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8 Ways to Use Global Citizenship Education With Early Adolescents

Editor's intro: Early adolescence is a time when students are ready to learn how their actions affect others and are connected to the world, says Dr. Jennifer A. Skuza, Assistant Dean, University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development, and co-author of WeConnect: A Global Youth Citizenship Curriculum.

by guest blogger Dr. Jennifer Skuza

When some people hear the term global citizenship, they categorize it as a foreign concern and not associated to the communities they live in. But the fact is that global citizenship is close to home. It begins with how we relate to the person next to us. While global citizenship can be introduced at any age, early adolescents are particularly ripe for this kind of learning.  

global_citizenship.pngDuring this remarkable stage of the life cycle, early adolescents (10 to 14-year-olds) experience rapid and significant developmental change in terms of physical, intellectual, emotional, psychological, moral, and social growth. This life phase is marked by young people moving beyond feeling connected to only those people directly involved in their lives, to recognizing a more abstract connection to those not directly involved in their lives, such as a group of people living in another community, nation, or the world as a whole. A new psychology develops during this life phase that grows from self-centeredness into empathy towards strangers. Also at this age, many early adolescents identify themselves with society and may feel that they are valued by that society. In this way, youth connect to something larger than themselves. This period is also characterized by a growing desire to think and act independently, while at the same time to care deeply about being accepted by peers and being part of a group. Together early adolescents can be a powerful force of change. 

As educators, it is our privilege and responsibility to work in partnership with youth to create learning environments that challenge them to become change agents that think globally and act locally. This can be done in the classroom and during out-of-school time in youth programs. 

Here are eight ways to get started using a global citizenship lens in your educational approach with early adolescents:

  1. Introduce new words and phrases. Language is a cultural artifact, a tool to name the world and to describe reality. Language coincides with naming one's experience. Encourage youth to expand their vocabulary with words that reflect the spirit of global citizenship such as empathy, mindfulness, perception, privilege, power, worldviews, culture, tolerance for ambiguity, and more. Create puzzles that help youth learn new words. Incorporate the vocabulary into your everyday program facilitation. You could also present colorful laminated posters illustrating vocabulary or skills in your classroom or program that add to a warm and inviting space.  

    When I was developing a global youth citizenship curriculum with my colleague, some reviewers suggested that we should not put complex words in the curriculum. However, when we tested the curriculum with youth, they said the opposite. They wanted to learn new words. So we kept those new words in the curriculum and added a glossary and clear definitions in the lessons.

  2. Invite youth to write. Typing is fast. Handwriting is slow. This is precisely why handwriting is better suited for learning. Handwriting slows the learner down, requires effort, and forces the learner to identify representative words that summarize ideas, ask questions, and note interesting thoughts. It helps to build and reinforce thinking skills which are paramount in building a global skill set. For instance, encourage youth to identify a special place where they like to learn. Invite them to go there and write about their learning experience. In addition to building thinking skills, this will reinforce their ability to be self-directed learners. Also, encourage youth to document their learning in a journal at school or in their program and frequently ask youth to write about their new ideas or insights using guiding questions. Make it a routine. Here are some creative ways to get youth writing.  

  3. Ask social inquiry questions. Social inquiry is different from general inquiry because it puts a face on the question. During science class, instead of asking, "How was the Mississippi River used 100 years ago?" ask, "Who valued the Mississippi river 100 years ago? Who values it today? Why?" Social inquiry helps youth to examine social issues and see how worldviews are constructed. Read this article to learn more about social inquiry and how to apply it to your teaching or facilitation.

  4. Emphasize skill development. Make skills explicit. This seems obvious, but it is often missed. For instance, if you just witnessed a student suspending judgment in a classroom discussion, let them know that they just practiced suspension of judgment. Name the skill. Discuss its value. Invite that youth to explain why they held back on forming an opinion. This will help youth see and name their growing set of skills. But it will also create space for deeper learning among peers. Also, encourage youth to observe and name skills in others as well.

    When I was working with a group of educators in a southern US state to implement a global youth citizenship curriculum, this point about naming the skills came up a lot. In one afterschool program, the adults were uncomfortable with the topic of racism when the young teens brought it up. The youth insisted that everyone, including the adults, should use their skills of open-mindedness and listening and continue the conversation. Naming the skills earlier in the program gave those teens the tools to move forward with a conversation that needed to happen but that had met resistance. 

  5. Build responsibility. Personal responsibility is the recognition that each individual is in charge of his/her own life. Help youth cultivate a sense of agency by encouraging them to identify personal goals that are increasingly challenging over time. Teaching young teens to set goals effectively can be life-changing. However, as we teach goal-setting, we need to make sure we are showing youth how to use goals to have the greatest possible positive impact on their lives and the lives of others. Explore these strategies to help you work effectively with youth as they set goals on their terms. You could also pair youth with mentors. Mentors not only help expand the worlds of youth, but they can also provide feedback that enables youth to gauge their own progress. Check out these mentoring resources.

  6. Look out for others. Social responsibility grows from a commitment to the welfare of others. Whether it's on the playground, in a classroom, or in an afterschool program, cultivate a culture where youth are looking out for others as well as themselves. Start by inviting youth to identify group agreements that will help shape their learning environment. They serve as a set of clear, co-created guidelines to help participants feel comfortable with each other in an atmosphere of safety, respect, and trust. Everyone shares the responsibility for the experience and keeps each other accountable to them, and once developed, a group can regularly revisit the agreements to see if they are still working and make changes if issues come up. Use the agreements every day in your facilitation to create habits that reflect the environment that the youth envisioned.

    Also, introduce social and emotional learning into your classroom or program so that young people can be aware of and manage emotions, work well with others, and work hard when faced with challenges. Here is a toolkit filled with practical activities, templates, and tools organized into four topic areas to help support staff and youth in social and emotional learning.

  7. Prepare youth for everyday action. It is important for young teens to understand how the experience of one depends on the actions of another. People are interdependent. Everything we do has an effect (good or bad) on the experience of others, which often far surpasses the original effect. For instance you could introduce the word interdependence by talking about the illegal use of performance enhancement drugs in sports. Cheating in sports by using performance enhancing drugs may seems at first to have consequences only for the offending athlete and her competitors until it becomes a common trend in certain sports. The original action now shows the global effects in how people view the sport, as well as how the sport is experienced (now with a lack of trust) by athletes. Thus, the experience of athletes worldwide depends on how their peers respect the rules of the game. Then, ask youth to think of other examples of interdependence (on small or large scales). For instance, you could ask youth, "Have you ever done something (bad or good) that affected other people in a way you didn't expect? How might things have been different? What greater effects may have resulted that you did not see? If there were negative consequences, is there any way to make up for those consequences?"

    Videos followed by debriefing could also be used to show our interdependence and potential results from our actions. For instance, you could invite the youth to learn why civil rights activist Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her refusal sparked a massive bus boycott and the United States Supreme Court ruling that racial segregation on city buses was unconstitutional. 

  8. Model thoughtful action. Pay close attention to your actions and be ready to admit your faults and mistakes, especially those involving the youth you work with. Show youth that you care and are ready to accept your faults and work on them. The result you wish to see in youth stems from the effort you put into yourself. Practice honesty, fairness, care for others, and care for yourself.

You can play a role that helps early adolescents to thrive in a global world, with a cultural perspective that enables them to examine their everyday lives and helps them to take action leading toward positive change in the world.

Follow Jennifer, University of MN, Heather, and the Center for Global Education on Twitter.

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