It has only been two weeks since I came back from the 16thBraztesol International Conference and I have not been able to stop reflecting on the importance of ensuring that education plays a key role as a defense mechanism against violence, racism, extremism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, discrimination and intolerance. This is mostly thanks to the amazing women involved in the Braztesol VOICES Special Interest Group @VoicesSIG , who gave a range of talks (including short but incredibly though-provoking pop-up talks in the halls of the conference venue) to raise awareness of the different minority issues, which both ELT professionals and learners face in education.
- Exposure – “You can’t be it if you can’t see it”
This was one of the slogans of the VOICES SIG, and extremely relevant, as it shows how exposure is key. This is especially relevant in the Young Learner Classroom, as research suggests children develop prejudice between the ages of 5 and 7.
Here are two different lesson plans I have come up with to raise awareness of some of these issues:
- Lesson 1 – film summary (level A2 / B1 – ideal for YLs aged 8-12) – Reading comprehension
- T writes on the WB, the word: Hidden Figures.
- T asks learners to put up their hand if they have watched this film and if there is a learner who has already watched it, the T asks them to remain quiet during the brainstorming stage (I’ve done this activity before and none of the kids had watched the film)
- Brainstorming: Learners predict what they think the film is about in pairs.
- Ss read the following text to check predictions.
This film is about Mathematician Globe, who worked as a human computer at NASA in the 1960s. Globe was a real genius and could solve a lot of math problems, which is why NASA’s superior, Harrison, invited Globe to take part in the team which helped famous astronaut Glenn travel to Space. Globe worked really hard and everything was ready for the spacecraft to go to space. However, on the day of the take-off there were some problems, but the talented Globe, worked them out and thanks to that, Glenn became the first U.S astronaut to orbit Space. (author’s data)
- Ss compare the summary with their predictions.
- Follow up: Students read the text again and underline adjectives. Based on these adjectives, the learners draw what they think Globe and Glenn looked like in the film.
- Ss watch the trailer and later compare drawings with actors.
At the school where I work, the vast majority of the students drew a male and white mathematician and a male and white astronaut. There was one person who drew a white female astronaut. After the gist task, the students had initially thought that the film was called Hidden Figures, because the astronaut became famous and the mathematician probably didn’t. However, they did not imagine that the talented Globe’s name was actually, Katherine, let alone the fact that she was black. They were extremely surprised after watching the trailer, and this became an incredible learning opportunity to all the learners
- As a follow up, you should get learners to reflect on why they had not imagined that the mathematician might have been female and white. They can also watch the film for homework and/or find about about Katherine Globe’s life.
- Lesson 2: Speaking – problem solving – dilemma (A2/B1/B2 – ideal for teenagers)
- Ss read the following dilemma and identify the problem.
- A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies at the scene and the son is rushed to the hospital. At the hospital the surgeon looks at the boy and says “I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son.” How can this be?
- In pairs the learners discuss how this can be possible and what might have happened.
- At the school where I work, a lot of students said that the surgeon may have been the biological father, others said that the kid might have had two dads as the couple might have been gay (which is one of the possible answers) But only one student out of twenty-two considered the fact that the surgeon might have been the mother (which is also a possibility)
- After this, the learners can reflect on how gender bias we can be, and they could reflect on why they assumed that the surgeon was male, you could also ask them: what would you have thought if the text had said nurse instead of surgeon? Why?
Why should we teach these types of lessons?
Given the fact that The European Parliament has identified the social and civic competences as one of the eight key competences for the new educational platform for lifelong learning and that as, Paulo Freire states, progressive education should commit itself to making the world “a fairer and substantially more democratic” place (Freire: 1997). I firmly believe that we should allocate class time to raise awareness of the challenges minorities face in our world, and help our learners develop strategies to make this world an equal place. It must be clear, that we should not feel afraid of complaints when doing so, as we have got more than enough academic reasons to do this, and if scaffolded well and carried out in a friendly way, these activities should not offend anyone.