Lindsay Clandfield is one one the most well-known and highly regarded coursebook writers in the world. He has written more than ten coursebooks for numerous publishers and is the main author of the new young adult course Studio (Helbling Languages). He has also written methodology books and self-published extensively.
Anyone who has followed Lindsay’s career closely will have noticed that his materials, while often mainstream, often have a element of subversion about them. His series for Macmillan, Global, was one of the first coursebook series for adults that actually seemed to be designed with this age group in mind, concentrating on mature and thought-provoking topics. His self-published materials push the boat out even further, with sci-fi materials on exlt.wordpress.com that you could never imagine a major publisher touching, and the much missed theround, his publishing company with Luke Meddings, including the seminal e-book 52. He has also contributed to the Raise Up! project as an editor, so it’s because of this position that he occupies, simultaneously publishing mainstream international coursebooks and subversive independent projects, that we wanted to get his take on the state of diversity and representation in ELT.
Can you introduce yourself and tell us how you got started as a materials writer?
I was born in the UK but grew up in Canada. I currently live in Spain. I got started as a materials writer around 4 years after I started teaching. I was using a magazine for language learners in my classes called iTs for Teachers. I loved it so much and when I found that they were based in Barcelona where I was living at the time I knocked on the door with a whole bunch of ideas. They turned me down at first but I kept bugging them until I got my first activity published. From there I started submitting ideas and lesson plans to any publisher or website that I liked using. My first big break was getting work with Onestopenglish, back when that site was just starting out in the early 2000s. Those were exciting times.
What would you say are the biggest differences between ELT materials now and then?
I think that ELT materials have changed quite a bit. The first thing is the ‘balloon’ factor. When I started, a course would have the workbook, teacher’s book and student’s book. We were only beginning to see the addition of extra stuff, like photocopiable worksheets and then CDROMs. Now a course has dozens of add-ons, most of it online. This has been in response to, I think, market demand. But the truth is I don’t think many teachers end up using much more than half of the resources. There just isn’t time. So it feels all like a bit of a big waste now. The second thing is the speed in which they are made, and how they are made. When I started writing, it was just me or me and a co-author on a book. We had almost a year to write it. Now books have big teams of writers, there is much more direction from publishers and the time has been reduced by half or even more. I can’t help but think that this has meant that quality has suffered overall.
On a more positive note, ELT materials did not use to have the same kind of sensibilities they have now. They were really UK or US centric, often had lots of stereotypes and if you look at some books from 20 years ago you’d be surprised how many things would feel just wrong. They still haven’t truly become inclusive, but it’s better than it was. The problem is that publishers are so risk-averse that they are often too nervous to do anything that could even have a hint of offending anyone – even and especially more ‘conservative’ views. This also has the effect of making them a little bit milquetoast, and while they are more diverse it’s diverse only in the same way that say Coca Cola commercials are diverse.
I realise I spoke mostly here about coursebooks. There are other materials, such as teacher resource books, that have changed too. Namely, there are fewer of them. They aren’t as lucrative as coursebooks so they get less attention. Plus the internet has meant a lot of teachers sharing things already in terms of methodology, blogs etc. There was a while that I thought resource books would disappear, which would be a real shame. But there are still some that come out. For me, these are important materials for teachers too. I think many of my beliefs come from various different teacher resource and methodology books I read at the beginning of my career.
You mentioned that materials still haven’t truly become inclusive, and obviously the aim of Raise Up! is to increase awareness of this issue. Can you expand on why you think this persists? Where does this conservatism come from?
I think part of the problem is creating materials for a worldwide market, and trying to guess, second-guess and anticipate what will or won’t cause offense. I know that the elephant in the room is to say that it is conservative Muslim majority countries that are the cause, but that’s not entirely true. I’ve had material of mine pulled from very conservative schools in the United States, and it happens in Europe too. The other thing is that it’s hard to get the inclusivity right at times. There’s a fine line between inclusivity and tokenism or that sort of shallow inclusivity of Apple or Starbucks. Maybe what is needed is a more diverse roster of writers and backgrounds to what is out there now. It’s better than it was, but if the majority of authors are white, Anglo-European, middle class and heterosexual then there is always going to be that tension when we try to go for inclusivity. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but it has to come from different directions.
Increasing the diversity of writers is definitely something that we want to encourage. What advice would you give to anyone reading this who thinks that they would like to become a materials writer?
I remember an actor once told me that these days if you want to get into acting, just start acting! Make your own mini films with friends, share them and keep going. I think this applies to materials writing. Just get started. Begin with your classes, then start sharing with colleagues. When you feel you’re getting onto something then maybe present it at a conference. That’s perhaps where you can get noticed. I wouldn’t advise cold-calling a publisher, but you could always seek them out (again, at conferences) and express an interest. Despite all the advances in technology, publishers need writers more than ever.
Note: don’t forget you can get in touch with us here at Raise Up! too.
Do you think that international publishers are likely to do much to improve the inclusivity in materials, or will the responsibility fall onto schools, teachers and local publishers?
I think international publishers are making moves in the right direction, and if you talk to publishers and editors they do want to include more inclusive topics, images and so forth. But their own commercial interests tend to work against them. This is especially true if you are trying to make an international book with as wide as possible appeal and desperately don’t want to offend anyone. So yes, the responsibility initially will be on others to lead the way a bit more probably. I’ve often felt this, which is why I’ve been so interested in self-publishing ventures.
Finally, how do you think your materials will change in the future? You shared a couple of lessons from your latest coursebook which had lessons based on taking the knee and the bringing down of statues, which seemed to me to be not only more inclusive but also more politically engaged than what you usually see in coursebooks. Can we expect more lessons like this?
How do I think my materials will change? I’m not sure! I’d like to think that I continue to get the opportunity to do lessons like this. I’m meeting more editors and teachers who feel that these things are important and have a place in the language classroom. So, yes, I think there will be more in the future.