Sep 212020
 

Every challenge brings with itself opportunities too. This year has certainly been very difficult for many people and I am aware of this. But perhaps because of this, it is even more important to take advantages of any opportunities that might arise in this situation. I’ve always wanted to attend the InnovateELT conference in Barcelona, but have never been able to. I was delighted to see that, like many other conferences, it was taking place online this year.

ELT Footprint, that I am a member of, organised a debate session at the conference, and I was one of the panelists. This gave me the opportunity to talk about a topic that I care for as an educator. The questions we were asked to answer and debate were:

  • How can we be agents of change for the future? 
  • What do you want the change to look like, and how might we get there?

Below is an extended version of my (originally 2-minute) talk.


If I could give one piece of advice to environmentalist teachers it would be:

Promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills, not your ideology!

This might sound a bit provocative, but let me explain…

I often see teachers who have just come across a ‘great’ video or article an important environmental issue that they like and that perhaps confirms their own environmental believes (or ‘ideology’), so they want to use it in their language class, through which they can teach certain language or grammar points, but with the ulterior motive to also persuade their learners to adopt the views on the environment the material puts forward.

Now is this wrong? Being in the midst of a climate crisis, shouldn’t we make use of every possible means to raise awareness of environmental issues in our classes? Yes, it’s absolutely fine to use such material in our classes, as long as we don’t present it as: THIS is the problem and THESE are the solutions.

Give students space to think and come up with their own reasoning and solutions. They might even surprise you, which what they come up with that you’d have never thought of!

If we want to prepare students for a future where they need to be able to tackle environmental (and other) issues and produce solutions — perhaps even to problems that don’t even exist yet — we need to teach them critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and not present them with ready solutions.

As we know, environmental solutions are not always that straightforward either. How many times did you think something was THE solution (e.g. switching to cloth bags instead of plastic bags, or a dairy-free lifestyle to reduce your carbon footprint) only for someone to show you how environmentally damaging that is or what better solutions there are. Or perhaps, different solutions are needed for different countries, circumstances or times).

So, what I propose is to take a neutral, balanced approach in your lessons, keeping your own opinion to the end, for after students have had the chance to think about all sides of an issue and come up with their own solutions.

There is nothing wrong also with going into the classroom with questions rather than with answers or solutions. 

In fact, it can not only be liberating and less daunting for teachers who feel less confident about bringing up certain environmental issues because they don’t have sufficient knowledge about them, but it will also serve your students better, as such lessons willl be more motivating, more engaging, more meaningful and will have a more lasting impact.

So, how to do this in practice then?

You can take a completely low-tech / no-material approach, or at least do this in the beginning. Just come to class with an environmental problem (you have, that is common or that your learners can relate to) and pose a question. The lesson can be entirely based around this question and discussions, presentations, writing task and related pre-, while- and post-tasks. You can leave it at that, or you can then share some text, audio or video material that you found and would like to introduce here, making sure not to present it as the correct view, but one view. Your learners could then analyse the views, compare with their own, do research to find other views, etc. If you really feel strongly about an issue, you can then come clean at the end of the lesson, and tell your students how you feel about this particular issue.

Alternatively, you can present your learners with two different sources with opposing views. Here’s an example lesson plan for this type of lesson, based around two short videos: Bottled or tab water? This lesson also includes critical thinking questions that students need to learn to ask about information they’re presented with.

 

Dec 042019
 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been working through the course Language Teaching for the Planet by Owain Llewellyn. We are now in Part 3, the final part, of the course, which asks participants to write and share a lesson plan with an environmental topic, bringing together what we have learned/discussed in Part 1 and 2.. The two course moderators, Owain Llewellyn (and for this part also) Daniel Barber, and the other participants will provide feedback on these lessons plans.

My interest is mainly in EAP/ESP lessons, so I’ve developed this lesson on air quality. It’s not a fully planned out or publishable lesson, but more a rough idea and plan developed for the course. I wrote it with the principles for writing environment-based lessons in mind, which I outlined here.


Context

EAP preparation year students in Turkey, going to study to become engineers in different fields
Localisaton: Use the same material but with a different interactive map or air quality data, such as AirVisual, that is available if used with other nationalities or international students in the UK, or other English speaking or English-medium universities.

Syllabus fit / rationale

In the previous lesson(s), they will have leared about graphs/diagrams and had practice in reading and guided writing of descriptions of graphs/diagrams.

Methodology: project-based learning

As these can be rather ‘dry’ academic lessons, this set of project-based lessons is to motivate them by providing a timely, relevant topic, including a video and by making it more interactive and personal, giving them choices and hands-on practice in conducting some research and presenting the outcomes.

Project-based lessons make tasks often more meaningful and ‘serious’ in the sense that it’s not just task to work through in a lesson as a context for some language outcome, but something that goes beyond that and is related to real life and real outcomes. Projects are also much more learner-centred and learner-led.

NOTE: If a project-based set of lessons is not possible, the first lesson can be used with slight changes, leaving time for doing a simpler research with the interactive map and writing it up as homework (individually or in small groups). If this can be done in GoogleDocs, everyone can read all the texts.. If that is not possible, the texts can be handwritten and pinned on the class noticeboard. If presentation skills should be practised, learners could prepare them as homework and deliver them in the next lesson. A class noticeboard or school noticeboard could be used to pin slips of paper with students’ pledges.

Outcomes

At the end of the lesson(s)/project, students will have…

  • learned some vocabulary related to air quality / pollutants
  • learned/reviewed some structures to talk about causes and effects, solutions (modals)
  • Practised listening (video), speaking (discussion, presentation, video production), writing (poster) skills
  • learned/practised transferable skills such as collaboration, producing a short video or an academic poster (if chosen) and organising a conference
  • researched the air quality (change) in a chosen location over a period of time (throughout a day/week/month/year) and drawn a graph showing the differences.
  • thought about causes, effects of and possible solutions for air pollution  (thinking of their own fields of engineering)
  • written a short paragraph and created a poster with visuals OR created a video OR prepared and giving a short presentation describing their graph and reasons for the changes 
  • presented their findings in the way chosen to the other students and tutors at a ‘air quality conference’ which they have to plan and organise (one 90-minute lesson long).
  • made a pledge for at least one change they’re going to make in their own lives to contribute to better air quality.

Long-term outcome: who knows, this might inspire some learners to work in this field once they have finished their studies.

Materials

  • A video such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e6rglsLy1Ys
    (It should include some of the vocabulary they need, some reasons for pollution and some potential solutions, and it shouldn’t be too long to keep learners focused and make the language input manageable for them.)
  • An interactive website to research air quality in Turkey that provides a map, icons to click for different cities and areas in cities, with detailed information on the level of various common pollutants, outdoor activities that can be done or are not recommended if risky due to air quality, graphs showing the chosen pollutants over a period of time. Specific dates and hours in a day can be selected to observe changes over a chosen period of time. http://www.havaizleme.gov.tr/ (see screenshots below)
  • Poster material (if available, digital tool to create and print an academic poster, if not poster paper, markers, etc.)
  • Students’ phones (optional)
  • A survey tool (e.g. http://surveymonkey.com) (optional)
    The internet
  • A wall for personal pledges (if available, this could be done on the internet (on the university’s Facebook group or using a digital noticeboard, such as Padlet).

Turkey map - havaizlemehavaizleme 2

havaizleme 4

Procedure

Lesson 1 – Introduction and preparation

Warmer

  • Introduce the topic by, for example, showing the symbols for the various pollutants (NO2, SO2, CO, O3, etc.) and asking students what they think these relate to or what our topic is.
  • If they mention the names (Ozone, etc.) of these fine, write them up and practice pronunciation. If not, give students a few minutes to find out using their mobile phones.

While

  • Write on the board or projected Word/GoogleDocs ‘Air quality’, then underneath ‘How good is the air quality where you live / come from?’
  • Brief discussion with partners/neighbours
  • Using a prepared survey tool with options (very good, good, OK, not so good, very bad), students send their answers using their phones. (Low-tech alternative: write the options on the board, students raise their hand)
  • Write: ‘Causes of air pollution’ (‘Reasons for…’) / ‘Effects of air pollution’
  • In groups, students discuss reasons. If time, regroup and report to that group and listen for other reasons
  • Class feedback: depending on tech, each group adds to the GoogleDoc, or one student writes what the others say on the displayed Word doc. / Low-tech: if enough boards, groups (or reps) come to the board and write their ideas.
  • Do some language and pron. work with these, possibly add some sentence structures (e.g. for cause and effect: is caused by / might be due to / etc.)
  • Write: ‘Possible solutions’
  • Repeat the steps of group discussion, feedback, language work.
  • Show video: students watch and compare with their own ideas for causes, effects and solutions’ (depending on level, how the info in the video is organised, etc.), they can be asked to focus on one, e.g. causes), then watch again and focus on effects, solutions.
    [depending on the class, situation, guidance needed, tech availability, etc., the watching can be as a whole class or on individual devices]
  • Students add new information to the GoogleDoc.
  • Class feedback and highlighting and practice of new language that has come up.
  • If time, introduce the interactive air quality map for Turkey. Ask: ‘How good or bad do you think is the air quality right now here?’ Have them guess, then show the map. Tell them they will do air quality research in the next lesson. If no time, do this in Lesson 2.

What next?

If a project is possible, follow this lesson up with Lessons 2-3 (4) below.

Lesson 2 (and 3) – Research and preparation of presentation

  • Do a quick review of the previous lesson.
  • Explain the research project to learners and show the options and time they have to present their research.
  • Put students into small groups of three (max four).
  • Explain also that they have to organise an ‘air quality conference’ attended by other classes (who are doing the same project) and some tutors (possibly also admin staff).
  • Students start their research, decide on how to present it and start preparing.
  • Teacher monitors and helps where necessary and/or provides resources where students can find help.

Lesson 3 (or 4) – Conference

  • All classes/groups set up their posters in one corner (or room), computers or tablets with their videos in another, present in another.
  • Classmates, tutors, possible admin members and other staff attend the conference, ask questions, etc.
  • Depending on level, interest, circumstances, this could end with a panel discussion.
  • There will be a wall (or a large noticeboard with a big title/writing ‘My pledge for better air quality’ where students and participants will post their pledges of how they’re going to make changes in their own lives to contribute to better air quality, using slips of paper and pinning them to the wall, or post-its (Low-tech option). If the internet is available, this could be  done more online with hashtags to share on the university’s social media platform(s), or alternatively using a digital noticeboard, depending on what the students come up with and what is available.