The Unpublished are in the eye of the beholder.
This project started a few years ago when I simply decided it was high time for me to stop shying away from LGBTQ content in my English classes. For years, I felt like my choice to introduce and talk about LGBTQ themes would be questioned by my students, my coworkers and my institution. Yet, I was really done with this monosexual view perpetrated by published materials.
What follows is an extremely brief summary of what has been written about LGBTQ identities in ELT. If you are familiar with the topic, you can skip to the last paragraph below.
In a famous article ‘Window-dressing vs cross-dressing in the EFL sub-culture’ published at the turn of the century, Thornbury (1999) highlighted that, despite the advances made in gender equality and despite the number of units revolving around global issues (e.g. developing countries), “coursebook gays and lesbians […] are still in the coursebook closet” (p.15). Fourteen years later, Gray (2013: 40) published a study into LGBT invisibility and heteronormativity in ELT materials. Gray (2013) recognized the worldwide historical advances made in LGBT rights and the visibility of queer identities . Yet, despite the surge of articles on LGBT themes in the EL classroom (Nelson, 2009, Dumas, 2010, Tekin, 2011, amongst others) and the consequential birth of dedicated journals (e.g. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Issues in Education), Gray (2013) found that heteronormativity is still pervasive in the realm of published EFL materials.
In his analysis of widely adopted coursebook titles (e.g. face2face, Redston and Cunningham, 2006, New English File, 2012, Latham-Koenig et al, 2012), Gray’s (2013) findings are unsurprisingly definite: no reference to sexual preferences other than those prescribed by heteronormativity was found. Even reading activities on the life of the worldwide famous singer Elton John in face2face (Redston and Cunningham, 2006) make no mention of his same-sex spouse, their two children or of his campaigns for gay rights.
Despite the bad reviews that coursebooks have been getting over the last 20 years or so and the surge of material-light approaches, global coursebooks are by far the most widespread source of materials across the ELT world (Littlejohn, 2011). Researchers have been warning ELT practitioners against the potential damage of an all-encompassing use of the global coursebook (Tomlinson, 2008, Prodromou and Mishen, 2008) while voices from the field of critical applied linguistics (Pennycook, 1990) have inspired authors such as Gray (2010) to define EFL textbooks as “cultural artefacts” (p. 714). English seems to be the medium through which a partial set of values is perpetrated and only a partial view of the world and its inhabitants is given.
Interviews with teachers across Italy confirmed what I suspected might be the case for topic avoidance: fear of negative reactions from parents or their school directors, as well as a general fear of lack of training to deal with possible homophobic backlash in the classroom.
So I decided to design a lesson where the students would be the ones to bring in the unpublished in ELT. As you will see from the pictures posted in this blog, students exceeded my expectations. Teachers in my own school and in my network of schools experimented with the lesson. Through their own devices they were able to produce their own materials which included LGBTQ identities as well as other identities that are currently still unpublished in EFL/ESL coursebooks.
So now it’s over to you! Click on “The Lesson” above, teach the lesson and share photos and stories with us (make sure you credit all the sources of text & photos you use). Send all your materials to firstname.lastname@example.org. Once you have shared your photos, learner-produced materials and/or stories I’ll upload them for other teachers to view and get inspired. Hopefully, we will come up with more lesson plans and materials to help “The Unpublished” grow and show publishers that we can have more inclusive content in our coursebooks.
Dumas, J. (2010) Sexual identity and the LINC classroom. Canadian Modern Language Review. 66 (4), 607–627.
Gray, J. (2010) The Branding of English and The Culture of the New Capitalism: Representations of the World of Work in English Language Textbooks. Applied Linguistics, 31 (5), 714–733.
Gray, J. (2013). LGBT invisibility and heteronormativity in ELT materials. In Gray, J. (ed.): Critical Perspectives on Language Teaching Materials. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 40-63.
Latham-Koenig, C., Oxenden, C. and Seligson, P. (2012) New English File (Pre-intermediate). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Littlejohn, A. (2011) The analysis of language teaching materials: inside the Trojan Horse. In: Tomlinson, B. (ed.) Materials Development in Language Teaching. 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nelson, C. D. (2009) Sexual identities in English language education: Classroom conversations. London, UK: Routledge.
Pennycook, A. (1990) Towards a Critical Applied Linguistics for the 1990s. Issues in Applied Linguistics, 1(1), 8-28.
Prodromou, L. and Mishen, F. (2008) Materials used in Western Europe. In: Tomlinson, B. (ed.), English Language Teaching Materials: A Critical Review. London: Continuum.
Redston, C. and Cunningham, G. (2006) face2face (Intermediate). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tekin, M. (2011) Discussing the unspeakable: a study on the use of taboo topics in EFL speaking classes. Journal of Theory and Practice in Education, 7(1), 79–110.
Thornbury, S. (1999) Window-dressing vs cross-dressing in the EFL sub-culture. Folio, 5 (2), 15-17.
Tomlinson, B. (ed.) (2008) English Language Teaching Materials: A Critical Review. London: Continuum.