Luke Prodromou

Luke ProdromouBuilding Self-esteem in the classroom:  from principle to practice

Luke Prodromou is a teacher, teacher-trainer and materials writer. He has been a speaker at many international conferences. Luke graduated from Bristol University in English and has an MA in Shakespeare Studies (Birmingham University) a Diploma in TEFL (Leeds University) and a Ph.D (Nottingham University).

He has conducted teacher training courses for the British Council, Pilgrims (Canterbury) NILE (Norwich) the University of Edinburgh, ESADE (Barcelona), LEND (Italy) et al.

He is the author of numerous textbooks – Flash on being the latest. He is also the co-author of Dealing with Difficulties (with Lindsay Clandfield), Mixed Abiilty Classes (Macmillan) and English as a Lingua Franca.

He is an item-writer for the Greek State Language Examinations.

He is one half of the Dave’n’Luke English Language Theatre group and a founder member of the Disabled Access-Friendly campaign.

He also gives dramatized talks on Shakespeare and Dickens, their life, work and relevance to modern issues (education, gender equality etc).


7 Responses to Luke Prodromou

  1. osnacantab says:

    Luke. I am writing to you through the dedicated discussion group created for each presenter at YLTSIGEVO2014 on the WordPress site. We are actually using the “comment” feature within WordPress for that purpose. I will copy to your personal address, but I would be most grateful if you could reply by going online to our platform:

    and writing your comments there so that they end up in the correct place and easily accessible to participants ofYLTSIG EVO 2014.



    Thanks again for a wonderful, stimulating webinar. In the closing minutes, when I was trying hard to get a personal question to you, Adobe threw me out. Dusting myself down, and ignoring the bruises, here I am popping up through WordPress to askmy question.

    I’m creating a fictitious question based on similar questions that have been put to me over the years noting that they crop up in some form or other in all the YLTSIG sessions.

    ” I was fascinated by your approach, your recommendations and I am totally convinced by all that you had to say explicitly or implicitly about the nature of education, effective language learning the role and best-practice format of testing and examining.I would love toteach along the lines you indicate. But I am a teacher in a state school and Iam not free to do that. I have no control over the nature and role of examinations. I must teach from the same textbook that my colleagues in parallel classes use and I must keep in step with them so that 5 classes can take the same test test at the end of each month. What can teachers like me do – and I suspect we are in the majority. How can we use the text books we would personally prefer to use – or not textbook at all – how can we follow our own insights and convictions when a headteacher, or the Ministry of Education or even the parents of our pupils insist we administer countless tests, teach grammar, give the learners long lists of words tol learn and be tested on , are severely critical if learners report that they have sung songs, played games and had fun instead of working hard?”

    !!!!! [Don’t forget: Tick the box |||Notify me of follow-up comments via email before you post your copmment.] !!!!!

    • Luke says:

      Dear Dennis,
      This ‘fictitious’ question is about the most ‘real’ question I ever get asked by participants in workshops, seminars, conferences, courses. I seem to give the impression in all of these contexts that I do not teach the textbook or teach towards the exams. All my teaching life I have always taught textbooks (and written them) and prepared students for exams in a country which seems to have something of a world record for testing instead of teaching: Greece. And yet, everything I showed you in the webinar was taken from such textbook- and teStbook-driven classes, over a period of many years. I simply add little bits of learner-driven activity at the beginning, the middle, the end of the class or for homework. These few minutes of self-esteem boosting, learner-input may be 5-10% of the time I teach and test my classes but they make all the difference: they are a bit like a catalyst: they have an impact and may even transform everything else I do with them: all the routine stuff you mention.
      Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
      By the way, just in case you’re wondering if there was a price paid for my rather conservative approach to teaching (which may seem off- the-wall to some people), since I started in 1973, I don’t think my exam results have ever caused complaint, my bosses were happy and I got no grumbles from parents or their kids. I worked in private language institutes and the British Council, but trained teachers for many, many years in State Schools and much of the teaching practice I did with these state school teachers was conducted with large mixed ability classes and hence my interest in the subject – of large mixed ability classes.
      Thank you for your question.

  2. helend says:

    I am copying this comment from Nick Micheloudiakis:

    Dear Luke,

    I have just finished watching your webinar and I felt I had to write a few things in response…

    I really love that clip from ‘Kes’… The transformation is truly amazing… And the effect is even more powerful because one’s initial response to the teacher is ‘How horrible to put the poor little child on the spot like that!’ (…which only goes to show that we should reserve judgment or we may have to swallow our own words later… )

    Two other little things that I liked were the empowering technique of using that girl’s description of the painting as a cloze text for the whole class and of course the ‘chain writing’ (one of my favourites).

    Going back to the initial definitions of ‘self-esteem’, it is remarkable that I have only recently watched an RSA talk by a Psychology Professor (M. Lieberman) and his research has led him to the conclusion that the social component of ‘self-esteem’ is far, far more important than we have hitherto thought… I have (re)uploaded 3 very short clips from his talk (see below) and they are all related to your presentation in one way or another.

    The first two have to do with the need for social connection and the huge threat that social exclusion and bullying represents.
    But it is the third one that struck me most as being relevant to what you said. The main idea can be summed up in two words: Peer teaching. Quite apart from its huge value in building self-esteem Lieberman has done studies which show that students learn better if they are studying in order to teach others than if they are studying to take an exam (even if they do not get to teach others eventually!) This ties in perfectly with your ‘Kes’ clip. Interestingly, according to Lieberman, we may want to have the ‘buds’ teaching the ‘flowers’ rather than the other way round!

    Something I found particularly interesting was that bit about labels being best suited for jam-jars… I know of course that you meant that if we label students negatively this may have terrible long-term effects for their self esteem. Yet it is precisely because of their potency that labels can be one of our most effective classroom management tools! I am a great fan of labels myself; the idea of course is that you label students positively and – hey presto! – they often live up to the label! There has been a great deal of research on this (you may want to have a look at the article I have attached) and recently I have read about other studies which show labeling is not only effective for individuals, but at the group level as well!

    Anyway – enough for now! Here are two things I love about all your talks:
    …they are squarely focused on people (the Kikis and Harries in our classrooms) rather than on techniques or language and
    …they contain so many memorable elements (the video clip or Monet’s painting or the poems by Frost and Patten) – these elements are valuable in their own right (regardless of the talk they are embedded into) and they are things people can talk about and reflect on for a long time afterwards; they are things that go way beyond ELT… (ars longa!)

    Here are the 3 clips I have uploaded along with the description of the main idea in each:

    It is the simplest game in the world. It is called ‘Cyberball’. The rules are very straightforward. There are three people. You are one of them (your hand is the one at the bottom of the screen). All these people have to do is toss a ball between them. Each person has a choice of who to toss the ball to. And so the ‘game’ starts. Everything is ok in the beginning; the player pass the ball between them and you get your fair share of passes. But then things change; the other two players gradually proceed to ignore you. They start tossing the ball between them and you are just left sitting dumbly there as the ball moves from one side of the screen to the other. Psychologists discovered that the experience can be excruciating…
    Now here is a bizarre finding: in another study they told subjects that there were in fact no other players – that a computer randomly controlled whether they got the ball or not; incredibly, the experience was still painful if the subjects were excluded!!
    As EL teachers, our job is of course to teach English. Yet in trying to do so, we very often forget that there are other things that matter a lot more to our students. One of these is whether they feel they belong to the group. Unless they feel they do, chances are they are going to learn very little. So how can we ensure this precondition is met?

    Professor Lieberman makes a brilliant observation at the end; if a kid has cut themselves badly, we don’t expect them to sit in class and calmly go about their lesson – we try to deal with the emergency first. Yet if a child feels socially excluded or has been bullied, we expect them to carry on regardless! Unfortunately, as Lieberman’s studies have shown, social pain activates exactly the same brain region as physical pain – and it does have a detrimental effect on learning, just as physical pain has. What is more, social pain is much, much harder to detect. So what is the moral for us teachers? Rather than focusing on being the best ‘purveyors of knowledge’ around, it might make more sense to ensure that we have created the right conditions in the classroom for our students to flourish. An awareness of group dynamics and good classroom management skills may be far more important than knowledge of content or expertise in teaching techniques.

    Professor Lieberman again making another brilliant observation: getting kids to teach other kids works wonders! ‘OK’ you might say ‘this is hardly news; this idea has been around for ages’! To this objection, I would like to say two things: a) lots of things have been around for ages, yet some have turned out to be useless or even harmful (think of meaningless drilling or some types of error correction); it is a good thing when research can sort the wheat from the chaff. b) Lieberman makes two additional points: i) that students studying with a social motivation (to teach others) actually do better at tests than students simply preparing for tests, and b) that we want the weaker student to be doing the teaching; it is not the ‘student’ who benefits most, but the ‘teacher’! An excellent clip!

  3. osnacantab says:

    Nik what a marvellous response to Luke’s quite excellent presentation. Thank you, Luke for firing
    Nik and thank you Nik tremendously fo rbeing willing to share what began as a personal response to Luke with the rest of us.


    • Luke says:

      Dear Nick,

      Thank you for your rich and enriching response to my webinar on self-esteem. You take my point (i.e. Vygotsky’s point) about buds and flowers further and what you say about peer teaching makes sense, intuitively and from one’s experience over the years. Ditto your point about good AND bad labels having enormous power. I think this point is backed up by the ‘Pygmalion in the classroom’ research (Rosenthal and Jacobson).Indeed KES is a marvellous film for teachers – and also ordinary human beings! Participants should try and see it – if they haven’t already – and discuss it with colleagues. It says so much about the power of teacher’s language, tone of voice, body language, eye contact, use of space, nominating, scaffolding, classroom management and much,. much more. Apart from content and methodology, these other more subtle, subliminal processes can have a massive impact on self-esteem and motivation, don’t you think?

      • Nick Michelioudakis says:

        Absolutely! There are all these little elements which one can perhaps identify after watching a video clip again and again, but which participants in a real scene pick up immediately at a subconscious level… I have always felt that we tend to place too much emphasis on things we can look at and ‘measure’ directly (e.g. Lesson Plans or how students perform in their final exams) and these ‘little’ things (mastery of which is the hallmark of a great teacher) tend to be neglected – yet as someone once put it, this is a little bit like someone who has lost their keys on their way home but they only look for them under the street lamp because that’s where the light is…. (Incidentally, all these things you mentioned are things we missed because your talk was a webinar…. Still, it was a great talk nevertheless….)

    • Nick Michelioudakis says:

      Thank you for your kind words Dennis. I have to say that I am a great Luke fan and this was simply a brilliant webinar (though Luke is much, much better live as he is a talented actor and the medium does not allow him to make use of body language as I have seen him do so effectively on other occasions…) Anyway – I would also like to take the opportunity to say that I also loved his webinar on ‘The Dickensian Turn’ and to thank all of the YL SIG members for giving us the chance to attend such great events.
      Nick M.

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