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Review ~ Materials Development in Language Teaching

A must for those enrolled in teacher education courses and designing materials, from a renowned expert in the field.
Reviewed for TEFL.net by Jesús García Laborda
Materials Development in Language Teaching

Materials Development in Language Teaching

In 1998 I was giving teacher training courses in Bosnia. In those past and almost forgotten days, the whole country was trying to recuperate from a long and bloody war. So in one of my sessions, I came across a teacher who had no books and students who could hardly attend classes. I still remember her telling me the huge amount of materials she had made herself and asking for old-fashioned books that could be sent over there. This is very much the situation of many teachers across the world who rely on their own efforts to create materials. It could be because they are in countries where teaching materials are hard to get or just because the teaching materials do not fulfill their needs, as happens with many ESP teachers. In short, finding the appropriate teaching materials changes dramatically depending on a number of factors, and in not few occasions teachers need to create their own specific ones. This updated version of the classic title Materials Development in Language Teaching is aimed at all those kinds of people.

In my opinion, the first edition of this book needed a bit of an update, and now it has one. Brian Tomlinson is a very reputed scholar in materials development, so back in 1998 some of us felt that that first edition didn’t go as far as we might have expected in giving us something new on the topic. This second volume offers fresher perspectives and includes many of the elements that we did not see in the first edition such as the development of materials for/ with technology and CLIL. This second edition is composed of five parts: (1) Data collection and materials development; (2) The process of materials writing; (3) The process of materials evaluation; (4) The electronic delivery of materials and (5) Ideas for materials development.

The first section, Data Collection and Materials Development, pays special attention to the students and the must of focusing on analysis of real situations to create materials that best fit the students’ needs. Until the turn of this century most materials developers focused on the ideal features of the target language and discourse to be learned but failed to have a closer look up to analyze the specifics. In that sense, these three chapters look at real corpora as the source for real, trustable and usable materials. This section includes three chapters on corpora, concordances and grammar.

The second part, The Process of Materials Writing, addresses the need to make the materials writing process dynamic and the obligation to revise and update materials. Tomlinson says that this process should be done through cooperation between commercial designers and teachers and students. Materials should be chosen not only by the linguistic richness but also by their capacity to raise motivation and student’s interest.

The idea behind the section The Process of Materials Evaluation is that users must cooperate with designers (which addresses the principles stated in part 1). Thus, the process of mutual cooperation and “fine-tuned information” (p. 296) needs to be emphasized. This section is especially valuable for most teachers who need to take decisions based in their experiences in the classroom. The four chapters in this part address the analysis, evaluation, teacher’s attitudes and the publishers’ perspectives towards this evaluation process.

The part The Electronic Delivery of Materials is totally new to the new edition. Obviously, technology has brought significant changes in language teaching and learning, especially what is called web 2.0. This part addresses the use of blogs, chat, Facebook, wikis and video repositories in language teaching. As Tomlinson says:”new technologies in impressive action […] [enhance] the learning experience of the students by offering increased exposure to language in use, increased engagement and increased activity”(p. 352). Although this part does not bring anything really new in relation to other volumes of the same topic already reviewed here, it certainly is a good summary of what technology can do for the teacher and the learners.

The section Ideas for Materials Development provides the philosophy behind the creation of materials. In my opinion, this would be the most important for many because it gives some clues to orientate how teachers should create their own materials. In this sense, the chapter pays special attention to two aspects: the learner’s uniqueness and the learning styles. This part favors experiential learning and a balanced development of sensorial learning experiences as opposed to the traditional visual focus. In fact, the traditional vision is criticized by Tomlinson when he says: “it is much easier to write and design a book which requires analytic responses and it is not easy to write and sell one which caters for the kinaesthetically inclined”. I agree. To my surprise, Tomlinson criticizes how textbooks are designed. First he states that none of the authors in this section supports extensively the use of textbooks and then claims that textbooks “receive little investment of time and energy in developing their contents and their design”. It seems difficult to accept this assertion because textbooks today include a wide range of supporting materials and they go through frequent revisions in contents, layout, and so. Many books include electronic materials for both teachers and students and include booklets for students with especial or specific needs. It is clear that maybe Tomlinson’s idea could be applied at the time of the first edition but indeed not for the second.

I had the first edition of this book on the shelf in my office for many years. I will also keep this second one by the first. However, I have to say I was expecting more novelty. The problem of a popular volume is that re-editions tend to be the same, and this book is no exception. It is true that some chapters have been added but the spirit remains the same. The book is excellent for those who did not read the first edition and a must for those enrolled in teacher education courses, those involved in designing materials, those who need to create their own ones and even for some students in applied linguistics or specialized ESL/ELT courses. However, for those like me who had the opportunity to read the first version, this second is a bit disappointing. Nevertheless, the quality of the book and its contents is outstanding and this is a volume that most will consider worth reading.

Reviewed by Jesús García Laborda for TEFL.net February 2012
Dr Jesús García Laborda teaches in the Masters of EFL teaching and the Faculty of Business at Universidad de Alcalá (Madrid, Spain). His main research interests are testing and CALL.

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