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Content with your Content? Why Teach Global Issues in ELT?

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The first part of this paper aims to examine the concept of the globalised world from a number of different angles and poses questions related to the relevance and validity of the curriculum......

The first part of this paper aims to examine the concept of the globalised world from a number of different angles and poses questions related to the relevance and validity of the curriculum currently presented to EFL students. A number of methodological suggestions related to the field of education with a big E will be observed such as motivation, metacognition, learner autonomy, use of widely accessible resources and “The University of Life”. Thus the role of the teacher in ELT will shift towards that of faclitator and educator, raising awareness in self and in students of the need to become global citizens who are lifelong learners and putting the learner at the centre of the educational process. The second part of this paper examines the overriding factor of using English as a global language to examine global issues through the practice of critical, comparative and creative thinking skills. The framework for the paper is based on Robert Fisher’s thinking skills language learning model.

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  • 1. Abstract The first part of this paper aims to examine the concept of the globalised world from a number of different angles and poses questions related to the relevance and validity of the curriculum currently presented to EFL students. A number of methodological suggestions related to the field of education with a big E will be observed such as motivation, metacognition, learner autonomy, use of widely accessible resources and “The University of Life”. Thus the role of the teacher in ELT will shift towards that of faclitator and educator, raising awareness in self and in students of the need to become global citizens who are lifelong learners and putting the learner at the centre of the educational process. The second part of this paper examines the overriding factor of using English as a global language to examine global issues through the practice of critical, comparative and creative thinking skills. The framework for the paper is based on Robert Fisher’s thinking skills language learning model. The Net and the Self The social landscape of human life, the material basis of society, the very understanding of the concept of education has been transformed to such an extent in the last fifty years that it is imperative that we start to question all the practices we hold dear. The information technology revolution, the media communication services and a globalised economy have pervaded every sector of our lives. “Our societies are increasingly structured around a bipolar opposition between the Net and the Self”1 and it is this opposition that opens up for language teachers a rare opportunity to play a vital role. We have always been involved in our students’ search for identity whether we recognise it or not; in dealing with adolescents learning a foreign language we are essentially catapulting them into different worlds, into second or third “Selves”. Now with the Net they have a further identity, that of researcher and discoverer of their own interests and with unlimited power. The Global Perspective in ELT At no other time in history has so much information been available to so many; at no time before have the masses been exposed to so many accessible facts and figures; at no juncture have our children been faced with so many options and so little maturity to deal with them. The fledgling democratisation of so many countries has plunged thousands of adolescents into demanding their rights and misunderstanding their obligations such that the confusion experienced has created alienation and disinterest. This applies to all types of learning, no less in ELT, for it is through the English Language itself, be it AmEng, BritEng, AustEng or another world English, that much of this transformation has been effected. The new form of relationship between economy, state and society has become global and we as English teachers must take on the huge responsibilty of playing our roles according to the new paradigms. An understanding Content with your Content? Susan Hillyard 2007 Content with your Content in ELT? 2007 Susan Hillyard B.Ed. (Hons) ssnhillyard@gmail.com http://susanhillyard.blogspot.com.ar/
  • 2. of this global transformation requires a perspective as global as possible on our part, a willingness to see the world through the eyes of others and a desire to question the tenets of our profession. The Knowledge or Information Society Due to all these factors, and many more, we have moved into what has been termed the Knowledge Society or, as some like to call it, the Information Society. I believe there is a huge difference between these two concepts although, sometimes, they seem to be used interchangeably. Information relates to facts and figures; it is about the material that used to fill the Encyclopediae of yore. Some people have called it general knowledge in layman’s terms. But this is misleading. Each individual has to take in information and then through the process of constructivism in education transform it into knowledge. This knowledge can then be used in new situations to make connections and therefore to make meaning, solve problems, make decisions and lead to an understanding of the Self and one’s place in the world. The University of Life There no longer remains an accepted body of limited knowledge set out in a tight, selected, structured syllabus. Our students have access to a huge wealth of information and they generally know how to get at it without much help from us.They belong to the new University of Life. We are no longer the purveyors of truth and fact; we are no longer the guardians of information and knowledge. As a result of this it is imperative that we work in new ways to maintain our status and their respect. Unlike in times gone by, our students are no longer dependent on us as providers of the material of their learning. Where we must intervene, therefore, is in guiding our students to choose the kind of content they require and to acquire the necessary skills to convert this information into knowledge. By this I mean that we must develop a whole new set of practices which encourage our students to be selective in their research and adept in their ability to transform the information and be able to apply it to new situations. Thus I refer you to the title of this paper “Content with your Content?” and question what kind of content-based language learning we are feeding our students. Questioning Textbook Content As ELT evolved and textbook writers started to offer more motivating topics and more content orientated passages for reading comprehension, writing stimulus, oral and listening tasks, so we ourselves became more conscious of the student being placed at the center of the process, feeling we needed to assess interest level. If, however, you study the topics you will see there is little contoversial material; there is little for adolescents to get their teeth into; there are very few real life hooks. You will find such themes as: the family, sport, hobbies, travel, pop culture, festivals, health, fashion, food, etc, etc. In other words nothing much to get them thinking. Finding an Identity in a Globalised World This, surely, is the point. Our students are bombarded with information all day, everyday, yet they have few mentors who will work with them to help them make sense of this world, to filter and sift the information, to make logical connections with their prior knowledge and to help them to make meaning in order to find their own identity. They spend hours on the net finding information but this does not help them to find knowledge unless we intervene to introduce thinking skills. In addition we must introduce debateable topics and all in English, the global language. It is precisely here where we, the English language teacher, can close the dysjuncture between the Net and the Self. Content with your Content? Susan Hillyard 2007
  • 3. Teaching Thinking Skills Robert Fisher, who believes that every lesson should be a “thinking lesson”2 presents a thinking model of language learning clarifying the interrelatedness of reading, writing, listening, speaking, input, output and metacognition. The interesting points here are the new dimensions of INPUT, OUTPUT and METACOGNITION which can direct us into exactly the type of paradigm to move our students forward into the globalised world. In other words we will still be teaching, reading, writing, listening and speaking but we will monitor our own INPUT so that it is more specifically related to teaching thinking in the foreign language, while the OUTPUT is given a heavier significance so that our students actually learn by doing. Learning to Learn When we start to accept that metacognition must be embedded as an integral part of our syllabus then we move into the realms of learner training, learning to learn, autonomy and understanding the self through reflection. In this way, we extend our practice beyond teaching the language to teaching the students. In finding the Self the students must make comparisons with others so teaching social values in the context of global issues is a perfect vehicle. Not only this, but adolescents are instrinsically motivated by discussing, analysing and criticising what is going on in the world around them and beyond. Thus the whole package serves to merge the two opposing forces of Self and Net. Time to think and to express Before we are able to do any of this, we must first challenge our own understanding of ELT and work on our own perceptions, questioning ourselves at the local level within the context of a global vision. The first step is to look at the Knowledge Society and assess the need for curriculum reform, particularly in the areas of teaching critical, comparative and creative thinking skills related to global issues. “Critical thinking, if successfully taught at this level, becomes the antidote for individual and social illiteracy”3 The questions we need to ask are essentially about the identity of the social clubs to which our students belong so that we observe the diversity of our own culture, knowing that very often our students live in rather small bubbles, rarely coming into contact with other social groups. We should try to offer thinking skills, techniques and strategies which encourage our students to analyse their own context so that they stand back and question prejudices within their own cultures. The club psyche, reactions to squares and eccentrics, responses to artists and journalists, beliefs related to the creative act and the critical spirit and feelings about the family, the people next door, the people who live at a distance and the people who live on the other side of the world, must be questioned. If our students are to find their own selves in tandem with an educated use of the Net and at the same time to find their own voice in English we must give them opportunities to THINK and to EXPRESS. Teaching a language of thinking As Alan Maley says in his Foreward to Global Issues (2004) “Global issues can no longer be dismissed as something ‘out there’. They are very much ‘in here’ too. We cannot escape them………The world is a web of intricately interdependent strands” and research among 11- 16 year olds indicates that over 80% are interested in Global Issues and feel they should learn about them at school. So here we have a perfect type of content where the basic skills of critical thinking can be exploited; students can be taught the language of thinking through learning the skills of analysis, inference, explanation, interpretation, evaluation and self regulation. In addition they can develop those qualities of thought which contribute to developing the citizens of the world: open-mindedness, inquisitiveness, good judgement, truth seeking, confidence in their own powers of reasoning and the ability to be systematic in their research. Not only this but comparative thinking skills are introduced through the observance of other cultures and the Content with your Content? Susan Hillyard 2007
  • 4. creative skills can be exploited by asking the students to dream, to imagine, to plan and act and to criticize their own products and themselves.Through this content-based language learning students will develop their own personal expression in the global language helping them towards the responsible use of the net, a raised awareness of diversity and at the same time a positive means to search for their own identity. Opposing views of diversity Traditionally there have been two opposing views of diversity in the developed world: one relates to minority groups who needed to be equipped with the language skills and cultural knowledge of the dominant group in order to be assimilated into the societal values of that group and the opposing view that the whole society would be enriched by social pluralism and policies of diversity. New paradigms are pointing to a stress on social and economic functionalism so that diversity is seen not as a problem to be eradicated or a right to be guaranteed (sometimes considered to be patronizing) but rather as a resource to be cultivated. What better way can there be to teach English than by opening up, raising awareness, building empathy and by developing compassion through a study of global issues? The question remains for us as teachers, in South America, as to how much we can fit our work into the changing paradigms. The ELT teacher as a model of social values As managers or leaders of adolescent groups it is important that we act as models in changing our classroom practice to reflect the social values we wish to explore. More democracy and less authoritarianism must prevail in every classroom. We should work on egalitarianism rather than elitism. We should be looking at developing the processes of thinking through Global Issues in English so that our students can use the net to their advantage while developing a self as a speaker of the English language. A Parable Once upon a time there was a class And the students expressed disapproval of the teacher. Why should they be concerned with Global interdependency, global problems, And what others of the world were thinking, feeling and doing? And the teacher said she’d had a dream in which she Saw one of her students fifty years from today. The student was angry and had said, “Why did I learn so much detail about the past and the administration of my country and so little about the world?” He was angry because no-one had told him That as an adult he would be faced Almost daily with problems of a Global interdependent nature, be they Problems of peace, security, quality Of life, inflation, or scarcity Of natural resources. The angry student found he was the Victim as well as the beneficiary. Content with your Content? Susan Hillyard 2007
  • 5. “Why was I not warned? Why was I not better educated? Why Did my teachers not tell me about The problems and help me understand I was a member of an interdependent human race?” With even greater anger the student shouted, “You helped me extend my hands with incredible machines, My eyes with telescopes and microscopes, My ears with telephones, radios, and sonar, My brain with computers, But you did not help me extend My heart, love, concern, To the entire human family. You, teacher, gave me half a loaf” John Rye Kinghorn References: 1. Castells M., 1996. The Rise of the Network Society. Blackwell Oxford 2. Fisher R., 1995. Teaching Children to Think. Stanley Thornes 3. Sampedro R. and Hillyard S., 2004. Global Issues. OUP Content with your Content? Susan Hillyard 2007
  • 6. “Why was I not warned? Why was I not better educated? Why Did my teachers not tell me about The problems and help me understand I was a member of an interdependent human race?” With even greater anger the student shouted, “You helped me extend my hands with incredible machines, My eyes with telescopes and microscopes, My ears with telephones, radios, and sonar, My brain with computers, But you did not help me extend My heart, love, concern, To the entire human family. You, teacher, gave me half a loaf” John Rye Kinghorn References: 1. Castells M., 1996. The Rise of the Network Society. Blackwell Oxford 2. Fisher R., 1995. Teaching Children to Think. Stanley Thornes 3. Sampedro R. and Hillyard S., 2004. Global Issues. OUP Content with your Content? Susan Hillyard 2007