Recommended Academic Reading

Recommended Academic Reading

by Christopher Walker

An increasing number of EFL teachers are showing an interest in the academic world. However, there are three big problems with academia - first, the language used in the writing of academic papers has a tendency towards the obtuse; secondly, there are more papers than anyone would ever have time to read; and thirdly, the vast majority of these papers are trapped on the wrong side of a paywall.

Recommended Academic Reading seeks to offer a solution to the third and ameliorations of the first two of these issues: I have spent the last few months combing social media and elsewhere, looking for the most approachably-written papers that will be of interest to readers of the IH Journal, with a focus definitely on what is freely available.

In this issue of the Journal I present to you four papers that I feel would be well worth your time. And who knows - perhaps one of these papers will lead you to writing your own, either for this Journal or as part of a Master’s degree.

How EFL materials respond to a local curriculum: A study of interest areas (Mario Luis López-Barrios, Argentinian Journal of Applied Linguistics).
The title might not get your heart racing, but this is a fascinating paper that will be of interest to anyone who read Xana de Nagy’s piece in this issue of the IH Journal, as well as to materials writers and those with an interest in bringing ‘less-safe’ topics into the EFL classroom.

López-Barrios considers the differences between the state curriculum, which covers every aspect of the education of young people, with what EFL publishers feel it is safe to offer in their coursebooks for the English classroom. There is a discussion of the PARSNIPs that many EFL teachers will be familiar with if you have ever listened to or read Katherine Bilsborough. Unsurprisingly, López-Barrios found that many ‘interest’ areas - such as those that concern tolerance, religion, and gender - are either under-represented in the coursebooks, or not represented at all.

How Does Having a Good Ear Promote Instructed Second Language Pronunciation Development? Roles of Domain-General Auditory Processing in Choral Repetition Training (Yujie Shao, Kazuya Saito, Adam Tierney, TESOL Quarterly).

Readers of Charles Lowe’s series of articles about International English and Daniel Tse’s on word recognition skills in this issue of the Journal will find this paper a useful companion piece. It looks at the effects of choral drilling on the reproduction of what the authors consider ‘nativelike’ pronunciation patterns - but don’t worry, there is an extensive discussion of what this means both in practice and in theory.

The conclusions will not surprise anyone, I believe, but that often isn’t the point with academic articles. Just as it makes sense to think that good concept check questions facilitate understanding - as you might have read in Stephen Tarbuck’s article in this issue of the Journal - sometimes there is something to be said for the journey one takes to that point of understanding. In Tarbuck’s case, it’s the way in which we can approach the idea of formulating concept check questions that proves so useful, and in the case of the article by Shao et al, going over the principles behind choral drilling is what makes the reading rewarding.

Can Teacher Case Study Research be Participatory? Critical Reflections on the Approach Adopted for an English Language Teacher Expertise Study in India (Jason Anderson, TESOL Quarterly).

In the years since I undertook my Master’s degree there have been two constants in my explorations of academic writing. The first is that more of the research out there needs to serve the interests of practising teachers to actually be worthwhile; the second is that Jason Anderson is always worth reading.

This article, then, combines those two positions very neatly, as here Anderson puts forward the idea of bringing teachers into the very heart of research through the use of participatory case studies.

Case studies are a fascinating phenomenon, and I recommend interested teachers to read up as much as possible about them (via the references in Anderson’s article, naturally) with my hope being that it will prove a wellspring for future articles for this Journal. Forgive the selfishness inherent in that statement, but needs must and all that. Read this highly illuminating text about case studies and the ways in which researchers can approach the issue of unconscious bias in their work, and then perform a case study of your own - and send me the results.

The Emerging Post-Pandemic New Species of ELT Online Teachers (George Kokolas).

The last paper I’d like to look at with you comes courtesy of George Kokolas. It seems beholden on all of us to remember the pandemic and our experiences of teaching when our educational worlds were turned upside down; articles like this are useful reminders both of the challenges we faced, and the lessons we learned. Kokolas writes in a light and easy-going style. There is no deluge of references here to threaten the reader with a possible academic drowning, and the writing is all the better for it. Partly, though, one suspects that, if teaching during the pandemic was a more mature topic - in that more had been both written and published on the topic - that might be different.

Though Kokolas’s paper is not a lengthy one and therefore cannot delve too deeply into the nature of online teaching, it is a worthwhile read - and at six pages hardly a taxing one. The points he raises about the difficulties teachers encountered in the switch to online teaching have not all been resolved - certainly not in my own experience, and the issue of Zoom fatigue is one that will not be going away anytime soon.

So, there we have it - four academic articles, each one freely available to read and reflect on. If you know of any other articles that are openly available and you think we should know about, do send them to me at the usual address. Likewise, if you have written something that is a little more academic in nature than the usual TEFL-friendly article, I’d love to read that too. Our market, our industry, is not the same as ten years ago. I like to think we’ve all grown up a little, and our interests have grown with us. When I embarked on that Master’s course I didn’t know any of the names that kept popping up in the bibliographical section of my course notes; but I’ve since met some of these people, and perhaps you have too. Maybe you’re even one of them - in which case, thank you. And maybe you would like to join their ranks. If so, I recommend you read as widely as possible, and look for reasons to put pen to paper rather than for excuses not to. Good luck, one and all!