Look at materials designed to teach English as a second/additional language (ESL/EAL) and you’ll probably see a book or audiovisual texts not just about language but also about a host national culture. ESL teaching materials include cultural lessons through vocabulary and grammar teaching. This is because the traditional paradigm of language learning was to integrate immigrants or the colonized into a dominant culture.
One assigned ESL text that I used in the primary classroom presented a very clear target culture. It was published in England and the content expressed a goal of assimilating non-English speakers into a monocultural United Kingdom. The child characters in the textbook were white with Anglo-Saxon names. Their activities in the text determined the learned vocabulary for each unit- they visited ‘castles’, ate ‘roast beef and mashed potatoes’ and wore ‘tracksuits’ and ‘trainers’. On one page per unit, there was an attempt to internationalize the content, but these pages too often related to ethnic festivals or folk tales in lands far away- the type of oversimplified exploration that does not account for authentic traditions existing in a modern context.
The text did not acknowledge my international school students’ hybrid identities or concepts of national belonging. Nor did the text recognize that the students were not learning the English language in order to live in England. Furthermore, the stereotyped England in the material was far from the diverse multicultural reality.
Essentialized dominant host culture in ESL teaching materials is a nationalist wish for assimilation and not multicultural inclusion. Whether it’s kangaroos or maple leaves, ESL texts force-feed a fixed national identity. There are rarely any references to multiculturalism as a norm, except in a few resources that I have seen published in Singapore to explicitly facilitate multiracial harmony as government policy.
So how can ESL teachers inject a global perspective into teaching and learning? To create some lessons that transcended the stereotypes of national culture, I used the concept of “cosmopolitan citizenship” (Hugh Starkey, Language Education, identities and citizenship: Developing cosmopolitan perspectives, Language and Intercultural Communication 7,1, 2007). Language learning is a good opportunity to teach global responsibility and common humanity.
For this sequence, I integrated material from international development organizations plus some commercial resources. The sequence also included an essential element of active citizenship- concrete action for responsible global citizenship.
Here is my introduction lesson to a primary ESL learning sequence for Grade 2-3 on the topic of PLAY. The focus of this first lesson is that humans are the same around the world and all children need to play. At the end of this learning sequence, students could donate unwanted toys or even hold a toy swap to encourage environmental sustainability and social justice.
- Book reading Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
- Discussion: Humans are all the same. We all need the same things. List the things humans need. Vocabulary and sentence structure will be reinforced.
3.Show children the UNICEF photo story Play Around the World http://www.unicef.org.au/Discover/Teaching-and-Learning-Resources/Photo-stories.aspx
4. Use a Y chart graphic organizer (looks like, feels like, sounds like) to explore- what is play? Children will mention specific toys, which is important for ESL vocabulary but they will also think deeply about how play makes us feel and where we play. To scaffold this deeper cognition, language from students’ mother tongue was included. I used the Y chart from the book Thinking Globally: Global Perspectives in the early years classroom by Browlett, J.E. & Ashman, G.I., published in 2010 by Carlton Education Services Australia. Alternatively it can be found on the Australian Global Education website http://www.globaleducation.edu.au/resources-gallery/resource-gallery-templates.html
5. Play or not play? In small groups, students look at photo cards of children playing and other children working. They will divide the cards into two piles- play or not play. Students will learn that not all children have the opportunity to play. Photos of children around the world playing and not playing are available from Browlett & Ashman’s Thinking Globally: Global Perspectives in the early years classroom or the images gallery at http://www.globaleducation.edu.au/resources-gallery/resource-gallery-images.html
6. Circle time concludes the lesson by looking at the photo cards together and saying “play” or “not play”.
7. Extension activity: UNICEF Australia children’s rights video
8. Extension activity: UNICEF Color-it rights http://teachunicef.org/explore/media/read/color-it-rights-coloring-book