A web site for the developing language teacher

by Henny Burke
- 2

Part 2

Now coming back to my starting point which is really Cynthia Nelson's argument that queer theory could provide implications for teaching, I can't see it. For one thing I think queer theory is a nice idea, but fundamentally flawed and therefore, completely unsuitable for providing pedagogical implications. My second criticism of Nelson is that even if she herself can accept queer theory intellectually she really doesn't pull out and explain how queer theory can have practical implications for teaching.

In the final part of her article Cynthia Nelson observes a grammar class taught by a teacher (Roxanne) actively working on the topic of lesbian and gay identities in the classroom. "One month into the course, Roxanne passed out a worksheet that she had written for homework as part of a unit on modal verbs in English. The next day, the students discussed their written answers in small groups. A lively discussion of Scenario 3 - "Those two women are walking arm in arm" - ensued."

One student comes up with "They could be lesbians" and finally the discussion shifts from grammar to a discussion about whether this would be true in the students' own countries. A transcript of 3 minutes from the 15-minute class discussion is reproduced in the article.

My initial reaction to this was one of dislike because I don't like to see grammar treated as something devoid of context and being pulled from artificial sentences. If we are going to analyse language then let's put it in context and analyse its communicative meaning as well as the form. I also found the jump from an artificial grammar exercise to a personal discussion quite forced and fairly face threatening for both the teacher and her students. What I found interesting and heartening was that the topic of gays and lesbian sexuality was at least being tackled.

So what is it that I propose because so far all I seem to be doing is criticising everybody else.

My idea is to introduce same-sex orientation in a way that will not reinforce stereotypes or jeopardise people's working situations or play havoc with the classroom dynamic. My idea is to treat lesbianism & gayness as a culture and go to the texts of that culture for language work e.g.. use listening texts from BBC World Service radio phone-ins: recently Angela Mason of Stonewall was the guest of a World Service phone-in where the issues of lesbian & gay parenting was debated. All kinds of people from all over the world phoned in.

BBC World Service also has a soap opera called Westway where two characters have just begun to have a gay relationship. Every two weeks on Sunday mornings there is a "feedback programme" called Write On and the listeners write in and give their opinions on the programmes. Last Sunday they were writing in about the gay relationship on Westway and there were all kinds of opinions being expressed. It was material that could be exploited very fruitfully in an ELT class. Now I tell my students to listen to the BBC as a way of getting listening exposure.

We could take readings from Diva magazine. Diva is an innocuous monthly magazine for "gay women" produced in the UK. Stonewall's web page has interesting articles on gay parenting, discrimination at work etc. The texts are there.


I do not propose that teachers come out in the classroom or actively encourage their students to do so.


Concentrate on text. It is by concentrating on text and treating this issue as an example of cultural diversity it will cease to be a taboo, silenced area and at the same time focussing on text is a distancing device for both teachers and students alike. And in terms of pedagogical approach a "genre approach" where text analysis is the main vehicle seems to be the best way of ensuring we look at language in context and transmit to the students its communicative value.

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