Courtenay, UNIV, ESL Composition

Using Global Issues as a Platform for Reading Comprehension

 Interview with Courtenay Chadwell-Gatz

In this interview Courtenay describes how she is using global issues as a platform for reading comprehension.

School: Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA

Grade: Undergraduate     Classroom Size: 15-25

Subject: Academic ESL Composition (ESLA 113)

Classroom Challenges:
  • Small Class or Small Group Activities
  • Vocabulary prep for future college-level classes
  • Incorporation of sustainability themes in writing

Click on a topic below to read more about Courtenay's work:

Please describe your experience with Facing the Future materials and how you use them in your classroom:

"My students are studying English for Academic Purposes (EAP). I only have non-native speakers in my class. For Academic ESL composition I have my students read all but Chapters 3 and 8 in Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions as their extended reading assignment. They receive related vocabulary lists and are tested four times throughout the quarter on the content and vocabulary."

Courtenay uses the following Facing the Future resources:

How do Facing the Future materials fit into your curriculum?

"In our writing class we have an extended reading component. Before I decided to focus my class on sustainability, students could read whatever they wanted. Then I decided it would make more sense for them to read something that would help them in their future college classes. I discovered [Facing the Future] through a workshop and decided to use Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions as the book for their extended reading assignment. They read the entire book, except for two chapters that are U.S. focused (Chapters 3 and 8), over the quarter.

They have to keep a reading journal. They have to read at least an hour a week and they have to summarize what they’ve read. All of that is based on what they’ve read in Global Issues until they finish the book. Some of them finish it before the end of the quarter and then they can read whatever they want. I also test them four times throughout the quarter on comprehension and on vocabulary. I give them vocabulary lists, taking vocabulary from each of the chapters in Global Issues."

What standards were used or met when using Facing the Future materials?

"We don’t use standards here, but we do have learning abilities and course outcomes that are college-wide.

The ones that I feel that Facing the Future materials help them master are:
  • Identifying the writer’s stated or implied main ideas
  • Identifying implications of what they’ve read
  • Applying reading materials to their own experience
  • Weighing connections and relationships
  • Articulating central ideas
  • Identifying and practice principles for effective group interaction"

What were your main objectives/goals for this unit?

"I have two objectives. One is just to develop an awareness in my students about global issues - both environmental and social, because a lot of my students are relatively wealthy. Most of my students are international students – they are paying a lot of money to come here, and they come from somewhat sheltered backgrounds. My other objective is to help them acquire vocabulary and related grammar structures that they can use to discuss and write about these issues."

How did the Facing the Future lessons help you meet these objectives/goals?

"Well, I feel like Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions is very well written. It works really well for ESL students because there is so much repetition of the vocabulary and concepts. In the beginning they are saying, 'Oh, it’s hard. There is so much vocabulary'. But, at the end they’ve seen it so many times, they’ve read the same concepts, they’ve encountered the same vocabulary, and then they’ve mastered it. The whole thing becomes easy for them."

What skills did your students gain?

"I think that they develop the skills to identify and articulate central and key supporting ideas and also to relate the concepts to their personal lives. Also, a lot of them are very sheltered and even though a lot of them are coming here with an environmental awareness,  the social justice issues are pretty new for them. That is not really a skill, but it is an awareness that I think they gain."

Did you make adjustments to adapt the Facing the Future resources to your classroom type?

"I had to rewrite 'Hamburger, Fries, and a Cola' [see Lesson 12 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. It was just too much, too many details, so I simplified that a little bit for them.

Also, for the 'Global Mall' sheet I decided, because there are a few students who get $2,500 to spend. and because I am trying to instill in them a concern for people of the world who don’t have as much as we do, I had our secretary add another category at the bottom which is charity donations [see Lesson 30 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. There are different amounts, and I looked up how much it would cost to, for example, buy a goat for a village."

What parts of the unit engaged your students the most?

"Definitely the activities that I use from Engaging Students. They find those sometimes difficult, but really fun to do. Also, I test them on the material that they have read and I have them get into small groups and go through the discussion questions together. They really like doing that."

What resources do you use to complement Facing the Future materials?

"I kind of decide each quarter what I am going to focus on. Last quarter, in the spring, I focused on water, so I used:

  • Flow

  • Water for Life
    Jay-Z did a great series called Water for Life when he visited Africa on a tour. There is great footage of him visiting a village and seeing how children live with no toilet in their school and they have to walk an hour to get water in a jug that is too heavy for even him to carry very far. The students connect really well with that – they write responses afterward, and it’s clear these videos have a strong impact.
I also regularly use clips from these videos:
  • Ecological Footprint: Accounting for a Small Planet

  • Small Fortunes
    About micro-lending

  • Black Gold
    For Fair Trade

  • Fair Trade Day

  • Live 8
    This is a 4-DVD set from the Live 8 concert, you know many years ago. There is a video at the end of that called Why Does it Always Rain on Me? that is beautifully done. It shows people in Africa wearing diamond earrings and there is something that comes on the screen telling how much we spend on jewelry every year. Or a little boy sitting in the dirt outside of his house and there is a bowl of dog food next to him that tells about how much we spend on pet food every year. It’s easy for them to read and it’s powerful. It makes them think about our consumption.

  • The Milagro Beanfield War
    I’ve used it in classes before -- not connected to sustainability, but, I thought it was good stuff if you have time to get through the whole thing It takes a lot of time, but it’s definitely connected to sustainability. It’s a great story that has to deal with the control of water and how rich developers or corporations get control over the water, making it expensive or inaccessible to the poor local people.

  • Global Footprint Network
    I think it is the best online website that I have found for calculating your own [ecological] footprint. It has a little bit more detail and you get to make your own avatar to go through the exercise. I think that is more fun for them.

    They have several short videos on their website about consumption or people in China who are taking apart computers and exposing themselves to all sorts of toxicity.

  • Vocabulary Profiler
    I use it to make word lists. I pull words out of chapters in Global Issues and run it through the profiler, and I asterisk the ones that are on the Academic Word List and also the ones that are on the First 2,000 word list. I am just trying to make them aware that these are words that they really need to know."

 Did you do incorporate an action project or service learning component into this course?

"Because this is a college writing class, I normally don’t have time for that kind of thing. The only thing that we have done, and we do it every fall during International Education Week, is to have a BeadforLife sale here on campus. I get some of my students to volunteer at the tables. We go to the BeadforLife website first and read some of the stories. I bring in some of the jewelry, and then we have a table set up this whole week that I staff with students. This gives them a chance to practice their English and show the American students something that they knew nothing about before. It is pretty rewarding for them.  I had never heard about BeadforLife before I read about it in Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions."

Do Facing the Future materials help you be a better teacher? If so, how?

"Absolutely! I am so passionate about global issues. I don’t teach in the state-funded ESL program, so the great thing about my program is that I have a lot of flexibility in what kind of content I want to bring into my writing class. Because I am so passionate about these issues, it gives me a lot of energy. Sometimes it is a challenge to get some of my students as excited as I am, but more and more, they are just as outraged at environmental and social injustice in the world, and there are great discussions and great essays as a result."

In terms of global issues and sustainability education what do you want to know more about?

"I don’t have a science background, so I feel like my knowledge of a lot of these environmental issues is somewhat superficial. So, I know that there is a lot more that I could be learning. Also, the whole systems thing. It’s gone into a little bit in It’s All Connected. That is kind of a new topic for me, but there is so much going on in our world right now that’s really related to sustainability, I’m highly motivated to learn and understand as much as I can."

How do you assess this course?

"I just started doing something new last quarter. I have students fill out a questionnaire at the beginning about global issues topics and they have to rate their own knowledge and interests from 1 to 4 on each of those. They can also check 'I don’t understand what you are talking about.' Then I give them a similar questionnaire at the end to try and assess what they are getting out of it. Then I do a more formal course evaluation and the responses are really excited and glowing. It makes me really happy. And, of course I grade their reading tests and their essays."

What advice, if any, would you give to teachers using these lessons for the first time?

"Totally understand how the activities that you choose work and figure out a plan to make them work for you. For example, for the 'Making Global Connections' activity I’ve actually copied those issues on cardstock [see Lesson 4 in Engaging Students Through Global Issues]. I get them into small groups and it’s like a card game. They each choose a card and they have to say how these issues are related to one another. Everyone has to say how his or her issue and the one before is related. That is difficult. It is really difficult for my students anyway. So, I have to constantly be coming around to groups and helping them with their ideas if they are stumped, when they think 'how on Earth are these two concepts interconnected?'. I was doing that for a while and I thought I’ve got to make this more connected to my class. Afterwards I told them for homework that they had to pick three of the cards that they had themselves and write a paragraph that explains the relationship of those three concepts. I’ve also used the cards to practice unreal conditionals. They choose any three cards they want and then write a sentence for each using the unreal conditional.

For me I think that it helps to use resources online, or take clips from videos, because these students are just so used to technology that if you don’t give them some sort of visual that moves, they don’t get into it. Just keep at it, because some of the activities didn’t work so well for me at the beginning. But, the more I did them, the more I really understood how I wanted them to work."

Tell me about something that went well and something that did not go as well.

"The first year I used It’s All Connected, and it was too difficult for my students. They thought, 'this is boring, we hate it'. They came out of it with such a negative outlook. I think I used it for two quarters and then I said 'this is not working.' So, then I dropped down to Global Issues and Sustainable Solutions and it just made all the difference in the world. They are a little bit overwhelmed at the beginning, but by the end of the book they comprehend what they are reading. It is short and they can get through the whole book.

So that’s something that did not go well. Something that’s consistently gone well is my Food Footprint lesson. I have the students read my adaptation of 'Hamburger, Fries and a Cola.' Then, in groups, they choose one dish that they all like which is fairly simple, and they have to answer a series of questions about it related to the production, transportation, and storage of the ingredients, the preparation, and the waste & packaging and resources needed to clean up the meal. For homework, they write a paragraph about the impact of that meal on the Earth. They’re all amazed because they’ve never given much thought to this impact before."


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