Materials in TEFL: A Discussion of What Lies Behind Them and Implications
Sinan Mısırlı, Turkey
Sinan Mısırlı is an English language teacher in Turkey. He holds a BA degree from Gazi University (Ankara-Turkey) ELT Department where he graduated as being the first one in the graduation list in 2008. Recently, he has been pursuing his MA degree in TEFL at the same university preparing a dissertation on the in-service needs of English teachers in Turkey. His current interests are teaching culture and literature in ELT, young learners, vocabulary and lexis studies and in-service training. He published articles on games in ELT, lexical approach and the place of culture in TEFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Definitions: What is materials adaptation?
Reasons for adapting materials: Why does a material need to be adapted?
Objectives of materials adaptation
Steps in materials adaptation
Problems on one hand
Suggestions on the other hand
It is a well-known fact that one does not have to be a genius to produce a successful language lesson using different kinds of materials, namely, authentic visual, audio and printed materials. However, one needs to know about the learners, about what they can do and cannot, what they like and do not and how they think and what their motivations are. This may call a challenge for the teacher as it will not be always possible to cover all these psychological concerns with only one kind of material.
The case is that in many countries, many teachers may be already given ready-made textbooks provided them for classroom usage and this is what sparks the starting point of this paper. Yes, in some institutions, the teacher can choose his/her textbook which will narrow down the problematic area of language teaching but never cross it out at all. Even though it is possible to decide on the book in accordance with the teacher’s choice, the teacher would make out that no book will suit to all the students in terms of their learning styles, motivations, interests and levels of English and s/he will have to adapt the materials in hand starting from the textbook s/he is supposed to use behind the doors.
Adapting an activity is sparkled with a little awareness of the teacher with the idea above. Whatever the context, if the teacher knows about their students as much as necessary, s/he will perform adapting either consciously or unconsciously. Whether pre-planned or spontaneous, the notion of materials adaptations is an integral part of a language class. Accordingly it will be useful to define the term of materials adaptation first.
When instructional materials set a barrier to student learning, teacher can adapt it to allow the learners reach greater success. This may be defined as changing the level, context or additions of an activity in order to cover the needs of the learners in an improved way.
With the framework of history, it is easy to understand that materials adaptation can be described as changing the aim of the lesson totally when necessary. Before the advent of the communicative approach, for example, many course books focused on structural activities and heavily influenced by grammar-translation method. As Islam and Mares states (2003) teachers used to find themselves facing with materials that did not reflect the teaching and learning principles that they need.
The good teacher is the one always look for equivalence among the teaching materials, learners’ levels, context, the target language and the course objectives. That is why materials adaptation is a process of setting equivalence in a language class.
Though it should be vice-versa, in some classes, the materials may be in the center of the lesson and learners are turning around the center. In such cases, materials adaptation for the sake of learners’ learning styles, interests and motivations becomes a process of setting a fresh start for the learners.
The adaptation of materials undoubtedly reflects the concern of the teacher about his/her learners in terms of learning atmosphere and objectives. And for adapting a material, each teacher may have a different reason. However, there or thereabouts, these reasons may have a common background. The reasons below are given in an order from the most general ones to the most specific.
Not Enough Grammatical Input: Some course cook may lack, somehow, the grammar coverage in general. This may be a problem for the learners who are getting ready for exams like TOEFL/IELTS around the world KPDS/ÜDS/YDS which are extremely trendy and of vast significance in Turkey.
Not Communicative Enough: Many course books, even though they are claimed to be communicative, may lack communicative input to increase communicative performance which may root a huge gap between the overall aim language teaching and the lesson material.
Not Appropriate Level: The level of the course book may not appeal to the level of learners. It may lower or higher than the aimed challenging level.
Not Appealing to Learning Styles: The activities may not appeal to VAKOG or MI. In such a case, while some of the learners are easily grasped, some will be missed obviously.
Too Long / Too Short: Lesson sessions are most often time-controlled. This obliges the teachers to manage the time of the in-class activities. A teacher may need a shorter piece of goings-on or longer depending on timing.
Not Balanced Skills: The balance of skills may be deficient in quality or there may be too much emphasis on one specific language skill area. At that moment the teacher is required to set the balance needed once more. The balance of the skills may be satisfactory enough; however, the teacher may think learners need to focus on a specific skill. Vocabulary activities, for instance, may be added if the learners lack vocabulary comprehension. In that case, for a second time adaptation is up to the teacher.
Sequence or Grading: Order of language may need change according to the needs of the learners. Or, some points may need to be omitted, if found unnecessary for the needs of learners by the teacher.
Inappropriate Methods: The exercises may be too mechanical filled with drills. It may be short of meaningful activities or may be too complicated for the aimed objectives.
Cultural Content: Culture is crucial and may be even fragile in English classes. A cultural reference may need to be omitted because of a cultural reflection in a country may be problematic in another.
Not Enough Audio-Visual Back-Up: Audios and Visuals may project poor layout and low quality. And for audio materials, they may tricky in terms of level, timing and quality.
Uninteresting Topics: Learners’ interests differ and some topics in course books may not appeal to the learners and they need to be changed to catch more learners in terms of attention throughout the lesson.
With adapting materials, teachers may have some objectives to realize. These objectives go parallels with the reasons of adapting materials.
Islam and Mares (2003: 86) utter having a clear objective is necessary starting point for adopting any materials. Clear adaptation objective(s) for the materials or knowing what works for ones class will help decide the appropriate content or language choice.
Personalization: By adapting materials, teachers may aim at personalizing English lessons. S/he can do this by adapting materials in order to appeal the learning styles of the learners. With the help of VAKOG and MI, learners’ personalities may be involved. The interests and motivations of the learners may be juxtaposed with adapted activities and this let the personalities involved into the lesson.
Localization: With the omission of the extreme cultural information, the course books can be localized. By supplying texts mentioning an event or giving a piece of news from the society that the teaching takes place may be helpful for localization of activities and materials. Human being has a learning system reading from local or universal, easy to hard and close to far and known to unknown.
Modernization: The method, the authenticity, the context, the order and the balance of skills may need adaptation according to the needs of the learners. By adapting materials, the teacher may reflect the latest methods to the materials in-use. Modernization of the materials may also include the technological support; namely, power point presentations, OHP slides and so forth.”
A successful materials adaptation can help the teacher to choose which materials is the correct one. Likewise, a successful process of adaptation of materials can help the teacher to implement a superior adaptation. For this below given a 10-steps checklist of materials adaptation:
|Identify and evaluate the needs of target learners
|Develop goals for your learners
|Check structure / communicative activities
|Check balance of skills
|Check any audio-visual materials needed
|Check the timing
|Check authenticity of input
|Check the level
|Determine the type of adaptation
Instructional materials may vary in quality, quantity and level. The activities may be problematic in terms of structure, communicative performance, skills and sub-skills, order or the activities, timing, learning styles (VAKOG / MI), interests and motives of learners.
The teacher should always keep her/his eyes on materials to check if they fit into the objectives of the class. The teacher should check the structure, communicative activities, the balance of skills, any audio-visual materials needed, the timing, culture, authenticity of input, the level. The problems and suggestions for adapting materials are given below as reached conclusion.
With the adaptation of materials, there may appear some problems. These problems may be devoted to the teacher himself/herself or the learners or the institution that the teaching takes place.
For some teacher, the course books are quite satisfactory as they find it time-taking to adapt an unsuitable activity. The fact that realizing an unsuitable activity and adapt into the aimed level is time-taking and needs effort cannot be ignored. However, being a teacher has never been working between the walls of the classroom. A teacher works 24 hours a day with the ideas crashing in his/her mind. That is why that a teacher finds adapting materials cannot be accepted as a reasonable excuse.
Another problem is that the teacher cannot even realize that the activity is not suitable for the levels of the objectives in some way. This is a heartbreaking fact that in Turkey many teacher cannot make a division between the communicative and structural activities or learning styles as they have no English Language Teaching (ELT) background. For many, the structural ones are the best as a hundred years ago it was. So, expecting them to realize unsuitable activities and adapt them would be a huge burden on our concise.
For the teachers, the institutions they work at may be somewhat strict, addicted to rules and classical (such as state schools in Turkey). For teachers working at such institutions, choosing the suitable course books may not be as trouble-free as one hopes for. For them, there may be no any other options using the classical course books. However, the general and overall aims of the lesson will always be framed with the curriculum of the educational boards working all across the country. Then, when the teacher starts to teaching in class, the whole things are up to him/her to teach that curriculum. What s/he needs to make use of a classical course book is adapting materials.
It will be time-taking, providing a new burden and problematic somehow; however, the result will make one feel it worth trying since as Jacques Barzun states “in teaching you cannot see the fruit of a day's work. It is invisible and remains so, maybe for twenty years.”
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