#EdLitChat: a virtual book club for educators

Edlitchat.png

I’m a voracious reader but I often find myself shying away from books related to education, ELT, learning research and the like. Even when I have them on my Kindle or on my bookshelf, I seem to gravitate towards a travelogue or space opera rather than reading something that might build breadth and depth of knowledge across different aspects of education. I realise that books are a wonderful and frequently ignored approach to professional development and I’ve been reflecting on how I could remedy my somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards them.

#EdLitChat, obviously modeled on the great #ELTchat, is an initiative that some peers and I have started to motivate each other to read books about our field. All of us have a background in ELT but work in teacher development and education research, and see this as an opportunity to read new and seminal books on education, build our PLN, share experiences and reflect collaboratively on what we’ve read.

Each month, we’ll read one book and come together on Facebook or Twitter to discuss it on the last Sunday of the month at 4 pm India time (check what time it is where you are). I’d like to make the group as inclusive as possible so we’ll have lots of free publications (have a look at my post on where to get free books). We’re starting with one of these free books, Effective Learning in Classrooms by Chris Watkins, Eileen Carnell and Caroline Lodge.

I’d like to invite teachers and education professionals from any background to come read with us. You can stay updated with #EdLitChat through any or all of the following platforms based on whatever you tend to use:

I’ll basically be repeating the same information across the three but the wiki will also hopefully host additional content such as chat summaries and book reviews. I’d love to hear your suggestions for books we could read in upcoming months.

Where to get free ELT & education-related books … legally

Free ELT and education books.png

Many of the teachers I work with often ask me for recommendations for books to help them with lesson planning, activities, methodology, research and general professional development. I can suggest titles by the dozens but they are often not really affordable – a topic I’ve written about before.

So here’s a list of sites where you can get free ELT and education related books.

1. British Council’s Teacher Development Publications 

There are loads here but my favourites in no particular order include the following:

2. Chris Watkins’ publications

A veritable treasure trove. I could spend a year rummaging through all the free stuff and not even make a dent. Note that many of the files are articles or excerpts. However, the complete version of Effective Learning in Classrooms is available as a free download. This is a very accessible book for getting started on the journey to reflective teaching. I also found Classrooms as Learning Communities very inspiring.

3. ELT Council Publications 

This site currently hosts three free books: The image in English Language Teaching by (Ed. Kieran Donaghy and Daniel Xerri) -definitely worth a dekko, Creativity in English Language Teaching and The Learning ELT Professional.

4. Quick Cups of COCA by Mura Nava

If you’ve started using corpora, explore Mura’s useful little book on different searches you can run in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (CoCA). You can read my review of this book here.

5. Nik Peachey’s free digital books

Nik is always giving away free stuff. While the publications he’s well known for such as Digital Tools for Teachers aren’t free, he often offers huge discounts on these books and you might end up paying something between ₹50 and ₹100 which is an absolute steal for a book stuffed with practical ideas. You can get updates about discounts and free goodies from his Edtech & ELT Newsletter – to subscribe, go to his blog, scroll down and enter your email address in the box on the right that says “My free newsletter”.

6. 50 tips for ELT materials writers by ITDI (ed. Katherine Bilsborough)

7You are the coursebook – Lesson plans by Matt Purland

8. Phil Wade’s books on SmashWords – Lots of ESP and Business English booklets.

9. Free chapters by Zoltan Dornyei has written in a range of books. Dornyei is well known for his writing on motivation and dynamics in the language classroom.

10. Contributions to Creative Classrooms – a collection of activities put together by teachers who attended an ELTA-British Council workshop  in Serbia.

11. Enjoying books together: a guide for teachers on the use of books in the classroom by Joseph Nhan-O’Reilly – a beautifully illustrated book from the Rwandan Children’s Initiative

12. Publications from IATEFL’s Research Special Interest Group – I found Developing as an EFL Researcher: Stories from the field particularly interesting.

13. Articles by Jack C. Richard (suggested by Matthew Noble). While these aren’t books, there are excerpts and papers from books.

14. The Lexical Approach by Dave Ellis thanks to the University of Birmingham.

15. Books by Stephen Krashen including The Natural Approach, Second Language Acquisition and Second Language LearningPrinciples and Practice
in Second Language Acquisition and Summer Reading program and evidence. Many thanks to Marisa Constantinides for sharing these links.

16. Some free books on management and leadership from OReilly – potentially useful for Business English and ESP trainers. There are two titles – The secret behind great one-to-one meetings and Build to lead: how Lego bricks can make you a better leader, which might be interesting for a wider audience.

17. Teaching and Learning Languages: a guide is a free ebook funded by the Australian Department of Education.

18. Flipping the System is a free book from Routledge that explores ways of replacing top-down accountability with bottom-up support for teachers.

19. Getting started with Virtual Reality Guide by Monica Burns, the founder of  ClassTechTips.com

Suggestions for additions to my list are highly appreciated as long as they are related to ELT or education and of course legitimately free!

Image attribution: Free by Foomandoonian – Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A king’s ransom at a teacher’s pay scale | The pricing of methodology books

Teaching Unplugged Scott Thornbury

Several months ago, I was browsing through some online book stores to see if I could get a good deal for Scott Thornbury’s Beyond the Sentence. On one such site, I was shocked to discover Teaching Unplugged on sale at the magical discounted price of ₹154,010 (that’s $2566 for all you muggles). I suspect that this was probably an error but it got me thinking about the pricing of ELT methodology books. I have Teaching Unplugged and I bought it for  ₹250 ($4).  You see, in India, books across genres, are generally priced at a lower range than in the rest of the world. I usually think twice about buying a book which costs more than ₹500 ($8) and many of the books I’m interested in are priced for the Indian market such that they fall well within this limit. It’s something I was aware of and hadn’t paid much attention to – like the disclaimer on the backs of Cambridge Univ. Press books – ever so slightly beyond my peripheral vision.

IMG_20141022_094704

It was only when I did my Delta Module 2 in Bangkok that I in fact realized how expensive ELT books can actually be and oddly, the catalyst  was Christine Nuttall. Nuttall’s opus, Teaching Reading Skills from Macmillan was much in demand among my peers so much so that you weren’t allowed to spend more than a night with her. And it’s quite a read. One of the other students was fed up with waiting and found a book store dedicated to ELT resources from where he promptly purchased Nuttall. That weekend, I explored the back sois of Phetchaburi in a bid to find the shop, which I did after much looking. I’d never seen anything like it before – a fairly large space that catered almost exclusively to language teaching resources and specifically to ELT. Two walls filled with dictionaries. An entire atrium of course books organized by theme. And finally a large corner shelf stacked with books for teachers. I couldn’t contain my excitement at this point and began to quickly pull out titles I wanted to buy. No prices were mentioned on the books so I took my pile over to the cashier. The cheapest book in the pile was 800 baht! And the most expensive was a whopping 4800 baht! Something was wrong. I went back to the corner shelf and took out a couple of books whose Indian prices I could guesstimate. Natural Grammar for which I’d paid $2 back home was being sold at over four times that price.  Almost nothing was less than 800 baht. Not even old, old Penny Ur books with stylized illustrations from the 1980s.

Later that week, when I was having a bit of a whinge about this to my Delta peers, I discovered that everyone else seemed habituated to paying these crazy prices. One of the other teachers who’s English and lives in Japan confessed that her ELT collection was probably among the most expensive things she owned and on her way over to Bangkok from Tokyo, she kept gems from her heavy, prized collection in her hand baggage to ensure that they wouldn’t experience anything untoward.

I can’t speak for the rest of the world but even in India despite that differential pricing that OUP and CUP practise with some of their titles and efforts by Delta to bring out some books through a local publisher, the majority of books are out of reach for most English educators. CUP India prices Listening in the Language Classroom at a reasonable ₹306 ($5). But The Language of Business Meetings, a book I’ve always wanted is listed as ₹2534 ($42). Alright, so the average English teacher probably wouldn’t invest in The Language of Business Meetings. Let’s have a look at Teaching Multilevel Classes – surely that’s a book most teachers would be interested in – ₹2219 ($37).  This one too states that it’s only meant for SAARC countries which means that this is apparently a low priced edition for South Asia. But, the price seems in line with the UK. It’s a mystery how CUP determines prices for its South Asia editions. Some are truly priced within a very reasonable range and others completely out of reach. Fairly arbitrary. I have to appreciate OUP in this regard because at least with their Resource Books for Teachers series, they seem to have consistently priced titles below ₹500.  Delta offers many of its methodology titles through Viva Books in a range between ₹120 and ₹250 ($2 – $4) although they haven’t brought out anything new through Viva since The Developing Teacher. Macmillan does not publish any of its methodology books locally and for example Amazon India lists Uncovering Grammar as an import at ₹2342 ($39).

English teachers in India who work with institutions in urban areas earn on average ₹25,000 ($417) per month before taxes. In rural areas, it’s probably around ₹15,000 or less.  A book like Uncovering Grammar works out to be 10% of the monthly income of the average English teacher in urban India. I can’t claim to know why books are priced the way they are. I do wonder how much actually ends up going to the author but I suspect it’s not that much. So, the question that’s been bugging me is … who are all of these methodology books written for? The core audience couldn’t possibly be English teachers because the vast majority of them live in the developing world where just one of these books could cost between 10 – 20% of their monthly salaries – an unreasonable demand on a person who’s chronically underpaid and must prioritize all sorts of other essential needs before accumulating intellectual wealth in activities and approaches. Which leads me to infer that these books are in fact intended for institutions, well-off private language schools, expatriate teachers and teaching professionals in the West. And yet skimming the prefaces of these books reveals that some of these authors operate under the delusion they are somehow making the world a better place by improving the professional practices of ALL teachers and making life easier for them by distilling research into implementable little chunks and techniques.

I wish that were the case. Methodology books are clearly written and priced for what is referred to in Indian English as the creamy layer. If you can’t afford to buy it, then you and your learners don’t get to profit from the insights it contains. This line of reasoning is all to familiar to me as an Indian. My ancestors used it as a guiding philosophy to run a closed system for over three thousand years, denying access to books to all but a select few. Everyone else (if you were lucky) had to be content listening to second hand sermons gleaned from libraries.

The strictures imposed by the ELT ‘Brahmins’ prop up an enormously inequitable system, one that many authors themselves are uncomfortable with. Some seem to think the answer lies with initiatives like The Round and others are taking matters into their own hands, much to the chagrin of authors.

Scott Thornbury piracy

This is my ELT bookshelf. While it’s not huge, I count my blessings that I’m fortunate enough to have the financial ability to access far more books than most teachers in my country. I hope the day is not far when fair access to knowledge at a reasonable cost makes the seminal books of our profession available to all.

PicsArt_1413949499096