Six books that could revolutionize how you think about ELT

Roll on the guest posts! This time we are joined by Sara Hannam. Sara is an articulate, passionate and perceptive colleague whom I met via Twitter and on various blogs. She always brings a critical eye to things and has recently started her own blog Critical Mass ELT. Sara and I have “crossed swords” on issues before, and I am really pleased she agreed to contribute a list for me. Here then, are six books or articles that could forever change the way you think about the profession/business/industry/racket of English language teaching!

Thanks Lindsay for asking me to choose six books that influenced me as a teacher. A very tall order for me, as there are so many great books out there, so I would like to apologize to all those writers who I have missed! Those I list below have helped me see the bigger teaching picture, which as I have gained more experience as a teacher, has become more important.  They answer questions like what is my role as an EL teacher both within and outside the classroom, how should I relate to my students as real people and what is the impact of the development of English as a global language? The insights they have given me have changed my teaching practice and me as a person, and have been a wonderful addition to the reading I did in the earlier part of my career which focused more on refining teaching skills (don’t get me started on that, as I could do you another six if you want for part II – pretty please?!).

*Extracts available at Google books from the following publications

1. Changing Teachers, Changing Times – Andy Hargreaves, 2000*

Why are teachers asked to produce better and better results with fewer and fewer resources, and how does this influence our individual performance in the classroom?  This book answers key questions about how teaching in the new millennium is a very different ball game – many changes for the better such as increased sensitivity to individual learners, but some for the worse, such as the constant measurement of “success” rather than emphasis on building relationships, communication and shared questioning of the world.  It also addresses the concept of teacher guilt, or the fact that for all the amazing pleasure that teaching brings, it can seem difficult to clock off at the end of the day due to extra-curricular responsibilities such as a concern for student welfare.

2. English and the Discourses of Colonialism – Alistair Pennycook, 1998*

If I hadn’t read this book, I don’t think I would really know very much about the development of ELT/Linguistics as a discipline or how so much contemporary practice has its roots in the colonial legacy. With meticulously compiled historiographies from India, China and Hong Kong, this book provides an antidote to the much circulated accounts of our profession which tend to gloss over the ways in which the English language was initially spread and learned alongside the violent expansion of the British Empire.  It confirms the importance, in this post-colonial era, of teachers (particularly NESTs) understanding how they are implicated in this legacy and encourages the exploration of the roots of many taken for granted assumptions in the field today – not least of all the myth of the superiority of the ‘native speaker’.

3. English as a Lingua Franca: Attitude and Identity – Jennifer Jenkins, 2007

A fascinating insight into how identity is crucial in shaping feelings about language use, and, more importantly how this informs individual tolerance/intolerance of other people’s English, often at an unconscious level. Jenkins’ research is truly groundbreaking for ELT, and provides a perfect combination of rigorous investigation into the views English users have about their performance, and further explanations as to why the belief that sounding ‘native’ is best continues to be so prevalent in teaching methodologies and materials.  When teaching practice ceases to be determined by mainstream Second Language Acquisition theory, with its emphasis on standard varieties of ‘native speaker’ English as a goal, a different sort of classroom emerges which is led by the celebration of meaning, diversity and the new and exciting forms of English currently being documented by ELF researchers, including Jennifer Jenkins.

4. The Politics of English  – Marnie Holborow, 1999

Many a teacher may think that teaching English has nothing to do with politics – this book goes a long way to questioning whether that is really the case.  Marnie Holborow reveals the less attractive side of the billion dollar industry that is English Language Teaching, and how this is led by a money-driven global economy at almost all levels.  Holborow shows how as EL teachers we are in a position to really notice and question the way access to opportunity is being structured around us, as English is increasingly being used as a gate keeping device through language testing and policy development.  Holborow also argues that there is nothing inherently different about men’s and women’s language use and that perception of male/female-specific language is more a reflection of gender inequality in society than gender-based language forms or styles. This sets her apart from many socio-linguists, who argue the opposite in relation to politeness or assertiveness – Holborow locates the source of the inequality in society rather than in the individual or group. Finally someone who celebrates our similarities rather than focusing on our differences!

5. Values in English Language Teaching – Bill Johnston, 2003*

My second to last choice provides a more practical emphasis on putting some of those ideas in the previous selections above into practice.  It examines a range of situations where EL teachers’ individual values and morals will dictate how they respond.  Johnston explores typical scenarios which may cause teachers to react in a diverse number of ways, such as testing and assessment or managing diversity and conflict in the classroom, and looks at possible outcomes, as well as exploring how to work towards becoming a more ethical practitioner in behaviour towards colleagues, students and self.  All this is done through personal stories and experiences which really illustrate the kinds of dilemmas teachers face every day.

6. ‘Teaching Peace through English: Utopia or Reality?’. Radmila Popović (Paper presented at the International Association for Teachers of English as a Foreign Language Annual Conference: Exeter 2008 available in the proceedings).

My last choice is an article, rather than a book.  Radmila’s talk at IATEFL conference looked at how she dealt with carrying on her teaching during the NATO bombardment of Serbia.  It really moved me, particularly because so much of my own field work and research is based in Serbia and the Balkans.  This paper explores what it means to teach ‘peace’ from the perspective of a teacher trying to make sense of war with her students, and demonstrates how teachers and students can discuss and understand difficult subject matter in genuine partnership and trust. The reason I chose this paper to finish off my selection, is because it demonstrates how a teacher who uses critical theory to inform practice, can produce really remarkable results – Radmila’s balancing of the two in her teaching of peace under the most difficult circumstances is as poetic as her rich and interactive plenary talk that involved the audience in activities alongside the theoretical discussion.  As an English teacher, I also think we require theory with practice, and practice with theory, and neither one is more important than the other – they are both essential.


Sara Hannam is the Director of the English Unit at City College, Thessaloniki, Greece. Sara was the Associates’ Representative for IATEFL from 2006-9, and Vice-President of TESOL Northern Greece from 2003-5.  Sara has a BA (Hons), MEd ELT, CTEFLA, DELTA and is currently completing her PhD with the School of Education, University of Sheffield, UK.  Sara is also involved in EL teacher development at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. In her spare time, Sara likes to blog (her blog is called Critical Mass ELT twitter, listen to music, dance, spend time with family and friends and is the co-founder of the Campaign for Birth Choices in Greece

Twitter: @sjhannam  Email:

Published in: on September 16, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (15)  
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