The best textbook is the one you wrote yourself

Materials Development.
Nina MK, Ph.D.

Developing new materials for my various courses has always been a substantial part of my work. Imagine the following situation. You are fresh out of the university; you come to teach at a university; you study the situation, visit your department chief, and tell him that new course-books are needed. Looking back I can see of course that it was rather naive of me. What he said was, " Go ahead and write one!" Though I was somewhat staggered by this unexpected offer I went ahead and did it, which among other things gave me the position of an associate professor. Since I overcame that hurdle at the beginning of my teaching career all the subsequent ones seemed much easier to manage.

• Several times I had to compose my own textbooks and lesson plans simply because there were no other options. For instance I wrote new complete lessons for groups of American students who came to my town to study Russian as a foreign language. I had to do it every night as we went along. When ICT became a reality I composed courses of lectures and seminars for teachers. And when the ministry of education decreed that one unified state exam based on British international exams was to be used in the national schools before any textbooks appeared, I compiled my own booklets to help students and teachers adjust to the new requirements.

• How does one do it? I would not presume to specify which comes first, your own professional feeling that something is lacking in the textbooks and manuals available, or your students' needs, or the whole changing world. I do believe that our own desire to move forward, to find and use many new materials, is one of the main stimuli. For instance it was clear to me that while there was a good choice of "Russian as a Foreign Language" textbooks, they were completely useless for my adult beginners whose only knowledge of Russian began and ended with the Cyrillic alphabet. So I composed my own lessons.

• Students' interests always play a large role in my approach to teaching, and their needs are definitely a factor in my choosing the materials, in arranging the content. In my diverse group of young adults there were a future pediatrician, a zoologist, an engineer with Boeing, a mathematician, a psychology major. I would give them the same types of exercises but different basic texts chosen from their field of studies. When working with children I try to learn what their interests are and use some age-appropriate information.

• With the advent of ICT finding the materials and organizing any data into a coherent comprehensive teaching aid became much easier. There are always models to use; help can be found by those who seek for it. Twenty years ago I began working with English to Go; the editors taught me how to arrange my lessons in the acceptable modern format which incidentally coincided later with the unified state exam regulations. When Teaching English first appeared, the then editor gave me a template which came in extremely useful in my future writings in both English and my own language. I am one of those people who find it natural to write in the "point a, b, c" or " item 1, 2, 3" manner. Thus I absorbed the suggested models easily, and not only use them in my own daily professional life but add to them when teaching others.

• ICT I believe is a huge factor in teaching and learning. Any textbook may seem obsolete when we have an opportunity to obtain new immediate knowledge in any subject, any topic with just one click. What does not change though is the necessity to pay attention to each and every student's individual needs. When we get a new class we may follow the national curriculum safely. If however we are faced with a room full of young people who,probably never went to school before and have no wish to study English in the traditional way but rather must learn to understand what is said to them and to express their own needs, we have to find ways and means to help them.

• Truth be told, not every teacher feels that they can cope. Not everybody even wants to try. Teachers' salaries are notoriously low while their workload never becomes any easier. I think if a teacher is faced with a challenging situation, if they suddenly find out that they have to create their own materials, they should be paid at least double for their efforts.

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