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Professionals in the field of ESL, including instructors and curriculum developers, often face challenges in blending theory and practice.
In the article, Outtakes from Reader’s Choice: Issues in Materials Development by Sandra Silberstein, the author, addresses these challenges objectively by pointing out her own experiences during the development of the textbook, Reader’s Choice, which she co-authored.
This article gives ESL professionals an idea on how they can gain experiences in the process of instruction or curriculum development.
Luckily, the ESL professionals already have an exemplary pacesetter in Silberstein, who honestly and objectively approaches the commonly avoided challenge of self-evaluation.
Overview of the Article
The article by Silberstein opens by noting that ESL professionals are adept at churning out pedagogical materials, but even so, they still encounter difficulties in adhering to the all-important philosophy, which holds that the process is more important than the product and instructors propagate it.
She notes that this philosophy is a challenge to seasoned teachers who find it easier to encourage their students to adopt it, but they are not in a position to operate within its auspices.
This inability manifests in the fact that although teachers encourage their students to share with others any failed attempts at adhering to the philosophy, they for their part fail to do so.
Silberstein observes that when content developers remain silent on the difficulties in the course of their duties, teachers and authors miss so much, which could be brought to light through open sharing.
The author thus encourages culprits of this undesirable conduct to take a different approach by recounting her experiences during the development of the Reader’s Choice.
In developing content for the Reader’s Choice, Silberstein and her co-author were fully aware that there was a need to operate within established theoretical and pedagogical guidelines to capture the spirit of common dilemmas that had been raised by Karl Krahnke at the time.
In an attempt in so doing, Silberstein notes that their focus was more emphatic on the criteria of passing judgment on what addressed their concerns and what did not.
Their concern in that respect was to develop content, which granted both teachers and students a pleasurable classroom experience while at the same time fitting within the criteria for pedagogically sound reading materials.
Silberstein notes that the criteria that the materials were expected to meet was developed from existing reading theory.
Through reviewing several theories, Silberstein notes that they coined three guidelines for developing reading tasks. Thereafter, any task they developed for the book was supposed to follow the set guidelines.
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The first criterion required that a reading task be in touch in with the real world and consider the student’s ability.
The second criterion required passages that preceded tasks to define the nature of the tasks to be undertaken and the third criterion required books and teachers to elaborate the concepts underlying the skill prior to testing of any skill.
Silberstein proceeds to outline the outtakes from the Reader’s Choice and articulates why each of them did not make it into the final text.
In addition, she recounts the process of developing the Reader’s Choice highlighting the key experiences they underwent, coupled with how these experiences changed their perspectives throughout the process.
The process of content development is thus daunting and it turns out to be contradictory at some points.
Review of the Article
In this article, Silberstein significantly succeeds at what many professionals have hitherto failed to achieve. Self-criticism is often a tough task for many, especially in undertakings that are daunting in nature.
She rightly points this aspect out when she notes that instructors find it easier to espouse beliefs in the process rather than the product of learning or teaching and so on.
She gives an example of ESL professionals who fail in their initial attempts to adhere to this process while trying to develop content, but they prefer to keep quiet concerning their failures.
By using this example, Silberstein directly points out one of the reasons why some content becomes unrealistic and impractical in the classroom.
This reason also explains why some instructors fail to meet the students at their point of need despite having the best instructional materials at their disposal.
She thus espouses being honest with the self when it comes to self-criticism and she proceeds to use her own piece of work as an example.
Silberstein recounts the process of developing the book, the Reader’s Choice and points out key ideas and guidelines, which guided their undertaking.
Through this aspect, she articulates the principles clearly, which guided their every activity in the process, coupled with how they came up with those principles.
In the process, she acknowledges that even though she is an expert in content development, some ideas, which they use, are inspired by other authors’ pieces of work.
She acknowledges that Karl Krahnke’s piece of work, which appeared in the TESOL Newsletter: How do we know when a classroom activity work prior to the commencement of their book, as a key inspiration in developing the book.
Silberstein and her co-author did not exclusively focus on Krahnke’s ideas, but they added more ideas obtained from reviewing the literature on reading theory. The most illustrious of the theorists are identified as Kenneth Goodman and Frank Smith.
Therefore, in the process of reading, they either espouse or refute their presuppositions.
This aspect indicates a well-researched and integrated piece of work, which not only identifies the author of a certain idea but also proceeds to give an overview of the general idea of that author for the benefit of those that have not come across it yet.
Superficially, the article appears confusing and because it includes the outtakes from the Reader’s Choice, the article author’s position on the outtakes, the content that made it into the final text, and ideas from other authors.
However, a careful consideration of the article reveals a carefully developed piece of work, which clearly addresses its objectives. The author is very explicit with every aspect of the book and its development that she chose to include in the article.
For instance, in the final section of the article, she recounts the experiences that defined the successful parts of the article and points out the weaknesses, which according to her exist even in some of the materials that it into the book.
This approach blends positively with the approach she took while elaborating the outtakes and the reasons why they were struck out of the book.
She remembers to add her perspective on some of the ideas at the time of writing the article and she shows how it differs with the perspective she held on the materials at the time of writing the book.
This gives an idea of someone who isolates herself from the picture and performs an objective analysis of her thoughts, ideas, and every decision made as though it were from someone else.
This attitude agrees with the position she takes at a very early stage in the article that ESL professionals need to evaluate themselves honestly in the process of content development and instruction.
In addition, they need to share their experiences openly to help teachers and authors to get insight from such experiences. The article is well articulated and researched in terms of incorporating ideas from other sources.
However, one issue fails to standout like other aspects of the article, viz. without a careful consideration of the article; it becomes a bit difficult to pinpoint its principal idea.
This aspect would be especially difficult if the article were to be presented to a reader without its title, which implies that the article’s thesis statement does not clearly manifest in the text.
Silberstein’s article clearly articulates the process that led to the development of the Reader’s Choice. It rightly points out the fruitful and the non-fruitful undertakings that were part of the development of the book.
Since the book was being developed for ESL use, she relates her experience in developing the book to the experiences of other ESL professionals especially instructors where she points out that their failure to share their experiences, as she does in this article, frustrates development in this area.
Clearly displaying the outtakes and elaborating the reasons why they were stuck out of the text explicitly shows her commitment to this cause.
The article is a well-researched and articulated piece of work that integrates ideas from different sources and briefly describes such sources to familiarize the reader with their content. The article may appear confusing, but it surely accomplishes its objectives.