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Who really shaped ELT?

Who shaped ELT? If you’ve got a TEFL certificate of any kind you might suggest some names from the core books on your course. If you’ve done an MA or DELTA, you can probably add to that list. Or you might come up with names of speakers you’ve seen at conferences or on the covers of course books and resources.

I can guess some of the names that spring to mind. But I was intrigued to see a quote on a recent IATEFL Materials Writing SIG blog post by Peter Viney as it chimed with an idea I’ve had about who really shapes ELT for the teacher. He said: “I angered a group of teachers in Japan by stating that Headway had had a far greater influence on what happens in the ELT classroom than the entire collected works of Stephen Krashen.”

Now, I have no idea why they were so angry and Headway isn’t a book I encountered much, but the shape of my EFL teaching, and later the type of materials I wanted to write, came from the Communication Games series and the Reward Resource packs. Without those, my classes would have been parched of all life and it might never have occurred to me to make games and activities to break up the reading, listening and grammar. For me, the authors of those books, Jill Hadfield and Sue Kay respectively, were enormous influencers in ELT.

I went on to do an MA and learned about the history of ELT as we know it today, from the Grammar Translation method to the Communicative Approach. But most of the names I can recall from that course ten years ago were men. And that didn’t fit with my own “herstory” in ELT.

So, this year at Innovate ELT, I’m co-running a PCE with the ever-inspiring and enthusiastic Claire Venables and Ilá Coimbra. Our theme is “Celebrating Women in ELT” and the talk I’m doing will try to map the Herstory of ELT. Who were and are the women who shaped the industry? How does the Fair List and the Women in TEFL group fit into that timeline? Who wrote the books that defined how the Communicative Approach would be filtered down into classrooms around the world and who were the editors who commissioned them? I’m sure a lot of these names are going to be women.

It is going to be a LOT of research and I think that when PCE day, May 5, rolls around the Herstory of ELT might still be something of a work in progress. I’ve got some ideas already but I’d really welcome any suggestions of names, books or organisations that will fit into the map. So if you have any suggestions please get in touch via the comments or find me on Twitter @NicolaPrentis.

12 Responses

  1. Pingback : International Women’s Day – Celebrating Women in ELT PCE announcement | Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

  2. Julie Moore

    Great post, Nicola – you got me reflecting on my own ‘story’ in ELT dictionaries and I realized that both my own experience and the story of modern learner’s dictionaries in general is very much a ‘herstory’. I guess lexicographers aren’t generally high-profile names, but the dictionaries we all use are very much written and managed predominantly by women. I started my lexicography journey on an MA at Birmingham Uni (the home of the COBUILD project which revolutionized modern dictionaries) with Professor Susan Hunston and Rosamund Moon. In my first lexicography job (at CUP), I was mentored by Liz Walter and Kate Woodford, then I went on to work on dictionary projects for various publishers headed by some very strong women including Gwyneth Fox and Della Summers. And it’s still very much female lexicographers who keep dictionaries going and up-dated … 🙂

    1. this is great! I’m not really after big names for this as I am working on the theory that the bias that focuses on a certain type of role in shaping ELT means that some people/things might actually do more to shape it at some levels but in a more hidden way. dictionaries have to have a great input though I just watched a thing about the Learner Dictionary that became the Oxford one and it was a guy but then, writing at a time when women were barely allowed to leave the house alone!

  3. Jenny

    Just to avoid any confusin: the root word of “history” is from Ancient Greek – hístōr, meaning “inquiry”. It has nothing to do with gender.

  4. I wish I could attend this session. It sounds like a great one for reflecting on our own influences, rather than the ones we’ve come to suspect. I may put this together in a blog post myself. Thanks for inspiration in this regard. Best of luck to you peeps in this session.

  5. Colm Downes

    Great – thought provoking post which generated a ponderance, sparked a memory, and ignited an observation….

    (1) I wonder what proportion of the world’s English teachers are women? I wouldn’t be at all surprised if women form the vast majority.
    (2) 17 years ago I did my CELTA at International House Barcelona. All of the trainers were fantastic – but one in particular really helped me through the it, and had quite an impact on my teaching. Lynn Durrant was at IH before I arrived and is still working there today. I’m pretty sure Lynn Durrant was part of the team who develop the CELTYL (CELTA YL extension).

    In my experience there are lots of influential women throughout all fields of ELT – but especially in Teacher Training; for example Silvana Richardson is current Head of Teacher Development at Bell, Alison Barrett is the Global Head of the British Council’s English for Education Systems.

    Good luck with the research which must be an ever expanding effort!

    1. Thanks for these ideas! My best guess with data is that at least 60% of teachers worldwide are female. Having said that, this is based only on CELTA/DELTA candidate proportions and IATEFL attendees for one year. I think once you go outside that bubble it must be way higher than 60%

  6. Nick Tims

    A broad remit. Good luck to you. It also got me thinking about important literature (stuff that I might still reach for on my shelves). Like you Hadfield/Kay were a big deal for me in the classroom – ready-made communicative games – went through a few pairs of scissors on those alone. I’d add Penny Ur, there, of course.
    Otherwise, in no particular order:
    – Joanne Kenworthy (Teaching English Pronunciation – I thank her dearly for the phrase ‘ benign neglect’ – and not just in reference to intonation)
    – Ruth Aitken (Teaching Tenses – still useful for clear breakdowns of uses/presentaton contexts and timelines)
    – Ruth Gairns – (and Stuart Redman, of course) – for settings the foundations of what it is to teach good vocabulary.
    – Thompson and Martinet (Practical English Grammar) – who, as a side note, I’d always *assumed* were men until I met them… lesson in itself, of course.
    – Diane Larsen-Freeman (Various 2nd language acquisition)
    – Lightbown/Spada (ditto)
    – Francoise Grellet (Developing Reading Skills)
    – Jane Willis for everything on TBL
    – Marion Williams (Head of MA at Exeter who introduced me to Psychology of Language learning)
    – Deborah Tannen (various compelling sociolinguistics)
    – GIllie Cunningham (various coursebooks and for being such a brilliant DELTA tutor on Pron)
    – Judith Wilson (various coursebooks, DELTA tutor of the very 1st order)
    – *Any* female author of Pilgrims Resource Books – e.g. Natalie Hess and HEadstarts. They all had merit for me and really expanded my teaching repertoire.
    – Gillian Porter-Ladousse – (Paths into Poetry and other Literature stuff)
    – Joanne Collie (Paths into Poetry and True to Life w Stephen Slater)

    And then there are the editors/publishers, etc who I’ve worked with as a writer. In a female-dominated industry, it’s not surprising that the majority of those who have influenced me have been women.

    Across the board, I’d say that in terms of personal influence, women far outnumber men.

    Again, best of luck.

    1. Thanks for this, many of those are not already on my list. I think in the case of the May talk I will have to narrow it down somehow but I’m going to see how it starts to fall before making that call as I might find most of the stuff I come to from asking people is going to be Communicative era anyway and then I will have a narrower range. But I am also really interested in the women much earlier on, and that might or might not be something I can cover. Really this is something that needs a year, a book project and a massive reference library to hang out at.

  7. Rachael Roberts

    Yes, yes ,yes to all those that Nick mentioned. And I’d also like to add:
    Felicity O’Dell for all those fabulous Vocabulary books (co-authored with Michael McCarthy) for CUP
    Christine Nuttall for Teaching Reading Skills in a foreign language, which for me goes alongside Grellet.
    Tricia Hedge especially for Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, but also her resource book on Writing (both OUP)
    Hanna Kryszewska- loads of great resource books and of course the Humanising Language Teaching Magazine.

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