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  • Erin Austin

The UN’ Sustainable Development Goals: The Perfect Backdrop for World Language Curriculum

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

By Erin E.H. Austin, NBCT


The fact that we had to completely reinvent the way we do public education over the past two plus years is painful, but it’s also--dare I say it--exciting! As a veteran teacher, I’ve found that it makes me want to “steer into the skid”; I want to see just how much I can shake things up. The pandemic years seemed like as good a time as any to change the entire framework of my teaching.


The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. They recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”

(copied from the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs)


Whoa. That description energizes me as an educator! Improving education? Ending poverty? Tackling climate change? Yes! Oui! Ja! Si! What speaks to me most fully is the idea of a call to action via a global partnership. I absolutely want to be part of that. More importantly, as a World Language teacher, I’m uniquely poised to do so.


Why Us?


World Language educators are key players in the (hopefully) worldwide goal of developing global-ready young adults who are, more than ever, not “staying put” but becoming true citizens of the world. Our multilingualism and first-hand knowledge about other cultures gives us a running start in this work. I know I’m biased here, but I do think that some of the most creative teaching I’ve ever seen has come from the World Language community. We love to innovate, and we’re not afraid to try new ideas.


We have the skills to be leaders in the global partnership the UN is promoting through their vision, but how do we start?


Let’s Dig In


When I decided I wanted the SDGs to guide my curriculum, I had to figure out where to start. Step 1 was familiarizing myself with the individual SDGs.




I realized that the bulk of these 17 goals fit so many of the themes, ideas, and novels I teach in class like a glove. “What if”, I asked myself, “I rewrote my units so they each center around one SDG?”




When I decided I wanted the SDGs to guide my curriculum, I had to figure out where to start. Step 1 was familiarizing myself with the individual SDGs.


I realized that the bulk of these 17 goals fit so many of the themes, ideas, and novels I teach in class like a glove. “What if”, I asked myself, “I rewrote my units so they each center around one SDG?”

The further I dove, the more excited I became! Largely a visual learner, I mapped out what I was currently doing on butcher block paper for French levels 1-3.


Next, I mapped out the 17 goals, and plugged in the “keepers” of what I traditionally taught into an appropriate SDG. Not every SDG fit with material I had for levels 1-3 (which was my focus since my level 4/5 class is IB), but that didn’t bother me because what did fit was exciting.


The map outlined six primary categories per SDG:

1. Vocabulary: What vocabulary fits discussion around this SDG?

2. Grammar: What grammar logically fits with the vocabulary around this SDG?

3. Verbs: What verbs are most useful with this topic?

4. Project: Do I have a project that fits this topic?

5. Novel/Film: What novel or film do I have from which I can draw out relevant vocabulary, grammar, and cultural topics?

6. Country(ies): What country(ies) in the francophone world can provide for rich discussion and writing surrounding this topic?

A Snapshot


So what might just one unit look like, if it were tailored to an SDG? Here’s a snapshot of a SDG unit I made for early in French 1:

SDG

#1 No Poverty and/or #10 Reduced Inequalities

Vocabulary

Family, Descriptive Adjectives, Age/Numbers

Grammar

Possession with de, Possessive Adjectives, Adjective Agreement, Ne...ni...ni, Question Formation

Verbs

Avoir (new), Regular -ER (new), Être (spiraling back from previous unit)

Project

Family Album

Novel/Film

Film: Le Papillon

Country(ies)

France

You might read that and think, “Couldn’t you include ____?” or “But wouldn’t ____ fit?” The answer is, “Yes!” The SDG framework allows for flexibility and creativity, and it depends largely on what teachers cover in class and where discussion naturally flows. The themes that come up in my novels and films also greatly steered the planning.


Lastly, I understand that not every World Language teacher has the freedom I do. Not everyone can rearrange three levels of curriculum. I am fortunate to be in a district and a school where the general message is: Is it good for kids? Yeah? Let’s try it and evaluate the outcomes! This is a catalyst for innovation, and I am grateful for it every day.


I did, however, spend the first 11 years of my career in a district that was the polar opposite. I understand feeling creatively and professionally inhibited. But this work doesn’t have to be done in one fell swoop. If we hear this call to action and join in the global partnership by implementing small steps and ideas every year, big changes will come.


Let’s “steer into the skid” together and lead on a global level. World Language teachers were born for this.


How can the SDGs fit into YOUR curriculum? Post below in the comments!



Erin E.H. Austin is a National Board Certified French teacher in Fort Collins and the author of The Ultimate Guide to Selling Your Original World Language Resources. Follow her on Twitter @Erin-EH-Austin.


The content of this publication has not been approved by the United Nations and does not reflect the views of the United Nations or its officials or Member States. Read more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals here.


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