Six education podcasts

I’ve enjoyed podcasts for a while now, listening to them as I walk the dog, drive to work or do housework. Over the past year, they’ve been a very welcome opportunity to listen in to interesting conversations taking place around the world. I thought I’d share six favourites.

1. FreshEd with Will Brehm

FreshEd with Will Brehm is excellent. Weekly episodes from a wide range of people around the globe give a broad understanding of current debates and research in the field of education. Some episodes, such as the one with Hikaru Komatsu and Jeremy Rappleye on challenging the commonplace relationship between test scores and GDP, have been particularly useful in highlighting aspects to investigate further. Of the over 200 episodes currently available, another three I’d recommend would be What works may hurt: side effects in education with Yong Zhao, Less is more: how degrowth will save the world with Jason Hickel, and Numbers! with Nelli Piattoeva and Rebecca Boden.

2. The Action Research Podcast

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the episodes in The Action Research Podcast. The one with Dr Alfredo Ortiz Aragon, Acting to Learn and Learning to Act, was particularly good for the focus on ‘people-who-know learning for and through action’. And, I really appreciated the most recent one I listened to – What is Community-Based Participatory Action Research – for its emphasis on the messiness and the time involved in such work. All the episodes are really worth a listen ‘for those interested in research and social change’.

3. Unsettling Knowledge Inequities

Unsettling Knowledge Inequities is a mini series of five episodes exploring issues related to the politics and global power dynamics around knowledge production, exchange and circulation. Driving home from a shift at a vaccination centre one evening, I loved hearing from Dr. Lorna Wánosts’a7 Williams about centering indigenous knowledge and Lil’wat principles of teaching and learning.

All people have their way of learning and teaching so that a society can continue. What has evolved at what we now call university is one way, but all people have developed *their* ways.

Dr Lorna Wánosts’a7 Williams

4. The SLB Podcast

The SLB Podcast from members of the SLB Co-op in Barcelona focuses on English Language Teaching, Second Language Acquisition and ‘other things that enthral and infuriate’ them. There are great conversations with well known names like Mike Long and Scott Thornbury as well as people new to me – Elina Paatsila, for example, who talked about Positive Learning. The episode SLB Origin Stories is well worth a listen as an example of how their co-op began, the challenges along the way and the advantages it offers to members. The podcast is a good listen and good company as I wander round a field or along a river.

5. Teacher Talking Time

I discovered Teacher Talking Time, another ELT podcast, when Luke Meddings was interviewed for one of their episodes. That was just a lovely episode and I’d thoroughly recommend it. Luke reflects on his role in the teaching unplugged movement and the experiences with education that had preceded his work with Scott Thornbury. Since then, I’ve dipped into the podcast, most recently this afternoon while hoovering when I listened to the episode introducing the series on Corrective Feedback in partnership with Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series.

6. Teaching in Higher Ed

Teaching in Higher Ed with Bonni Stachowiak is another podcast that I dip into and always enjoy the conversations. Maha Bali, Autumm Caines and Mia Zamora shared Community Building Activities, Susan Blum discussed ungrading and this week, Emma Trentman talked about Language Learning Ideologies – just three of the 361 episodes currently available.  

Thanks to Emily Bryson for the inspiration for this following her post (back in October!) about favourite podcasts 🙂

Dipping my toe back into ELT waters

I’ve had a lovely long weekend doing some of the suggested reading for the Task-Based Language Teaching (TBLT) course with Serveis Lingüístics de Barcelona (SLB Coop) which starts next month. Having not spent very much time thinking or reading about English Language Teaching (ELT) and Second Language Acquisition (SLA) over the past six years, this feels like comfort reading, returning to familiar names, theories and debates. 

I used to do quite a bit of reading and taking part in discussions about language learning and practice. But then, a couple of experiences at an IATEFL conference in 2014 – one positive, the other, less so – took me in a slightly different direction and drew my attention away from ELT until very recently. Although I continued to practise as an English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) worker for a while, my reading, thinking and discussions were more focused on broader topics. I completed an EdD earlier this year, having researched the formal and informal learning of grassroots community activists in Scotland. In that research, I used the work of Jacques Rancière, along with a bit of Michel Foucault, as a theoretical framework.

As I now start to read about TBLT in preparation for the course, Rancière’s work seems relevant, particularly around the role of the learner and the way in which education can position people. As we search for the most effective and efficient way for someone to learn a language, we should also consider the effects of the different approaches on how people are perceived (and how they perceive themselves). 

In writing about TBLT, people regularly refer to the distinction identified by Wilkins (1974) between synthetic and analytic syllabuses. In a synthetic syllabus, the learner is presented with bite-sized pieces of language – whether these be grammar, lexis or functions – and they are required to synthesise this information about the language in order to be able to use the language to communicate. In an analytic syllabus, of which TBLT is an example, learners analyse the language they encounter, inducing rules for themselves and learning lexis incidentally (Long, Lee & Hillman, 2019). Dogme ELT, or Teaching Unplugged (Meddings & Thornbury, 2009), an approach I’m much more familiar with, is also an example of an analytic syllabus. 

A synthetic syllabus seems to conceive of learners as not being able to learn without a teacher and indeed keeps learners dependent on teachers as they progress through the different levels. This progression, as Rancière (2010, p.9) writes, ‘is the art of limiting the transmission of knowledge, of organizing delay, or deferring equality’. An analytic syllabus, on the other hand, recognises that people can learn without the explanations of a teacher but that a teacher, by drawing attention to things, can speed up the process. 

All their effort, all their exploration, is strained toward this: someone has addressed words to them that they want to recognize and respond to, not as students or as learned [individuals], but as people; in the way you respond to someone speaking to you and not to someone examining you: under the sign of equality.

Rancière, 1991, p.11

I won’t go any further into this just now because this is just intended as a short post to say “hello again!” to the one or two people who might come across it, but it does highlight the ways in which learning about task-based language teaching might connect to my thinking and my concerns about education more widely, particularly the ways in which education can create and maintain inequality under the guise of tackling it. 

To pose equality as a goal is to hand it over to the pedagogues of progress, who widen endlessly the distance they promise that they will abolish.

Rancière, 2003, p.223

Neil McMillan’s conversation with Mike Long in episode 3 of the SLB Coop podcast touched on the potentially emancipatory purpose of TBLT so this is something I’m hoping I get to explore further on the course. For now, I’m enjoying thinking about and reading about language learning and teaching again. 

I have a lot of catching up to do! 


Long, M., Lee, J., and Hillman, K. (2019) ‘Task-Based Language Learning’ in J. Schwieter & A. Benati (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Language Learning, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Meddings, L. and Thornbury, S. (2009) Teaching unplugged: dogme in English language teaching, Peaslake, Delta Publishing.

Rancière, J. (1991) The ignorant schoolmaster: five lessons in intellectual emancipation, Stanford, Stanford University Press.

Rancière, J. (2003) The philosopher and his poor, London, Duke University Press. 

Rancière, J. (2010) ‘On Ignorant Schoolmasters’ in C. Bingham and G. Biesta, Jacques Rancière: Education, Truth, Emancipation, London, Bloomsbury.

Wilkins, D. (1974) Notional syllabuses and the concept of a minimum adequate grammar. In S.P. Corder, & E. Roulet (Eds.), Linguistic Insights in Applied Linguistics, Brussels, AIMAV. 

A quick update

This is really just a post for anyone who happens across this blog – either because I’ve followed a blog or liked a post and you’re curious or you’ve somehow clicked through from somewhere else. (It may appear in the feeds or emails of people who used to follow this way back when.)

I haven’t posted here for over two years and I don’t anticipate writing anything here (other than this) anytime soon. I started this blog while working as an Adult Literacies & ESOL Worker with a local authority in Scotland. I had also been involved in teaching general English and EAP to students coming to study at university in Scotland and in tutor training. I’m interested in language and learning and this blog was set up as a place to share thoughts, reflections and activities with colleagues around the world whenever I had something to say (and time to say it!). I enjoyed the discussions here, on other similar blogs and on Twitter but I haven’t managed to keep up with those discussions recently. In the past few years, I’ve had opportunities to do some new things and I’m not currently  working directly in literacies or ESOL.

One of those new things came about from wanting to understand a bit better what it was about education that hadn’t worked or still wasn’t working for a lot of the people I knew –  learners, family members, young people.  I enrolled as a part-time student on the University of Glasgow’s Doctorate in Education programme. I’ve recently completed three years of taught modules and it has been eye-opening, interesting and a lot of work and I have, I think, started to better understand the role of education in our society. Now, as I start my research project, I’m hoping to be able to explore this a bit more. The other opportunity has been a new (fixed term) role with the local authority to support the work around community empowerment and that has raised all sorts of other questions!

Collaboration and discussion in ELT

Photo taken from by Sandy Millin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,
Photo taken from by Sandy Millin, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,

It has been very interesting to follow the recent discussion and reaction around the idea of demand high ELT following Geoff Jordan’s post. I’ve been particularly interested in understanding why it bothers or enthuses people and in examining my own reaction to it. I touched on it briefly in a recent post and, in the comments, recognised that I think the idea of demand high has a lot to offer. But, in trying to understand the reaction, it’s not just a matter of deciding whether we think the ideas of the demand high instigators, Adrian Underhill and Jim Scrivener, are good but it’s also important to wonder why they have drawn negative responses that are just starting to be aired.

There’s something very familiar about the reaction to demand high and, in particular, the idea that we do this already and that it’s just good teaching. But, as I realise, from reading comments and posts like that from Luis Otavio Barros, there is a need for what they are trying to convey. However, there’s also quite a strong feeling of “Who do they think they are to come and tell us how we should be working? What do they know about my experience, my training, my context?” as Geoff Jordan and Mike Harrison express in their posts. Other reactions seem to be along the lines of ‘Meh!’. I think I’ve personally felt a bit of each.

Chuck Sandy, when tweeting about Mike’s post, asks that we ‘start talking to each other. Don’t forget to listen’. That, I think, may be where the demand high people might be going wrong. They don’t seem to have asked or listened very extensively. If they have, I haven’t been aware of it and would be happy to find out more about that. They seem, rather, to have been making broad assumptions based on their own observations and now they’re telling us what we should be doing.

The arguments that this is just good teaching, we already do this, it’s nothing new, are ones that the Dogme in ELT (Teaching Unplugged) has drawn over the years. But, in arguing this, I doubt anyone is saying that we shouldn’t promote good teaching but perhaps that we don’t like other people assuming we’re doing it wrong without taking the time to find out more.

Thinking about it more over the last few days, one big difference between the two approaches/memes/methods (or whatever they are these days), however, seems to be in the level of collaboration involved in discussing and developing the ideas. Unplugged teaching was discussed in a dedicated forum for a good few years before Luke Meddings and Scott Thornbury brought out the Teaching Unplugged book in 2009. In it, they recognised the contributions of the discussion list participants. ‘Since its inception in March 2000, the Dogme discussion list provided the forum where these ideas and beliefs were debated, challenged, adapted, and exemplified. Out of this ‘long conversation’ emerged ten key principles’ (p. 7). It’s still being discussed.

I like many of the ideas of demand high. I think there is a lot of good advice there. But I also think that there are areas which need to be approached with care. We need to be able to judge, for instance, just how high we should be demanding of individual students at any particular stage in their learning. When we’re getting a new student comfortable in the classroom, for example, high demand might be for them to say anything at all.

I think there needs to be a lot more listening and learning from the wealth of knowledge and experience that already exists in the ELT world and a lot more debating, challenging, adapting and exemplifying to develop and disseminate the ideas of demand high in ELT.

There is, as Geoff suggests a lot more strongly than I would feel comfortable with, very much a product approach to launching demand high in the ELT world. We, it seems, would much prefer to be part of the process.

It’s not as bad as you feel it is!

This morning, awake too early and browsing twitter, I read Nathan Hall’s tweet expressing an all too familiar response to student comments.

Nathan's tweet

It brought to mind Stephen Brookfield’s (1995) notion of the ‘perfect ten syndrome’ and the desire to get positive evaluations from all our students. We want to be good at what we do so it’s important to know that our students think we are doing a good job. But, it seems we don’t weigh all evaluations equally because, as he points out, ‘All those evaluations that are complimentary are forgotten, while those that are negative assume disproportionate significance’. (p. 17)

Why is this? Do we believe that the negative ones are written by students with ‘heightened powers of pedagogic discrimination’ and the positive ones by ‘students who are half asleep’? No. But it still seems that feelings of incompetence and guilt win. I’ve since found out that we might naturally have a negativity bias where negative things affect us more than positive things of an equal nature do. (It’s a survival thing!)

Nevertheless, we can try to remember, as Brookfield points out, that given the diversity in many classrooms, taking into account personalities, backgrounds, previous experiences, learning preferences and so on, ‘no actions a teacher takes can ever be experienced as universally and uniformly positive’. Stephen Kemmis and Tracey Smith (2008) highlight that it is a difficult task to always work in the best interests of each individual, “What it might be good to do in the interests of one student may be different from what would be in the interests of another. (Should I move on to the next topic because Jenny is bored, or wait until Johnny has understood clearly?)”. (p. 18)

It’s good and useful to get feedback from students. It can highlight areas of our practice where we have misjudged something or been misunderstood. We can learn from it. Unfortunately, while we might know that we shouldn’t let the one less favourable comment get us down or worry us too much (and I’m not saying that Nathan has!), it’s not so easy to actually prevent it affecting us negatively. As Stephen Brookfield goes on to say later in the book, ‘Even after several years of collecting, analyzing, and reporting back students’ critical incidents, I still die a hundred small deaths each semester as I read descriptions of distancing moments and unhelpful actions.’ (p.139)

But, perhaps it’s good to know that it happens to others too and that we’ve this thing called a negativity bias to deal with as well. It helps me, I think.  So, thank you, Nathan 🙂

Update: Many thanks for Mike Griffin for sharing this cartoon as a perfect illustration.


Brookfield, S. (1995) Becoming a critically reflective teacher

Estroff Marano, H. (2003) ‘Our Brain’s negative bias: why our brains are more highly tuned to negative news’ in Psychology Today

Kemmis, S. and Smith, T.J. (2008) Enabling praxis: challenges for education

Negativity Bias. Wikipedia article.

THE way?

Central Line
Photo taken from by Ian James, used under a CC Attribution Non-Commercial licence,

Do you ever want to just say ‘we’re not all doing it wrong!’? People are teaching and learning languages all the time in lots of different ways. There is no one way. There are lots of ways and the more we know about the different ways, the more we can make our own decisions about what is best to do with the people we work with in our particular contexts and also… what is best for us in that situation!

There is not one course or book or meme that will tell us how we should work in our particular circumstances. Our experiences, musings, conversations, the experiences of colleagues and students, stories, research, theory, books, conferences, journals (when we can access them!), initial and ongoing training and education courses – all contribute to our development and our understanding, to our expertise and our ability to be able to respond better to more situations and have a better chance of making learning happen for more people.

So, in terms of initial training programmes, we probably don’t have to worry too much about whether courses like the CELTA are the best way to train ELT practitioners. It’s four weeks long. I doubt it was ever intended to be perfect. But it has started a lot of excellent teachers and professionals on their learning and teaching journeys.

As long as it’s not seen as providing ‘the way’ to do things and that people recognise that our practice will continue to develop and change as we find out more about a wider range of students’ experiences and contexts, then it is probably quite a good start. But the tendency in some areas to see CELTA as essential, as the way to teach English might be where the problems lie with this and similar training courses. It seems that some people do sometimes think it presents how we should be doing things… for the rest of our career! Or, perhaps they think that’s what other people think we should always do. I didn’t do the CELTA but I remember being surprised when, a few years into teaching, an observer praised something I did in the class because ‘That’s what they tell us to do on the CELTA’. It struck me as strange to continue to hold that pre-service training programme as the standard to aim for rather than one to build on.

When I first sat and listened to Jim Scrivener talk about Demand High Teaching at the IATEFL conference in Glasgow in 2012, I found myself thinking ‘But don’t we do this already?’. The person sitting beside me told me that’s what she had been doing until she was told to do it differently on the CELTA. And recently on twitter, Mike Harrison wondered where Jim Scrivener and Adrian Underhill had observed teachers because what they described was not how he or his colleagues worked. Recently, after reading Geoff Jordan’s suggestion that Demand High Teaching was a dud product, I’ve been wondering if the people they had observed might sometimes revert to what they’ve been taught on the CELTA because that’s what they think observers want to see. I’m not sure. I think in the past that I may have had the inclination to present what I thought observers wanted to see, rather than how I usually worked. (I’m getting bolder now!) But, we do need to recognise the pre-service courses for what they are and be able to move on from them and recognise and value the ways we continue to develop professionally.

I later found out that the person sitting next to me had spent 3 years at university in Poland studying TEFL and then had to do a 4-week CELTA course as her “foreign qualifications” didn’t count. She said she was just one of many. In a blog post on Pre-Service Training, Scott Thornbury reported that in an issue of the EL Gazette, ‘One Moscow-based teacher complained that, to get work, ‘we have to change our methods because only Celta teaching is acceptable. I think Celta is fine, but it isn’t the only way to teach. It would be nice to have other options’.

I don’t think that demand high teaching is a dud product as Geoff suggests, but I am wary when people proclaim things like, ‘We do this in ELT, but we should be doing that’. When has ELT been uniform in its practice and its thinking? We don’t all do the same thing. We shouldn’t all do the same thing. We are different people, working in different places with different learners, at different times of the day and the CELTA is not going to be able to prepare us for all that we might need to deal with. It has its value but we need to recognise the value of other courses and subsequent development.

Building on the CELTA, or whatever initial course we do, with experience, conversations with learners and colleagues, reading, further study and finding new ways to do things and being able to justify why we do them, we develop our knowledge and understanding of what to do in situations particular to our context and not addressed in any ‘how to’ book. Recognising our development we should be better able to resist conforming to what we think people are looking for in observations or inspections backed up by our ongoing learning. As Stephen Kemmis and Tracey Smith write in their book Enabling Praxis, ‘Our capacity to live with, live by, interpret, extend and sometimes creatively trouble or avoid the rules of organisations is one of the things that give us our identities as educators’ (p. 5).

It’s been a while


I haven’t posted here in a while. Did you notice?

While still very interested in all things learning and language, I’ve been distracted by the wider world and it’s in that wider world that I’ve been doing a lot of my reading, thinking, discussing and tweeting recently.

But I’m missing the ‘old’ days and hope to start reading, commenting and posting more relevantly… soon… ish!



MOOCing and Learning: Corpora, Concordancing and Conversations

Corpus MOOCThis is another quick post with my impressions of the first few weeks of the Corpus Linguistics MOOC in response to Vedrana’s earlier comment

I had high expectations of this course and I think it’s fair to say that, so far, those expectations have easily been met and surpassed! I wrote in my last post that this was a great opportunity. I hadn’t realised just how good of an opportunity it was and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

We are getting to hear from a wide range of people who are developing and using corpus linguistics to research a wide range of questions. They are using corpora to confirm or challenge intuition and to gain insights about language use in ways that would not be possible without large quantities of data. Each week there are “In Conversation” pieces where Tony McEnery chats to someone about their work or involvement with corpus linguistics. These, I think, are my favourite part of the course and Tony has expressed how much he has enjoyed doing them. There has been a lot of good feeback about them in the comments and I have a sense that they are a good way to learn – even though we are not directly involved in the chat. They are particularly enjoyable to watch and the information they contain feels more memorable.  This could be a personal reaction but, as I like to use conversation in a language learning situation, I’d like to look into it a bit more. Although these sections are in the supplementary part of the course, I’d really recommend watching them.

As well as finding out about the range of applications of corpus linguistics, we are also learning how to use the tools and techniques. This is what I felt I most needed to learn before starting the course. Corpus Linguistics allows people to access large quantities of language and this can only be done with a computer, specially designed software and the ability to use them! In the first few weeks, we have been introduced to AntConc, freely available software developed by Laurence Anthony. The video tutorials are also available on a YouTube playlist. As I said in my last post, I never knew what I could do with corpora or how to do it. I now know how to find collocations and frequency data, investigate concordances and sort them to the left or the right of a search term. I can discover which words are unusually frequent in one corpus when compared to another one – keywords! I can clone results in order to compare and, this week, I’ve found out what n-grams are. It’s very exciting!

I’m enjoying the flexibility and the variety of the course. As well as the conversations and the video tutorials, there are introductory lectures, readings, practical activities and discussions that are well attended by mentors. These are organised in a ‘to-do’ list that you can mark as completed as you progress through the course each week. You can do the bits that are most useful or interesting for you. For the first few weeks, I’ve been lucky to have a lot more time to be able to spend on it and I can choose what I do depending on the mood I’m in, where I am, what time I’ve got or who’s with me. I’m dipping into the advanced lectures where they interest me. I’m not very interested in its application to translation studies at the moment but I really enjoyed finding out about its combination with discourse analysis. I would love to understand more about the statistical side of things but I got to a point in the first lecture on the subject where it no longer made any sense, so I’ll need to come back to that. (If anyone can point me towards any very simple explanations of how things like statistical significance are calculated, I’d be grateful.)

Next week, we’ll learn how to build our own corpora. The week after, we’ll find out about social issues and corpora as well as something called CQPweb, before we look at textbook and dictionary construction in week 6, language learning in week 7 and swearing in the final week.

I’m finding the course very useful and interesting. First impressions are that it is well prepared, well structured and well supported. It is probably frustrating not to have enough time or energy to do it justice or to feel that you are falling behind, but people are going through it at very different speeds. Some have just started in the last few days, while others can only spend a short time on it each week. We’ve just found out that the course will now be supported by the mentors for two weeks after the end of the course to add even more flexibility. And, there do seem to be plans to run it again in the future – another of Vedrana’s questions 🙂

This is not just any MOOC…

… this is a Corpus Linguistics MOOC run by… Lancaster University! It’s led by Tony McEnery with contributions from and facilitation by an impressive bunch of people. It’s a great opportunity. I’ve been really looking forward to it and, after starting it, I’m even more enthusiastic about it. This short post is to encourage any of you interested in language or involved in language teaching and not already signed up for it to think about giving it a go. It has just started. You’ll catch up quickly!

post wordle

As language teachers, I’m hoping it’ll expand our ability and confidence to find out more about how language is used, to make discoveries, to test hypotheses, and to verify our intuition about how the language works. Out of context, our intuition about what we would actually say in a particular situation is not always accurate whether we’re so-called native or non-native speakers of a language. We can’t always bring to mind the relevant uses or collocations of particular words. We can be unclear about the difference between near synonyms.

There are those who suggest that, because of this, we should depend on ELT course books. But even when we can be sure the language information is accurate, it is necessarily limited to what the course book writers have chosen and not targeted towards our particular learners. Also, the more aware we are about how language works, the more able we’ll be able to draw attention to features that may not be easily packaged into course book activities. (I’m not saying that course books aren’t useful, just that, ideally, we need to know more about language than what is in course books!)

I’ve always enjoyed finding out about language and it was this interest that led me towards working in ELT but I know very little about corpus linguistics. For a while, I’ve felt that I should find out more about how I can better use corpora in my work. I’ve read posts about it. I’ve watched webinars. While I’ve been impressed at how people like Mura Nava, Leo Selivan or Scott Thornbury write about their use or refer to findings, I’ve only ever dabbled ineffectively, not sure about what I can do and/or how to do it. After starting this course – yesterday – the fog is already starting to clear. I’m excited by my growing confidence and the potential of a corpus linguistics approach!

Find out more about the course:

It’s designed in such a way as to be useful and interesting for a wide range of people, from those with very little prior knowledge or limited time, to those who want to expand or deepen their knowledge or who can spend more time on it.

Have a look!

Tagged: in response to Rachael Roberts, Ljiljana Havran and Geoff Jordan

I find myself in a very rare situation of having too much time on my hands… way too much time! So, it was a very nice surprise and an honour to be tagged by Rachael Roberts in a lighthearted new challenge that’s doing the rounds. Read Rachael’s post (and follow the links back) to find out more. Essentially, what she was asked to do, and what she’s asked her nominees to do, is:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

I HAD been browsing through my favourite posts of the year, using my twitter stream to find them (remember, I have too much time on my hands!) so that has been temporarily abandoned as I set about my new task.

Update: After publishing this post in response to Rachael, I was very pleased to also be nominated by Ljiljana Havran and Geoff Jordan (you can find out more about them and read their contribution to this challenge by clicking on their names) so I’ve added answers to their questions to this post rather than start another post about me – one’s more than enough!

11 random facts about myself

  1. I was born in Scotland and I live in Scotland but I have an Irish accent having grown up in Ireland.
  2. I used to work for Interpol – a little known fact that I frequently use in truths and lies icebreaker activities.
  3. My very first tweet up was with Jeremy Harmer and Tony Watt at a Pearson event in Edinburgh.
  4. I love dancing. Not clever dancing where there are particular steps or moves but the type where you just move about vigorously preferably to live music but cheesy disco tunes are good too!
  5. I also love a good argument. I prefer those that I win. Otherwise, as long as I can say what I think, challenge or be challenged, and feel like I’m making some sense, I’m happy.
  6. I can’t sing – a fact my mother regularly reminds me of at family birthday celebrations. To corroborate this, I have also been asked to leave a school choir, and asked if I could sing more quietly!!
  7. I don’t know why there’s 11 of everything in this challenge.
  8. I would like to knit. It sounds like a very relaxing thing to do while watching rubbish on the TV. I got knitting needles and some wool last Christmas. This year I’ve asked for knitting patterns – easy ones!
  9. I love Christmas 🙂
  10. I get the giggles. And there are certain people who just set me off – in particular, a friend at work, my son, a friend I met on my MSc course and my mother.
  11. One of my favourite TV programmes at the moment is Gogglebox where you watch people watching TV. It’s a lot better than it sounds!

Answers to Rachael’s 11 questions

1 Why did you start blogging and how has differed from your expectations?

I started blogging so that I would have a place to say things I wanted to say which didn’t fit into a tweet or a forum. I also had the feeling that because I was reading and enjoying other people’s blogs, I should make my own contribution. I didn’t expect to enjoy it so much, or for people to read and interact with it.

2 What’s your earliest childhood memory?

Getting a new doll when my brother was born. Once I had my baby, I went to see my mum’s new baby. At least, I think I remember that. Perhaps, I just remember being told about it.

3 Tell us about someone you admire, and say why.

I really admire Shelly Terrell. Do I really need to say why? I first met Shelly on twitter a few years ago when, as far as I was aware, she was relatively unknown in the online world of education. Her curiosity, enthusiasm and passion for all things education have been inspiring and her professional development has been very impressive.

4 What was the last book you read and what did you think of it?

Complicity by Ian Banks for our book club. I enjoyed most of it.

5 Do you prefer walking or running? Why?

Walking. It’s easier!

6 What was your first paid job?

As a young person, I delivered leaflets with one of my friend’s mothers. She’d collect us all from school and spread us around local housing estates. It wasn’t a bad first job – fresh air, exercise, comraderie, and not getting bitten by the dogs that roamed free. As an adult, my first real job was as a component programming clerk with Aer Lingus where marks I made on a sheet of paper had implications for whether plane parts where maintained or overhauled.

7 What five famous people would you invite to a dinner party, and why?

Oh dear, famous people? I’m not very good on famous people – I can never remember their names. Let’s see…

… no, I’ll need to come back to this one!

8 What’s the first website you check/go on each day? Why?

Facebook. To see what’s been happening or what’s going to happen.

9 What can you remember about the first class you ever taught?

It was a small group of Polish forestry workers. I can’t remember what I did with them, I just remember being relieved that I got away with whatever it was.

10 Flowers or chocolates?

I have to choose?!?


11 How do you feel about reality TV shows?

I do like the UK Big Brother. It’s another one of my favourite programmes. [Update: I’ve gone off Big Brother!] I really enjoy watching people, seeing how they react, interact and communicate. I find it relaxing. I’m not so keen on talent shows like the X-Factor.

Answers to Ljiljana’s 11 questions

1 What foreign languages do you speak?

I speak (or at least used to speak) French and Dutch. It’s been a while since I’ve used either to any extent but did enjoy being at the first BELTA day in Brussels where I got to dabble in both. I keep meaning to brush up on them.

2 What is the most exciting thing about teaching?

What I find most exciting one day will be different the next. However, I do get a thrill when learners realise and/or show that they can do more than they could, or than they thought they could!

3 What is your favourite piece of art? and 4 What was your first favourite book when you were a child?

I really don’t have favourites. I enjoyed books as a child. I was always going to the library and always had a book on the go, but there is none that stood out or that I went back to – that I remember. It’s similar with art. I enjoy art but I like to see new things. I particularly enjoy public art pieces – things that can surprise and add pleasure as you go about your day or night.

5 Which quality would you like to change in yourself?

I’m too easily moved to tears. At times, this gets in the way and I’d like to be able to have more control over it.

6 What invention do you think has had the greatest impact on society? 

The internet!

7 If there were a time machine which period of history would you pick first and why?

Hmm. I’m not sure I’d want to go back.

8 How much is life an adventure?

Life’s an adventure in as much as you are open to and seek out new things and new experiences.

9 What is your idea of an ideal holiday?

On the west coast of Scotland (or Ireland) with lots of family exploring empty beaches and hills, visiting new towns and villages, eating, drinking and laughing.

10 What foods do you think are most romantic?

I’ve no idea!

11 What activity/hobby would you like to take up in 2014?

I’d like to swim more (and get better at it) and spend more time with French and Dutch.

Answers to Geoff’s 11 questions

1 What’s the best book you’ve ever read in the field of ELT?

This is a difficult one to answer. I don’t think of any book as being the best I’ve ever read… well not yet anyway. There are some that I’ve really enjoyed reading – the first part of Teaching Unplugged springs to mind. I also like Teaching Adult ESOL for its relevance to the context I work in, as well as recognising and dealing with the realities of ESOL work.

2 How do you see SLA research progessing?

I don’t know how SLA research will progress but I’m most interested in individuals’ actual experiences of acquiring a second language – what works and doesn’t work for a range of learners – rather than trying to discover the ‘best’ way to teach or learn vocabulary or what teachers or learners should or shouldn’t be doing.

3 Who has influenced you most in your career?

I have to say Scott Thornbury, through his books, webinars, video presentations and interviews (I’ve yet to see him present live!) but most of all his blog posts which have helped me to grow in confidence in my practice, to see things in a new light and to stay interested in what I do.

4 Best course/class you ever did.

A post-graduate module in discourse analysis with the Open University 😉

5 What’s going to happen next in ELT?

This one is very difficult to answer. ELT is too broad and the contexts and situations are too varied. It’s good to have progress and new ways of doing things. Some ways will be better for our learners (or us); others won’t work. What’s most important is that we try out, assess and adapt whatever happens next according to what we’re trying to achieve rather than adopt an approach, technique or activity because of who has proposed it. But, in answer to your question – I don’t know!

6 One piece of advice to a new ELT teacher.

Pay attention to your learners.

7 Favorite bit of music; author; plastic artist.

I don’t have a favorite (see answer to Ljiljana’s questions 3 & 4 above).

8 Favorite place in the world to visit.

New York, or Leuven, or Paris, or Dublin…. (I’m not good at choosing favorites!)

9 Favorite place to live.

I like living in Scotland but would perhaps prefer to be closer to the coast. I loved living in Leuven in Belgium and would happily return there. And, if I had enough money for a nice place in New York, I’d go there.

10 I like blogging because…

… I enjoy writing, I get a buzz when someone from my small but valued readership likes or comments on a post, and blogging helps me to capture and focus on aspects of my work.

11 Bloggers should…

… please themselves, find their own voice, and be aware of and respond to their readers and fellow bloggers.

11 bloggers tagged in this post

I’ve tagged bloggers who I like, respect and who I’ve interacted with in some form fairly recently (and also who I hope won’t mind being tagged!) If they’ve the time and inclination, it would be lovely to hear from then. If they don’t have one or the other, then that’s alright too! In any case, clicking on their names links to their blogs – all worth visiting and browsing through.

  1. Tyson Seburn – @seburnt
  2. Cecilia Lemos – @CeciELT
  3. Eva Buyuksimkesyan – @evab2001
  4. Naomi Epstein – @naomishema
  5. Kathy Fagan – @eslkathy
  6. Vicky Loras – @vickyloras
  7. Steve Brown – @stevebrowntweets
  8. Nathan Hall – @nathanghall
  9. Sirja Bessero – @swisssirja
  10. Rose Bard – @rosemerebard
  11. Roseli Serra – @SerraRoseli

My 11 questions for them (and anyone else who fancies answering)

  1. What do you most enjoy about blogging?
  2. Do you play a musical instrument? If not, would you like to? Which one?
  3. How far do you travel to work? How do you travel?
  4. What do you enjoy most about the work that you do?
  5. What was the first thing you ate today?
  6. If you could travel anywhere, where would you go? Why?
  7. What month next year are you most looking forward to? Why?
  8. What meal do you prepare most often for friends?
  9. What was the last movie you saw? What did you think?
  10. What three things do you like to have with you when working?
  11. What do YOU think about reality TV shows?

Update: So, I enjoyed this challenge and I have already got to read some really interesting and enlightening responses – both to this post and others. It’s fun! But, it was difficult to limit my tagging to just 11 people and since posting I keep thinking of others I would also like to have tagged. Without breaking the ‘rules’, I’d love to hear from anyone reading this who might be inclined to respond to this post on their blog or in the comments, whether they’ve been tagged here or not. While I may not have had the capacity to ‘tag’ you, consider yourself ‘invited’ to complete steps 1-5 above!


Kathy Fagan Responding to Carol Goodey’s Tag

Tyson Seburn Quick facts about me (response to @cgoodey) and Responses & tags (part 2 of @cgoodey’s post)

Shelly Sanchez Terrell 11 Random Facts

Vicky Loras Eleven! Tagged by @dougpete, @cgoodey and @yearinthelifeof

Naomi Epstein “Seven on Eleven” – A Blog Game

Cecilia Lemos The 11 Challenge – The person behind the blog

Eva Buyuksimkesyan 11 Random Facts, Questions, Answers and ELT Bloggers

Rose Bard Just the facts and Tagged by Carol Goodey: A nice surprise

Steve Brown Tagged Twice

Roseli Serra 11 random facts at Christmas time

Sirja Bessero confessions from a tagged blogger