Humanising Language Teaching
Developing Materials to Develop Yourself
Brian Tomlinson, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK
( This article is based on a plenary I did at the MELTA Conference in Subang, Malaysia, in May 2003 and you will also find it on the MATSDA website www.MATSDA.org.uk , where you will also find many other good things on developing materials )
My claim in this article is that helping teachers to develop effective materials for themselves can help them to become more positive and confident and to become more effective teachers too.
In my experience of education in over forty countries many language teachers seem to be suffering from a lack of creativity, energy, confidence and self-esteem. In ten of those countries I have run materials development courses for teachers ranging in duration from one week to a year and many of the participants seemed to have developed and grown considerably by the end of the course. For example, on the PKG Project in Indonesia many teachers progressed during their in-on service course from being uncritical and inflexible users of official methodology and materials to being confident innovators of principled materials and methodology themselves (Tomlinson, 1990). And after a year on our MA in Materials Development for Language Teaching at Leeds Metropolitan University many of the participants had developed into much more imaginative and effective teachers, into confident conference presenters and article writers and into expert materials developers. The magic ingredient was not the quality of the tuition nor just the focus on materials development but the experiential/reflective mode of delivery and the way that a focus on developing materials was able to enhance this mode by providing meaningful and liberating experiences for the participants.
In a teacher training approach teachers or trainee teachers are given procedures and advice to follow. This approach assumes a relationship of experts to novices and characterises many pre-service courses in which the participants are trained to teach a particular textbook, methodology or curriculum. In the best type of teacher training courses the participants are provided with a range of options to choose from; in the worst they are given a set script to follow. The result is often teachers who know what to do but who do not know when and how not to do it. In other words, conformists who have little initiative or creativity of their own and who find it difficult to respond to the unexpected.
Teacher training helps institutions and countries to achieve convergence and uniformity but ultimately it is not very useful for learners, who need teachers who can respond to their divergent needs and wants. Training teachers to write materials might help them to become a little more organised and to write clearer instructions but it is not going to lead to increased confidence, creativity, flexibility or self-esteem.
In a teacher education approach teachers are given new knowledge and the means to discover new knowledge for themselves. In the best type of teacher education course the teachers are given sufficient relevant and comprehensible knowledge to help them to apply it to their own teaching situations. In the worst type they are given irrelevant and incomprehensible knowledge and are not helped to apply it to themselves. The result is often that teachers feel empowered by their new knowledge but frustrated at their inability to apply it and sometimes that they feel disempowered by a new sense of inadequacy from finding out how much they do not know.
In my experience teacher education is of potentially more value than teacher training but it is inevitably inadequate in that it overrates what teachers know and under-values what they think and do. Giving teachers new knowledge about materials development might provide them with some interesting new insights into teaching and learning but it would not help them to develop expertise in actually developing materials themselves and would be unlikely to have a positive effect on their confidence, creativity, flexibility or self-esteem.
In a teacher development approach teachers are given new experiences to reflect on and learn from. Their prior experience and expertise is valued but they are encouraged to add to their repertoires and to develop their awareness of the processes of learning and teaching. The emphasis is not on finite, articulated knowledge coming from outside but on dynamic, multi-dimensional awareness developing in the mind, and on the ability to apply this awareness to their actual contexts of teaching.
In the best type of teacher development course the teachers are helped to decide what to think and do for themselves and are encouraged to develop novel approaches themselves. In the worst type of teacher development course the teachers are surreptitiously pushed in pre-determined directions.
Teacher development is potentially more valuable than teacher education or teacher training (even for trainee teachers) because it can lead to the development of teachers with confidence, creativity, flexibility and self-esteem who can respond to the actual needs and wants of their learners. Providing teachers (and even trainee teachers) with the opportunity to develop expertise for themselves as materials developers can quite definitely help them to develop and grow.
The Aims of a Teacher Development Course
I think the main objective of a teacher development course is simply to help the participants to become good teachers. But what is a Good Language Teacher? Are the characteristics of a Good Language Teacher self-evident or is there disagreement about them? Are they universal or are they culture specific?
In a workshop which I ran at the MELTA 2003 Conference in Subang, I asked the participants to complete a questionnaire about their view of the Good Teacher. What do you think were the five main characteristics of the Good Language Teacher which were specified by this group of 30 Malaysian teachers and teacher trainers?
In his PhD thesis on learner reticence in Vietnam Bao Dat characterised the Good Language Teacher as “cheerful, approachable and dedicated” (Dat, 2002). I have taught in seven countries and visited classrooms in 40. I basically agree with Dat and think his definition is universally true. The 30 Malaysian respondents to my questionnaire seemed to agree too. When asked to say what they think is the main characteristic of the Good Language Teacher there were many different answers. Those responses receiving more than one mention were:
The respondents were also asked to rate 15 characteristics of the Good Language Teacher on a scale of 1-5, in which 1 indicates complete disagreement and 5 indicates complete agreement. This is how they responded:
The Good Language Teacher
My own characterisation of the Good Language Teacher (which I listed before the MELTA Conference) is that the Good Language Teacher:
Would you add to, delete or modify any of these characteristics? Notice how many of them relate to personal attitudes and characteristics rather than to expertise in the theory and practice of language teaching. In my view, such attributes cannot be given to teachers through training or education approaches; they can only be nurtured and supported through a teacher development approach.
There are many useful ways of giving teachers new experience to reflect on in order to achieve personal and professional development (for example, through peer teaching, experimental teaching and focussed observation of other teachers). In my experience though, by far the most effective way to achieve this is through a course in materials development.
What Materials Development Can Achieve
I have found that materials development can help teachers to develop the following characteristics of the Good Language Teacher in the following ways:
In the ten years that I have been running materials development courses for teacher development I have come to the conclusion that for a materials development course to contribute to the development of Good Language Teachers it should: ·
As a result of my ten years' experience of running materials development for teacher development courses I have developed a number of flexible course frameworks. Here is an example of the one that I have found to be the most powerful for longer courses.
1 Experience as learners of demonstrations of novel approaches and tasks
I usually start my courses by using some of my own materials to give the participants experience of approaches and tasks they are unlikely to have encountered before. Depending on the actual group of teachers, the approaches include TPR Plus (Tomlinson, 1994b; Islam, 2003), the Multi-Dimensional Approach (Tomlinson, 2001; Masuhara, 2003) and Language Awareness approaches (Bolitho and Tomlinson, 1995; Tomlinson, 1994; Bolitho et al, 2003). The objective is not to train the participants to use these approaches but to give them new experiences to reflect on.
2 Analysis and evaluation of the approaches and tasks
After experiencing a novel approach or task the participants are asked to analyse it by listing its stages and specifying the principles and objectives for each stage. They are then asked to evaluate it in relation to specified criteria (e.g. the validity of the principles; the coherence of the principles; the likelihood of achieving the objectives; the suitability for a specific context of learning). As they evaluate an approach or task the participants are encouraged to suggest improvements.
This procedure helps the participants to become more aware of principles and objectives and to become more critical and perceptive about the materials and approaches available to them.
3 Impressionistic evaluation of textbook materials
This stage is usually done in groups and provides a way of helping the participants to articulate their principles and theories about language learning and teaching. It is also a preparation for Stage 5.
4 Development of criteria for materials evaluation
This is a long and difficult stage during which the participants are helped to develop a number of answerable and informative criteria according to the following categories:
This stage is done in groups and gets the participants to think very carefully about the characteristics of good language learning materials.
For a more detailed description of the development of evaluation criteria see Tomlinson (2003b).
5 Criterion referenced evaluation of the same material as in 3 above
In the same groups as in 3 above the participants evaluate the same materials again. This time they evaluate the materials in relation to a specified context of learning and they use the criteria they have developed in 4 above. As they conduct the evaluation they invariably add extra criteria and go back to modify or even delete the criteria they developed in 4 above.
Often the results of the evaluation are very different from those of the impressionistic evaluation and the participants learn the importance of evaluating materials and methods in relation to specific contexts of learning rather than in isolation.
6 Reading of relevant articles, extracts and chapters
The participants are guided towards relevant literature on language acquisition, on materials development and on language teaching methodology. Because of their experience of actually considering and applying principles of language acquisition, the participants are usually able to be constructively critical of what they read and to really appreciate anything which they had not thought of before which is of potential benefit to them as teachers and as materials developers.
7 Evaluation of relevant articles, extracts and chapters
In groups the participants formalise the process of evaluation begun in 6 and note down anything which they think might be useful for them on and after the course.
8 Context specific adaptation of materials
The participants are given demonstrations of adaptations of material and work together to develop sets of principles and procedures for effective adaptation. They then use them to develop adaptations of specified materials for specific learning contexts using the following stages of development:
9 Context specific design and production of materials
The participants are given target contexts of learning (either related to their teaching contexts or in deliberately divergent simulations) and are given time to design and produce principled materials for those contexts. Normally this is done in groups and the facilitators are available to give feedback and advice.
10 Self- and peer-evaluation of the materials produced
At intervals the writers evaluate their own materials against predetermined criteria and give their materials for further evaluation to a peer monitor group as well.
11 Revision of the materials
The materials are revised in relation to the feedback from the evaluations.
12 Demonstration and theoretical justification of the materials
The participants demonstrate their materials to their peers and explain the principles which have driven them. They also answer questions from their facilitators and peers and listen to suggestions for improvement. Or they write up their materials and their theoretical justification for them and submit them to their facilitators for feedback. On the MA in Materials Development for Language Teaching for example, the participants produce a complete course of materials plus a theoretical justification in lieu of a dissertation.
13 Further Revision
Materials are never perfect and the participants continue to revise their materials for use in the clasroom or for publication.
For a more detailed description of the use of this framework see Tomlinson (2003a).
A materials development as teacher development course can not only help teachers to develop useful expertise as materials developers. It can also help teachers to articulate and develop their own theories of language learning and teaching, to develop skills which can enable them to apply these theories to practice and to develop personal attributes which can help them to become more confident and positive people and more effective teachers too.
Books, chapters and articles which give differing perspectives on using materials development for teacher development include:
Canniveng, C. and Martinez, M. Materials development and teacher training. In B. Tomlinson. (ed.) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum Press.
McGrath, I. 2002. Materials Evaluation and Design for Language Teaching. Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press.
Popovici, R. and Bolitho, R. Personal and professional development through writing: the Romanian textbook project. In B. Tomlinson (ed.) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum Press.
Tomlinson, B. 1990. Managing change in Indonesian high schools. ELT Journal, 44/1.
Tomlinson, B. 1995. Work in progress: textbook projects. FOLIO 2/2, 26-31.
Tomlinson, B. (ed.) 2003. Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum Press.
Tomlinson, B. 2003. Materials development courses. In B. Tomlinson (ed.) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum Press.
Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. 2003a. Simulations in materials development. In B. Tomlinson (ed.) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum Press.
Tomlinson, B. and Masuhara, H. 2003b Materials Development. Singapore: RELC Portfolio Series.
Bolitho, R. and Tomlinson, B. 1995. Discover English. (New Edition) Oxford: Heinemann.
Bolitho, R., Carter, R., Hughes, R., Ivanic, R., Masuhara, H. and Tomlinson, B. 2003. Ten questions about language awareness. ELT Journal. 57/2.
Dat, B. 2002. Understanding Reticence: An Action Research Project Aiming at Increasing Verbal Participation in the EFL Classroom in Vietnam. Unpublished PhD thesis, Leeds Metropolitan University.
Islam, C. 2003. Materials for beginners. In B. Tomlinson (ed.) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum Press.
Masuhara, H. 2003. Materials for developing reading skills. In B. Tomlinson (ed.) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum Press.
Tomlinson, B. 1990. Managing change in Indonesian high schools. ELT Journal, 44/1.
Tomlinson, B. 1994a Pragmatic awareness materials. Language Awareness, 3/4, 119-29.
Tomlinson, B. 1994b TPR materials. FOLIO 1/2, 8-10.
Tomlinson, B. 2001. Conecting the mind: a multi-dimensional approach to teaching language through literature. The English Teacher. 4/2, 105-115.
Tomlinson, B. 2003a. Materials development courses. In B. Tomlinson (ed.) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum Press.
Tomlinson, B. 2003b. Materials evaluation. In B. Tomlinson (ed.) Developing Materials for Language Teaching. London: Continuum Press.