Curriculum 21 Another Look: Global Trends & Global Learning 5/5

Ch 6 global learning

This last post in a series of global trends and global learning address both Vivian Stewart’s definition of global learning from her chapter “A Classroom as Wide as the World” in Curriculum 21 by Heidi Hayes Jacobs. The book was published in 2010, so after six years, it merited another look to see how these trends have changed and whether and to what extent that changes how we should understand global learning.

I’ve spent more than a week dwelling on examples of global learning and what students need to know, debating how wide a net to cast. What I eventually realized, however, is that when your classroom is as wide as the world, instances of global learning are everywhere and every learning experience is an opportunity add a global perspective. Strangely, the familiar quote applies, “Aqaba’s over there. It’s only a matter of going.” Global learning starts with small steps.

Global Learning

Stewart offers three dimensions of “global competence”:

  • Knowledge of other world regions, cultures, economies, and global issues
  • Skills to communicate in languages other than English, to work in cross-cultural teams, and to assess information from different sources around the world
  • Values of respect for other cultures and the disposition to engage responsibly as an actor in the global context

As suggested by the exemplar schools, robust language programs that start in the early grades and continue through graduation are a priority for Stewart. When I first read this chapter, I questioned whether students should be spending time learning a foreign language when translation software and AI is improving. Certainly we will have a Babel Fish before too long.

But then I remembered my own experience learning German in high school. Yes, I memorized how to conjugate verbs and gendered nouns, but I also wrote scripts in German, learned about a Nazi resistance group led by students from Die Weiß Rose, and visited The Goethe Institute in Atlanta. I joined the German Club, attended our State German Convention, and I traveled to Germany during the summer with other students, my first experience abroad. Do I remember enough German to carry on a conversation beyond, “Wie geht’s?” Not really. Do I know enough of German’s history, politics, culture, and geography to follow the news and understand it? Without a doubt.

Language programs don’t only teach words, they also teach the culture.

Beyond Language

Yet, global learning must not only be focused on foreign language. As the trends in my previous posts show, students will need so much more:

  • To conduct a business meeting with film execs in China and to design a product for that audience.
  • To collaborate with international teams and to know the technology etiquette so their message is understood.
  • To welcome individuals coming from vastly different cultural norms and to create spaces that build community.
  • To ask for international support to protect our physical and digital selves and to accept the responsibility of a global citizen.
  • To learn from the world and to help maintain an open, free education.

If these are examples of what students in the future will need to know, how do we get them there? What policies and actions work against this? What instructional strategies must teachers rethink? Stewart offers the following suggestions that still apply today:

  • Create a global vision by articulating a mission statement
  • Create an internationally orientated faculty with training, field-trip opportunities, and hiring practices
  • Incorporate international content across the curriculum
  • Use the International Baccalaureate framework
  • Partner with global businesses
  • Add world language that will help students in the future: Chinese and Arabic
  • Incorporate technology not for technology’s sake but as a communication tool to reach global audiences and discover global resources
  • Expand learning time with before- and afterschool programs
  • Incorporate international travel* and service learning

* While students still benefit from international travel, the past six year have made this very risky.

After these small steps, Stewart gives advice for policy makers and ways to invest in global learning. Regarding funding, watch Congress and how ESSA provides grants for innovative and transformative schools.

Yet, grand ambitions shouldn’t stop immediate progress. In Lawrence of Arabia, Sherif Ali calls Lawrence mad after suggesting they reach Aqaba from the land by crossing the Nefud Desert. And then we watch, inspired, as they make it across “the worst place God has created.” Incorporating global learning in our classroom isn’t nearly as difficult but does require small steps.

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