I have often felt I need to apologize in some way for my wiki.
Reading about breast-ironing in Cameroon, slavery in Mauritania, the feral rich in India, dark tourism in Cambodia. I suppose I felt it might be too serious, too “political”, too taboo or heavy, too real, maybe, and not enough fun for some learners and teachers. But every time I read an article from New Internationalist, I felt really strongly that more people should be reading it. They contain complex ideas, though, often written in dense, idiomatic language, and, for my ESL learners to understand them, they needed to be simplified.
So I started simplifying the articles and making “Ready Lessons”, and collected them all together in the wiki. My learners loved them and they developed their critical thinking and debating skills. They all became more interested in global justice issues and were more able to talk and write about controversial topics in the UK and their countries. We’ve had heated discussions, which spill over into an on-line class discussion forum, and we’ve had shock, revelation and tears. Better in the supportive, trusting environment of a class than, say, in an oral exam if they first encounter similar topics there. And finally, I plucked up courage to present the wiki at a conference for teachers.
At first, some of the teachers were worried that global justice topics in class would be too negative and pessimistic. Some said that global justice was ok as long as we make it palatable by sneaking in a joke, or giving it an interesting twist. I’m not against jokes and fun, and integrate global justice topics with other lighter, often student-generated lessons, but joking about disabilities, fracking and land grabs seems inappropriate. Teachers in the private sector often worry that students’ parents might complain – which is why “PARSNIPS” (politics, alcohol, religion, sex, narcotics, isms or pork) are banned in published course-books. But we cannot teach language with no content at all, and many materials simply present the socially acceptable face of western materialism, enforced beauty and celebrities.
So here’s my presentation: “Around the world in 90 minutes: global justice in the ESOL class”
On a sunny Sunday morning in June, at the NATECLA (National Association for Teaching English and other Community Languages to Adults) teachers’ conference in Sheffield, UK, we travelled around the world together, discussing various stories and activities to engage learners. The topics were, more often than not, positive, looking at successes and solutions. The tasks were engaging through role-plays, jigsaw readings, various types of dictations, contextualised grammar work and group letter-writing. And now, I don’t think I feel I need to be so apologetic.