Friday, February 20, 2015

Plenary Speakers: Interviews (Andrew Wright)

Please tell us a few things about yourself and your involvement in education.

What a joy it is to be constantly able to develop by trying to help other people to develop! Such a rewarding job to do! I cannot imagine wanting to retire from it in spite of being so historical! 

What attracted you to the field of education?

All my family were teachers, my grandmother, my parents, aunts and uncles and even my brother. So it seemed to be a wide road to walk on and so it has proved to be.

Which are some of the most memorable highlights of your career in education?

I was very lucky to be asked by the University of York to publish a new approach to teaching English as a foreign language to young beginners. That was in the early 1970s and I, together with my two colleagues published ‘Kaleidoscope’ with MacMillan which was the first topic based course ever written. 

Then I had years of writing resource books for teachers which, from an income point of view, is not a very clever thing to do! But I enjoyed it so much: ‘1000 Pictures for Teachers to Copy’…’Games for Language Learning’…and later ‘Five Minute Activities’ with Penny Ur. And then ‘Storytelling with Children’ and ‘Creating Stories with Children’, with Oxford University Press. There were others…most are out of print now but some are still trotting along.

I suppose nothing can be more moving than doing my work and then hearing from teachers and children that it was a good experience for them. That is really a super thing to hear!

And to be invited to contribute to the Thrace Macedonia Conference, of course!

Which aspects of your work do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy the company of all the people I work with and I fundamentally don’t want language teaching to be about language teaching but about being with people, doing interesting things in which language has a central part to play and making language learning a bi-product of this.

I also love writing books and articles; I like making things and also I learn so much by having to ask myself what I really want to say. It is so easy to think you know something until you have to write concisely about it.

What are you working on now?

I am still doing an 18 lesson week and that is quite a lot at the age of 77 and given I want to do so many other things, as well. I have family duties because my wife, Julia, is a working woman and she runs our language school apart from everything else. But my key other work is constantly trying to increase my understanding of how fundamental stories and storytelling is in our daily life. Stories aren’t just for entertainment, stories or ‘descriptions of sequences of connected events’ are a fundamental way of thinking and communicating with other people. CNN said, ‘The stories we bring you today are the world you will live in tomorrow.’ As I respond to this questionnaire I am preparing to work on an EU project about the role of stories in youth education particularly related to employment. Fascinating!

I am also continuing to work on my next collection of short stories. I published my first collection, last year.

What are your professional plans for the future?

I would love to keep doing this sort of work! I am running workshops in August on the craft of making, writing and telling short stories based on one’s life. I did something similar two years ago and I had 9 or 10 teachers from different countries including 4 or 5 from Turkey. Now, that’s another nice job to do. If anybody is interested please write to me:

What should your audience expect to learn during the plenary session at the 22nd TESOL Macedonia-Thrace Northern Greece Annual International Convention?

I can’t say that I EXPECT people to learn anything from what I might offer! But I will be talking about stories, story making and story telling and my understandings are much more broadly based than those usually associated with the topic. I will also be talking about how fundamental stories are to everybody’s daily life, to their understanding of who they are and to their relationships with other people. Given stories are usually told with words then stories clearly are a candidate for being the main highway for language learning, in the classroom.

What are the three words that sum up your session?

Stories are us.

Technology has become a big part of our everyday lives today. In your experience, would you say that the art and craft of storytelling has changed at all or will change due to this?

The first thing to say is that there will be no change in the centrality of stories in society. The next thing to say is that the stories we tell and how we deliver them have always been affected by where we are, by the physical circumstances of the telling and by the purpose of the telling.

Did tellers just tell their stories or sing them together with playing a harp? And then: shadow theatre, puppets and masked players, sound and vision recording. Each medium offers its own range of ways of telling. So, yes, how a story is told will be constantly changing according to the social and physical setting it is told in.

Thank you very much.

Natasha Loukeri
for TESOL Macedonia-Thrace, Northern Greece

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