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June 21, 2013

Columnist Intro: Robert Dickey (ELT Book Reviews)

Rob Dickey is returning as ELT Book Reviews columnist after a 4-year absence. Here he tells us a little bit about himself and his reviewing style.

robert-dickey-books.jpgI’ve been teaching and learning about English and teaching since I first arrived in Korea in 1994. Like many of the expatriates who arrived in the early 1990s, I had no teaching qualification, and my first teaching job was in a private language school, called hagwons in Korea or eikaiwa in Japan. Although I moved to university after the first year I’ve experienced most of the various teaching environments: teaching children, housewives, mid-level executives (1:1), corporate classes at the workplace, young adults in evenings, college and university general studies English courses, English major departmental courses, in-service training for public school English teachers, young student “English camps” (both residential and non-residential)… let’s see, what’s left? I haven’t yet taught very young learners and I've not taught in public schools. These experiences shape my approach to book reviews.

Unlike book reviews in print scholarly journals, the ELT News audience is less interested in references to and critique of underlying principles in the books I review. I envision our readers as those over-worked teachers who try to do some professional reading while standing on overcrowded subways or while sneaking an hour here or there between classes or before bed. Thus I most often try to review books that are less of a treatise, more likely to be tackled in bits here and there. My question is - why should they want to read this book I'm reviewing? They aren't dumb, many have master's or higher degrees in TESOL or applied linguistics. And many do read top journals, and dig into the massive tomes. But that's not my focus. I'll try have a bit of fun with the review, without disrespecting the materials or readers.

I certainly would never claim to have all the right answers!

Of course some of our readers are more knowledgeable on the topics than the reviewer! And there is always room for differences of perspective. While I’ve done the CELTA, and completed the coursework for a Master’s in English Education, I certainly would never claim to have all the right answers! Hopefully the reviews are meaningful enough that readers can identify key elements to point them towards, or away from, the material under review. I also do more scholarly reviews in other venues, for those looking for that.

peer-to-peer sharing is invaluable, with work-mates, in SIGs, at seminars/conferences, and through publishing

I’ve been involved in ELT since I got here. By “involved” I mean I’ve tried to do more than teach. I’m a current TESOL International member; in fact I am Chair-elect for the Program Administration Interest Section. I served as president in Korea TESOL, and have held a number of other roles in that organization before and since. I attend and present at conferences across East Asia, and occasionally in Europe or North America. I was a worker-bee for AsiaTEFL in its founding years. I believe that peer-to-peer sharing is invaluable, with work-mates, in SIGs, at seminars/conferences, and through publishing.

My work, and my professional interests, reach beyond pure English teaching. I teach in the Public Administration department at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea. My role is to bring English into their mainstream studies as well as to improve their English skills. It's classic CLIL (content and language integrated learning), which can be thought of as the “strong form” of content-based instruction (CBI) or the reverse of content-based language teaching. That is to say, the subject materials really do come first, the test is mostly about the content-materials, and English teaching fits inside the materials, which may be chosen based, in part, on how well it helps teach the language. I’ve been researching and writing about CBI since the late 1990s. I routinely research, publish, and present in the field of local government, NGOs, and leadership. This explains my hiatus from ELT News – I needed to focus more on the “public admin” side of my practice as I transitioned into a new school.

My aim is to help you keep your professional neurons tingling.

Our practice has been to publish one review per month. I look forward to sharing with you. I have the rare privilege of making my own professional development activity directly available to peers around the world. The deadlines to read, analyze, and evaluate a new book each month can be very demanding sometimes, particularly when tackling fields where I have less general awareness and need to do more readings. Some reviews will include references to other materials, this is most frequent when the book is likely to sit alongside comparable others in the store racks. On the other hand, the pressure to read, to explore less-familiar topics, has brought new ideas into my teaching practice, which keeps class interesting for both students and teacher! There are side benefits too: both authors and publishing companies have been very kind to me, inviting critique for proposed new editions, welcoming me to special events, etc. Authors and publishers know ELT News, and respect the readership.

My aim is to help you keep your professional neurons tingling. Your feedback is most welcomed! Feel free to write, I promise to read and reply. Suggest titles for review. Critique my reviews, these too can be published.

If you can't wait for the new review coming next week, visit the archives of Robert's ELT Book Reviews.

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