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Response from B. Ballard, To: GLESOL-L comments (GLESOL-L@uni.edu)

This is in response to the two postings by M. and M., both of whom work in countries where discussion of gay issues is suppressed. Here is what I have done in the past as one way of letting students read and write about lesbigay themes without my being too open about it.

First, I create a large box of short readings, each about a page or two pages long, sometimes longer. The readings cover all kinds of topics, from global warming to true stories in the news (e.g., the New York taxi cab driver who found a bag containing 35,000 dollars in the backseat of his cab) to short short stories and poems. Some of the readings are about lesbigay topics. I select things that I see in the newspapers, magazines, textbooks, literature, as well as brochures and pamplets distributed by all sorts of agencies.

I make multiple copies of each reading, and put them in file folders in the box. Thus, one folder will have ten copies of a recent newspaper article about immigrant students in the New York City University system, and another folder will contain ten identical brochures from the NY Department of Health about AIDS prevention.

At the start of the semester, I explain to the class how the readings are organized (the easier ones are in front, the more difficult ones in back; each folder is numbered, and the same number is written on the top right corner of the reading). Each week, students need to take at least one of the readings home, read it and write a response. When they finish they need to return the reading to its folder in the box so that other students can use it. I look at their written response, after which it goes in a portfolio which contains all of that student's writing.

Depending on the level of my classes, I assign up to four readings and written responses to be done each week. For example, I usually ask intermediate students to finish four articles/week. By the end of the term they've completed over 25 such articles.

Currently I have over 150 articles in this box, a half dozen of which aregay or AIDS-related. In this way, students who are interested in this topic can read and write about it if they want, without any fanfare. Of course, not every student chooses one of the gay or AIDS-related readings, but many do, even if they identify themselves as straight.

By the way, when I read their written response, I don't correct for spelling or grammar, unless something is so incomprehensible that I can't understand it. Instead I just read for what they are saying. I usually read their responses with them sitting by my side (during an independent study period, for example), and we talk for a few minutes about the content of what they've written.

In the written response, I ask them to answer four questions:

1. In your opinion, what are the important points in this article? Use your own words, do not copy directly from the article.

2. What is your opinion about the article? Do you like it, not like it, find it interesting or boring, etc? Please explain why.

3. What does this article remind you of from your own life, or from something that you read or heard about before?

4. Please select one or two sentences from the article that you think are most significant. Write them here by copying them word for word, and use quotation marks.

I got the idea for this kind of written response from a February 1982 article in College Composition and Communication, "From Story to Essay: Reading and Writing," by Anthony Petrosky. I liked Petrosky's article when I first read it as a grad student in English Education, and now it's cited a lot in literature in the TESOL field.

At any rate, doing this has allowed me to introduce students to gay topics without my needing to speak about them myself. Of course, there have been times in my teaching where I have spoken about gay issues in a large class discussion session. However, this is not always advisable if you teach someplace where discussion of homosexuality is frowned upon. However, with my box of readings, the gay articles, poems and stories are just part of a larger number of readings that my students can choose to read and write about.

The box of readings that I put together is somewhat similar to the materials in the SRA reading labs that many schools use, except in my case there are no multiple choice questions for students to answer after each reading; instead they just write a response in which they discuss what they got out of the reading.

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