MWIS Newsletter

MWIS News, Volume 21:1 (February 2008)

by User Not Found | 10/27/2011
In This Issue...
  • TESOL 2008
    • Notices From the MWIS Chair: Kelly Sippell
    • Plan Your MWIS TESOL 2008 Schedule
    • Discussion Groups Changes at TESOL 2008: Lisa L. Dyson
  • Articles
    • Why Use Textbooks? Bill Walker
    • Ten (or So) Caveats From a Self-Publisher: Elizabeth Claire

TESOL 2008 Notices From the MWIS Chair: Kelly Sippell

Kelly Sippell,

MWIS Open Meeting

MWIS will hold its annual meeting on Thursday, April 3, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Hotel. Traditionally, our annual meeting was held on Wednesday evening, but it was moved this year so it does not conflict with the plenary.
This year, the Mary Finocchiaro Award for Excellence in Unpublished Pedagogical Materials will be presented at our open meeting. Our meeting also formalizes the transition from chair-elect to chair. It is the best time, too, to sign up to review proposals for TESOL 2009. Issues that could be presented at the following day's assembly will be discussed. This meeting is also your opportunity to raise issues of concern to our interest section and its members and to meet and network with other MWIS members!

Volunteer Delegates Needed

The Interest Section Assembly will be held Friday, April 4, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Sheraton Hotel, Riverside Ballroom. Each IS sends three or four delegates to the assembly to vote on important issues concerning the membership. These delegates represent the MWIS. Anyone who is a member of MWIS can serve as the delegate. Delegates serve an important function for the IS; they have the opportunity to hear first-hand about issues facing other interest sections and about issues on which the TESOL Board and Interest Section Leadership Council want feedback from the interest sections/membership. If you are interested in serving as a delegate at this meeting or have questions, please contact Kelly Sippell at


Plan Your MWIS TESOL 2008 Schedule

Linda Butler,
Larry Zwier,

Meet your MWIS colleagues at the
Annual Open Meeting

New Day and Time: Thursday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Sheraton Hotel

Check the MWIS booth for more details and the latest updates.

We (your MWIS Cochairs-Elect Linda Butler and Larry Zwier) organized the following sessions (which we think are going to be great!):

Academic Session

MythBusters Take on Ideas About Textbooks. This session will be in the spirit of the Discovery Channel series, MythBusters. What we write and publish is influenced by conventional wisdom about what teachers and students need. Our panelists will examine some of those entrenched ideas. What does the evidence show? Are these ideas fact or fiction?

Panelists: Keith S. Folse (vocabulary), Jan Frodesen (grammar), Maggie Sokolik (writing), and Fredericka Stoller (reading)

Thursday, April 3, 2:00 p.m.-4:45 p.m., Regent Parlor, Hilton


  • How ESL/EFL Textbooks Get Adopted—or Not. Why do ESL/EFL programs adopt one text and not another? A program administrator, a teacher, and a publisher describe how such factors as government standards, institutional requirements, the reputation of an author, and simple personal taste work together to determine the fate of a book. The Program Administrators Interest Section is joining us for this session.
    Panelists: Will Manekas (NYC Dept. of Ed.), Tara Neuwirth (UCLA Extension), and Kelly Sippell (U of Michigan Press)
    Friday, April 4, 8:30 a.m.
  • ITA Professionals As Materials Writers. The International Teaching Assistants IS is the primary IS for this session. 
    Presenters: Kathi Cennamo, Linda Grant, Janet Goodwin, Colleen Meyers, Kelly Sippell, Laurie Frazier
    Time, date TBA

The following sessions with an MWIS focus will offer great opportunities for learning and networking:

Thursday, April 3
For MWIS members new to the TESOL Convention, two former chairs of MWIS, Mona Scheraga and Sandy Briggs, will hold their annual Starting TESOL in MWIS Style. 
10:30-11:15 a.m., Murray Hill Suite A, Hilton

Friday, April 4

Deborah Gordon and Susan Iannuzzi help material writers objectively evaluate their own work and administrators select texts with A Writer's or Administrator's Materials Evaluation Tool. This presentation will outline a flexible framework of criteria that both writers and administrators can use as an evaluation tool. 
9:30-10:15 a.m., Hudson Suite, Hilton

Dorothy Zemach's Discussion Group, ABC's of Freelance Writing and Editing, will focus on issues that affect freelance writers, authors, and editors, including (but certainly not limited to) finding work, negotiating rates and contracts, maintaining good working relationships, setting up a home office, dealing with taxes and health insurance for the self-employed-and, of course, networking.
10:30-11:15 a.m., New York Ballroom East, Sheraton

In Self-Publishing and Distributing Your Great Materials, 2007 Finocchiaro Award winner Janice G.T. Penner will lead a discussion of the trials and joys of developing your materials from a concept to a book or CD for distribution. A handout with process considerations, software programs, and distributors will be provided. Bring along your ideas and we'll collaborate on a better handout. Material designers can cooperate to be more independent!
10:30-11:15 a.m., Park Suite 2, Sheraton

Is your textbook perfect? With all of the choices available, do you still despair of finding a textbook that meets your needs? Group leaders Samuela Eckstut, Lynn Bonesteel, and Laura Le Dréan will offer insights into why writers and publishers produce the textbooks they do and address concerns regarding some of the common shortcomings of textbooks in Why Textbooks Are the Way They Are. 
10:30-11:15 a.m., Park Suite 1, Sheraton

Gena Bennett will lead a discussion that explores The Value of Corpora for Materials Writing. Topics include what information corpora can provide, the benefits and drawbacks of using corpora, and the effectiveness of using corpora in materials writing.
11:30 a.m-12:15 p.m., Murray Hill Suite A, Hilton

Join Tim Collins as he gives Fresh Takes on Traditional Topics. Find out how writers can provide a fresh take, a new angle, or a different perspective that makes their book stand out and meet the needs of today's learners.
11:30-12:15 p.m., East Suite, Hilton

Can authorial creativity coexist with the templates and guidelines needed for successful online publishing, or is the Net turning ESL authoring into a Mcjob?Simon Buckland responds to this and other questions about Writing and Publishing Online Materials.
7:00-7:45 p.m., Carnegie Suite East, Sheraton

Saturday, April 5

Teaching Grammar in Today's Classroom. Each presenter will make initial remarks and then answer questions previously submitted via e-mail by teachers and displayed on PowerPoint. If you think of a question about grammar teaching you'd like answered, please e-mail it to Betty Azar
9:30-11:15 a.m., New York Ballroom, Sheraton

Are there any online tools that you use all the time as a materials writer? What indispensable Web sites or software have you discovered? Helen Solorzano will lead a discussion on Online Tools for Materials Development, an opportunity to share experiences (good and bad) using online tools in the materials development process. Bring URLs to share.
9:30-10:15 a.m., Madison Suite 6, Sheraton

Learn about Becoming a Published ESL/EFL Author from author, workshop leader, and former MWIS chair Mona Scheraga. 
9:30-11:15 a.m., Sutton South, Hilton

Lorraine Hopping Egan will present Storytelling and Conversation Games for Adults. 
9:30-10:15 a.m., Harlem Suite, Hilton

In a follow-up to the MWIS Academic Session on using textbooks, current MWIS Chair Kelly Sippel will discuss Understanding Copyright for Writing and for Teaching. She will explain what can and cannot legally be included in papers, books, and lessons, so that you won't violate copyright law. The session will not discuss photocopying.
1:00-1:45 p.m., Madison Suite 5, Sheraton

Do you have true beginners and adults with literacy needs in your classroom? In Integrating Low-Beginning and Literacy in Adult Classrooms, Tom Dare, Susan Fesler, and Christy Newman will help you manage these mixed levels while demonstrating ways of teaching grammar and competencies that do not "overload" students with too many linguistic elements at a time. 
2:00-2:50 p.m., Madison Suite 2, Sheraton

We are very much looking forward to this year's conference and hope to see you there!

Room and time changes may be made after we go to press, so recheck the schedule when you arrive in New York!


Discussion Groups Changes at TESOL 2008: Lisa L. Dyson

Lisa L. Dyson, CMP
Director of Conference Services

Dear Interest Section Chairs:
There seems to be some concern and misinformation out there about the Discussion Groups and why they are scheduled the way they are for TESOL 2008. I apologize for having been remiss in addressing this situation directly earlier. I hope that I can clear up the issue for everyone now.
The Discussion Groups occupy varying time slots during the 2008 convention. There is a three-fold reason for this:
1. The reduction of the convention from 4 days to 3 means fewer slots at 7:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. for sessions.
2. The Hilton and Sheraton hotels are smaller than the usual facilities that TESOL uses for the convention, which means fewer meeting rooms to schedule the concurrent sessions in. Because of the large number of Discussion Groups it was physically not possible to schedule them only in their traditional 7:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. time slots. We would have had to eliminate some Discussion Groups in order to do that. Rather than shortchange the interest sections in their number of sessions we allowed them to be scheduled at different times.
3. Finally, beginning in 2009, Discussion Groups will be part of the call for proposals and therefore will be scheduled at all times of each day. This year is the beginning of the transition to that format.

I hope that this helps to explain the logic behind the change. I take full responsibility for this not being communicated to each of you earlier. We have been explaining the changes to anyone who called us asking about them. Not addressing it with entire interest section was an oversight on my part and I apologize.


Articles Why Use Textbooks? Bill Walker

Bill Walker,

Should ESL programs, especially in intensive programs, use published textbooks in their curricula? Many instructors and students resoundingly respond in the affirmative, but a number of instructors, some of whom control the decision-making process, disagree, thus preventing faculty from using texts. The naysayers seem to take extreme positions: On the one hand, they say they don't need textbooks at all under any circumstances; on the other hand they say if they do have textbooks, everything they do will be mandated by them and their hands will be tied. However, those who support using course textbooks have several arguments to counter these claims.

Arguments Against Incorporating Textbooks Into a Curriculum
In some intensive ESL programs, some teachers and directors are skeptical about having students use textbooks. They argue that

  1. Textbooks don't match curriculum goals.
  2. Textbooks don't match the system's approach to language teaching. 
  3. Instructors can produce better materials.
  4. Most textbooks contain much that is unnecessary or, conversely, lack some essentials. 
  5. Textbooks mandate a single way of teaching, with a single set of materials. 
  6. Many ESL materials are available, especially on the Internet. 
  7. ESL textbooks are expensive.

Explanation of the Above Arguments

  1. Textbooks don't match curriculum goals. Skeptics argue that their programs have curriculum guides that tell instructors what they need to cover at each level. The syllabi for each course have been thoughtfully and thoroughly written and are approved locally by faculty committees and nationally by accreditation organizations such as the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation. Directors believe the curricula are solid and well founded. Moreover, they have, in most cases, been tested over time and have been found to be of good quality. 
  2. Textbooks don't match the system's approach to language teaching. Some institutions specify a particular approach to language teaching. For some approaches, textbooks do not exist. When the whole-language approach is used, for example, instructors freely choose authentic materials (newspaper articles, web pages, podcasts, etc.) around which they set up authentic tasks. Textbooks are static, they argue, and do not allow for this kind of dynamic interaction. With other approaches, the curriculum is centered on the reading of novels. As no textbooks supplement these novels, teachers can produce the handouts that students need to study grammar and vocabulary extracted from the novels, engage in oral discussions, and write paragraphs and essays.
  3. Instructors can produce better materials. Skeptics pick up texts, find random pages, and point out items that don't quite meet their standards. They say things such as "I wouldn't ask that question that way" or "There's a better writing assignment that could go with that reading passage." Veteran teachers point out that they can, and do, easily come up with examples of language use from their vast repertoire of examples developed over their many years of teaching. Few textbooks provide these tidbits of information. Textbooks aren't needed because instructors are perfectly capable of producing handouts, which they can keep in binders and share with other instructors from term to term. 
  4. Most textbooks contain much that is unnecessary or, conversely, lack some essentials. Because no single textbook completely covers everything in the curriculum, teachers not only can develop their own materials, but also can select appropriate materials from the great number of published textbooks kept on the institute's reference shelves and make copies of them for their students as needed. 
  5. Textbooks mandate a single way of teaching, with a single set of materials. Current thinking suggests that instructors take an enlightened eclectic approach to language teaching, but selecting a single textbook could lock instructors into a single approach, even one they might disagree with. By not using a textbook, instructors can be free to select the materials they need to fit the approaches they favor, and be able to switch from one approach to another when necessary.
  6. Many ESL materials are out there, especially on the Internet. Teachers can find these for their students, or have the students find them themselves. Some ESL programs use a course management system (such as Blackboard), which allows teachers to post documents for all students to download, so teachers don't even have to print handouts anymore, except those that are photocopied from textbooks. Blackboard can also link students to Web sites that have the kind of information that teachers want them to read, study, practice, and learn.
  7. ESL textbooks are expensive. Because teachers can find or create all or most of the materials students need, students should not be required to waste their money on textbooks that they will only partially use.

Arguments in Favor of Using Textbooks

Proponents of using textbooks point out that

  1. Textbooks do match curriculum goals when those goals are reasonably reflective of current ESL research. It may be that the curriculum or approach is faulty.
  2. Textbooks do match current approaches to teaching language when those approaches reflect current trends in ESL teaching. 
  3. Not every teacher is an expert materials writer. 
  4. Though textbooks may include extra materials not called for in the curriculum, or may not include everything, they are coherent collections of materials, the choice of which is based on solid pedagogical principles.
  5. Textbooks do not mandate a single way of teaching. Texts serve as foundations to teach from so that teachers don't have to constantly reinvent the wheel. 
  6. Some instructors are sometimes guilty of copyright infringement. Ironically, they borrow liberally from the very textbooks they eschew.
  7. Most students love textbooks. Well-written texts fill in the gaps that teachers miss and serve as references, not only for students, but also for instructors, novice and veteran alike.

To find support for the pro-textbook position, I asked members of the Materials Writers Interest Section (MWIS) to offer suggestions. Over the course of 2 weeks at the end of August 2007, more than a dozen writers offered their opinions via the MWIS electronic discussion list. Here, then, is a distilled compilation of what professional authors had to say about the issue. One thing that struck me as I read the responses was that my professional colleagues don't insist that textbooks are the ultimate solution to program needs. These writers have a very balanced and fair approach to the issues of if, when, and how to use textbooks.

First, there is the issue of the goals of the curriculum. When there is no textbook to accompany a course, these goals can be quite baffling to new instructors new to an institution. New teachers, both veterans with years of experience and those who are brand-new to the profession, have a hard time figuring out exactly how the curriculum works, even when the objectives are clearly laid out. Moreover, it takes time to figure out where the materials are kept and which materials belong to which courses. By contrast, the top textbooks clearly state the learning objectives and have charts showing how the units weave together topically and linguistically. It can also be argued that a textbook not only allows new teachers to be up and running in short order, but also makes it easy for substitute teachers, many of whom are called upon at the last moment, to step in and teach with little difficulty.

Then, there is the issue of the quality of the curriculum itself. Most, if not all, of the current ESL textbooks are based on the latest language-learning research. Most texts state very clearly what the learning objectives are, usually in the form of a chart at the beginning of the book. Books written for intensive English programs during the past 5 years are very similar to each other in terms of their objectives. This suggests that they are describing the prototypical ESL curriculum. What makes each text different is the materials students read or listen to and the activities students engage in. If a particular institution's curriculum does not match the objectives spelled out in these texts, perhaps it's the curriculum that needs to change. Unfortunately, curricula are sometimes notoriously difficult to alter, mostly because they are difficult and time-consuming to establish in the first place, and faculty who have invested a great deal of time and energy into producing them are reluctant to see them change. Unfortunately, some of these curricula have not changed in over 10 or more years, so they do not adequately reflect the suggestions of the current research in language teaching. Textbook editors, however, know that to market their books the new manuscripts must adhere closely to the latest research.

"If no comprehensive integrated skills textbook seems to fit the needs of a particular program, then maybe it is the program syllabus, not the textbook, which is 'bad.' For isn't teaching English the goal of every textbook? The better ones out there have very clearly spelled-out learning objectives that look strikingly similar to the curricular goals of most of the better ESL institutions."

Lately, the consensus is that an entirely top-down approach to language teaching is a bad idea. Basic bottom-up skills must be attended to first. One author pointed out that:

a novels-based curriculum is not really syllabus-based, if syllabus-based means that language competency goals are spelled out in relative detail. Interestingly, in novels the grammar points and vocabulary are of course all over the place, so some crucial pieces are bound to be missed, and until students receive instruction at higher levels a lot just flies over them when they are at the lower levels. What students do is rely heavily on their native-language-to-English dictionaries and try to piece together the book through a sort of direct translation (ironically, the antithesis of the whole-language approach), either in class if the teacher lets them or furtively on their own outside of class, if the teacher doesn't."

In short, the choice of novel determines to what extent certain language points are going to be covered during a particular term. The syllabus is not language-driven.

"I can't personally imagine trying to learn, say, Arabic or Chinese or even German as a beginner and being handed their equivalent of The Black Stallion and told that I'll just pick it all up from that. The first thing I'd do is hit my bilingual dictionary, and then a beginning grammar book."

Another question arises. Well-meaning but naïve instructors may choose "juvenile" novels for the lower levels and perhaps pop culture murder mysteries for the upper levels. That might be particularly unfair to the lower levels, since juvenile fiction is rather simpler in ideas but is not simpler in grammar, and often not in vocabulary. Other well-meaning instructors may use really excellent literature, in which case there may be an inclination to lean toward literary analysis, something that may suit the instructor but is not supported by the stated curricular goals. In all of this, the question remains: When are students going to learn the micro reading and writing skills that are needed in university-type academic discourse? Learning to read a novel doesn't always automatically translate into being able to read texts in sociology, biology, psychology, business, accounting, or computer science. When is the last time you had an ESL student who was aiming to be a literature major?

Moreover, we argue that not every teacher is an expert writer. Even the best classroom instructors may not have the creativity that allows for top-notch handouts. Writing excellent materials requires skill. Betty Azar believes that "those who feel teachers should write all of their own materials demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the skill, craft, energy, experience, quality-control, class testing, review processes, editorial oversight, thought, and research" that these materials require. Moreover, even if they had these skills, the top instructors seldom have time to produce them. Anyone who has published an ESL book knows that many, many hours of work over a period of days are required to produce a simple 15-minute exercise.

Good questions to ask program directors: Have the teachers received any training in how to write attractive, coherent, student-friendly handouts? Is there any kind of "quality control" over the materials students are being given? For example, do teachers ever do peer reviews of each other's work? Does anyone edit or otherwise try to manage or organize the material that goes into the binders? How do most teachers feel about being required to produce their own materials on a regular basis? Are they paid for this time? And what are they not doing because they are spending their time writing handouts? Are they not conferencing with students? Not coordinating with each other to streamline the curriculum? Not participating in professional development activities? Not sleeping?

"To expect a teacher, however experienced and gifted, to take on the course designer's or materials writer's role is like asking the first violinist to compose the orchestra's repertoire in his or her spare time."—Michael Swan

Unfortunately, many instructors who know the curriculum and procedures quite well and who are pressed for time or unable to think up something for their impending class do grab a textbook or two, copy a few pages, and voilà: today's handouts. The temptation to "borrow" those materials that a professional author has, indeed, slaved over and that have had the benefit of editorial oversight can, and very frequently does, result in illegal copyright infringement. One professional ESL writer says that too many teachers photocopy liberally from existing textbooks. If one were to go through a set of course binders and remove every illegally appropriated worksheet, how much would be left? That author goes on to imply that the use of binders is a deliberate attempt at circumventing the copyright laws, which could land the program director in trouble. Most supervisors know that a university can't or won't duplicate copyrighted materials, so the binders encourage teachers to photocopy materials individually, even though the same laws are in force. As a further example of deliberate copyright avoidance, some instructors have found a way to get the university to make photocopies of "borrowed" materials. It takes an hour or two, but instructors simply type out, word for word, page for page, material that belongs to someone else. They reformat it to fit the standard paper size, and off it goes to the printer.

Copyright infringement can be a serious problem for administrators. The teachers who make the curriculum decisions are also often the ones who copy the worksheets into binders. That makes it difficult for administrators to criticize the behavior while maintaining good collegial relationships.  Another author tells of her experience at a new school: "I was aghast at the policy put in place by the department chair: no texts for the teachers but tons of paper, and free use of the copy machine. One each of many textbooks. I spoke up about it to my supervisor who had no compunctions about the fact that this was teaching teachers illegal habits." Sound familiar? Another author offers this suggestion: "Does your school have a sign on the copy machine warning about copyright infringement? If not, they are letting themselves in for lawsuits from publishers and authors. Could you put up such a sign, or ask your administration to do that? I'd hate to see a school's money wasted on a lawsuit."

Most textbooks today are of excellent quality. Textbook production is a long and complex process. From manuscript proposal to finished product, the process requires a huge amount of teamwork involving not only the skills of the authors but also those of the editors and proofreaders, designers, artists, and other production people. While authors may have the genius for creating interesting materials, editors demand a marketable product. The text must be solidly based on current research. In fact, one of the buzzwords among editors these days is "corpus-based." They require that authors take advantage of the great strides that have been made in corpus linguistics studies that tell us so much about how language actually works in the real world. While teachers have strong intuitions about language, concordance research on hundreds of millions of words of oral and written English discourse yields a treasure of information that can and should be incorporated into texts. Few teachers have the time it takes to do this kind of research. As a result, it's not difficult to surmise that, with individual teachers creating the day-to-day materials, there are bound to be gaps.

Sadly, in some programs that eschew texts, teachers often find that by the time some students get to the upper levels of the program, they don't have some important reading micro-skills, have gaps in their vocabulary, and haven't mastered some basic grammar, even though those are listed as goals in the curriculum for the lower levels. Apparently the teachers at the lower levels don't always get around to covering them. Moreover, some novice teachers have not had sufficient training in teaching grammar to create an entire grammar program.

Textbooks can easily fill in the gaps and assist new teachers in areas where they may be weak. In fact, one veteran instructor/author confesses: "For that matter, books are good reference materials for [veteran] teachers too. I'm a native speaker but not ashamed to say that I have learned things from books which I wasn't previously aware of."

Moreover, students ask for textbooks. One author/instructor points out that "students love books. Call it smoke and mirrors, but students feel much more confident about courses that use books than those that don't. What students are learning and what teachers are teaching is not the same thing. Students may use the book in entirely different ways from the way you imagine they will. The book will be a reference for them—they may be working ahead or randomly looking at parts of the book that you are not focusing on at the moment."

Another author asked: Do students fill out evaluations at the end of each course? Have they ever been asked how they feel about the materials and whether they would prefer to use a text? A lot of students have a very hard time organizing their own materials and keeping track of handouts, especially if the handouts don't have dates and titles.

Textbooks and teacher-created material should work in tandem with each other. A writer said yes to books and yes to teacher-created materials: "The whole argument of textbooks vs. teacher-made materials is a classic example of a false dichotomy. Professional teachers should be creating their own materials to fill in the gaps in any program, and they should be putting these in a binder, and then sharing them with other teachers. These are supplementary materials, a very important part of a good teacher's repertoire. However, the point is they don't replace textbooks. They supplement them. A book is a tool, a resource. No one requires you to go through the book page by page and never use any supplemental materials that you create to meet the specific goals of the program. The book will, if nothing else, be a syllabus for your wonderful teacher-made worksheets to be organized around. Books are much less likely to forget one grammar point that you might forget to include in your binder."

In fact, why not try teaching two sections of the same course with one section using textbooks and one without and compare the results?

It's the teacher, not the textbook, who teaches the students. A well-known textbook writer thought the comments directly above clarify the issue beautifully: Do both. Use teacher-created materials, individualized for one's particular students, and use professionally prepared materials. The best of both worlds. Teachers just don't have enough time to devote to materials preparation. If teachers have to write all of their own materials, that's like having two full-time jobs. 

At TESOL 2007, five members of MWIS—Betty Azar, Keith Folse, Pat Byrd, Jerry Gebhard, and Ruth Epstein—addressed the question of whether or not to use a textbook. Jerry supported reasons for creating one's own materials (without saying one should never use professionally prepared materials). The rest more or less said, "Well, of course you should use textbooks!" Betty could not imagine being a first-year teacher with minimal training (and often little knowledge of ESL/EFL grammar) and not having a textbook to help her along the way. When she writes a textbook, she writes it for the teacher—yes, the students, too, but her primary audience is the teacher. It's the teacher who teaches the students, not the textbook. She looks at her job as helping beginning teachers learn teaching techniques and content and as giving experienced teachers a solid base to teach from so that they don't have to spend all their time creating core materials.

Is the anti-textbook position a first-world phenomenon? One can imagine situations where an instructor has seven or more classes a day with 30, 40, or 50 students in each class. A teacher in a third-world country pointed out that "no administration could rationally require a program based on teacher-made materials when professional textbooks are available. . . . All in all, textbooks are alive and well outside the U.S., and their quality is quite high. After over 30 years of teaching in Mexico, I can't imagine going into a classroom without one."

Another grateful user of textbooks tells of her early teaching experience. "We came to live in Israel nearly 50 years ago. One day I found myself in a class of 12-year-olds and the principal handed me a textbook and said, 'Teach them English!' When I caught my breath some years later, I realized that I'd taught myself to teach English from the textbooks I'd been given. I never took a methods class or trained as a teacher, but I did find myself writing textbooks in different countries and ended up with an MA and a PhD. How anyone can expect novice teachers to teach without a textbook is crazy."

Both the textbook and the teacher-made materials belong in any language class. Textbooks do help the novice teacher. They also help learners feel more confident because they can see what's coming. They also help the experienced teacher. Most authors agree with one respondent's view that "it is, however, impossible for textbooks to cover everything. This is where teacher-made materials come in. Isn't it better to have a textbook that complies with program objectives, and then adapt activities, create some materials, and plan according to your students' particular needs? This not only is the responsibility of a language teacher, but also a way for learners to expect surprises along the road. If a book is meant to be followed from the first to the last page the way it was written, then why do we need language teachers? Wouldn't it be easier (and cheaper) for the learner to simply purchase the textbook and read it as they would a novel?"

Textbook authors expect teachers to adapt, customize, individualize, and supplement the materials they write. Teacher-created materials are individualized, tapping into the lives, experiences, and opinions of the unique students we have in our own classes. That's just what teachers do. A textbook can't do all that. A textbook is a base. It frees teachers to create their own materials and activities for their own particular students—so that they don't have to reinvent the wheel every morning of the week.

Bill Walker is a full-time senior instructor at the American English Institute, University of Oregon. He has authored several books for the Japanese EFL market and is a frequent presenter at TESOL on the topic of vocabulary learning and teaching.

Ten (or So) Caveats From a Self-Publisher: Elizabeth Claire

Elizabeth Claire,

"To publish is to perish"

. . . or at least to say goodbye to free time, free space, free medical insurance. 
After 10 lean years in the business of writing, publishing, and marketing my own materials following my resigning my day job as ESL teacher in a Fort Lee, NJ, elementary school, the accountant watching over my taxes year after year finally said to me: "Elizabeth. What are you doing? You can't count only the money you've put into your business—you have to count the teachers' salary you gave up, the opportunity cost. You're getting on in years, and you've nothing saved for your retirement. . . . You've put in all these years as a writer and you've nothing to show for it. I hate to be a wet blanket about your business, but it's my responsibility to point these things out to you." 
He was right. I was working my tail off and making no money. 
I thanked him, 
. . . and I changed accountants. 
That year, I got a surprise from Uncle Sam: a check for several hundred dollars. It was the EITC, earned income tax credit, the reverse income tax for people who work but don't earn enough to rise above the poverty level. I'd never heard of it. I thought it applied only to poor people. And then I realized Iwas a poor people! My house was mortgaged up to the limit; I was semi-maxed-out on the credit cards, had taken in a boarder, ate rice and beans, shopped at garage sales, drove an old clunker, never went anywhere. 
Here's what my new accountant said: "You're offering a great service and your business will grow. Businesses take time." 
So I kept that accountant.

And a few years later, I was getting a regular salary, and a few years after that, I am out of debt, have the beginnings of a retirement fund, have a sea captain's-house-turned-writer's-retreat for summers on the Bay of Fundy in Canada, and am doing just fine, thank you. I'll even have time to have a booth at TESOL in April. 

It's been a very, very long haul. 
Playing store is fun. Serving ESL students and teachers is noble. Writing to make things comprehensible to those new to our language, is, well, a compulsion. Would I do it all over again? 
It's very hard to say. Part of what lured me into the self-publishing field was a lack of realistic savvy about money, marketing, technology, and the time everything takes. 
The following caveats are only for people who want to be compensated for their time and expertise. Those who are playing at publishing and have other sources of support can ignore them and enjoy seeing their names on books and playing store. Smile when you realize I learned these all the hard way.

Caveat number one: It is impossible to write, publish, market, earn a living, and have a social life. Decide which you are going to give up. (Hint: Don't give up your day job too soon.) 
Caveat number two: Look before you leap. Have a plan, do the research, make sure the market wants your product and it isn't already out there. Figure out who needs your items and where they'll get the money. Research the name for your company to avoid duplications, to make it memorable, and to avoid having to spell your name every time you give it out on the telephone. 
Caveat number three: Learn the math. Don't be fooled by adding and subtracting the wrong set of numbers. Example: The printing cost for 5,000 96-page books comes out to less than a dollar a copy. If the book sells at $14, forget it; you are not making $13 profit per book. First you had to spend 6 months to a year writing it, plus $1,000 to $2,000 editing and illustrating it; you have to pay to have it shipped to you; you have to have space to store this pile of books; you will lose the interest you might have had on the $5,000 printing costs; and who's to say you will actually sell 5,000 copies? If you sell 500 copies, then your printing cost per book is $10. Yet you will spend $25 in advertising costs to get each customer (who may buy a single copy and photocopy it). Printing costs are one of the least of your costs. Many self-publishing guides tell you to price your product at 5 to 10 times printing costs. This has nothing to do with reality. The reality is that books have a limited range of perceived value in the market place. You can't price them willy-nilly to recoup your costs. You have to calculate in advance whether you can recoup your costs at a certain price for a book. 
Caveat number four: Don't think a single product is going to catapult you into being recognized. Plan to publish more than one or two items. The most time- and money-consuming part of self-publishing is getting customers. Can you afford to go to conferences and spend money on booths, advertising, and samples if you have only one item to sell the customer? Unless it is a huge ticket item, you will be "wasting customers," your best resource—satisfied customers do want to buy more stuff from you. Go into self-publishing only if you have or plan to have enough products with enough margin between printing cost and selling cost to pay for your time and expenses. 
Caveat number five: Think twice before you publish teacher resources. If a teacher has one of your resources, it will likely last many years; much as he or she likes it, he or she isn't going to buy another one (although you may have happy customers willing to buy other resources). This is the main reason many publishers don't want to publish them. There's not much money in teacher resources, sad as it is to say, and much as we love to write them. Rather, if you have a choice, write things for students. New students come along each year, and the materials get worn out, so a classroom set is needed. 
Caveat number six: Don't skimp on technology. Your greatest time saver is going to be the fastest computer with the latest versions of the publishing program you are going to work in (e.g., indexing, Quark, or Microsoft Publisher). Time is money (and so are crashes). 
Caveat number seven: Don't skimp on hired expert help, and don't try to do everything yourself. If you are not a designer, hire a designer. If you aren't accurate with invoicing and shipping, hire someone who is excellent at that to do it. Also, hiring friends and family who are not experts at what you need them for can be a mistake. If they are experts or can be trained, however, then it can be bliss. 
Caveat number eight: Don't promise everything to everyone: Describe your materials accurately in your ads. Who is it for: age, English levels? What does it do? Help the teacher know more clearly that your product is what he or she needs. 
Caveat number nine: Don't skimp on the best customer service possible. That means shipping in a way that gets the product to the customer quickly and reliably, and with a way for you to check on that. (UPS gets a signature from whoever receives the package. If that person forgets to give it to the person who ordered it, it can be found.) It also means an 800 number, with someone working the telephone, handling questions, taking accolades, and fixing mistakes and complaints. 
Caveat number ten: Guarantee your product. You know it's great, but the customer doesn't. Who should take the risk? The customer is on a budget and has been stung and burned in the past. Advertise your money-back guarantee and make it stick. I promise to return anyone's money even if the person has used my books in the classroom. After all, teachers have to find out whether my product works or not. 
Caveat number eleven (My old accountant was right about my numeracy skills) Take care of your health. Running a business on a shoestring is the most exciting, demanding, frustrating, time-consuming project you could put on your plate. Don't forget to exercise, get some fresh air, and eat sensibly. And don't forget to have fun!           

Elizabeth Claire is the cofounder, publisher, and chief bottle washer of Easy English NEWS as well as the author of 24 ESL texts and resources for teachers. In between issues of the newspaper, Elizabeth is working on Books 3, 4, 5, and 6 of her 6-book/12 CD phonics program: ESL Phonics for All Ages.