Skip to content ↓

June 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 3

ISSN 1755-9715

Teaching to Learn: Learning to Teach

Alan Maley has been active in the English Language Teaching field for over 50 years.  He has lived and worked in 10 countries, including India, China, Singapore and France.  From 1962-88 he worked for the British Council overseas, then became Director-General of the Bell Educational Trust in Cambridge (1988-93).  He has published over 50 books and many articles.  His main interests lie in creativity, especially creative writing.  He was a co-founder of The C Group.  In 2012 he received the ELTons Lifetime Achievement Award.  He is a regular contributor to  HLT Mag.



This will be a somewhat speculative article.  Perhaps we can think of it as a kind of thought experiment.  In it I ask myself the question: have we been getting it wrong all along?  Has teacher training been heading down the wrong track?  And if so, what is to be done about it?   
These questions were prompted by three things:  

  • re-reading some key articles by N.S. Prabhu in his recently published collected papers, Perceptions of Language Pedagogy (2019).  
  • ideas sparked by McGilchrist in his book The Master and his Emissary (2019) and his You Tube interview: , in which he argues that our society has been taken over by Left-brain thinking.
  • discussions and work I have been engaged in with Adrian Underhill over the past few years where we have been arguing for greater attention to be paid to the unpredictable in language teaching and the role of spontaneity and how to foster it. (Underhill 2014; Underhill & Maley 2012)


N. S. Prabhu and the Teacher’s Sense of Plausibility

Among other things, Prabhu (2019) suggests that we have merely been ‘equipping’ teachers to perform a routine, rather than ‘enabling’ them to engage actively with the unpredictability of learning.

He also claims that the whole apparatus of curricular control is delusional because it is based on the false assumption that we can predict what learners will learn, how they will learn it, and when. And that assumption is based on an equally fallacious belief that we know how people learn languages.

A summary of his arguments, supported by some quotes may help understand what he is driving at:

~ Learning is unpredictable and unobservable, and different learners learn in different ways and at different rates.

~ Therefore any attempt to specify what is to be learned and in what order is bound to be limited, at best.

‘The provision of a curricular sequence enables the teacher to assume, without having to ascertain, that each unit matches a corresponding point in the learner’s progress… …the curriculum developer attempts to predict or decide in advance the progress of development before it takes place, while the teacher has difficulty perceiving it as it happens.’ (pp 160-161. Chapter 14, ‘The Dynamics of the Language Lesson’.)

‘Teaching is what the teacher does; learning is what happens to the learner.’ (p 242)

‘Learning, then, is accidental, individual and private – the opposite of teaching, which is deliberate, public and most often directed to groups.’ (p 247)

‘…teaching in general can only help to promote learning overall – perhaps by creating some conditions which increase the probability of the occurrence of learning.’ (p 247) 

‘A content syllabus is at best a form of pedagogic delusion.’(p 248, Chapter 20 ‘Teaching is at Most Hoping for the Best’)

~ What teachers teach is rarely what learners learn: they may learn nothing, or something which has not been taught, or may learn it at a later stage. 
‘Learning is essentially an accident.’ (p 245, Chapter 20 ‘Teaching is at Most Hoping for the Best’.)

~ What matters is the learner’s effort to make sense of the world through the new language.  The greater the effort, the more likely that learning will occur.

~ This prioritises the effort to comprehend in speech and writing long before any effort to produce language can be expected to yield results.  It makes learning an L2 more akin to learning an L1, in fact.

‘Any assistance which the teacher provides in learners’ comprehension of inputs is likely to be subsequent to it being guided by some evidence of learners’ success or failure in comprehending them on their own – hence responsive to learners’ effort, not pre-emptive of it.’ (my italics)  (p107, Chapter 10.  ‘Acquisition through Comprehension: Three procedures.’)
~ Systematic attempts to prescribe what is to be learned and how, including making the language ‘easier’, detract from learners’ effort and are therefore counter-productive.

~ What we need to do is to offer learners meaningful and stimulating materials and activities which they can engage with in maximally flexible ways, thus constructing their own L2 system.

Teachers too are best placed to know what will work best in their unique context.  As they teach their students, they come to learn their students too.  In doing so, they develop over time their unique understanding of the teaching /learning process. 

‘For classroom activities to be more than protective routines, it is minimally necessary for teachers to be operating with their own beliefs about the value of those activities – with their own notions or theories of how learning comes about and how the teaching that is being done is bringing it about.’ (p173, Chapter 14 ‘The Dynamics of the Language Lesson.’)

~ It follows that teachers too need to be trained or prepared in a different way.  Rather than only being fed knowledge, theories and practices developed by external authorities, they need to be encouraged and helped to develop their personal theories of teaching by observing and reflecting on their own day-to-day practice.  This is a lifelong process.

‘…teachers’ own varied perceptions, experiences and their interpretations are now equally legitimate inputs to the training process, not some unfortunate constraints to be reckoned with.  Success in training is accordingly to be assessed not by the approximation of teachers’ behaviour or belief to those of the trainer but by the increase in teachers’ ability to interpret experience, relate perceptions to practical procedures, articulate emerging perceptions and interact productively with other perceptions.’  (p 68, Chapter 7 ‘Language education: Equipping or enabling.’)

‘Growth arises from and is sustained by experience, not training or knowledge.’  (p 297, Chapter 25 ‘Teachers’ Growth’.)  


Iain McGilchrist

McGilchrist is a psychiatrist and well-known writer on brain science.  What he has to say is of relevance to us in the language teaching field.  All too often we focus our attention on our narrow field, thus depriving ourselves of valuable insights from other fields. 

In The Master and his Emissary (2009) he revisits the previously discredited Right/Left hemisphere concept, arguing that Western society has tended to emphasize Left Hemisphere aspects of consciousness and marginalised Right Hemisphere functions.  He argues for a re-balancing to take account of lived experience, reaffirming the importance of the body, intuition and the emotions in all aspects of life, including the scientific.   

‘…the right hemisphere is grappling with experience, which is multiple in nature, in principle unmeasurable in the totality, changing, infinite, full of individual differences, while the left brain sees only a version or representation of that experience, in which, by contrast, the world is a single, knowable, consistent, certain, fixed, therefore ultimately finite, generalised across experience, a world we can master.’ (McGilchrist, 2009: 352-3.)

He identifies some of the characteristics of Right-brain thinking: ‘ … these include empathy and inter-subjectivity as the ground of consciousness; the importance of an open, patient attention to the world, as opposed to a wilful, grasping attention; the implicit or hidden nature of truth; the emphasis on process rather than stasis; the primacy of perception; the importance of the body in constituting reality; an emphasis on uniqueness; the objectifying nature of vision; the irreductibility of all value to utility; and creativity as an unveiling (no-saying) process rather than a wilfully constructive process.’  (McGilchrist, 2009: 177)

He argues that Left-brain dominance has led to the following situation:  ‘Knowledge that came through experience, and the practical acquisition of embodied skill would become suspect… The concepts of skill and judgment … would be discarded in favour of quantifiable and repeatable procedures… (Hence a preference for) the necessity of procedures that are known, and in principle knowable; anonymity; organisability; predictability; explicit abstraction.’ (McGilchrist, 2009: 429)

When we look at trends in education (including teacher education) over the past few decades, we can see how the devotion to predictability, organisability, standardisation, depersonalisation and control have gradually taken over.  It is this hegemony of Left-brain thinking and its consequences that I am questioning here.


The Spontaneity Imperative

Adrian Underhill and I have been arguing for some time that we need to open up training programmes to include means of developing productive responses to what is happening in the classroom, moment by moment - that is, to Spontaneity. (Underhill & Maley, 2012, Underhill, 2014).  This seems to complement Prabhu’s comments on the need to develop ‘teachers’ ability to interpret experience, relate perceptions to practical procedures, articulate emerging perceptions and interact productively with other perceptions.’ (p 68, Chapter 7, ‘Language education: Equipping or enabling.’)  It also chimes with McGilchrist’s plea for a re-instatement of the physical body and the validity of the emotional, intuitive component (Arnold, 1999).  In order to achieve this engagement with spontaneous response, I would argue that we have to focus just as much on helping the teacher develop as a person as on professional knowledge and skills.


Practical application of these ideas

Continuing our thought experiment, what might a different approach look like?  
~ For one thing, courses or programmes of development for preparing teachers would be a lot longer than they are now.  In Finland, teacher training courses run for 5 years or more.  Contrast that with the average 1 year MA course or the average CELTA/DELTA course.  The programme suggested below would last 3 years.  An alternative would be a modular option lasting a maximum of 5 years.
~ The course would also be designed to offer maximum choice.  It would also be flexible enough to respond to unpredictable challenges and opportunities as they unfold.
~ It would be aimed at developing the whole person just as much as the professional technician: the kind of mature person who can react appropriately, creatively and intuitively to the unpredictability they will certainly face. 
~ There would be a strong element of aesthetic content and practice.
~ Content would therefore be much broader and varied than is currently offered, to allow for peripheral learning and greater possibility of making unpredictable, personal connections.
~ There would be an emphasis on independent learning, in the belief that trainees are capable of much more than is usually asked of them. (This chimes with Scrivener’s views on Demand-High Teaching (Scrivener, 2015).
What I am proposing here is no more than a possible outline for such a course.  It is not a full course description. (For more ideas on how this might be achieved, see Maley & Kiss, 2018 , Chaps.8-11; Maley, 2019.)
I will divide these suggestions into Content and Process.  For each of them, I will give a brief description followed by a rationale for including them and some suggested readings where appropriate. These are not intended to be comprehensive reading lists but rather suggested starting points.  



•    Meditation.   After a practical introduction to various forms of meditation, trainees would choose one to work on independently.  Ideally they would then meditate for 25-30 minutes a day. 

Rationale:  The benefits of meditation are well-established for clearing the mind of its clutter and developing a calm centredness from which secure base ‘effortless’ action can spring.  This state of mental preparedness is one of the keys to the teacher’s ‘presence’ in the classroom (Rodenburg, 2007).

            Suggested reading:
            Johnson, W. (1996). The posture of meditation. Boston Mass.: Shambhala Pubs.
            Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994)  Wherever You Go, There You Are.  London: Piatkus
            LeShan, L. (1989). How to meditate. London: Turnstone Press.
            Rodenburg, P. (2007). Presence. London: Michael Joseph.
            Thich Nhat Hanh (1996) The Miracle of Mindfulness.  London: Beacon Press.
            Wilson, P. (1995). Instant calm. London: Penguin.

•    Physical exercise.   After an introduction to a range of systems for developing and sustaining a healthy body, trainees choose just one to work with on a regular basis independently.  Systems could include: Yoga, Alexander Technique, Rolfing, Feldenkrais, etc.

Rationale:  Being physically fit promotes a positive self-image, and enhances mental performance.  If we aim to revalidate the body as part of learning, it makes sense to start with ourselves.

Suggested reading:
           Bond, M. (1993). Rolfing movement integration: A self-help approach to balancing the body. Rochester, Vermont: Healing Arts Press.
           Dong, Y. P. (1993). Still as a mountain, powerful as thunder: Simple Taoist exercises for healing, vitality and peace of mind. Boston, Mass.: Shambhala Pubs.
           Feldenkrais, M. (1980). Awareness through movement: Health exercises for personal growth. London: Penguin.
            Gelb, M. (1994). Body learning: An introduction to the Alexander Technique. 
            London: Aurum Press.  
            Wilson, P. (1995). Instant calm. London: Penguin.

•    Drama, Impro, Clowning, Voice-work and Story-telling/making.  Trainees would follow a course lasting at least a year in these aspects of spontaneous performance. They would be expected to devise and put on group and individual performances as appropriate. 

Rationale: Teaching is, among other things, a performance skill.  The course would offer valuable ways of developing this complex of skills.  There is added spin-off value because many of the techniques could also be applied with advantage with language learners in the classroom.

Suggested reading:
Abbott, J. (2010). The improvisation book. London: Nick Hern Books.
Almond, M. (2019) Putting the Human Centre-stage. London: Pavilion ELT
Davison, J. (2015). Clowning training: A practical guide. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Jeffers, S. J. (2007). Feel the fear and do it anyway. London: Vermilion/Penguin Random House.
Johnstone, K. (1981). Impro: Improvisation and the theatre. London: Methuen.
Johnstone, K. (1999). Impro for storytellers. London: Faber and Faber.
Karpf, A. (2007). The human voice: The story of a remarkable talent. London: Bloomsbury.
Linklater, K. (1976). Freeing the natural voice. New York: Drama Book Publishers.
Lutzker, P. (2007) The Art of Foreign Language Teaching: Improvisation and Deama in Teacher Development.  Tubingen: Francke Verlag.
Maley, A. (2000). The language teacher's voice. Oxford: Macmillan Heinemann.
Maley, A. & Duff, A. (2005) Drama Techniques.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nachmanovitch, S. (1990). Free play: Improvisation in life and art. New York: Tarcher/Putnam/Penguin.
Poynton, R. (2013). Do improvise – Less push. More pause. Better results. A new approach to work (and life). London: The Do Book Company.
Rodenburg, P. (2007). Presence. London: Michael Joseph.
Wajnryb, R. (2003) Story: Narrative activiies for the language classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wright, A (2017) We are stories.  English Teaching Professional, issue 111, July 2017.
Wright, A. and Hill, D. (2008) Writing stories. Innsbruck: Helbling Languages.

•    Creative writing.  Trainees would follow a course of at least one year in the basic techniques and practice of writing poetry, short stories and plays. A group anthology of their writing would be produced at the end of the year.

Rationale:  Creative writing engages trainees with the aesthetic use of language, with linguistic experimentation and inquiry, with acute observation and with self-discovery: all very relevant for a language teacher.  The techniques deployed can also be applied to subsequent classroom teaching with their own students.

Suggested reading:
            Fry, S. (2007). The Ode less Travelled: Unlocking the poet within. London: Arrow Books.
            Matthews, P. (1994). Sing me the creation. Stroud: Hawthorn Press.
            Spiro, J. (2004). Creative poetry writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
            Spiro, J. (2006). Storybuilding. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

•    Learning a new skill.   Trainees would be asked to choose a new practical skill they wish to acquire.  They would then be responsible for acquiring it independently.  At the end of the course, each trainee would present a demonstration or exhibition of the new skill.  
Possibilities could include: photography, painting /drawing/ sculpture, juggling, paper folding (origami), flower arrangement (ikebana), Chinese brush calligraphy, cooking, playing a musical instrument, magic/conjuring, puppetry, IT skills applied to learning, etc . 

Rationale:  The intention is to focus trainees’ attention on how they go about acquiring a new skill.  Unexpected parallels with learning a language may also emerge.  By becoming adept at a new skill, they also become more interesting as people, not just as teachers.  The new skills can also in many cases be incorporated into their teaching repertoire.


•    Learning a new language.  Trainees would choose a new language to learn.  This should be a language with a different script from English, or from their mother tongue. (Sign language would also be a possibility) Trainees would independently design their own strategy and activities, and keep a log/journal of their progress.  Their learning should extend over 2 years (ie. not just a ‘taster’ course as currently offered by some courses).

Rationale:  By putting themselves in their students’ shoes, trainees would learn a lot about how languages work, how they themselves learn, what activities might suit their own students.  It would also instil a sense of humility and a better understanding of the difficulties encountered by their own students.

•    Detailed investigation of one of a list of methods/ approaches.  Trainees would be given an overview of some of the less conventional methods / approaches.  For example: The Silent Way, Suggestopedia, Community Language Learning, Psycho-drama, Dogma, NLP, etc.  They would then choose one of these and carry out an in-depth study of it, leading to a paper and presentation.

Rationale:  Trainees’ range of ideas, and potentially of ideas for teaching too, would be broadened by inquiry into non-conventional approaches.  

Suggested reading:

Asher, J.T. (1969) The Total Physical Response Approach to second language learning.  Modern Language Journal.
Baker, J. & Rinvolucri, M. (2005) Unlocking Self-Expression through NLP.  London:Delta
Bancroft, W.J. (2005)  Suggestopedia and Language.  London: Routledge.
Bandler, R.& Grinder, J. (1990) Frogs into Princes:The introduction to NLP. Palo Alto: Eden Grove Editions.
Dufeu, B. (1994) Teaching Myself.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gold, L.  What is Suggestopedia? 
Helgesen, M. (2019) English Teaching and the Science of Happiness. Tokyo: Abax.
Krashen, S.D. & Terrell, T.D. (1992) The Natural Approach.  Janus Books Pub/ Alemany Press.
Meddings, L. & Thornbury, S. (2009) Teaching unplugged. London: Delta.
Richards, J.C. & Rodgers, T.  (2002) Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Stevick, E.  (1980) Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways.  Newbury House.
Young, R., & Messum, P. (2011). How we learn and how we should be taught: An introduction to the work of Caleb Gattegno. Duo Flumina, 1. 

•    Language Awareness strand:  After an introduction to aspects of language awareness, trainees would choose one area to focus on.  They would write this up as a paper and give a presentation to their peers.               

Possible topics, by no means comprehensive, might include: 
Varieties of English
Language families of the world
Contrastive descriptions of English and other languages
History of the English language
History of English Language Teaching.
Spoken grammar
Idioms and metaphor
Playful uses of language (jokes, riddles, advertising, headlines, titles etc.)
Article usage
Phrasal verbs
English tense usage
Word origins (Etymology)
Systems for creating neologisms
Development of spelling.  etc. etc. 
Rationale:  As teachers of language, surely we need to be both interested in and well- informed about all aspects of language.  The object is not to teach all this directly but to arouse awareness and engagement with it.  Without it, our teaching would lack substance and become mere ritual delivery of pre-packaged content.

•    Parallel reading programme.  Trainees would be expected to read at least 10 books per year related to but not focussed directly on education/language learning, and keep a reading log/journal.  They would choose from a prescribed list but additional titles can be negotiated. Trainees present books they have read at regular discussion sessions.

Rationale:  The intention is to broaden trainees’ background in education through engagement with non-specialist texts which offer a wide range of experience and ideas.  I would argue that such broad reading contributes to the ‘teacher’s sense of plausibility’ as described above by Prabhu.  It feeds into their developing personal philosophy of teaching.

Suggested reading: 
Joachim Appel. Diary of a Language Teacher
Sylvia Ashton-Warner. Teacher
Sarah Bakewell. How to Love: A life of Montaigne in one question and twenty attempts at an answer          
Carmen Callil et al.  Stop What You’re Doing and Read This.
Christine Casenave & Miguel Sosa.  Respite for Teachers
Guy Claxton. The Wayward Mind.
John Dewey.  Art as Experience.
Timothy Gallwey. The Inner Game of Tennis.
James Gleick. Faster – Or the acceleration of just about everything.
Eva Hoffman.  Lost in Translation 
John Holt.  How Children Fail
Kate Clanchy. Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me
Frank McCourt. Teacher Man 
Sara Maitland. A Book of Silence.
A.S. Neill.  Summerhill 
Peter Oborne.  The Rise of Political Lying.
Parker Palmer.  The Courage to Teach.
Daniel Klein. Travels with Epicurus.
John Taylor Gatto.  Weapons of Mass Instruction.
Benjamin Hoff. The Tao of Pooh
Benjamin Hoff. The Te of Piglet
Carl Honore.  In Praise of Slow
Daniel Pennac. School Blues.
Michael Polanyi. The Tacit Dimension. 
Neil Postman.  Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology.
Neil Postman.  Amusing Ourselves to Death.
Neil Postman. & Weingartner C. Teaching as a Subversive Activity.
Jacques Ranciere.  The Ignorant Schoolmaster
Carl Rodgers. Freedom to Learn.
Bertrand Russell.  In Praise of Idleness.
Leo Rosten.  The Education of Hyman Kaplan.
Leo Rosten. The Return of Hyman Kaplan
Donald Schon.  The Reflective Practitioner.
Ken Robinson.   Creative schools: The grassroots revolution that’s transforming education.
Anthony Storr.  Solitude: a return to the self.
Ruth Wajnryb.  The Silence
Tara Westover.  Educated, etc.  etc.

•    Learning to think / Memory development.  Trainees would be introduced to the literature on ways to keep the mind active and alert through problem-solving and discussion.  They would then choose either thinking or memory to study in detail and prepare a presentation (individual or group) for their peers.
Rationale:  Just as we function better if we are physically fit, so we can help keep ourselves in good mental condition.  And whether we like it or not, memory is part of language learning.   This is just one way of keeping our marbles polished.
Suggested reading:
Baddeley, A. et al.  (2014) Memory. London: Psychology Press
Buzan, T. Head First.  London: Thorsons.
De Bono, E. (1976) Teaching Thinking.  Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Carruthers, M. (2000) The Craft of Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fernyhaugh, C. (2013) Pieces of Light: The new science of memory.  London: Profile Books.
Gardner, M. (1991) Mathematical Problems and Diversions.  Penguin.
Harvey-Wood, H. & Byatt, A.S. (2008) Memory: An anthology.  London: Chatto & Windus.
Rose, C. (1985) Accelerated Learning.  Aylesbury: Accelerated Learning Systems Lrd.
Thouless, R,H. (2011) Straight and Crooked Thinking.  London: John Murray.
Woodward, T. (2006). Headstrong: A book of thinking frames for mental exercise
Broadstairs: Tessa Woodward Publications.

•    Supervised teaching practice would extend across the whole course.
•    The focus of the teaching practice would be self-observation and reflection.  It would involve the keeping of a teaching journal, focus discussion groups, peer-mentoring and individual discussion of issues with a supervisor.   The cycle can be summarised as: Observation and deep noticing, Recording, Reflecting on the recording, Discussion and debate on issues arising, then Absorption, implementation and adaptation in the light of this process.

Key books:
Fanselow, J. (1992). Try the opposite. Tokyo: Simul Press.
Fanselow, J. (2018)  Small Changes in Teaching, Big Results in Learning.  Tolyo: iTD1.  
Farrell, T.S.C. (2015). Promoting teacher reflection in second language education: a framework for TESOL Professionals. New York: Routledge.
Farrell, T.S.C. (2018). Reflective Language Teaching: Practical Applications for TESOL Teachers.  London, UK: Bloomsbury 
Donald Schon. (1991)  The Reflective Practitioner. Aldershot: Avebury.
•    Small focus group discussion would be a regular part of the process.  The aim would be over time to build a learning community facilitating the exchange of ideas and experience, and offering mutual support and resources.
•    One key part of the process would be regular book reviews and focussed discussion in book circles.
•    Trainees would keep a journal or commonplace book as a record for future reference. 
•    There would be project-work on developing and adapting materials.
•    For each of the content areas the normal process would be input from the team, followed by individual, independent inquiry and application. 
The training team would have three main roles: 
~ to provide necessary input.
~ to offer support, advice and mentoring throughout, being flexibly available whenever needed (Malderez & Bodozcky, 1999).
~ to monitor progress and evaluate outcomes.  Evaluation would be largely formative, with little if any role for formal examinations.


Whenever unconventional proposals are made, they inevitably become the target of critical comment, which is to be welcomed, provided it is no more than an unexamined, negative gut reaction.  While our profession ostensibly welcomes change, in practice change is more often perceived as an uncomfortable threat to entrenched practices.

  • Objection 1. We do this already.  Good for you.  Keep it going.  Add to what you already do now by perhaps using some of the ideas above which you have not yet tried.   Share what you do with other teacher educators.
  • Objection 2. What’s the point?  Nothing will change.  Well that’s certainly true if you don’t do anything to change it.  To cite some examples of seemingly impossible changes: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the legalisation of gay marriage, the elimination of polio-myelitis…  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Basta volere.
  • Objection 3. It’s a lot of arty-farty, dated, New Age nonsense.  This is a natural reaction to some (though only some) of these suggestions.  But there is nothing arty-farty about learning to meditate, or learning a new language, or exploring a new skill.
  • Objection 4. We should stick to AL/ LT Methods stuff which is directly relevant.  I am not suggesting that we jettison the basic knowledge and skills teachers need.  But revalorising the affective, spontaneous, intuitive, human side of teaching also needs to be attended to.  We also need to realise that the quickest way from A to B is not always a straight line.  This programme allows the possibility of taking up Hamlet’s remark, ‘By indirections, directions find out.’
  • Objection 5.  It would take up too much time.  That is why such a course would be longer.  But note also that a lot of the work would be done independently, outside class sessions.
  • Objection 6. It would need too many extra specialists to deliver.  This is one reason why such a course would need to be run by a close-knit, integrated team with a range of skill-sets.  Again, because much of the work would be done by trainees independently, the responsibility for finding specialist help would lie at least in part with them.
  • Objection 7.  It involves too much change in institutional practices.  Ah.  Now we are getting to the core of things.  Too much has been invested, for too long in establishing the status quo. But however entrenched such practices may be, they need to be challenged.  This will not be easy.  It’s a big ask – but it’s a key task.


Time for a Change?

What is concerning is that whole systems have been constructed on what, in view of the foregoing, look like somewhat shaky foundations.  They are now institutionalised in training models such as CELTA and DELTA, and innumerable MA courses, and are therefore accepted as both true and necessary.  And they are backed up by a plethora of curricular documents, such as The Common European Framework, published materials, conference presentations and learned research papers. In other words, they have been normalised into an accepted and rarely questioned belief system. 

There has, of course, been a subversive, counter-current in education and teacher training for a very long time but it has rarely attracted the serious consideration it deserves.  Joseph Jacotot, way back in 1818, was advocating teacher-less learning (Ranciere,1991), Horsburgh’s revolutionary school in Neel Bagh in India preferred inducting teachers through experiential exposure rather than by certificated training ( see More recently, Sugata Mitra has suggested that children can teach themselves, given the opportunity (2019), (See also: ), A.S. Neill, in his experimental school, Summerhill, passed responsibility for much of the curriculum to the students (Vaughan, 2006).   John Holt has been an acerbic critic of the negative effects of schooling in its current institutionalised forms, and advocated home schooling as an alternative (Holt, 1995).  Ken Robinson has also been scathingly critical of institutionalised education (See Do schools kill creativity? and has proposed concrete ways of making schools more creative (2016).  And Bolitho (2002), among others, has put forward concrete proposals for language teacher education.  But most of these initiatives have foundered, either because they have been met with the inertia of established educational practices, or have proven difficult to implement for practical reasons.
I am not so naïve as to think that a wholesale adoption of this kind of programme is likely any time soon.  But I dare to hope that at least some elements of it could be incorporated into current practice with a minimum of disruption. Of course, I am not suggesting that everything we have built up over the past 50 years or more has been completely futile and misguided.  But I do want to suggest that it is time for a fresh look at the way we conceive of teacher education: to move from a ‘doing’ to a ‘being’ model, to use Winnicott’s terms (1971).  The current Corona virus has brought everyone up short.  ‘Fings ain’t wot they used to be’.  Maybe this is a moment to re-examine what has gone before and start to re-design what comes after?



Arnold.J. (1999) Affect in Language Learning  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bolitho, R. 2002  Reconceptualising Language Teacher Education for the 21st Century in Nagalingam, M. et al. (eds) 2002:  English Language and Development for the 21st Century: Selected Papers   Kuala Lumpur: IPBA (Institut Perguruan Bahasa Bahasa Antarabangsar)

Holt. J. (1995) How Children Fail.  Boston: da Capo

Horsburgh, D.  (accessed 10 May 2020)

McGilchrist, I (2009)  The Master and his Emissary.  New Haven: Yale University Press.

McGilchrist, I.  You Tube interview: (accessed 10 May 2020)

Malderez, A., & Bodoczky, C. (1999). Mentor courses: A resource book for teacher trainers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maley, A. (ed) (2019) Developing Expertise Through Experience.  London: British Council.

Maley, A. & Kiss. T. (2018) Creativity and English Language Teaching: From inspiration to implementation.  London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mitra, S. (2019) The School in the Cloud.  London: Corwin.

Ranciere, J. (1991) The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press.

Robinson, K. (2016) Creative Schools: The grassroots revolution that’s transforming education. London: Penguin.

Scrivener, J. (2015)  Demand High Teaching.  The Teacher Trainer, Vol 27, No 2.

Underhill, A. (2014). Training for the unpredictable. The European Journal of Applied Linguistics and TEFL, 13(2), 59-69. 

Underhill, A., & Maley, A. (2012). Expect the unexpected. English Teaching Professional (82),
Vaughan, M. (2006) Summerhill and A.S. Neill.  London: Open University Press.

Winnicott, D.W. (1971)   Playing and Reality.  London: Routledge.

  • Teaching to Learn: Learning to Teach
    Alan Maley, UK