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ETAS Journal Editors' Choice, Number 9 (May 2016)

Enjoy reading our selection:

Beyond language teaching – towards Global Citizenship: Teaching English as a life skill

Mark Fletcher

ETAS Journal, Volume 33 Number 2 (Spring 2016), pp. 20-21

For this edition of Editors’ Choice, I have chosen an article by Mark Fletcher on going beyond the standard English language syllabus and helping students achieve their real-life needs. In this easy-to-read and practical article, Fletcher offers his view on why and how we can help our students develop global skills.

Fletcher outlines four key components of life skills: global awareness, which refers to an understanding of everything from global brands to global issues; language ability, how global citizens need a range of English skills to be able to communicate in a wide variety of settings; performance, achieving effective communication by means such as body language and presentation skills; attitude and lifestyle, using study and critical thinking skills to build on values such as respect and tolerance.

The article then discusses why and how we should develop essential global knowledge. Fletcher suggests that giving student frequent exposure to topics such as society and beliefs, and our Universe will give students the background information they need to become more critical thinkers.

Finally, Fletcher gives us 10 useful classroom strategies to help develop these skills. These include regularly asking students to summarise the most significant world events from the past 24 hours and making connections between these and their own countries. Also, using newspaper headlines and asking students to discuss not only what they know about the story but also to think more deeply about possible future impacts.

As students’ needs for learning English continue expanding, approaches like this outlined by Fletcher become ever more pertinent. These ideas would be particularly useful for students who come from backgrounds where critical thinking is not a standard part of their education. However, regardless of the student’s motivation for learning English, these strategies would provide thought-provoking and authentic lessons. 

Gemma Lunn

ETAS Social Media Coordinator

ETAS Journal Editorial Board

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Beyond language teaching - towards Global Citizenship: Teaching English as a life skill

Mark Fletcher

The Vision

In the international classes of adults and juniors where I work, the big picture purpose for us as teachers has moved beyond the traditional teaching of the English as a language to teaching English as a life skill essential for our students to operate effectively as Global Citizens. Thinking beyond syllabus requirements or exam preparation, most of us share that focus on student real-life needs and opportunities.

So what are these ‘life skills’? What knowledge, ability, and understanding do global citizens need?

Here are four key components:

Global awareness

The global citizen today has much in common with other citizens all over the world. The globalisation of brands, behaviour, values, and culture touches everything from iPhones to food, to music to the motivation to be 'successful business people'! Global issues such as climate change, food supply, water supply, over fishing, deforestation, conflict over resources, 'ownership' of the Arctic/Antarctic – all require resolutions beyond the national level. This degree of cooperation requires:                                                        

  • deconstructing national stereotypes 
  • taking a lively interest in and understanding the beliefs and behaviors of other cultures (a good citizen does not criticize 'difference' but values variety)
  • having a common base of knowledge as to how the past has created the present – e.g. historical background to current political, economic, social issues

Language ability: Global citizens require:                                                                                      

  • a common language, English, in which to express themselves for meeting and communicating socially and professionally  
  • functional language to speak on issues of concern and argue an opinion, e.g. suggesting, persuading, supporting, contrasting

Performance: Performance is using language skills, professional knowledge, personality, and ability to relate to others in order to achieve the desired communication. This requires:                                                                                                                

  • body language to communicate without offence – e.g. eye contact, facial expression, intonation, posture, voice quality, clarity of pronunciation, the ability to sound interesting and interested 
  • presentation skills, such as clear purpose, engagement with audience, and so on

 Attitude and lifestyle: A matrix of common values – e.g. tolerance, respect, freedom, individual and collective rights and responsibilities, adaptability and commitment to professional development. This requires:

  • critical thinking skills based around a framework of: considering others' opinions, evaluating information, making informed judgments, reflecting on consequences of actions 
  • study skills to learn efficiently and gain information – e.g. understanding one’s own learning strengths, and having the ability to access sources on the internet, and so on                                

Developing essential global knowledge

Picking up on the final point under Global awareness, there is a Nigerian proverb “Not to know is bad. Not to wish to know is worse”. Part of a long-term personal development path is having sufficient global knowledge to appreciate why the world is as it is.

Critical thinking is essential to this. Our purpose is to encourage, and if necessary, coach students to acquire the breadth of understanding which allows them to evaluate and discuss the validity and importance of international events in order to make judgements and take decisions based on the best information available.                                                                 

Many of our students will have a lot of interest in such issues, but others will not have had sufficient exposure to world affairs, or the general education, or practice in higher order thinking skills to enable them to make a contribution. Some will not have an enquiring mind or the maturity to want to find out more. This is where Teaching English as a Life Skill requires some ingenuity and determination.

Most issues that affect international relationships, trade, and global progress can be described under one of six overlapping headings. Students need to have some basic background in these to achieve the purpose above. Within our teaching environments, we should ensure there is a lot of visible, accessible, and frequently used material on these huge fields:

1. Our Universe – the earth, geography, climate, agriculture, natural resources, climate, space, and the solar system

2. Nature – biology, bio-diversity, human and animal behaviour, conservation

3. Science and technology – energy sources, materials, machinery, computing, contribution of different countries

4. Society and beliefs – political systems, religions, culture, male and female roles, customs, human rights, work patterns, material and spiritual choices

5. Art and entertainment – architecture, music, dance, literature, painting, and sculpture, the media, sport

6. Big picture history – how civilisations develop, origin of modern nations, nationalism and identity, attitudes to governance, and current leadership/policies

Some strategies

1. Each lesson should challenge students to summarise the most important thing which has happened in the world in the past 24 hours. Ensure they make some connection to their own country and to their own life.

2. Regularly pick several newspaper headlines. Ask students to say what they know of the topic, and discuss why it has been given prominence.

  • What is the background to the event?
  • Is that background recent or does the context go back into history?
  • How does the event impact on the people and places most closely concerned and on the wider international picture?
  • What decisions and actions are likely to follow?
  • What national or cultural issues affect those decisions?

Compare items for what they tell us about why the world is as it is. Example: Which of these stories is most important?:

  • ‘Somali pirates take hostages’
  • Japanese car output down’
  • ‘New photos show conditions of Syrian refugee camps in Turkey’

A simple ‘What? When? Who? Why? What next?’ schema may be useful as a first step to establishing some facts and opinions. Push hard to get students’ view of why the situations have occurred, and the implications.

3. Have excellent modern reference works such as Doring Kindersley/Google Encyclopaedias/ Readers Digest obviously available. Likewise Time Magazine orworld maps, and so forth on display. Give current affairs a priority in reading for information lessons, but challenge students to use high order thinking skills. Example.

  • Who wrote this article on Myanmar? Are they neutral or pro- or anti-government? Give two examples why you think that. Having read this article, is it a good thing to invest in this country? Would you personally? Why?

4. Have profiles of different countries available in an attractive format (i.e. not metres of uniform downloaded grey text). Ask students to study the profile of a country (not theirs) and pick out three surprising/significant statistics or comments.

5. Devise rapid information-finding tasks which involve students in using personal internet sources. Example. ​

  • ​​What do Simon Bolivar, Lech Walesa, Ghandi, and Nelson Mandela have in common? Who is the odd  one out?

6. Ask students to prepare short talks about their own country which are not purely descriptive but which answer (or more likely) stimulate discussion about challenging questions. Examples.

  • Japan – Is it a better country to live in now than 10 years ago?
  • Argentina – Do more people emigrate from or immigrate to the country?
  • Abu Dhabi – What is the economic/spiritual/political relationship to Saudi Arabia?

7. Make sure that each student visits the BBC site (see References below) about their own country and evaluates its accuracy. What should be added?  Set a task to summarise it for students from other countries.

8. Project.  Get students to produce a short quiz which raises understanding of what is important to the people of that country.

9. Use material which creatively covers: water/conservation/ religion/ astronomy/India and China/art/medicine and other relevant issues. Always put up front the perspective: ‘Why is this important to us today?’

10. News bulletins and so on often reference acronyms (CERN/ UNHCR). Ask students to explain them and their relevance in the context.

References

Country profiles: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/country_profiles/default.stm

e-encyclopedia: http://www.dke-encyc.com/                                                               

About the Author 

Mark Fletcher is a freelance academic consultant and teacher trainer based in Kent. He has led over 20 presentations at ETAS Conferences and workshops in every regional branch on topics ranging from brain-friendly learning to do-it-yourself classroom drawing to Dickensian Christmases and Paracelsus tours of Basel in the snow!