Six ELT talks raising important questions

In my previous post on education-related talks, I selected six videos dealing with topics directly associated with teaching. Of course, there is much more to discuss when it comes to the ELT industry, so I would like to share more talks I found thought-provoking. When you work as an English teacher, it’s easy to say that you focus only on teaching the language and the rest is irrelevant. However, I believe that it’s important to be aware of some issues in our profession even if you aren’t directly affected by them.

Six ELT talks raising important questions

Nicola Prentis & Russ Mayne: Where are the women in ELT?
The speakers point out that while women represent the majority of English teachers around the world, most speakers at ELT conferences are male. In fact, I was guilty of overlooking women in my previous article because I focused on the most visible names in ELT, who happen to be men from English-speaking countries. Prentis and Mayne explore reasons for this phenomenon and provide some potential solutions. I recommend that you visit their blog Gender Equality ELT for more information on this issue.

Silvana Richardson: Professionalism in English Language Teaching
This talk deals with the fact that ELT isn’t always considered to be a serious profession. Richardson provides relevant examples of threats to professionalism in the industry and states that English is often taught by people who should be nowhere near the classroom. The main problem is that it’s extremely easy to get into TEFL because some employers feel that a £49 certificate from Groupon represents a sufficient qualification to become a teacher. As a consequence, they hire native speaker conversationalists without pedagogical skills or teachers whose own English is not good enough. The speaker emphasises the role of CPD in tackling this issue.

Charlotte Williams: Diversity and inclusion in an ever-changing world
Most published ELT materials are rather bland and don’t accurately depict what happens in the real world. Some topics are simply ignored by the majority of coursebooks. Charlotte Williams highlights the importance of making the classroom an inclusive space and suggests ways of promoting diversity in a workplace. She says that we can do much more than some standalone lessons on one narrative. The speaker also provides tips for handling prejudice and microaggression in the classroom.  

JPB Gerald: Decoding and decentering whiteness in the ELT classroom
This topic isn’t easy to discuss, but it’s something that needs to be done. At the beginning of this talk, Gerald defines relevant terms related to whiteness. The issues of race and language are inextricably linked, which leads to individuals’ ethnicity playing a bigger role than it should. The talk includes suggestions for dealing with the subject on both structural and individual level. In addition, the speaker addresses tokenism and the problem with images in published ELT materials in the Q&A part of the session.

Jo Krousso: Paperless teaching
According to the speaker, ELT is a backwards industry when it comes to using paper in the classroom. The pandemic forced teachers to digitalise their materials and teach without the use of paper, but the question is whether we can learn lessons from that when we start teaching in the physical classroom again. Krousso argues against going back to piles of worksheets and other paper-based materials. She provides a lot of useful tips for paperless teaching, which is beneficial not only for the environment, but it may also lead to more engaging lessons for the students.

Vijay Ramjattan: What does an anti-racist pronunciation teacher do?
This talk focuses on the topic of prejudice associated with speech accent. Listening isn’t just a passive activity, and we sometimes make stereotypical assumptions based on someone’s ethnicity. Ramjattan points out that even some native English speakers are perceived as foreign-sounding just because of their appearance, which affects their employability. Ramjattan also criticises accent reduction services and the way intelligibility is defined. He suggests that teachers make students aware of these issues when teaching pronunciation.

Six talks worth watching

Professional development is often associated with attending conferences. In my experience, you can usually tell within the first five minutes if the talk or workshop is going to be any good. The positive effect of moving such events online is that you don’t need to worry about being spotted while trying to sneak away from a lecture that you find excruciatingly boring. To be fair to the speakers, it’s impossible to please everyone when you are talking to a group of teachers with varied experience, qualifications, interests, etc.

Fortunately, there are recordings of some useful education-related talks available on YouTube. I have already mentioned a couple of them on this blog, so I thought it would be a good idea to select a few more videos, write a short summary of each of them, and point out some moments I found humorous. If you’d like to recommend any other talks, let me know in the comments section.

Scott Thornbury: What’s the latest method?
You know that you can always rely on Scott Thornbury to deliver an engaging talk because he is an experienced presenter and skilled public speaker. This talk is an entertaining overview of teaching methods used throughout the years. There are plenty of references to literature and hilarious examples from obscure books for students. I think this talk serves as a pretty good argument against strictly adhering to a magic method that promises amazing results. The talk ends when some guy tentatively walks onto the stage to tell Thornbury that he has run out of time, which shows that issues with timing don’t affect only Delta Module Two candidates.

Stephen Krashen: The power of reading
Everyone remembers Stephen Krashen for his hypotheses related to second language acquisition. He later became involved in educational policy activism, and one of his priorities is improving access to books. In this talk that focuses on the benefits of reading, Krashen refers to relevant research and provides pretty convincing arguments for free voluntary reading. He states that reading influences more aspects of life than just academic results. The talk also includes a Bill Cosby reference, which is something that most likely wouldn’t happen these days.

Russ Mayne: A guide to pseudoscience in ELT
I wonder what strange contraption was used to record this talk because the video definitely doesn’t look like something made in 2014. Anyway, I highly recommend that you ignore the poor audio and image quality and watch this gem of a talk. It has everything you’d want from a guide on myths on ELT. Russ Mayne mentions horoscopes, refers to Sagan’s Baloney Detection Kit, and provides a helpful slide with names of major organisations and authors who are complicit in spreading nonsense. Brilliant stuff!

If Karl Pilkington’s superhero idea ever gets made into a movie, I will personally contact film studios with a pitch for a spin-off. Imagine that: He’s just a normal guy who doesn’t need a special costume. When he hears someone somewhere in the world promoting the use of learning styles and multiple intelligences in the classroom, he flies in and…

Philip Kerr: The return of translation
This is a very useful webinar for teachers who work in places that ban using L1 in the classroom. Philip Kerr makes it clear that we should be more open-minded when it comes to using translation because our students can actually benefit from it. I like the fact that he shows practical examples of translation activities that you can use in your teaching practice. If you watch the whole video, you will be rewarded with a funny swear word and the speaker’s heartfelt Christmas wishes. Nice one!

Rod Ellis: Using tasks in language teaching
This webinar will provide you with basic tenets related to using tasks in the classroom, including focus on form. It was nice to see Rod Ellis confirm that TBLT can be used in the online environment because the theory of language learning isn’t affected by the fact that you’re talking to your students through Zoom. There is nothing revolutionary in the webinar, but it’s good to hear everything straight from Rod Ellis’ mouth. By the way, that body part features quite prominently in the top right corner of the video because Cambridge University Press forgot to include the upper half of the speaker’s face in the recording.

Luke Meddings: 3-2-1: A classroom for everyone
One of the main proponents of Dogme gave this thought-provoking talk on the approach twelve years after its creation. Luke Meddings makes some interesting comments about this alternative to coursebook-driven teaching. He briefly mentions learning styles and multiple intelligences. I guess Russ Mayne wasn’t in the audience that day because I didn’t hear any audible groans in the recording. To his credit, Meddings says that we should try to build a community and include a variety of task types rather than pay attention to those theories.

Follow-up post: Six ELT talks raising important questions