Going More Global in the Classroom
by Yvette Patton
When Danuta announced at the Fall 2010 ESL “Let’s get going back to work” session that there would be a professional learning group about globalization in the classroom, I was interested right away. I didn’t know, however, what to expect to discuss, what I would learn nor whether or not I myself could contribute well enough to warrant my attending. Yet I’ve discovered in my—let’s just say—post-35 time of life that I’ve got to throw myself into certain situations in order to grow.
It was definitely the right decision to join the GLOBAL FPLC. I have laughed, learned and—I believe—contributed. I have learned from every single member without a doubt. Better than caffeine, I have left each meeting mentally stimulated and physically energized. Most importantly to my own classroom work, being a part of Danuta and Elisa’s Global FPLC has inspired me to revamp my English 084 curriculum to make it more obviously global. I write now in order to bear witness to the influence of HCC’s Global FPLC and hopefully in my small way inspire others that it is hugely beneficial to consider globalizing at least part of any course‘s curriculum.
After having been a part of the Global FPLC for the fall semester 2010, I decided to rethink my major assignments. Since I teach ESL and because culture is one of my own great personal interests, my curriculum was already quite global. Nevertheless, after guest speaker and English teacher Stacy Korbelak acquainted us with HCC’s new Program of Global Distinction, I decided to rewrite my assignments to make the wording more specific and directive as to some global learning goals I thought would benefit my students.
Since the classes had already been published, I never contacted Stacy regarding the Program of Global Distinction, yet I feel satisfied that my curriculum now has more of a unified, thematic goal, which will provide the students not only with grammar and organization of thoughts in paragraphs but also hopefully with mind exercises that will help them in their critical thinking and people skills in preparing them for life in the 21st century. I believe that deliberately incorporating global aspects into any classroom will give students vital tools necessary to succeed in the future, and also that the global aspects serve to enhance the traditional curriculum.
Because of the manner in which the world is developing and coming together, I know that it is vital that as an institution we all work toward the common goal of educating our students in a more global direction. I have also come to realize that not only is it possible to teach various aspects of globalization within any subject area, but that it is also uniquely beneficial to the students. Different teachers have diverse opportunities for enriching the students’ thinking, and all traditional course work can be given new life and more fully engage students when teachers take the time to consider the world at large and all of the people who live within it.
I have been impressed with this philosophy by the various members of our Global FPLC who represent many subject areas—from Nick Clemens in Science and Technology to Yi Man in Business, to Virgilio in World Languages, to Karen Evans, in Professional Technology, to Elisa Roberson in English and Danuta Hinc and I in ESL—there are distinctive possibilities within each of our fields—for educating the students and for continuing to edify each other. I myself can only provide examples of what I have done in my ESL classroom so far—and I am, of course, a continual work in progress. Yet I will share a couple of the assignments that I rewrote last for last semester in case others who may be hesitant can see how easy and beneficial it is to incorporate global aspects into one’s curriculum.
In my case, first of all, I rewrote the format of each of my five major assignments to not only include overall instructions, and a detailed list of directions and due dates but also an overall goal, which included a global aspect. For example, for my Major Assignment One, I wrote for the Overall Goal, “While practicing writing a strong paragraph with the elements in traditional order (i.e. topic sentence, three supports, a wrap-up sentence), to reflect on what we as humans have in common as our universally important needs and valued lessons.” Maybe it sounds a little “hokey,” and I could work further on the wording as I continue to “go global” in my classroom; however, having an actual global goal, helped me—maybe more than my students—to be sure to focus on a specific global facet as I also began to teach them how to organize a traditional American-style paragraph. We can wait forever to be perfect, or we can just jump in as Nike has been telling us and just “do it.”
My first assignment was already about a student’s most influential person in his/her life. I had adapted this assignment from the high school classroom to English composition to ESL English composition to the paragraph format of English 084. Since I use this as my first major assignment, I already had a detailed planning guide that helped students brainstorm and then narrow their focus into a plan for a paper—in this case one paragraph. I also provide an example of the planning guide myself—on my own grandmother—so that they would have an concrete example of what to do as well as so that they could see me open and even a little vulnerable regarding a person in my life with the hope of inspiring them to set themselves free to let their impressions flow.
Especially as most of us teach various subjects at different times, we are already comfortable with adapting, borrowing and incorporating. In my case, I now just needed to tweak the assignment a little more. Though I have sometimes called this assignment, “Most Influential Person,” this time I called the assignment “Most Admired Person.” For my basic directions I wrote, “In this assignment, you will write a paragraph about someone who has had a positive influence on you or on someone whom you admire. Therefore, you should choose someone who you believe has either had a positive influence on you, on others or both.” After choosing a person and brainstorming positive characteristics/means of influence of this person, the students were to narrow their brainstorming list to three major means of influence.
Most importantly, what I did differently this time was to have each student present to the class the person he or she choose and the three areas of major influence—if possible a picture too—most everyone likes to see a picture. We could, thus, in a basically efficient way learn about different backgrounds and at least as importantly, to recognize our similarities. I wanted students to have a concrete feel for relating to each other regarding the basics in life we have in common: Having someone cherished, the fact that others have influenced us, certain attributes we have in common that we consider important—as well as to help engage the students at the beginning of class, to create vulnerability in order to make students more receptive to learning, to help bond us as a class and to use this platform as a collective learning/planning guide.
I had the students make short presentations—supposedly two to three minute—the time had to be monitored closely. Most pragmatically regarding the traditional curriculum itself, I knew that narrowing the topic to three aspects of support is never easy at first, especially since the ESL students come from various academic backgrounds, which hold different means of expressing communication. I thought that together, the class could help each person in organizing and narrowing information into what is needed for one paragraph. Not least of all, I wanted to build a connection with my students and to open the students to sharing. I believe that vulnerability is a good state for learning. I believe as Amy (Dr. C) wrote in a blog article “Vulnerability in the Classroom” on the site Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning on February 11, 2011 that vulnerability “is an essential part of building trust and authenticity in the teaching relationship.”
Though I believe that being vulnerable is extremely useful, at the same time, the vulnerability aspect concerned me a little as I knew that some students would choose to talk about someone, who could evoke strong emotion. Sure enough, one beautiful young woman from Ethiopia stood in the midst of us and told about her mother, who had died a few years ago. She both read and talked from her brainstorming list about how her mother had provided for her basic needs with the warmth of a safe place to be. As she told us that her mother had always made sure she felt loved, the young woman got tears in her eyes. When she shared that her mother had been an example of a strong woman through her own character of a woman of purpose, faith and integrity, she could barely finish speaking, and the rest of the class rose—literally, a couple of students stood up—to try and support her. Everyone was visibly moved. I had to gently help her wrap up her presentation while protecting her dignity as well as I could.
Some people might see such vulnerability as a risk in the classroom, yet I think one simply needs to be aware of the possibilities of the success of encouraging inner tapping. Obviously, like other possibly controversial topics, a teacher needs to remain calm and professional and ready to guide students appropriately into a general point. Along with the stories of the others, in this case, her testimony, though painful, definitely helped ensure the meeting of all of my goals for this task, as she had been a part in demonstrating taking a long list of attributes and narrowing them into three major statements; the class, moreover, willingly became involved in helping her come up with the three major topics, in a context, additionally, in which they were emotionally moved. As they continued to work together to narrow and organize each topic, I know everyone couldn’t help but partake in the added benefit of relating to the mutual feelings we share in some regard regarding those we love.
Another particularly effective topic I conceived specifically for English 084 and my new Global intent was the narrative summary—in this case using primarily folklore. In English 084 we are supposed to teach a narrative paragraph as well as a summary—or how to summarize. Since this is an expository writing class, the writing of a story within one paragraph to me lends itself best as a summary of a story as we don’t have the space to develop characters and give extensive plot details—so I combined the two genres.
I began thinking of a direction for our stories, and knew, first of all, that we needed to work with stories that to begin with were workable lengths in the time frame of a semester class packed with the directive to teach grammar and the format of the paragraph leading into the concept of an essay. Secondly, we use what we have in our everyday lives, and I have two rather young children; therefore, I thought of my collection—of global children’s books—I have maybe thirty or so. I had been calling them the “international collection,” yet many of the stories are of children and other people of interest to children of various backgrounds in the United States itself, while some are of people from other parts of the world; likewise, some of the authors are American, while others are “international.”
Working with one of my best advisors, my seven year old daughter, I narrowed my choices to three books. One of the finest of them is titled “It Could Always Be Worse” by author/illustrator Margot Zemach. I later discovered that the Zemach had won numerous awards such as the American Library Association Notable Children’s Books; Caldecott Honor Book, Picture Book; New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Books of the Year; New York Times Outstanding Books of the Year; and the Horn Book Magazine Fanfare List. At the time I only knew that my daughter and I liked the simple story set apparently in an Eastern part of the world resembling perhaps Russia about a man unhappy living in a crowded one-room hut with his wife and six children. As the poor man follows the advice of his holy man, his life for a while gets worse and worse—all captivatingly depicted by Zemach in hilarious scenes until at the end the man learns to be content.
I decided to scan each of the pictures into a PowerPoint, carefully giving the author/illustrator/publisher proper credit—which allowed another opportunity for discussing the importance of information literacy. I have the PowerPoint for anyone, who would like to have it. I can assure you that it went over well to read the story to the students while showing each picture on the big screen. The students laughed—again, they were engaged. And again their reactions highlighted the fact that we are all much more alike than different while at the same time, it was interesting to see that the students arrived at varying shades of interpretation of the story’s moral or theme. In order for a class to digest some of the observations that can be subtle for the students, the teacher does need to guide discussion and help point out and bring the students to notice varying observations and leave with some new realizations.
Furthermore, in regards to the traditional assignment’s requirements, previous to sharing the story, I had introduced the concepts and distinctions between summary, paraphrase and direct quotation—again tying into the importance of information literacy. Then, like the previous assignment, we worked together as a class. After discussing the story as well as two other stories I’d read to them, collectively we create an outline of the story’s main points—to create a summary. Also perhaps important to how this assignment goes over with varying classes, I was careful to use three books depicting people from distinctive backgrounds so as to be unmistakably unbiased and again to illustrate the universality of humanity. Though I was glad to be able to show three books of varying backgrounds, the book which I had scanned into PowerPoint was clearly the most effective of the three I choose. Next semester I plan to scan in at least a second story.
In any case, after having become engaged in the concept of narrative, with their minds apparently thinking about stories of their childhoods, and having acquired the idea of summarizing a narrative in one paragraph, the students were now prepared to choose their own stories. The basic assignment was to “to write a paragraph summary of a narrative.” At this point, I had them use their journals to free write about a story from their own childhoods or a favorite folklore story. As they begin to share what they had written, it was especially interesting to all of us to learn how many of our childhood stories are each various versions of the same story adapted to a particular culture for diverse reasons. We then discussed how stories overlap various countries and cultures, how stories change, how stories serve different purposes in various places, how stories of our childhood may influence our thinking or how our thinking influences our stories. Who knows with which of these ideas the students were most impressed; however, for sure we had all stimulated our thinking and opened our minds to the way the stories and their impacts differ yet are similar, and they had all learned the basic of summarizing, which was an essential aspect of my assignment.
The publication of Danuta’s novel almost certainly motivated the further lesson for this assignment that story is an important medium of influence. This point I also discussed in another class period with my students as I have come to realize that we are constantly inundated with information. We have come a long way since 1980 and the launch of CNN’s 24-television news coverage. I remember, for example, in 1991 being fascinated—not as much horrified because we mostly saw flashing lights—by CNN’s coverage of the First Gulf War as reporters in Baghdad described what they saw from their hotel rooms. Soon enough CNN had cable competitors for around-the-clock news, and we are now so “informed” that we have become oversaturated even insensitive to world events. Sometimes, it is only through narrative which develops human characters for our imagination that we can engage, move, sway certain segments or even most of the population to remember that we are not each other’s “other” as Danuta alludes to in the title of her novel. Thus, for this reason as well, the introduction or inclusion of art such as story is useful in the classroom as a means of instruction and an idea to inspire future exploration.
The topics of conversation of our Global FPLC also opened my mind to new avenues of thought and influenced my other major assignments for English 084 as well as many of our class discussions. For example, the Global FPLC members felt that water was the major issue of the 21st century. In discussing how we could implement such current topics into the classroom, Elisa encouraged us to use the library data base—even for English 084, so I came up with an assignment called “World Views and Forming a Topic Sentence.”
For this assignment, the students had to read two viewpoints on the topic of water and whether or not it should be privatized—here in the US or anywhere—and determine an opinion and then develop a topic sentence based on the opinion with which they agreed. I also encouraged them to use a direct quotation to give their paper authority or to help provide a wrap-up statement—and used that opportunity to teach them how to incorporate and cite a direct quotation, hinting at what they would be learning further in composition. I stated that the overall goal was: “To practice gathering information and assessing it with an open mind to more than one point of view; then to be able to form one’s own, thus, educated opinion and be able to express that opinion clearly as a topic sentence, supported by clear evidence in a well-organized paragraph.” Perhaps that sentence could be written more concisely, but, again, it’s all a work in progress.
Globalization is the hot topic right now, because it is the reality of this quickly shifting time period as the world’s people are interspersing and interacting—like it or not. I personally find it exciting, but it is also challenging and essential to address and for which to prepare. We humans have passed stories along since the beginning of time, and human aspects of life naturally interest students, so when we talk about tying in Global aspects into our classes, we are really talking about tying in human aspects—human stories in a way.
It is with this opportunity in mind that we educators need to come together—or individually while inspiring each other—to both properly equip our students to operate in this new world and to enrich our traditional curriculum. This skill of becoming comfortable with all human beings is as essential–or more essential–as critical thinking in literature and forming organized essays and deciphering statistics. Furthermore, because it is really just overall life–a part of all of life, it is a topic–or a philosophy–that should be incorporated into all areas of studies–not just taken as a side course or offered in a philosophy class. As Barak Obama explained on January 25, 2011 in his State of the Union Address, the new generation will not be able to go and get a factory job that supports a middle class life or work one’s way up in a bank without a college degree. Because so many human tasks are rule-based—jobs for which human beings can “construct a representation of the required information . . . and to express the processing as deductive or inductive rules,” much of our traditional work is being done now more and more by computers or through off-shoring (Levy 165). Because we live in this fast-moving, quickly changing, post-industrial age, as Obama said, in order to compete we need to “out-innovate, out–educate, and out–build the rest of the world.” United States citizens will need higher education, but they will also need to be able to have broader people skills that include people from many places; thus, without incorporating the reality of the necessary skills of this world, we will not be preparing our students for successful, complete, full—even competitive—lives after graduation.
I am just a humble teacher. I have gone from teaching high school for ten years as a medium-sized fish in a small pond to a fish as small as maybe a minnow in a much bigger pond, more like a sea—at CCBC and now here at HCC; I realize that I do not have the credentials of a wise sage. Yet the beautiful thing about working in an environment of educators is that we are all here because we know that working in our own small, medium-size or larger spaces—we can make a difference. Therefore, though I am only one voice amongst many more eloquent voices adding to this important conversation, I am writing of the little changes that the Global FLPC have inspired in my work, in hope of persuading someone who has not yet done so to take three or four hours in Starbucks, your home library, or wherever it is that you hide from your children, your spouse, and/or your other responsibilities, and rewrite at least one assignment for the coming semester.
Overall, I would suggest making clear handouts with the specific, traditional learning goals of a particular task and then adding a clear additional goal with a global dimension. I believe that using human topics in common to all of us and opening students up to those around them, will not only educate our students in a vital area necessary for their futures, but also engage them in a way that will only further and deepen their experience in the subject areas that we have been teaching all along.
C., Dr. Amy. (2011, Feb. 11) Vulnerability in the Classroom. (Web. Long comment). Center for
Excellence in Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from
Levy, Frank and Richard J. Murnane. “How Computerized Work and Globalization Shape
Human Skill Demands.” Learning in the Global Era: International
Perspectives on Globalization and Education. Marcello M. Suárez-Orozco, ed.
Berkeley: Univ. of CA Press, 2007.
Obama, Barak. “The State of the Union 2011: Winning the future.” The United States House of
Representatives. State of the Union Address. 25 Jan. 2011.
Zemach, Margot. “It Could Always Be Worse.” New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1996.