Friday, September 6, 2013

In the Classroom, Global Knowledge is Transformative

In honor of International Literacy Day, we've invited Literacy Coach and long-time YUGA supporter, Gerri Lallo, to share her experience with integrating a global curriculum in her classroom at the Juanita Sanchez Education Complex in Providence, RI.

There is so much talk and emphasis on student engagement and motivation in education circles. We are implored to make learning interesting and relevant and ramp up the rigor so that our youth reach higher levels of critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills that will ensure college and career readiness.

From my vantage point as a literacy specialist, an international studies educator, an instructional leader, and a Youth United for Global Action (YUGA) liaison, I want to shout from the rooftops that global studies encompass it all!

“The world is a stage” takes on a parallel meaning for educators. The investigation and integration of global issues offers an abundance of relevant instructional content to bring learning alive for students.

It is hard stuff, no doubt about it. Sometimes the issues are brutal and heart-wrenching; sometimes they are way above a student’s level; sometimes they are too politically, geographically, or historically confusing. But always global issues strike a chord with youth who themselves have experienced conflict, oppression, or alienation in their homes, neighborhoods, circle of friends, or home countries. Students who come from safe, stable, and economically-privileged environments are equally empowered by immersion in global learning.

At heart, youth are youth. They want to connect, engage, and know that one thing they can do can make a difference. Using the lens of youth around the world to teach our students is one of the most compelling ways to ramp up the rigor and relevance in our classrooms—and it can be done at every grade level.

I have seen the most apathetic, egocentric, disengaged student transformed by learning about the fact that a young person, just like them, is denied an education, does not have clean water to drink or wash with, has been orphaned by diseases which our country has eradicated, or been abducted and sold into child labor, sex slavery, or to become a child soldier. These things matter to our kids and when we show them that they have a powerful role to play just by becoming informed global citizens they are transformed. They become advocates, they talk about issues that many adults are unaware of, they relate to each other differently, and they reach new heights of academic engagement.

I have found that students thrive on becoming part of something bigger than themselves—something that is meaningful in their school setting but, more important, something that has meaning in the real world.

I believe deeply that the key element to successful global studies is the inclusion of action. When students are involved in learning about global issues they need to take it to the next level in a very different way than in traditional core subjects. The immediacy of the content opens the door for them to become youth leaders, to create initiatives, projects, and fundraisers; to connect with peers around the globe; and to collaborate with each other and adults in discussion, debate, and problem-solving. It brings humanity, humility, empathy, and compassion into education, while at the same time integrating all of those 21st century skills we want them to have when they leave high school as competent and confident young citizens.

Through YUGA, our students have created numerous global awareness campaigns that involved our school and local community. Sometimes they were fundraisers; sometimes they were just to bring people together to learn about an important global issue.

If you are a teacher, I implore you to try it out. Start small and let their interest and inquiry drive the learning. Plan International USA has tremendous online resources for educators and students. Don’t be afraid if you feel a lack of knowledge about global issues—I certainly did and still do! The fun of it is learning alongside the students and modeling that investigating an unknown idea still continues when you are a teacher.

I also like to start with stories about youth who have become advocates to illustrate to our students that they can do something powerful. There are plenty of stories online about youth who have done amazing awareness and advocacy initiatives. Check out Free the Children for the story of their founder, Craig Keilburger, who started the organization when he was only 12 years old. This summer I read another one of his books, The World Needs Your Kid. I think the title says it all!

Gerri Lallo, NBCT
Literacy Coach
International Partnership Liaison
Youth United for Global Action Liaison
Juanita Sanchez Education Complex, Providence, RI.

If you would like to learn more about how you can bring global knowledge to your classroom, please visit or contact Dounia Bredes, Youth Outreach and Marketing Coordinator at Plan International USA.

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