Social Justice in ELT: My Journey

Posted On 10/17/2019 8:53:00 PM, 0Comments

After the introductory webinars of this social justice project, I was really astonished by the fact that teaching does not only involve specific activities that every teacher conducts in their classroom. We, as teachers, usually think about the learning objectives and these objectives include the language functions, lexical items, grammatical patterns, etc. However, can we really establish a kind of awareness to what we always see as injustices in the world or in our own local context? This question enlightened me to search for social justice in general. For example, we always talk about gender inequality, but what do we do in our classrooms? We generally forget it and teach grammar or language functions. All of these things are important for an English language teacher since teaching a language always includes communication and that communication should be a way to narrate the overall awareness about what is going on in the world to the students in the most suitable way. After thinking about all these, I decided to participate in the project. It turned out well and I became a member of this wonderful community.

            At the very beginning of the social justice project, there are webinars that each member of the project should participate in and contribute to the discussions made throughout these webinars. The webinars include the social justice related topics such as gender inequality, LGBTQ+, and environmental issues. Webinars are great for gathering information on how to integrate social justice issues in a teaching context because they provide a fruitful way to obtain ideas from nearly everyone in the project.

            The hardest part of the project is when the webinars are finished and it is time to decide on a project and to conduct it until the project comes to a conclusion. Honestly, I wanted to include my students in my practicum site. Since my practicum site was a secondary school located in Akçaabat, I wanted to do a fun project that would give the intended message in a subconscious way. To do this, I did some research in the field of ELT and EFL education. At first, I decided to create lesson plans and conduct lessons accordingly to draw the attention to gender inequality or environmental issues. However, I thought that this kind of project would be hard to complete since I was also writing my thesis at that specific time. Then, I created a small community from my 6th-grade classes and asked for my students’ opinions. Suddenly, I thought about a drama-based project that would be about gender inequality. This would be fun and engaging experience for my students. All of my students agreed to do such a project and I gathered twelve 6th grade students.

            The frustrating part of my project was to scan the children’s literature in order to find books about gender inequality. I asked for Mr. Yılmaz’s book suggestions for my project and I gathered around 3 books, I am really thankful for his assistance. After finding these books, I read them all; carefully and decisively. Then, I transcribed the books into dialogues and created imaginary characters or items when necessary. The rest of the project was up to my students’ consistent participation. In each week, I grouped up with my students to do the rehearsals. In each rehearsal, I focused on pronunciation, linguistic usage/aspect of the language and the emotional side of acting out the scenarios. I gave feedback each time we did our rehearsals. When I saw the enthusiasm and enjoyment in my students’ eyes growing in each week, I tried to do my best to provide them with constructive feedback and I never yielded. This way, we would not only be able to raise awareness towards gender inequality but also we would be able to account for pronunciation, accuracy, fluency and the target language usage in general.

All in all, my project lasted 2 months (preparation phase included). I rented special clothes for the roles and conducted my project in front of 60 people; consisting of students, students’ parents and the teachers at my practicum site. It was the most amazing experience I ever had in my life to see my students engaged in English every time I was at the school, rehearsing with them.

Also, one thing I want to point out is that Drama certainly boosts the critical thinking skills of the students. While I was conducting rehearsals with my students, some of them started to ask me questions about the books such as ‘’Teacher, why would a princess pursue a prince to save him from the dragon? It is usually the opposite in the fairy tales; the prince saves the princess’’. I never translated the dialogue I transcribed from the books, I asked my students to do some research on the books. I directed them to use the online dictionary websites of Oxford and Longman. My teacher from high school once said that one teacher and some students can make a real difference. I think he was and is absolutely right about that.

For the future participants of the social justice project, please remember:

  • To plan your social justice project’s progress week by week. For example, if you are going to have 2 days off from other works or occupations you have, then these two days should only be devoted to your time on social justice project each week. Schedule in advance in order not to face with problems while conducting your project.
  • To be patient. You will have lots of things to process; webinars, lesson plans, the project, blog-related posts, etc. If you want everything to be done in seconds, then you should re-check your expectations on this project.
  • To conduct a project that would make you happy whenever you are dealing with it. While deciding on a project, consider this carefully because you’ll have plenty of time to occupy yourself with your project. A boring project would demotivate you.
  • To integrate ELT with Social Justice. You may want to include your students from your practicum site. If you are going to build and raise awareness towards a social justice issue, this is a good chance to reach out to your students in a different way.

The Perspective of a University Student on LGBT Issues: Interview

Posted On 3/3/2019 3:55:00 PM, 3Comments

I decided to interview one of my high school friends who is now studying Russian Language & Literature at Karadeniz Technical University. I informed her about the project and provided detailed information about what we're doing. She willingly accepted to answer the questions and allowed me to share her thoughts and opinions on this matter.

  1. Can you introduce yourself to us?
  • My name is X. I'm 21 years old. I'm studying Russian Language and Literature at Karadeniz Technical University. I'm heterosexual(straight).
  1. Are you familiar with the term ‘’LGBT’’? If so, what do you know about it?
  • Yes, I've heard this term before. This is an acronym. That means: first letter 'L' lesbian, second letter 'G' gay, 'B' bisexual, 'T' transgender. It represents a community. Heterosexuals are interested in the opposite sex. Homosexuals are interested in the same sex. Actually, we define these genders by only categorizing them into two sections; homosexuals and heterosexuals. However, there are so many genders that we can’t define them by simply referring them as homosexuals or we can’t simply forget all the other genders and focus on gays and lesbians to categorize the genders.
  1. Is it easy to identify someone as gay [straight] [lesbian]? Why or why not?
  • Of course, it is not easy to define a person as gay or lesbian. These kinds of people may take a long time to recognize their own gender identity. This may take 1-2 years or it may even continue to bother them throughout their entire life. So, it can be a life-long process to define a person’s identity. Since they may have difficulties in identifying themselves after a long process, it would not be easy for us to define their gender identities by simply stating gay or lesbian for them. You know, these things are not just easy. For example, a gay person may not see himself gay and struggle to be a normal male person or that person may just accept the fact that he is gay in the end. The most important thing is; it shouldn’t be us to define their identity.
  1. In Turkey, what do people do or say (or not do or say) if they want to be seen as gay [lesbian] [straight]?
  • Actually, from what I’ve observed, they mostly change their clothes. They wear a different kind of clothes, appealing ones. So, they basically change their physical appearance. Also, they change their friends/environment. I think they have difficulties in adapting to such environments where they might feel insecure. They stay close to ones that won’t threaten them and accept them as they are.
  1. In Turkey/your university, which gender identities seem natural or acceptable? Which do not? How can you tell?
  • The fact that a society reacts to natural or unnatural situations and gender identities can reveal too much about that society’s perspectives towards the people we talk about right now. In my university or even in my country, generally, the most accepted ones are the heterosexuals(straight). This is because of the opinion that heterosexuality is the societal norm and the identities are dictated to each member of the society at birth. To sum up, the gender identities which are accepted by the majority in a society are the natural ones. For example, in big cities, we see lots of people from different cultures and different backgrounds. The people who have different gender identities are also counted as individuals in these cities. So, I think that the people who live in big cities will tolerate and accept gay, lesbian or any other genders as natural ones, unlike the small cities where different genders won’t be tolerated and accepted by the people.
  1. After people move from Turkey, do they change how they think about gender identities? If so, how? If not, why not?
  • A society affects people’s perspectives and opinions in an indirect way. I think that people’s opinions about gender identities won’t change when they move to another city. However, the society still has an ‘’indirect’’ impact on that person who decides on such issues. The people can only make a proper decision when they are in a society where the people in that society think or have the same thoughts and opinions like them. So, the most important thing is the society since it affects people in many ways while making decisions. Moving to another city will give an opportunity to a person to look at the issues from another perspective but this does not mean that the person’s opinions will change.
  1. How safe do you think your university is for LGBT students? How do you know?
  • I don’t think my university is a safe place for LGBT students. I even think like this for most of the universities in Turkey. These people(students) feel like they are alienated and oppressed. The best examples would be the news that our media reflects each year; LGBT people committing suicide.
  1. Do you think we can conduct lessons related to the LGBT issues in our classrooms? If so, how can we integrate LGBT issues into our context? If not, why not?
  • I think the teachers can conduct lessons that would draw the attention to LGBT issues. At least, there can be some elective courses for such issues but I don’t know if anyone would voluntarily apply to these courses.

A Brief Reflection on the Last Week's Webinar: Gender Equality in Education

Posted On 2/23/2019 6:29:00 PM, 5Comments

This week’s webinar was centered on the subject I, personally, research about the most; gender and the gender inequality. Since we focus on the educational side of these kind of social justice issues and topics, I entirely put the emphasis on the male and female figures and didn’t research the key factors in this issue; the terms. If we, as teachers, are going to create educational environments where there would be minimal or no social justice issues, we must be aware of what we are defending or supporting to make our argument even more effective. This week’s webinar has taught a lot about gender bias, gender socialization, hidden curriculum, etc… These are maybe the concepts that everyone knows but they are not the concepts that everyone knows ‘’in detail.’’ Also, the educational materials that the webinars provide each week are extremely helpful for me to conduct a particular lesson that would address the social justice issues in my practicum site easily. For example, the short story called ‘’Paper Bag Princess’’ can be a good material to be discussed in the classroom or the teacher may even come up with his/her own ideas related to this story. It is a good material because it focuses on a female character who is powerful and strong enough to save the male character, unlike the other kind of stories where the male character is the strongest of all. So, the webinar was helpful in providing a huge opportunity for me to see the other side of teaching since nearly the most of the teachers focus on the content knowledge and forget about social justice issues or any other affective side of teaching and learning.

Actually, there are many obstacles in having a classroom where there would be no gender-related issues like gender bias at all because everyone in a nation is affected by the culture while defining the gender and gender roles. This, in time, causes some stereotypes such as defining the females’ roles as dealing with the home; washing dishes, cooking meal, etc… In my first practicum site, I asked 8th grade students a question after I introduced the unit called ‘’In the Kitchen’’. Since we were at the break and I’d just introduced them the phrases and vocabularies for cooking, I asked a question about only cooking and there were a few students to talk about my question. I asked ‘’Who deals with the works -cooking especially- at home; your father or your mother?’’. Every student near me said it was their mother who deals with cooking meals in the house. Even a male student said ‘’It is their duty, teacher. Why should we cook at all?’’ I was shocked when he said that since I was expecting for him to respond differently. When I asked ‘’why do you think like this?’’ he couldn’t answer and another female student joined the conversation and blamed the male student for having such stereotypes. In my own humble opinion, the ideas that these kinds of male students have stemmed from the culture itself. The culture is what shapes a society’s opinions and ideas about certain issues and topics. Also, the family structure is an important factor to be thought in this matter. Through all the people I’ve met so far, the ones who have a democratic family structure are the ones that stand up against the culture’s stereotypical ideology. All in all, since I want to implement a non-sexist approach into my teaching, it would be pretty hard for me to shape the ideas of these kinds of students. I often try to include both male and female figures in my materials while I’m teaching so that the students would have a perspective which results in the idea that both gender’s roles are not defined according to physical, masculine or feminine ways. For example, introducing the pictures of both male and female figures who are cooking or cleaning the house together. These are small but important steps in establishing an awareness.

The things that I learned in this week’s webinar is truly transferable to my own teaching practice as I mentioned above. I always think about the gender-related issues in my own practicum site. In addition to the efforts I had, the concepts that this week’s webinar taught me would be quite helpful for me to come up with different kinds of materials to be practiced in my classroom. For example, using short stories in classrooms filled by young learners to overcome stereotypes and using certain types of texts in a classroom filled with teenagers to discuss about gender-related issues, factors and roles would be extremely useful to establish a kind of environment where the students can share their own opinions about this matter and realize the other side of issues, as well.

Since I had an opportunity in this project to talk and think about this issue in detail, I now feel more comfortable to talk about gender roles in my classrooms. I usually remained neutral even though there were students around me with whom I shared similar opinions about these issues. I didn’t want to be seen as the teacher who selects sides since the young learners tend to feel like this when they see a teacher with different opinions. However, I now feel that I was doing wrong the whole time. I should provide students with evidences, articles about gender-related issues such as misconceptions of gender roles in society to shape their ideas in a positive and democratic way.

8th Grade Mastermind Coursebook Analysis in Terms of Environmental Issues

Posted On 2/7/2019 6:57:00 PM, 4Comments

The coursebook I analyzed was the one that was used by 8th Grade students throughout the Turkey. First of all, the book is the newest version that was published by the Ministry of Education for the English course. The reason I’ve chosen this grade and the book is that I wondered if the students are aware of the dangers and other kinds of issues that are related to the environment by only just studying this book for an entire year by themselves in the English courses. Also, the activities that are related to the social justice and environmental issues mostly based on reading activities where students are asked to read a certain passage that raises an awareness to question the environment they are in.

(Picture 1.1) 

Let’s take the last Unit called ‘’Natural Forces’’ into consideration. Firstly, the unit is centered on the natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, erosions and so on. Secondly, the unit contains several structures like modal verbs to enable the students to talk about the issues that stem from nature. The reason why these are important is that the book acts like a guide for the students to both criticize these issues and practice the language simultaneously. However, coursebooks mostly contain traditional activities to be practiced in the classroom. In this unit, there is an activity at the last part of the unit (Picture 1.1). In this activity, the students are expected to read a brochure that is provided in the activity and come up with different mottos for the issue stated in it. The first thing we see in this activity is the motto ‘’Save water before it’s too late’’. Now, this activity can be a perfect milestone for social justice education in our classrooms. The single flower’s place in soil that suffer from drought gives a huge recognition of how the issue becomes serious. The important thing to realize is that even if the activities are centered on grammar or other kinds of language skills to teach English, the students are given an opportunity to create their own motto about the water shortage particularly. This can provide an insight for the students to look into the matter more seriously. Most students can see coursebooks as the ‘’lessons’’ but when the facts and important issues are embedded in these coursebooks, both the teachers and the students can come to a conclusion to cover these issues in the lesson. This activity is a guide for teachers to cover ‘’social justice’’ in their lesson hours. Also, it is an activity which can be applied easily since it does not require some materials to be gathered together. In addition, stating NASA’s data on the subject contributes a lot in terms of verification and reliability. The message given in the activity is that we have concrete examples and evidences to look into the environmental issues deeply and seriously.


(Picture 1.2) 

In the same unit, there is another activity that is centered on global warming (Picture 1.2). This reading activity focuses on Earth’s heating up to death. The humans are identified as the number one cause of this problem due to the release of heat-trapping gases. So, even this unit’s main area is to study the natural disasters, it is also important to look at the issues that humans brought to the environment. In this reading text, the humans are to blame. In addition, the pictures of a polar bear and an earth at the edge of dying are quite appealing and attractive to read the text in a detailed and interpretive manner. The question of the activity invokes a discussion and brainstorming among the students. However, it would be better if the question is turned into a kind of discussion that emerges empathy towards the polar bears that see the evidences of climate change. For example, a question like ‘’Imagine that you’re a polar bear. What would you do if you see a block of ice (which is your home) breaking apart in front of your eyes?’’ would provide an insight to both discuss and feel the issue in-depth.


(Picture 2.1) 

In the unit ‘’Chores’’, there is a reading activity that emphasizes the importance of being clean all the time (Picture 2.1). In this reading passage, it is said that the things that these Japanese students do is a kind of tradition. This is a statement that can have an impact on our own context. We can also apply these things in our schools to keep the schools’ environment clean. When there is a common understanding of these ideas, there can be a clean environment and there can be much more responsible students to take action for these kinds of environmental issues. The question that is asked for this activity is a good question for promoting awareness for environmental issues in students because the answer is students. They clean their classrooms and care for the environment. If the message is given appropriately, I believe that our own students would also want to take action and arrange the environment by taking the first step as Japanese students do. This reading passage can be key to achieve local success in these kinds of basic environmental issues.



(Picture 3.1)

So far, the activities that promote environmental education and awareness in the coursebook are examined and analyzed. However, this is not always the case. For the 8th grade coursebook, the units ‘’Friendship’’ and ‘’On the Phone’’ are the ones that do not constitute as good examples for environmental education. The reason I have a perspective like this stems from the fact that these units only deal with dialogues and activities which are centered on teaching the grammatical side of the language. The content and language objectives are taken as the main focus to be taught and achieved. Although there are other units such as ‘’Tourism’’ that do not directly have some activities for social justice issues, the activities in this unit might be adjusted for environmental education as stated in our first webinar. For example, additional activity in this unit represents a question for world-heritages in Turkey (Picture 3.1). In that activity, the students are expected to state their opinion about the structures and make comparisons. Although it is a question that is conducted to assess the students’ content knowledge, it can be converted into an activity or a question that students would study to enhance their awareness of environmental issues. By looking at the heritages in Turkey, the students may write a short paragraph or a few sentences to defend a particular idea or a statement; That is, protecting these heritages from harm. This is a most basic activity that a teacher can do to initiate the first step of providing awareness since heritages like these are important elements that contain the history, architecture, and environment in themselves.

If you have any further more ideas and thoughts about the topic and the issues in these coursebooks, please take your time to express your feelings in the comment section below, I'd be honored.

Disclaimer: All the pictures represented here are taken from the Mastermind Coursebook for 8th Grade English Courses. All copyrights belong to the Ministry of National Education. The materials used in here are only to inform, not a single profit is intended to be made. 


Posted On 1/24/2019 6:57:00 AM, 0Comments

In the year of 1997, I was born in İzmir as a last-born child of the Sönmez family. In the following years, we moved to Hopa, the city where my parents from. I spent my whole life in this small city. It is located in the far Eastern Blacksea region, where the Georgia is a border neighbor of this small town. I attended the Yavuz Selim primary school and started my educational life.

Soon after, I quitted that school since all of the classrooms were so crowded and I could not adapt myself to that environment. Therefore, my parents decided me to continue my both primary and secondary education in Hüsnü Ciner School, which included the primary and secondary level in itself. After I graduated from that school, my aim was to attend to an Anatolian High School. I have accomplished a success in the entre exam of high school to enter the Nuri Vatan Anatolian High School. It was the only Anatolian high school in Hopa and there was no other option for me.

In high school, I pursued my dreams to become an English teacher. My biggest dream was to learn English and become a teacher in foreign languages. Therefore, I chose the foreign language education over all the other courses or programs. After entering the University Entre Exams, I started a new life in Trabzon since I was one of the students that just admitted to the English Language Teaching program at Karadeniz Technical University.

Now, I continue my education in this program and I am in my final year. In addition, in order to learn more about teaching English, I attended some online courses that were provided by the American universities on Canvas platform. I earned certificates and badges from both Iowa State University and Arizona State University for participating in the courses “Using Educational Technology in the English Language Classrooms”’ and “Professional Development for Teacher Trainers”.