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Bahá'í Language Educators
Special Interest Group of the
Association for Bahá'í Studies, North America
Vol. 1, No. 1: December 2001
News and Articles from the 2001 ABS Conference
2001 Post-Conference Report:
Successful Meeting of the Bahá'í Language Educators SIG
More than 30 language educators gathered on Friday, August 31, inSeattle to establish the Bahá'í Language Educators SpecialInterest Group (SIG) of the Association for Bahá'í Studies, NorthAmerica.
The morning session was an informal networking meeting, with peopleintroducing themselves and saying what they hoped the SIG could contribute toBahá'í-inspired curriculum design and skill-specific pedagogicalactivities, mentoring new teachers, assisting with job searches, especially forpioneering purposes, giving advice about publishing teaching and academicmaterial, and other concerns. One veteran pioneer and travel teacher commentedthat establishment of this SIG was a very important initiative and would beargreat fruit in the future.
The afternoon sessionsupported by the attendance of the coordinator of theOffice of Social and Economic Development at the Bahá'í WorldCenconsisted of formal presentations and two roundtables (titles below),with additional discussion about use of a publish-on-demand format forBahá'í-inspired textbooks, and the establishment of a website forfree material and teaching tips. More information about the presentations andconsultation follows this article.
The SIG will publish a newsletter and is in the process of developing a website.Members are looking forward to meeting again at the next ABS conference inOttawa in the fall of 2002.
Program of the Bahá'í Language Educators SIG
Friday, August 31, 2001
- "A Sociocultural Model for Bahá'í-InspiredClassroom Consultation: Vygotsky, Bakhtin and Learner Empowerment" Dr. SandraFotos
- "Oneness and the Dialogic Word in Children's MulticulturalLiterature" Dr. Deborah Karres
- "Assessing Your Gender Fair Teaching Practices in the LanguageClassroom " Dr. Dara Shaw<
- "Designing and Delivering Bahá'í-Inspired LanguageTeaching Material and Activities"
- "Mentoring the Bahá'í Language Teacher"
Following Peter Khan's recommendation published in theJournal of Bahá'í Studies in 1999 regarding investigation ofconsultation as a form of group decision making, this paper examines thecognitive and sociocultural mechanisms of group learning -- usually calledcooperative or collaborative learning -- as it is used in the ESL/EFLclassroom, and correlates these practices with the Bahá'íteachings on consultation, also a form of group learning and problem solving.It is suggested that cooperative/collaborative learning can be regardedclassroom consultation essential for the construction of knowledge. Using aninteractionist perspective, the paper argues that knowledge is sociallyconstructed and learning optimally occurs through interaction, opposingtraditional views of knowledge development as an independent function of asingle mind. It is suggested that group work using principles ofBahá'í consultation is empowering to students, it helps themsuccessfully learn second languages, it helps them develop interactive skills,and ultimately, it helps them to become psychologically healthy and spiritualbeings.
A Sociocultural Model for Bahá'í-Inspired ClassroomConsultation:
Vygotsky, Bakhtin and Learner Empowerment
Sandra S. Fotos, PhD
Professor of English, School of Economics, Senshu University, Tokyo, Japan
Assessing Gender Fair Teaching in the Language ClassroomBahá'u'lláh clearly states the principle"Women and men have been and will always be equal in the sight of God."Although Bahá'í language teachers believe in this principle, weare just beginning to understand the depth of change the practice of thisprinciple requires of us. How can we manifest the equality of women and men inour own teaching in the language classroom? How can we know that we are makingstrides to exemplify this principle to our students and colleagues?
The intent of this paper is to provide insight into the hidden nature ofgender bias in the classroom, to identify some general teaching practices thatthe literature regards as unfair, to give an explanation of some gender-fairteaching practices, and to describe some concrete ways to implement gender fairteaching practices in the classroom.
In their book, Failing at Fairness: How America's Schools Cheat Girls,Myra and David Sadker (1994) provide examples of gender inequity in theteaching practices used in U.S. classrooms from the elementary level throughhigher education. Their research, carried out in a myriad of settings overmore than twenty years, clearly demonstrates that regardless of the teacher'sgender and fine intentions, or the prestige of the school or university, maleand female students in the same classroom do not receive the same educationalexperience. Teachers respond to male and female students differently. Whilein some countries the challenge is assuring that women and girls attend school(Seager, 1997), in the United States the problem is enabling them to continuestudying, and ensuring equal opportunities to learn while they are there.
Teachers, for the most part, are entirely unaware that they are being unfair.Gender bias in teaching is so ingrained in our culture, that we simply do notrecognize it, even when we mean to. One example from the Sadkers' bookpoignantly illustrates what they call "gender bias blindness". A team fromDateline, the well-known U.S. American television program decided to create aprogram on the theme of gender-bias in education. The team visited anelementary school mathematics class. They taped the class, and then studiedit. They were unable to find any incidence in the class of gender-bias in theteacher's lesson. When the researchers viewed the tape, they found numerousdifferences in the interaction patterns of the female teacher with herstudents. She called on the boys more, asked them more questions, and followedup their answers with more challenging questions. She quickly acknowledged thegirls' correct responses, then immediately turned to engage the boys in morelengthy and challenging interactions. She did, however, ask one little girl tohold the math book up, so the class could see it during the lesson. She turnedthe little girl into a silent prop. So much of the unequal treatment of maleand female students in the classroom is unintentional, and unnoticed. (Sadker& Sadker 1994). There are many ways to turn our attention to theinequities so we can act on them in our own classrooms.
There is a growing body of literature on gender and language learning,specifically to be found related to ESOL. Oxford's (1995) work, for example,focuses on gender and learning styles. Another source can be found in Schwarte& Meier (1998). In a helpful and engaging conference presentation atthe TESOL International Conference, they prepared a "Gender Quiz" in which theylisted the results of forty-four different studies on gender and the teachingof EFL (English as a Foreign Language) and ESOL. These studies cover suchtopics as learning strategies, anxiety, interaction, speech acts, perception,lecture comprehension, vocabulary comprehension, testing and textbook language.The presentation was an effective study of studies, which demonstrated the manydifferences in the experiences and achievements contrasted by gender in thelanguage-learning classroom. The participants in the workshop were surprisedat their own results on the gender quiz, an activity that highlighted thelanguage teacher's typical lack of awareness of the differences in male andfemale language learning styles. These differences have been widelydocumented.
This concept of difference in male and female qualities is not unexpected toBahá'ís. The concept is woven through our literature. TheUniversal House of Justice states: "That men and women differ from one anotherin certain characteristics and functions is an inescapable fact of nature andmakes possible their complementary roles in certain areas of life in society."(Cited in Kahn & Kahn, 1998, p. 47)
In my own qualitative research on cross-cultural gender dynamics, I studiedthe classrooms of four different ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages)teachers. In their interviews, these teachers indicated that they believedthat they should, and in general, did treat their male and female studentsequally and fairly. I observed each of their classes for at least twelvehours. Results of the study indicated first, that all the teacherscommunicated differently with their male and females students, and second, thatthese teachers each used fewer than half of a recommended list of gender fairteaching practices recommended by the West Virginia University Center forWomen's Studies and Council for Women's Concerns. (Shaw 2001).
In order to illustrate the first part of the results of the study, it isnecessary to look at the different kinds of classroom interaction that werestudied exhaustively by the Sadkers and their colleagues. Sadker, M.,Bauchner, J., Sadker, D. and Hergert (1988) identified eight categories ofteacher/student interactions: 1) calls on, 2) responds to, 3) accepts, 4)praises, 5) remediates, 6) criticizes, 7) attributes, and 8) short circuits.For the purposes of my own research I added another category, 9) ignores. Thefirst two responses are clear, and can be counted during classroomobservations. The accept response can be "Yes", "Okay", "That's right", or anod, among other responses. Sometimes the same responses can be counted aspraise when the intonation of the teacher is congratulatory. Other praiseresponses might be, "That's great!" or "Good job." Unfortunately, according tothe Sadkers and other researchers, females in this country receive many moreresponses that praise the appearance of their work (e.g. "You have beautifulhandwriting!" or "Your notebook is so neat!") than they do for the quality orcontent of their response. The fifth response, remediates, is a crucial one.Teachers in the United States in many different settings have been shown to usethis response more with males. The remediation response includes a correctionof a student's response, followed by a further explanation or challenge to thestudent to continue to think, and then to respond immediately. The sixthresponse, criticizes, might be, "You can't be serious?" or a curt, "No". Theseventh response is the attribution response. There are three kinds ofattribution responses, ability attributions (e.g. "You just can't getthis, can you?"), effort attributions, (e.g., "If you just try a littleharder..."), and external attributions, (e.g., "How unusual that you arenot getting this, you must be very tired."). The eighth response is the shortcircuit, where the teacher gives the student the answer to the question she hasasked, or in the case of teaching something technical, reaches in to do it forthe student. With the last type of response, the teacher ignores thestudent.
The teachers in the study were asked to code their own responses accordingusing the nine categories of response when watching a videotape of one of theirown classes. The experience was illuminating to three of the teachers, none ofwhom had ever seen themselves teach on tape. The teachers had no previousexperience of comparing their own interactions with their male and femalestudents. Each of the three teachers reacted differently to the exercise.Joanne commented, "When you talk about gender you discuss some things that area little more subtle than my perception of it." Juana said, "I don't think Itreat people differently according to gender. I never noticed how detailedthat kind of stuff was, and how subliminal a lot of stuff is in the classroom.Unless you kind of pull yourself out of it and look at it objectively." Johnsaid, "Even though I am aware of some of my own prejudices about malesvs. females in terms of their language learning ability, I try prettyhard in my classroom not to let that influence me."
After the teachers viewed and coded their classes, John, Joanne and Juana allsaw teaching points and gender-fair practices that they could use to improvetheir own teaching. John and Joanne both noticed that they sometimes ignoredcertain students' responses. Juana noticed that she did not always call on hermale and female students in an equitable way, and that she had male teacher'spets. All three of the teachers indicated surprise at some of the inequitiesthey saw in their own classroom behavior.
In the brochure "Gender-fair Teaching is Good Teaching" the West VirginiaUniversity Center for Women's Studies and the Council on Women's Concerns(1997), delineate recommended practices. I used twelve of them as a classroomobservation tool for my study. The following checklist provides usefulguidelines for improving gender fair teaching:
Gender Fair Teaching Checklist
Think about your own teaching. Which of the following do you practice? Havea colleague observe your class specifically to check off the practices as youuse them, or have a colleague videotape your class so that you can evaluate howmany of the gender-fair practices you use.
- I am careful to avoid singling out a female student to represent all members of her specific culture.
- I am careful to avoid using sexist, embarrassing or trivializing words or humor about my students or their ethnic background.
- I don't condone the use of sexist language, humor or stereotypes in my classroom.
- I avoid interrupting women, allowing their peers to interrupt them or engage in other negative behaviors while women are speaking.
- I encourage students to conduct research about women and women's issues.
- I do not call on the same students every time.
- I try to be consistent. If I call men by their first names, I call women by their first names.
- I never allude to a student's personal appearance to provide a reason for her or his classroom performance or intellectual abilities.
- I am sensitive as to how traditional phrases of politeness might belittle women.
- I correct my students gently but clearly when they make stereotypical comments gently but clearly with specific counter information.
- I try waiting for about 5 seconds before calling on anyone, after I have asked a question.
- I watch for non-verbal clues indicating a student's willingness to respond.
In the book Advancement of Women: A Bahá'í Perspective,Kahn and Kahn (1998) state:[A]n important feature of individual effort is the periodic review of one'sactions and attitudes. In their efforts to accomplish the principle ofequality of the sexes, both men and women must strive to accomplish thisobjective, and both should carry out this periodic review. In so doing theycould well examine whether they have unconsciously adopted prejudices that areprevalent in the larger society, reflecting attitudes derived from the past andtaken for granted. Stereotypic thinking based on unwarranted generalizationsabout women and men should be carefully identified and progressivelyeliminated...How can we do this in our language classrooms? Here are some other suggestionsfor improving our gender fair teaching:
(Kahn & Kahn, 1998, p. 284)
- Deepen and derive inspiration from the creative word of God.
- Practice, "Periodic self-assessment [which] should not excludehabits of speech and conduct unwittingly derived from attitudes of inequalitythat may have become part of one's behavior." (Kahn & Kahn, 1998, p.294)
- Take the Implicit Associations Test atwww.tolerance.org/hidden_bias/02.html. Enlist some friends totake these hidden bias tests with you, and discuss the results.
- Read articles, books, attend conference sessions or designresearch studies about gender equity, gender issues, and classroom genderdynamics
The challenge to implement gender-fair teaching has made only minor gains inthe last few decades. In a recent article, Sadker (2000) asserts that in theUnited States, though gains have been made in the struggle for gender equity inthe classroom, many problems still remain. According to Sadker (2000),"Teacher education and staff development programs do little to prepare teachersto see the subtle, unintentional, but damaging gender bias that stillcharacterizes classrooms" (p.2). Examples of inequity in the U. S. classroomcan be seen in career choice, dropout rates, sexual harassment, the increase insingle gender classes and schools, teacher/student interaction patterns, and intesting and technology gaps. Bahá'í language teachers, who workin ESOL in the United States, England, Canada and Australia, have uniqueopportunities to study gender dynamics across cultures. Their culturallyheterogeneous classroom is fertile ground for unexpected, complex, and variedinteractions among students and teachers, both male and female.
The ESOL teaching and learning context in English-speaking countries is muchdifferent than that of the Bahá'í teachers who teach English as aForeign Language (EFL) in a culturally homogeneous classroom. These teachers,who bring their own cultural perspective to their classrooms in their hostcountries, witness, from the outsider's perspective, the unique pattern ofclassroom gender dynamics of the culture in which they are living and working.Teaching EFL or another foreign language can offer intense and fascinatingintercultural experiences, which may stimulate a clearer understanding of thehost culture. Both culturally heterogeneous and homogeneous classroom settingsoffer vast possibilities for research, and reflection, as well as uncountableopportunities for creative application of the principle of the equality ofwomen and men.
Dara Gay Shaw, Ed.D.
Director of Special Programs, Intensive English Program, West VirginiaUniversity, Morgantown, WV, USA
Kahn, J. & Kahn P. (1998). Advancement of women: ABahá'í perspective. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá'íPublishing Trust.
Oxford, R.L. (1995). Gender differences in language learning styles: Whatdo they mean? In J.M. Reid (Ed.). Learning Styles in the ESL/EFLClassroom (34-46). Boston, MA:
Heinle and Heinle. Sadker, D. (1999) Gender equity: Still knocking at theclassroom door. Educational Leadership, 56(7) 80-84.
Sadker, M. & Sadker D. (1994). Failing at Fairness: How America'sSchools Cheat Girls. New York: Charles Scribner and Sons.
Schwarte, B. & Meier, A. (1998, March). "The role of gender inlanguage learning and teaching" Paper presented at the TESOL 1998 Conference,Seattle, WA.
Seager, J. (1997). The state of women in the world atlas: Women's statusaround the globe: work, health education and personal freedom. London: PenguinBooks Limited.
Shaw, D. (2001). Cross-Cultural Gender Dynamics in Classroom Interaction:The Adult ESOL Classroom. (Doctoral dissertation, West Virginia University,2001). URL: etd.wvu.edu/templates/showETD.cfm?recnum=1811
West Virginia University Center for Women's Studies and Council for Women'sConcerns (1997). Gender-Fair Teaching Is Good Teaching. [Brochure]President's Office for Social Justice.
Women: A compilation of extracts from the Bahá'í Writings.(1990) Rev. ed. Compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House ofJustice. London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust.
Mentoring the New Language Teacher:
A Bahá'í Language Educators' Roundtable
At the first meeting of the Bahá'í LanguageEducators at the Association of Bahá'í Studies in Seattle, one ofthe sessions generated discussion on the topic of mentoring. In differentinstitutions around the world where language is taught in bothBahá'í and non-Bahá'í settings, language educatorsare beginning to experience circumstances where several Bahá'ísare working together in one educational institution. More experiencedBahá'í language educators, perhaps because of their professionalorientation to serve others, are increasingly sought out by less experiencedcolleagues and students to serve as both formal and informal mentors. The ABSroundtable discussion on academic mentorship provided the participants theopportunity to explore several different facets of the topic, such as: thequalities of a mentor; successful mentorship programs; differences in thementorship relationships among Bahá'ís; rewards of mentorship;phases of the mentorship process; and typical problems in the mentorshipprocess.
In order to stimulate discussion, roundtable participants were asked toreflect on and respond to a list of points such as:
- Think of a mentor who made a positive impact on your life,
- List some of the qualities of your mentor.
- Indicate which of your mentor's qualities you have tried to emulatein your own life.
- Describe how mentoring a Bahá'í might bedifferent.
Readers of this article might take a moment to reflect on and note some oftheir own responses before reading the summary of the discussion thatfollows.
Clinton and Cuomo (1999) edited a collection of short pieces written by famouspeople, entitled, The Person Who Changed My Life. An analysis of theessays of these famous writers indicated that a mentor should be: calm, caring,challenging, committed, confident, educated, forgiving, generous, greatspirited, kind, loving, passionate, patient, principled, self-assured, sincere,supportive, uncomplaining, able to bring people together, willing to go beyondtheir regular duties, and wise. The participants in the roundtable added thequalities of intensity, focus, and positive criticism to the list. Mentors ofthe participants in the roundtable, and the famous people set an example ofexcellence with their actions, modeled excellence, shared inspirational andphilosophical conversation, gave generously of their time, showed how to fightapathy, instilled a spirit of community service, inspired the courage to startsomething new, and generated encouragement and self esteem.
Mentors are responsible for providing moral leadership, and helping theirprotégés to deal with crises in productive ways. One of theparticipants pointed out that Japan, where she lives, has a very high incidenceof suicide, so that a mentor of university students might have opportunities toprovide solace from the Bahá'í writings in a crisis situation.Paul Lample, from the Office of Social and Economic Development, reminded theparticipants that mentors must be careful to distinguish between helping andintervening in a crisis situation. Interventions should be handled byprofessionals.
Campbell and Campbell (2000) outline the complimentary needs of the mentor andthe protégé. The mentor has an altruistic desire to helpstudents, a need for evidence of activities demonstrating their professionalservice for purposes of promotion and tenure, and an interest in newfriendship. The protégé needs help with scheduling, enrollmentdecisions, interpretation of degree requirements, and assistance with personalproblems and crises.
The benefits of the mentor relationship are valuable to both mentor andprotégé. According to Campbell and Campbell (2000), theprotégé receives advice, guidance, information, friendship,support, academic help, tutoring, help with personal problems, confidence,enhanced self-esteem, and advocacy on the protégé's behalf. Thementor enjoys a personal relationship with the protégé as well asa sense of connectedness, the satisfaction of helping and sharing experiences,increased cross-cultural awareness and the opportunity to acquire knowledge inthe field of the protégé's interests
Several cautionary points surfaced in the discussion on mentorship. Theparticipants agreed that mentors and protégés must honestlyaddress differing expectations and assumptions at the outset of the mentoringrelationship, because possible conflict and friction can flare up in thementoring relationship. Furthermore, mentors should never let theirprotégés think they can't achieve a lofty goal. Finally, mentorsneed to know when to let go of their protégés in order to enablethem to emerge as professionals in their own right.
Several suggestions were also proposed by the roundtable participants. Thegroup suggested that Bahá'í Language Educators offer a list ofpotential mentors to the Office of Pioneering, and that an article on the topicof moral teaching and mentorship be written for the AmericanBahá'í. One former pioneer in the group stated that the formerBahá'í ESL Newsletter provided sustenance for him as apioneer.
Dara Gay Shaw, Ed.D.
Director of Special Programs, Intensive English Program, West VirginiaUniversity, Morgantown, WV, USA
Campbell, D. & Campbell, T. College Student Journal, Dec. 2000, Vol. 34Issue 4 p.516, 8p charts
Database: Academic Search Elite
Chao, G.T. (1997). Mentoring Phases and Outcomes. Journal of VocationalBehavior, 51, 15-28
Clinton, H. & Cuomo, M. (1999). The Person Who Changed My Life.Seacaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group
2002 ABS Conference: Location Changed To Toronto
The Association for Bahá'í Studies, North America willhold its annual conference over the weekend of August 30 - September 2, 2002,as previously announced, but the venue has been changed to Toronto(Mississauga) in order to keep the cost as low as possible. It will be at theDelta Meadowvale, the same location as the 2000 conference, and the room ratewill be Cdn$99 per night.
Please consider contributing a paper or a roundtable for our nextBahá'í Language Educators Special Interest Group meeting at thisconference. Send your proposal ideas to Dara ShawDara.Shaw@mail.wvu.edu. We have no specific format at this time.
TESOL 2002 in Salt Lake City (April 9 - 13)
Every year for the past 6 years, Bahá'ís attending theannual TESOL conference have gathered to network and consult. TheBahá'í-ESL listserv and the Bahá'í LanguageEducators' Special Interest Group were born from these gatherings. If you areplanning to attend TESOL 2002, please notify Dara Shaw (Dara.Shaw@mail.wvu.edu)so that we can coordinate our meeting time.
Listserv for Bahá'í ESL/EFL Professionals
Members of Bahá'í Language Educators might be interestedto know about Bahai-ESL@bcca.org, a free non-moderated internet listserv formembers of the Bahá'í Faith who have an interest in the teachingof ENGLISH as a SECOND or FOREIGN LANGUAGE (ESL/EFL). There are 150-200subscribers worldwide, and the volume of messages to the list varies but isusually no more than one per day.
The list helps Bahá'í ESL/EFL professionals exchange informationabout:
* Methods and ideas for teaching ESL/EFL from a Bahá'íperspective
* Employment and career needs and information
* Development of Bahá'í-inspired curricula
* Upcoming conferences and other events of ESL/EFL interest
To subscribe to the list, send a message to Bahai-ESL-Request@BCCA.Orgincluding your name, country of residence, email address, andBahá'í identification number. Questions about the list may bedirected to >.
Joining the Bahá'í Language Educators' Special InterestGroup
Membership in the Bahá'í Language Educators' SIG is opento all members of the Association for Bahá'í Studies, NorthAmerica (Please check the ABS NA website for information on how join:www.bahai-studies.ca) If you will be joining the LanguageEducators SIG, please send the information below to Joy Allchin at>. You will be added to our membership list.Bahá'í Language Educators will meet again at the 2002 ABSconference, and modest dues will be assessed at that time to cover the annualABS fee of $75.00.
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