teachers were very revealing: plate spinner, caged bird, glorified secretary, slave. For more of what feedback teachers would like to give to managers and what they say about their own motivation please do watch the on-line plenary.

There were many interesting sessions at IATEFL 2013 but one that made me think was about writing your own materials. Now you may be surprised about this because here at SU-SL we have written and published our own course book series. However, as I was listening to Khan Duc Kuttig talking about her experience of writing in-house material, I thought about our supplementary material. Most teachers in SL have contributed to our supplementary materials and made it into the rich resource that it is today. However, as great as it is to have such an enormous bank of supplementary materials we do not have a very systematic way of evaluating how this material fits in with our objectives and neither do we have a very systematic way of responding to feedback on the material. While reading what Khan Duk has to say, I invite you to think about how we could usefully revisit some of the principles of materials writing in order to make our supplementary materials bank even better.

JE: Hello everyone, I'm here today with Khanh Duc Kuttig from the university of Kent. She did a very interesting presentation on writing your own materials. Khanh Duc. Thank you for agreeing to do this. First of all, why are there still published materials when so many people are producing their own in-house materials?

KDK: There is still a market for published materials in Europe. In places like Germany and France where there is not such a big push to write your own materials. I taught in Germany and a lot of the courses were generic courses, either generic EAP or ESAP and people were happy to look for a book to teach that course. Alternatively, they used a core book and a couple of supplementary books and worked around that. So the market for published materials is still there.

JE: But what about your university? Why do they expect you to come up with in-house materials?

KDK: They expect us to do that, partly to have it as a selling point. For example, our university is BALEAP accredited. The pre-sessional courses are BALEAP accredited and it helps with the accreditation if your write bespoke materials. That's for the longer courses. For the in-sessional modules that I mentioned in the presentation, like what we do for the business school or the school of computing, it is simply because of the duration of the course, the course needs and what the students are expected to achieve. ıt is very difficult to find a text book that would fit.

JE: A difficulty that you mentioned about creating in-house materials is that the future lecturers of the students cannot exactly describe what it is they are looking for.

KDK: Certainly. What we noticed a lot with content teachers is that they can tell you the content expectations that they have for the students. For example, for a business report they will say that they expect the students to have knowledge of the theories of performance-related pay. So they will tell you the theories that they need to know, they will have certain expectations in relation to what kind of background reading the students should have done but they are not really able to explain how that translates into a piece of academic writing from the student. They are not able to pin down the linguistic aspects that they are looking for.

JE: So you need to get good samples from lecturers.

KDK: Yes but even if you have a good sample of students' writing and you have a subject teacher and a language teacher looking at it, they would both say that it was good but for different reasons. The content teacher would not say that it has good paragraph cohesion or that it has a good topic sentence or that the paragraph ends on a closing sentence. The subject teacher might use other terminology like the student has made a claim and and supported it. He's got his evidence and so content teachers are looking at it differently.

JE: Khan Duc you gave a very good summary of the whole process. Can you take us through that?

KDK: First of all, you need to have a team of writers. It's definitely because it's a monumental task for one person. You need to brainstorm and its better when people work together. It depends on the kind of materials you are writing as well. For example in our pre-sessional program where we are writing the materials for all four skills, you need a team. You also need people to proof read the materials and to trial the materials and give you feedback. If you are the writer as well as the teacher, from a teaching perspective you think it works fine because you have written it the way you teach. You'll recognise that certain things don't work with the students but you are not going to see how your materials work for a different teacher with a different style.

Syllabus development is very important. It is something that you need someone else to look at. If it is a course for a university where you have quality assurance issues, module specifications, learning outcomes, then you need to make sure that your syllabus reflects these because you need to be able to show how you have led them up to this assessment. So it all needs to tie in together very well.

Now materials research and writing, what I mean by that is that a lot of teachers look at previous works and replicate them. So if you were doing speaking materials you would look at couple of speaking books and see how the sub-skills are presented. If you were doing listening, you could get ideas about what topics work. If you are doing general EAP, ask yourself to what extent should we go for authenticity. I remember teaching understanding lectures and the language of lecture signposting. Things like "this is my outline" and "now we are going on to ..." But when you listen to the TED lectures, for example, they don't do that. So that's where materials research is important. You can't just teach things that don't really happen in real life. The materials research should form the core time.

The proof reading and editing are really important, too. It's embarrassing to have typos but also editing is important for comprehensibility and for the flow of ideas and information. It is preferable to get the proofing and editing done as soon as you have done each each lesson. Otherwise when you get to the end and have someone look at it, it is too much. It's too much for the person looking at it and when you get all that feedback all at once you might think that you are working on a lost cause. We underestimate proofreading and editing a lot but it is also for our own sense of professional pride.

Implementation in the classroom: this is definitely a bonus for teacher-material writers because we have the onsite situation where we can try out the materials. In terms of implementation linked in with evaluation, we need to keep a record of the level of the students are at when they come in and the level that they are expected to achieve when they finish. You need that meta-information to understand why your materials worked or didn't work. As for feedback from teachers, a lot of them might give it in passing so keep a note of it and go back to it. Sometimes as a materials writer, I get feedback that I am not too pleased about but it is no criticism of oneself. Especially if you get criticism that you feel is unjustified. Go back and ask. It is important to ask teachers why they have given the feedback and to try to understand the why the teachers felt the way they did.

Then revision and reimplementation. I don't have a number as to how often you should revise. No materials are perfect. So I think it is up to the team to decide how often to revise.

JE: Well Khanh Duc you have outlined a very clear-cut step by step approach to producing supplementary materials: definitely food for thought. Thank you very much for talking to us today.

As we start the new Academic Year, it would be worthwhile to try to address some of the issues Khanh Duc mentioned as we set about using our supplementary materials in the new semester.