Today history was made in Britain, a seismic wave of voting towards the leave campaign led Britain out of the EU. 52% chose to leave the EU, with 48% to remain. It is an uncertain time for the future of Britain. Whilst emotions are running high, teachers head back into school today with a huge responsibility to the young people they teach. It is their words that have the gravity to shape pupils’ political views. It is imperative this is not taken advantage of. Now, more than ever, young people must be taught to view the world critically, understand the power of their voice and be fully aware of their human rights.
Swerving the issues
Engaging pupils is a challenge teachers face daily. Teachers are regularly trying to find innovative hooks to a lesson to get pupils on board and enthused about their subject. One of the most powerful ways to do this is by engaging with what is going on around us. Using current affairs and news stories immediately grabs people’s attention.You may compare Lennie from Of Mice and Men to the Gorilla who was shot when a young boy fell into a zoo enclosure, or maybe you are asking your class to draw parallels between George the Poet’s spoken word in relation to Romeo and Juliet. Both of these approaches take real world and very important current affairs and link them to the learning. As an English teacher, my favourite lessons are those which make time for discussions of difficult issues, these are the episodes when myself and the children learn the most about each other. It is essential that today’s result is discussed in lessons; that pupils understand what the vote means, understand both sides of the argument, have a vocabulary to express both sides of the argument, and are able to ask questions about what they are seeing and hearing.
Protect your pupils
Pupils may have different views in relation to the vote, they may echo their family’s views, they may repeat something they’ve heard, they may be very well-informed and have made a personal decision. Whatever the make up of your classroom, it is is essential that you protect all learners and create a culture where it is safe to ask questions. Pupils may need to be reminded what community means, re-encouraged to take pride in their multicultural school environment. Today one of my pupils (whose family had moved from Portugal to Wales) asked ‘We have voted out Miss, now I’ll have to go home won’t I?’ This made apparent to me just how uncertain some of our learners may feel, if they do not understand what has happened today it can feel very daunting. The young people in your classroom need reassuring, they need to understand their rights and future, and those around them must too.
Discussions in classrooms must be facilitated with care about Brexit. A very powerful way to deal with sensitive issues is to flip the classroom. Ask the class to reflect silently on questions around the room. Prompt pupils to write down questions they may have about what they already know. By all means teachers can explain their point of view, but there must be time given for pupils to question this to ensure they fully understand there is many other views and this view is not the ‘correct’ one. Make sure this news topic is used to fill knowledge gaps and educate pupils, as opposed to dictating your view to them.
Selecting an approach
- Display thought-provoking images from both sides of the campaign
- Listen to snippets from the news
- Learn and discuss key political figures
- Display tweets and FB statuses of figureheads to discuss
- Include thoughtful texts and newspapers
- Use sources pre-EU to discuss the time before war
- Utilise percentages from the vote to create a real-life context to Maths
- Create a debate
- Use materials from charities/texts such as Amnesty International, philosophy for children to make pupils aware of the meaning of human rights
- Explore the opportunity to develop pupil voice in school; work with Bite the Ballot to increase awareness of voting, get involved in Youth Parliament.
Talking the talk
As an educated adult, you can access the information on news channels and in newspapers about this election. If you are a child who lacks an academic vocabulary this wealth of information can be extremely overwhelming and disengaging. Our young people often need politics expressed in their language. Break it down for them. Show them that any question can be asked, any view can be expressed, but that all comments will be challenged in your classroom. Encourage them to ask why. And always ask them why. Before tackling a whole class discussion spend time exploring the difficult vocabulary in a newspaper article, discuss what Brexit means and why that slogan was used. This will make the topic accessible and can be very powerful and important in their understanding. Most importantly, do not try and take on too much. Pick one part of a news story and focus on understanding it. Develop the oracy skills to communicate opinions and explore two-sided arguments. If we encourage our young people to always ask why, to question the purpose of media reports, and to not feel daunted by politics, we are preparing our young people for their future.
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”
― Kofi Annan