Book Review: The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners

by Ariel Tichnor-Wagner

The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners

Homa Sabet Tavangar and Becky Mladic-Morales.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2014.
BSN 978-1-4833-4418-8. $25.95
229 pages

For elementary school teachers who want to do something global in their classroom but don’t know where to begin, The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners is a practical place to start. Homa Sabet Tavangar, author of Growing Up Global, teams up with Becky Mladic-Morales, founder of KidWorldCitizen, to provide an easy-to-use guide for educators and parents who want to create global learning experiences for elementary school-aged children.  The teacher-friendly book is jam-packed with ideas and resources, many of which you can link to directly through the book’s companion website that is accessible with purchase of the book. Drawing upon the authors’ experiences as educators, writers, presenters, and parents in multicultural families, the well-researched book fills an important gap in the literature. While a multitude of books and articles argue why students and teachers in the 21st century need to be globally competent, the Global Education Toolkit explains how this can be done in a classroom context.

The book is organized in five chapters that seem to flow from auxiliary to more integrated global education experiences. Chapter 1 – “How to Get Started: Planning Considerations for Bringing the Global to Your School” – lays out step-by-step instructions for how to plan an international event at your school, from reaching out to key stakeholders (e.g., administration, teachers, and parents) to a month-by-month timeline of what should be planned and communicated when. This might have been more impactful if placed at the end of the book once readers gathered more ideas for the type of events they would want to implement, but nonetheless provides an important reminder from the onset of the support they will need and the school and community resources that they may already have at their disposal to create memorable global learning experiences for students.  

Chapter 2 – “Things to Do: Look at All the Places We Can Go” – gives readers quite literally a “laundry list, a menu, a buffet” (p. 65) of global activities to immediately incorporate into classroom or extracurricular activities. These range from schoolwide displays (such as diversity quilts, postcards, flags, and maps of where student populations are from), food-centered activities such as international bread day or “lunchtime around the world” activities, global fairs, watching foreign films, Skype and pen pal programs with partners around the world, and daily foreign language exposure. While this chapter focuses far more on breadth than depth, you can access additional details about these activities on the companion website along with some printables available in the Appendix. The “Discussion-Thinking-Learning Exploration Guide for Watching International Films” (pp. 46-47) was a good example of potential questions that teachers can ask while watching one of the many foreign films listed and summarized in this chapter. Yet the majority of the activities listed lack details on how teachers should execute them and engage students in age-appropriate discussions so as to not stereotype or exoticize other countries (e.g., in a country display or a cultural parade where students might only be exposed to one type of food, music, or traditional apparel). At the end of the chapter, the authors suggest that readers ask themselves after doing one of the activities: “What adjustments need to be made to create a deeper, more authentic, less touristy, global experience?” The authors do not appear to offer guidance in this chapter explicitly on how to do that or what would differentiate an authentic experience from a touristy one.

While the first two chapters focus on add-ons to the curriculum, Chapter 3 “Infusing Global Learning into Academic Subject Areas” focuses on how resources could be embedded into the curriculum, with a particular emphasis on alignment to Common Core State Standards.  The authors do an excellent job of illustrating how global learning can be integrated into popular units of study in elementary schools and specific content areas such as language arts, math, social studies, science, music, art, and world languages. Tables that connect standards and units of study with globally-oriented activities are particularly useful, truly illustrating that teachers “no longer have to make a difficult either/or decision between test results and global know-how, or between fulfilling mandated curricular requirements and bringing the world to your students” (p. 112).

Chapter 4 “Technology Tools to Connect with the World” connects global education to 21st century skills. As in the previous chapters, teachers can pick and choose from any number of concrete examples of incorporating technology – from Twitter to class Wikis to videoconferencing – into global learning activities. In addition, the chapter includes extensive lists on clearinghouses for global lesson plans, professional development opportunities, travel opportunities for educators, TED talks, and even twitter hashtags that teachers can use as resources to expand their global teaching repertoire. The authors offer many practical suggestions for managing technology in the classroom (e.g., giving students classroom jobs during international Skype sessions) that teachers with any level of comfort with technology can employ.

Finally, Chapter 5 “Charitable Giving and Service” addresses issues of inequities in our global community. This chapter provides steps and guiding questions for engaging in service-learning activities, testimonials of kids and schools, and links to organizations and causes embedded throughout the chapter around which teachers can plan service-learning projects. Importantly, the authors highlight projects aimed to improve communities, both local and worldwide, and emphasize that when engaging in service-oriented projects to  “listen humbly” and not to “assume that your idea to ‘help beneficiaries’ is what others need” (p. 185), evoking Nel Noddings conception of caring as one where the carer is truly engrossed in the needs of the cared-for. Teachers should be wary when choosing activities to implement from this chapter to ensure that the activity actually qualifies as service-learning according to their state or district guidelines. As defined in this chapter and elsewhere, service-learning integrates meaningful community service, academic instruction, and reflection. Some of the examples they provide do just that (e.g., “Global Grade 3 and Pennies for Peru”); other examples fundraise for worthy causes but lack an academic component or structured reflection (e.g., “Free Rice”). Furthermore, teachers should be sensitive to the fact that some of the global causes that certain highlighted activities raised money for, such as homelessness and hunger, manifest locally and could impact their students.

Overall, this toolkit touches upon many of the dispositions, knowledge, and skills of globally competent teaching, such as those identified in The Globally Competent Teaching Continuum.  Many of the classroom activities in Chapters 2 – 5 operate under the premise that exposing students to diverse cultures around the world can lead to valuing multiple perspectives and empathy; specific activities they suggest – for example, expanding Google searches to include perspectives from diverse nationalities (Chapter 4), “Lessons on Africa, A Diverse Continent” (Chapter 3) – focus explicitly on perspective recognition. The emphasis of Chapter 5 on service and charitable giving provides an entryway for teachers to show a commitment to promoting equity worldwide and to lead students to take action on issues of global importance. The authors give some suggestions for how teachers can understand global conditions and current events, predominately through geography activities in Chapter 2 and a list of news outlets from around the world in Chapter 4. Resources such as the “Multicultural Book List: A Few Hundred of Our Favorites,” “25 Favorite Foreign Films for K-5”, and a list of travel opportunities for educators give teachers a first look into gaining an experiential understanding of multiple cultures, with some guidance, particularly in the foreign film section, on how to reflect on similarities and differences between your own and others’ cultural norms, values, and practices. Missing, however, are activities that focus on ways that the world is interconnected and understanding of intercultural communication beyond learning a foreign language. 

Ultimately, this toolkit helps teachers develop globally competent teaching skills, that is, the ability to impart global knowledge and globally-oriented attitudes in their students. Chapters 1 and 2 largely provide teachers resources for creating a classroom, and school, environment that values diversity and global engagement and define a successful activity as one where students show interest and enthusiasm. Chapter 3 clearly illustrates ways to integrate learning experience that promote content-aligned investigations of the world across all subject areas. The various technology tools introduced in Chapters 2 and 4 provide a starting point for facilitating international and intercultural conversations (e.g., how to facilitate video chats with sister schools or pen pals) and forging partnerships that provide real-world contexts for global learning opportunities (for example, a tips section for setting up a successful, long-term school partnership built on mutually-beneficial learning experiences). The section on integrating global education into world languages in Chapter 3 has a list of language-learning programs and materials that teachers can use to enhance their ability to communicate in multiple languages, while Chapter 2 provides suggestions for exposing students to foreign languages on a daily basis, which requires that they brush up on foreign language skills as well. While undoubtedly the emphasis of this book is sparking an enthusiasm for global learning, it lacks resources for how to assess students’ globally competent development as they engage in these various experiences. 

This toolkit is a good starting place for stimulating ideas and moving teachers towards deeper learning. Teacher educators can use it to direct teachers to global education resources or in methods courses to stimulate conversation on how to integrate global competencies or content into daily classroom instruction. While the book does not prod teachers to move beyond an International Fair, teachers and teacher educators must remember that in order to dispel stereotypes, foster empathy, and effectively communicate and collaborate in cross-cultural contexts, it is necessary to move beyond what Marilyn Cochran-Smith identifies as “basket making”-type exposure to other cultures and nations.  Overall, The Global Education Toolkit for Elementary Learners is extremely practical and very thoroughly researched, and would serve as a valuable resource repository on any elementary school teachers’ bookshelf.

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Ariel Tichnor-Wagner is a Ph.D. student in the Policy, Leadership, and School Improvement education program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a co-developer of the Globally Competent Teaching Continuum. Her research areas include policy implementation and the policy and politics of educating for global citizenship.

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