British Council ELTONs 2021
For the last 19 years the British Council, one of the leading organisations promoting quality English Language teaching, has run annual awards for innovation in language teaching – the Oscars of the EFL world: The ELTONs.
EF is no stranger to these awards; with ‘innovation’ as one of our core values we have made it through the initial nominations at dozen times and have been finalists twice in 2013 and 2018. For next year’s award we have a sure-fire winner coming up, but for this year I joined the ceremony in the UK to meet our colleagues from other top EFL institutions and celebrate their innovations and success.
So what did I learn from this meeting of EFLs movers and shakers just as COVID19 restrictions come to an end in the UK?
The pandemic and the switch to online teaching were on most people’s agenda and apps for teaching at home or tools that help teachers reach students better online seemed to be main themes. At the same time, it was clear that the value of human contact in teaching, learning and the award ceremony itself was on everybody’s lips.
For example, it wasn’t the high-tech finalist of an AI solution for remote classrooms that won the award for digital innovation; it was a simpler use of pictures and audio to flexibly enhance reading online, inclusively supporting students with reading disabilities CEILL. Making more noise were two relatively low-tech teacher networks using Facebook live, Zoom and Skype to support remote English language teaching. The Hands Up project reaching students from closed-down schools in Gaza won that. I spoke to Sara Wood from that group of teacher volunteers who assured me that it is how teachers reflect on what they do, sharing and creating new routines that make online teaching work. She was also a firm believer that every teacher is different, and we have to look for how classroom tools like the online board or camera or text chat allow us to connect with our students in different ways that suit us best.
Reflection on classrooms and teachers was there again in the lifetime achievement award, which went to professor N S Prabbu – the man behind the Bangalore Project which gave rise to Task Based Language Teaching. This work emerged from investigating classroom teaching in India and putting teachers first.
I also felt the ELTONs had a good international feel this year with entries from 55 countries and awards going to smaller independent publishers and projects. There were a record number of entries, but it would be good to see still more non-native speakers at the ceremony and on the podium.
It’s amazing how much work and passion people have put into their work! Two of the winners told us that it had taken ten years to build up their work to get it published and win the ELTON today. It was a similar story with many of the other teachers and writers I met at the awards such as Luke Nicholson who has been working on his independent Online English Pronunciation app to support self-study combined with private lessons for ten years before seeing it become an ELTONs finalist. Perhaps the proudest moment of the ELTONs for me was meeting one of my former EF teacher trainees Andrew Sculley who after starting his career with us was part of one of the finalist teams with Oxford Discover Futures.
I felt there was a message for teachers in this. Keep the learning human and social, especially right now when people have been driven apart more than ever by the pandemic. As teachers, we should all seek to innovate in small ways (after all it is an EF core value) and look for what is most ‘plausible’ for us, as Prabbu puts it. Finally, let your passion fuel your innovation – nothing is impossible, and a good idea now built up from classroom practice with commitment can become the prize winner and success in the EFL classrooms of tomorrow.
FIND OUT MORE
See details of nominated projects here
See video interviews with the winners here
See the full list of ELTONs 2021 winners here
Learn more about EF Teach Online here.