The word ‘materials’ in education does not solely refer to a coursebook.

What to take into account

The word ‘materials’ in education does not solely refer to a coursebook. As Tomlinson (2003:1-2) states, materials include anything which can facilitate language learning and its development is a vital opportunity for professional development since processes such as production, evaluation and adaptation of materials reflect the teaching principles and beliefs that teachers possess.

 However, we need to acknowledge the fact that coursebooks are the most widely used type of material used. Furthermore, coursebooks have become a structuring pack which includes DVDs, CD-Roms, mini-dictionaries, and other supporting materials which revolver around them. This interest in them may be due to the fact that, as Rubdy (2003:39) lists, they cater for practical needs for teachers, such as organisation in terms of complexity and sequencing. This structure, in turn, may be regarded as a map which not only guides learning but also predicts how a course will develop helping learners and teachers develop self-confidence and security.

Nevertheless, materials have to be developed, that is, created. It may be agreed that creativity has to be a feature which runs through the complex process of materials development. This process cannot be left to publishers only as we may be running the risk of solely depending on publishers while simultaneously, disempowering teachers (Torres, 1998:177-178). Creativity is essential as it will promote professional development among teachers, who can work collaboratively in order to produce material for their own contexts. Creativity, as Maley (2003:184-187) asserts, invites us to experiment with newness, immediacy, unpredictability and acceptability while becoming aware of its powerful force which is needed for survival. This force will be motivating teachers will intrinsically feel that in the process of creation they are learning themselves and experiencing personal or even historical creativity.

Yet, creativity needs to be channelled so that its effects are enhanced. Therefore, the literature offers a varied collection of principles which ought to be contemplated for developing principled frameworks for materials development.

Bell and Gower (1998:116-129), for example, offer a list of principles to follow. First, and perhaps the most important for later adaptations and contextual features (de la Torre, 2007:61-62), they believe flexibility is crucial. Following flexibility, selected texts should be chosen in such a way so that they trigger language work through integrated skills. Materials should also feature engaging content, natural language in terms of use, analytic approaches for grammar work, emphasis on review, personalised practice so that it is more context-responsive within learners’’ universe, and a balance of approaches, thus offering an eclectic view foreign language learning.

What we do

As far as the integration of content and language is concerned, within a language-driven approach, we, that is, my fellow teachers and I, have devised a number of principles that we have followed when developing material that we are compiling in a sourcebook or home-made coursebook. First, we organise the contents, that is, the syllabus, around topics stemming from Geography, topics new or familiar to our students. Then, we divide each content into the four skills, and vocabulary (for those wondering WHERE IS MY GRAMMAR?, grammar noticing and language awareness run along the skills.

Once we set the syllabus, we start looking for initial input (written texts, ads, videos, slides, etc) which we agree that it has to be authentic. For each unit/topic, rather than adapting the material, we devise activities that scaffold the text. Every five units, there’s a project (some examples can be found in my previous post) and an evaluation form that students need to complete so as to get feedback from the material. This feedback is then used to develop or change future units in the syllabus. Even though the topics are fixed, there’s always room for flexibility as students can choose what to focus on.

I know this doesn’t tell you much of our actual work, but, feel free to contact me at dariobanegas@hotmail.com so that I can send you examples of what I’ve tried to explain.

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