Below is an interview that was a long time coming! Clare and I talked about doing an interview quite while back and here it is below. We talked about a range of issues including materials development and she offered up a nice range of ideas and links. I thank Clare for taking the time to answer my questions. Enjoy!
Hello Clare, thanks for stopping by. We talked about doing this interview a while back and I’m so glad to be finally doing it.
Can I get you a drink? What are you having?
Ooh, I love a good cup of tea! You, know I still get my friends and family to bring me ‘proper’ tea bags when they come and visit me in Germany!
Okay some nice tea coming right up. Please make yourself comfortable. So, what is new?
Thanks! Well, I’m quite busy at the moment, though that in itself is nothing really new! Usually September is a pretty quiet time for me, at work I mean, but I told my parents and some friends in England that, and now I’ve been busy with visitors coming and going for long weekends! But, you know, it’s quite nice doing day trips and whatnot with them – I feel a bit like I’m on holiday, too, and it’s really good to forget about work for a few days! But I’ll be back in the office, and the classroom, soon enough: the new term always comes round so quickly, doesn’t it?
Oh for sure. My term started in late August and it was a bit of a shock to me. So, what do you do exactly?
I teach EAP at Trier University, in Germany. Well, that doesn’t quite capture it! I’m the team leader for EAP teaching within the English Studies Department, on top of my full-time teaching load, which is 16 hours per week. Doesn’t sound much does it? But with all the preparation and marking it can sometimes be more than a full-time job. And I’m also in charge of the Erasmus exchanges for our Department, so for all the students of ours who go to study at our European partner unis and the students from those universities who come to study with us for a term or year. Oh, and on the side I’m a materials writer of sorts – it’s something I’ve just recently started getting into! But the thing that is really ‘my job’, is being an EAP lecturer.
Yes, I’d like to talk about materials development. For now could you please tell us about your students and courses.
So I teach 8 two-hour classes each week, for semesters that run for about 15 weeks. A winter and a summer semester each year. The classes I teach cover a pretty wide spread: from oral presentations and academic writing, to translation, British cultural studies, and phonetics. Translation is probably one of my favourites. My MA was in translation, so I really am a translation nerd! I know it’s not always approved of in the ELT world, but with my generally monolingual groups learners, I think it’s helpful. And it also opens lots of doors to discuss interference from their first language, German, and also cultural differences, for example when a culturally-specific concept pops up in one of the translation texts.
Because I teach within the academic department, rather than a general language centre or whatever, all of my students have English Studies as one of their main degree subjects. Most of them are on degrees that will qualify them to be secondary-school EFL teachers in future. It means that my classes are part of their English Studies modules, and so I only see each group of students once a week. But it also means that the students have actually chosen to study English, so the general level of motivation is quite high. So is their level of English! In Germany, students are expected to leave high school with about a B2 level in English, and most of our students are even better than that. At the master’s level, especially if the students have spent time abroad in an English-speaking country, they’re often C2 level, so basically bilingual! It’s very rewarding to see! But it’s also hard to find materials for them, for their language development.
Oh wow. Many of my students are future translators so I should pick your brain at some point. You mentioned materials writing. We took Katherine Bilsborough’s iTDi course back in June 2016 on Creating ELT Materials. What are your lasting memories of the course. OR What are your takeaways from the course?
Yes, it was a great course, wasn’t it? Kath touched on a lot of things I had kind of already heard about, but it was great to discuss them in detail, and to get them together in my head in a more structured way. I’d say my biggest take-away was about writing instructions. And blurbs. So that other teachers can use the materials I create. In my team, we often share things we’ve made for our classes, but I think it was probably quite hard sometimes for my colleagues to see how I used the materials in the classroom, and so sharing probably wasn’t really effective. But from Kath, and with practice, I’ve learnt how to write clear instructions for the tasks I create, and also clear and concise blurbs or teaching notes, so that other teachers can follow what I intend to be done with the materials. I think Kath’s message, that all teachers are also materials writers in someway, is important, too. There seems to be, well often, a kind of conceptual gap. You know, when teachers think of ‘materials writers’, a lot of them probably just think of the big names, the authors of published textbooks. But most teachers write or adapt materials for their own teaching, so we’re all materials writers, whether we publish them or not. That’s a really key point for me. It was great that Kath emphasised it – it’s really influenced the way I think about materials writing!
I also really liked the community feeling that built up among us participants on that course. I wasn’t sure beforehand how that would pan out on a MOOC, but, you know, I’m still in touch with several of you guys that I ‘met’ on that course!
That is great. I think the sense of community was amazing on that course. On a somewhat similar note, I see you joined Twitter in 2014. How has social networking impacted your development?
Wow! Has it really been so long? I love Twitter! It’s the key way I keep in touch with people in the ELT world, and with you and the other people I met on Kath’s course. I use Twitter for professional networking, for my PLN, and separate that from Facebook, where I’m only ‘friends’ with people I’ve actually met – like old school friends, my immediate colleagues and so on. Although, having said that, I am in a few groups on Facebook that are about English teaching.
But Twitter is the social network I would recommend to anyone interested in CPD as a teacher, especially in ELT. I mean, it’s any easy way to keep up with what’s going on, people post articles and blogs and things like that, which I probably wouldn’t get to know about without Twitter. And also events, webinars, conferences and the like: I usually find out about those from Twitter. And I use it to share my own blog posts.
For me, what I really like about Twitter, is also that it kind of flattens the hierarchy. Do you know what I mean? So, you can be in touch with all those ‘big names’, if you want. It’s like, everyone is equal, valued for their contributions, not for their professional status or whatever.
Good points, for sure. Let’s move on from micro-blogging to blogging. I enjoy your blog. What do you usually write about?
Well, it’s a bit of a mix really! I guess I always kind of figured it would be, since I have so many interests within teaching, which is why I went with the name Clare’s ELT Compendium. I post materials I have created, and ideas on how to teach certain things or handle certain situations, but also my reflections on my own teaching or on what’s going on in ELT. I summarise conference talks I hear, review relevant books, and report on action research I do. So a real mix! But I think it captures me, as a teacher, with all the things that a teacher thinks about and does, it captures all of that. An all-round ELT blog!
Nice! Are there any posts you’d like to share here?
Haha, all of them?! It depends on what you’re interested in. One post that got quite a bit of attention recently was about a project I did with my MA-level students. We wrote an ebook and published it on smashwords – within a 15-week semester! Lots of people seem interested in how we managed it, so I wrote it up in a blog post.
That was very cool and something I remembered quite well. Sorry to interupt. Please continue…
Also, last year, I did a series of posts called “7 Days 7 Ways” all about professional development for ELT teachers. It covers everything that I do for my CPD, like blogs, webinars, reading teaching magazines, etc. That, I’d say, is definitely worth a read!
Excellent. Thank you. You have a talk coming up, right? What is about?
Actually, I have a couple! The next one is an online talk, “Using Multimodal Learner-Driven Feedback to Provide Sustainable Feedback on L2 Writing”. I’m giving it as part of the LTSIG and OllRen online conference. It’s on 5th October, at 4.25pm UK time, if you’d like to join!
Sounds interesting for sure. As a note for readers, here is a link about the talk. Do you have more to add on this topic?
Basically, I’ll be reporting on research I’ve done into developing a procedure of learner-driven feedback on L2 essays. In LDF, as I call it, the feedback is given by the teacher, but the student can decide what they receive feedback on, and in what form, so via email or audio recording or whatever.
I came up with LDF by combining some other feedback ideas I’d heard and read about, and did a study with my students to see how they liked it. I’m going to be giving a talk on more general ideas on feedback at the TEASIG event in Luton at the end of October, too! Feedback has been my ‘baby’, my topic, for a while, so I’ve got plenty to say about it!
Oh, and I’ll also be at the TESOL Spain convention next March, giving a talk that combines two of my other interests – the topic is “How can research inform our ELT materials writing?” It’ll be part of a strand that MaWSIG are running at that convention.
Oh, okay. Wow. I was right. You are busy! Can you say more about MAWSIG? Like, what is it? What do you do there? How is it pronounced?
Ok, so firstly, we pronounce it like ‘more sig’. It stands for Materials Writing Special Interest Group, which is a bit of a mouthful! It’s one of IATEFL’s special interest groups, SIGs, and we aim to provide networking and professional development for anyone who is involved in creating materials for English language learners. It’s one of the younger SIGs, and also one of the more active ones, I think. I’m on the events team, and we organise meetups, conferences and things like that. Online and face-to-face conferences. Also, one of my biggest contributions so far has been getting a materials writing competition off the ground, aimed at teachers who write, or unpublished materials writers. You can check out the upcoming events and the competition, oh and also a pretty active blog, on our website: mawsig.iatefl.org
Thank you! Are there any books or blog posts or anything you’d recommend to those getting into materials development?
Well, the MaWSIG blog on our website is a great resource for this! Otherwise, I’d recommend people check out the books published by ELTTeacher2Writer, they’re all ‘how to’ type guides on writing different kinds of materials for ELT.
Thank you for this. I’d sort of forgotten to keep checking back with some of these so it was a nice chance to catch up. Stepping away from ELT for a moment, what are some non-ELT books you’d like to recommend?
I like to read general teaching books, too. One that I really liked was ‘How to Teach so Students Remember’, it’s by Marilee Sprenger.
If you’re talking about fiction, I like crime mysteries, like by Elizabeth George or P.J. Tracy, and also novels that include social criticism, like by Ben Elton. My all-time favourite is George Orwell’s ‘1984’.
The last one is a favorite of mine so I will have to check out the others! Thank you for taking the time to do this. It’s been a pleasure and I hope and believe it’s been helpful for readers as well. Thank you! I won’t pressure you about a guest post just yet!
Thank you, Mike! Bye!