Lindsay Clandfield is an award-winning author of materials for teachers and learners of English.
He was born in England, grew up in Canada, taught at a university in Mexico, lives in Spain and has trained teachers from around the world.
He is also the creator of the popular blog Six Things (www.sixthings.net), a collection of lists about ELT. Lindsay was in Greece, a couple of months ago.
He was a plenary speaker at the City & Guilds 2nd Teacher Development Symposium held in Athens and Thessaloniki. Though on a tight schedule, he talked to ELT NEWS about his activities and his ideas on learning and teaching.
∙You have written ‘The Language Teacher’s Survival Handbook’. What purpose does this book serve? Are teachers burnt out sometimes?
“The LTSH (Language Teacher’s Survival Handbook) was a project I did with my colleague and former trainer Duncan Foord. We wanted to do a little book of tips, advice and activities for mainly new teachers to help them stay motivated.
Teacher burnout was mentioned, yes. I had done some research into the area, and found that many teachers do burn out for various reasons. What was interesting was that newer teachers were more susceptible to burnout than older, more experienced, ones.”
∙You are the creator of www.sixthings.net, which contains a plethora of material for teachers. However many teachers feel more confident when sticking to a certain coursebook. They also claim that lack of time and school rules prevent them from searching and presenting ‘unfamiliar material’.
“That’s probably quite true for many language teachers around the world, who are often holding down two or more teaching jobs with relatively low pay and little preparation time.
But it’s also true that lots of teachers get tired, bored or frustrated with their coursebook and sometimes want to go outside of its confines to try other things. In the past, this meant resource or photocopiable books for teachers (or of course teachers making their own material). Now they go to the internet.”
∙If anybody can find relevant and appropriate teaching material on the Internet, who will produce and sell books? Will this be the end of the book publishing industry as we know it?
“No, I don’t think so. The book publishers are still a very important part of English language teaching, and will remain so. While there is a lot of good material online, there is a lot of not very good material out there.
It’s not edited, it’s not trialled and lots of it is just disappointing. So what if a piece of material online is relevant and appropriate but doesn’t work in a classroom and has English mistakes in it?
This is especially true for material designed for longer than an individual lesson. If you need a full course, with a syllabus and quality control then I still think the publishers are the place to go.
Whether or not it will stay in the physical book form is increasingly uncertain.
This is not to say you can’t find great material online being shared by several different educators. But it takes time and determination to get it.”
∙ You are the co-author, with Nicky Hockly, of the book ‘Teaching Online’. Will virtual teaching environments replace the traditional classrooms and face-to-face teaching?
“Again, I don’t think so. I’ve been teaching online courses for the past seven or eight years and I don’t see them replacing f2f (face to face) courses in the near future. But it is true that an online component is much more likely to be a part of a language learning course.
More and more institutions are getting virtual learning environments and figuring out how to make use of them. Teachers need training and practice in how to use these environments to make language learning effective through them.
Otherwise you are stuck with just sending students online to do endless gap fill exercises. Not very communicative.
One interesting area that I read about with regards to online teaching is what is called “flipping” your classroom. In a “flipped class” the teacher records a lecture or other input, for example a long grammar explanation or vocabulary clarification, on the computer (with a webcam).
She then uploads this for the students to watch before the lesson. This allows more time in class for things like collaborative group work, or speaking practice. This is one interesting development in online teaching that I would like to pursue more in the future.”
∙You are the author of ‘Global’, a new six level course that takes students from Beginner through to Advanced level. The course develops students’ critical thinking skills. How?
“In Global we take a multi-faceted approach to critical thinking. First there is the choice of topics and texts. We deliberately avoid the light human interest story or celebrity focus so common of English language coursebooks of recent years.
Instead we choose topics and texts which often have a slightly critical angle. We also aimed at a more critical selection of images, which is why Global has less “smiling, happy, beautiful people” in it than other coursebooks.
Then there is the text exploitation, in other words what the students are asked to do with the text or grammar or vocabulary they are learning. We have included more tasks that ask students to do more than simply understand the text.
They are challenged to analyse and evaluate texts and, especially at higher levels, look critically at the kind of language that is being used in the text and what the author is trying to achieve.
I was really happy to develop and share some of these ideas with teachers at the Critical ELT City and Guilds conference here in Greece.
Finally there are two further elements to the critical thinking strand in Global. One is to encourage students to think critically about how they learn.
So in every unit there is a study skills section, which includes reflective and discussion tasks about how best to learn. The second is a critical look at why students are learning English.
Why is English this international language? Is this dangerous for other languages? What about minority languages? Language policy and language politics?
We think these are worthwhile topics to raise in the language classroom. We were very lucky to count on the collaboration of David Crystal, a world-renowned linguist, in this area.”
∙‘Global’ also features a range of well-known classic and contemporary authors. Are students really interested in literature in our days?
“Maybe not if you ask them in that way. But everyone still likes stories, and great literature often tells a great story or can provoke an emotional reaction and make you want to talk about it.
We use literature to prompt discussions about real-world issues; it’s not a question of literary analysis. Also, there is something motivating about being able to understand works of literature in a foreign language. It used to be a main reason to learn languages.
Now, in the modern world people learn English for a whole lot of other more reasons (to travel, to work, to get access to higher education) and elements of Global will of course help address all those needs as well.
But I think it’s a bit of a shame that literature has taken something of a back seat over the past twenty or so years and it’s time for it to come back.
The question “are students really interested in literature in our days” raises another issue. There seems to be a pervasive sense among teachers that we have to only use material that we think our students will be interested in and know about.
One unfortunate consequence of this is a tendency to throw our hands up and dumb everything down. Our students only like music, football and famous people so my lessons should be about that.
But an education is about discovering interests in new things, not just covering things we already know.”
∙You are a teacher, teacher trainer and author. What has highlighted your career?
“There have been several highlights I think. Getting my first teaching job at a university in Mexico; Giving my first workshop at an international conference in Granada, Spain;
Writing my first published article; Getting my proposal for Global accepted by Macmillan; Winning the English Speaking Union award for Best book of the year (for Global) and going to receive it at Buckingham Palace from the Duke of Edinburgh. I’ve been very fortunate to have had such a varied career within this small field.”
∙What are you working on now?
“Well, I’m still doing a lot of promotional travel and conferences connected to themes I developed in Global: critical thinking, mobile learning, Global English and so on. I’ve been to more than 25 countries in the past two years.
What I’m most excited about now is an independent authors’ publishing collective on the web. There are some amazing and innovative e-book ideas coming out of this project that will be accessible and affordable for language teachers and give a much better deal for the authors. It’s called the round (and the lack of capital letters is deliberate). Check it out at www.the-round.com.”