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Keynote at INGED (English Language Teachers' Association in Turkey) International ELT conference, 20 October 2017


Learner and teacher autonomy in difficult circumstances

Most teachers in the world face difficult circumstances of various kinds which teacher training tends to neglect, failing to prepare teachers adequately for cold winds of the 'real' world. Usually contextual factors are seen as preventing innovation but difficult circumstances can also provoke positive change, as I aim to show in this paper. Engaging students' autonomy is one 'rescue solution' that can emerge, as can greater engagement of 'teacher-learner autonomy' (which i define as 'the ability to develop appropriate skills, knowledge and attitudes for oneself as a teacher, in cooperation with others'). With illustrations from recent experience, I show how, in difficult times, cold winds can bring positive change, i.e. how necessity can be the mother of appropriate in(ter)vention.

Powerpoint slides

Resources and references for participants:

Teaching in 'difficult circumstances'

Teaching English in Large Classes network (TELCnet)

Crisis-ELT website

Smith, R. (2011) 'Teaching English in difficult circumstances: A new research agenda'. In Pattison, T. (ed.) IATEFL 2010 Harrogate Conference Selections. Canterbury: IATEFL. Pre-publication version here. Associated talk here

Smith, R.. 2014. 'Transformations in ELT: agents, contexts and opportunities'. In Shrestha, P.N., Dhakal, K.R., Ojha, L.P., Rana, L.B., and Rawa, H. (eds) NELTA Conference Proceedings 2013. Kathmandu, Nepal: Nepal English Language Teachers' Association, pp. 12-22. Pre-publication version.

Smith, R. (ed.) (2016) 'Teacher development: low-resource classrooms' (video materials). Online.

Smith, R., Padwad, A. & Bullock, D. (forthcoming). The Low-resource Classroom: Voices of Experience. London: British Council.

Kuchah, K. & Shamim, F. (eds) (forthoming). Teaching English in Difficult Circumstances: International Perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Learner autonomy in difficult circumstances

Smith, R. (2001). ‘Group work for autonomy in Asia: insights from teacher research’. AILA Review 15: 70–81. Available online:

Smith, R. (2003) 'Pedagogy of autonomy as (becoming-)appropriate methodology. In Palfreyman, D. and Smith, R. (eds) Learner Autonomy across Cultures: Language Education Perspectives. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Smith, R. (2008). 'Taking the bull by its horns: Zakia Sarwar's pro-autonomy approach to large classes in Pakistan (Part I)'. Independence 44: 7-13. pdf here

Kuchah, K. and Smith, R. (2011). ‘Pedagogy of autonomy for difficult circumstances: From practice to principles’. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching 5/2: 119-139.

Smith, R., Kuchah, K. & Lamb, M. (forthcoming) 'Learner autonomy in developing countries'. In Chik, A., Aoki, N. & Smith, R. (eds) Autonomy in Language Learning and Teaching: New Research Agendas. Basingstoke: Palgrave Pivot.

Teacher-learner autonomy

Barfield, A. & Smith, R. (1999). ‘Teacher-learner autonomy: the role of conference and workshop design’. In Proceedings of Teachers Develop Teachers Research (TDTR) 4 (CD-ROM). Whitstable, Kent: IATEFL. Also available online:

Smith, R. (2000). ‘Starting with ourselves: Teacher-learner autonomy in language learning’. In Sinclair, B., McGrath, I. and Lamb, T. (eds.). Learner Autonomy, Teacher Autonomy: New Directions. London: Addison Wesley Longman, 89–99.

Smith, R., with Barfield, A. (2000–2001). ‘Interconnections: Learner autonomy, teacher autonomy’ (with Andy Barfield). Learning Learning 7, 8/1. Available online:

Smith, R. (2005) 'Developing professional autonomy: an action research based MA module and its ongoing evaluation'. Interactions 9/2 (Issue 26). Online:

Smith, R. (2006) ‘Developing teacher-learner autonomy: constraints and opportunities in pre-service training’, in Bobb-Wolff, L. and Vera Batista, J.L. (eds), Proceedings of The Canarian Conference on Developing Autonomy in the FL Classroom 2003. La Laguna, Spain: University of La Laguna. Also available online

Smith, R. and Erdoğan, S. (2008) ‘Teacher-learner autonomy: Programme goals and student-teacher constructs’. In Lamb, T. and Reinders, H. (eds), Learner and Teacher Autonomy: Concepts, Realities and Responses. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Smith, R. with Barfield, A. (2013) . ‘Exploring teacher-learning: Interview with Richard Smith, Learner Development SIG co-founder’. Learning Learning 20/2: 44-49. Online:

Smith, R. with Course, S. (2014). 'Teacher development, teacher-research, and autonomy' Independence 61. Pre-publication version

Teacher-research for difficult circumstances

- (2007) ‘Responding to resistance’. In A. Barfield and S. Brown (eds), Reconstructing Autonomy in Language Education: Inquiry and Innovation. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. [co-authored with P. Brown and E. Ushioda.]

- Smith, R., Connelly, T. & Rebolledo, P. (2014) ‘Teacher-research as CPD: A project with Chilean secondary school teachers’ (with T. Connelly and P. Rebolledo). Chapter 5 in Hayes, D. (ed.) Innovations in the Continuing Professional Development of English Language Teachers. London: The British Council, pp. 111–128. Online (Open Access)

- University of Warwick / ESRC 'Teacher-research for difficult circumstances' (TRDC) project, 2016-2018.

- Symposium on Teacher-research for difficult circumstances: IATEFL Conference, Glasgow (video & ppts)

- Pinter, A., Mathew, R. & Smith, R. (2016) Children and Teachers as Co-researchers in Indian Primary English Classrooms. (Co-authored with A. Pinter and R. Mathew). London: The British Council. Online (Open Access).

- Smith, R. & Kuchah, K. (2016) 'Researching teacher associations' ELT Journal 70/2: 212-221. Online.

- Rebolledo, P., Smith, R. & Bullock, D. (eds) (2016) Champion Teachers: Stories of Exploratory Action Research (publ. British Council, freely available online)

- Smith, R. & Rebolledo, P. Forthcoming. A Handbook for Exploratory Action Research. London: British Council.

- TESOL International Association 2017 Electronic Village Online on classroom-based research for professional development 

- (forthcoming) January-February 2018 Electronic Village Online 

- International Festival of Teacher-research