By Nicola Prentis
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.