On May 6th, I attended the seminar day for educational writers run by the Society of Authors in London. It was a first for me.
The day kicked off with Lionel Bender, co-founder of book packager Bender Richardson White, who talked about the differences in the educational publishing landscape between the UK and USA.
- There is a huge appetite for non-fiction in the States. (This is in contrast to educational publishing in the UK which has seen a decline in the number of non-fiction titles published since the 1990s.) From my own point of view, it will be interesting to see how this focus on non-fiction reading texts begins to influence the ELT sector, as it surely must, if not in the form of stand-alone readers, then incorporated within course book publishing.
- The Common Core (that is, the US national curriculum) places strong emphasis on reading content-rich non-fiction at school. This is partly as a result of consultation with industry leaders in the US on how to best to prepare students for working life. At Elementary school, 50% of the focus on reading texts should be devoted to non-fiction, increasing at senior school to 75%.
- Educational non-fiction writers in North America are highly regarded and much sought after.
After lunch, Ken Wilson, ELT course book and methodology writer, shared his often entertaining experiences of delivering webinars. The topic was well-received by writers in the audience, at a time when publishers increasingly seek to reduce author travel budgets by replacing face-to-face conference presentations with webinars conducted at a distance.
- Remember the end-user experience and how sitting alone at a computer differs from attending a conference presentation.
- Look at the camera!
- Don’t do one trial run. Do ten.
- Be aware of being too serious or too light-hearted.
- Read the comment stream, and, if at all possible, line up someone to read it for you and help you sift through the comments for particularly useful or pertinent questions and responses.
- Watch Nicky Hockley’s webinar tips on Youtube.
The day concluded with Nick Bilbrough talking about giving English lessons via videoconferencing through the Hands Up project to children in Gaza, Pakistan and camps for Syrian refugees. He showed footage of children in Gaza talking to a conference room at IATEFL and to a class in Russia, whose teacher is one of the Hands Up project volunteers. His talk brought home the power of video conferencing as a means to create authentic contexts for children to speak English and to develop meaningful inter-cultural links. He painted an inspiring picture of the possibilities facilitated by this readily available technology, even for teachers operating in such difficult circumstances.
- Use Zoom for video conferencing. It works better than Skype in areas with limited internet connectivity. It is easy to record sections, which you then have available as an MP4. You can also share your screen easily.
A final word
Before the day, the event had attracted criticism for its (highly regrettable) all-male line up, which had been acknowledged by the Educational Writers Group Chair and Secretary as being rather problematic. With the work done by the Fair List, promoting gender balance in UK ELT events, it might be hoped that gender imbalance like this on panels and plenaries was a thing of the past. Unfortunately, this may have put something of a dampener on enthusiasm for the event, which was otherwise welcoming, relevant and informative.