Chapter 6 of Graham Nuthalls fabulous book ‘The Hidden Lives of Learners’ is about the role of ethnicity in the classroom. I teach in a multi-ethnic school in London. Most schools in London would have a high number of EAL students. Nuthalls research shows that students become more engaged if there are references to students cultures and backgrounds. He writes about Maori culture and how it is important for there to be a bridge between the culture of school and the culture of home and extended family. Students appear to work in three cultures, their home culture, culture of their peers and culture of school. Nuthall suggests in the case of Maori and Pasifika cultures that the pull of alternative cultures to school culture can result in the abondoning their attempts to succeed at school. The content of the curriculum can have a direct impact on the status and roles of of children in unpredicatable ways.
We need to think about moving beyond a #whitecurriculum. This video is fascinating;
One way that I have integrated students culture in my own classroom to make that bridge between home and school is through a story writing project. However, it would be interesting to further research the roles of students in my classroom and specifically look at the impact this project has on any balances of power that exist, if they do. Sometimes as a teacher it can be easy to jump into a project that we think is innovative, but need to think about the consequences of doing it. My year 7 classroom has a range of cultures where students are from places as diverse as Kosovo, Serbia, Somalia and Bangladesh. I have little idea about the relationships between power and roles that these ethnicities have on students.
The story project allowed students to write stories about their parents migration from these countries. It was an opportunity to learn about the concepts of push and pull factors and the geographical location of the regions of origin and how they came to London. Engagement was high throughout the project. This was highlighted through a student voice survey via google forms. The stories are to be published into an ebook that students and family members can download and read.
On reflection I need to think about how these stories are shared and if they have an impact on relationships in the classroom. Does students having a deeper knowledge of Somalia as a country and the reasons for migration have an impact on student perceptions? Some of the stories shared were highly personal and also careful consideration of ethics needs to be carried out. Some of the students whose parents were not necessarily migrants also struggled with the concept, although some didn’t and were able to create stories that were hypothetical. But overall, the project allowed students to have a deeper understanding of concepts such as asylum and refugees, political and economic migration through a narrative that is authentic.
The project would also further be enhanced by developing interdisciplinary links. The stories focused on the Geography of regions and push and pull factors. The project was done solely in Geography lessons over several weeks. There was obviously a strong literacy element and we used strategies to get students to vary and improve their writing such as the use of ‘slow writing’. This is vital especially with EAL students. However, by linking to storytelling in English, the skill of storytelling would more than likely be drawn out more efficiently. By History lessons being involved, a deeper understanding of some of the conflicts that have existed in the represented countries could be disseminated through deeper research and masterclasses. The Kosovan War and associated war crimes could be further unpacked and understood for example. A siginificant proportion of students have parents from this region. We did have one parent visit the classroom to talk about her own personal experience and campaigning about the refugee situation. This was excellent and the students were absorbed. This project could have a profound impact on our students as it is retuned next time. More parents and intergenerational learning could be done with this project, workshops could be delivered, stories could be co-written by parents alongside students for the book. Organisation and communication is key.
The winning (imaginary) story as judged by a migration expert at a university;
Sail Me To Freedom
I was in Ghana, the world in a wreck. My stomach grumbled every day, more and more. Children wandered the streets, their mind with no education in them. My home, a stuffy little room, only one. Little did I know that someday I would leave that place. I was heading towards the church to pray. But in the ceremony the priest started to talk of stories of europe. Then he told us of those who had made that long, treacherous journey. We all knew them as heroes, people who had taken risks to succeed. And I thought to myself; ‘I could be a hero too!’
It was later that thoughts of ‘planning’ kicked in. I decided that the next week I would set off on my adventure. Then morning came, and as always, I skipped my breakfast, giving my meal to the little children on the street, they needed it more than me. Again, off to the church I went.
This time we prayed for the the people who hadn’t made it, those who had died in the process. A buzz of electricity hurtled down the back of my neck, going down my back. What if I didn’t make it? Or even worse, what if I was caught?I felt paralyzed, my heart trying to burst through my stomach.
I raced back home, my heart beating twice as much as before. I had to plan this out. I prayed for two hours straight, then set off to the local library. I loved it there, with it’s smell of books and it’s friendly librarians. And for a long time I just sat there and read of great stories, adventures and challenges.And from then I decided that when I was finally in europe, I would become a writer. And I would write stories of great heroes and nasty villains, of big governments and little villages, fiction and non-fiction. I would write every single different combination and type of book that could be written.
And in europe I would make a living and a family, I would be a good father and make a healthy sum of money. All my kids would have a good education, unlike those without opportunity that I left behind. And together we would have a good, contented life.
But, as I started to think through what I would do when I got to Europe, as thoughts flew around my head, every loop getting faster. And I wanted to get rid of it, but I couldn’t get hold of it. And faster and faster it went, making me dizzy. And then it suddenly flew into my hand, with such power and darkness; “Those who didn’t make it.”
And abruptly, my heart not obeying my brain, I shot up and scrambled to find the book of the dead. As soon as I found it, I snatched it from the ‘bookshelf’ [a piece of old, wet and mouldy wood lying on the books below] and tore through the pages, all of them yellowed with age and damp with tears.
Two hundred pages, full of tiny words all squashed together. It filled me with dread beyond belief. To think that I would have to make the same journey as all of these people, to have the knowledge that they had probably gone through the same ceremonies, have the same thoughts as they had. But I couldn’t turn back, I had given my word to this, I gave Gods word that I would go, and I couldn’t live in a stuffy little room my whole life. I had to get through these thoughts in my mind, I couldn’t stop because of someone else’s failures.
Another thought started to loop around my head, but this time it was slow and soft, and it floated down into my outstretched hands, with such lightness and beauty; “There is still hope”. Of course they were different people, with completely different plans, different decisions, and different mindsets. I could beat this war, because there was still hope in mind, there was still hope as long as I was still standing.
I placed the book back on its shelf and drifted to the bookshelf that held the record of all the achievements that people had made it. I spent one solid hour going through all the names of people who had gotten through to Europe; 50 pages. One fifth got through, meaning one fifth of a chance. One out of five.
Tomorrow, tomorrow was the day that I would set off to Europe. I spent the rest of the day at the library, going through the route of my voyage. I drew a rough sketch of europe and africa using a piece of lead that I had found on the floor, and drew out the route, time and resources needed. I was ready, and I knew it, I knew it through to the heel of my foot to the tip of my hair.
The morning had come, the same dull morning of getting dressed, making breakfast and leaving it on the front door of my ‘home’. But this morning would be anything but dull. I grabbed the grimy backpack, already equipped with everything I needed, and I ventured off into the wild.
I walked down the lonely streets, and took in every last little detail, even to the little pieces of cardboard strewn on the floor.
I started to run, and not because someone could wake up very soon at this exact moment, no. I ran because I wanted to forget, I wanted to forget the times when I was near starving, wanted to forget the crying faces of mothers holding their dead babies. And soon, the place where I had grown up in, where I had seen all those sad sights, had disappeared.
I walked for what seemed like days. I had brought all the water I could fit in the 10 old plastic bottles found on the street, so I was feeling bright and almost happy. And as my eyes came across the coast, which I had finally reached, a burst of energy hit me and a sprinted at full speed to the boat which would sail me to my freedom.
I climbed onto the overcrowded, stuffy, dirty barge. Of course I was right at home. At night, as everyone else lay on the deck floor trying to get to sleep, I would stand up and find my way through the bodies to the edge of deck. From there I could feel the wind in my matted hair and the taste of salt in my mouth. It was beautiful, you see, I had never been on a boat or even seen the sea.
And finally, one joyfully glorious day, we saw land, and this piece of land was owned by Italy.
Ten Years Later…
I have now settled into a small little cottage on the coast of Italy. I am now a writer, and this is my story. I live a simple life. Wake up in the morning, eat breakfast, get my computer on, start typing, eat lunch at my computer, type, eat dinner, work into the night. And when I am so tired that I can’t even keep my eyes open, I go to bed. About once a week I text my friends and relatives [I sent them a cheap, ten pound phone as a present] and I get to see how things are doing over there.
As the library in Ghana has old and outdated books, I update my friends and family on the longitude and highest peak in Ghana [537 km and 885m] and they are always eager to hear what it’s like in Italy. I always tell them the same thing;
Blue, without a cloud in the sky. Everybody here is friendly, people admire my choice to be a writer, and many love to hear my story reread. One day you shall come, and we can pick the lemons on the trees. Someday you will get here, and we will be reunited again, but this time in freedom”