The Material Writer’s Essential Toolkit – MaWSIG PCE at IATEFL 2015. Workshop summaries

A very insightful summary of eight information-packed sessions and workshop focusing on practical hands-on ideas useful for any materials writer. A must read for a materials writer

Olya Sergeeva's ELT blog

IATEFL 2015 has kicked off, and – yes, this year I’m attending it.  Feeling incredibly lucky and very grateful to my company, without whose support I wouldn’t have been able to go!

Today I spent a delightful day at MaWSIG pre-conference event. There were eight information-packed sessions and workshop focusing on practical hands-on ideas useful for any materials writer, no matter how experienced you are. Below is a brief overview of the day – if you want to find out more, scroll down to detailed summaries.

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After a brief introduction by Nick Robinson, Sue Kay gave a session on writing multiple-choice questions. She gave a checklist of potential pitfalls to avoid and shared several very useful slides with suggestions how to reformulate language from the text in the questions.  

A theme that came up in two talks was the changing role of ‘non-visuals’ in ELT. Ben Goldstein and Ceri Jones showed that images…

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Wow, it’s awesome!

As soon as I posted my new photo as my profile picture on the Face book, strange comments started pouring in. (1) “Wow, it’s cool.” (2) “awesome !” (3) “ Wow, it’s just awesome!” (4) ‘great!” (5) “sexy”. While thanking my friends for all the compliments, I started wondering if I knew my English well. For old fashioned people like me, a photograph is ‘beautiful’, ‘nice’ or at best ‘wonderful’. But, the English language has changed, we have to learn it afresh. I use the word ‘cool’ to refer to the cool  air or when I get a ‘cool’ reception at my old friend’s place. But, now a days, ‘cool’ is a highly welcome expression. ‘That’s a cool car’, ( a very good, excellent car), ‘ My wife bought a cool purse’ ( a fashionable purse). Earlier, we were afraid of the ‘awesome’ power of the atom bomb, but now we are thrilled by an ‘awesome lecture’ or we gaze at an ‘awesome’ shopping mall (awesome=excellent). The word ‘sexy’ was a taboo word in the last century, but now it is a common word in the day to day parlance of the younger generation. “ Congrats, you have bought such a sexy new car!” “ I listened to her speech, but sorry to say it’s not very sexy” ( meaning, the speech was not very exciting or appealing). “ Great, it’s really a sexy project”. I knew that ‘ No way’ meant ‘under no circumstances or not at all’, for my young friends, it’s just an emphatic ‘no’, nothing more than that! Similarly, the word ‘great’ has also got a new meaning: “ We played awful, they played great.” ( great= very well, excellently).
‘Language without meaning is meaningless’ ( Roman Jakobson). But what do you do when you find that the meaning that you know is meaningless? While pondering over the meaning of meanings, I realized how English is fast changing. During the pre-internet period, we learnt English usage from F T Wood’s ‘Current English Usage’ published in 1963 and H W Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage published in 1926. But now we have to relearn English from the social media. When I was pointing out this transitional phase to a friend, he exclaimed,“ Come on man, everything’s gonna be aight!” (al right= aight).
English language has become more informal and more innovative during the post-Google period. The purists may dismiss the new coinages and the new connotations of words as aberrations or slangs, but they are the signs of the younger spirit of the language. “That’s really interesting”! Or should I say, “That’s cool!”

A plea for an Academic Reading-Writing Course in English

While courses on Academic Reading and Writing in English are quite common in the universities of the UK or the USA, there is hardly any provision for such courses in the Indian Universities or in the English Language Teacher Training institutes of the country. Poor language pedagogy in our regional medium schools and colleges does not equip our students with the required strategies to read or write academic texts in English and consequently, it affects their engagement with the academic texts written in English. Though the students who enter the MA programs often do not have adequate English language skills, they are expected to engage themselves with academic texts that carry complex ideas. The dual burden of transitioning not only to another language but also to academic discourse in a foreign language poses serious problems for academic excellence . An academic reading-writing course in English in our universities will familiarize our students with the relationship between the forms and practices of disciplinary genres. Such a course, I believe, will empower them to articulate their ideas and perspectives as per the established norms of academic writing in English.
A course on academic reading-writing in English should be based on the assumption that improvement in academic reading and writing comes in developmental stages and in order to help the learners to acquire the skills of reading and writing academic texts in English, we should provide them with adequate practice, through reading and through exposure to the models of academic writing. Nurturing the cognitive and linguistic resources of the L2 learners can alone help them read and write confidently in the target language.
What is involved in academic reading? Academic reading, according to experts, involves (a) Coding competence, (b) Semantic Competence, (c) Pragmatic competence, (d) Critical competence . It is often observed that many students do not know how to question an author of an academic text. Interacting with text information, juxtaposing it with the knowledge and experiences that the students bring to the text and constructing a representation of the author’s meaning are challenging tasks for non-native students of English reading an academic text written in English. These students need scaffolding and a regular course on academic reading and writing can alone provide that scaffolding.
What does Academic Writing involve? (a) Generating ideas, (b) sequencing of ideas (c) Linking ideas coherently, (d) Using academic vocabulary, (e) connecting paragraphs, (f) using transition phrases and (g) adding supporting evidence.
It is unfortunate that academic reading or academic writing as a topic of inquiry and pedagogy is not given due importance in our colleges and universities. How do you explore an academic discourse done in a foreign language and how do you articulate your ideas and perspectives in a language that is not your own?