Tony Gurr

All I Want For Christmas…

In ELT and ELL, Teacher Learning, The Paradigm Debate on 24/12/2012 at 3:30 pm

…is a wee bit more of a focus on ELL…rather than just ELT!

Checken or Egg (photo TG ver)

Yes, that is English Language LEARNing…not the gene or the enzyme.


And, as it is almost Chistmas, I guess “turkey” might have been a better choice than “chicken” – I know, I know! Baby Jesus, Mary and Yusuf…everyone is a critic!


Actually, I was planning to use the title “BIG Questions in ELL (for 2013)” for this post but, quite accidentally, discovered that Scott Thornbury is using a very similar title for his new e-book (to be published very shortly by The Round).

Scott’s idea is a pretty cool one – “re-engineering” a number of the core posts from his greatA-Z of ELT” and helping those lovely guys at The Round realise their goal of creating more bridges between the blogosphere and the world of conventional publishing.

The book is already shaping up to be a great addition to our ELT Library –  you can get a “taste” (or a “tease”) by clicking HERE.


The THING is...


…YOU guessed IT !


There is a bit of a problem with much of this “library” – a library that publishers have been helping us build up since the late 1970’s…a library that, I would argue, misses a great deal of the the wood for the trees (trees all those conventional publishers are busy “chopping down” on our behalf)!

TEACHers do, of course, need books n’ stuff to help with their LEARNing.  

I’m not suggesting we should go all “Fahrenheit 451” on our favorite volumes and works of EDUliteracy. I’m saying perhaps we need a different “perspective” on how we look at the “business” we are in – and how we “do” that “business” around the globe through the books we read!


Let me elaborate…

…as if an objection or three would stop me!



Lies (people and stats)


Before we get to the numbers (and people)…let’s start with a question:

  • How many English Language LEARNers will be hoping that a big, fat guy (all dressed in “red” and hungry for minced pies) will “break into” their homes tonight – and leave them a copy of Raymond Murphy’s “English Grammar in Use” (the new, revised, upgraded, on-line version – of course).

A tough one – I know!


Well, if David Graddol is even close to being half-right – around a third of the world’s population (yes, I said 33.33% of around 7,018,500,000 human beings – give or take a million) are trying to LEARN English…as I sit here and worry about whether I can find a “hindi”  big enough to feed all my relatives here in big, bad Istanbul tomorrow afternoon!

Noël Baba” really did show a lot of “investment savvy” by picking up all those shares in CUP, Pearson and Cengage over the last 20 years! Damn my principles…


OK – I smell a roll with all these BIG numberslet’s see if we can’t find some more legs for this post!

If you (as I have just done) do a quick Google search for the acronym “ELT“, you’ll get around 37,800,000 potential bits of “bedtime reading”. However, when you do a similar search for “English Language LEARNing” – Google can only come up with around 1,910,000 pages for you to ignore.

And, “yes” – I know you can get just over 62 million pages of digital reading, if you use the acronym. But, then again…take a closer look at some of these hits!

BESIDES…if you try “English Language Teaching”…the world’s favourite search engine will cough up 171 million results for you.


Yani, almost three times as much “stuff” on TEACHing…than LEARNing!


Now, this may not be much…when compared with the 252,000,000 results that you can potentially browse when you type the two little words Justin + Bieber(and do not even ask me what happens when you typeLady Gaga)!



…the point is…English Language TEACHing is BIG businessa huge “industry”…and we ain’t even touched on “textbooks” just yet!

An industry, for example, that nets the UK almost £1,500,000,000…every, single, bloody year! Not too shabby…not too shabby at all…just don’t get me started on global sales of the Top 50 publishers!

Let’s just say Amazon and Kindle have NOT delivered on their “promise”yet!

The BIG question I have, when I consider these HUGE numbers…numbers that relate to LEARNers and their LEARNing (or SPENDing)…is this:
Why do we call it the “ELT Industry” – …not the “ELL Industry”?
I said, a wee bit before, we ain’t touched on textbooks…so I guess we should.
English Language LEARNers spend king’s ransom after king’s ransom on these lovely “LEARNing opportunities” – but we hardly ever hear them being described as the cornerstone of the “ELL Industry”.
Or, did I just miss the memo?
I very rarely hear students talking about “my” textbook. It’s more a case of (the more “distant” phrase) “our” bookyou know, the one the TEACHer “uses”.
The vast majority of TEACHers do appear to have more “ownership” of the textbooks they use in class – than the students that cough up good money for them (or, at least, take the time to photocopy them – as they are found to be too expensive for many cash-strapped students).
As it’s these same TEACHers that control the “pace” of “textbook page turning” in our classrooms…I guess the whole ELT thingy makes sense, yani (BTW – I don’t think I have EVER heard a student ever say “Let’s turn to page 15”)!


The BIG problem isas my “birth-father” (the gossip is “working”) has noted:

Rogers QUOTE (Facilitation of LEARNing)

Scott…and many of his mates…”get” this!


TEACHers like Scott “favour dialogue over transmission” and recognise that the process of NOT trying to fill “empty vessels” on a 24/7 basis is…best facilitated by ASKing questions.

This is why he has promised us a “question-driven” approach in his new book.

Some of the “teaser questions” he’ll be looking at are:

  • How do you achieve ‘flow’ in your teaching?
  • What makes an activity ‘communicative’?
  • Is there anything wrong with rote learning?
  • Can you teach well without planning?
  • Do rules help?

These are wonderful questions…and I’m sure many TEACHers will be very eager to read Scott’s “answers”


Fewer, I fear, will take the time to reflect on his “questions for discussion” – many will totally miss the real point behind the book.


WHY (joker Face)

…am I thunking in such a dark & gloomy manner on Xmas Eve?


Well, it’s quite simple really!

The ELT Industry is made up of suppliers (who seek to push their wares into this “market” of almost 234,000,000 LEARNers) and “providers” (institutional players like our schools, colleges and universities) – and both of these sets of “stakeholders” have to be seen to have all the ANSWERS.


Get Answers Button


Peter Block has been telling us for years that it is this “take” on “what matters” that keeps luring us back to the Dark Side. This “fascination” drives our relentless search for the next “big thing”“quick-fix” or “magic bullet”. This “obsession” with an “answer-orientated” way of doing “business”…prevents us from really “seeing” the (LEARNing) wood for the (TEACHing) trees we noted earlier!


Block (fingerprint quote)


That “business” in ELT is still dominated by the interests (or “convenience”) of our INSTITUTIONS – the things…the fixes….the bullets we focus on are, more often than not, all about the TEACHing.

Very few of our institutions take the time to ask the questions we need to ask – probably because the questions themselves are just “too” important!

Instead, our preference for “quick-fix” TEACHing recipes all too often does little more than advance the culture of “alıntı, çalıntı and mış-gibi yapmak” (the Turkish for “borrowing, ripping off, and faking-it-till-you-make-it”) – rather than meaningful attention to student LEARNing and SUCCESS.


Now, around about 300 words ago, you probably got a very crisp mental image of “me” in your head – or perhaps thunked “What an EDUScrooge or ELTGrinch”!

I mean…it’s Christmas Eve…for crying out loud!


Well, to prove I do mean “well”I’m going to gift all our “ELT Institutions”…with a few “BIG Questions for ELL…for 2013”.


Now, I’m not sure how many I will be able to produce (before I have to rush out to buy that “hindi” I told you about earlier)…so here we go:


Let’s start with a couple of “easy” ones:

Why (all over the globe) are “lessons” always around 50-55 minutes in length – shirously, all over the world?

Why are so many of our classrooms organised in rows that “point” at the TEACHer (in fact, why do we still have classrooms at all)?

Why (in many classrooms) do TEACHers do more “talking” than the LEARNers?

Why do so many institutions (and their TEACHers) still “ban” mobile devices and “smart phones” in the classrooms?


This one still bakes the noodle of many an administrator:

Why do some institutions still believe that (relatively) untrained and inexperienced “native speakers” are better than qualified and experienced “local” practitioners?


This one could keep decision-makers awake at night:

Why do ELT institutions (and TEACHers) still approach English Language Learning as something that can be “taught” or “delivered”?


These ones might hit home for a few of them, too:

Why do so many of us (TEACHers) still complain that we do not have enough time to “cover” the material?

Why do so many schools operate with a curriculum that is little more than the “contents page” of a textbook?

Why do so many institutions allow publishers to select their themes and texts – rather than letting the LEARNers do it?

Why do so many institutions still work with the premise that “if we do not assess it, the LEARNers will not do it”?

Why do institutions still assume that students will LEARN more English if we test them more often?


And a couple on TEACHer LEARNing:

Why do schools and universities still believe that TEACHers can “LEARN” from one-shot, one-way workshops (especially if they serve no other purpose but to keep TEACHers busy during holidays)?

Why does ELT (as a “discipline”) still LEARN so little from other disciplines?

Hey…you never knowASKing questions like these…might, just maybe, help us co-create a few ANSWERS…that LEARNers might recognise as a “real” Christmas present!


Mission Possible (wt Tom in DXB)


P.S: Father Christmas – if you are reading this, all I really want…is an iPhone5! I have been a good boy…all year! But, if you cannot manage that…world peace, an end to poverty and equitable access to education for every little girl on the planet will do just fine.


P.P.S: Everyone Else – One of the most comprehensive discussions of trends in language education is presented by David Graddol, in his excellent monograph “English Next. In this, he builds on his innovative analysis given in The Future of English (1997) – and also offers a great deal of insight into helping us understand where the business of ELT is going.

  1. Excellent post! This made me pull out my copy of We Make the Road by Walking: a conversation between Paulo Freire and Myles Horton. I asked a few questions in my last blog post. What do you think? If we have less questions about what we have learned than we believe we have learned, we are not learning.

    • Thx Gerald – for dropping in and the comment. I loved what you said about having more questions about what we have LEARNed that before we started asking the questions in the first place. Reminds me of Peter Block’s words of wisdom – vis-a-vis each question creating even more dilemmas than we originally sought to solve 🙂 I don’t know the convo between Paulo and Myles – have to dig this out.

      I hope I got the right post – I loved what you said about the “communal and collaborative dynamic” we need to co-create in our classrooms. I guessed you felt the same in the set of Xmas questions I asked institutions to consider for 2013 🙂

      Looking forward to more LEARNing convos with you 🙂

      Wishing you and yours a GR8 “holiday season”…enjoy!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: