A LETTER FROM THE CHAIRS
Greetings fellow Materials Writers! TESOL 2013 seems like a long time ago, and TESOL 2014 seems right around the corner. As your current and continuing IS chairs, we have been busy for the last few months preparing for TESOL 2014. We have some great sessions planned, as well as some great networking opportunities.
First, thank you to everyone who has submitted a proposal for TESOL 2014, and a special thanks to the reviewers whose careful work has added a lot to the offerings of our interest section. We could not have done it without you! The MWIS events for TESOL 2014 include eight concurrent sessions, a roundtable discussion, and a poster session, in addition to our academic session and our intersection with the Adult Education IS.
Our academic session will explore past, current, and future roles and relationships between materials writers and publishers. Our panelists will discuss everything from work-for-hire agreements to negotiating royalties. We have some great panelists and are excited to bring you this session.
Additionally, our intersection with the Adult Education IS will explore the needs of adult education students, and discuss selecting the best materials to meet the changing needs of the 21st century student. Again, some great panelists are coming your way.
We hope to continue the energy that we all find at TESOL throughout the year. One way of doing so is through our newsletter. We would like to thank Jayme Adelson-Goldstein for continuing to serve as our newsletter editor, and ever-so-politely helping us remember our deadlines. Another great resource for all of us is the listserv. Thank you to Peter Vahle for continuing to be our moderator. The listserv is a great way to get your questions answered quickly.
As we move towards the new academic year, please consider serving in a greater role. We will be electing incoming chairs in the next year, and would really like you to think about putting your name forward. Keep in mind: If you are a teacher who creates materials for your classes, you are a materials writer!
Steve and Christina
A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR
Hello fellow MWIS members. You may notice that this is the spot where we’d normally have a “Meet Your Incoming Chairs” article. Hopefully, this time next year, we will be able to reinstate those introductions. This year, however, our current MWIS chairs, Steve and Christina, are taking on all the tasks that are normally shared between the current and incoming chairs. We owe them a debt of gratitude for their dedication, but more than that we need to find the next group of dedicated volunteers who can take on the leadership of our IS. (Note that I didn’t say you have to volunteer, I said find volunteers.) We are, by our writing nature, a persuasive group—surely we can prevail on our colleagues, friends, and acquaintances to take up the mantle. It’s not a very heavy mantle when it’s shared. Co-chairing is a lovely thing. Ask Steve and Christina.
The job duties for chairs and incoming chairs are easy to schedule around and there are many past chairs who are willing to offer advice and assistance. In a nutshell, chairs oversee the selection process for MWIS refereed proposals; work with another IS leader or two to develop an intersection session at TESOL, plan an academic session at TESOL, write two updates a year for the newsletter, review the sessions listed in the newsletter, meet with other IS chairs the day before TESOL, and run the first half of the MWIS business meeting at TESOL. Typically the incoming chairs shadow the current chairs, assist with one or more of the TESOL sessions, arrange the social hour, and run the second half of the business meeting.
Sometime during TESOL 2014 in Portland (most likely the evening of March 27th, but don’t quote me) we will have our MWIS business meeting and vote on our new leadership. Between now and then, please send your recommendations to our chairs, Steve and Christina. (And, yes you can volunteer!)
FROM THE TRENCHES: AN INTERVIEW WITH JENNIFER LEBEDEV, Part 1
Jennifer Lebedev, a gifted member of our MWIS community, is also one of its first Internet superstars. Videos posted to her YouTube channel, JenniferESL, typically get 1–2,000 hits a week from ESOL learners all over the world. Jennifer’s online bio and website describe her background and give details about her work as a classroom teacher, program administrator, and teacher educator. (One can also learn that she counts Polish stuffed cabbage, Filipino pancit, and Russian potato salad as culinary accomplishments.)
In this month’s From the Trenches, Jennifer provides insights into a working life that (as she says) is “both limited to, and liberated by, the Internet.”
MWIS: How would you characterize the work you do?
JL: My work is rich, demanding, and rewarding. It’s driven by the need to do something worthwhile. My career path has also been shaped by my circumstances. Many who know me associate me with YouTube, but I cannot and would not limit my professional work to YouTube alone. YouTube was a wonderful medium to turn to at a point when I needed to restrict my activity to what I could do at home so that I could work around my children’s daily lives. It has grown into a wonderful springboard for other projects, and for that I am thankful. I wear a lot of different hats both in my personal and professional life. I very much want to explore the different ways I can teach and create instructional content.
Today I have an ELT blog, I create content for a corporate English site, I moderate a community forum on my site, I do volunteer work for TESOL, and, yes, I still work as JenniferESL on YouTube. I’ve also been lucky enough to contribute to print publications in big and small ways. My online and offline work puts me in contact with many different people.
MWIS: Walk us through a typical day at work.
JL: I sometimes start my day with a Skype lesson at 9 am, but often I can only find time to work after 10 or 11, when the kids are off to school and morning chores have been done. Correspondence with learners and other teachers can take up to an hour. Then come the e-mails, from present and potential business interests. An occasional phone conference pops into my weekly schedule as well.
As the day goes on, I try to devote some time to content development. I blog for Pearson once a week, I create video and quiz content for GlobalEnglish each month, and I post materials on my website as time allows. I have a whole list of ideas and topics waiting for me to turn them into YouTube lessons. Any recording needs to be done before the kids return home from school at 3 pm. That doesn’t always work out. I’ve been known to ask them for silence while I wrap up an explanation in front of the camera in our living room. They’re pretty good about that. In fact, they listen attentively. My daughter likes to pick up a marker in her little hand and start imitating me once my filming is over.
Over the years, I’ve taught late evening lessons on Skype to reach students in other time zones. Recently, I gave a short, informal webinar for university students in Costa Rica. So on that evening, after getting the children off to bed, I prepared for my 10 pm Skype call. Nighttime becomes work time in the summer, too, when my children are out of school and quiet time at the computer can’t be found during the day.
Volunteer work has a place in my weekly schedule. I make frequent visits to my children’s elementary school during the school year, and each month usually brings a new assignment from TESOL’s Book Publications Committee (BPC). Being a BPC member has allowed me to learn more about the publications process and meet other professionals in our field.
MWIS: What expectations accompany your public presence on the Web?
JL: I didn’t become JenniferESL on YouTube with a grand plan. Even today, I’m not exactly sure where I’m headed as a YouTube content creator, but as the numbers grow, so do the expectations. I’m very aware of the responsibility I have as a representative of my profession, my country, and my family. I don’t want to let anyone down. I sometimes grow anxious over labels like “authority” and “expert.” I’m not perfect, and there’s still so much for me to learn. I can only promise that I’ll deliver to the best of my ability. Learners also know that when I don’t immediately have an answer, I go looking for one. It’s exciting to upload a video and know that within a day it will likely get a thousand hits, but I also upload with the sincere hope that the content will make a positive difference in someone’s studies and that it will truly reflect my hard work and love for teaching.
When you put yourself out there as an online teacher, people expect you to be accessible. I devote a portion of my time each day to responding to comments and questions—not an easy feat considering I can only work part time. Learners and teachers turn to me with public and private requests and while I want to offer the help they all need, often I must be extremely brief in order to respond to everyone. There are times when a particular teacher’s request requires a significant time investment, but I am willing to work with other teachers because by supporting them, I’m also helping their students.
Thankfully, almost everyone who contacts me does so with positive intentions. When I am faced with rude or even threatening words, however, I practice self-control and professionalism. YouTube is a social media site that gives birth to many beautiful connections, but it also has its trolls and other vicious entities empowered by anonymity. I’ve been fortunate to have people rally to defend my work and support me in the face of harsh criticism. Imagine if all your lessons were rated on a 5-star system or accompanied by a public tally of thumbs-up and thumbs-down signs! Mine are.
MWIS: Before JenniferESL, you were a published author and you’ve continued to write, most recently on Pearson’s New Generation Grammar series. How did your work with ESOL publishing prepare you for your digital work?
JL: While working on Vocabulary Power (Pearson), Kate Dingle and I were introduced to the process of writing for a major publisher: developing the discipline to stay within the parameters of a project and learning to work with an editor through revisions. I learned even more in my next job, working with Linda Butler on tests for her series New Password. Being a materials writer teaches you discipline, and I think that helps in making videos. I try to remind myself to keep to the parameters I set for a particular playlist, because consistency makes for an easier viewing experience.
I love grammar and have always wanted to be part of a major textbook series, so writing with Pamela Vittorio and the rest of the team on Next Generation Grammar (NGG) was a dream come true. The templates for the digital component were an enjoyable challenge: They’re not always user-friendly, but you need to master the tools before you can create content for online labs. NGG also allowed me to work in front of the camera as the NGG Grammar Coach. I read scripts written by the entire author team and had a director. Seeing him at work taught me a bit more about video making. For example, I now know to hold a smile and wait an extra second before ending a clip. In my earlier YouTube videos, I often ended a clip too abruptly before transitioning into the next segment.
MWIS: Can you give us a short history of your website, englishwithjennifer.com, and tell us what you are most proud of on the site?
JL: I’m just proud that I have a website and that I’ve learned to update it on my own! YouTube viewers had been asking me to do this since 2007. I’m not a techie, and learning the basics of HTML was difficult. I had help building the site in 2009, and it launched in 2010. I added a community forum in 2012, but after failing to deal successfully with spam, I had to remove it. By the spring of 2013, I installed new software and again had a place to answer learners’ questions at length. On YouTube there are too many restrictions in the comment sections. Also this spring, I received some guidance from my colleague and fellow YouTuber, Mike Marzio of Real English, and was able to add interactive exercises to my site. Like all my other projects, it takes time to create all that I want.
MWIS: The site has a few income streams: the advertising and café press items as well as the book store. What guided your decision on how to monetize the site? Do you have control over the advertising on the site?
JL: When you’re an independent contractor, you can’t depend on one source of income. As they say, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Café Press is a nice addition to my site, but you can’t expect to pay major bills with any profit from the sale of coffee mugs and tote bags. Using Google Ads has been a good decision. The content is customized to each viewer, so I’m assuming what appears for visitors has relevance to their online activity. Other parties have contacted me about advertising on my website, but while I wish I could earn more and start a college fund for my kids, I feel extreme caution is necessary when it comes to endorsing products or services, so I’ve steered clear of those ways to monetize my site.
FROM THE TRENCHES: AN INTERVIEW WITH JENNIFER LEBEDEV, Part 2
In Part 2 of this month’s From the Trenches, Jennifer Lebedev of JenniferESL outlines her video-making process, talks about blogging, and shares her thoughts about the future of ESOL materials writing.
MWIS: In your 2013 interview for TESOL’s Electronic Village you said a 10-minute video takes about 20 hours to create. Could you break down that process for us?
JL: My videos tend to be lengthy because I choose to be thorough in my explanations. I’ve experimented with shorter videos in certain playlists, but in general I’d say 10 minutes is the average length of a video.
Planning might start on paper when I initially get inspired. Then I move to PowerPoint slides to help me organize my ideas, much like we’d use index cards for a research paper. As the details start to fall into place, I double check my information and continue to revise my slides. I admit there have been a number of grammar questions that have sent me to colleagues. (Stacy Hagen, I thank you for always being willing to help each time I turn to you!)
Then comes formatting. I check for consistency in fonts, colors, spacing, etc. I don’t have a design team or an editor. I do the best I can. By this point, I may have spent a few hours on the lesson. It takes a matter of days, usually not in the same week, to gather all my thoughts and build my text slides. I need to step away and then come back to view the content with fresh eyes.
Filming is both easy and hard when you’re a one-person show. It’s convenient because I get to do things the way I think they should be done. But it’s also challenging because I need to be my own director and my own cameraman. I generally don’t work with a script, and I have no teleprompt. I prefer to take and retake until my explanation flows logically and naturally. Then as I’m talking, I may realize that I want to make additional edits to my slides. My way of making a video lesson is not always a straight-arrow process. I try to plan and then execute, but I also take advantage of the freedom I have to make changes as I go along. That said, filming doesn’t take place on a strict schedule. I also have to work around airplanes flying over my house and other environmental noises. Sometimes I can work fast and get a clip recorded in one or two tries, but other days I feel tongue-tied and the number of bloopers add up. Recording for a 10-minute video can take an hour or more.
Doing the voiceover work for the text slides can take another hour, with multiple takes, and working around environmental noises.
Editing takes up the most time, especially because the majority of my viewers want captions, which take a lot of effort to type and proofread. I also like to animate the slides with callouts. Add in transitions, music, and volume adjustments and the minutes go by even faster. Technical problems can arise, and that slows down production. My least favorite part of making videos is dealing with tech problems because solutions aren’t always easily found.
Given all my other projects, you can understand why I sometimes only produce one video a month. Each time I finish a video, I feel it’s cause for a little celebration.
MWIS: Let’s talk about your blog. How did it come to be and how it has evolved?
JL: Pearson took a chance on me, and I’m lucky. It was their idea for me to try blogging. I hadn’t considered doing that back in 2008. They observed my efforts on YouTube and the response my work was getting. The suggestion to blog came from the marketing team. I also received guidance from them in setting up my categories and finding my niche. If I had begun on my own, I would have been more tentative. Instead, I was encouraged to jump in and post three times a week, focusing on teaching tips. I managed to keep that pace for a few years. That discipline paid off because a sizable collection of ideas was created in a relatively short period of time.
My source of inspiration is usually something in my own teaching experience or a question asked by a YouTube viewer. On occasion, I also write a post in response to a request from another teacher. Most often it is a new teacher reaching out to me for ideas on how to explain a topic or how to practice a certain language item. As other demands increased in my work schedule, I decreased my blogging to once a week, but I also learned how to develop my blog and my YouTube channel in a way in which they complement each other.
In terms of challenges, I know I need to work on being more concise. I love to write! The tech side of blogging hasn’t been nearly as demanding as running my YouTube channel or website. I’ve experimented with audio and polls on my blog, but I think offering PDF handouts for classroom activities was one of the better decisions I made.
MWIS: What role do comments from video viewers and blog readers play in your work?
JL: Comments are important. Sometimes when a certain request becomes frequent, I know I need to act on it. For example, a number of EFL teachers asked me for language support last year, and so I decided to post a small collection of videos with models of classroom language on my website. Other times, I know a request is beyond the scope of my work, so I’m happy to refer people to colleagues.
Sometimes the demands of my work weigh heavily on me, and when I feel discouraged about meeting everyone’s expectations, I usually come across a particularly moving comment from a viewer telling me how important my videos are to them. I feel renewed with confidence and determination. I want to try again. I want to create again.
One example comes to mind. Beginners had been clamoring for lessons starting with hello and A, B, C. I knew in 2012 it was time to meet their request. I used a rather different approach to teaching this group. I decided to work on camera with a friend and ELL. Our lessons are not planned out in detail. I know what language points I wish to cover, but there’s no script. It’s all real and natural. Not everyone likes this approach. They want me to teach to the camera as I usually do. However, for each negative comment, there have been dozens more telling me the love the approach. One viewer is having his elderly Russian mother learn along with my student. Another native Spanish-speaker felt inspired by my student and was encouraged to try to learn in light of my friend’s willingness to go on camera, mistakes and all. Newer teachers have appreciated seeing how I deal with corrections and offer prompts.
I tell people that the beauty of YouTube is that viewers can be exposed to a variety of teaching styles and accents. It’s a healthy experience to learn from more than one source and through more than one approach.
MWIS: What do you see as the future of ESOL materials writing and development?
JL: The future is already here. We are beginning to see and participate in the transition to richer media formats. Materials writers need to learn to create digital content and blend it with traditional text. We need to learn to work with templates for interactive exercises.
We also need to be willing to interact online with those using our materials. Social media is creating an audience that expects accessibility to others. Today authors can have a face and a voice through the Internet. I think in the future authors will need to have a face and a voice.
Teachers as a whole are becoming more tech savvy, so we will likely see even greater degrees of customization in the online components of textbook series. Teachers will seek more opportunities to be content creators themselves.
The future may see the decline of titles authored by a single person and a rise of content created by different people with different areas of expertise. Many writers have ideas, but don’t know all the options technology can currently offer. Sometimes writers get inspired just by playing around with a new digital quiz format or new video editing software. New technology can challenge us to re-imagine the presentation of our content.
MARKETING OUR BOOKS: HOW CAN AUTHORS HELP?
Now that your book is published, it’s going to sell thousands of copies, isn’t it? Well, you certainly hope so, and with luck, your publisher is out there doing most of the work for you. But chances are your publisher has lots of other books to sell, too, so what are you going to do to help? Many of us who are writers are not the most outgoing types, but we need and want to get the word out about our books. This article identifies three ways to think about marketing our books: working with the publisher, using traditional marketing tools, and marketing in the digital age. In preparing for a discussion group on this topic at TESOL 2013 in Dallas, we solicited ideas from publishers on how authors can help in the marketing process. Those ideas are included as well.
Working With Your Publisher
First off, try working with your publisher. If you can, get together with the marketing department. They’ve crafted a specific message for your book. Find out what it is and stick to the story line. Publishers are busy, so offer to do what you can for them. Can you give a commercial presentation? Spend time at the publisher’s booth at conferences.
- Be available and approachable at conferences at the booth and
after sessions. Attendees enjoy talking to the presenter and sharing
their own classroom experiences. We are still in a business where
personal connections matter. Let instructors get to know you and your
approach. It's likely that the instructors you talk to just might help
to spread the word to other instructors and market your product for you,
–Sheryl Borg, Cambridge University Press
- Don’t criticize the publisher when presenting your product.
(E.g., don't say, “I wanted feature X in the book, but the publisher
made me take it out.”) It makes you look unprofessional. Likewise, don't
bad mouth competing products. It's fine to point out the strengths of
yours, but not to denigrate someone else's.
–Janet Aitchison, Cambridge University Press
If you know that you will be attending a particular conference, let the publisher know six to eight weeks in advance so that they can have a few copies of your book shipped there. Offer to give or to help give commercial presentations. Depending on where you live and how far you are willing to travel, some publishers encourage their authors to visit schools that are either using your book or considering it. You may not think that having written a book or having worked on a series makes you special, but some teachers will be very excited to meet you. Having your book in print gives you a certain authority and, in the right circumstances, celebrity status!
- Volunteer to travel with your publisher’s representatives on
sales calls. In addition to helping market your books there is the added
benefit of hearing firsthand what customers are looking for.
–Ian Martin, National Geographic Learning/Cengage
- If your book is part of a larger series, get to know the other
components of the series and be a team player, rather than pleading
ignorance because you didn’t write a particular part.
–Andreina España, RedNova Learning/Macmillan
Publishers may also want you to help in other ways. If there is a marketing campaign for your book or series, volunteer to help write some of the marketing materials, such as “a letter from the authors.” Volunteer to record a short video or to give a talk. Increasingly, publishers are also asking authors to give webinars that may be academic in nature but that refer to your book. Some publishers would love for you to write a short article or blog post. Don’t wait to be asked, volunteer to do this.
You can also ask your publisher to give you some copies to send out for reviews in journals and newsletters. For example, all the TESOL interest sections are looking for book reviews related to their members’ focus and many TESOL affiliates publish newsletters and are looking for material to fill their pages. For the IS newsletters (including this one), simply write to the newsletter editor through the TESOL community list. For the affiliate newsletters, find someone who lives in that part of the world and ask them to write a review of your book. Publishers are also increasingly willing to display part or even all of a book in an online format. One publisher calls this a virtual book fair. Find out if your publisher does this and, if so, lobby to have your book included.
- Ask your publisher to provide you with high resolution
digital files to use in your presentations [or marketing materials].This
looks much more professional than the scans you can make on your
–John Brezinsky, Cambridge University Press
Using Traditional Means of Marketing Your Books
Many authors started out as conference presenters and now is no time to stop. Did you write a reading text? That makes you a reading expert! Submit conference proposals on the topic of reading. Think of how you can contribute to the profession and share your knowledge. Perhaps there might be some useful examples from your book, which you can mention briefly at the end of your talk. You can also use your professional expertise to give professional development workshops. These might be done for a fee, or perhaps you’ll do them as a professional courtesy, but be sure to mention your materials or use them as examples. If you aren’t comfortable speaking in public, practice!
People can’t buy your book unless they know what it is and how to find it. When you give a talk or a workshop, bring along promotional materials with information about your book. You can make small handouts or flyers with a photo of the cover and basic information. Many teachers enjoy bookmarks with details about the books. Some authors make business cards with their contact information on one side and book information on the other. Be sure to include information on how teachers can learn more about your book—perhaps a link to your publisher’s website or to your own. You can make buttons online or stickers using a color printer to give away at the end of your talk. You can also give away your books themselves. Many regional conferences have a raffle of materials. Be sure that your book is included.
Marketing in the Digital Age
To be well-known these days means to have an online presence. Do you have a website or blog? It’s time to get one. It isn’t as hard as all that and if you need help, just ask someone or turn to the many tutorial website design sites on the Web. You can also make use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. There are entire communities of ESL teachers and learners out there. LinkedIn is a good place to connect with others in the profession and you can promote your materials there. You can also publish your conference presentations on SlideShare.
- Become actively involved in social media and become knowledgeable about digital learning.
–Mariela Gil, RedNova Learning/Macmillan; Pietro Alongi, Pearson
- Your book will probably become an ebook and future projects may not even be “books” at all!
–Jeff Krum, Cambridge University Press
These days, the average undergraduate student knows how to make and edit digital video. If you don’t, find someone nearby who would be willing to help. You can post short videos highlighting your expertise, your book, or your conference talks on YouTube, Vimeo, or your own website. You can also link to these videos using Facebook or Twitter.
Remember that idea about visiting schools? You can now do this remotely while sitting at your computer in your office or at home. Using technology such as Skype or platforms such as Adobe Connect, you can talk to a class of students or a group of teachers who are on the other side of the world. You can also offer webinars on subjects of interest to teachers.
Where is the first place that you turn when you are looking for information about a new book? Chances are that it’s Amazon.com. Even if you aren’t planning to buy the book there, you probably turn there for information. And if your book is on Amazon, you can set up your own Amazon author page complete with a bibliography of all your books, biographical information, photos and videos, and a link to your blog and Twitter feed. Just look for the Author Central section and they’ll explain how easy it is to set it up.
So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and let people know about your book. Good luck!
Hockly, N. (2013). Webinars: A cookbook for educators (Kindle edition). The Round/Amazon.
Johnson, C. (2004). The frugal book promoter: How to do what your publisher won't; or, Nitty-gritty how-tos for getting nearly free publicity. St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands: Star Publish.
McVeigh, J. (2012). Improving your virtual presentation skills. [Electronic resource: online webinar recording]. Retrieved from: http://lancelot.adobeconnect.com/p18p78ycu9v/
Redish, J. (2012). Letting go of the words: Writing web content that works (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann/Elsevier.
Zarrella, D. (2010). The social media marketing book. Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly.
Joe McVeigh is coauthor of two books in
the Q: Skills for Success series from Oxford
University Press and of Tips for Teaching Culture: Practical
Approaches to Intercultural Communication from Pearson. He
works as an author and independent consultant, often speaking at
conferences and providing advice to intensive English programs. He is
based in Middlebury, Vermont, USA. You can follow him on Twitter
@Joe_McVeigh or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website, joemcveigh.org, is being renovated, but will soon be open to visitors.
Laurel Pollard is coauthor of six books including the Zero Prep series from ALTA Book Center Publishers and Finding Family from the University of Michigan Press. She works independently as an author and educational consultant, speaks at conferences, and provides professional development workshops for schools. She is based in Tucson, Arizona, USA. Visit her website at http://laurelpollard.com or e-mail her at: email@example.com.
OVERVIEW OF THE 2013 MWIS ACADEMIC SESSION: "A BALANCING ACT? MATERIAL WRITERS, PUBLISHERS, CLASSROOM TEACHERS AND RESEARCHERS"
The TESOL 2013 MWIS academic session in Dallas, “A Balancing Act: Material Writers, Publishers, Classroom Teachers and Researchers,” provided great insights on where publishing has been and where it is going. Our panelists represented a diverse group of authors, teachers, and publishers.
The session began with renowned author, editor, and teacher Irene Schoenberg, giving an overview of how publishing has changed since what Ms. Schoenberg called “the halcyon days of publishing.” She spoke on what a materials writer has to balance, from providing a mix of engaging topics to meeting the needs and interests of learners. She also recounted her experiences working with different editors, and reviewed a questionnaire she had sent to developmental editors on their ideas about their needs. According to Ms. Schoenberg, it was quite telling that editors are looking for those with fresh ideas who can present them in new ways and are flexible. Ms. Schoenberg offered potential authors some great reading materials, and provided both novice and experienced authors with some great suggestions moving forward.
Our second panelist, Keith Folse, is no stranger to publishing. He started off by telling us his personal story. Like many materials writers, his writing career grew out of his desire to create accessible materials for his students. His first book was a result of handouts he created for a class. Keith strongly stressed the importance of knowing your audience and working with the end goal of meeting their needs.
Pierre Montagano, Associate Director of Product Marketing at Cambridge University Press, has worked in publishing for more than 20 years and provided the audience with a critical piece of the puzzle in a humorous way. He focused on how publishing is really changing. He spoke on the transformation to digital: the introduction of new technologies and their effect on the author and texts today. He also brought a fresh perspective on market research and how it informs publishers on new products.
Not only did the next panelist, Debbie Sistino, editor at Pearson ELT, echo Mr. Montagno’s sentiments on how market research drives decision-making, she also shed light on the often complicated relationship between an editor and a writer. In addition, Ms. Sistino shared that writers, while recruited for their talents or fresh ideas, in the end, must be able to work within the prescribed templates for a project.
The last of the dynamic panelists was Nick Robinson. Nick is founder of Nick Robinson, ELT Author Representation, a company that matches writers with publishers. As a former teacher, writer, and editor, Nick definitely brought a wide range of perspectives to the table. Novice and experienced materials writers alike listened intently as Nick stated that publishing companies today are looking for more than strong writing skills. Like Ms. Schoenberg, he mentioned flexibility, and added that content creators today need to be willing to travel, work with digital technologies, and market themselves and their products.
This lively, interactive session generated great feedback. There was plenty of time left for questions, and a variety of questions were asked. Some were as simple as “Where should I send my manuscript ?” and others required more complex responses, such as “ What are the best tactics in negotiating a contract?” This last question created a lot of discussion, and really became the catalyst for the planning of our next academic session at TESOL 2014!
Christina Cavage is the current MWIS co-chair and an ESL educator, teacher trainer, and writer in Savannah, Georgia, USA.
TESOL 2013 INTERSECTION: CREATING AND CHOOSING THE BEST MATERIALS FOR SPEAKING AND PRONUNCIATION
Since Christina and I began serving as co-chairs of our interest section, we have been interested in exploring the connection between our profession's best thinking about pedagogy and available published materials. We started talking about this connection with the Speech/Pronunciation Interest Section leaders Tamara Jones and Mike Burri in 2012 in Philadelphia. As a result of these conversations, several experienced speech and pronunciation practitioners and materials writers came together for an intersection session in Dallas, for which I served as moderator. Each of the panelists commented on two main topics. One was the “what to teach” aspect of English pronunciation: What are the elements of speaking and listening that are most important for comprehensibility and accuracy? The second main topic was the “how to teach it” question: What do we know about techniques that are effective in promoting those identified elements of speaking and listening, and what kind of materials can put those techniques to use? In addition to their prepared remarks, we asked panelists to be ready to respond to questions or comments from other panelists or from the moderator.
Judy Gilbert, author of the Clear Speech series, reviewed a framework that set priorities for pronunciation goals. The main emphasis for Gilbert in the “what to teach” area was prosody: She outlined a pyramid of prosody elements that form the core of what students need to be able to understand and produce for maximum comprehension. The top of the “prosody pyramid” is consideration of the peak vowel in an individual word, that is, the vowel sound that carries the greatest volume, highest pitch in a given word. Next in the pyramid is the awareness of the number of syllables in a word, followed by the focus, or most stress-bearing, word in a phrase, followed by identification of the primary stress in the focus word of each phrase.
The identification of these key pronunciation elements is well known to practitioners who are familiar with Gilbert's published materials or other materials that are informed by her work. In the “how to teach it” area, Gilbert continued by addressing a seeming contradiction in teaching key elements of prosody: The key elements are used simultaneously and interdependently in speech, but cannot be easily taught at the same time. Her suggested solution for this problem is the use of “template sentences,” that is, sentences that can be easily practiced and remembered, and that contain all the key prosody elements under study. Gilbert also advocated that these template sentences be repeated, citing a neurological theory of Donald Hebb, and also repeated chorally.
In response to a question, Gilbert argued for a place for choral repetition, which some teachers may see as not sufficiently communicative, and which is not often called for in teaching materials. The justification given for choral repetition is that it gives both guidance and support for the learner, who can practice in a comfortable and somewhat anonymous setting that still provides feedback.
In response to a question about how much phonetics or transcription to teach as part of a pronunciation program, Gilbert thought that the priority should be on vowel sounds. There is so much variation among dictionaries, and such a steep learning curve for complete transcriptions of real speech, that it does not seem worth the effort to ask students to learn a complete system for recording all English speech sounds.
Tamara Jones, an experienced teacher and author of listening/speaking materials in Oxford's Q series,identified (primary) word stress as a key feature, and also emphasized the role of speech groups, rhythm, and linking. She also argued for the teaching of focus words, especially as a means for making inferences in discourse. An example of this is the sentence “The teacher didn't grade the exam,” in which the listener should infer that the exam was in fact graded, in contrast to “The teacher didn't grade the exam.”
In arguing for putting a priority on intonation, Jones suggested an assessment of the time normally spent on, for instance, verb tense endings compared to time spent on intonation. She questioned whether the benefits to communication that derive from hours spent on the pronunciation of verb tenses is really justified in comparison to the benefit of better knowledge of English intonation.
Jones emphasized the use of body motions to reinforce pronunciation concepts. These kinesthetic actions include underlining words in a text, making hand signals, clapping, etc. The argument for this type of learning is that a connection to a physical action reinforces learning through other means.
Marsha Chan, who is also an experienced teacher and materials writer (and a.k.a. “The Pronunciation Doctor”), emphasized the role of prosody in speaking, partly because of its strongly language-specific nature. First-language learners may start to learn intonation or tone systems in vitro, or shortly after, and these patterns can contrast mightily with the stress and intonation system of English. Chan gave as an example the basic distinction between languages in which tone is attached to individual words, as in Chinese, versus its association with a “thought group” as in English.
In the “how to teach it” area, Chan advocated a basic goal: “Don't be boring.” She agreed with assertions of other panelists that linking prosody to some other physical action was important. For Chan, these actions include breathing, body movements, and animated representations of stressed syllables or words in texts.
In response to questions from other panelists about whether key phonological elements should be taught in both listening and speaking modes, Chan advocated the teaching of linking in speaking as well as listening. (See Marsha Chan’s slides from the session.)
The members who attended the session enjoyed the back-and-forth among panelists, which added a spontaneous and more conversational tone to the presentation.
Steve Jones teaches in the ESL program at Community College of Philadelphia and has published texts on college ESL composition, reading, oral communication, and grammar.
TESOL 2013 SESSION REPORT: PREFERRED VOCABULARY SELF-COLLECTION STRATEGIES OF EAP READING STUDENTS
On the second day of TESOL 2013, Randall Rebman shared his research on preferred vocabulary self-collection strategies of EAP reading students. He summarized the general approach to action research, focused on vocabulary self-collection techniques, and discussed some challenges and implications for teachers. I chose this session because I am an instructor of EAP content; however, I quickly realized that much of what Mr. Rebman was sharing was equally important to me as a materials writer. Through Rebman’s overview of 21st century vocabulary research, data from his own action research, and his suggestions for vocabulary collection strategies, I was able to identify the types of materials EAP learners need.
Mr. Rebman stated that EAP readers need a wealth of vocabulary and quoted a statistic from Paul Nation (2006) that students need 8,000 to 9,000 word families to cover 98% of a text. He also cited Schmitt, Jiang, and Grabe (2010) by stating that vocabulary depth and size are important to reading advanced texts. These statistics reminded me of the importance of vocabulary in the materials I develop for my own students and ESL students. How can we give students the vocabulary they need? Mr. Rebman shared several ideas from Grabe (2009) that ranged from direct instruction to increasing student awareness of new vocabulary.
Mr. Rebman’s research was fascinating. He questioned which self-collection strategies students prefer and what aspects of word knowledge students find most helpful. He detailed how he collected data and the timeline he used. He also shared insights and results from interviews and questionnaires he conducted with students. I found it extremely helpful to have feedback directly from the end user of the materials. Students have a positive preference for vocabulary notebooks (Folse, 2004) and flashcards (Nation, 2001; Schmitt & Schmitt, 2011). He also shared the results of other collection strategies: English examples, synonyms, English definitions, L1 translations, and collocations. Knowing that students prefer using L1 translations will help me better develop materials for my students that will not only help them learn, but that will make the learning process more enjoyable and, hopefully, implemented beyond the classroom.
Mr. Rebman shared some implications for teachers and practical solutions that I again found extended beyond my work in the classroom to my work as a materials writer. First, he suggested that teachers need to create a bank of vocabulary activities that help students practice self-collection strategies in the classroom. If I provide these, then my students might be able to use my materials for success in reading materials for other classes. Second, he mentioned that scaffolding the use of self-collection strategies will encourage learners to use the strategies beyond the ESL classroom. As a teacher at the university level, a primary goal is to help my students succeed in an academic setting. Third, he suggested that opportunities need to be offered for students to consider which vocabulary strategies work best for them and discuss how they plan to use them in the future. This has inspired me to start a focus group of students every quarter to see which of my materials they found most effective and which they will continue to use after my class ends.
As an instructor and materials writer, I found this session immensely helpful and useful. I left the session with many ideas for my classroom that I can implement immediately. I also gained the knowledge necessary to make the content I develop for my own students more useful to them. I hope to incorporate my new ideas into the work I do as a materials writer and editor as well.
Ed note: The research link in the first line of the article takes you to Mr. Rebman’s blog which includes this session’s presentation and handout.
Folse, K. S. (2004). Vocabulary myths: Applying second language research to classroom teaching. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Grabe, W. (2009). Reading in a second language: Moving from theory to practice. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
Nation, I. S. P. (2006). How large a vocabulary is needed for reading and listening? Canadian Modern Language Review, 63, 69–82.
Schmitt, N., Jiang, X., and Grabe, W. (2010). The percentage of words known in a text and reading comprehension. Modern Language Journal, 95, 26–43.
Schmitt, D. and Schmitt, N. (2011). Focus on vocabulary: Mastering the academic word list. New York, NY: Pearson Longman Press.
Robyn Brinks Lockwood teaches academic courses in the English for Foreign Students Department at Stanford University. She is also a materials writer and editor whose publications include textbooks, ancillary materials, and online courses.
BOOK REVIEWS & OPPORTUNITIES
Review of How ELT Publishing Works
Aitchison, J. (2013) How ELT Publishing Works [Kindle Edition]
Part of the Training Course for ELT Writers series from ELT Teacher 2 WriterFrom time to time, MWIS sponsors panel discussions at the TESOL convention to help interested teachers learn more about the publishing process and how to get started as a published materials writer. Janet Aitchison, Publishing Director for Adult Courses at Cambridge University Press, is a frequent panelist at these sessions and has now written an invaluable guide to ELT publishing for the novice author. As an extremely experienced and knowledgeable publisher and editor of ESOL textbooks, there are few people better equipped to introduce the field of ELT/ESOL publishing to aspiring authors. Her easily readable and inexpensive volume summarizes in a casual, yet disciplined, style the essential aspects of how publishing works in our field.
Aitchison begins with advice on how to make contact with publishers, first outlining the basics of ELT publishing with its marketing plans laid out years in advance. She makes suggestions on how to get noticed by a publisher, including a listing of useful qualifications for potential authors, advice on sending CVs to publishers, offering to help with research, being active professionally, and networking in person and online both with colleagues and with publishers.
She also describes the publisher’s process of commissioning sample chapters and how to write a sample, should you be offered an opportunity to take part in a writing project. She then outlines what to expect on that writing project, including writing to a brief (strict instructions on what to include), using templates, writing multiple drafts, sticking to a schedule, and working with your editor.
Of course, most potential authors are curious about how much money a book project is likely to bring in. Here Aitchison outlines the advantages and disadvantages of being paid on a royalty basis or on a work-for-hire (flat fee) basis. She notes that with increasingly complex publishing projects, the likelihood of royalty payments is becoming less common. The short answer to the question of aspiring riches turns out to be, “Don’t quit your day job!”
Aitchison goes on to suggest pitfalls to avoid when writing. These pitfalls consist of taboo topics, plagiarism, the challenges of obtaining third party permissions, and respecting the publisher’s need for confidentiality to ensure competitive advantage.
The book includes a series of questions or tasks that enterprising readers can use to test their knowledge at the beginning or end of each chapter. Also included is a glossary of publishing terms and a list with common editorial job titles and their main responsibilities within the publishing house.
Aitchison’s writing is clear and her knowledge of the field comprehensive. It should be noted, however, that her book assumes that the reader is interested in writing for a large and well-established publisher. There is no discussion of the possibility of self-publishing or working within the less intricate processes of a smaller press. As she makes clear at the outset, the book is also focused on large-scale ELT courses rather than on more specialized books, such as teacher training materials or readers. With so many writers getting their feet in the door by writing workbooks, tests, or other ancillary materials, more information on this aspect of ELT writing would be welcome. Happily, the title is available exclusively as an ebook and so can be readily updated.
How ELT Publishing Works is part of a series of ebooks from a new British enterprise known as ELT Teacher 2 Writer. This consortium of experienced U.K. writers and editors aims to produce an entire series of ebooks on how to write ELT materials. The series is anticipated to include core modules on topics such as planning a book, understanding permissions, writing presentations, and practice activities for various language skills; market-specific modules on writing for specialized areas such as ESP and EAP; and component modules with topics such as writing graded readers, workbooks, tests, and the like. The first seven titles are now available as ebooks via online publishers Amazon and Smashwords. All together, the series promises to be an important addition to the field of materials writing.
Aitchison’s contribution to the series, How ELT Publishing Works, is an ideal introduction to the field of ELT materials writing. Unlike some more scholarly volumes on materials writing, the author makes no attempt at combining theories of second language acquisition or aspects of applied linguistics with textbook writing. Solidly and unabashedly practical, with excellent firsthand accounts of the ESL publishing process, How ELT Publishing Works is theperfect reference for would-be authors and those writing their first work.
News from TESOL: A WRITING OPPORTUNITY
MWIS member Jennifer Lebedev is currently working on the TESOL Book Publications Committee. Here is something she would like to share:
TESOL offers new and experienced authors wonderful opportunities to develop materials. Writing for TESOL Press, in particular, can be very rewarding. Titles are often planned as a series or an edited volume. Such writing projects are collaborative in nature and seek to bring the most useful, up-to-date information to English language teachers. Be sure to visit the TESOL website and follow the links to the current calls for proposals.
TESOL Press will publish two new titles in 2015. Will you be one of the authors? Perspectives on Teaching in Different Contexts will be a series of 80-page books addressing the challenges specific to teaching contexts, from IEPs to private tutoring. Contributing authors will work under series editor Andy Curtis. Another title, Integrating Pronunciation with Other Skills Areas, will be an edited volume targeting the connections between pronunciation and other skills areas. With guidance from the series editor, Tamara Jones, contributing authors will also provide strategies for instruction and practice. The deadline for proposals for both titles is 30 September 2013.
(Ed. - Be sure to read the interview with Jennifer in this edition of the newsletter)
ABOUT THIS COMMUNITY
REPORT ON THE MATERIALS WRITERS BUSINESS MEETING AT DALLAS, TESOL 2013
The meeting was held on Thursday, 21 March, 2013 at 6:45 pm in the convention center. Outgoing co-chairs, Robby Steinberg and Bruce Rogers, welcomed the group and thanked all the proposal reviewers. Attendees at the meeting were reminded of the application date to review (20 April 2013) and encouraged to submit proposals to be read by MWIS. Robby Steinberg, outgoing chair, introduced Steve Jones and Christina Cavage as the new chairs of the IS.
Steve Jones took time to deliver a heartfelt thank you to the outgoing chairs, Robby and Bruce, and also expressed gratitude to Jayme Adelson-Goldstein and Peter Vahle, announcing that both would continue to serve as newsletter editor and community manager, respectively.
Steve led a short discussion on plans for TESOL 2014’s academic and intersection sessions. Ideas included an intersection with the Adult Education IS and an academic session on the changing role of the materials writer.
Although not in attendance at the meeting, the winners of The Mary Finocchiaro Award for Excellence in Nonpublished Pedagogical Materials was awarded to Lauryn Navarro and Kirtland Eastwood for “Focus on International Student Academic Success: Preparing L2 Academic Writers to Write From Sources.” They received their award at the academic session on Thursday, 21 March.
Prior to adjourning the session, Steve informed members that he and Christina will be reviewing the governing rules of the IS and sending them out to the membership for further review.
The meeting was adjourned at 7:15 pm.
GET TO KNOW YOUR IS
Who are we? According to the TESOL Community list, we are 829 writers, editors, sales managers, marketing directors, publishing directors, and government officials as well as teachers, teacher trainers, coordinators, and program administrators. Our members are from all over the world and every state in the United States. (There’s a map on our site that is woefully unrepresentative of our diversity. If you find yourself with a free moment, click on over to the map, log into the community, and add your location!)
Talking to each other face-to-face at the TESOL convention is probably the ideal way to get to know your IS. The upcoming conference is in Portland, Oregon, from 26 March to 29 March, 2014. If you have been Portland, you know what an idyllic city it is. If you have not been there, just look at this photo.
There will be an MWIS social hour and an annual business meeting during the convention. Both are great opportunities to network with colleagues and reconnect with friends you haven’t seen for a year. This year’s business meeting is especially important as we will be electing new and incoming chairs and starting the planning process for sessions at TESOL 2015. (But let’s not get ahead of ourselves...) We’ll provide more details about dates and times for our MWIS events in the next newsletter.
All of us have access to a wealth of resources in our MWIS community and the TESOL community at large. Use our MWIS e-list to share information, post questions, and network with the authors, editors, publishers, and other professionals who subscribe to the list. Use the MWIS Participant list to locate and e-mail individuals or groups in our community. (You can sort the list by name or organization, and you can search the list to find members who meet specific criteria.) Your connections go even deeper as a member of the TESOL community. If you have not yet registered, go to http://community.tesol.org/welcome.htm to sign up, complete your profile and start accessing the TESOL Library, Job Center, and Teacher Resource Center.
So many of us aspire to a work-life balance, and taking an active role in our MWIS community is an important part of that balancing act. The list is a great place to reach out for support, problem solve, and rebuild your equilibrium. In the weeks ahead, look for some “How To” questions posed on our list. Let’s see how many answers we can generate!
THE MWIS MISSION STATEMENT
TESOL’s Materials Writers Interest Section (MWIS) provides a forum to discuss the development, use, and publication of EFL/ESL materials in books and other media. MWIS members develop materials for their own classrooms, for the use of other teachers in their schools, and for publication. MWIS also involves editors, developers, designers, programmers, and others involved in materials development.
MWIS Leadership 2013–2014
Co-Chairs: Christina M. Cavage, Steve Jones
Past Co-Chairs: Roberta G. Steinberg , Bruce Rogers
E-List Moderator: Peter Vahle
MWIS Newsletter Editor: Jayme Adelson-Goldstein
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS FOR FEBRUARY 2014 MWIS NEWSLETTER
The MWIS newsletter is published twice a year—in February/March and July/August. While the feature articles are typically solicited by the MWIS leadership, members are welcome to suggest articles and topics that would be of interest. Members are also encouraged to submit book reviews, or convince others to review their books for them! (See Joe McVeigh’s article in this edition.) TESOL and TESOL affiliate session summaries are also welcome, (See Robyn Brinks Lockwood’s piece), as are “Meet our Members” profiles, digital offerings, and cartoons. Coauthoring a piece is a great way to get your feet wet! The maximum length for a book review, report, or summary is 1,000 words. All files should be submitted as MS Word .doc or .docx files. Authors are also asked to provide a photo (.jpg) of themselves and a short two- to three-line bio. In the case of “Meet our Members,” please provide a photo of the profile subject as well.
To propose a book review, affiliate session summary, author interview, or cartoon for the February 2014 newsletter please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 15 November 2013. The deadline for submissions Is 15 December 2013. As always, the newsletter welcomes suggestions for future themes and articles.