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March 1997 - Issue No. #26 (p.7 - 8)

Commonly Asked Questions about Global Issues

by Jessica Newby Kawata

Teaching global issues is a growing area within EFL/ESL which encompasses a variety of topics including human rights, poverty, the environment, refugees, AIDS, and cross-cultural issues. There are many difficulties that teachers encounter when using global issue content in the classroom. The JALT'96 SIG roundtable discussion tried to answer common questions that teachers have.

Q: How can we make global issues fun without trivializing them?

Issues like hunger, poverty and oppression are not entertaining and should not be. They are relevant, urgent and very real - but not fun. As language teachers, we have no obligation to entertain, but we must maintain interest and motivation. How?

  • Vary activities: For potentially boring texts, teachers can use quizzes, predictions, brainstorming, skimming, scanning, critical reading, note-taking, summarizing and jigsaw work. They can have students match texts with titles, re-order scrambled sentences, and match sentence halves. They can try listening, writing, speaking, role plays, games, videos, interviews, and contact with NGOs. Teachers can keep students moving, thinking, sharing, drawing, singing, listening to "music with a message" or playing global issue games such as "Snakes & Ladders" or "Tic-Tac-Toe".

  • Vary resources: Resources don't need to be solely textbooks or articles. The more varied, the more interesting for students. Possibilities include questionnaires, comics, cartoons, headlines, photos, quotes, data, artifacts, fiction, poems, case studies, videos, songs, interviews, puzzles, student generated materials, L1 news, and short teacher talks.

  • Emphasize problem solving: Students like puzzles and global issues are huge problems crying for a solution. Reinforce the positive and emphasize what students can do as members of society to help solve these problems. Cooperative learning and student centered activities involve students, increase their interest and motivation. Let students make discoveries for themselves. Design task based and hands-on projects. Have students create something and work towards a goal.

  • Q: How can we make issues learner-centered?

    To make learner-centered programs, David Nunan suggests involving the learner in the three stages of the class: planning, implementing and evaluating.

    • Planning: Together, teacher and student should determine goals and make joint decisions on methods of final assessment, selection of themes, and resources.

    • Implementation: A contract between teacher and learner can be made so that learners take responsibility for learning. There should be plenty of learner input and exchange of ideas during this stage.

    • Evaluation: Get learner feedback on tasks, procedures and resources.

    Other ways to encourage learner-centered classes are to include cooperative learning, group work, and self discovery. Devise small research projects, where students share what they have learned with the class. Find out students' interests and allow them to examine their feelings and attitudes towards these issues. No one has ever asked them their opinions before, so they need time to reflect on their ideas and opinions. When having students choose topics for a global issues course, the teacher can give the content, but students can write the discussion questions to exchange in groups in class. Students can also devise projects and their own homework.

    Q: How do we evaluate learner performance?

    Criteria must be established at the outset and not changed unilaterally. It's important to be objective, so for project work set a standard form listing the criteria, (e.g. pronunciation, grammar, fluency, content) and grade for each point on a 1-10 basis, adding up the total score at the end and returning the form to students so they can learn their strong and weak points.

    Weekly quizzes, homework, presentations and final tests can be used for evaluation. So can presentations, questionnaires, reaction paragraphs, group-work, research projects, and portfolios of student work. Balance the subjective (e.g. scores for presentation) with the objective (e.g. reading quizzes, listening). Make students take responsibility for their learning and make the goal "genuine understanding". We want our students to learn language but we also want them to become responsible global citizens.

    Content is a means towards an end - higher language proficiency. We are not justified in testing acquisition of content knowledge (e.g. global issues), but we can test acquisition of language in context, and global issues are an appropriate context. We must never evaluate opinions when grading, but should evaluate how opinions are expressed.

    We can include measures which show how well the content has been understood, but we still must focus on how well our language objectives have been achieved, because for the administration, students, parents and our colleagues, we run language programs, not social studies courses.

    Q: How can we exploit authentic materials that are often too difficult for learners?

    Authentic Reading: Students can often understand authentic readings with some help. If there is no challenge, there is no progress. But, if these materials are too difficult, they will be frustrated. So, how can we help?

    • Activate schema before reading (through brainstorming or discussions)

    • Provide key words and concepts in L1 or clear context. Provide an L2-L1 glossary.

    • Provide questions that direct readers attention to the main ideas.

    • Simplify, guide, explain, exemplify and elaborate points for the students.

    • Give learners plenty of time for reading, eg homework which is collected & graded

    Authentic listening: This can be difficult for students and playing the tape over and over is not the solution. Ask yourself, could they understand it if they read the tapescript? If not, abandon it. If they can, then you can:
    • Increase pauses and lengthen pauses

    • Provide key words / phrases or an outline

    • Give a simple summary first

    • Pause and elaborate or read aloud

    • Provide the tapescript before they listen

    • Use other resources such as data, pictures, cartoons, and surveys

    For high school, teachers can use global issues materials written for native-speaker children or artifacts such as chants, diagrams, maps, and photos. Sources such as The Daily Yomiuri environment pages can be used by elementary EFL learners. Newspapers work well if students are provided with an English-English or English-Japanese glossary, so their time isn't consumed looking up words in the dictionary. Global education materials from Educators for Social Responsibility and Social Studies School Services can also be adapted for various levels.


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    Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
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