Plenary session by JJ Wilson

This plenary talk is about including social justice issues in ELT classrooms.

About the session

ELT and social justice: opportunities in a time of chaos

'The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.' (Günther Grass)

Teaching is never neutral. Through our methods, classroom persona, and the materials we use, teachers advocate certain values. These values depend on one's beliefs – one's conception of education and the teacher's role. Some believe that all teachers should use their creativity and passion to bring about social change. They regard their role as pivotal in the development of students-as-critical thinkers who are able to challenge the status quo. Others see themselves as providers of language only. The question for us is: 'Should language teachers only teach language?' Or should we include a covert curriculum that gets our students to think critically and speak up about injustice in the world?

In this plenary, I will look at the arguments for including social justice issues in ELT classrooms. I will summarise the literature, referencing major theorists such as John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and bell hooks. I will also examine relevant ideas and movements: critical pedagogy and conscientização; participatory teaching learning; problem-posing and dialogic methods; 'poor man's pedagogy'; service learning; and 'the banking method' versus education as the practice of freedom. Moving from theory to practice, I will then show ways in which teachers can include social justice issues in the classroom. These activities include drama, poetry, images, community projects, and so on. I will conclude with some remarks about professional development and the concept of education for social justice. I will stress that the ideas in this talk are not a methodology or a recipe for becoming a better teacher. They are a 'way of being'. Each idea, each activity must be made afresh, re-created every time the teacher steps into the classroom.

About the speaker

JJ Wilson has taught in Egypt, Lesotho, Colombia, England, Italy, and the United States, and has trained teachers in 30 countries. He is currently the writer-in-residence at Western New Mexico University, where he teaches ESL Methods, Linguistics, Publication, and Creative Writing. He has co-authored, with Antonia Clare, several ELT courses, including Language to Go, Total English, and Speakout, which won the Duke of Edinburgh English Speaking Union prize for the Best Book of 2011 and was shortlisted for an ELTons award. His methodology book, How to Teach Listening, also won an English Speaking Union prize. Research and Resources in Language Teaching: Listening, co-authored with Michael Rost, came out in 2013. JJ also writes fiction, primarily about social justice issues, under the name JJ Amaworo Wilson. He is widely published in the US and the UK, and his novel, Damnificados, came out in January 2016. JJ blogs at https://www.reallyenglish.com/blog and jjawilson.wordpress.com.

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