Antonia Clare is a teacher trainer, international conference speaker and award-winning materials writer. Her special interests include the use of video and new technologies in ELT, creativity and the psychology of language learning.  She has taught and trained in many countries around the world, including Italy, Spain, Hong Kong, Portugal, Poland and the UK and is a co-author for Language-to-GoTotal English, English in Common and Speakout (which won the English Speaking Union Duke of Edinburgh Award for best new book in English language teaching in 2011). The TDSIG is proud and honoured to host her as our next contributor to our current theme of books for teaching. Happy reading everyone!


Ten books that have shaped my teaching

Antonia Clare

Books are our greatest teachers. There’s something magical about the way that carefully considered words on a page can influence our thinking and our behaviour. I love the quiet, reflective manner in which we learn from books. The way they challenge our beliefs, deepen our understanding and sow the seeds of new ideas. I like to think that most of the daily reading I do contributes to my development as a teacher, a trainer and a writer. As Confucius said, ‘You cannot open a book without learning something.’ But I suppose some books stand out as having had a major impact on my development, either in terms of how I view language, or the process of teaching and learning itself. They are:

1 Learning Teaching – Jim Scrivener

This book encouraged me to question my teaching practice from early on, helping me to see that I had as much to learn as my students (if not more), so that teaching became reciprocal, and I could see that I was only at the beginning of a journey.

“The act of teaching is essentially a constant processing of options. At every point in each lesson a teacher has a number of options available; he or she can decide to do something, or not to do anything at all. In order to become a better teacher it seems to be important to be aware of as many options as possible.” Jim Scrivener

2 A-Z of ELT – Scott Thornbury

Scott’s massively popular blog series was a fabulous invitation to go back and reconsider a number of different concepts in ELT. Part of its appeal was in the delivery; bite-sized chunks of brilliantly crafted comment, with links to further reading, popping into your inbox on a Sunday morning. Each post was inevitably followed by fascinating and vigorous debate. I stopped buying the Sunday papers! The blog is no longer active, but the original book is still available and many of the blog posts “have been reworked in the form of an e-book, Big Questions in ELT, published by The Round.” Brilliant.

3 The Lexical Approach – The State of ELT and a Way Forward, Michael Lewis

There are a few books that have completely changed the way I think about language. One of them was The Lexical Approach; another was Guy Cook’s book Discourse (CUP). Both of these had a huge influence on the way I view and teach language in the classroom. Lewis’ assertion that language is retained in chunks and that fluency is based on our ability to recognise and produce lexical phrases had a massive impact on my teaching at the time, and later in my own writing. Until then I may have been the kind of teacher that Lewis mentions in his book as saying about a lesson,

“I did the present perfect, but I’m not sure what they did.” Michael Lewis

4 Using Authentic Video in the Language Classroom – Jane Sherman

Actually, it wasn’t the book itself so much as a talk I went to early on in my teaching career, where Jane shared her ideas of how she’d been using video with her Italian university students. I was already using a lot of video with my own classes, but Jane really inspired me with new ideas, and gave some theoretical credence to the work I was doing.

“Why use authentic video? … It’s not an indulgence or a frill, but central to language learning. Understanding authentic drama is an entry ticket to the English-speaking world, on a par with reading newspapers and magazines, writing business letters, having conversations and other major language activities found in EFL coursebooks. It should, like them, be regarded as a language-learning goal in its own right.” Jane Sherman

5 Discussions that Work – Task-centred fluency practice, Penny Ur

This tiny and unassuming book helped me to realise as a young teacher that I could teach hugely enjoyable, conversation-driven lessons using very few materials. And that was before we’d ever heard of Dogme 😉

“On the whole, the simpler the task the more chance it has of success.” Penny Ur

6 Psychology for Language Teachers – A social constructivist approach, Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden

This was one of the books that encouraged me to investigate a more constructivist approach to teaching, to become more aware of the effects of attitude and motivation, and how social factors play a part in our increasing competence as language users.

“Teaching, like learning, must be concerned with teachers making sense of, or meaning from, the situations in which they find themselves.” Williams and Burden

7 How Children Learn (and How Children Fail) – John Holt

In these seminal books on education Holt questions assumptions we may have about how children acquire knowledge and learning skills. The books made me critically aware of the importance of not putting learners on the spot, and having a supportive classroom atmosphere where both successes and failures can be encouraged. We learn from our mistakes, if they are handled properly.

“When we better understand the ways, conditions, and spirit in which children do their best learning, and are able to make school into a place where they can use and improve the style of thinking and learning natural to them, we may be able to prevent (much of this) failure.” John Holt

8 Interaction in the Language Curriculum: Awareness, Autonomy and Authenticity – Leo van Lier

With today’s emphasis on measurable outcomes becoming such a driving force in education, it’s great to be reminded of the importance of genuine interaction and a sharing of control.

“If there is excessive control and we are told exactly what to do and when to do it, then education ceases to be education…. Intangibles are often more influential than tangibles. If you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. If you can’t count it, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.” Leo van Lier

9 Pedagogy of the Heart – Paulo Freire

I couldn’t write this list without including something of Freire as his influence has been so far-reaching.

“I can know better what I know. The important thing is to educate the curiosity through which knowledge is constituted as it grows and refines itself through the very exercise of knowing. … An education of answers does not at all help the curiosity that is indispensable in the cognitive process. On the contrary, this form of education emphasizes the mechanical memorisation of content. Only an education of questions can trigger, motivate and reinforce curiosity.” Paulo Freire

10 Out of Our Minds – Learning to be Creative, Ken Robinson

Again, I could have chosen from many books relating to the use of Creativity in ELT, but I chose this one, because if there’s anyone reading who hasn’t heard of Ken Robinson and his TED talks, it’s well worth going to have a look. And because I think what Ken is saying in this book is so important for education as a whole, as well as being a great read.

“Creativity is sometimes associated with free expression, which is partly why some people worry about creativity in education. Critics think of children running wild and knocking down the furniture rather than getting on with serious work. Being creative does usually involve playing with ideas and having fun; enjoyment and imagination. But creativity is also about working in a highly focussed way on ideas and projects, crafting them into their best forms and making critical judgements along the way about which work best and why. In every discipline, creativity also draws on skill, knowledge and control. It’s not only about letting go, it’s about holding on.” Ken Robinson

And finally, …

“No matter where you are or what you do, if you are alive and on earth you are caught up in a global revolution.” Ken Robinson

Have any of these books affected your own teacher development? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Or do you have your own favourite quotes you’d like to share?