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.

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