Model United Nations In The Kosovar High School
Integrating Extracurricular Activities into Teaching English as a Foreign Language
When exploring different classroom and extracurricular activities with which to increase the flexibility and effectiveness of a high school’s TEFL toolkit, it is difficult to find an extracurricular activity better suited to English instruction than Model United Nations (MUN). MUN forums have a distinguished history reaching back to the early 1950’s and the concept has been implemented in high schools and universities around the globe. In the simplest of definitions, an MUN extracurricular activity is a student simulation of the United Nations where, in place of professional diplomats, high school students “representing” different countries around the world discuss, debate, and attempt to reconcile global issues. The specific incentives for your students to join an MUN program, discussed below, can be built off of and are in fact closely intertwined with the more general teaching objectives that drive TEFL curriculum development. In the following lines a general framework of MUN as an extracurricular activity will be sketched along with experiences gathered during implementation of an MUN program at Gjimnazi “Hajdar Dushi” in Gjakova, Kosova.
To begin this discussion on MUN in the high school, the stage is set by noting the merit in establishing an extracurricular activity within a high school. Researchers Natalie Fischer and Desiree Theis, in the Journal for Educational Research Online, observe, “Results of United States studies and meta-analyses indicate that extracurricular activities positively influence the development of social, physical, and intellectual skills” (2104:56). Moreover, extracurricular activities contribute to an increase in engagement by the student body with the school. Writing on student engagement, educators James Appleton et al. describe a classification wherein “variables such as time on task and homework completion represented indicators of academic engagement, whereas attendance and extracurricular participation represented indicators of behavioral engagement” (2008:372). Academic and behavioral engagements represent only two parts in the overall psyche of a student but arguably these two are the most important foundational concepts upon which all else may rest. Speaking from a simple pop culture perspective, useful when engaging with teenagers, many noted personalities seen on the global stage reflect back with fondness and gratitude on extracurricular activities that kept them off the streets or encouraged within them the skills they would later use in life. (For example Chelsea Clinton, Ryan Seacrest, and Samuel L. Jackson; just to name a few famous individuals your students might recognize).
Since there is limited space in which to construct this article, an in-depth look at the mechanics of MUN forums is not possible but I will mention that due to MUN’s extensive history around the world, on-line resources are abundant, free, and very informative.
On-line resources that can guide both students and teachers new to the idea of MUN include http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/modelun/over.html and http://www.unausa.org/ as well as YouTube. The structure of MUN forums can vary somewhat from country to country (or even within one country such as the United States) and that can allow for a great deal of flexibility and adjustment at the onset of an MUN program. Moreover, as I have recently come to find out, there are many people living and working in Kosova who have extensive experience with MUN and are willing to act as community partners in afterschool programs.
Having briefly discussed MUN and the role of extracurricular activities, we may now focus on the connections between MUN and TEFL learning objectives. For the reader’s convenience, these connections have been divided into main points corresponding to four overall TEFL objectives:
- Listening Comprehension: One of the primary focus of MUN is the presentation of an idea or solution by a student delegate to an assembly comprised of other student delegates. Students in the assembly must listen carefully to the points presented in English so as to effectively debate, suggest changes, or vote on the idea. Therefore MUN creates an entirely new dynamic with which teachers can encourage the development of a student’s listening comprehension skills.
- Public Speaking: As TEFL educators well know, many students can be quite capable of speaking English but may shy away from actively speaking in the classroom. Alternately, due to the number of students within classrooms in Kosova, many students are unable to engage in English discussions to an extent that successfully challenge and grow their oratory skills. MUN forums depend on the development of these skills by the student delegates. As such, within a school’s MUN training meetings as well as at MUN international conferences, students are asked to speak to or in front of the other delegates on a range of topics.
- Writing & Research: The foundation for the entire concept of MUN falls within this category of TEFL instruction. MUN student delegates must scour the Internet and libraries for the information they use to construct and explain their positions on global issues or problems before the United Nations. Therefore, several skills are required and encouraged: critical thinking, reading comprehension, collaboration, as well as professional writing abilities.
- Confidence: Student’s confidence is not always mentioned as a defined TEFL objective within professional literature or in the student textbook. Yet a student who may have a strong capability in English but does not feel confident or empowered in speaking might never say a word in English. Student simulations via MUN work toward developing a student’s confidence in her or his self with regard to speaking English, presenting in public, voicing an opinion, or simply standing their own ground in an English-language discussion.
With this conceptual link between TEFL and MUN in mind, let us continue to the final part of this discussion of MUN in the high school: how to establish these student simulations for the student body in your school. In keeping with the spirit of this paper and journal, vis-a-vi grounded within the realities of school life in Kosova, I would like to hold up as an example for discussion my experiences with organizing and starting an MUN program at Gjimnazi “Hajdar Dushi” in Gjakova.
My first order of business sought to accomplish two goals concurrently: 1) begin generating interest within the student body for an MUN extracurricular activity and 2) discussing with the students, classroom by classroom, exactly what is MUN. The first goal I initiated by developing flyers (see picture 1) and placing the flyers on the walls near the most heavily-trafficked areas of my school and as well as digitally on the school’s Facebook page. During these efforts at generating student awareness for an MUN extracurricular activity, I highlighted five main incentives that I thought would provoke the most interest:
- On-line collaboration with foreign & domestic students
- International MUN Conferences
- Domestic MUN Conferences
- New avenues to speak & practice English
- Debating international issues
With MUN being a pilot project at the gjimnazi, I looked for a manageable group of students with which to work and train. In regard to team composition from the available classes at “Hajdar Dushi”, I was interested in creating a team that allowed for the best chances at creating a sustainable MUN program that will re-emerge in following school years. Thus I selected fifteen students overall from 10th, 11th, and 12th classes as the finalists of a selection process that started with forty initial student candidates. As the 12th class MUN members graduate and continue on to university, the 11th class students move to fill their positions as will the 10th class into the 11th class positions. This recruitment strategy allows for a core knowledge base to be retained as students graduate but also allows for new students to become involved in each new school year. It is within this paradigm that I hope long-term sustainability will be achieved so as to offer this opportunity to interested students each academic year.
In conclusion, MUN forums represent an effective and dynamic venue for students to increase their comfort and skill with English as a second language. Fischer and Theis note a summary of studies relating to extracurricular activities that “reported a positive correlation between extracurricular participation and school performance” while another study also cited “found that [grade averages] of students who participated in extracurricular activities in Grade 10 developed more positively than [grade averages] of their peers, even when controlling for sex, ethnicity and social background” (2014:56-57). However, even with such a lengthy heritage as MUN, the success of any one particular extracurricular activity is not preordained. Successful, sustainable extracurricular activities require sponsorship and guidance from enthusiastic, invested teachers. A sea-change in the mentality of some teachers accustomed to the traditional ways of doing business in Kosova must be seen before such activities can even glimpse the near-synonymous goals of sustainability and effectiveness. Teachers who are accustomed to arriving at school five minutes before first bell and beat the students out the door at the end of the school day will have to build into their weekly schedules a few hours to accommodate the needs of the student group; a few hours each week that may pass without financial recompense. It will take considerable enthusiasm and research on the part of the teacher to create an MUN program but the rewards and benefits are simply too great to let the opportunity pass by unexplored.
Source of referenced content within the article:
-Appleton, J.J., Christenson, S.L., and Furlong, M.J. (2008). Student Engagement with School: Critical Conceptual and Methodological Issues of the Construct. Psychology in the Schools, 45(5). Retrieved from www.interscience.wiley.com
-Fischer, N., & Theis, D. (2014). Quality of extracurricular activities – Considering developmental changes in the impact on school attachment and achievement. Journal for Educational Research Online 6(3). Retrieved from www.search.ebscohost.com