REaChing for the stars
Empowering English Language Learners
In my experience at KTC, global education is often limited. Students don't get the chance to discuss international issues, world geography, or to study world history. Many of my second year students actually think the Eiffel tower is in England. I am an English teacher, but more than that I feel I'm a representative of a global village with the goal of instilling curiosity about the world outside Japan in my students. For, if they do not desire to communicate with those from other countries, are not intrigued by the diversity of culture, language and landscapes, how can we expect them to be successful language learners? It is with that in mind that I try to infuse my teaching with meaningful lessons about the world.
Here are some examples:
Last year when my husband and I went to Cambodia for New Years, Scott really wanted to visit the Cambodian landmine museum. This museum was built to house the works of the non-profit organization founded by Aki Ra, a national hero in Cambodia. His story is fascinating, and the work he does admirable. After being conscripted as a child soldier by Khmer Rouge, he became an expert in dealing with landmines. However, after several years of war, when the U.N. came to clean up, he jumped at an opportunity to learn about defusing these bombs and undoing some of the destruction he had helped cause. Thousands of innocent people were being killed or maimed by UXO, un-exploded ordinance, even after the war had ended, because these landmines were showered on the Cambodian land during the Khmer Rouge's reign and also during the Vietnam war. They are hidden in rural grasses and forests, and unsuspecting villagers often come across them. Akira's work has helped defuse over 50,000 of these landmines. He also works to educate Cambodians about what to do when they come across UXO, and tries to spread the word about their dangers to tourists who visit the Angkor temples. In addition to his outreach work dealing with UXO, he also has a home and school for orphaned children who have been affected by exploded landmines. I follow the museum on Facebook, and recently came across photos of Aki Ra's trip to Japan. He visited schools in Osaka, and some lucky kids got to interview him. I couldn't find any other news about it, but thought it was worth sharing with our students. I posted this on our English news bulletin board.
For the second year in a row, in my fifth year comic class, we are reading excerpts from the graphic novel Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi). Prior to reading, I do a brainstorming session with students to see what they know about The Middle East and Iran. Usually that is very little. Generally they know about where it is on the globe and what the dominate religion of Iran is. Next, we do an information search, looking through simple Wikipedia's Iran pages and adapted readings I've created about Iran's history. Students search for key information about the country, such as government, currency, religion, language, etc., and then they work together to create a timeline of events in Iran's history. This is no easy task. With lots of new vocabulary and difficult to pronounce names, students are surprisingly engaged in figuring it all out. I get the sense they are thirsty to learn these facts. This year, a colleague and I joined forces. While my students worked to create their visual timeline of Iran's history, and understand the key events as well as learn the pronunciations of challenging words, the conversation class students read about the young, brave, Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai, who stood up for girls' rights to education and was attacked by the Taliban as a result. They prepared to do a teaching exchange. When we joined classes, the conversation students taught the comic class about Pakistan and Malala, and the comic class taught them about Iran and its many wars.
This set the tone for our reading, but it also gave the students a better sense of what is happening in the Arab world. The news of struggles between secular and Islamic governments is a common theme in the newspapers, and now our students have some extra tools with which to interpret this information.
My colleague and I then did a dramatic read aloud of key sections in Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, encouraging students to make predictions and search for meaning in the pictures even when language seemed unattainable, and they did. They picked up some great points about the struggle of Marjane growing up in a war-torn, Islamic society. They made connections between Malala and Marjane, like how they were both rebels, standing up for what they believed in.
Students have made predictions about what will happen next in Marjane's life, after her parents send her to Austria at the age of 14 alone because they fear she is not safe in Iran. We will watch the movie in our final class before summer vacation next week.