That dreaded B word again! It’s a rite of passage in every school-aged kid’s life… Even though teachers and school administrations are more aware of it than ever, it still happens. We’ve hardly been back and I’ve already had to deal with an instance this year. That is why it’s so important to talk about bullying, what it is, what it isn’t, what to do when it happens and how to help.
Bullying takes many forms from name calling through freezing someone out to intimidation, or worse. It’s important to discuss these issues in class and with the wider school community so that students are aware of the consequences of certain actions. Realising and highlighting the fact that not every bully bullies intentionally is probably the most important step.
EAL students are perhaps even more prone to bullying than their peers because they don’t speak the main language of the school as fluently as others. Not being comfortable in English has a knock-on effect and impacts students’ well-being. Imagine trying to make friends in a place where you’re the only one (or at least feel like it!) who doesn’t speak the same language.
I make it a point to work with the idea of bullying at least a few times a year. I’m lucky to work in a school that takes bullying seriously and has procedures in place to deal with any instance fairly and in a timely fashion. We also dedicate one assembly each year to this topic, usually coinciding with Anti-bullying Week.
Last year I got some of my EAL students involved by presenting the Anti-bullying Assembly, which was a great success. Here’s an overview of what I had done in class the week leading up to the assembly to introduce the ideas of bullying and being by-standers and up-standers.
Lesson 1: I started by eliciting what bullying means to students, however, it quickly became obvious that some of my students had never heard the term. You ask how that’s possible in the 21st century? I was just as surprised! What I surmise is that certain schools in Malaysia don’t discuss the issue of bullying at all. I don’t know the reason for this, but I wonder if it’s cultural to an extent. Teachers in some Malaysian schools are still allowed to use canes so perhaps they doll out similar punishments to bullies without ever talking about the wider implications.
So after I realised this lack of basic understanding, I changed course and showed my students some scenarios and asked them questions. Here’s an example:
- Students are standing in line waiting for lunch in the canteen. The Year 7 students arrive first, but when the Year 10s arrive, they just shove them aside and take their places in the queue.
- Questions: How do the Year 7 students feel now? Do they say anything to the Year 10s? Do they say anything to the teachers? If yes, what? How do the Year 10s feel? Did they have the right to do that? Why (not)? Do you think this is a case of bullying?
- Once we agreed that this is a case of bullying, I elicited some examples from my students’ lives. Luckily they had more to say about their previous schools than ours though.
After their examples, we moved on to talk about who a bully is by describing the person. I elicited adjectives and descriptive phrases and wrote them on the board. Then we moved on to describing the victim (another new word for the students). As a reflection, I asked if they had ever been bullies and victims. Of course, most said they’d never bullied anyone but when I poked more (hopefully) they realised that sometimes they might have acted as bullies without meaning to.
Lesson 2: In this lesson, we moved on to the topic of bystanders and upstanders. I showed students the video from this lesson plan to introduce these ideas. Of course, the activities online were too difficult for my students but the video still worked well. I came up with simpler questions for them that helped us clarify who bystanders and upstanders are. We used an adapted version of the question formulation technique in this lesson.
Lesson 3: Having clarified the terms bully, bystander, and upstander, we looked at the scenarios from lesson 1 again. The students had to consider each scenario and decide what the bystanders were doing and how they could become upstanders instead. We brainstormed things that the bystanders could say or do in each situation.
Lesson 4: Since many of my students are really into music, I decided to introduce them to a song about bullying. We worked with this Alessia Cara video and used it for some good, old-fashioned listening practice. Later the students even decided to include this song in the assembly presentation.
The rest of the lessons that week were spent on preparing for the assembly. The fact that a bunch of EAL students (who often get teased about their lack of English unfortunately) presented this assembly made it all the more special.
I adapted this presentation from Twinkl for the assembly. The students took it in turns to introduce the ideas of bullying, bystanders, and upstanders to the rest of the school. Later they introduced the scenarios on the PPT one by one, asking the school community about their thoughts on them. Finally, they talked about whether they felt these scenarios showed bullying behaviour or not. They also gave short speeches about what needs to be done to put an end to each of the bullying scenarios.
It goes without saying that the EAL students were super scared to speak in front of the whole school. However, we wrote their lines together and I made sure they had enough time to learn them and practise them in class. This gave me chance to work on intonation and pronunciation with them as well. They were also allowed to bring their notes to the assembly.
On the actual day, most of the students could get through their lines without their notes and they got a big round of applause at the end. It was a great confidence booster for the students and it helped me showcase what they are capable of. The feedback from my colleagues was also positive and many of them commented that it was the first time hearing some of the EAL students say more than just single words at a time.
What I’ve learned from this experience is that giving EAL learners the opportunity to perform in front of the rest of the school also has a knock-on effect. Of course, it is scary to start with, but with the necessary preparation I could ensure their success, which helped them become more comfortable and confident. It was just as useful for the wider school community to listen to them and understand how they feel at certain times.