The Complete Guide to the Theory and Practice of Materials Development for Language Learning
Brian Tomlinson and Hitomi Masuhara
Wiley Blackwell, 2017, 416 pp., $38.96/£23.74
ISBN 978 1 119 05477 1
Issues in Materials Development
M. Azarnoosh, M. Zeraatpishe, A. Faravani and H. R. Kargozari (eds.)
Sense Publishers, 2016, 236 pp., $43.40/£33.91
ISBN 978 9 463 00430 5
Creativity and Innovations in ELT Materials Development: Looking Beyond the Current Design
Dat Bao (ed.)
Multilingual Matters, 2018, 256 pp., $35.47/£29.95
ISBN 978 1 788 92310 1
Language Textbooks in the Era of Neoliberalism
Routledge, 2018, 196 pp., $102.40/£98.14 (Kindle $43.41/£34.99)
ISBN 978 1 138 22319 6
Representations of the World in Language Textbooks
Multilingual Matters, 2018, 264 pp., $29.97/£23.32
ISBN 978 1 783 09954 2
The three domains of materials research
I come to this review with a mixed portfolio of professional experience related to materials use and development. I have been an untrained teacher using a textbook, a trained teacher developing my own materials, a textbook writer, a teacher educator who has taught courses in curriculum and materials development, and an applied linguist who has written about materials and curriculum. When teaching about the role of materials in curriculum planning, I discuss the idea that when teachers develop or choose materials for their course or programme, their focus shifts from the conceptual (e.g. defining principles, formulating goals) to the tangible. They begin to think in terms of the day-to-day of the classroom and the specifics of what and how students will learn. In a sense, materials ‘operationalize’ the curriculum. This is especially the case with textbooks, which encode what should be learned and how it should be learned. Materials can also be seen as tools that mediate learning, as they provide content and/or means for understanding and using language. At the same time, these two views of materials, as curriculum artefacts or learning tools, sometimes obscure the fact that when materials are used by learners and teachers, they will interpret, ignore, resist, or change the materials in ways that make sense to them at that particular moment in that particular context. In other words, curriculum enactment, with materials as a constraint or a resource, will happen in ways that we cannot predict. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that learners will understand and use language because of the materials.
I raise the distinction between materials as curriculum artefacts or learning tools, and materials-in-use because there has been a discussion among scholars as to what to call the field that ties the five books in this review together. Tomlinson and Masuhara use the term materials development to describe this field; within materials development, they include evaluation, adaptation, design, production, exploitation, and research (p. 2). Gray (2012) argues that the overarching term should be materials research in order to distinguish between the domains of materials development and materials analysis. According to Gray, analysis is concerned with ‘identifying and interpreting actually existing content (whether contemporary or historical)’, whereas ‘the aim of materials development is the (immediate) production of materials for use in specific classrooms’ (Gray op. cit.: 13). The distinction between development and analysis acknowledges the growth in research involving analysis, especially from critical perspectives, in which materials are seen ‘as instruments for the ideological reproduction and legitimation of interested knowledge’ (ibid.). It also acknowledges the way the field has grown from an early focus on the practical nature of materials development to one that has become concerned with how materials development draws on research and theory and how materials themselves are not only curriculum artefacts but also cultural artefacts.
I agree with Gray that the overarching term should be materials research in recognition of the maturity and breadth of a field that Tomlinson and Masuhara helped to found when it was still seen as a practical, atheoretical undertaking. However, I argue that there is a third distinct domain within this field, namely materials use, by which I mean how learners and teachers actually use materials (as distinct from how materials should or could be used). Use is, after all, the point of materials development. And yet materials use is widely acknowledged as the least-studied area within materials research (Tomlinson 2012; Santos 2013; Garton and Graves 2014).
Why materials use?
This gap in research on materials use has important implications for materials development. In the absence of robust understandings of how teachers and learners understand and use materials, and of the role of materials in learning and classroom interaction, we risk falling into the fidelity paradigm (Snyder et al. 1992) that has plagued curriculum research—namely, that materials are meant to be used in certain ways, and if the users are not faithful (hence the term fidelity) to the expected use, the problem is with the users, not with the materials. Materials are viewed as paramount and teachers and learners become subservient to them. Although we have begun to study why and how teachers adapt materials, we still know very little about learners’ perceptions of or interaction with materials or the role materials play in learning. Without this kind of research, we cannot theorize materials use. We assume that materials development is aimed at materials use, but do not close the loop to see how materials are used and how what we learn from that use can improve them.
Similarly, materials analysis may lead us to make assumptions about how the content affects users, without investigating those assumptions or the actual effects of the content. In other words, we may assume that materials have effects on their users, but not that users affect materials. Because of such assumptions we risk positioning users as lacking agency in how they perceive, critique and resist materials. Understanding teachers and learners, their contexts, and how they use materials should have important effects on materials analysis.
An example of the interplay between materials development, analysis and use
A rare example of the potential interplay of the three areas of development, analysis and use is Santos (2013), whose research examines how materials she had coauthored, with the aim of infusing critical pedagogy into the textbook, were actually used by teachers and learners in Brazil. She focuses on an activity concerning images of stereotypical representations of Brazil designed to get students to think critically. An analysis of the activity would likely show that it is a good example of a critical approach—it asks students to question cultural stereotypes, to consider who gets recognized and who gets marginalized, how their world is or isn’t represented, and why. Santos (op. cit.) found that students could identify potential problems, but not explain why they were problematic. She conjectures that teachers may not have grasped the importance of exploring conflicts. She concludes that ‘problem situations’ should be included more regularly and systematically in textbooks and that key players (writers, teacher educators, teachers, editors) should find ways to link problem situations with intervention in the social world. What is striking to me is that Santos’s conclusion is to make better materials, not to find out why the teachers navigated the material in the way they did, and why the students reacted to it as they did. Investigating materials use from the perspective of the users would provide insights into why the activity did not go as intended. These insights, in turn, could help materials analysts to reframe their interpretations of the materials, and help materials developers to reframe their approach.
Different understandings of the purposes of materials
The third issue I would like to raise is how we understand the purpose of materials. According to Tomlinson and Masuhara (p. 2), materials are ‘anything that can be used by language learners to facilitate their learning of the target language’. This definition is a helpful starting point, as it lays out important dimensions of materials research: what materials are, how they are used, who uses them, and the purpose/outcome of their use. The books reviewed here raise questions about each of these dimensions and provide answers that may diverge widely from one another. In particular, language itself is conceptualized variously as having a history, as a means of learning about the world, as a commodity. The kind of learning that materials facilitate includes recalling information, discerning patterns, thinking critically. The relationship of the learners to the materials ranges from that of consumers to that of creators. The purpose and outcome of materials use are variously defined as to understand one’s place in the world, to develop self-esteem, to gain mobility, to communicate with others. These different understandings depend on one’s stance towards the materials and one’s role as developer, analyst, or user. How we develop, interpret, and use materials depends on our own background, education, and belief systems.
I now turn to reviewing each of the books. In reviewing them, I will look at ways each contributes to our understanding of development, analysis, and use, as well as ways they may illuminate or challenge how we understand the purpose of materials. I start with the three books primarily focused on materials development, followed by the two books on materials analysis. I end with a discussion of how the books might speak to each other.
The Complete Guide to the Theory and Practice of Materials Development for Language Learning
The authors of this book, Brian Tomlinson and Hitomi Masuhara, have been a major influence in the field of materials development through their practical work in developing materials, through the founding of the Materials Development Association (MATSDA) in 1993, and through their numerous publications about materials. In a sense, this book is a capstone to their work as it gathers together the wisdom gleaned from many years of experience conducting materials development projects as well as courses and seminars. The book is both a history of the field, and a manual for materials developers, which captures their dual focus on principles and on design. Half of the chapters are devoted to tracing and reflecting on how the field has developed, with chapters on its history, issues, materials evaluation, materials adaptation, materials development, publishing, and research. The remaining chapters are devoted to specific focuses on materials development, including chapters on the four skills, digital materials, young learners, teenagers and adults, visuals, layout and design, and writing instructions for activities. The authors thus amply address materials development. In terms of analysis, they do not analyse actual materials, but rather discuss what analysis is, making a distinction between evaluation, which makes judgements about the effects of materials on users, and analysis, which focuses on materials content and objectives. In terms of materials use, in the chapter on adaptation, they focus on studies of how teachers adapt materials and what can be learned, rather than on literature about how to adapt materials.
Features of the book
The book, written in a highly accessible, practical tone, could be considered a reference manual from which materials developers, publishers, teacher educators, teachers, and applied linguistics/researchers can all benefit. True to the title, each chapter provides a good balance of theory and practice, with a review of the research on each topic, how it has been informed by practice, and examples of how the topic is, can, or should be enacted according to principles derived from the research. A refreshing feature is the conclusions section at the end of each chapter in which the authors state their own stand on the issues, with reasons for why they take that position. I imagine that it was very satisfying to write this book, as the authors are able to reference their experience (referring to themselves as Brian and Hitomi), and their extensive publications (as Tomlinson and Masuhara).
An overarching theme of the book is how, over time, research has informed each of these areas, which, in turn, has led to the development of principled approaches to each of the topics. A good example is the chapter on the development of materials. The authors point out that while teachers usually receive some kind of training, materials writers do not. This means that many writers base their materials on intuition/inspiration, teaching experience/repertoire, and typical topics and activities in existing materials, rather than on principled frameworks, which accurately describes my first experience developing a coursebook series. In their review of the literature about how writers write, they note that developing a framework or establishing criteria informing the process is not usually mentioned, although some writers do report doing so. Tomlinson and Masuhara review these writers’ principles, along with the framework that guides their own writing. They follow that with recommendations for how to develop materials, including working as a team and articulating principles according to universal and local criteria. They then use specific examples to describe how they use their framework to develop materials. How I wish I had had this chapter to guide me as a novice materials developer in 1986—but this goes to show how the field has evolved.
The comprehensive literature review for each topic provides a good sense of key issues related to that topic (and their history). In the chapter on materials adaptation, for example, focusing on studies of how teachers actually adapt materials, Tomlinson and Masuhara frame adaptation in relation to two paradigm shifts. The first, the division between global materials producers and local materials users, leads to mismatches that necessitate adaptation. The second, despite the rise of English as a global language, native speaker ideology and ‘inner circle’ (Kachru 1992) cultural content still dominate textbooks. Tomlinson and Masuhara use eight case studies that span a range of contexts to illustrate different issues in materials adaptation, including what teachers adapt, how closely they adhere to materials, their beliefs about language (e.g. focus on form vs use), and their confidence in being able to adapt. The chapter is thus an important contribution to how studies of use can inform materials development and analysis.
Another feature of the book is its accessibility, achieved through providing clear definitions, defining central issues, showing how research is relevant, giving a range of examples, and describing the authors’ own experience of and/or perspective on the topic. A good example is the chapter on developing digital materials. Tomlinson and Masuhara define them from the outset as materials ‘delivered’ digitally, thus focusing on mode of delivery. A central question they identify is what I would call the question of what value is added to language learning through digital delivery. Their review of research shows that contextual factors such as support, training, and time are as important to the effectiveness of ICT as are pedagogical factors such as how to use digital resources to engage students and facilitate language learning. They then assume the role of students by accessing and using three sets of digital materials in order to evaluate them in light of second-language acquisition (SLA) principles such as whether they expose learners to rich and meaningful language in use, encourage them to interact, or encourage them to notice how the L2 is used. They then discuss the strengths and weaknesses of digital materials, summarize their potential benefits and problems, and end with their recommendations for using and developing digital materials.
Strengths and weaknesses
This is a book full of the wisdom that two people who have been in the field for 40 years can impart: they know where they stand. In terms of how language itself is conceptualized; the kind of learning that materials facilitate; the relationship of the learners to the materials; and what the purpose and outcome of materials use is or should be, Tomlinson and Masuhara are firmly planted in an SLA, task-based learning paradigm. This comes through in their explanation of the purposes of materials, which are very language-focused: ‘To inform about the language, instruct how to practice the language, provide experiences of the language, elicit use of the language and provide opportunities to explore and make discoveries of the language’ (p. 2). Their key principles, which they have worked with for many years, refer to SLA concepts such as comprehensible input, authentic interaction, and cognitive and affective engagement, with the individual in interaction with other individuals as the focus. They also believe in humanizing materials and refer to Tomlinson’s definition of a humanistic coursebook as ‘one which respects its users as human beings and helps them to exploit their capacity for learning through meaningful experience’ (Tomlinson 2013: 38). This keeps the focus squarely on the learner as an individual, on language as a means of self-expression and communication, on materials as instruments of learning, and on the outcomes as being language focused. However, as I will show below, these conceptions are challenged by the authors of the two books under review that focus on materials analysis.
Issues in Materials Development
According to the editors, this volume (an outgrowth of an earlier conference in Iran) takes a ‘theory to practice approach with emphasis on theoretical underpinnings that lead into practical aspects of the processes and mechanisms of designing materials’ (p. vii). Another aim is to provide a ‘practical guide for materials developers specifically those who are novice to the field’ (ibid.). The book is thus focused mainly on how to develop materials, although some chapters address use and analysis.
Organization and content
There are 16 chapters in the book. The first two chapters by Tomlinson and Maley are framing chapters. In his chapter, Tomlinson makes the point that now that research on materials has become established, it needs to inform the work of teacher educators and teachers in pre-service and in-service teacher education and training, the work of materials developers themselves, as well as the work of applied linguists. I would say that volumes such as this one are a response to this call.
Half of the chapters in the book discuss topics one would expect to find in a primer, or introductory volume on materials development: needs analysis (Darici), selecting and grading materials (Faravani and Zeraatpishe), developing materials for writing (Mukundan, Rezvani Kalajahi, and Babaee), listening (Maftoon, Kargozari, and Azarnoosh), speaking (Timmis), reading (Mukundan, Zarifi, and Rezvani Kalajahi), and pronunciation (Levis and Sonsaat), as well as a chapter on CALL (Soleimani and Esmaili). These chapters follow a survey approach, presenting the theoretical underpinnings via an overview of theories and concepts related to their topic, and then referencing how the theories/concepts can be applied to designing or adapting materials. Some chapters provide a clearer path through the concepts, by providing frameworks, such as the chapter on selecting and grading materials (Farvani and Zeraatpishe), the framework of which comprises two approaches to selecting and grading items or tasks, language-centred and learnercentred. For each element of the framework, e.g. sequencing, the authors describe different theories or principles; one good feature is that they show how different approaches may contradict each other—for example, the maxim to sequence from simple to complex is challenged by the maxim of starting with the whole and then the parts.
Five of the chapters depart from this survey approach, which I found refreshing, as the authors take a stand on their topic, which made the ideas feel more grounded and connected to their experience. The chapter on authenticity in materials development by Trabelsi asks us to rethink the relationship between authenticity and materials. He discusses four current views of authenticity, starting with a critique of the view that authentic materials are those created by native speakers for other native speakers. Trabelsi concludes with a nine-point framework for a localized approach that focuses on what is authentic for the learner and the genuineness of the input. The chapter on student-created materials by Widodo is also very good, and is one of the few in the five books in this review that studies student involvement in materials creation. He investigates how students create their own vocabulary materials and the impact it has on their language. This kind of research legitimizes learners as active protagonists in their learning, rather than as merely consumers of materials. The chapter by Heron discusses the role of affect/motivation with examples from her own teaching. Savova’s chapter on universal design in materials development provides a novel interdisciplinary perspective on what materials developers can learn from instructional design.
The final chapter on improvements in today’s ELT materials development by Bao is meant to be a forward-looking chapter on what materials could or should be. It contains a list of maxims for good materials, organized around three categories: linguistic values, cultural content, and learning resources. What was striking about the chapter was how much it put learners at the core of these considerations, for example that good materials reflect learner identity, good materials care about learners’ feelings, and good materials allow learners to observe rules in the language.
Strengths and weaknesses
In terms of materials development, however, I am not sure I would say it is a practical guide for a novice developer. A few of the chapters simply list concepts without clearly tying them together, and many of the chapters do not provide concrete examples. If I were a novice, I would need to see examples of the principles as they play out in actual materials, not just a description of what they are. For example, a drawback of the chapter on selection and grading is that there are few examples given, so while it does provide theory that leads into practical aspects, it does not give enough practical examples to illustrate those aspects. That said, several chapters do provide examples, notably the chapters on developing materials for speaking, the chapter on affect, and the chapter on materials adaptation.
Creativity and Innovations in ELT Materials Development: Looking Beyond the Current Design
This book, as its title suggests, focuses on the development of materials that tap into the creativity of developers, teachers, and learners. It is structured around three themes: how creative pedagogies can improve ELT materials; how ELT materials can be improved through the use of creative resources such as literature, drama, and technology; and how to improve ELT materials through teacher and learner involvement. I would say that nearly every chapter focuses on teacher and learner involvement by advocating and exploring ways for them to use materials in imaginative, meaningful, multimodal, and unexpected ways. Several chapters in the book also directly address ways that materials and coursebook developers can design materials that encourage or unleash the creative potential of teachers and learners.
The chapters in the first section address ways to infuse creativity into the design and use of materials, with each author defining creativity in different ways and approaching it from different perspectives. Tomlinson analyses the types of close-ended activities typical of coursebooks, and gives examples of how each can be adapted or transformed based on criteria that engage learners in deep and meaningful experience of the target language. Maley outlines five principles for creative materials design that include divergent thinking, working within constraints, and using bisociation (finding connections between two or more things that do not belong together) and describes some of his favorite activities for doing so. Bao bases his suggestions for how materials writers can develop materials for creativity using a different set of five principles that include stimulating curiosity and inspiring unconventional responses. As he puts it, by doing this, ‘Materials writers are in a unique position to construct a negotiable playground for teachers and learners to explore their creativity’ (p. 65). In a chapter on incorporating creativity in primary coursebooks, Bao and Liu present a framework for activities based on research on creativity in children under the headings of imagination, social sharing, thinking/feeling, play, and self-expression, providing examples from a coursebook they designed for use in China based on the principles (which could be viewed as an example of materials analysis). In the following chapter, Tin describes ways that providing constraints in tasks facilitates learners’ creativity and allows them to exercise their autonomy. One of the tasks is to write an acrostic on ‘TIME’, which leads one group of students to write: The one thing that Inhibits Marriage to last Eternally.
In the second part of the book Park’s chapter describes process drama, in which teacher and students co-create an imaginary context around a theme in order to explore it from different perspectives. Park describes a version of ‘The boy who cried wolf’ in which the drama unfolds as teacher and students take on different and complex roles as villagers, reporters, and hospital employees. Hullah’s chapter on using literature is a moving testament to the power of literature to bring meaning to the classroom and counteract the schooling-instilled notion that every problem has a right and wrong answer. The chapter on integrating ICT in secondlanguage materials by Bao and Shang describes how ICT can compensate for shortcomings of coursebooks such as unrealistic language models and poor contextualization of language use, and transform students’ learning experiences. However, they note that the teacher’s attitude and experience with technology is a crucial factor in its integration and success in the classroom. They urge coursebook writers to go beyond giving suggestions for use of ICT by providing clear guidelines and examples. The last chapter in this section, on using online resources based on SLA principles by Floris, Renandya, and Bao, in a sense provides examples of what the previous chapter calls for. It explores not only how to choose online resources, but how to prepare them for classroom use based on six principles of SLA with examples of each, such as the way same-languagecaptioned stories can fulfill the principle of comprehensible input.
The third section begins with a chapter by Ramnath on training teachers to use a genre-based approach to develop materials. It vividly illustrates the effectiveness of preparing teachers to teach by having them experience the teaching as learners. In a course on the theory and practice of reading, Thai teachers learn about the genre approach by reading different genres and creating their own texts, including a narrative. In their materials development course, they use the narrative they have written as a basis for designing activities for their learners that go beyond close-ended comprehension questions and multiple choice items (critiqued by Tomlinson earlier). In the next chapter on learner-created visuals, Bao describes ways such visuals can inspire learners’ imagination and original ideas, and allow them to portray and reflect on their own experience, thus promoting different viewpoints and awareness of social issues. One example I found particularly compelling was a four-part drawing by a 15-year old Chinese student that used images of a tree, a stream, and a man fishing to show the ravages of pollution and environmental degradation. In the final chapter on Bangladeshi EFL teachers’ views of their textbook, the authors Roshid, Haider, and Begum found a close alignment between secondary teachers’ perceptions of the textbook and their own content analysis with respect to topics, tasks, lexis, grammar, pedagogical support, representation of sociocultural values, and outcomes. Overall, the teachers’ largely positive perceptions could be attributed to the textbooks having been locally produced by a team of university experts, trainers from teacher training colleges, and practising English teachers based on a clear language policy, one that focuses on English as a skillsbased subject to be used in real-life situations.
Strengths and weaknesses
Although I found the different definitions of creativity to be a confusing patchwork, I realized that the aim of the book was not to provide a comprehensive definition of creativity, but for each contributor to be consistent in marrying theory and practice. As can be seen, a distinct strength of this book is that virtually every chapter describes the theoretical frameworks or principles on which the author’s approach to creativity or innovation is based, and then provides clear (and at times abundant) examples to illustrate how the theory can be enacted in practice. This gives materials developers, whether they be writers or teachers, the theoretical tools to adapt the activities to their context or generate entirely new applications.
Three chapters stand out as exemplars of what we can learn from materials use: Tin’s study of the effect of constraints on tasks suggests that too much freedom causes students to rehearse known language, while constraints push them to use language in novel and unpredictable ways. In process drama, as described in Park’s chapter, learners and teacher are able to tackle challenging topics from a variety of perspectives. Bao’s chapter on how learners use images shows a similar path for students to address topics in both serious and playful ways. I found the book to be very inspiring; it made me wish to be a language teacher again so that I could apply these principles and try some of the activities.
Language Textbooks in the Era of Neoliberalism
Unlike the three books just discussed, this one falls squarely in the area of materials analysis and joins the work of a growing group of scholars who take a critical perspective on language, including the content and commodification of textbooks (e.g. Gray 2012; Holborow 2015; Block 2017). This book is based on Pau Bori’s doctoral research into current textbooks for learning Catalan and how they express key characteristics of neoliberalism, particularly with respect to housing and work. According to Bori, neoliberalism, also known as ‘late capitalism’, is a paradigm of economic policy whose characteristics include free trade, deregulation of financial markets, the privatization of state enterprises such as energy and education, reduction of welfare, and tax cuts for the wealthy. Neoliberal policies disproportionately disadvantage members of the working class, migrants, and historically marginalized groups, although the book makes clear that we have all been affected. As textbooks grow out of and reflect this economic, political, and social context, they are both a window into the current context and an instrument of its values. One aim of Bori’s study is to make educators aware of ‘the false neutrality of foreign language education, and particularly of language textbooks’ (p. 166).
An introductory chapter on neoliberalism is followed by a short history of foreign language education in Europe. Here the author takes up the notion of false neutrality in his examination of the rise of communicative language teaching (CLT) and the development of the CEFR, which, he points out, are not only linguistic and pedagogical in origin, but also ideological. According to Bori, the considerable funding devoted to the CEFR has led to the standardization and centralization of language education and supported it as a marketing tool, as tests and materials use the CEFR levels to brand themselves. Language itself has come to be viewed in instrumental terms as an economic asset that promotes individual mobility and competitiveness, which are congruent with neoliberal values. He later notes how adherence to the CEFR has homogenized the approach to language in Catalan textbooks, an approach that emphasizes ‘a communicative language learning of practical and useful language in the service of the interest of the new neoliberal economic order’ (p. 100).
Critical views of language textbooks
In the third chapter, Bori reviews critical research on language textbooks, whose objective ‘is to identify, analyze and critique injustices or partial views generated by power structures in societies that appear in textbooks and in that way contribute to the battle to overcome social inequalities’ (p. 41). The chapter distinguishes between a ‘redistribution’ view of social justice which focuses on socioeconomic inequalities, and a ‘recognition’ view which focuses on bringing recognition to those who are marginalized or discriminated against by, for example, gender, sexual orientation, culture, race, and ethnicity. Bori’s view is that focusing solely on recognition, such as ensuring that women are shown as having equal status to men in textbooks, does not address or seek to redress issues of economic injustice, i.e. why women have been marginalized in the first place. He also examines the invisibility of social class (‘lower’ or working class) in textbooks, as well as the high visibility of consumerism and entrepreneurship.
Neoliberal constructions of social class, work and housing in Catalan textbooks
The next five chapters provide an in-depth analysis of seven textbook series for teaching Catalan (including one online) from a political economy perspective, in particular work and housing. Bori finds that many of the neoliberal values related to work such as flexibility, mobility, self-branding, self-responsibility, and entrepreneurship are evident in activities. One example is a reading about eight steps to follow in finding a new job, steps that can only work if you have money while you are looking—e.g. concentrate on what you like; ignore your salary; ask whatever you want; remember you’re free to quit your job whenever you like. The author points out that the text is presented uncritically, with no follow-up questions or activities. In one of the few references to how the textbook might be used he writes: ‘Hence it will probably depend on the teacher if any discussion about this neoliberal content should be opened among students in the classroom’ (p. 81).
In a later chapter on social class in the textbooks, Bori explores the way that class has been virtually erased, with upper-middle class as the ‘norm’. One textbook portrays a student who works as a cashier, but still has a large apartment and stays at an expensive hotel on the weekend. On the other hand, ‘The working class, when it appears, is almost always related to immigrants such as … Vilma from Ecuador who is a hairdresser … or Mammadou from Senegal who makes home deliveries for a supermarket’ (p. 114). Bori also explores patterns of consumption, describing, among others, a text about a supermarket strike, which is presented entirely from the point of view of the consumers, who complain about it, rather than of the workers and why they might be striking. The activity related to the text involves students learning how to fill in complaint forms, thus trivializing it.
In the chapter on how work is portrayed Bori examines the construction of an entrepreneurial identity, characterized by such values as flexibility, lifelong learning, self-responsibility, and self-branding. A fall-out from these values is lack of job security and an ever-widening economic gap between those who control capital and those who work in the on-demand economy. Bori describes a dialogue in which the employer explains that they are looking for someone ‘to be flexible with working hours because there isn’t work all the time’ (p. 122), and the prospective employee responds ‘I’m fine with that. I can work in shifts, part-time or even only on weekends, whichever you prefer’ (p. 123).
Bori also examines the kind of activities students are asked to do. In relation to work and housing, students do activities such as preparing for a job interview, planning business projects, or writing an advertisement for a house to sell/buy, and calculating loan interest rates. Such tasks are designed for instrumental purposes, without providing ‘space for students to question any of these practices’ (p. 119).
Strengths and weaknesses
This is a sobering book to read. One of Bori’s aims is ‘to awaken awareness among the educational and academic communities about the necessity to look critically at textbooks from a political and economic perspective’ (p. 162). The book has a lot to say to materials developers, to make us question what we are portraying and the possible consequences. I had my MA students read the chapter on critical research on language textbooks and identify some of the key values of neoliberalism that underlie socioeconomic and identity inequalities. I then brought global ELT textbooks to class, including one that I had coauthored, and asked them to analyse them in light of these values. In all of the textbooks, they were easily able to identify a focus on consumerism, uncritical depiction of an upper-middle-class lifestyle, absence of the working class, assumption of unfettered mobility, and so on. While my coauthors and I did not set out to deliberately portray these values, this underscores the point that textbooks (and their writers) are ‘conditioned by the particular economic, political and social context within which they come into being’ (p. 162). Ironically, unlike a few decades ago when a living could be made from advances and royalties, materials writers today are experiencing the consequences of neoliberalism: they have no job security, must be ‘nimble’, self-promoting, and write on demand for fees. It is no wonder that at the TESOL convention in 2019 one of the sessions was titled ‘The materials writer as entrepreneur’.
I do, however, have criticisms of this work. The first is that ‘when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail’. In other words, everything comes back to capitalism, and precludes the possibility that there is more than one way to look at something. For example, the critique that prioritizing personal emotions in language textbooks (the so-called ‘therapy culture’) ‘may work as an ideological mechanism to hide the structural social inequalities of capitalism’ (p. 46) by making people feel that they are responsible for their economic failures seems to dismiss the positive effects of addressing the affective needs of learners, or that individual fulfilment need not be at the expense of the collective. Similarly, Bori’s critique of transnationalism focuses on transnational corporations, and not on the ways transnationalism might provide the basis for global connections among disenfranchised groups (see my review of Risager, below).
A more important shortcoming relates to materials use. At times, Bori seems to assume that teachers and learners accept the content of the materials unquestioningly. For example, his critique that language in Catalan textbooks is learned for only practical purposes that support the neoliberal agenda ignores the agency of the people who will make use of the language for their own purposes. In a similar vein, he writes that ‘the textbooks not only hide the social class structure, but also block the development of a class conscience among students of Catalan’ (p. 117; emphasis added). Bori has made a good case for the first claim, but not for the second, by which he gives instrumentality to the textbook, not to those who use it. Interestingly, this echoes criticism he cites of one strand of Marxism that presented ‘the masses as passive victims’ and ‘wrote off the working class’s ability to resist as they believed that increased material consumption had dulled working-class anger’ (p. 4). The textbooks may ‘provide no space for students to question any of these practices’ (p. 119), but this does not mean that teacher or students will not question them.
Bori’s aim to awaken awareness is a first step, but, ultimately, awareness without action is ineffective. What ‘intelligent action’ in the Deweyan sense should materials developers take in response to this analysis? In turn, what kinds of understandings of users would deepen the analysis? I would like to see research on the human, social, material, and political capital of the people using the textbooks so we can understand questions such as: How do the identities of the people who use materials affect how they respond to them? If they accept materials uncritically, why? This kind of research on materials use can usefully inform materials analysis.
Representation of the World in Language Textbooks
I found this book compelling both for the prismatic ways the author, Karen Risager, analysed textbooks and for the ideas generated by each analysis. Risager, a Danish academic whose research has focused on intercultural studies, wrote this book ‘to contribute to theoretical reflections on cultural representations (sociocultural content) in foreign and second language learning, with special reference to textbooks and other learning materials’ (p. 1). As such, she clearly positions herself in the ‘materials analysis’ domain.
Five theoretical approaches
Risager uses five theoretical approaches, which she calls ‘readings’, to analyse six different textbooks used in Denmark to teach six different languages. For each reading, she analyses the same English language textbook, paired with a textbook for a different language. In chapters 1 and 2, she lays out her conceptual framework and surveys 30 textbook analyses that focus on cultural representations.
The five approaches are national studies, which focuses on a single country or set of countries where the target language is spoken, their diverse subcultures, and the way language mediates between different cultures; citizenship education studies, which focuses on students as citizens in culturally diverse societies, as well as social problems and how to address them; cultural studies, which focuses on cultural identities, the processes of identification, cultural variability and change, and seeing ‘oneself as part of the complexity’ (p. 222); postcolonial studies, which focuses on the history and legacy of colonialism and imperialism as well as awareness of social, cultural, and linguistic inequities and hierarchies; and transnational studies, which focuses on global processes and the awareness of ‘transnational flows of people, ideas and objects’ (ibid.) and regional, continental, and global organizations.
For each approach Risager asks two essential questions: What does this reading tell us about the representation of culture, society, and the world in the textbook under study? And how can these reflections help us promote intercultural learning (the construction of knowledge about culture, society and the world) using the textbook under study as a stepping stone?
She explores the first question in terms of the following categories:
1. Positioning and representation of the actors (publishers, authors, teachers, and students)
2. Representations of culture, society, and the world
3. Approach to intercultural learning
4. The textbook in society
Textbook analysis according to the five ‘readings’
The English textbook Risager analyses is A Piece of Cake (Boesen and Rosendal 2011), used by 13- to 16-year-olds in Danish schools. She also analyses Spanish, French, German, Esperanto, and Danish (as a foreign language) textbooks. For each reading she analyses the content of the textbook as a whole and then focuses on one specific chapter that closely connects to that particular reading.
Although Risager tries to provide a balanced view of how the textbooks represent the world, she does show how the English textbook comes up short in each of the areas. In the national studies area, the countries represented are ‘the anglosphere’, presenting a view of the world bound to only a few of the most powerful ‘inner circle’ English-speaking countries, and that ‘The textbook seems to prepare the students for a possible “world tour” in the English-speaking world’ (p. 77). In the citizenship education studies area, which views students as citizens engaged in social issues and conflicts, there is a focus on the lives of successful people, but ‘there is not much about such key problems as inequality, poverty and wealth, unemployment, etc.” (p. 113).
In the cultural studies approach Risager notes that while multiple identities are represented, the students are not asked to consider inequalities among different groups/identities. This is in contrast to the French textbook, which has a unit devoted to difference, with texts on race, homelessness, appearance/style, education/aptitude. In the postcolonial studies area, there is no sense of the history of the spread of English, or why learners are learning English. It seems as if ‘[w]hen you learn and use English, you do not need to understand (some of) the power relations in the world. You can restrict yourself to be the curious and privileged (future) tourist you are’ (p. 172).
Many of these criticisms, e.g. of unproblematic mobility, class privilege, and a focus on wealth and celebrity, resonate with the critique of neoliberal values by Bori. However, Risager’s treatment of transnationalism is broader and more balanced. Bori’s critique focuses on transnational corporations, global deregulation, and outsourcing of labor. Risager’s transnational studies focuses on entities and processes that transcend national borders, e.g. NGOs, religious organizations, multinational corporations, diaspora communities, and transnational networks. In Risager’s view, transnationalism can promote a sense of global citizenship and responsibility. She suggests that all chapters in any textbook could ‘take the transnational and global perspective from the start: where are we in the world, why do we zoom into this country or phenomenon, how is it related to the rest of the world—and to us?’ (p. 196).
Strengths and weaknesses
As I have just shown, a major difference between Bori’s approach and Risager’s is that Bori is concerned with how textbooks (and their commodification) reflect and perpetuate neoliberal values with an implied effect on those who use it. In contrast, Risager is explicitly concerned with how the textbook may impact learners and their understanding of the self. For example, in the postcolonial studies approach ‘the self is seen as part of global historical processes, including his or her own country’s history as dominator or dominated’ (p. 223). In the transnational studies approach, the self is seen ‘as a part of transnational processes, and his or her life is linked to the rest of the world in various ways’ (ibid.). Risager thus positions learners as active agents in the complex process of learning.
Unlike Bori, Risager does offer ideas for how to compensate for the shortcomings of the textbook in the classroom, such as using maps to show where English is used and how it spread through colonialism. For the transnational studies reading, she refers to the unit she has analysed in which a two-page photo of Indian women using technology is pasted over with statements about globalization such as ‘restrictive governments can no longer stop information from reaching us’ and ‘shop till we drop cyberspace’. She suggests that these statements can be used as a point of departure for mindmaps where the students add associations to the statements in order to better understand (or at least imagine) the background and effects of these phenomena, including on themselves.
Suggestions such as these are offered in the part of each chapter devoted to answering Risager’s second overarching question about how the analysis can promote intercultural learning using the textbook as a stepping stone. However, one of the main shortcomings of the book is the striking imbalance between the analysis of how the world is represented in the textbook according to each approach, which makes up the bulk of each chapter, and the practical implications of the analysis. The latter takes up around one page each for the first four analyses, and three pages for transnational studies. The suggestions are good, but as a teacher I would wish for a more thorough discussion to help me make sense of these different views.
Another aspect of the book I found perplexing is the near invisibility of the teacher. The teacher’s role is crucial in how a textbook is actually used. One of Risager’s subquestions for each reading is What is the role of the teacher? However, often Risager finds there is little to say about the role of the teacher. Her suggestions for how to take up the ideas in each approach require the guidance or initiative of the teacher, yet even when discussing the suggestions, there is little mention of the teacher (although at one point she mentions the need for a meta-language to talk about these issues).
Despite these shortcomings, the book provides rich food for thought for materials developers and teacher educators. As a materials developer, I would take seriously her conclusion that we need to ‘create a new world of language textbooks’ that invite students to reflect on critical issues in today’s world, as well as to understand their own place in that world, ‘taking the perspectives of different languages’ as a point of departure (p. 225). Regarding materials use, research on use could draw on Risager’s analysis. For example, how do teachers and learners enact discussions on how their lives have been affected by globalization? How does using metalanguage enable learners to think critically about the history of English and why they are studying it? Ultimately, this kind of research would make the analysis all the more compelling.
In the introduction I made a case for defining materials research in terms of three domains: development, analysis, and use. I have tried to show how each book addresses each domain. Three of the books principally address materials development and two address materials analysis, with a clear divide between the two sets of books. Materials use is the domain that is least well represented. Here, as promised in the introduction, I would like to discuss what these books have to say to each other that might help us see how the three domains interact.
Bori and Risager analyse the way that materials represent the political, economic, cultural, and social world in which we live. Bori specifically critiques inequities perpetuated by neoliberalism and reproduced in textbooks, whereas Risager asks how students might critically and responsibly engage with this world. As I read the analyses I wanted the authors to say more about how materials developers and materials users could work with their ideas in practice, using the materials they critique. Bori and other critical linguists reference the work of scholars in the 1980s such as Auerbach and Burgess (1985) and Wallerstein (1982) on ways to work critically with materials for adult learners using Freirean pedagogy (e.g. Freire 1976). The pedagogy is still applicable, but I wonder what new ideas are in circulation.
From a teacher’s perspective, a central dilemma in critical pedagogy is how to engage students in exploring, connecting to, and caring about issues of equity and social responsibility without alienating or disenfranchising them. My ‘a-ha’ moment came when reading the chapter by Park about process drama. Here was an example of how a teacher could help students take multiple perspectives on an issue in ways that engaged them deeply. I realized that contributors to the three books on materials development spoke to the dilemma in different ways. For example, several authors discuss the power of literature to help students deeply consider the complexity of human experience. (Interestingly, both Bori and Risager briefly touch on literature as a missing dimension of materials.) Another example is the use of student-generated images to portray matters of concern, as the aforementioned 15-year-old’s deft use of images to explore his concerns about the environment. In each of these examples, teachers and learners are considered as active agents in their interaction with materials. They are not positioned as passive recipients, which is the impression given by Bori.
Learner-centredness is an overarching theme in the three books on materials development. Tomlinson and Masuhara, for example, have admirably framed universal criteria for materials development based on principles of SLA, task-based language teaching, and learner-centredness. Many of the contributors to the edited volumes reviewed here provide compelling examples of how to develop materials based on similar criteria. The two books that focus on materials analysis, however, ask us to enlarge the way we frame those criteria to include how materials enable learners to critically understand the world in which they live. One impact I hope their analysis will have on materials development is to generate the kind of universal criteria advocated by Tomlinson and Masuhara that would meet the call for a wider scope. A companion to Tomlinson and Masuhara’s criterion ‘provide opportunities for the learners to make discoveries for themselves about how English is used for communication’ (p. 130) could be ‘provide opportunities for the learners to understand and question why they are learning to use English for communication’. A companion to their criterion ‘expose the learners to a variety of text types’ (p. 131) could be ‘get learners to investigate who or what is represented in the texts and why’.
At the same time, it is a mistake to think that materials can ‘do’ everything: such a view is a form of deskilling teachers (Apple and Jungck 1990). Teachers and learners are the ‘doers’—they are the ones who will interpret and use the materials. However, this does not mean that teachers do not need guidance as to how to take up these ideas. Teacher educators can provide teachers with experiences of how to develop, analyse, and use materials, much as the Thai teachers did when they used their own narratives as the basis for materials development. Teacher education provides a crucial link between development, evaluation, and use (Garton and Graves 2019), and Sue Garton and I, as well as others (e.g. McGrath 2013), have called for a much greater focus on materials in teacher education. Moreover, research on materials use would help to ground understanding of materials in actual contexts of use.
The three areas of development, analysis, and use involve many different actors—materials writers, publishers (editors, designers, marketers), local and national educational authorities, teachers, learners, and applied linguists. They are also the potential beneficiaries of what these books offer. I suspect that the majority of readers are likely to be materials developers, teacher educators, and researchers. Nevertheless, publishers and educational authorities have much to learn from these books in terms of current issues, such as how to integrate technology into materials, and new directions, such as grappling with socioeconomic inequities and meaningful social change (including the material conditions of materials writers and teachers).
Materials research is a dynamic, multifaceted field, as evidenced by these five books. Ultimately, the three areas within materials research—development, analysis, and use—must inform each other in order to propel the field forward.
注：本文选自ELT Journal 2019年73（3）：337-354。由于篇幅所限，注释和参考文献已省略。