February 9, 2015

Interview with the course co-author, Marta Borowiak-Dostatnia


What do you remember about preparing the grammar material for the Olive Green course?

I see we’re starting off with a big question! ;-) I must say that on the one hand it was a time of excitement, but on the other hand – hard and laborious work. The thought that my work and my suggestions will be a significant part of the Olive Green project was extremely inspiring and rewarding. Still, devising grammar exercises is a tough job. All the more so when you have to start at level A1 and only use the vocabulary that was in the film. The number of new words, particularly verbs, in the first scenes was scant; there were maybe five in all. Not much room for manoeuvre. But I think I made it work.

What was the biggest challenge while devising the grammar exercises?

TIME! . . . Just kidding ;-)
Paradoxically – technology. I kept in mind that it was going to be an e-learning course, so apart from content-related issues I had to consider if it was going to be visually attractive and engaging to use. I did my best to eliminate automatic clicking and instead to offer a way for the user to consciously encounter grammar issues – however odd that may sound. I wanted the users to immerse themselves in the world of the film characters.
I also had to rack my brain to come up with a visually attractive and original way of presenting the grammar issues and to make the best use in the exercises of the vocabulary found in the film.

You devised the grammar material for level A1, among other things. Is teaching grammar completely from scratch a difficult task?

Yes, definitely. I dare say it’s a real challenge. At higher levels you can build upon what the learners already know. At level A1 you have to build that foundation first.
Another difficulty is the fact that English is the language of the whole platform, so everything has to be straightforward and unambiguous.

And how did the interactive dialogues go?

Fantastic! I had great fun! Seriously though, some were rather difficult and even the concept stage alone took much more time than I had anticipated. But I have a few favourites, where I laughed out loud while writing, like the “Are you James Bond or what?” one.
And technically speaking, first you need guidelines: what is the main theme? Then you build a vocabulary base with idioms, collocations, and so on. Then you take the characters and their mutual relationships and begin to have a general idea . . . And then you write the dialogue.

What gave you inspiration for new and diverse dialogue themes?

A few things, of course. My work experience helped a great deal, if I say so myself. I used to work in Colchester a few years ago. I made a lot of phone calls to the Inland Revenue and the Home Office. I still can quote extensively from those calls at any time, be it day or night. I also used to teach a lot in corporations, which can be seen e.g. in the dialogue about career paths and priorities. Another, quite obvious source would be the Internet. There’s a dialogue at level B2 about the post office. All information in that dialogue is genuine data from the official Post Office website (www.postoffice.co.uk). Mostly, though, I just observed the world.

As an author and an English teacher, what do you think about the Olive Green project?

As an author – it was an amazing job and a great opportunity to find a new way of devising language learning content. It was a dream project for a person who isn’t afraid of challenges.
As a teacher – it’s a new quality of teaching material. You can find plenty of English-language films on the web, but here you benefit from a certain logical and coherent whole. You can use each scene or scenes as a pretext for introducing a grammar issue and elaborate on it however you please; and you can use the exercises on the e-learning platform as a form of students’ self-evaluation. Another idea would be to use Olive Green in a “flipped classroom” – wouldn’t that be something!

Information about the author

Dr Marta Borowiak-Dostatnia is professionally involved with the employment of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in education, including foreign language teaching. She’s the author of a few articles on that subject and has given talks about it at both local and international conferences. An active EFL teacher (Adam Mickiewicz University, Empik School, SuperMemo Language Center), she’s also the creator of some teaching materials for SuperMemo Language Center and some components of the interactive English language course entitled Olive Green (by SuperMemo World). She’s a member of a Poland-wide association of teachers involved with ITC (called SuperBelfrzy RP) and a blogger at laboratoriumjezykowe.pl where she shows how to use certain applications in teaching English.

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