Considering Language in Materials Development
Developing Teaching and Learning Materials to Promote Literacy and Language Skills
This is the third blog post in our series on language of instruction. In this post, we look at developing materials in local languages to support teaching and learning.
One of the best ways for children to improve their reading skills is to practice reading using a variety of texts that are written in a language they use and understand. However, many children have limited access to such materials. Likewise, teachers need access to teaching materials that are written in the language of their students to teach effectively. But, many teachers don’t have access to a curriculum or texts in their students’ local language. Given these existing limitations, it's important that national reading policies and programs support the development and distribution of quality materials in local languages to promote successful teaching and learning.
High-Quality Teaching and Learning Materials
Texts and materials is one of the seven components in USAID’s Reading Matters Conceptual Framework for helping students learn to read. The framework calls for students and teachers to have access to high-quality teaching and learning materials. This means that:
- All students have access to their own reading materials in a language they use and understand outside of school. These materials should be written at the appropriate reading level and include fiction and non-fiction texts.
- Books should be designed from the beginning to be accessible for students with disabilities.
- Teachers have access to structured teacher’s guides for teaching reading and literacy. These resources should align with the curriculum and student textbooks.
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In many contexts, materials that meet the parameters outlined in the Reading MATTERS Conceptual Framework aren’t available and will need to be created. The Handbook on Language of Instruction Issues in Reading Programs provides useful guidance for developing these materials.
Programs should look at the existing reading curricula to identify what’s already included and what gaps exist. Part of this process includes analyzing the instructional approach and strategies teachers use, as well as the specific linguistic features of the language of instruction. By understanding these factors—the existing curriculum, how it is taught, and the language used—programs can better support school communities in developing new or modifying existing materials for teaching reading.
To develop a new reading curriculum and students texts, or modify existing ones that take into account the specific language of the students and the local context, the Handbook suggests completing the following tasks:
- Put together a multidisciplinary team that includes reading specialists, linguists, relevant government authorities, and speakers of the relevant languages and dialects.
- Develop or refine a scope and sequence that takes into account the unique properties of the language, which will help children learn to read as quickly as possible, and supports efficient and effective instruction.
- Develop a curriculum that reflects the local context and languages and incorporate evidence-based practices.
- Align assessments—both formative and summative—to the new or modified curriculum so assessments are appropriate and reflect the languages used in the curriculum.
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Teaching and learning materials are critical for reading skills and language learning. Given the complexity of developing materials that are appropriate and relevant for students—especially in languages that don’t have many existing materials—programs need to plan carefully. The Handbook suggests taking the following actions when developing materials:
- Conduct an inventory of existing resources available for reading and language instruction in relevant grades and review the quality and appropriateness of the materials. This should include both hard-copy and digital resources.
- Develop a materials production plan that allows enough time for development, field testing, modifications based on pilot testing and evaluation, government approval, printing, and distribution. This plan should also identify people responsible for each task and a detailed budget.
- Put together a diverse team that is appropriate to the context to develop the materials. Provide them with training on the types of materials they will develop, software and tools used for development, processes, and roles and responsibilities.
- While drafting, monitor the quality of materials developed and ensure they are aligned with the curriculum or scope and sequence for each language.
Testing, Cost, and Sustainability
Both curriculum and materials development require field testing to identify needed modifications before distribution. During field testing, the target audience (teachers and students who use the language) review the materials for appropriateness and usability in a classroom. Field testing garners feedback that lets the development team refine materials before pilot testing and eventually finalizing materials for printing and distribution.
The costs of testing materials should be taken into account from the outset, as should all aspects of the development process. This includes one-time costs (like costs associated with materials development activities) and recurring costs (costs for regularly re-printing and/or replenishing materials). A functioning supply chain for delivering materials promotes sustainability, and programs should consider how local systems will continue to support the provision of teaching and learning materials even after a project ends.
Though it can be a complex process, investing in developing quality materials can benefit teachers and students by creating a more effective, efficient, and engaging teaching and learning process.
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In the final blog post in this series, we highlight important considerations for monitoring and evaluating language of instruction.