Why I’m Integrating the World Cup Into My English Class, Despite My Disinterest in Sports – EdSurge News

My sophomores were getting ready for school in September when I saw a group of boys with their heads down, focusing on the magazines on their desks. With a mixture of reverence, deep concentration, they carefully lifted each page.

“?Tengo Andrés Guardado?” The boys burst into ribs-busting laughter.

I moved closer to the scene, trying not disturb it. Their joy was palpable. Each page contained a number of incomplete soccer teams. As they were preparing for the 2022 World Cup which was two months away, they exchanged stickers with highly sought-after players.

Although I am a good student, I don’t know much about sports. I try my best to fit in, nodding solemnly as colleagues mourn a loss of a favorite from the area or congratulating students if their athleticism is celebrated during morning announcements. Still, I am a disappointment to both my student-athletes as well as sports fans.

This year, however, I was prepared for the World Cup. My students were also aware of this when they saw the sports journalism unit in the syllabus the first day. Are these days reserved for the World Cup?” They exclaimed. “?Estamos mirando futbol? ?En classe? !”

My lesson was learned four years ago, when I taught summer school during last year’s World Cup. The students sat in front of their laptops, scrolling between tabs or reading novels on their smartphones. The day before a crucial match between South Korea, Germany, I projected the game onto the TV in class. Students were pretending to be writing essays. I knew I had lost their attention. My eyes scanned the room, looking for the door. I was worried that an administrator might catch us off guard and also enjoyed the suspenseful atmosphere. Our classroom burst into celebration after South Korea defeated Germany and allowed Mexico to advance to the knockout round.

The games were unavoidable during the World Cup 2018’s few weeks. They will again be this November and December. As I am always keeping up with current events, I am quick to read the most recent news and curate articles for my students to discuss during class. What makes one of the most important athletic events in the world so special?

Sport and culturally responsive teaching

My school is located just six miles from Mexico’s border. Many of my students travel that distance daily to go to school in the United States. My school’s geographical location may be unique, but its student demographics aren’t. 30% of U.S. schoolchildren will soon be Latinx. It is impossible to underestimate the important role that soccer plays in many people’s lives, as the above events show.

Many of our students and families are not satisfied with just playing games at the World Cup. It is a way for binational students and their families to make connections and to celebrate and validate their national identity. I want to encourage students to pursue their passions outside of the classroom by incorporating them into my curriculum.

Teachers were flooded with reading lists and calls for culturally responsive and culture-sustaining pedagogies during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. Many of the books that were recommended for this reading focused on marginalizing and traumatizing characters. While they were right to pay attention to trauma and marginalization , they missed the joy, creativity as well as production of BIPOC Culture.

What were the conversations and units like when teachers returned to teaching in the fall? I am fortunate to have been able to teach in four schools over my career. From those experiences, one of the lessons I have learned is how different students react to current events. Twitter calls that state, “If teachers don’t have conversations about X …”with their students,” make me cringe. Teachers responding to calls to social media to include more stories from historically marginalized groups and focusing on the same literacy practices that only adjust the author and recipient of the texts, are not culturally responsive teaching methods. It’s just a matter of replacing one text with another, without asking our students how they interact with the content.

How can we tell if these students are as interested in having these conversations as their teachers? How can we tell if their learning community has developed a framework to critically analyze these events?

Our students are often tuned to a different frequency than us. These lessons can do more harm than good if they are not interested in or prepared for discussions about historical oppression. Our students of color may experience marginalization but they might not be able to focus their academic or extracurricular pursuits on this topic.

Students have rich cultural experiences and dynamic insights into their passions. Culturally sustainable means that students have vibrant ways to see the world and the things they care about.

Encouragement of students’ literacy practices and values

What if we were to ask ourselves questions about the literacy levels of our students instead of regurgitating texts they don’t care about? My most humble moment as a teacher was not in front of students. It happened over fifteen years ago on a Las Vegas soccer field. Students organized a “teachers against students” game and I signed up enthusiastically. It was so simple! We are the ones who chase the ball, and we also prevent others from doing so. I was already daydreaming about how I would braggingly brag to my eighth graders as soon as my shoes were on.

My students turned out to be scholars of the sport. I had to admit to my mistakes early in the game. I didn’t realize it until I was sitting at the bench that I was being overlooked. My students were also reading the field with a level I can’t quite capture. They were studying the patterns of their opponents, working together, anticipating their decisions, and then applying this knowledge to their next moves.

Imagine how much analysis goes into watching a game if this is what they are doing. They are not only applying complex rules to a sport but also looking at the personalities of players and team dynamics. This helps them understand how players behave within a complicated set of rules.

Their ability to analyze is evidence of their soccer literacy. They can both read and interpret the basic meanings of the game, as well as understand and appreciate the symbolic and deeper meanings.

In spite of my uncertainty about the game, I’m inviting my students to apply this level literacy to their sports journalism units in November. Instead of teaching from the bench, which I find more comfortable with due to my uncertainty about sports, I am asking questions and providing opportunities for research that students can use to enhance their analysis of the sport. We will just have finished Chinua Achebe’s ” things fall apart” so it will be a perfect opportunity to bring what we know about colonization into our analysis of a global sporting event.

What does it mean for them to write about how their current rivals are now equal with their colonizers? What are the power imbalances that still exist in game analysis by commentators? What impact might players’ personal histories have on their athletic strategy? All of these questions can be considered as students report on games they see at school and in their homes.

My students’ benefit by accepting my discomfort

Yes, I hope that this unit in sports journalism expands my students’ ability to use soccer jargon when writing formal essays. I also hope that they can apply the same level of analysis to all aspects of the game – commentaries, play time, social media discourse, etc. – to improve their analysis skills and, consequently, their enjoyment. When commentators refer to teams from Africa as “physical” or “cerebral,” I hope that these observations spark meaningful conversations and provide opportunities to explore the depths and intersections of sport and race.

This is how culturally responsive teaching can be made possible by students embracing their passions and honoring the fact that they are able to recognize that soccer is as a literacy.

If I don’t care about what my students are passionate about, and fail to recognize the value of their literacies and knowledge, I can’t claim to love them. Recently, my students weren’t just exchanging stickers. They were sharing their passions with others and making tangible something.

I know that I am not the only one who is afraid of sports. Despite my disinterest and discomfort, I am eager to learn from my students. Although I don’t yet know how excited my students will feel if Mexico reaches the quinto partio, I do hope that I can celebrate with them. And, this time, my classroom door is open.


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