Global Issues: the beating heart of the DP Language A course
Exploring the myriad forms of literature & language while developing the skills of analysis, writing, reading and speaking may be the bread and butter of what we do in Language A. Yet, as teachers of this course, we have a purpose which goes beyond the academic and transgresses into the realm of our shared humanity. Through the language and literature we teach, we are also tasked to help our students become better humans. Humans who appreciate literature. Humans who use language to voice their ideas for good, fearlessly. Humans who care about each other and our planet. More than ever before, our turbulent world needs dispositions, understandings, knowledge and skills which can make a positive difference. The Global Issues offer one such pathway to achieve this goal. These give our curriculum real-world connections. They also give the concept of international-mindedness a tangible textline. They may even play a part in achieving the IB’s lofty goal of “making the world a better place.” When the DP exams are done in May 2021, this is the education that will remain. And this process begins in your classroom!
“Global Issues? This course is about language and literature – not history or science!” I hear some DP L&L teachers say. Yes, close analysis and creation of language and literature should always be foci. Yet, the Global Issues offer a rich, meaningful and authentic Language A playground to develop these skills in. Understandably, with the chaos and excitement of planning and teaching a new IB course, teachers can gravitate towards focusing on what they know and works – a.k.a content. Busy teachers could shy away from grappling with elements they deem non-essential for survival – a.k.a not content. As a result, areas of exploration, concepts, global issues and core connections could be tokenised or neglected. Foregoing these powerful elements is to ignore frameworks which elevate the value of Language A as an essential tool for navigating life – not just the DP exams. If developing empathy is also one of your goals, integrating the global goals into your work is the way to go. Your students and the world *will* be better off for your efforts. Plus, your students will never forget you.
Literature is full of testimonies about the societal impact of writing. For Kafka, books were “the axe for the frozen sea within us”; for Carl Sagan, “proof that humans are capable of working magic”; for James Baldwin, “a way to change our destiny”; for Neil Gaiman, “the vehicle for the deepest human truths”; for Polish Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska, “our ultimate frontier of freedom”; for Rebecca Slonit “toolkits you take up to fix things, from the most practical to the most mysterious, from your house to your heart”; Walt Whitman insisted “literature is essential for democracy”. Hannah Arendt in her 1963 documentation about the Eichmann trial left a sobering reflection for humankind on “the fearsome, word-and-thought-defying banality of evil.” Falling closest to Galileo, who saw reading as “a way of having superhuman powers”, Herman Hesse considers the historical role of the written word in his 1930s essay saying that “formulation in words and the handing on of these formulations through writing are not only important aids but actually the only means by which humanity can have a history and a continuing consciousness of itself.”
Scratch the surface of many literary & language creations and a global issue won’t be far; it will be lurking underneath. Inspired by and connected to human experiences, fiction has the power to change our reality or predict our future. Life is a narrative. How we navigate our world has narratives. The connection between global issues and language & literature cannot be separated.
At a pragmatic level, how you deliver the Global Issues will boil down to how you view and value their role in the creation and appreciation of language and literature, and vice versa. Please, do consider their worth- for the deep roots of language, literature, history and science are intertwined – by embedding these in our teaching, we enrich our students’ learning.
Here are some resources to get you started:
An adaptable lesson plan (which turned out to be an exciting one) using the above resources can be found below:
CURATE A ‘ LANGUAGE A GLOBAL ISSUES MUSEUM’
- Introduce the Global Issues using the Time collection of the 100 most influential photographs of our time (a potential Body of Work) as a starting point for discussions.
- Students select one favourite image and read its caption. Students use the Global Issues litmus test to determine if their image “fits” the criteria set out by the IB. This could be done on Padlet or a Google Doc.
- Next, ask students to select and add one image from their lifetime they think would be worthy of being added to the “collection”. This image must fit the IB criteria for global issues. Students create a title and a 100-word caption (a mini text type) to present and justify their choice to their peers. You could also encourage students to also explore artistic interpretations of pop culture images, if you are that way inclined.
- Students then pair up with a peer who has images which could be linked to theirs to co-curate a joint pairing for the collection. To act as curators, students need create a new title and caption to illustrate the connection between the two images. Note: In the production of the caption, students need to ensure that they do not simply describe the images. Rather, the purpose is to develop a new narrative about the connection between the images to add meaning to the viewers’ interpretations of this pairing. TOK connection: question the purpose of the citation/narrative- does art need interpretation?
- Moving on, students classify their joint curations under “fields of inquiry” which arise from connecting these images. This is the perfect segue into a discussion about IB’s five fields of inquiry for the global issues.
- Discuss other fields of inquiry the IB may not have covered which could be gleaned from your literary and non-literary text explorations/course list. To illustrate how such a field could be developed, consider the human condition as an exemplar and use the pathways suggested by the IB (see below). Bring the discussion back to language & literature by linking at least one literary work & nonliterary text/quotation to each pairing.
- Take a collective gallery walk in your class ‘Global Issues Museum’ and get your students to reflect on the link between global issues and language & literature, CAS/TOK in their learner portfolios. A stellar display is a happy byproduct of this activity.
- The Maya Angelou poster shared here is in the spirit of the L&L global issues- but could also be a way for you to signal to your LGBTQ+ students that they are in a safe space. Your small contribution in tackling one of many global issues!
The IB encourages us to develop independent inquiries and suggests 5 useful pathways for developing global issues related fields of inquiry:
- Inductive: explore several works/texts & notice a common global issue emerge.
- Deductive: passionate about a global issue, look for corresponding works/texts.
- External: consider a work/text in relation to a global issue addressed in CAS.
- Internal: select a global issue/field of inquiry & use works/texts to explore it.
- Retrospective: connect portfolio entries w/similar themes to develop a global issue & link to works/texts.
To make organic links to CAS, I also recommend downloading and embedding the free Sustainable Development Goal icons into your teaching and learning materials as a visual reference to the global goals. This clip explains the SDGs but this “cool” clip was a bigger hit with my students. The latter was excellent fodder for critique of non literary texts and the role of celebrity endorsement in the creation of such narratives/texts affiliated with organizations such as the UN. We also developed TOK questions about ethics and motivations fuelling such endorsements- a rich discussion. Please do use the SDGs where they are a natural fit in your Language A course – your students and CAS coordinator will thank you!
“My poems: a handful of dust trying to get back to supernova.
Like every longing, everything alive.”
Poem & Tryptic Epigraphs from Faster than Light by Marilyn Nelson
“The new media have made our world into a single unit. The world is now like a continually sounding tribal drum, where everybody gets the message all the time. A princess gets married in England and – boom boom boom! – we all hear about it; an earthquake in North Africa; a Hollywood star gets drunk – away go the drums again.” Marshall McLuhan, 1960
What will you use your global drums for?