Plenary by Donald Freeman

This plenary talk discusses the importance of challenging the central ideas in ELT.

About the session

Frozen in thought? How we think and what we do in ELT

English language teaching is rife with prescriptions for what 'good' teachers ought to know and be able to do. These prescriptions are anchored in central ideas in the field that we generally take for granted. We do not challenge them, even though they inexorably shape all aspects of the work of ELT – from national policies and standards for teaching to administrative procedures and day-to-day work in ELT classrooms. These central ideas come from diverse sources: some are loosely derived from research, while others are inherited in the history of what we do. The ideas themselves are taken as common sense, and thus are woven into the social expectations of the work of teaching. In my title, I refer to this process as being 'frozen in thought', by which I mean the field of ELT has become immobilized in a critical sense by these ideas and what they mean for what we do as teachers and teacher educators.

This talk examines some of these central ideas that we live by in ELT, including ideas about how teaching and learning work, about the teacher's role, and about the classroom goals of English instruction. I examine what the ideas mean for the work of classroom teachers given how English functions in the 21st Century, and how they shape and constrain our thinking in teacher education and research. I argue that, if they are left unscrutinized and unchallenged, the ideas can undermine teachers' professional confidence and stunt training and research. Therefore re-examining them, thereby thawing our thinking, is a critical step in reasserting social control over the public work of English language teaching.

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