Reviews of educational resources
Updated: Jan 30, 2022
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many teachers are making the shift from teaching to freelance editorial work. It naturally makes sense to look for copyediting or proofreading work with educational publishers. But it’s difficult to know where to start.
In this post I’m going to tell you about the different types of work you can get with educational publishers. As a new copyeditor or proofreader, you would of course assume that using your copyediting and/or proofreading skills is your best way of finding viable work.
However, many educational publishers need teachers for reviews of resources and this can be a good income source. It is also a good method of making contacts within educational publishers, with a view to getting editorial work in the future.
Here I will give you the lowdown on the most common types of review.
A teacher review of a textbook manuscript is a review undertaken by a teacher who is either currently teaching the curriculum or who is very familiar with it, perhaps through having taught it before or through working on the curriculum with the exam board. The teacher review aims to identify whether a textbook is appropriate for the curriculum it has been written for.
A teacher reviewer might be asked to check:
That all of the content on the curriculum is covered
That no content that is not on the curriculum is covered
That the material is pitched at the right level for the students it’s aimed at
That any exam practice questions match the style and difficulty level of those the student will encounter in their exams.
This is a crucial step in the publishing process for educational resources. If a book is earmarked for only one review, it is most likely to be this. Some publishers commission multiple reviews of the same text in order to get several opinions on it.
In order to be considered for teacher reviews, make sure to include any experience you have with specific curricula on your CV. It helps to list exam boards, because publishers like to know you are familiar with the specific qualification they are publishing for.
Subject specialist review
A subject specialist review is very similar to a teacher review, but not quite the same. A subject specialist might be commissioned to check texts on subjects such as history – usually a historian with a particular focus on the area covered – or science.
A subject specialist would check that all of the content is accurate. For a scientific text this might involve suggesting changes to poorly explained text that could confuse students. Whereas a historian might look for errors in dates, or bias in the author’s depiction of events.
In practice, this review is often combined with the teacher review. The teacher reviewer for a GCSE science textbook will be perfectly capable of also checking the manuscript as a subject specialist. Occasionally for higher level texts, it might be necessary to have a university academic carry out a separate subject specialist review in addition to the teacher review.
Not all manuscripts need a subject specialist review. In some cases, an experienced author will be trusted not to need a review. Lower level texts, such as primary resources, also might not undergo a subject specialist review.
Increasingly publishers now commission a language review of their textbooks. This isn’t done for all textbooks and often depends on the market it is aimed at. But this is a growing area and it might become normal in future for most textbooks to undergo this check.
A language reviewer will check the language level of the text to make sure it is appropriate for students learning English as a second language. They will suggest changes at a sentence level to help improve the clarity of the text.
This review is conducted by someone who has experience of teaching English as foreign language, or who has an equivalent qualification, so make sure to include this in your CV or on your website.
Cultural reviews are another growing area. As with language reviews, not all textbooks undergo a cultural review, only those that are thought to need one. However, with the move towards adapting texts for overseas markets, the demand for cultural reviews is likely to continue growing.
A cultural reviewer will be briefed to look for any content that could be deemed culturally sensitive. This might include:
Religious material that appears to favour one religion over another
References to drugs or alcohol
Maps of contentious parts of the world
Photos of people with bare skin, e.g. people in swimming costumes
As with subject specialist reviews, cultural reviews are often rolled into others – perhaps the language review, sometimes other parts of the editorial process, such as the copyediting stage. For this reason, it is a good idea for any freelancer venturing into the world of education resources to become comfortable with carrying out cultural reviews.
There is no particular training that a reviewer needs to have completed before they can undertake this review. (Although someone who has travelled widely is probably ahead of the pack.) However, an awareness of possible cultural sensitivities is a must.
Editors often have to be a jack of all trades – knowing that when a text says someone travelled north from Edinburgh to London that that is an error. This is another area where editors can constantly be working to develop their knowledge. Most of us would recognise that the borders of Israel and Palestine might be controversial, but there are many more places where this also applies. An editor who applies themselves to developing their understanding of cultural sensitivities could provide a very useful and much sought-after service to publishers.
Make sure that your CV or website includes any skills or experience you have that might be relevant to any of these reviews.
If there are any reviews here that you would like to be involved with, include them in your list of services offered.
Be targeted in your approach. You may be suited to some of these reviews and not others. Listing all of them as services available could undermine potential clients' trust in your offering, unless you are clearly qualified to undertake all of them.
BUT don't be afraid to list them even if you haven't done them before. Everyone has to start somewhere.