James is originally from Brighton, UK and has taught English as a foreign language to adults in Brazil, South Korea and Belgium. Currently based in San Jose, Costa Rica, he teach adults at Centro Cultural Britanico.
He the current President and a co-founder of BELTA, the Belgian English Language Teachers Association. You can also find him moderating #ELTchat, a weekly discussion on Twitter with teachers from around the world, presenting the #ELTchat podcast, mentoring teachers for iTDi, blogging and taking photographs. The TDSIG are very grateful to James for this excellent contribution. We’re thrilled to share this post with you and hope it gets your week off to a great start.
Ten books that shaped my teaching
by James Taylor
My only regret about being an English teacher is that I’ll never earn the kind of prestige that will earn me an invitation onto Desert Island Discs, the BBC Radio 4 programme where guests choose their favourite pieces of music. But thanks to the TDSIG, I have a chance to do the next best thing and choose the books that have had the most influence on me as a teacher.
However, I have cheated in a way that Kirsty Young, the presenter of the prestigious radio show, would never allow and expanded my list to include articles and blog posts. It feels like a more accurate representation of my development as a teacher, especially for blogs, and there are literally hundreds of posts I could include which have contributed in their own small way.
Penny Ur – Grammar Practice Activities
I love resource books, and this one just might be the best. I can’t count how many times I’ve grabbed this so my students can get some extra practice, and it’s never failed to provide me with exactly what I need.
Scott Thornbury & Luke Meddings – Teaching Unplugged
For many of us this book is a classic, and rightly so. Encapsulating an idea and an ethos isn’t easy, and this book does a great job of it, legitimising the lessons of countless teachers in the process. Including this one.
Ways Of Doing – Paul Davis, Barbara Garside and Mario Rinvolucri
I bought this right when I first starting collecting resource books. A book which re-examines what an activity can be, it made me think about my lessons in a new way. It has its flaws (learning styles and multiple intelligences, no thank you), but I can’t deny its influence at an early stage in my teaching career.
Luke Meddings and Lindsay Clandfield – 52
A teachers book unlike any other, this self-published, ebook only volume has more than a element of subversiveness about it. Almost entirely free of instructions, it pushes both the teacher and the student into new territory.
John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men
The first time I taught literature with my students, we read this book. I’d only chosen it because the teacher I took over from used it too, but every time I read it came to appreciate it more, especially based on the reactions of my students. At first they were reluctant, struggling to imagine why a thirty-something Korean schoolteacher with two kids and a stressful job would be interested in two farmhands in California in the 1930’s. By the time they finished it, they were profoundly moved both by the wonderful story, and by the fact that they had enjoyed and engaged with a book in English, sometimes for the first time.
Bill Bryson – The Mother Tongue
As a non-linguist, my passion for English comes very much from the hobbyist, pub quiz and literature side as opposed to the more studied, academic side. For a linguist, this is probably like reading a Jack and Jill book, but for me it was a great read, full of all the oddities and curios that make up this massive, messy, glorious language.
And the articles…
Adrian Underhill – Teaching Without A Coursebook
I came at this one the wrong way around. Having started to read about Dogme ELT, I discovered that this was one of its influences. It provided an overworked and overstressed teacher with a eureka moment, and changed the way I taught from that day on (you can read more about that here: http://www.malusciamarelli.com/inspiring-teachers/a-moment-of-inspiration-eureka-james-taylor/)
Zoltan Dornyei & Kata Csizér Eötvös – 10 Commandments for Motivating Language Learners – Results Of An Empirical Study
This was another one of those lightning moments of inspiration when the clouds parted (if I may continue with the weather metaphors) and the everything made sense. Dornyei & Eötvös’ paper crystalised what my role in the classroom was, and how I needed to go about it. I immediately typed out their ten commandments, printed and laminated them so I could be reminded of them constantly. Years later, it still sits by my desk.
And the blog posts…
Dominic Braham and Anthony Gaughan – 40 Things To Do With A Text
There are different types of blog posts. Sometimes they address the big ideas, even going beyond ELT into the wider field of education. Sometimes they are lesson plans, which are always useful and interesting to compare with your own. Sometimes they share a resource you can adopt in your classroom. Sometimes they recount a personal experience, allowing the reader to empathise and realise they are not the only one who’s been in that situation. Sometimes they are just a brilliantly simple list of ideas that you can go back to time and time again, like this post on Anthony Gaughan’s blog.
Jason Renshaw – Teaching unplugged: A whiteboard tour of an actual lesson with beginner level students
And sometimes they actually demonstrate how a big idea can work. As a relatively inexperienced teacher, finding my way post-CELTA through a maze of techniques, approaches and methods, Jason Renshaw’s blog was an absolute must read. In the case of this blog post, he even went so far as to show me how to teach, step by step.
(Photo credit: Mike Harrison Photography)