Monday, January 13, 2020

TESOL MTH New Year's Event Speakers - Interview with Dr Sophia Emmanouilidou

Our first speaker for this year's New Year Event is Dr. Sophia Emmanouilidou who will be talking about "Convivial Classrooms: Creating Contact Zones in a Multicultural School Environment". Dr. Sophia Emmanouilidou received her Ph.D. from the School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, with distinction in 2003 and on a full scholarship from the Foundation of National Scholarships in Greece (IKY). She has been a Fulbright scholar at the University of Texas, Austin, and she has published several articles on Chicana/o literature and identity-focused theories. Her interests include border cultures, social studies, literary theory and ecocriticism. She has taught at the University of the Aegean, Department of Social Anthropology and History; and the University of the Peloponnese, Department of History and Culture, and the TEI of the Ionian Islands, Department of Environment Technologists. She is presently teaching at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Department of American Literature.

1.     What is the main focus of your talk?

This talk answers the following questions: What is a convivial classroom? What do we mean by the term ‘convivial’ tools? Drawing from Ivan Illich’s philosophy of education, I would say that an English language classroom can be a space that uses our knowledge of facts, information, and skills to enrich our life experiences. Illich claims that what we learn at school is a tool that helps us comprehend and re-vision the world, ideally in a communal mode. In this context, a classroom can become a space that promotes associations among different people, despite their varied backgrounds (cultural, familial, religious, and others), and encourages people to accept difference. Valuing diverse backgrounds can be achieved through various activities: introduction tales, when a student interviews and then introduces another student to the group, round table discussions on a ‘hot topic’, such as depletion of natural resources, creative writing based on a visual stimulus, such as a painting, food festivals, project work on festivities and celebrations around the world, and others. All these activities enhance students’ learning skills, such as critical thinking, creative thinking, communicating, and collaborating.

2.     What do you hope that members of the audience will remember about your talk?

In this talk, I will share examples from my own classroom experience that show how the principles of conviviality, such as interculturalism and the promotion of a democratic society, can be developed in a classroom setting.  I call these types of communication convivial interludes: they are short breaks from our programmed routines, when we can escape the mandates of curricula, syllabi and textbooks. One might consider these convivial breaks as a delay or an interruption, but they can also be happy occasions for us all to be friendly and welcoming to diversity.  One such activity is the World Café, a kind of informal conversation that examines diverse perspectives on a specific topic, such as gender roles. It is also important to remember that convivial interludes are not always planned. Sometimes they pop up unexpectedly during the students’ reactions to information presented in a textbook; for example, students might object to a definition that does not seem agreeable, or a stereotype in an illustration. Whether planned or spontaneous, convivial interludes allow students to practice their language skills, take initiative in representing their cultural backgrounds, and eventually recognize and celebrate diversity.

3.     How could the principles of conviviality be used in a monocultural classroom to encourage students to accept others whose lifestyle, beliefs, gender orientation, etc. differ from their own?

Conviviality in a learning environment means that mutual understanding among participants can be achieved despite their differences. I am not so sure if the term monocultural reflects our current social reality, especially when we consider the free flow of meanings and definitions in the ‘glocal’ world we live in. Although there are still projections of a dominant culture, many believe that they are quite old-fashioned or even obsolete. So, I wonder if we have already moved from monoculturalism to multiculturalism.  And if we have, shouldn’t a classroom setting help students make this transition to a mentality that supports inclusion? The principles of conviviality in education can certainly make this ongoing cross-cultural dialogue an enjoyable experience, especially when students use English to communicate with each other.

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