Show Some Grit
It’s lunchtime on Thursday in the Zafer Masri Foundation Building, and TYO’s new EFL Fellows are beginning to wrap up their one week of lesson planning that will guide them through the next two months in the STEP! II English classroom with new students. Next week at about the same time, determined learners from across the unpredictable city of Nablus will be leaving early to ensure they can be in their afternoon classes that day. In both cases, time and physical constraints are not the only challenges that the people coming into the classroom must work to overcome.
Starting from scratch is a time-consuming but creative way of building from TYO’s EFL curriculum, which is loosely based on the psycho-social format of the organization’s Core Child Program. In combining this with a communicative approach, teachers have work to develop lesson plans that count: interpersonal interaction, community building, critical thinking and the process of working toward goals are all emphasized in the language learning process. For younger students, the implementation of these concepts may take a more visible route. For example, a new partnership between the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Sesame Workshop (the non-profit brand of Sesame Street) uses media and show characters to promote a love of and comfort with education in various refugee populations, including in Jordan. For adult students, the focus is more practical, but also more tenuous: students practice constructive discussion and disagreement, analyze pop culture, brainstorm ways to address community problems and develop their English skills in the workplace context. All of these are areas of importance here in Palestine, where the topics may not be broached in traditional school English classes.
In many countries, this sort of learning has an apparent end-goal of building up both the student individually and the community. The STEP! II students already demonstrate incredible commitment by pushing themselves to continue learning in a place without many English resources and the classes at TYO go beyond traditional teaching methods to push students even farther. During EFL classes in the STEP! II program, students will not be sitting in rows listening to a teacher talk, but rather acting as catalysts in their own education. For some, having an active role in education and community building could be a new experience. Students coming from local refugee camps may have a sense of identity that is split from the larger body of Nablus, just as many refugees abroad feel disconnected from their locales. It is therefore particularly important to build a sense of mutual respect and safety in the classroom by allowing students to have more control over their learning, voice their opinions and, in some cases, set their own rules. By fostering these personal skills and encouraging civic engagement from inside the classroom, the teachers here seek to teach language in a culturally responsive manner.
From both sides of the language classrooms in Nablus, there are obstacles to overcome; however, when willing to be innovative and show some grit, students and teachers can meet in the middle to create a unique and constructive educational community at TYO.
The English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program is part of STEP! II, a youth employability, empowerment, and community leadership initiative supported by Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.
Katrina, Summer 2016 EFL Fellow