Katherine Bilsborough

Creating ELT materials

Helping teachers make excellent classroom resources

9 Sept: My week in writing – articles, blog posts and reflections

This week I’m writing about writing. It’s possibly one of my favourite things because it’s something I feel confident and comfortable with and it’s an opportunity for me to reflect on the process of writing, an act which always ends up with an Aha! moment of realization.

Parkinson’s First Law

Parkinson’s First Law states that “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.” This is something I’ve found to be true time and time again. With this in mind, and with four articles to write, I made a conscious decision to leave them all to this week because, with deadlines looming (a couple self-imposed), I’d be forced into action.

Teachers as materials writers

Article one is the second in the series, Teachers as materials writers, for Modern English Teacher. The first was Part one: Why write your own materials? The second was Part two: What should teachers keep in mind when they write materials? I find it useful when writing a series of articles or blog posts to find a structure that will work across all components. This time I’ve chosen a Why? What? How? and Whose? Framework. Questions like this are a great way to help me stay focused and not go off on a tangent. They are especially useful when presenting ideas for potential publication, as they show the commissioning editor that a sequence of scripts do actually connect to each other in some meaningful way.

Practical blog posts for teachers

Article two is also the second in a series. This time for National Geographic Learning’s In Focus blog. I am one of the authors of the new Primary course, Imagine. The idea for the blog posts is to share some practical ideas with primary teachers, drawing on some of the key features and methodology in the book, so as to showcase the materials whilst offering teachers something useful that they can try out with their classes. I’ve never felt naturally comfortable promoting my own books, but authors often have a clause in their contracts which includes things like presentations, webinars or teacher talks for this very purpose. My way around this is to always make sure first and foremost that the information I share with teachers is useful for them in their day-to-day teaching. Everything else comes second. This is the approach I’ve used for these blog posts. The one I’ve just finished is all about how to teach grammar and is hopefully useful for those teachers who shy away from it because of inexperience or a perceived lack of grammar understanding. I’m waiting to hear from my editor that the post is OK as it is or might need changing. I tell myself that ‘no news is good news’.

Co-writing an academic article

Article three is a bit different. It’s an introduction to a journal article that I’m co-writing with my friend, colleague and fellow ELT Footprint co-founder, Ceri Jones. I’ve just realised that that sentence is a bit ambiguous. Ceri and I aren’t writing the whole article, we’re just writing the introduction. I’ve also just realised that I can’t say too much about it right now because as with many things in academia, it’s all still a bit hush hush. This is frustrating because I feel proud of this article and the research it will present. But you’ll hear me shouting about it when it’s finished and published. I’ll come back and write a bit more about the process of collaborating on something of this kind. Keeping quiet about a project that is in progress is quite normal for ELT writers. Sometimes we are asked to sign a non-disclosure clause (NDC) which can be a bit scary the first time it happens. ELT writers become souls of discretion and experts at keeping a secret, an unexpected skill we develop while we’re getting on with the job.

Reflecting on materials (and other) writing

If you are reading this, then you’re already reading article four. I’ve decided to start a regular, weekly blog post about what I’m working on at the moment. It will serve two purposes. Firstly to give any would-be ELT writers an idea of what is involved in the daily life of a freelance writer (I get asked this a lot). Secondly, it will prompt me to stop and reflect on my work, to make sure I’m doing the right amount of it, working in an efficient way, and still enjoying what I do.

To conclude

Incidentally, for anyone interested in the Parkinson after whom this law is named, the quote appeared originally as the first line of an essay that Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote for The Economist in 1955. He based his evidence on his experience working for the British Civil Service. My first years of full time employment were for the Civil Service too. It wasn’t difficult for me to concur with Parkinson’s findings. But that’s a story for another day.

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