Reader Response Journal

Climate Change and TESOL: Language, Literacies, and the Creation of Eco-Ethical Consciousness by Jason Goulah

This is a fascinating article from the most recent TESOL Quarterly, in which Goulah calls on the TESOL field to engage with issues of climate change in order to help students develop value-creative eco-ethical consciousness. He briefly outlines some of the major ecological-based ways of conceptualizing language, which encompass more holistic approaches than traditional environmental education. Since TESOL is interested in both language and content standards, which include climate change, he argues the field needs deeper engagement with environmental issues. Since climate change is a particularly divisive issue, with people’s responses determined more by their cultural, religious and political values than by facts, the discussion is “no longer really about science—it’s about culture.” (Shepard, 2014). He argues that the religious aspect is particularly important to focus on, and his study examines the experiences of religious refugees from the former Soviet Union during a unit on climate change in a US public high school. He situates his study within a value-creation framework, which encompasses “individual gain, social-moral good, and aesthetic beauty” (p. 94). He also draws on kyosei, or creative coexistence, an active and engaged form of interdependence. Together, value-creation and creative coexistence move students towards their greater selves, “rooted in deep respect for the dignity of all life—including one’s own—and the wisdom to perceive the inextricable interdependence of that life.” (p.95). In his study he focuses on two learners, one a 17 year old Belarussian Baptist girl, the other a 17 year old Ukrainian Pentecostal boy. Before the unit, both said that they didn’t believe in climate change, but over the course of the study they developed a religiously grounded eco-ethical consciousness. Goulagh describes the way their teacher integrated language, literacy and content standards for the unit, using a sociodialogical approach for content-base discussions. The first example shows the techniques he used to facilitate vocabulary acquisition while discussing An Inconvenient Truth, including highlighting key terms, asking open questions and scaffolding students’ meaning-making. In the second example, he developed students’ critical literacies by having them examine two advertisements that referenced climate change, engaging the students in sociodialogical meaning making as a class and in small groups. The final example describes a digital video project, where the students worked in groups to create advertisements for being green (although they were also given the option to be against being green). While creating their videos, the students referred back to an earlier reading about evangelical environmentalism, which lead the two focal students to see climate change as akin to Noah’s flood in the Bible. Creating a space for the students’ religion to be incorporated into the discussion helped the two focal students bring their in-class answers in line with their personal views, since both were grounded in their religious understandings.

This article felt really new to me, since I haven’t read much about either religion or climate change in TESOL, and this article combines both. Goulah makes a really strong case for environmental issues to be integrated into English classes from an ethical perspective, that encourages students to really engage and develop their own personal consciousness, rather than just treating environmental issues as another topic for content based instruction. Neither of these are things I’ve done yet, and I think they would be really interesting to explore with my students, although I think there is a certain level of advanced language skills that are necessary to engage in ideas this complex, which my students here just don’t have. I feel like I’ll need to spend some more time thinking about and internalizing these ideas before I know how to adapt them for my context,. Especially since the naturalist intelligence has been the one that’s been hardest to integrate into my teaching for my MI project, this seems important for me to put some more thought into. It’s one of the most original and exciting things I’ve read about TESOL in a while, in part because it challenges me to think about my teaching through a new lens.

Also, at least for the time being, this article is free to download or read online and I highly, highly recommend checking it out.

Goulah, J. (2017). Climate change and TESOL: Language, literacies, and the development of eco-ethical consciousness. TESOL Quarterly, 51(1), 90-114.

Sheppard, K. (2014, May 21). Climate change is the single most divisive political issue, says poll. Huffington Post.