Sunday, May 26, 2024

Notes on good practice

As a teacher you should never stop learning, says Wayne Trotman

TEACHING IN CHALLENGING CIRCUMSTANCES

By Chris Sowton
Cambridge University Press, 2021 ISBN 978-1-108-81612-0

The inspiration for this title is Michael West’s Teaching in Difficult Circumstances, published in the middle of the last century and based on his experience of teaching English in India. The author of this title opts for the more politically correct ‘challenging’, pointing out how, although several of the issues raised by West still apply, such as teachers dominating classroom discourse, in terms of access to education, especially in wealther countries, things are much more rosy. On a deeper level, he warns against complacency. Far from becoming a mechanism for change, he says that education continues in many societies to enable the consolidation of pre-existing power. Hopefully, titles such as this may help, even in a small way, to alter this structural imbalance.

Examples of challenging circumstances will, of course, vary from one context to another. Helpfully, on page two, the author lists 12 global challenges, some of which will certainly resonate more than others with the majority of language teachers. These include mismatches between the educational philosophy of various stakeholders, teachers having little or no input in the policy-shaping process, plus insufficient training and poor contractual conditions for staff members.

The contents of this title are spread over 32 chapters in nine parts, each chapter beginning with an inspirational quote. The one on page one I particularly admired: Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral (Paulo Friere). Part one focuses on the general ways  in which teachers can create a suitable environment for language learning by ensuring the classroom is safe, inclusive and student-focused. The emphasis here and in all parts in this title is on how to overcome challenges, such as bullying, physical disability and perhaps hunger caused by fasting during Ramadan.

The focus in part two is on day-to-day matters, including the immense value of using different languages where necessary. My own belief is that teachers who feel it’s pedagogically beneficial to take money off students who use their first language in an English lesson should in turn have money deducted from their own salary.

Part three concentrates on teaching large classes and includes a thought-provoking section on taking the learning outside the classroom by, for example, setting up running dictations.

The specifics of teaching language skills via interactive zero-resource activities is the focus in part four, where the author is to be applauded for once again recommending the use of dictation, this time with dictogloss.

Teaching language without textbooks is the theme of part five, which lists 10 principles for good online learning along with how to make use of the local environment. In complete contrast, part six identifies, when they are available, how to maximise the potential of course books. A must-read section in this part is ‘Managing textbook bias’ (pages 133-137), which identifies seven types of bias, including invisibility, in which some groups, especially women, people with disabilities or gay people are simply absent.

How to motivate, empower and give agency to students, along with checking their learning effectively and humanistically is the concern of part seven. My second favourite inspirational quote heads the section on creating assessment on page 154: If you judge a fish by its ability to climb trees, it will live its whole life believing that it’s stupid (Matthew Kelly). While part eight looks at how to create links between an institution and the wider community consisting of stakeholders, such as parents and guardians, part nine is more introspective, identifying means of self-care such as reflecting on one’s own teaching and identifying opportunities for teacher development. These are all vital means towards staying mentally alert in what can often be a turbulent profession.

This book certainly deserves a place on the shelves of all reputable institutions with a concern for provoking the thoughts of their teachers, ranging from those recently entering the profession to those who may feel they have seen and heard it all. West, M (1960), Teaching in Difficult Circumstances, London. Longmans, Green.

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

Images courtesy of PHOTO WIKIMEDIA COMMONS and Ron
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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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