EWG member Mark Griffiths writes up the recent Educational Writers' Seminar Day, hosted by the Society of Authors.
Members of the Educational Writers Group came together in June for the annual Seminar Day. A range of talks across the day covered some essential practical matters for authors such as monetising authored content online and managing the relationship with an editor, and also covered updated thinking on the use of educational books and digital materials in the classroom.
The day kicked off with two parallel sessions: Nicola Prentis talked about her experience in writing graded materials for learners of English in her talk ‘Everything you need to know about writing graded readers’. This session covered a number of practical issues that arise when writing original Readers suited to different levels of language learners, including tips on how to present a story arc when the number of words and range of grammatical and lexical forms is limited by the language learner’s ability.
At the same time, John Blake, an ex-secondary school teacher, and now the Policy Exchange’s Head of Education and Social Reform gave an overview of recent research pointing to the need for high quality teaching materials and coursebooks to be developed for schools, in place of the current situation in which teachers are expecting to produce most materials themselves. In his talk titled ‘How textbooks and digital materials can best be used in schools’, John argued that Government shouldn’t be developing curriculum resources – expert authors in their field and institutions like museums, school groups and publishers should. For those interested in following up on his talk, John gave us a link to the research paper.
A buffet lunch with time to chat with familiar faces and make new friends was followed by an illuminating and whirlwind presentation by Russell Stannard and Susi Pearson titled ‘From writing to trainer’. As an award-winning expert his field, Russell guided would-be online authors through his own online resources and the various software packages available for online discussions, activities and webinars. We discovered the surprisingly limited value in selling advertising space on our websites but also how powerful a combination of free and paid-for content can be in attracting and retaining customers. Susi even covered the minefield of the new GDPR rules and gave us her tips on how to avoid customer data storage issues.
The Seminar day was rounded off by Penny Hands presenting on her findings from recent research in a talk titled ‘Optimising the author-editor relationship’. As an experienced editor herself, Penny was interested to know from editors and authors alike what works and what doesn’t, and what steps can be taken to avoid an author-editor relationship breakdown. Her research revealed the frustrations that can occur on both sides, but also brought to light some, at times, surprisingly simple ways of working together and addressing editorial issues constructively to find a mutually satisfactory way of moving forward. In addition, the workshop-like format and open floor gave the audience space to air some of their thoughts and experiences, and also to relate what steps both the authors and editors in the room would recommend taking to keep things on a positive footing.
It really was a stimulating day, with an overall feeling that everyone, either physically present in the buildings or watching online through the live stream, had benefitted from their attendance. Not only was it informative and engaging, but the participation from the floor, the open discussion between the presenters and audience and the warm, relaxed atmosphere greatly added to the fun and the feeling of authorial community.