Reflections on materials in ELT
Aug 3, 2015 Classroom Materials 2996 Views
Materials and activities take an important part of most English teaching programs. They are relevant issues of the educational process and teachers rely on a whole range of activities to support a good teaching performance. From textbooks to videos, audio CDs or any sort of support materials, we always need them to guide our students in any context. Although there is a great set of English language teaching materials commercially available, many teachers continue to design their own to be used in their classrooms. Most of us spend time selecting, adapting, working on materials for our classes. For most of us, designing or adapting our own teaching materials enables us to take into account our particular learning environment to overcome the lack of “fit” of the course book.
Commercial hits and average texts are found in the market, most of them covering multiple aspects and ensuring to foster multiple skills and to become the best tool to accomplish the educational goal in a hundred per cent, but ¿ are they enough in all contexts?, with all sorts of students and at all levels?. We can find very successful textbooks in the market, they are designed by remarkable authors, but there is always a gap to be covered when we look at the picture of English language teaching. One of the main aspects of materials made by teachers is the contextualization (Block, 1991). Commercial materials are often criticized because they are made for a worldwide market and in that way those materials are too generic, so the culture and the particular context in which the educational process takes place is left behind.
On the other hand, materials and coursebooks are often criticized to be Anglo-centric and based on situations which most foreign language students will never face. In ELT there is a gap between the British or American cultures and the rest of the world, especially the “third world countries”, in which most teachers face or identify the lack of coherence or relevance with their cultures. That gap is taken into account by some teachers, and by taking advantage of modern teaching methodology, teachers can identify needs in terms of cultural aspects and in terms of individual needs by the students. In my opinion, the most important factor to be considered is the learners. If the matters of teacher created materials are relevance, interest, motivation and meeting specific individual needs, teachers must know different aspects from learners, students’ preferences, learning styles and needs.
Teachers must be realistic about what they can achieve within the limitations of resources and facilities, access to resources such as computers, video players, CD players, photocopiers or language labs make the difference because the lack of the elements mentioned above, leads to the creativity of some teachers and some ideas emerge within “resource less” teaching which address the impoverished reality of some teaching contexts.
In the long run, teachers must estimate the advantages and disadvantages of designing their own materials, it is clear that effort and extra time are required in the process, the question is: ¿Is it worth enough to take the time and start the process of designing or adapting materials? The answer is not simple but Harmer ( 2001) supports my point of view by saying: “The good teacher, with time on his or her hands, with unlimited resources, and the confidence to marshal those resources into a clear and coherent language program, is probably about as good as it gets for the average language learner”.
One of the main reasons to bring authentic materials to an ELT environment, is that of exposing the learners to the highest possible amount of authentic material, but there is a common concern in some academic circles in which the concept of authentic is relative and vague, authenticity is then a term that needs to be understood entirely. Other two terms to be understood are design and adaptation. In design the teacher takes into account the process of creation from zero, and adaptation involves many changes to the materials, such as adding, deleting or reordering, etc. This is a widely accepted practice in order to achieve congruence and authenticity.
Masden & Bowen (1978) include a definition of effective adaptation:
Effective adaptation is a matter of achieving “congruence”……..the good teacher is constantly striving for congruence among several related variables: teaching materials, methodology, students, course objectives, the target language and its context, and the teacher`s own personality and style.
Some authors argue that teachers can design or adapt materials that may contain elements of the local culture at the right level for particular learners to guarantee levels of success in the educational process. Regarding this aspect, there is a concept introduced by Block, in his 1991 article, in which he argues in favor of home-made materials and activities as they provide a personal “touch” to teaching and in that sense, students recognize and appreciate that fact.
In general terms, adaptation or design require several factors to take into account, authenticity is one, but there are some others that help to shape the idea of creating new materials as a part of a course. Some other factors have to do with the learners, the type of syllabus, the context, the resources and facilities, the language approach to be fostered, the time, or even the type of skill to be developed but they are not considered obstacles but opportunities and challenges in the everyday of an educational process.
BLOCK, D. (1991) Some thoughts on DIY materials design. ELT Journal.
HARMER, J. (2001)Coursebooks, A human, cultural and linguistic disaster? MET.
Masden, K. S. & Bowen, J. D. (1978). Adaptation in Language Teaching. Newbury House