WP319 Participatory ESOL: Taking stock

Cooke, Rampton, Winstanley, Bryers, Belecova, Blackman, Griffiths, Jadallah, Jowett, Malakouti & Whitehouse


Building on sustained discussion among eleven people actively engaged in teaching English to adult speakers of other languages (ESOL), this paper asks what ‘participatory’ approaches to ESOL now look like in England.  First it sketches a lineage – from Freire through Auerbach, Action Aid and Reflect ESOL to English for Action (EfA), the non-profit organisation that provides our main but not exclusive vantage point.  Then it details four often interacting strands of activity in play in participatory ESOL (PE): language teaching, teacher training, community organising, and action research.  PE emerges from these as an approach that listens to students and engages them in dialogue, that reaches beyond traditional student-teacher roles to include critique and action on social conditions, and that maintains an explicit focus on language throughout while also questioning the hegemony of English itself.  But how does this work in practice?  What about “difficulties, dilemmas, frustration, strangeness, disagreement and criticism” (Duboc & Ferraz 2018:243)?  And what if participatory ESOL is harder to achieve in some places than others?  Recognising variation in the manner and extent to which PE gets enacted, the paper isolates two fundamental features that can also be found in other sectors of language education – antipathy to the top-down, one-way teaching that Freire calls ‘banking education’, and an openness to cultural diversity and broader social change.  It points to potential for cross-sectoral alliances, both to push for changes in national policy and to strengthen language teacher education more generally, and it also sketches a programme of Freirean ‘conscientization’ directed towards teachers in highly restrictive workplaces that could also be a worthwhile possibility for participatory ESOL.  Rather like an end-of-project report, the paper is intended as a comprehensive account of key issues emerging in our collaboration, from which sharper arguments and ideas can be formulated later, and it is accompanied by a series of podcasts in which team members reflect on some of the issues emerging.