On Wednesday, we had our global classrooms model United Nations conference. Global Classrooms is a relatively new program sponsored by the United Nations to bring the Model United Nations experience to disadvantaged public schools and spread the program throughout the world. Therefore, Global Classrooms allows students who would not normally participate in Model United Nations get exposure to international relations and diplomacy. Currently, Global Classrooms operates in 24 cities around the world.
The main idea behind the project is that students are grouped in pairs and are forced to represent a country. The topic of this year’s debate was malaria, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases. The students must research their country’s stance on the topic, the current measures that are being taken to combat these diseases, and solutions to these problems. Furthermore, the students must write a position paper articulating these ideas and defend their ideas in a debate format. Needless to say this is a difficult job for any student, let alone a student who has to do it in their second language, English.
In preparation for the conference, Jim and I first started teaching parliamentary procedure which basically means the rules of debate. At the conference, the language is very formal and there are specific rules that must be followed. For example, the way in which a question is asked depends on the type of question. If a student cannot hear a speaker, then they need to say “point of personal privilege” can the speaker please talk louder but if a student has a question regarding something another delegate stated they need to say “point of inquiry” can you please clarify what is meant by educational programs.
After teaching the rules of debate, Jim and I had to split the students into countries. Each school was allowed to bring 22 students representing 11 countries to the conference. However, Jim and I were working with two third year classes. In total we had close 50 students from which we had to select 22, so initially we assigned four to six students per country. In January, after reading sample position papers and hearing the students present opening speeches we had to cut almost half of the students. This ended up being a very difficult task because for a couple of countries we had three really motivated students who were doing solid work and could have really benefited from the conference. However, I kept reminding myself that it was a good thing that so many of my students were well qualified and excited about the program.
With the cuts made, we continued teaching about debate, revising position papers, and working on opening speeches. This took a lot of time and effort. Students in the Spanish school system students are not required to write papers and do a lot of critical thinking. For most of my students, this was their first research paper (it only had to be one page single spaced) and they are equivalent to sophomores in high school. While some had trouble finding reliable sources, most of our time was spent teaching basics related to writing mechanics such as having an introduction, transitions between paragraphs, and citing sources appropriately. I spent multiple nights grading papers, and while doing so I gained a greater appreciation of why grading strong papers is easier than weak papers. Some of the drafts that were turned into me were so incomprehensible I wouldn’t know where to begin with revisions and suggestions. Plus, the definition of plagiarism seems to be a lot looser so I found myself writing is this your own words on almost every paper that was turned into me. In the end, the papers improved a ton. In fact, we had four very strong papers and had to select one to turn in as our best paper from our school. The paper we selected ended up winning the Best Position Paper award in comparison to the 9 other bilingual schools who participated in the conference.
The conference was split into two days. On Tuesday, we had the opening ceremony in the Asssemblea de Madrid which is the Communidad de Madrid’s government building. This would be comparable to holding a conference in the state legislature chambers.
On Wednesday, the conference began early in the morning. The students were split into five committees depending on region. I was the secretary for the Eastern European committee and I got to see two delegations from my school debate. One of the delegations completely surprised me and actively participated which I was not expecting. Overall, my students felt pretty comfortable and enjoyed the debate. They told me that they were glad they participated in the conference and felt proud that they could debate in English.
After five hours of debating, there was an awards ceremony. There were 30 awards that were given for the ten schools. My school won 8 awards!!! I felt so proud of my students. While it is not fair to compare the number the awards each school won because the students come in with different levels of English, this is still a huge accomplishment. It reinforced to my students that hard work does pay off and that English is a useful skill.
Overall, I am really glad I got to participate in the global classrooms program. It provided me the opportunity to lead my own classes and design the lesson plans and handouts. Furthermore, it teaches the students critically thinking, research, and paper writing skills that are often lacking in the Spanish school system. In addition, it makes the students more aware of global issues and it lets them use English in practical situation instead of focusing on verb conjugations.