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English for All: Inclusion in the EFL Classroom
Alastair Thompson

When the walls of Rome come tumbling down,
And her golden children lie bloodied in the streets,
The cause will not be the foreign armies camped at her gates,
But her long forgotten children cast aside, the seeds.
(The Empire)

São Paulo, and in fact most of the world, presents a dichotomy in the human condition. The rich live in a magical world where anything is possible, and the poor live in a world where the only expectation is more of the same. More and more these people, the poor and the destitute, are becoming marginalized. This paper is about a project whose aim it is to bring hope and opportunity to a group of disadvantaged children from São Paulo.

In the first semester of 2002, União Cultural Brasil Estados Unidos (hereafter referred to as UCBEU), a bi-national center in São Paulo, started a project called, União Faz Arte (Union Makes Art). The project aimed to offer new experiences and opportunities to children from disadvantaged communities. Three afternoons a week these children could attend classes in theatre, dance, information technology, life skills, and English. This paper will focus on the English component of the project.

Teaching English to these students presented a unique challenge. The majority of students who study English as a foreign language, come from a different social and educational background from our learners. Most would have been exposed to English. Most would come from a culture that stressed the importance of learning and of academic performance. Our students would come from the opposite end of the social spectrum. Our students would be children from communities wracked by poverty, violence and drugs.

We were also presented with a unique opportunity. We were free to work outside the box of conventional classroom behavior and traditional performance related goals. Our students were not studying English because their parents said they had to, or because they would one day travel to the USA. Our students had hopes and dreams, but fragile hopes and dreams bred in their violent world. Our goal was to teach our students English. We had to make English fun. Our goal was to keep them coming back to our lessons because the experience of learning itself was liberating. In addition, we wanted to present them with a model of education based on respect, responsibility and mutual inclusion.

Our goals for the project were defined as follows:

• To provide a safe and secure learning environment for our students.
• To present English as a foreign language to our students.
• To facilitate our students' acquisition of English as a foreign language in an effective and entertaining manner.
• To motivate our students to 'want' to learn to speak English.
• To cultivate an atmosphere of inclusion and encouragement in the classroom.

Our teaching philosophy was based on the theory of social learning. In social learning, changes in thought or behavior are brought about through observation and interaction with one’s social environment (McCown et al, 1996). Our objective was, therefore, to create an environment in which the learners interacted as much as possible with each other, their teachers, and the environment. We created lesson plans incorporating cooperative learning strategies. We played games. We created posters in groups using English in a real and meaningful context. Learning was an active process, which was negotiated by each learner in the group situation. The task of the teacher was to guide and facilitate this process.

As teachers we would act as role models for these learners. It was therefore important that every teacher displayed the characteristics and behavior that we were trying to promote. Our classes became models of respect, responsibility and social inclusion. From the first lesson the learners were expected to play an active role in the teaching-learning situation. On the first day the teachers and the learners sat down and drew up a classroom policy together. This policy addressed the classroom rules and regulations, classroom procedures, and accepted behavior. The policy document that was drawn up was signed by both the teachers and the learners. It ended with a statement of commitment, a commitment to respect each other, and to be responsible for one’s own behavior.

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