Applying the Step Forward activity to EFL contexts
by Tim Newfields (Nanzan Jr. College)
Keywords: diversity education, experiential learning, empowerment activities, Step Forward, Power Shuffle, Diversity Shuffle, Crossing the Line
1. Supporting Concepts
Let's begin by examining four concepts central to many discussions of diversity education: (1) positioning, (2) marginalization, (3) identifying, and (4) coming out. Understanding these concepts may make it easier to see why activities such as Step Forward can be of value in classes designed to foster communication skills.
This refers both to the way a person places/ranks/evaluates others in terms of a specific concept/category/discourse. It can also refer to how a person is placed/ranked/evaluated in such contexts. For example, if we consider the concept of a "good student", it is fascinating how teachers vary according to the ways in which they position students. Likewise, students position teachers in significantly different ways based on their notions of what constitutes a "good teacher" (Cutrone, 2001).
Stereotyping, labeling, and categorizing are each related to positioning, but with three salient differences.
[ p. 6 ]First, positioning expresses a more fluid and dynamic process than these terms. Whereas stereotypes and labels tend to seem ingrained, positions are not necessarily so. For example, during a conversation locutioners might position each other differently many times over the course of several minutes. A single word can sometimes trigger a new position if the listener has a bias for or against that word.
Second, positioning is rooted in a social constructionist paradigm, whereas the other terms are often associated with differing paradigms. The works of Tajfel and Turner (1979) have had a decisive impact on our understanding of stereotypes. And the ideas of Lambert (1951) and Becker (1963) have heavily influenced our notions of labels. To break free of these associations, a new term was needed.
Third, positioning is more comprehensive than the other terms. Positioning has linguistic, psychological, and sociological dimensions. This notion was first espoused by Davies and Harré (1990) as a reaction to the dominant structuralist notion of role. Pinkus (1996) adds:Positioning . . . is the discursive process whereby selves are located in conversations as observably and subjectively coherent participants in jointly produced story lines. There can be interactive positioning in which what one person says positions another. And there can be reflexive positioning in which one positions oneself. However it would be a mistake to assume that, in either case, positioning is necessarily intentional. One lives one's life in terms of one's ongoingly produced self, whoever might be responsible for its production.
The spatial nature of this metaphor has interesting corollaries. Individuals can be positioned near the center/norm or further away towards the periphery/ margin/deviant according to any concept/category/discourse (De, 2002). For example, many Japanese tend to position Americans as gun-loving cowboys en masse because of deeply ingrained stereotypes. Each person can be viewed in terms of a multiplicity of concepts/categories/discourses according to our ethnicity, beliefs, age, gender, nationality, and so on. All of us are positioned in a wide variety of ways – not only by ourselves, but also each person we come in contact with.
Marginalization is a process by which one concept/category/discourse is placed in a position of lesser power than another – and individuals within that respective concept/category/discourse experience corresponding shifts in power. Let's consider three examples. The way females are denied the same employment opportunities as males is an instance of gender-based marginalization. The way non-native speakers are often sidelined in interactions with native speakers or denied opportunities based on their non-native linguistic status illustrates language-based marginalization. Finally, the way some GLBT students might feel compelled to remain silent when discussions about dating arise among heterosexual peers is an instance of marginalization based on sexual orientation. One interesting thing about marginalization is the extent it can be internalized: even without overt external coercion, some people marginalize themselves when they feel they are deviating from perceived norms. In a sense, they become their own oppressors (Freire, 1974, p. 30, 45).
[ p. 7 ]Marginalization is closely connected to the concept of disempowerment (Cheater, 1999). It takes on many forms: ignoring, intimidating, or negative stereotyping. When marginalization is conducted in the framework of a religious system, it often manifests as "demonization" or "witch hunting". The way George Bush and Saddam Hussein portray each other illustrates this. And still in many parts of the world, racial, sexual, or religious minorities are being portrayed this way (Smith, 1994, p. 3). Often those in a minority group are marginalized while those in the majority empowered. Burber (1970) and Lacan (1971) have described the process of marginalization in terms of "othering" people – of distancing them from ones self and seeing people as objects. The systematic way that war victims are often labeled "military targets" or "collateral damage" rather than civilians or murdered human beings illustrates this point. The same process can be understood in terms of "problemization" (Foucalt, 1984) – of making a perceived difference a problem rather than simply a feature of diversity.
The way out of marginalization is through empowerment. Achebe (1959) described this process as one of "gaining a voice" or "writing back". As English, Chinese, and Spanish, have become dominant languages in many parts of world, those who are unable to communicate in those languages are often marginalized. Why is it that the voices of so many Arabs and Africans are faint whispers to us, while the voices of so many North Americans and Europeans are loud roars? Part of the reason is linguistic. Marginalized persons have the status of outsiders (Elias, 1994) - of persons on the fringe who are divorced from the locus of control. What is interesting about this process is the way all categories are fluid. For example, a straight white male could be marginalized in a GLBT setting. People who feel marginalized in one community often seek to build alternative communities where their condition is not problematized.
Whereas positioning suggests an interesting spatial metaphor, identifying is a concept with a tacit possessive metaphor. Quite simply, identifying refers to the extent to which a person associates themselves with any given concept/category/discourse. This concept is closely related to the notion of ownership – a notion of affirming that a given concept/ category/discourse expresses part of the totality of an individual.
We can identify strongly, weakly, negatively, or not at all with any given concept/ category/discourse. For example, because of the widespread Anglo-American bombing of Iraq, I felt increasingly reluctant to identify myself as an American: it is painful to acknowledge that I am a member of a nation which I believe is causing such widespread global malaise.
The opposite of identifying is distancing, disassociating, or othering. As Smith (1994, p. 85) remarks:. . . the imaginary constitution of identity produces a kind of "body-armour" which is both restrictive and yet necessary to one's self-defense. Identity claims give us the sense of being located within a partially bounded order whose incomplete frontiers operate simultaneously as the defenses against disruption and the limits of our freedom. We cannot remain in the non-spatializable moment outside all identity claims: every subversion of a hegemonic space depends upon the resources of marginalized spaces, and the defense of the possibilities which are opened up through subversion depends in turn upon the construction and reinforcement of alternative spaces. The effects of deconstructive strategies vary according to the contexts of their deployment and their articulation to specific identity claims.
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1.4 Coming Out
Though identifying can be a private process that is never publicly announced, coming out is a public process of proclaiming an identity as a minority – of stepping forward and letting at least part of the world at large know that a given concept/category/ discourse speaks to ones condition. This term was first used in the gay/lesbian community, but has been extended to a wider variety of conditions in which a negatively positioned population de-stigmatize their positioning. For example, persons with alcoholism, breast cancer, STVs, or substance abuse problems can come out by openly acknowledging their condition.
As the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (2003) notes, coming out is a way of achieving empowerment, of normalization. Unless enough people who identify with a given concept/category/discourse which is stigmatized come out publicly in an affirmative way, there is less chance those in that condition will be accepted by the center/norm/doxa. And whether they are accepted by the center/norm/doxa is not ultimately the point: they need to be accepted by themselves. So the whole process of coming out can be seen as a step forward toward greater self-esteem and a step away from shame.
There are degrees of coming out: whereas most people are willing to come out with small groups of friends or kindred spirits, to do so with a large groups or those who devalue ones position is often more difficult. And most societies have created various forms of punishment and castigation to discourage the coming out process (Burr, 1995).
The opposite of coming out – staying in – is an option many minority groups face when their beliefs or behaviors are stigmatized by a majority. In the Step Forward activity described in this paper, participants have the option of coming out or staying in.
2. Rationale for This activity
The Step Forward activity, also known as the Power Shuffle, Diversity Shuffle, or Crossing the Line, was first developed by Simms, Vasquez, and Sherover in 1990. It has been used in a wide variety of contexts: to reduce violence among youths (Kivel, et al. 1990), to prevent domestic violence in the home (Transforming Communities, n.d.), and to help alleviate ethnic conflicts (Lakey, 2002).
Rooted in an experiential learning paradigm, this activity can help participants to be more aware of what it feels like to be in a specific minority/majority. Its meta-purpose is to enhance a sense of tolerance for diversity. Depending on the nature of the exploratory statements raised, it can focus on issues of gender stereotyping, ageism, elitism, racial prejudice, ethnic bias, physical disabilities, or other concepts/categories/discourses.
In 2002 Mizutani offered a demonstration of the Step Forward activity at the Peace as a Global Language (PGL) Conference in Tokyo. That demonstration is described in depth in the next section.
[ p. 9 ]3. PGL Conference Simulation
The Step Forward activity was conducted at the 2002 PGL Conference in a 45 minute time frame with 25 participants. Like nearly all experiential learning activities, this activity had four phases: (1) an introduction-orientation phase, (2) the actual simulation, (3) a debriefing, and (4) real life application. Let us consider each phase.
3.1 Introduction-Orientation Phase
During the introduction-orientation phase, the facilitator explained the overall purpose of the activity (highlighted in section 2 of this paper) and then three basic rules.
The first rule concerned confidentiality – nothing seen or heard in the exercise should be discussed outside the session.
The second rule concerned the non-verbal nature of the simulation: participants had the option of responding to exploratory statements by taking a step forward, but were asked not to verbalize during the second phase of the activity.
The third rule pertained to choice – participants were free to not to respond to any exploratory statement if they felt uncomfortable. Those who were too embarrassed to step forward during any given exploratory statement were welcome to remain stationary.
3.2 Simulation Phase
Prior to the simulation, the room was cleared to allow participants to move forward and back freely as they wished. Participants then stood in a line as the facilitator read an exploratory statement with this pattern: "If you – or anyone close to you – [OBJECT PHRASE] please step forward." A sample exploratory statement was, "If you – or anyone close to you – is unable to legally marry the person that you love most, please step forward."
Some of the object phrases for the exploratory statements used in this simulation appear below in Table 1:
. . . are a woman . . . . . . are of Jewish heritage . . . . . . grew up in a family with a substance-abusing parent . . . . . . grew up in a low-income household . . . . . . grew up in a single-parent household . . . . . . has been the victim of a violent crime . . . . . . has a handicap or bodily injury . . . . . . has been sexually abused. . . . . . has a graduate degree . . . . . . has been labeled fat . . . . . . is currently unemployed . . . . . . is a foreigner in the country where you reside . . . . . . is over age 55 / under age 25 . . . . . . knows someone who has attempted suicide . . . . . . knows someone who has died of AIDS . . . . . . knows someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender . . . Table 1. Sample exploratory topics for the Step Forward activity held at the 2002 PGL Conference by Kris Mizutani.
A total of 25 or so exploratory topics were raised over a twenty minute time span. Most involved issues of gender, ethnicity, age, health, or ways people are often stereotyped.
[ p. 10 ]After the facilitator read each exploratory topic, participants were given a chance to step forward. Following a brief period of silence, participants were asked to observe the patterns, feel what it was like to be in a minority/majority, then return to their original positions without talking.
3.3 Debriefing Phase
During the final 10-15 minutes of the workshop, a debriefing session was held. The facilitator raised some exploratory questions centering on how the respondents felt during the simulation and how this activity might be useful in classroom contexts.
Most of the respondents reported feeling solidarity with co-participants and respect for the challenges participants faced in dealing with adverse positioning. Some felt relieved to be able to come out in a safe environment. For most, initial fears gradually subsided as the activity progressed.
3.4 Real Life Application Phase
Though time did not permit any formal post-activity feedback during the PGL Conference simulation, many teachers have the option of doing this in class. Section 5.4 of this paper will mention some ways to do that.
4. Problems in Applying This activity to EFL contexts
EFL teachers may need to address three issues when applying this activity in class. Potentially problematic points involve (1) language comprehension, (2) language production, and (3) psychological factors. Let us briefly consider each.
4.1 Language Comprehension Issues
At the PGL Conference simulation, a somewhat specialized vocabulary was used. The wording of some exploratory statements might need to be simplified in EFL contexts. For example, the statement, "If you – or anyone close to you – has been on welfare, step forward." might perplex many EFL students. Most Japanese associate the word welfare with terms such as "kouan" or "kousei", which generally have other nuances. "Koan" for example, is generally closer to the idea of "public safety" than "public welfare".
4.2 Language Production Issues
In the simulation, participants were silent during the second phase of the activity and the facilitator read all exploratory statements from a prepared list. With only 45 minutes available, this was perhaps a necessity. However, if EFL teachers can devote either one 90-minute or two 45-minute periods to this activity, more time for language production could be used. If a greater EFL focus is desired, students could be asked to write, co-edit, and read their exploratory statements and/or final discussion questions. This would not only enhance the sense of participant involvement and ownership in the activity, but provide more chances to practise authentic language skills as well.
4.3 Psychological Issues
Some EFL students may experience worries about confidentiality, losing face with group members, or trepidation about the overall affective tone of the activity. Let us address each concern.
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Confidentiality concerns: Since many high school and university students have extensive contact with each other outside of class, confidentiality is often a leading apprehension. Facilitators therefore need to underscore the importance of keeping information private both at the start and conclusion of this activity.
Social image concerns: Most young students are still grappling with their own identities. Even to themselves, some are afraid to admit things they feel shameful about or worried about the negative evaluation or actions of others that could result from disclosure. How much harder, then, is it be to admit such things in front of teachers or peers. For this reason facilitators need to remind students not to judge people on the basis of any single factor: people are a mixture of competing discourses and rich with contradictions. Also, facilitators might need to emphasize that it is not necessary to respond to all exploratory statements. Those who are deeply concerned about their social image or public persona simply can stay in place.
I believe this type of activity works best towards the end of a semester in classes where a basic degree of trust has been established. Also, the facilitator should be willing to step forward as an active co-participant rather than mere passive observer. It makes stepping forward easier for others.
Concerns about affective tone: If too many exploratory questions focus on negative stereotypes, some students may be concerned about the overall tone of the activity. For that reason, it might be useful to balance exploratory questions which involve so-called negative positioning with those which don't. When participants gradually see how positioning works in many ways, many feel less hesitant about stepping forward. Some may even come to sense how the entire dichotomy of "positive" and "negative" (or "advantage" and "disadvantage") as quite limiting. Certainly these concepts need to be deconstructed – but the activity should remain primarily experiential and not theoretical. Facilitators need to be careful of keeping the activity simple enough for all students to follow, while allowing participants to discuss ideas of interest.
5. Step Forward: A Suggested EFL Adaptation
Keeping the concerns mentioned in the previous section in mind, let me explain how the Step Forward activity described in section 3 was adapted to a 90-minute junior college EFL class. In January 2003 I conducted this activity with a class of twelve English majors at a junior college in central Japan. The activity could easily be adapted to larger classes or classes with less proficient students.
5.1 Introduction-Orientation Phase
At the onset of the class, two words were written on the blackboard: "advantage" and "disadvantage". After clarifying the basic meaning of both words, I mentioned that we would be doing an activity to explore ways each of us might be advantaged and disadvantaged. The rules for this activity were then outlined. These were identical to the rules mentioned in section 2.1 of this paper, except that participants were allowed to talk at any time they wished. I made this change to provide more discussion time in class and enhance the EFL features of the activity.
Since most participants were pre-intermediate EFL students with TOEFL® scores in the 375 - 425 range, the grammar and vocabulary were kept simple. I wrote these sentence patterns on the blackboard:
If you are _____________, step forward. If you feel _____________, step forward. If you have _____________, step forward. If you have been _____________, step forward.
[ p. 12 ]After giving students one or two examples of how these sentence patterns might be completed, I distributed six sheets of blank paper to each participant and gave them five minutes to compose 4-6 sentences on their own expressing some of the ways people in Japan might be advantaged. Table 2 lists some sample student responses:
If you are optimistic, step forward. If you are a popular gal, step forward. If you feel good about yourself, step forward. If you feel protected by a fairy, step forward. If you have a pet that you love a lot, step forward. If you have a good figure, step forward. If you have rich parents or a rich lover, step forward. If you have many good friends, step forward. If you have been overseas, step forward. If you live in a nice place, step forward. Table 2. Some exploratory statements made by Japanese EFL students.
To protect participant confidentiality, I asked them not to write their names on their sheets and to fold their papers and place them in a large box in the center of the room when they were finished.
After the first set of papers was collected, another six sheets of paper were distributed to each participant. They had five minutes to compose 4-6 sentences expressing some of the ways people in Japan might be disadvantaged. Table 3 lists some sample (uncorrected) student responses:
If you are afraid of your father, step forward. If you are not liked by your parents, step forward. If you are not good at tests, step forward. If you are worried about finding a job, step forward. If your father is a heavy smoker, step forward. If your friend betrayed you step forward. If you do not have a beautiful body, step forward. If you live far away in the country, step forward. If your parents not marriaged now, step forward. If you do not like cold weather ,step forward. If you often meet a stranger who touch woman's body, step forward. Table 3. Some exploratory statements made by Japanese EFL students examining ways that those in Japan might be disadvantaged.
These papers were then collected according to the same procedure as the previous group of papers. The class was then divided into three groups: one which received all of the papers expressing so-called advantages, another receiving all the papers expressing so-called disadvantages, and a third which was given the task of writing 8-9 discussion questions to raise near the end of the activity. All groups had ten minutes to complete their tasks.
The first two groups had two sub-tasks. The first was to place all sheets of paper covering the same basic questions together. The second was to select the most important twelve exploratory statements out of the whole list. The purpose of the first sub-task was to avoid redundancy. The purpose of the second sub-task also involved a time constraint: since only 20 minutes was available for the phase of the activity, I wanted to be sure the most important exploratory questions were voiced. However, rather than have the facilitator decide which questions to raise or not, I wanted the participants to explore this issue among themselves.
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The third group was given the task of writing questions to raise during the debriefing phase of the activity. I spent the most time with this group since the questions raised at that time have a significant impact on the activity as a whole. Though I did not edit the papers of the other two groups, I worked with the participants in the third group to make sure the exploratory questions were grammatically correct. The reason for this was to insure that there would be no ambiguity about the meaning when the discussion questions were raised.
It should be pointed out that this class had already done a number of prior experiential learning activities, so participants were already somewhat familiar with the types of questions used in debriefing.
5.2 Simulation Phase
This phase differed from the one described in section 3.2 in five ways.
First, to overcome any initial trepidation participants had about this activity, the so-called positive exploratory statements were done first and the other exploratory statements came later. Also, the ratio of seemingly "positive" exploratory questions to those which weren't was 50:50.
Second, the grammatical structure of the exploratory statements was simplified: instead of adding the phrase " – or anyone close to you – " to each exploratory statement, a less complicated grammatical structure was used: "If you [OBJECT PHRASE], please step forward." This made it easier for EFL students, while also raising the stakes involved in stepping forward. In this version, by stepping forward, participants would be making a direct personal statement about themselves - not just someone they know. Though it was not my intention to raise the stakes, the revised wording was far simpler. Among groups of which have not yet developed rapport, however, this might not be the best option.
Third, rather than have the facilitator read all of exploratory statements, I invited each participant to read one randomly drawn exploratory statement. A hat with all exploratory statements was passed around among participants. In this way, my role as a facilitator was minimized and their roles as participants was maximized. It also maintained confidentiality by not forcing students to share the questions they wrote.
Fourth, instead of having students return to the original starting line after each question, I let participants progress sequentially forward. This procedure made it possible to highlight the cumulative effect of having many so-called advantages/disadvantages. However, adopting this procedure also made the gap between those who stepped forward often and those who didn't become more pronounced. This variant procedure can work well for groups with a high degree of trust and security, but it is perhaps less suited for groups of strangers.
Fifth, since this class was conducted in an EFL context I wanted to maximize opportunities for verbal communication. No rule of silence during the simulation phase was made. Silence was respected, but verbal clarifications accepted too.
5.3 Debriefing Phase
The only difference between the debriefing phase of this activity and the one described in Section 3.3 was that the participants actually asked the questions and controlled the discussion – my role as facilitator was auxiliary. The questions raised by the participants appear in Table 4.
1. Did anything surprise you? 2. How did you feel at the start of the activity? 3. How did you feel at the end of the activity? 4. Why do you think your feelings changed? 5. What disadvantages did most people seem to share? 6. Can you think of any way that a disadvantage might be a plus? 7. Were there any questions you didn't want to Step Forward for? (If so, why?) 8. What can this activity teach you? 9. How could this activity be done differently? Table 4. Debriefing questions made by Japanese EFL students in a Step Forward activity.
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5.4 Real Life Application Phase
One week after the first three phases of this exercise were held, a ten minute recap and feedback session was conducted. I asked participants to reflect on the purpose of the activity and discuss whether they had noticed any changes in their lives. Though several said they forgot about the activity, a few also noted they felt more accepting and tolerant of others. This suggests that experiential activities such as Step Forward have significantly different impact on different participants.
One way to "stretch" an activity into real life applications is for facilitators to challenge participants to see how they can apply the points learned in the simulation in their daily lives. Particularly if this activity is used in an academic context, many students tend to have an "out-of-class, out-of-mind" attitude.
The need to foster a sense of tolerance for diversity and respect for differences is evident in many parts of the world. To counter the violence and repression of minority populations, activities such Step Forward are needed. Even in Japan, with its veneer myth of homogeneity, individuals are repressed in many forms. In particular, women, non-white foreigners, the elderly, and those with physical impairments are often negatively positioned in Japanese society. Whenever a minority population feels unable to assert their identity in a positive way among the majority, oppression persists in some way.
What the Step Forward activity does is give participants a chance to reflect on the ways they position themselves and others. It also provides a chance to reflect on ways people are often marginalized. In addition, this activity offers a chance to see some of the ways social identity is constructed. Finally, by providing an opportunity to publicly assert ones positioning, this activity provides a safe way to come out in non-threatening context. Before people gain the courage to come out in non-supportive or hostile environments, most need to do so gradually in environments where they feel safe. Conducted with sensitivity, the Step Forward activity provides such an environment.
As mentioned earlier, the ultimate reason for the entire coming out process is empowerment. By normalizing a specific concept/category/discourse, not only the minority population benefits, but the society as a whole is also enriched.
This article has underlined the theoretical basis and practical procedure for one diversity education exercise. Because its language demands are minimal, the Step Forward activity is an optimal activity for EFL students who wish to promote their diversity awareness skills.
Many thanks to Robert Sanderson, Jane Nakagawa, and Roibeard O'Mochain for commenting on this paper.
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