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jamie berrigan

Title: Breaking it Down: Teaching Social Justice in ESL Classrooms from ESL A to ESL E

Session presenters: jamie t.s. berrigan

Organization: OISE at the University of Toronto

Contact information: jberrigan@oise.utoronto.ca

Brief description of workshop:

This workshop provides an overview of the English as a Second Language curriculum and makes clear the critical intersection between social justice education and ESL education.  Workshop participants also explore systemic barriers that ESL students are exposed to and explore ways of challenging these barriers.

Workshop goals:

  • To introduce Initial Teacher Education [ITE] students to English as a Second Language curriculum and how social justice work can be both integrated into the classroom but also the starting point with ESL education. 
  • To make ITE students cognizant of the kinds of systemic barriers that are in place for English Language Learners and how we, as teachers, need to challenge these barriers and support our students in their experience of them.

Strategies used:

  • Defining social justice- Participants explore seven definitions of social justice that have been placed around the room. 
  • Misperceptions of ELL learners-Participants fill out a 15 question handout addressing misperceptions of English Language Learners and we discuss the answers as a group. 
  • Sample Unit- I introduce a unit I have designed at the ESL-B or ESL-C level and use that unit to discuss important points I consider when teaching social justice in ESL education.
  • Resource Evaluation- Participants evaluating how usefulness of the resource I have given them, what content they can use from it and what level the resource would suit.
  • Large group discussion- Participants are able to present their thoughts as a larger group and I share other resources while people have a chance to ask questions.

A key resources that supports our work:

Coelho, Elizabeth. (2004). Adding English: A Guide to Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms. Don Mills, Ontario: Pippin.  Coelho introduces readers not only to ESL curriculum and teaching but also notes the challenges English Language Learners have.  These challenges are located in a broader context of public education and some misconceptions of learning English as a multiple language.

Issues which we continue to struggle with in our own pursuits of educational activist goals:

  • Getting ITE students to think beyond “Heroes and Holidays,” as Enid Lee does in the text of the same name.  Multiculturalism is often the answer given to addressing social justice education and is perhaps even stronger among ESL educators because our students do come from all over the world and do have different cultures.
  • Merely integrating resources and views of “other” cultures does not a social justice classroom make.  We need to discuss power and privilege and while these discussions are not always easy, I feel we do a disservice to our English Language Learners if we don’t simply because we think we cannot find the words to use considering their level of English language.   

Next steps (E.g., Supports [theoretical or practical] that may enhance our ongoing or future practice):

  • From what I have seen and read, ESL education is often discussed as a multicultural education approach, but little can be found within teacher resources to centre social justice in ESL education. Often resources will provide suggestions on how to modify or accommodate for English Language Learners [ELLs].  As our classroom continues to include more and more English Language Learners, my hope is that we will see social justice educators write teacher and student resources that are aimed at English Language Learners. 
  • As part of these future supports, anti-racism with an understanding of interlocking systems of oppression is necessary. How do we, as teachers, recognize the kinds of education and experience students have had in the past so that we can discuss social injustice around the world contextually and also recognizing how we are implicated in them as well? This question is not an easy one but one that ITE students find challenging to bring into their classrooms with ELLs not simply because of their students’ experiences but also their language. It is possible and we need resources, both practical and theoretical that help ITE students and beginning teachers do this kind of work.

“Big ideas” that we want people to walk away with:

  • One of the central points I want educators to understand is that intellectual challenges are found throughout teaching. Just as there are teachers who do not think “the applied kid” can understand many of the issues that are important to us as social justice educators and activists, there are those who feel English Language Learners are not able to engage with the same ideas as well.  Not only do we, as teachers, lose out because we have these thoughts, so too do students lose out on the opportunities we so often give to students who do have English as a first language.  Yes, it will “look” differently. Yes, the teachers may not be able to go as in-depth as in other cases but students deserve the chance. I bet that teachers will learn things they otherwise would not have known. 
  • Part of the systemic discrimination English Language Learners experience within our system is the failure to be given the opportunity to try.  The goal of this workshop in its simplest form is to begin to support beginning teachers in how to support their students in their opportunity to try using social justice as a starting point.


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