JJ Wilson has taught in Egypt, Lesotho, Colombia, England, Italy, and the United States, and has trained teachers in 30 countries. He is currently the writer-inresidence at Western New Mexico University, where he teaches ESL Methods, Linguistics, Publication, and Creative Writing. He has co-authored, with Antonia Clare, several ELT courses, including Language to Go, Total English, and Speakout, which won the Duke of Edinburgh English Speaking Union prize for the Best Book of 2011 and was shortlisted for an ELTons award. His methodology book, How to Teach Listening, also won an English Speaking Union prize. Research and Resources in Language Teaching: Listening, co-authored with Michael Rost, came out in 2013. JJ also writes fiction, primarily about social justice issues, under the name JJ Amaworo Wilson. He is widely published in the US and the UK, and his novel, Damnificados, came out in January 2016. JJ blogs at blog.reallyenglish.com and jjawilson.wordpress.com.
ELT and social justice: opportunities in a time of chaos
“The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.” (Günther Grass) Teaching is never neutral. Through our methods, classroom persona, and the materials we use, teachers advocate certain values. These values depend on one’s beliefs – one’s conception of education and the teacher’s role. Some believe that all teachers should use their creativity and passion to bring about social change. They regard their role as pivotal in the development of students-as-critical thinkers who are able to challenge the status quo. Others see themselves as providers of language only. The question for us is: “Should language teachers only teach language?” Or should we include a covert curriculum that gets our students to think critically and speak up about injustice in the world?
In this plenary, I will look at the arguments for including social justice issues in ELT classrooms. I will summarise the literature, referencing major theorists such as John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and bell hooks. I will also examine relevant ideas and movements: critical pedagogy and conscientização; participatory teaching learning; problem-posing and dialogic methods; “poor man’s pedagogy”; service learning; and “the banking method” versus education as the practice of freedom. Moving from theory to practice, I will then show ways in which teachers can include social justice issues in the classroom. These activities include drama, poetry, images, community projects, and so on. I will conclude with some remarks about professional development and the concept of education for social justice. I will stress that the ideas in this talk are not a methodology or a recipe for becoming a better teacher. They are a “way of being”. Each idea, each activity must be made afresh, re-created every time the teacher steps into the classroom.
Excerpt from Sandy Millin’s Blog – http://www.sandymillin.wordpress.com
ELT AND SOCIAL JUSTICE: OPPORTUNITIES IN A TIME OF CHAOS (JJ WILSON)
JJ is a coursebook writer and blogger, and he writes fiction about social justice issues. You can watch his full plenary or read my summary below. There’s also an interview with JJ recorded after his plenary.
All education begins with what we bring to the classroom.
Compliant students answer the teacher’s questions. Engaged students ask their own.
He told us about Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed [affiliate link], a book which he found very influential because it gave him the language and theory to talk about his teaching. Freire taught English to illiterate peasant farmers in the north-east of Brazil in 1950s. He taught with what they brought to class, and was imprisoned for his troubles. One of the things Freire was interested in was praxis: the act of putting theory into action. He also talked about the idea of the teacher as a co-learner.
Social justice is culturally specific, constantly changing, and affects all areas of human life. It is “a world which affords individuals and groups fair treatment and an impartial share of the benefits of society”. But what does social justice have to do with ELT? It depends on your view of the educator’s role in society. If you think they can change things, then it’s something we should be addressing in our classrooms. JJ went on to suggest a range of ways we could do this:
- Draw a quick picture to illustrate an issue you feel passionate about, then discuss it.
- Use images to connect students to other areas and issues. One example of suitable images is Reuters classrooms from around the world. The Washington Post has separate images with captions. You can supplement this with a globe to help students see where the images are from. In a world with Google Maps, I think a globe is still a useful tool – it’s much easier to see relationships when the whole world is in front of you in 3D.
- Talk about the images using statements starting ‘I wonder…’
- Turn the ‘I wonder…’ statements into questions and categorise them e.g. materials, classrooms
- Each category is colour-coded. One group discusses each colour, then they work with one person from each group to pool their ideas.
- Finally, they talk about their ideal classroom.
- Use poetry:
- Read and repeat, with students copying each line.
- Read a poem, then write your own version of it.
I am from the immensity of the world.
- Use drama. This is based on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, and his book Games for actors and non-actors [affiliate link], which JJ recommends as a source for these activities. It encourages the audience to come up with the resolution of the story. He invented ‘spectactors’ and ‘gamesercises’.
- Use social justice projects, like Nick Bilbrough’s Hands Up Project.
- Use visits. A child once asked their teacher ‘Where does the trash go?’ The teacher took the class to a landfill. As a result, the class started a recycling project which continues today.
- Use stories. Despite all the technology we have, stories are the thing that lasts – they are as old as mankind. Use stories of ordinary people doing great things to bring social justice into your classroom and show resilience. Why do we need stories of rich white people saving the world, when there are so many stories of people saving themselves? I like this story of the junk orchestra in Paraguay.
If you’re interested in finding out more about social justice and how to incorporate it in your classroom, you might want to join IATEFL’s Global Issues Special Interest Group.
Blogposts following JJ’s plenary:
Photo Credits to Mumin and Muge hoca