ListeNotes #2 (Part 1): Interview with Jim Scrivener at IATEFL 2016

What is “ListeNotes”?

Well, according to me (Noble, 2016) it’s “a new genre of blogpost [where] I listen to a podcast, take notes, clean them up a bit, and post ’em on up! That’s it.” My first “ListeNotes” post was published back in February ’16. In it, I listened to Anthony Ash’s appearance on The TEFL Show with Marek Kiczkowiak.

Now, at (very!) long last, I’ve decided to give ListeNotes another go. After all, having declared “ListeNotes” to be a whole new blogpost genre, I feel that I’m kinda sorta on the hook to actually do it more than just the once. This time I’m listening to an interview with Jim Scrivener at IATEFL 2016 in Birmingham.


Jim Scrivener (semi-regular tweets here) is a well-known author and trainer and is and currently “Teacher Training Ambassador” at Bell. Readers of this blog probably need no introduction to JS, but here’s his bio from the Bell site:

js bio.jpeg

The interview took place shortly after JS’s talk on ‘simplifying’ teacher training. (I searched for slides from or posts about the talk itself, but failed to find them).

The “interview description” reads: Jim talks about shaking up teacher training by simplifying messages and allowing more personal, deeper thought and exploration in practice. Trainers can start with a naive seed of thought and teach teachers how to confidently explore their own assumptions.

Here we go… #amlistening

First they joke a bit about JS’s job title “teacher training ambassador”. I can’t help but imagine this getting Geoffrey Jordon’s back all the way up. 😉 Then JS describes what his talk was about.

JS: “My talk was a suggestion that maybe we tend to over-complicate stuff [in] initial teacher training”. I think the way JS describes his conference presentation here, “talk = suggestion“, is kind of interesting in itself. It sounds so very casual. Of course, conference talks of every type are, for most teachers at least, “suggestions” of varying degrees of explicitness. I like that he simply describes it as such…and I like how one of ELT’s elder statesmen clearly feels less-than-fully content about the state of teacher training in ELT but is remaining calm and presenting his own input into things with this soft touch. I think he models some really attractive habits of mind here. He comes across as having emotional intelligence and an ability to bring it to bear on his work. He’s not offering challenges, manifestos, calls to arms – nope….simply…a suggestion. Nothing intimidating here; he uses the word ‘maybe’ a couple of times.

Stepping back and adjusting my critical monocle a bit, it also occurs to me that perhaps it’s precisely someone like JS who could frame a conference talk so casually. Some might imagine JS, having earned his ‘ambassadorship’ along with such financial success from some arguably “complicating” books used ubiquitously on CELTA courses, hopping around the ELT globe floating these “suggestions” and wielding words of wisdom but NOT, fully, his power and influence to set things to rights more incisively.

That monocle I adjusted isn’t really mine. I borrow it from some of the more seriouser folks in my PLN for whom JS represents an ‘old guard’ of ELT which shares the blame for its sorry state. They aren’t satisfied with the suggestion givers. Geoffrey Jordan, mentioned above, being perhaps the most conspicuous among them. Is everything political? I’d say basically yes – I think there’s politics in/of everything, but…I move in and out of thinking in political terms when it comes to ELT issues – for better or for worse, in all honesty, I’m not very consistent with it. But this also was a thing that came up in my head as I listened to ‘Ambassador Scrivener’!

For the record, I am and have always been a huge fan of JS’s stuff: Learning Teaching holds up better than most ELT methodology books and don’t think it’s necessarily ‘complicating’. From the very title of it onwards, yes. And here’s the kicker: since at least the 3rd edition that book has contained one chapter (pretty much at the end, called ‘The pack of cards’) that is pretty much a 52-item list of really good “naive seeds”. So he’s been practicing what he’s preaching here for a while. That section has become by far my favorite and most-used part of a book I’ve gotten a LOT of mileage out of since I met it on my own CELTA in 2005 (the other part of the book I’ve used most: the DVD!).


There’s also a number of his presentations I’ve seen at TESOLs that are sincerely memorable. I can quote from ‘hyperlink heroin‘ to this day and think about how dynamic it was when I’m prepping for any talk. And there’s the Demand High idea(s), which I have found very helpful for my development.

Okay, moving on to the idea that we over-complicate things in ITT, um…yes. Yes. Yes. Let’s keep listening then…

The way CELTA and other ITT courses tend to be delivered, JS says, “weighs people down” by trainers bringing so much of “other people’s expertise, and knowledge, and good practice and everything on [their] shoulders…”. 

JS mentions that this notion came to him one day as he was preparing to deliver a CELTA input session on reading and realized that it was all just. way. too. much. As a course tutor I can very easily relate! I absolutely often found myself ‘up all night’ deciding what to bring into a 75-minute introductory session on such-n’-such for CELTA, and struggling to ‘fit’ what I wanted to include into the time given because I had it in my head that ‘more is better’. Despite the fact that I was consciously anti-clutter in my philosophy of teaching/training by the time I started in teaching training. I was dogme’d. If you look at my old blog you can see me pro-actively working against this, trying to supplant it with more zen-tinged minimalism. But it’s a battle against the magnetic attraction of more, more, more.

At least as much as not, I’d have that ‘pop’ moment and realize that I was struggling up a steepness I’d built up myself unnecessary. I’d get the urge for more out of my system, I guess, and end up using a couple of bits for a good (enough) input session.

Scrivener calls what he’d rather be brought into these decluttered training sessions a “naive seed”, which could even be a single sentence or two, for example, for a listening workshop: “give them lots of chances to listen, and give them feedback on what they do”. The way I see it, the idea is to supply some simple ‘gateway’ information, an invitation to inquiry, a ‘spark’ for trainees’ exploration. I like this…but like dogme teaching, however, less is more not only for the students but also for the teacher or trainer! What do I mean? A key skill that trainers clearly need to bring for this approach to work is the ability to work with the emergent language ideas that come up productively, continuing to feed and guide the exploration expertly. This ain’t easy. And it’s not just that kind of skill – it’s actually, I’d say, all that same knowledge (and maybe then some?) that you’d have been cramming into sessions before you dog’d it. I found that in the most successful of those input sessions I’d over-prepared but then ended up running based on a much simpler set of information/materials/activities, I ended up needing most of the stuff I’d chosen not to explicitly front-load to be fresh in my mind anyway. It wasn’t always presented fully, but it informed how I responded and guided things ‘in flow’.

PS – I suppose I’m just restating what I think is an oft-made defense of dogme: it’s not just lazy teaching! (In lazy teaching or training less is less).

PPS – I googled “naive seed” and got nothing at all. Google just gives you results for “native seed”. It’s a striking and original coinage by JS, I’m left to assume!

PPPS – just today there’s a profound (and profane) Secret DOS post related to dogme (original vs. mainstream) and planning.

JS: “…maybe [this approach] actually interferes with people’s ability to look intelligently at what they’re doing and to think for themselves…maybe there’s a case for encouraging trainers to start from simplicity rather than complexity”. 

JS: “…wouldn’t that be a better starting point for a new teacher?”.  

Actually, the very first thing that comes to mind in terms of simplifying CELTA is Anthony Gaughan asking ‘Where are all the unplugged teacher trainers?‘ (it turns out I blogged about it in 2014 here). Having met a handful of CELTA trainers over the last few years I’d say we’re all on a spectrum. It’s also not so linear…I mean, we’ve all got jagged profiles. Thinking of one trainer, if you saw the way they approach, say, tutorials (high structure), you might be surprised by the way they approach input sessions (low structure), etc.

“Starting from simplicity” really DOES seem like a better starting point. Where’s the research on this? (No, seriously…where?!?!).

This brings up the recurring debate (seems to me like it comes to the fore every couple of years) about the inadequacies of the popular 4-week ITT format. Seems to me that part of what makes even me, zen-master CELTA tutor wannabe minimalist, keep coming back to feed at the trough of more is the awareness that for fucks’ sake we’ve got FOUR SHORT WEEKS to get these people into teacher shape! Let’s GOOOOOO! Cram babies, craaaam!

That’s not ideal. That’s not good.

Right, thus (abruptly?) ends Part 1. I’m only about two minutes into the eight minute interview here, so expect lots more ListeNotes on this interview to follow soon! 🙂

I hope there’s a little bit of there there to provide some food for thought. As always, I’ll encourage you to use the comment function to leave a note if you’re so inclined!


3 thoughts on “ListeNotes #2 (Part 1): Interview with Jim Scrivener at IATEFL 2016

  1. I like the idea of the ‘naive seeds’ and the discussions, but I’m wondering if this is the right thing for *initial* teacher training. For in-service stuff, sure, but I feel like they perhaps need a few foundations to build on and things to refer back to. Naive seeds could be part of an input session, but I’m not sure if it would work as the whole thing, because then you’re relying on trainees listening and note-taking skills, and wouldn’t that end up with you answering their questions in some ways. There speak my insecurities and experience of trying something a tad similar at my school and it not really working out. Also depends on who provides the seeds, you or the trainees. Maybe could be fuel for part of the post-lesson feedback? Rather than the main input? Would love to know what happens if you try it out though!
    Also, great idea for a format. Despite already following your blog at that point, I somehow missed it the first time round!


  2. Thanks for this thoughtful comment, Sandy. I totally hear what you’re saying about the danger of this as an approach not providing “enough” in an organized enough way for people quite new to teaching. I’d really like to hear from JS about the nuts and bolts of his experience really testing this out, if he has any. I’m pretty sure he still does the odd CELTA course…no?


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