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No need to feel like a dinosaur

Wayne Trotman reviews a new volume explaining what 21st-century skills is all about

21st Century Skills in the ELT Classroom – A Guide for Teachers

Author/editor: Christopher Graham Garnet Publishing, 2020 ISBN: 978-1-78260-832-5

I was immediately attracted to this title when, in his foreword, Christopher Graham made me feel once again like an ELT dinosaur. A rather odd way to begin a review perhaps, but Graham explains how far attitudes to societal needs have changed within the ELT profession since those halcyon days of the OUP’s Access to English (1974), featuring the romantically involved Arthur and Mary (put up your hand if you had the pleasure of teaching or being taught from this much-loved series). We no longer need to read about innocent characters like Arthur threatening to give his rivals ‘a good drubbing’, but we do need to teach our learners how to manage search engine results – very much a 21st-centry skill and hence this title.

Apart from the final two chapters by Graham, each of the seven others is the voice of a different author. Chapter one, very much a theoretical overview of the framework behind 21st-century skills, is written not from an ELT perspective, but from one of general education. The thinking behind the inclusion of a chapter such as this is that ELT is increasingly becoming part of mainstream education.

Chapter two, in which Nik Peachey focuses on creativity and innovation, provides many links to tools teachers may use in classroom activities. Peachey also provides wise words here on the ethics of asking students to record each other on their mobile phones, but not making the files public, and of course requesting permission prior to filming anyone under 18.

Chapter three offers an interesting history of critical thinking, relating this to

“ELT is increasingly becoming part of mainstream education”

problem-solving skills and illustrating how these can be encouraged by embedding them in ELT classroom activities.

The next chapter continues the emphasis on practical matters by outlining a case study in which communication and collaboration skills can fit into the ELT curriculum.

Chapter five looks at information, media and technology skills, and who better to do this than IT and ELT stalwart Gavin Dudeney? Following his interesting summary of the uses of technology in our profession since its inception in the 1980s, he outlines the requirement among language teachers for digital literacy. Along with the chapter by Nik Peachey, with its wide range of suggested activities, this one is likely to be the most helpful for encouraging 21st-century skills.

Global citizenship is the theme of the sixth chapter, in which Julietta Schoenmann discusses how activities relating to global themes can be integrated into classes based on three real-life, project-based case studies: challenges to the environment of overfishing for tuna, learning to accept immigrants and issues involved in garment manufacturing by underpaid workers in less-developed countries.

Chapter seven looks at how to relate a range of ELT methodological approaches to the development of 21st-century skills among learners. Here, Nicola Meldrum points out how teachers are already using tasks related to problem-solving, group work and learner autonomy to do so and how, by using tailor-made materials, teachers may expand and enhance matters.

Overcoming the inevitable resistance to change is the subject of chapter eight,. Christopher Graham suggests various levels of professional development, including how a focus on 21st-century skills on courses such as the CELTA would go a long way towards increasing classroom practitioners’ awareness of what these skills actually are and what teaching them involves. The final chapter of this must-read title discusses global issues, including multicultural awareness, English as a medium of instruction and the decrease in prejudice relating to what too many in our profession still regard as the ‘non-native speaker teacher’.

Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Izmir, Turkey.

Images courtesy of PIXABAY and Ron
Wayne Trotman
Wayne Trotman
Wayne is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Celebi University in Izmir, Turkey. Wayne has been involved in language teaching both in the UK and overseas since 1981. He holds an MSc in TESOL from Aston University and a PhD in ELT and Applied Linguistics from the University of Warwick.
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