Although some teachers might wonder if global skills have a place in teaching English to young learners (TEYL), I am a strong believer that we, as English language teachers, have an important role to play in raising learners’ awareness of the significant challenges the world is facing. Focusing on global issues in an age-accessible way and developing English language and other skills that support thinking and actions can potentially help enable children and teenagers to create change.

Strand 3 during the IATEFL YLTSIG 35th Anniversary Web Conference focused on Global Skills and highlighted the importance of addressing the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. Structuring learning activities around these goals helps enable learners not only to develop essential life skills, or in other words, global skills, but also to develop their English in meaningful ways as the webinars in this strand clearly highlighted.

Get into gear with global skills – Carol Read

Carol Read’s wonderful plenary was based on the premise that teaching global skills is essential for ELT today, but requires a principled, methodological approach. Instead of focusing occasionally on these key skills, teachers should underpin their English language lessons systematically if we are to help children to develop holistically and become engaged global citizens. 

Before introducing her own framework, Carol discussed UNESCO’s four pillars of education and the OECD Pisa global competences framework. Both models acknowledge the complexities of our world and support the UN SDGs 2030 which, as Carol highlights, leads to the need for educators to take action in the English language classroom now. Carol suggests that teaching global skills needs to permeate the English curriculum and start with a ‘whole child approach’ to language development. Through English language learning, we can guide children to develop agency, choice and autonomy and help them to discover their unique personal voice to positively contribute to their global community. Carol’s framework centers around eight global skills areas. While none of these are necessarily new, Carol pointed out the key difference of this framework is that global skills are approached systematically and therefore, become our educational philosophy.

For effective classroom implementation, Carol highlighted how these areas can be addressed in age-appropriate ways, which she demonstrated through various activities. For example, learning about the impact of plastic pollution can be done through storytelling with finger puppets with early years children. For primary learners, Carol shared the very moving picturebook, The Day War Came written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Rebecca Cobb (Candlewick, 2018), to illustrate ways we can help children better understand the real challenges facing refugee children. Addressing global skills in the TEYL context provides an opportunity for children to develop an understanding of the world, explore challenging issues, and above all, develop their unique personal voice and use it to make a difference. You can watch Carol’s session here

Getting to the [square] root of my maths problem – Jo Hayes

Jo Hayes delivered an inspirational session through personal anecdotes to reflect on self-doubt throughout her 30-year career as a teacher, teacher trainer and currently, CEO of Habitat for Humanity Hong Kong, i.e., her deep-rooted maths anxiety. Jo talked about how this anxiety (or was it an ingrained belief?) which started in her childhood, resurfaced recently when she was planning to embark on an MBA degree which required a maths test. On reflection, Jo felt that her maths anxiety had influenced even private aspects of her life such as her marriage. 

Jo continued to explore other moments of self-doubt, such as experiencing brain fog going through the perimenopause. Struggling to remember things easily and feeling overwhelmed triggered self-doubt, again. Interestingly, the results of a DNA test which showed she was actually gifted in maths enabled her to rewrite her inner-script. Since then, her confidence in maths has received a boost and she passed her entrance test with the required scores! The most powerful take-away is the idea that only we can change our inner-voice. The issue is often more in our own heads than our actually abilities, as Jo showed. There were two invaluable lessons for me: 1) expand your comfort zone and make every challenge a learning opportunity; and 2) rewrite your inner-script so it serves instead of limits you. You can watch Jo’s inspirational talk here.

What does it take educate Generation Z? – Luciana Fernandez

Luciana Fernandez’s talk stressed that teachers need to rethink education considering the particular demands that Gen Z bring to the English language classroom. Luciana explained that while there is little agreement on who exactly Gen Z is, research highlights that teachers need to cater to this generation’s specific needs to make learning happen. Today’s teachers who are mostly from a different generation, need to be aware that Gen Z is more in search of freedom of expression, tend to have greater openness to diversity and want to make their voices heard.

Luciana then introduced various activities that enable teenage learners of English to develop these demands, or global skills, in the classroom. She believes that the TEYL context should be a place for rehearsal of those very skills that can bring benefits in the future and she encouraged teachers to explore, and experiment with these activities. In a nutshell, Gen Z is not unique, but they do require re-creation of teaching and learning so it matches their needs to have their voices heard and their aspirations to change the world. You can see a recording of the talk here.

When the going gets tough in the secondary ELT classroom – Dave Spencer

Dave Spencer’s session showed how today’s teenagers are growing up in a society facing challenges most teachers did not face such as cyber bullying, the climate crisis and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. They therefore need to develop grit and tenacity and Dave emphasised that English language teachers have a role to play in enabling their teenage learners to deal with the challenges they face in this fast-changing world. He explored tenacity and grit, attitudes needed when we want to put our teeth into something, do not want let go and keep on trying. Dave highlighted that to help teenagers develop such tenacity we need to teach learners that:

  1. Success and failure are interrelated, and mistakes are essential for learning. 
  2. Success doesn’t usually come easy.
  3. It’s key to keep your sights on realistic short-term and long-term goals.
  4. Learning isn’t all fun, so clarify the aims of activities. 
  5. They aren’t expected to understand everything when reading and listening.
  6. There are simple strategies for when you get stuck to ‘unstuck’ yourself.
  7. A poor result isn’t permanent; have a positive mindset and remain optimistic.

Dave maintained that teachers should be able to admit that we do not know all of the answers and also practice tenacity ourselves. Teachers can be strong role models by sharing challenges they have faced in their lives which further shows learners that challenges are a frequent part of life and that tenacity can help us to cope. You can see a recording of Dave’s talk here.

Voice and choice: fostering a community of secondary language learners – Sarah Findlay

Sarah Findlay’s talk explored the use of debates with teenage learners to enable them to truly develop their voice. Well-structured debates can enhance teens’ critical thinking and communication skills, however, Sarah recounted her team’s experience of giving students controversial topics which, on reflection, did not actually lead to successful debates. She shared her team’s journey of finding out what ingredients for successful debates with teens are really needed. One conclusion was that the statements teachers presented were often limiting, i.e., the so-called ‘controversial topics’ selected by teachers might not be controversial for teenage learners. She emphasised the importance of having teens themselves suggest and select topics as well as providing them a clear structure to explore and further their ideas. 

In Sarah’s multilingual teaching and learning context, to enable teenagers to develop and express their ideas, the teachers gave the learners the opportunity to first practice having debates in the classroom before debating at the school-level. To create a safe, inclusive environment, multicultural debate groups of three learners of different levels were formed for the school debate. Lastly, she explained how that for the teens to be fully confident, they also needed a range of useful language to articulate and present their ideas and opinions clearly. Sarah’s talk highlighted that we should let teenage students show us the way, so debates can enable them to find and develop their voice. You can watch the recording here.